ZELA: Hey Carolyn! You’ve been commissioned to write a piece for our Play On performance, how is it all going?
FIA FIELL: It’s been heaps of fun! The idea was to write a multi-channel work using multiple speakers so the sound can be coming from all the different parts of the space, which is this amazing 100-year old Norla Dome at the Victorian Mission to Seafarers in Docklands. I’ve never done that before and it’s been super fun and exciting to try out new sounds and experiment a bit and experience the space. It’s really unique and echo-y and has these crazy acoustics.
ZELA: Is composing for space something you’d been interested in before?
FIA FIELL: I haven’t actually done it before – I’ve never had the opportunity! I think it helps to make an experience more special and I’m really grateful to be able to try it out.
ZELA: Have you spent much time in the space?
FIA FIELL: Heaps. It was a really strange experience to enter it for the first time, as you know, and to walk around. When you stand in the middle every single tiny sound is amplified and it is going to be a really exciting place to perform. Let’s turn the tables – how did you choose the pieces that you are playing in your program – Cage, Pateras, Xenakis and my piece!?
ZELA: As this is my first opportunity as a solo artist outside of any kind of university experience, I wanted to pick a program that I thought would reflect myself really well and summarise my interests as a musician and percussionist. We’ve recently done lots of works by John Cage at ANAM, and we got to work with some amazing American percussionists who are really important in this world and I thought it would be really special to play anything by Cage. I settled on Dream is such a beautiful work that I’ve always wanted to play. It fits in the octaves of vibes.
FIA FIELL: It’ll sound especially good in the Dome.
ZELA: I thought the acoustics of the space and the intimacy of the room as well would be a really good opener for the show. And then the Xenakis was kind of going to do the opposite. Where Cage’s work is dreamy and legato and elegant, Xenakis’ is this kind of intense drum piece that has rhythms that get denser and denser. I think with the boominess of the Dome it’ll be quite a unique way to listen to the work, because there are elements of delay depending on where in the room you’re standing. It could sound really crazy, like three percussionists are playing. Who knows if it’s the correct acoustic setting for this work – either way it’ll be really interesting.
FIA FIELL: I think it’s really awesome that you’re giving the audience an opportunity to hear all kinds of sounds in the one performance. The really crazy drum piece that is the Xenakis and the Pateras is metallic and high percussion sounds. The dreamier stuff will have more in common with the things I’m playing in my set directly after you.
ZELA: Totally – I was drawn to the Pateras because I did want to represent some local composers and I thought the limitations that I had to face were space – the vibes were already going to take up a decent part of the room, as were the drums for Xenakis. Then I came across this piece by Pateras and it’s written for a micro set-up and I thought that it’d work! I’ve always enjoyed performing pieces where the percussionist gets to have some kind of input into the outcome, because it makes the work unique to that performance and that space. What’s special about this one is the way the composer specifies wooden sounds, metal sounds, glass sounds, ceramic sounds and skins but doesn’t tell you what they have to be specifically, so it’s up to every individual performer to figure out what the piece is going to look like to them. There’s a whole variation of say, wooden sounds – you could use woodblocks but I’ve had pieces of wood cut at Bunnings. You wouldn’t hear those sounds in an orchestra, but they work really well.
FIA FIELL: They sound really cool!
ZELA: I also bought this big piece of pipe and got my Dad to cut it into random sizes and picked the ones I thought would work for the piece. I found glasses in op shops and made the drums myself from a broken timpani head and some PVC pipes. Being able to make my own instruments makes that whole experience really cool and I was also able to imagine the space as I was building, so the whole performance will feel like quite a tailored experience. And I have spares if anything breaks! For me as a musician, this is definitely the path that I want to head down – playing these works that you can really shape based on where you’re playing and who you’re playing to.
FIA FIELL: I think it’s cool that we get to play together in this kind of way. You’ve played my music before but in a more classical setting – and while you’re still playing classical music a large portion of the crowd will be people who don’t usually come to classical gigs. It’s great for people who go to see experimental electronic music to get the opportunity to hear the other stuff and vice versa.
ZELA: I find that the most exciting – the Xenakis is a piece that most university percussionists play at some point: it gets played in so many recitals and exams and is based on accuracy – how did that person play it compared to the person before them? Getting to play it for a crowd of people who are there to enjoy whatever they hear is a really cool thing to give back to the piece, I think.
FIA FIELL: Not having that pressure totally changes a piece.
ZELA: And knowing that they’re there to just relax and get into whatever gets performed. That’s cool.
FIA FIELL: And they’ll love it! I think a lot of people know and appreciate Xenakis without having that university experience. No one will have a score.
ZELA: I’m also excited to revisit your piece, which I like to think was written with me in mind?
FIA FIELL: Yes! You commissioned the work from me and I was so pleased you did! That will sound awesome in the space – it’s vibraphone and electronics and it made a lot of sense to perform it together.
ZELA: It’s probably the best space we’ve performed it in. A lot of the audience will be there because they know you through your electronic music (as Fia Fell) and I suppose some might not even know that you’ve done a degree in classical composition. How do you feel about that – working across those two platforms?
FIA FIELL: It’s exciting to be able to share that side with lots of my friends who have never seen this side of my music. I’ve never felt totally at home in the world of classical composition anyway and I’ve always wanted to combine the electronic world with the things I picked up at uni. I have a composition degree from the University of Melbourne and before that I was mainly a classical pianist. I was never sure about being a pianist and knew I wanted to create my own sounds, but it took forever to get to a place where I could do that. Maybe I studied too much! When I finally took some time off university a couple of years ago, I started performing live and put more time into that. I make synth-based electronic music, lots of people describe it as ambient. You could call it electro-acoustic, I guess? I was really excited to get this show and I’m looking forward to presenting it with you!
Catch Fia Fiell and Zela Papageorgiou at Mission to Seafarers on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th November. Further information available here.