You heard it right. In 2016 producer Kim O’Connel called me to score what would become the worlds biggest drive-in albeit not how you might imagine from its title. It wasn’t an Avengers film but there was popcorn!
A story was developed on the beginnings of Tasmania, its original people, animals, seismic events and its journey to now. Sounds simple enough. But the canvas was a mountain and the image was later projection.
So the final laser projection was 3.5 kilometres wide (read that again) on the face of Mt Roland in Tasmania’s north. The project was so advanced that the laser company developed new software features just for it! The 30 minute score was broadcast over a short-throw FM frequency, thousands of people drove up in the depth of a Tassie winter, sat in their cars (defogging their windscreens) tuned in their radios and watched FIRELIGHT 17.
It was a remarkable thing to witness and to make. The extraordinary crew from Sheffield sparked by Des Brown, led by Kim O’Connel and a technical marvel to make the record books*.
*Guiness book of records people didn’t come because they cost too much
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.
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.