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?




* 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.