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?

 

 

 

In Time – Ten years on

Wow. 10 years since the release of In Time. My second album, but first made in Tasmania where I fully embraced the idea that I was a musician for life. My first albums were more like ‘collections’; being random assemblages of what I knew to be music at the time, Which wasn’t much to crow about. *sigh

In 2006 I was many things. Mostly just keen. Not too clever, but my keen made up for what or whom I did not know. I did know that I wanted to make a splash; at least locally. There were a handful of bands in Hobart at the time releasing albums they were also proud of. But I struggled with their launching process. Who were they doing it for? And for what? To release an album for the people is to play it to as many as you can as often as you can. To do it for yourself, was to have a lunch gig, sit back in the glow of it all until a year later, you remember you have 10 boxes of unsold CDs under your bed and no one knows your name anymore. Above all, I wanted to launch a career.

So we recorded in Red Planet, and to launch it we chose the Theatre Royal in Hobart – the oldest operating theatre in the country. A teeny weeny Lascala, but a mighty place to propose yourself in Tasmania. We recorded (too much), rehearsed (not enough), got a camera crew, made flyers and pretty soon the theatre filled up. My family were filled with the gala of it all. For a local singer songwriter, it looked like a big deal, a big venture. Most bands at the time were launching albums at local pubs. Good fun, but I think I got the platform I was looking for in terms of ‘Launch’.

So, 10 years on. So much music since then. The changes along the way have often made me dizzy. I’m still proud.

 

All songs © Dean Stevenson.

Album Band:

Guitar and Voice: Dean Stevenson

Guitar: Dave Wilson

Bass: Pat Breen

Drums: Shayne Rogers

Hammond: Randal Muir

Rhodes: Kelly Ottaway

Horns: Les Johnston and Chris Williams

Produced by Stewart Long. Assistant producer: Al Future.

 

 

The Juliet Letters

In 2009, for a Masters degree recital, I played the song cycle released in 1992, The Juliet Letters. I needed a new sound and a new way of playing, singing and performing music. In the string quartet I found a new home. The ensembles I wrote for quickly got bigger, but the small chamber ensemble was my weapon for several years to come.

When we next played it for the inaugural MOFO festival. The queue around the block had more people in it than were already seated in the theatre

Then in 2015, with my good friend Daniel Lopez at the helm on 1st Violin, I played The Juliet Letters again in QLD. I couldn’t have been happier playing this outstanding song cycle written by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet.

I have performed it a few times since; Festival of Voices in Hobart 2016, then again this week at Government House, Hobart. It is a work that I believe I will revisit many more times in my life for the simple reason that it is magnificent. Its writing, its intellect, its passion, its honesty, its complexity and above all, its pure ensemble chemistry. I hope you get to hear it one day.

Spiders = orchestra and Australian pop diva. What?

As mentioned in earlier posts, I was fortunate to be asked by the Bookend Trust to compose music for their up-coming film Sixteen Legs; a film on the Tasmanian Cave Spider featuring a host of marvellous people including the narration of Neil Gaiman and the beautiful sounds of Kate Miller-Heidke. I waited for a long while for the crews to come in with enough footage to begin assembling, and when they did…whoah! So this spider is amazing and really, really big. The footage by Joe Shemesh is in 4K, award winning and shockingly beautiful. He’s caught the spider doing a lot of things including eating crickets and…yes…having sex. That’s the big one. Never caught quite like it before. Kooky, I know. And there are caves under Tassie that will put the most grand cathedrals to shame.

I had the deep privilege of recording much of the score with the wonderful Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gary Wain (what a legend!) and then to Melbourne to add the extraordinary voice of Kate Miller-Heidke. What Kate did to the music is to be heard to be believed. I simply can’t do it justice by describing it here. Kate was a wonderful, gentle, utterly professional soul to work with and I can’t wait for you to hear it.

 

Keep a look out in late 2016 for Sixteen Legs. Here’s a preview of Joe’s award winning shots of the spiders in habitat.

 

 

Oh Sting

Sometimes ,missing a deadline works to ones advantage. I’m not suggesting this as a business strategy, but sometimes, as in this particular time, something good came of it. I was so busy with the NW project, that when an email loaded with a poem from David Walsh, issuing the challenge to set it to music came, I quarantined it, knowing that it would become the greatest of marvellous distractions from all other work. I left it for a few weeks. This, apparently, is far too long for a poet who’s muse was restless for music upon his verse. So I was both disappointed and delighted when informed that, due to my lack of activity in this area, the poem had been sent to Sting to muse upon.

