Syzygy Ensemble will release their debut album Making Signs at the Melbourne Recital Centre Salon on Wednesday 2 December 2016. Tickets can be purchased at the MRC website.
It’s been five years since Syzygy Ensemble began making music together. During this time they have become well-known supporters and champions of new Australian music. They’ve developed close relationships with composers such as Brenton Broadstock and Gordon Kerry. The dynamism and the strength of their artistic vision has been praised and recognized over again.
Now, at what seems like the natural time in their creative process, Syzygy are releasing their debut album. Called Making Signs, it is both a symbol of the group’s creative journey to this point, and a product that they can look forward with. Syzygy flutist Laila Engle and I recently sat down together to discuss why releasing an album was important for the group at this stage, and what steps were involved in the process.
“It was really important for us at this point, after five years together and numerous broadcasts on radio, to have something that we owned and that we could use to share our work,” says Laila. This gave the group a sense of direction about what it was they wanted to say, and whom they would ask to write works for. “In any endeavor like this it’s important to ask yourself what you want to say and why pick this music,” she says.
Once a clear creative plan has been created, the next step is to find the funding for such a project. A combination of private philanthropy, prize and grant money has provided Syzygy with the ability to make this album. “Gordon Kerry’s piece was commissioned by Julian Burnside, facilitated through Creative Partnerships,” says Laila. Conversely, Brenton’s piece was the result of the Albert Maggs Prize for competition, whilst Creative Victoria supported the recording of the album. The trick to securing this funding came through the artistic planning. By having a clear idea of what the project was trying to achieve, Syzygy were able to target grants that suited their needs and skill sets.
The recording process is one of the most costly parts of releasing an album is the recording studio. For art music in particular, costs can blow out when specific instrumentation is required. “One of the criteria we needed was an excellent piano. We went with a pretty new place called Ginger, run by Jim Wyatt. It’s a small space, and he has a great instrument that we were able to use. We actually became aware of that space through young composer Luke Hutton asked us to do a session there to record one of his pieces.”
Editing and Mastering
Following the recording comes postproduction. “The mastering and editing process really depends on how involved you want to be. Because we’re an artist run group we wanted to have a lot of input, and to involve the composers. Because of this though it really blew out on the timeline! So that was certainly a learning curve,” she says. “Next time we would allow more time to go back and forth with feedback. Fortunately we had access to very high quality engineers.”
Printing and licensing
Before printing the album, all recording artists need to submit their program to Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA). “In Australian recording artists have to pay a licensing fee. You submit a license to APRA so that the composers get paid,” she says. “Once this is submitted APRA generate a quote for the license of the music.” With printing also comes artwork. “We went with an image painted by Brett Dean’s wife Heather Betts, who is a very high profile artist. It was particularly generous of her to let us use that image and it was consistent with what we wanted project – high quality Australian art.”
Launch and sales
Syzygy have chosen to launch this album independently. This means that CDs are available only directly through the ensemble. Currently, it is not available for digital download. The reason for this ties in with the ensemble’s love of live performance. “A launch is important because it generates excitement. Most CDs of this nature will be sold at concerts. Our relationship with our live audience is important to us, so by having a launch and allowing our audience first access to the recording we respect that relationship.”