Dean Stevenson

Musician | Songwriter | Composer

A.I.R. Artist in Residence. Collegiate

This year I was a recipient of an A.I.R grant through Arts Tasmania to be a composer in residence at the St. Michaels Collegiate school in Hobart.

The brief: to be a role model for senior students in the creative industries and to create a new body of work through this process.

It began with:

Well, having never done a residency before, I was delighted at the idea and utterly terrified at the ides of being a funded role model who had to come up with something in order to inspire. As I took my study space, set up my gear, attended classes and walked the grounds, I was searching for inspiration. I searched for sometime. Then a few weeks in, I panicked. I had very little to show for my efforts. Why? It turns out that I’d been teaching a principle foe years that in this instance I had failed to adhere to myself. Limitation. Limit your creative area, in order to free yourself. There’s nothing scarier than the open book, the limitless sky, the boundless plains, the world’s your oyster so to speak. With anything possible, nothing was.

I was reminded of the Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen. Here was a work written by a french composer in a concentration camp in WW2. He was recognised as a composer of note and allowed to write for the instruments that were available to him in the camp. Piano, Cello, Clarinet and Violin. If you’re looking for limitations, WW2 POW has got it covered! Messiaen was limited and in the process, knew what he had to work with, and so he punched the boundaries of his possibilities. Without walls, how is boundary pushing even possible?

So, I went back to basics. What instruments do I have, what is my course and why? It turns out that when you lock it down to a string quartet, things become easier. Not just because a quartet is amazing, but the boundaries make the possibilities almost endless. Also, whilst walking the school library and perusing the bookshelves of music and art, (music and art are always side by side in a school library), I happened upon a book that took my notice because of where I had recently journeyed from. A book on post WW2 Parisian Art became my favoured read.

It ended with: