06 May 2015

Inside the whale

Kate Moore, resident composer at this CIMF and our house guest, gave a presentation at the School of Music. I've been hearing her contemporary classical music and chatting with her about it, but this was an overview of her composing as a profession and an introduction to a few of her compositions. It was truly fascinating. This new music is somewhat a new world to me. Hearing Kate's words clarifies many things. She opened with some background: her time at ANU; her experiences at the Royal Conservatorium of Music in the Netherlands; her commissions and her approaches and her colleagues. Just some of what she advised: work hard and do what you love; find people to work with; companionship is also important (I imagine it is especially so for the secluded composer); find your own philosophy/approach through comparison (not sure I express this well) or "try different things and leave some behind". She talked of her composition, Sensitive spot, and watched a video of it performed by pianist Saskia Lankhoorn at the Bimhaus. It's a work is in geometrical form, played and recorded several times as perfectly as possible, then overlaid, so perfection appears from errors, or perhaps, from divergence. I heard it as intense, mutating, hammered chords with a varying electronica drone.

Then questions. Program notes are important, they can be in various forms (not just words on paper) and are a "window on the composers' mind". The Dam was the piece composed as a commission for this festival (see CJBlog post Revelations of 14 May). It portrayed an Australian farm dam, a place, on her parent's property. I was impressed by her obvious careful listening, as she spoke of frogs chattering similar songs with different frequencies playing off each other, tremolo effects, drones, resonances, spatial implications ("You can hear the soundscape ... the horizon; imagine a picture through sounds". Picturing the horizon through sounds! This is excellent listening). Also of the challenges of this commission: old and new ensembles, separated by 50+ metres, tuned at 415 (baroque) and 440 (modern) so needing to be transposed a semitone, different techniques and tones and textures. Kate approached the ensembles as shadows of each other, different, self-sufficient but reinforcing (brilliant!). There was a question about schools of composition which I felt Kate queried with great self-awareness. We are all products of our time and place; she was influenced by indie rock and classical cello and Aussie composers too; we select labels also from our own knowledge and experience (so true!). Yes, she focuses on structure with rhythm as a driving force, but so do many composers from many backgrounds. Seek a truthful language, a language of our time, an honest voice. She writes on acoustic piano; she improvises to build / find material then chips away at this to refine it, perhaps to a geometric pattern or a process. It's a long process; one work can take a year. What of difficult commissions? This is your profession so deal with it. Work through it; remove self and break down then build back up; don't panic (!) A good mentor is a help, even one outside the field: composition is a solitary profession. You need a reason to write a piece, a question to solve. Pieces are isolated but also intertwined: they have their own narrative but together they build another narrative.

The end was a listen to Kate's composition, Fern, while following the score. The music reflects the form of a fern, branches on smaller branches. There's proportion, meter, duration, rhythm; one melodic snippet runs throughout, differently placed and stretched or shortened; "always the same, always different, but no direct repetition". The music really was quite beautiful and blossomed for me when known more closely. This was a further revelation. I am warming to this new music. Megan won't be impressed (but, don't worry, I still dig Bach and Beethoven ... and Miles and Mingus).

Kate Moore (composer in residence at CIMF) gave a public workshop at the ANU School of Music.

  • Sensitive spot, composed by Kate Moore, performed by Saskia Lankhoorn (YouTube)
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