In the following blog, David writes that I dismissed said poem. See above my defence. See blow the blog. Being one point of a triangle of David Walsh, Sting and myself is a pleasant place to be. Sentimentally, I rejoice.

 

 http://monablog.net/2015/09/25/o-death-where-is-thy-sting/

 

London Suite Release.

Well that was fun. A premiere. Government House Hobart. We did it. The room filled up, we played, they applauded, then we drank and went home. And in-between all those elements was fine music, some tears, cinematic imaginings, the throwing of a baton and the public release of music that has changed me.

I can now exhale.

And then inhale quickly as I need more oxygen than ever before to get me through the next project. More on that later.

 

If you would like your own copy of the London Suite, please email me at [email protected] and with a small fee I can set you up with a link to download your own copy.

I love making new music and sharing it with you and I’m a big fan of all my fellow creators who want to do the same. This is what makes our world go ’round. And it makes yours spin too. With patronage we will keep turning the world in a way that makes us all happy to be on it. I’m happy to share my music with you and I know you’ll support those who create it for you.

 

Thanks. enjoy.

 

[email protected]

 

 

London Suite Premiere

Last year I spent a month in London. It became a more profound time than I had anticipated. Time in mentorship, composition and travelling made for a month that produced a suite of music that reflected my experiences of London and creating music in a new way. I’ve written a suite of music that doesn’t contain me. I’m not in it. Well, I wrote it, conduct it, paid for it, etc, etc, but you won’t hear me in it. Not singing, playing bass, nothing. Just strings, piano and vibraphone. What a relief.

Tomorrow night, it will be released into the ears of the world. I was invited to premiere the London Suite at Government House, Hobart. It’s a deep privilege and one not to be taken lightly given that it booked out in 18 minutes.

The program notes will say something like:

The working title for this suite was Music for an Imagined Film. This meant that each piece is a scene of sorts; a comment or feeling that inspired, delighted or devastated him. However, most of the music is not intended to transform the feeling or vision, but only to honour it, stay in it and notice it becoming music. Many of the suite’s 11 pieces are without narrative and are disconnected with each other, in that there is no desire to draw a connection that could be falsified; the music came and went at random as the autumnal city allowed itself to be written. 

Therefore, as there is no hidden narrative to lend you, you are invited to bring your own to it. Each piece brings with it a colour that you can imagine your own scenes with. Dean’s inspirations are somewhat irrelevant to your listening experience. Make the music your own soundtrack; underscoring your own imaginings or memories with it.

 

 

So. If you don’t already have a ticket, you can’t get one. Sorry. But it will be out soon enough. Enjoy.

 

* note for future musicians

As kids some people read. I listened. I absorbed not the word and its way of encasing and exploding, but music; The way it sounds after its made, encasing and exploding ideas I had and were yet to have.
My world was defined by the feelings that music promoted. Through endless hours of listening I began to understand that which my meager, sheltered existence had not been exposed. The chaos and safety of humanity.

Both listeners and readers are voyeurs; absorbing ideas after the genesis of someone else’s moment. Someone else’s time. However, through a lack of motivation in my young body and the safety of solitude, it took me years to enable my body to begin replicating these sounds and feelings for myself. Making my own music. Thus my ears worked better than my hands. It took many years of slugging it out in shitty gigs and later the rigor of university to get my body up to speed with my ears. Too many years.
*note for future musicians, do them together; much easier that way.

The ears work in mysterious ways when not associated with your body. They can allow dreams that your body struggles to unfold from the physical realities of gravity and touch. I learned too late that I was actually a physical being having a dream as opposed to the other way around. But over the years, I have delighted in explaining these dreams in great detail to my body and encouraging it to employ and retell them. Had it gone the other way, the limitations of my physical understanding may have hindered my imaginings and thus, made them smaller. I suppose I’ll never know.

But now my work is leading away from the physical again in that I am writing for larger ensembles that don’t contain me. I’m back to imagining music without making it, but I’m on the other side of my ears. Instead of hearing music made by someone else from the outside, it is my own inner ear (if such a thing can be understood) that is making the dream and initializing the experience for others.
Now others hear my music like I used to hear it exclusively; without being in it.
For anyone who does not yet play music but is hearing mine; dream it, hear it, take it, learn it, play it, make a mess of it, do whatever is necessary to put it into your hands. There can he no greater understanding of music than when you play it for yourself.

