Tim Passes – An orchestral song cycle with the Arco Set Orchestra – A Dark Mofo premiere June 2014

Almost immediately after the performance of Tim Passes on June 12, I checked my watch: I couldn’t believe it went by so fast. The fastest hour of my life. Remarks flowed in that another hour could easily have been enjoyed. A repeat? or a development? Either way, I want to feel that hour again…and again. Often, as a mentor, tutor or such, I talk to student about the landscape of the set, the song, the verse, the phrase, the line, the word and the breath. People will hang onto the most inane of things if you deliver it well, with intent, and with the authority of a map; you know where you’re going and no one is going to get hurt.

I spent much time thinking on the set order for Tim Passes as the 8 poems were not given to me chronologically, alphabetically, or in any other discernible state or theme, other than Tim’s joy and suffering. I organised them so as to introduce Tim with a reference to his end, then celebrate his inner child, his children, his genitalia, his inevitable end and the family that needed consoling after the fact. It was this final point which had the most significant weight. This work was about, and for a family; a family that I believe had engaged in little ceremony for Tim’s passing over 20 years ago and had yet to celebrate him. Not that I’m claiming to have any authority on the passing rights of a man through the families eyes, but I don’t imagine Tim ever had a party as big as this one.

I learned a great deal about poetry, music and respect during this process. Tim’s work was of a unique position; closer to death than any of us care to be and vividly aware of its slow grip and of the nearest peoples reactions to it. I can’t say that I’ve felt that. I had a ripping hangover once and can’t remember the booze I drank to get it – that’s as close as I get. Lame. I can imagine though as life grinds down around you, that whatever words you commit will ultimately define your position. They will become your expression after you part. Tim chose his words well. Honest and brutal. The music needed to fit the same shaped hole he made; the hole his family recognised as ‘Tim’. During the lead up, there was much press about the event. One such article in a weekend magazine had a quote from Tim’s brother David about my composition of Tim’s work. Referring to Tim’s “right-angled turns and about-faces” swerving from “truculence to tenderness”, David went on to say, “Dean must preserve that inadvertent ambiguity”. David had announced this expectation via print media and I shit myself. It was the word “must” that buried in the most. I must interpret the words in accordance with the Tim-shaped-hole that I was still learning to appreciate only hours before the show.

I spoke on an earlier day about the study and use of vowels and consonants when defining the parameters of the music. But beyond that is the performance, the delivery of another mans ideas who can no longer tell you if you got it right, nearly right, or missed completely. But, as I’m sure any musician can empathise, when performing someone else’s work, a line delivered poorly has you imagining the originator in the front row, tongue out, fingers up, or turning their back on you as you over-sing the next few lines to attempt recompense, ultimately making it even worse. I learned a lot about performing with an orchestra too. With a band, when you trip, you can turn to the band, raise your eyebrows (literally or metaphorically) and the band can react to this and adjust. An orchestra is like the Titanic approaching a u-turn at 80 knots; if you trip, there’s fuck all you can do accept find your own way to make what you just did sound like you meant it.

The media were kind. The Age called it the ‘highlight of the opening weekend’. Given the other acts on that weekend, I’ll take that. My favourite moments? Being a piece of bread in a stage-light toaster in Song for the Adequate Person and listening to the guy who tried and failed to wait until the music stopped before clapping (he was so keen!). Keeping focus whilst singing about a floating cock in a bathtub. The dynamic smash of the Professor of History Greets His Students, conducting the Fragment of a Requiem for Timothy Hamilton Walsh and who doesn’t like a 5 minute standing ovation. I wonder now what Tim would have thought at the premiere. His remaining friends and family seemed chuffed, but would they say that with Tim standing by?

 

 

 

Royal Work. A commission for the Queens 90th Birthday.

Risks are good. They help break conventions and skulls. Professionally, in music, the breaking of conventions is a necessary hazard. It’s how people know you’re there. Otherwise you’re wallpaper.

