In Conversation: Angus Davison and SPIRAL

In Conversation: Angus Davison and SPIRAL

Tasmanian born composer Angus Davison on writing a piece for Sydney minimalist septet, SPIRAL. 

Sydney, Australia

In Conversation: Angus Davison and SPIRAL

Tasmanian born composer Angus Davison on writing a piece for Sydney minimalist septet, SPIRAL. 

Your new piece, Odd Logic, is being premiered tonight by SPIRAL at 107 Redfern in Sydney. Could you tell me a little about it?

Odd Logic was commissioned by SPIRAL for the first concert of their 2018 season. In one continuous movement, Odd Logic runs approximately 20 minutes. The music is full of contrast and vitality. The wide registral and dynamic range of the ensemble is put to use, and there are moments to shine for the ensemble in the slowly shifting tremolo textures, tuneful interludes, and passages of spirited ostinati.

SPIRAL's primary focus is music from, and influenced by, the minimalist canon. I also have an affinity for this music, and minimalist textures and processes are plain to hear at a number of points in the work. What may be less obvious are the devices operating under the surface of the music: the piece is divided into halves by a general pause, thirds by metric/rhythmic changes, and into still smaller portions by pitch centre, harmonic language, instrumentation and texture.

SPIRAL is unusual in that it does not have an entirely typical instrumentation. How does writing for SPIRAL differ from your other compositions; is it more challenging, or is it easier?

SPIRAL’s instrumentation immediately appealed to me. Omitting guitar, I split the ensemble into two trios of flute, keyboard, and bass which are slightly separated on stage. At times the trios work together, at others they move autonomously. I find this sort of arrangement great fun to work with.

You have written many pieces across a diverse range of styles throughout your career so far. What kind of instrumental (or vocal) ensembles have you written for before?

I’ve been privileged to work with many excellent ensembles and soloists such as the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Huon String Quartet, Note-Aurius, Xyris and Beraga Saxophone Quartets, Ady Ensemble, Hobart Wind Symphony and pianist Jack Barnes among others. I’ve composed film scores, incidental music for theatre, and pedagocial works for young musicians. Currently, I’m writing for one of Australia’s finest young baritones, Michael Lampard, setting a quirky text called La Journée du musicien. This text, which you can find on my website, details French composer Eric Satie’s (alleged) daily schedule and if a quarter of it is true then he was quite a character!

When and where have you studied?

I commenced my tertiary studies at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music in 2012, graduating with a BMus. In 2016 I moved to Sydney and completed First Class Honours at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where I studied with Michael Smetanin.

It can be tough for a composer to "make it", or indeed to even find motivation to continue writing; do you have any pearls of wisdom for other budding young composers out there?

Think very carefully before deciding to study composition at university. More students than ever are pursuing tertiary studies in composition and the vast majority of them will not become established composers. Unless you are compelled to compose at some deep level, it may not be a good decision to invest three years and $20000 into a composition degree.

If you do decide to pursue composing (and the following are as much notes to myself as to others!):
1) Work very hard. If you don’t then you definitely won’t get anywhere.
2) Strive to maintain balance in your life. The Composer’s experience involves joy but also regular disappointment. On those days where you are struggling to write or your grant application gets rejected, you need other aspects of your life to be strong so you can stay healthy and happy.

Catch Angus Davison's Odd Logic at SPIRAL/107 on the 6th April 2018.