(Written on Saturday 7th June).
My auntie Jacqui is arriving in a couple of hours! And I have had SUCH a productive last few weeks. I really have been composing every day since I wrote last. I’ve finished 3 pieces: We Keep Going. Crystal Ruth Bell; Climate-Driven Change in Himalayan Rhododendron Phenology; and Bǎn zhù dòng zuò.
We Keep Going. Crystal Ruth Bell is a piece for a woman I never met in person. She is the co-founder of China Residencies – a fantastic resource and potential funding source for anyone who wants to do a residency in China. That’s how I met her, on skype. I was driving across Australia from Melbourne to Darwin last year in June, right when Miranda and I were waiting to hear back from a funding application we’d submitted. One day Miranda sent through a text that I got in the next town, telling me that we didn’t get the residency but the folks who assessed the applications wanted to talk with us on skype. I called her and we had quite a discussion as to what they might want, since we hadn’t gotten the funding. After some complicated arranging, we had a time and a place. I bought an hour of internet from the Katherine Public Library; borrowed one of their (or maybe their only) tiny study rooms, scruffed my hair in a hopefully pleasing way, and nervously phoned up.
That was when I met Kira and Crystal. 2 incredibly vibrant, buzzing, busy, enthusiastic women who quickly explained that they loved our application and wanted to help us make it come true. They just didn’t think a 2nd teir city was the right place for it. They told us all about Lijiang Studio and wrote to Jay (the director of the Studio) and linked us up and backed our proposal and basically enabled this entire wonderful thing to happen. They were even planning a trip to China that they hoped would include the studio while we mgiht be there! I came away shining with excitement and anticipation, telling the library staff as I left that I’M GOING TO CHINA TO MAKE ART!!!!! That was when I met Crystal. A few months after that skype meeting we heard that Crystal died.
When Kira was visiting here a few months ago, I asked her to tell me about Crystal, so that I could write this piece. So it’s also through the eyes/heart of Kira, her best friend and co-conspirator in many adventures and projects. So, here is a piece of Crystal.
At the moment I’m being bold and presenting you what I’ve written in a very average MIDI file. When it’s recorded with actual musicians (hopefully early July), I’ll share the real version with you.
I also finished my first iteration of “auralising” a graph of the lovely Dr Robbie Hart’s data. It was a really excitingly inclusive process. After our first, 1+ hour talk, we swapped many emails all the way through the process, from choosing which graph to focus on, to discussing what musical parameters axes and lines and points should represent, to explaining terms to each other, to re-sketching ideas based on each other’s suggestions. It was darn hard work, with a lot of maths and zooming of graphs to 400% and conceptual thinking about such topics as whether it matters to turn a linear scale into an exponential scale. It is really different from my usual composing techniques: for example, there are a number of musical cells within which the musicians can make choices about the order and timing of musical motifs. I’m usually much more proscriptive than that. But yes it’s still on manuscript, even though I don’t find the computer program options very helpful for this kind of music. I can’t give you a MIDI file of it because the computer can’t freely choose motif order and timing! But it’s going to get workshopped at The Modern Academy and I will record and upload it then.
Finally, there’s Bǎn zhù dòng zuò, the string quartet plus marimba for the dance module. The name roughly translates from Mandarin as “Mud brick motion”. I drew a little map of what I wanted the shape of the piece to look like: still and sitting, low to the ground, in a pile; moving along at ground level (via people carrying them); describing wonderful upward arcs as the y are thrown up the side of the house from hand to hand; settling high in their new position. Then I just started writing. I like this piece but I didn’t have an easy time writing it. Even though I had the map which is more than I usually have, I didn’t have any particular musical ideas, which is less than I usually have! I felt a bit like I was walking on a moonless night with just a half-flat torch. And sometimes the torch went out and I couldn’t see ahead even to the next bar. But, it got there. And I like it.
So here again is a crappy MIDI file for you to listen to. Again, this piece will be workshopped and recorded at The Modern Academy (and hopefully performed with the dancers!). So I will upload am audio or video file for you when I can. There are 2 dancers: I assume they are a man and a woman. I am curious to see whether I have to work hard to prevent them from including sexual tension, even undertones, in my piece. It’s just about mud bricks! Dancing flying solid earthy mud bricks.
Qíng Nà Mǎ.
晴 纳 玛