 

 

X-Men save the midlands!

 

photo-5 photo-4

A nice idea this local pub thing. Make lots of them, quite small so everyone has to squash in. The impact of noise and fervor make for an exciting place where everyone says the first word of their sentences three times, each one louder than before, in order to allow the rest of the sentence to flow and be noticed next in the cacophonous line. Like a family of 10 children all needing airtime.

Every London establishment has at least 2 people in it. Event the crummy looking ones. Inevitable with such a vast population, everyone’s got to go somewhere and there’s only so many seats, bars, bottles and kebabs that the people can go to before they fill up and they have to choose the smaller, grottier ‘next door’ establishment.

Yesterday I travelled midlands on a Virgin train. And here, speeding across the english midlands in fast train, being offered wi-fi at a cost, refreshments at a cost and I have to wee at …no, that’s free. The recorded message in the loo warned me not to flush, rubbish, food, hopes, dreams or gold fish down the toilet. So I didn’t. And now I sit, enjoying my own free time. The Virgin train I’m on has a plaque bolted to the outside that says ‘X-Men. Day of Future Past’. Obscure. What shall I expect on this ride? A movie? Or the chance to be rescued by a super hero should a darstardly, moustache twirling villain decide to arrest the train for his evil ways? I feel strangely safer for this plaque. Go X-Men!

The reflections to midlands of Tasmania and England are true; topography similar, rolling, green and easy on the tires. Alighting at a midland station for an arts centre within a university. There’s something quite cliche about the rambling of students across a campus. Bags on one shoulder, never too fashionable, what they can afford, which breed its own significant fashion. The clothes are honest and the minds that wear them are searching for meaning on campus. Searching for meaning through the minds of university professors who are gate keepers for a life only few will ever possess. And good. It seems the education system is largely designed to service those few.

In contrast, this midlands arts centre is a great, functioning example of engagement with university life through its student body. There is no discernible music institute within the university. It was designed that way specifically by its benefactor to avoid the trappings of an elite music ideology. So it runs an arts centre that coordinates ensembles for student experience directed by a small staff of workers. They have a massive roster of concerts, full-time technical and curatorial staff  running concerts workshops and an impressive subscriber base that keeps it moving through fresh ideas. Last week Alan Davis (QI) toured through, tonight, Soul-to-Soul on their 25th anniversary tour. (Back to life). I was here the last time they were big. Ouch, showing age.

It was a good ‘power to the people’ day, until the bus was running late, threatening my train trip home. T’was then the bus/transit/brit-rail maelstrom that brought my people power rush to a windy stumble, getting me to the rail station just in time to leap X-Men like onto the train for my London return. Those bus-driving moustache-twirling baddies will have to wait another day before getting their hands on this guy.

London bound again.

 

England = Beer?

My recently developed passion for beer has landed me in a quandary. Put simply, there’s too much of it. English pubs are a need of british life and in being so, put beer in as much need as the venue.

Faced with this quantity and (yet to be clarified) variety, a long term, calibrated, budgeted strategy must be employed to maximize this opportunity without gluttony, misuse of time, funds or dignity. Ideas? Anyone? No, neither have I. Cheers then. Gulp.

One would think that such a social people, always meeting, drinking, talking, that this would create a vibrant, intelligent, community minded people. But I’m yet to eaves drop on the conversations. I’ll keep you posted. 

But meanwhile, I walk the streets that have filled my eyes for decades (thank you BBC). No cultural cringe here. Filming every street brick and naming it is part of the british condition. As is the U.S, who celebrate themselves like no other kind of animal, short of the male Peacock in mating season. Australia hides itself a little more discreetly. In fact, its not discreet at all. Stick your head out and name the street brick and there’ll be someone there the next day putting high-vis tape around the area, calling it a high-cringe zone that is not to be focused on, mentioned or mattered, lest we fall into a way of self appreciating that leads to someone telling you that you’re a bit shit. Stick your head in mate.

I digress.

The beer here isn’t warm as the legend will have it, just delightfully room-temerature. I see the benefit. Less energy to convert it to body temperature = get drunk quicker. Its cheeper that way. Perhaps if we chilled the average national beer temperature by 4 degrees, we might reduce a lot a casual violence. I’ll put it to the local representative. Over a beer.