This interview originally appeared as part of a feature for the SOUNZ December 2013 homepage, which can be found "here":/content/175eastdecfeature.
How would you describe le kaléidoscope d’obscurité?
I think of it as a piece that is felt as much as it is heard, due to the liminal sound world. It has a distinctively dark timbral palette that indulges the bass-weighted tessitura of the 175East core instrumentation, as well as the richness of the upper registers and percussive qualities of the lower instruments. Structurally, the piece follows a direct path from The Structure of Memory and [...and...11] in terms of the use of montage and expanding cyclic successions of fragments, but the trajectory is much more in the direction of decay, towards residuality.
This work was first performed and commissioned almost ten years ago, is this the kind of piece you could see yourself writing now?
I think I could, in the sense that it represents my aesthetic on a number of levels and revising it has made it feel fresh, though it was more a bit of pruning than wholesale revision - I removed a particular set of material that I felt wasn't well integrated and added a small section at the end, from material I had written but didn't have time to complete in the original version, that continues the process of decay. I haven't yet heard the new version but I anticipate that it will have a more streamlined shape. There was nothing else I was inclined to change, apart from revamping the score layout.
As the Proustian mode of experience is a primary influence on the piece, does the philosophy of experience inspire your compositional practice generally?
Around the time of writing the piece I was reading Proust for the first time. There was a strong sense of recognition in Proust of the kind of experience I was grasping in my music, which reinforced the intuitions about memory that were brought forward through composing The Structure of Memory. The hitching-on to Proust in the programme note reflected my becoming alive to this kinship, which I found also in Deleuze and Bergson around the same time; Bergson of course being a key source for the other two, and in whom again I have found striking resonances of my own intuitive conceptions with regard to experience.
Tell us about Reef, does it have a similar sound palette to le kaléidoscope d’obscurité - if not what are the differences?
With the new piece - called Reef - I set out to re-connect with aspects of the sound world of le kaléidoscope d’obscurité but with differences, and with a different formal idea altogether. I have held on to the symmetries of the original ensemble - string and clarinet pairs, but the weight is tipped to a more alto register as well as an altissimo register, with the addition of alto flute and piccolo, and viola instead of bass. I started out with the plan to amplify the flute, similarly to the way the bass is amplified in le kaléidoscope d’obscurité, as a way to create a relief or 'hyper-dimension' in the texture, however that plan fell away as the piece evolved. It was an interesting process: there was other material from the older piece I wanted to revisit and build on, but in the end more present forces took over, which is what often happens.
Reef is more through-composed and linear. My temporary return to Aotearoa [for a year from July 2013-June 2014, at the Lilburn Residence in Wellington] has re-kindled my preoccupation with its coastal surfaces - reefs of rock etched by water. I am drawn by the rich patterning and the quality of mark-making by water over time, through continual cycles of flow, friction, force. Since I first discovered it in 1990, I have been strongly influenced in my conceptualisation of the dynamic Pacific land/seascapes by the writings of Denys Trussell, whose long poem Archipelago: The Ocean Soliloquies has been at my side for a while, with a longstanding plan to set part of it for voices. He vividly evokes the rendering of islands '... the moon dragging young water through the formation of its stone ... at the joining of elements the sea and the eye of the fish holding the world in its glance.' This should not be taken as a programme, however Trussell's texts play a part in mediating the central poetic conceptions of my aesthetic around elemental processes. Reef is above all about exploring texture - re-exploring the pairings and alchemy I found in the 2004 incarnation of 175East (with le kaléidoscope d’obscurité) but differently, as layers of 'reef', scratched lines that merge and interact as the utterances of fluid energy streams. The musical language of Reef is the product of my aim to render raw, permutating, lines into rich patterning and glistening harmonies, while exploiting a widely-cast spectrum of both timbre and pitch, from the incisive clarity of high piccolo to the raw force of buzzing bass clarinet.