About The Music
Australia is a country where every mountain, every river and every plain has its own song. The custodians of these songs are the traditional owners of the country - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Those are not my songs to sing, but songs to sing we all do have.
I grew up in Western Australia, a first generation Australian of English parentage - a pale ginger-beard in a sea of sunned faces. The world of my youth was filled with dunes and beaches, boulder-clambering and desert trips - endless car journeys through this giant land. In truth, my early life probably wasn't completely filled with these things, yet these are the images that remain - rolling wheatfields, unyielding bush, endless horizons. Similarly, my formative choral experiences with Richard Gill and Margaret Pride have stayed with me - rehearsals teeming with the joy of making music, with lessons on how to shape phrases and how to blend a vocal sound, hours filled with an investigation and celebration of the Western musical canon.
So it is that I am aware of two histories at play - an utterly Australian one manifested in the land, and a European one from my musical training in the Western tradition. That there is a tension here is undeniable, but it is within this conversation that many Australian composers and artists have found inspiration, myself included.
The works on this disc span almost two decades of composing - from my putative Op.1 Three Bush Songs through to the most recent offering, shore. Various compositional techniques are repeatedly called on in the various works. These include utilizing expanding and contracting intervallic patterns (Bush Songs, Hush, Night Camp accompaniment); making use of open harmonies, dominated by perfect fourths and fifths; employing parallel harmonic motion; writing melismatic phrases dominated by step-wise motion; incorporating traditional Anglo-Irish folk songs (On the Banks of the Condamine, Hush); intimating indigenous song; using aleatoric elements such as rhythmic independence (wheatbelt, shore), emulating Australian bird calls (Bush Songs, wheatbelt) and using hand percussion and harmonic whirlies (wheatbelt, shore). In many of the works, most notably wheatbelt and shore, I have emphasised modes utilising the flattened 2nd - an interval which Henry Tate in Australian Musical Possibilities (1926) suggested he heard in the call of the butcher bird and could be the basis for a characteristic "Australian scale"(Skinner, 2006). My intention in utilizing these techniques is to try and evoke a uniquely Australian sense of place - to bring the outdoors indoors, and spark listeners' own memories of the bush and the desert.
Shore exists in an altogether different landscape. It was written for the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs 2009 Dawn Chorus series, where the choir performed on various beaches throughout Sydney during the Sydney Festival. Beneath the work's undulating watery motifs, it is a musical response to the palpable shift in the global and Australian political landscapes that followed the election of Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd in the previous year.
The Owl and the Pussycat also exists outside the Australianness of the rest of the works collected on this disc. It was written for a pair of dear friends of mine who bear more than a passing resemblance to the owl and pussycat of the title.
I would like to thank Philip Matthias and his wonderful colleagues in the University of Newcastle Chamber Choir for their luminous music-making and boundless energy in creating this disc. They make my music sing as few other choirs do, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Their hard work and wonderful musicianship is a pleasure to be around.