shallow listening in Sydney

shallow listening had its second and third performances recently by the music box project in Sydney. A year and a half after the premiere at BIFEM 2019, the fact that the ensemble were still excited about the program made me so grateful. The now award-winning performance, having recieved the Excellence in Experimental Music Award at the prestigious APRA AMC Awards in 2020, drew a new crowd in NSW. I was excited to see the ensemble perform my piece and the others in the unhinged program with even more energy and conviction and enhanced staging and lighting at Australian Hall. Thank you to Steve Moffatt at Limelight for the rave review.

In contrast to the Zen-like calmness of that pillar, the other two works on the program were far more theatrical and demanding of both performers and audience. Shallow Listening features a terrific duet between Stefanou’s prodigious mezzo-soprano vocals and Jigalin’s theremin with some Cathy Berberian-style spoken and sung passages, heavy on dark humour with references to robodebt and the need to smile at all costs.

A year in isolation

Photo: MANE rehearsals pre-social distancing (by Yunis Tmeizeh)

Well, 2020 hasn't gone exactly as planned so far. By April this year, I'd planned to have already had my piece for Monash Animated Notation Ensemble finished and performed at the Melbourne Recital Centre as part of the MSO Metropolis concert featuring the works of Betsy Jolas. I would be preparing a piece for the Minimoog workshop at Darmstadt in July, and probably playing more synth gigs around Melbourne. But, of course, this has turned out to be a year of putting things on hold. I'm starting to come to terms with that, and make use of the extra time to compose more and tidy up recordings of some older works. Somehow there still doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to do all the things I'm excited about.

Live-streaming has proven to be a double edged sword. I've had some amazing experiences with it - taking part in Deep listening workshops with flautist Dom Chaseling and performing a live-streamed synth improv as part of the fabulous Hibernation Festival. I joined in on Pat Telfer's Isolation Improvisation Collective, improvising with musicians, dancers and artists over Zoom. I've been grateful for all of these opportunities for performance, improvisation and human contact. However, online performances aren't as easy as I'd first assumed. My internet connection isn't strong enough to sustain high quality video and audio streaming together, so I've always had to work around this by prioritising one or the other, or limiting how many people I can play with. I guess we'll continue to work out the kinks as online concerts become the norm for the next few months or more!

In other news, I've been playing with a new synth, the SOMA Lyra-8. It feels like it was made for me - it's designed by a Russian artist who wanted to create an electronic instrument that allows the kind of musical and emotional range you'd get out of an acoustic instrument. Although it looks like a noise box, it's really an 8-voice polyphonic keyboard with microtonal capabilities and a really cool modulating delay. As well as the Hibernation Festival performance, I've recorded this piece called 5G Bats.

BIFEM 2019

I had an incredible time on the weekend with the music box project, who premiered my piece Shallow Listening at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. After months of rehearsals the ensemble pulled off an amazing concert, with really effective lighting and choreography between the pieces. The concert consisted of pieces by Moya Henderson, Jasmin Leung, Elizabeth Jigalin, and Joseph Franklin as well as my piece. Tina Stefanou, the vocalist, did amazing work with costuming and Jane De Bourg built set pieces that took this performance from a regular concert to a fully realised show. I feel so lucky to have worked with them on this performance and really feel like part of the ensemble, not something I get to experience with every collaboration! My piece drew an appropriate amount of laughter from the audience, and the instrumentation of theremin, voice, toys, music boxes and other instruments seemed to work! Jigalin looked like she had suddenly embodied a 1930s thereminist when the concert started, and everyone locked in wonderfully to the improvised word prompt page in the middle of the piece, resulting in great comedic timing.

Video and recording to come soon!

MESS Winter Sound School

This winter I've been spending most of my free time in a cold North Melbourne basement, Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio. I was lucky enough to be accepted into their advanced professional development workshops, where I spent 13 weeks playing with vintage electronic instruments including the pictured Ondes Martenot, the Korg PS3300, Moog Theremin and the Buchla modular system. It was quite a leap out of my comfort zone to go quickly from my basic understanding of synthesis to very complex ideas about modular synthesis, MIDI to CV conversion and multi-channel mixing. My knowledge in this area has grown in a way that I hardly have time to keep up with - I just with I had more time to play around with all the ideas in my head! While taking this course, I also fed my new interests by listening to this broadcast about women in electronic music, and have found myself inspired by Daphne Oram, Johanna Beyer and Suzanne Ciani.

Some of my music from the course is already up on Soundcloud, with more to come as I get a grip on mixing and mastering and plan a Bandcamp release!

the music box project blog post

Some reflections on workshopping my piece Shallow Listening in Sydney

Articles and Reviews

I thought I should put some of my written articles and reviews from the past couple of years in one place, so here they are!

Queer and Now Interview Series (CutCommon Magazine)
Jesse Budel
Sally Whitwell

BIFEM 2015 Reviews
The power and beauty of resonance and cadence
James Hullick: Rotation Post-Sapien
soundinitiative: The Exhausted


I spent this week at Music Analysis Summer School. Liz Jigalin, Jasmin Leung and I held a forum at the end of the week to discuss compositional issues with the many talented composers, musicians and analysts attending. Here's a paragraph I wrote on the question I posed to the group.

Posing the question ‘How do you communicate your sonic desires?’ to this room of diverse musical minds, the conversation turned to notation. This topic made quite evident the different approaches composers have to control over their music. Most seemed to use standard forms of notation, notes on paper with perhaps some graphics or text, handed out to musicians. We didn’t delve too much into the transfer of ideas from the score to realisation by musicians, but focused more on how our ‘sonic desires’ move from our heads to the page. Many in the room agreed that what’s harder than communicating desires is asking oneself, “What do I want in the first place?” Through the conversation, we found that it’s unavoidable for notation to become part of the compositional process. Before any sort of sketching of ideas, a realm of possibilities exist, and it’s only by putting pen to paper that we start to narrow down these options. As one young composer pointed out, this requires giving up your dreams of creating your ‘musical masterpiece’, as going from the initial idea state to something more concrete immediately opens your work up to limitations. The best advice I heard, though, was to be conscious of how much control you actually want over your music. The music of Julio Estrada, who we studied earlier in the week in a lecture by Pedro Alvarez, used to be portrayed through heavily detailed scores. In recent years, he’s communicated his music through talking directly to performers, abandoning traditional forms of notation entirely. What we finished the conversation on this topic with was a bold statement - that choices of notation are political. Composers need to be aware of the implications of their notation and make a stance.