This year, for Her majesty the Queens 90th birthday celebrations, Government House in Hobart took one such risk. They asked me to produce something for the occasion that would be new yet referential, risky yet respectful. I used the opportunity to engage two people I’d wanted to create with for sometime; Kelly Ottaway and Julius Schwing, and we discussed the concept. Truth be told, I think it was Kelly who first spake the idea of God Save the Queen – Theme and Variations. Well, that is what it was called in the end. Initially, the ideas ‘Meditation upon… or GSTQ Re-arranged… were bandied about, but they presented too much fog around the idea and not enough clarity of meaning for a traditional occasion.

And so…

Kelly, Julius and I began to explore phrases from GSTQ and its closest friend, the Hymn Jerusalem. What became of it was a 45 minute concert composed equally by the three of us for string quartet, brass quartet, piano, guitar, samples and taped excerpts of the coronation.

The risk factor rung on in the minds of the Governor and staff so that right up until my baton went down for the first time, everyone was a little on the edge. What was this going to sound like? How kooky were the variations going to be? Would the Queen be offended? One month earlier, I had been called into the Governor’s office and asked this question directly. They wanted to avoid any unpleasant complications given the gravity of the occasion. I played them a freshly composed example from my laptop of a brass quartet piece with the working title God Save the Brass Quartet, which I had penned not two days earlier (phew!). They liked it, (phew!) and we went on…cautiously.

 

Did it work? Did we vary too much? Was there anything left of the regal theme and its potency? The Governor and staff seemed overjoyed with the result (phew!). So much so the next night a camera crew was employed to film it and send it to Buckingham Palace the following day in time for London’s celebrations for the Queen in the Mall. Did the Queen see it? Not sure. Haven’t heard yet. But, personally, I couldn’t be happier with the process, the outcome and the story to tell.

 

The concert is linked below. Enjoy.

http://www.govhouse.tas.gov.au/vice-regal-news-and-photos/8-june-2016

 

 

Facing North

Last year Dean was awarded a residency in the North West of Tasmania by the Cradle Coast Campus. He was the first musician/composer and performing artist to be awarded this residency which was an honour in itself, but the real treat was in the music of the region he spent a month living in. As one of the musical educators of the region, David Turner said, because there is a limited amount of touring music being performed in the region, there isn’t as much of an opportunity to go and see it. So…they have to make it themselves. This is true of many rural places of the world that create and innovate due to a lack of the flow-through of tours and arts funding.

Dean’s idea, in the beginning, was to write music to be recorded by the people of the north west that could become part of an installation within the cradle coast campus that the local musicians could be proud of. A music that could tell a north west story, or at least be inspired by a north western perspective. When he began this journey, he had no idea just how big the community music participation of the north west was and to what extent they would embrace this project and feed into it.

And now, Dean has been awarded the residency for a second year running. This means living on the north west for another month this year to fully realise this wonderful region into a large scale piece of music.

The project has now been adopted by Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival and will premiere in March 2017 in Burnie. Watch this space for more info!

 

 

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:

http://www.arts.tas.gov.au/industry_development/air

 

 

 

unSUITable CASE of me

In 2012, Dean approached renowned playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer about a collaborative project. The concept was for a one man theatre show with string quintet performing a song cycle on the theme of a traveling man. The idea developed into the unSUITable CASE of me that now has two seasons to its credit, and a third season pending a new development on the story. Fin and Dean are writing a new chapter to the story now. More to come…

Arco Set. The Album.

The premiss for working exclusively with strings over a band is a fine idea: until you try to explain it. It sounds at first exotic, new, unique and many other adjectives around a creative step away from convention. But then, is it really that different?

Inspired by his performance of the Juliet Letters for the first MONA FOMA in 2009, Dean decided to re-arrange his own back catalogue of songs away from the band, and into the hands of a string quartet. Late nights of writing and exploring this new beast came to reality in Tasmania’s Amplified Festival the following year. It worked. And it rang a bell in Dean’s creative room that began an extensive journey towards this sound.

MONA FOMA the following year invited Dean to play again and this time a full new work was written for the event called The Cloud Suite: A 4 movement piece for voice, chamber orchestra and noise that crystallised Dean’s vision of the Arco Set direction.

The next year saw Dean, with producer Al Future, record the Arco Set for a full album of songs plus the Cloud Suite. This album showcased Dean’s melodic song writing and his ability to adapt grooves and rhythms into the string section, exploring contemporary song forms within the classical instrumentation.

The full album is available through iTunes and CDBaby.