Although A Storm, A City is my first attempt at concert organisation and promotion, from the very start I have been well aware of what I wanted to achieve through putting on this event: to create a unique performance environment in which to present new music. Coming from a composer’s perspective, I feel there is so much to be gained from pairing your music with a unique performance environment in order to leave an audience with a lasting concert experience and a strong memory of your composition. This advantage can really come to the fore when we present art music outside of the concert halls where it has traditionally been performed. Outside of the concert hall we can develop a different kind of immersion in music performance with venue choices, visual elements, and strong concert themes feeding into the creation of a unique performance environment to showcase new art music.
A Storm, A City is the title of my new composition for cello and electronics, after which the concert is named. I composed the piece as a response to my experience of walking through Melbourne as a storm gathered and broke over the expansive urban landscape. The work explores notated composition, improvisation, and electroacoustic performance as it transitions from slowly evolving sections of fragmented melodies to static moments of textural contemplation. The electronics track featured in the composition is completely derived from recorded violin samples, rendering the performance a very disembodied duet between violin and cello, between a storm and a city.
With accessible themes of ‘a storm’ and ‘a city’ permeating the entire composition, I wanted to create a performance environment that would allow for maximum immersion in these themes and the music. I had earmarked the cinema space at LongPlay as a potential concert venue for a number of reasons: its intimacy, the potential to project visuals during the performance, and the darkened space allowing sound to dominate the senses. With the venue ticking boxes in my planned immersive performance environment, I decided to try my hand, for the first time, at creating some visuals for the concert.
The measure of a project’s worth certainly comes to your attention when you are attempting a task beyond your own creative practice, particularly when it means hours of work designing visuals. Creating visuals for A Storm, A City permitted me to pinpoint the essence of the music I wanted to visually portray and appreciate how the visual and sonic elements would work together in performance. The visuals, which I really enjoyed creating in the end, represent both ‘storm’ and ‘city’ and have become an important part of the concert’s promotion as well as the performance. Existing as a slightly ambiguous collection of lines, the visuals have become the poster and promotional image for the concert and have been used in an attempt to immerse the audience in some of the concert’s themes before they even attend the event.
Taking sole responsibility of the concert’s organisational and promotional elements has really placed me outside of my comfort zone; however, it has been very rewarding to go through these new processes and apply my own creativity to each task. Although this might make me appear as someone who prefers to work alone, I am certainly not adverse to collaboration; working with talented emerging cellist Nikki Edgar has been the highlight of this project. Nikki and I met at the Tilde New Music Festival earlier this year and whilst we’d casually spoken of doing a piece together, a concert was a step beyond our expectations. During the festival, Nikki’s talents as an improviser were on display and this certainly influenced my decision to include improvised elements in A Storm, A City even though I had never included improvisation in any of my earlier compositions.
Since our decision to work on a piece for this concert, the collaboration between Nikki and I has seen some wild explorations into the cello. It was during our first meeting to go through some of my sketches that we began to look at odd ways of bowing; things quickly went left of centre from there. When the second bow emerged I knew there was something exciting to explore and the third scene in the composition, After the Storm, has become a dense exploration of different cello textures, bowing underneath the strings, and performing with two bows simultaneously – the latter has resulted in occasional mutterings of expletives during rehearsals. Nikki not only allowed me to realise my own compositional ideas for A Storm, A City, she offered her own knowledge as a cellist on individual phrases and techniques to give me the best representation of the ideas in my head. I formed many of the composition’s ideas only after hearing Nikki play, which really puts into perspective the merit of composers working closely with their performers.
Creating music will always be a process I value, however, the process of organising and promoting a concert has added a different kind of value to A Storm, A City, allowing it to form part of an experience. A composition can become part of a larger experience when showcased in a performance environment that offers something different to a regular concert experience and I feel a great thrill in being able to present my own compositions in my own individual way. I hope this thrill will remain as I continue to do so into the future.
A Storm, A City will premiere at LongPlay’s cinema space in North Fitzroy on Friday, May 26. There will be two performances of the work, 8:30PM and 10:00PM. Tickets are available here.