Question & Answer Session (1997)

Question and Answer Session:

###Youth Music Australia interview (1997)###


In 1997 my work Rave-Elation was performed across Australia and the U.K. by the combined forces of Camerata Australia and Camerata Scotland. The commissioning body, Youth Music Australia, produces a series of newsletters with information for their members, and this Question-and-Answer session formed part of that.

On a personal note, some of the points that I raised and ways of working probably wouldn’t apply to my most recent music, however the ‘gist’ of it is still quite relevant.

    Q1. How did you feel when you were approached to write a piece for Youth Music Australia?

Well when I was first asked to write a piece for the combined Camerata Australia and Camerata Scotland, aside from the fact that it was a wonderful opportunity to write for an unusual instrumentation, I immediately thought of all of the wonderful players who’d be playing (at least I know that’s the case for the Australian side, and of course the Scottish side will be great as well). So a large part of the inspiration came from knowing that I’d be able to write for absolutely top-notch players. That helps a lot in the whole writing process, because basically (within reason) you know that whatever you can write they will probably do!

Most of my music tends to be very fast and quite virtuosic – but this is much harder to successfully achieve in a large ensemble situation i.e. double chamber orchestra. The small amount of double chamber orchestra that I’ve actually heard has tended to be quite harsh and angular, and whilst I’m sure that all of it isn’t like that, I decided consciously just to write more the sort of music that I usually do, and just write it for large ensemble.

    Q2. How do you approach hearing your own music, particularly in rehearsals? Does it always turn out as you expect it to?

Going to rehearsals of your piece is generally extremely stressful if you’re the composer. It’s a weird sort of situation that you’re hearing your own creation actually being realised, live, in real time with X number of live performers. Luckily for me most of the time there have been no nasty surprises – although once or twice things have not gone well.

In general I try not to go to the first rehearsal as invariably it’s really depressing – nothing sounds right. But the further on you go, the better it gets!

    Q3. You’re both a young composer and an Australian composer. What are your feelings about this?

Am I still a ‘young’ composer? I suppose so, but sometimes I feel old (especially when there’s a commission due in a few days).

One of the most encouraging things about being an Australian composer these days is that we have so many outstanding ‘senior’ composers as role models. I’ve been overseas quite a bit to music festivals etc. and believe me, I would much prefer to hear Australian music than most European music. It sometimes seems like a hard road but if we hang in there, eventually something will pay off.

    Q4. Do you (or did you!) play any instrument or instruments?

Actually I’m a violist. I’ve found that being a string player helps you to really ‘feel’ what the sound’s like from the middle of the orchestra, and how to use it well. Perhaps the one instrument that I would have liked to learn is the piano, from the sheer practical point of view, but then again, computers work so well as a compositional tool that keyboard skills aren’t as necessary as they were a few years ago.

    Q5. Do you have any particular or recurring inspirations in your music?

You know that saying, “composition is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”… well whoever thought that up definitely didn’t have me in mind. I need to be inspired to write. Not all the time, but certainly for the initial ideas.

Lots of my music uses aspects of popular music as its inspiration, particularly techno and death metal. These types of music are pretty theatrical and “in your face”, things which I want my music to be.

    Q6. What other contemporary composers do you most admire?

Probably Xenakis – despite the fact that in terms of harmony we’re miles apart his music has a real sense of clarity and almost aggression that I really like. And he does it so well! You know when you listen to his music that there’s this unbelievably high quality. The same goes for Messaien, as well as Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards and Gerard Brophy.

    Q7. Do you work much as a composer? What other sorts of work do you do? Does this other work complement your composition in any way?

Whilst I mainly consider myself to be a professional composer, I teach both composition and classroom music at MLC School Burwood (in NSW). The good thing about this is that it keeps you down to earth. It is very easy to become out of touch with the so-called ‘real world’, and whilst this in itself is not a bad thing, there’s nothing like a dose of reality delivered by a rampant Year 9 class to bring you down with a thud. Teaching secondary school aged pupils certainly helps to keep your music focussed and attention-grabbing.

At the school I’m at we have a strong music programme which encourages students to really fulfil at music if that is what they desire. And they receive a really good training in a lot of areas of music, in particular ensemble playing, solo opportunities and contemporary music. I can’t really speak for other schools, but I think that the job that organizations like YMA do is fantastic, especially for gifted students who really thrive on those opportunities they’re not going to get anywhere else.

    Q8. How would you describe your own music?

It’s hard to really describe your own music, most people tend to let others do it for them.

As I said before, I use aspects of popular music in my own compositions, basically because (1) that is the sort of music I like to listen to a lot of the time, and (2) there is a real vibrancy in popular music performance that I would like to convey in my own music. A while ago now I went to a concert by Screaming Jets at the Shellharbour Workers Club. They’re performance was AMAZING! They were really into the music, and had no inhibitions about really going for it in a massive way. Their sense of fun and exhibitionism really got through to the crowd, and impressed me enough I suppose to consider attempting something sort of similar in my own work.

    Q9. Being a young person, how do you feel you represent youth culture in your music?

Well I don’t really know if I’m a part of youth culture, and it’s always dangerous to try to be part of something through imitation alone. I’m certainly not consciously trying to “appeal to the youth market” or anything like that – if I was then I’d be releasing pop music CDs. In the end I just try to write music that I like. If an audience likes it, then that’s my good luck! You have to please yourself first.

    Q10. Your music has some pretty way-out titles, e.g. DeathStench, Homage to Metallica. What is the rationale behind your thinking on this?

The titles of pieces are really quite important I feel. There are two ways of going about it really, either having the title summarize the piece or else having it as a ‘clue’ to what the music’s about and letting the listener decipher it as they hear it. I prefer the first way.

With Rave-Elation, the piece is based largely on techno music, hence the “Rave” in the title. The “Elation” comes from the happiness that I by listening to it. The piece is really purely hedonistic: it’s not “deep and meaningful” in any way, really. It’s meant to just be enjoyed in an very “up” kind of way. Of course that’s not to say that it’s easy to perform! Rhythmically it has to be very tight in terms of ensemble to be effective, otherwise it’s going to fall flat.

    Q11. What are your feelings about recordings?

I don’t really listen to much music in terms of CDs. I think I’ve got about 10 CDs at home, of these I’ve bought 1 or 2. Music is much better heard live. I go to a lot of concerts, mainly contemporary music. You can get a much bigger buzz from live concerts – it’s a multi-sensual experience rather that just an aural one which you get from recordings.

date placed on website: 16 March 2000

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