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4PM

4PM is without doubt the most ambitious and most personal work I’ve ever undertaken.

Years ago I made a pitch from my ego. Years later, when granted the opportunity to undertake it, my ego had recognised process as its ruler.

Now, I’m ensconced in the MONA museum, Tasmania Australia doing what I said I’d do.

The following two statements may contradict each other:

Beginnings are easy; finishing something is more difficult.

and

There’s no such thing as a blank page, only one’s resistance to writing on it.

Each day at 4pm a quartet arrives to play what the composer has written. At the beginning of each day is a blank page (not really, see above). The hours then press on the composer’s courage to write what comes to mind without too much reservation because the musicians are on route to play the work. Today! No covers, no repeats, no forgiveness. Vulnerable.

An outcome every day that doesn’t always promise good music, but an outcome must be reached. The work of making. Make work. Conditions and limitations must be set.

Artist:

As an artist, I’m interested in what gets finished. The courage to complete, surrendering to scrutiny. As an educator it’s even more compelling to encourage the young to grow comfortable with that surrender. To suck at something for a bit and own it. 

I also suffer a mild form of auditory processing disorder which, developmentally, has always made it very difficult for me to remember things in sequence. This makes reading music and playing it straight away a complex process (I don’t remember what I just read when I then look down at my hands to play piano and vice-versa). I’ve learned to cope in my own way. 

This process of working under pressure will test claims of ‘finishing’. This will force me to suck a lot. I’m comfortable with that. For a while at least until something good comes. 

All the live recordings are available here:

https://www.patreon.com/deanstevenson

Here, isolation is quiet.

Here in my place of self, my studio in the roof where dreams combat poor habits, I think of nothing in particular. Which is the greatest threat to me at the present time.

Language has triumphed again as the returning warrior after a long absence. In global lock-down from Covid 19 we gobble down language. We revel in news from authorities, find new shock in more closures than we’ve witnessed in our lifetime and yet, here in my home town, we lack the image of someone who has the virus. 

So now, in my rooftop, I will seek the astounding and the simple. A way to tune in to the best of myself in what may be the last great absent period of my life. I could be here for months. Making…?

Stay tuned. (That was directed at me more than you).

A symphony? Who listens anymore. Maybe now!

A book. I am yet to learn the skills. I may now have enough time!

A garden? Yes. 

Clean the house. Again.

Fall deeper in love and relax. Yes. And yes again. Love and kindness will be the way to everything listed and forgotten above. 

Breathe. Breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care. 

Covid 19 Don’t Touch Me! song

 

An anthem for days in coronavirus  isolation when everything has turned or stopped or just gone mad.

I did a series on 936 ABC radio with Ryk Goddard for years called The Muse Headlines. I would present a song every Friday morning that summed up the weeks news to a familiar melody. It started as a contest, but then we just did it for fun. IN light of current global events, it seemed right to bring it back. So, try not to sing this after you hear it!

Full credit to Redgum for the awesome melody.

Lyrics:

Sometime in the night my telephone it made a beep to say some-

One in another country had a cough

Then it came to pass that everyone including people in the

White house had to say ‘bugger off’

 

And now I’m all alone and my bin it overflows

With plastics that contained elixirs and covers for my nose

And what’s these rules that come between us no one really knows

Don’t touch me – it’s Covid-19

 

Shaking hands with feet feels like I’m playing secret soccer with everybody

every time we say hello

It’s just like Pokémon but there’s no ball or goals or rules and nothing happens

Then we turn and go

 

Can I come to work or am I shall I binge watch zombie flicks

The pantry’s full of cans of beans and out of date corn chips,

I’ll thank my lucky stars I never got on that cruise ship

Don’t touch me – it’s Covid-19

 

Once when I was 10 I broke my foot and all my friends they came to

See me and wish me all the best

Now I’m home alone and no one cares except the boss who just keeps

Calling, Here comes the rising stress

 

But how can I claim stress leave when I’m already home

The NBN’s so slow I can’t log in to work and so

I’ll just watch some TV, eat some chips and blow my nose

Don’t touch me – it’s Covid-19

 

 

And can you tell me doctor will it affect my poo?

Cause I killed a man for his dunny roles and I’ll do the same to you

Can everybody take a breather, you know what to do

Don’t kiss me – it’s Covid-19

Worlds Biggest Drive-in?

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.

 

Yep.

 

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNDcwgbY6Ms

KING UBU – Mona Foma 2020

So a narcicist King who thinks too much of himself invades a country, dividing everyone and turns the world absurd. This story repeats itself almost daily in or never-too-quick-to-learn world. King Ubu is an adaption of Ubu Roi, the original French production by Alfred Jarry. The original production bears the same hallmarks of the premier of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in that there were boos, heckles, people leaving and the (gee I hope they really did do this) throwing of fruit. (Why did people always seem to have fruit on them back then?). It was a brave beginning and the theatre of the absurd was born.

Re staging of Ubu has happened many times in its absurdist vein and the political volatility of its story has never been out of date. And so, under the want of MOFO’s curator Brian Ritchie, we did it again. In this production, the central characters are 9 foot high puppets, the good guy is played by multiple actors, and no one on stage speaks because they are voiced by actors 6 feet above them on scaffold, a cheer squad, dancers, a brass band, ludicrous puppet violence and the audience watched from a swimming pool.

I was approached to write the songs. There are scant details about original score from the late 1800s, so I took cues from the amazing new adaption of the script by writer Willow Weiland. There are 6 songs in all that were often sung by the whole company of 60 people. The music underscore we developed as a band of Taiko Drums, Harp, Saxes, Bass, Banjo, Harpsichord, brass band, choir, kazoo, surf guitar, toy piano and absurd percussion. Members were Brian Ritchie, Spile Mason, Yyan Ng, Emily Sanzaro and myself with help from the Launceston RSL Brass band. We played it 3 nights for free.

In short, it was awesome!

You and Me and the Space Between – A Terrapin Puppet Theatre Show

In the first few years after arriving in Tasmania, I saw a production by Terrapin Puppet Theatre in which a colleague of mine had scored the music for an absurd, nightmarish puppet production in a small Hobart theatre. I was so thrilled by the idea that SOMEONE I KNEW was making music for theatre. I wanted that so badly it hurt. But 20 years ago, my skill set lacked, my connections were thin and it all seemed a long ways away. Fast forward to 2016. Terrapin calls me and…you’ll never guess? It took about 15 years and a raft of success and failure to get there, but I have now scored and toured with this delightful show by Terrapin written by Finegan Kruckemeyer. A few weeks of development, (full-time development – now that’s where the quality comes in),  and we’re on the road around Australia. This post about the show is now a few years in to its production life and so far we’ve toured most major centres of Australia, Edinburgh, the USA (including the Lincoln Centre in NY), China twice and Japan. This year 2020 (all things Coronavirus going well) we look to return to China and Japan again.

The show is a puppeteer, a narrator, a visual artist drawing the show live on an iPad, and me playing a bunch of instruments. This quartet is a delightful romp through an island story that touches many cultural issues, dilemmas and solutions. It’s pure joy to work on and I’m grateful for the partnership with Sam Routledge and Terrapin Puppet Theatre.

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

 

 

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.