Composed for oboe, clarinet/bass clar, alto saxophone, trumpet, 2 percussion, ‘cello, and double bass this piece was commissioned by the 2005 Salzburg Festival for Klangforum Wien.
The work’s aesthetic world references some aspects of Australian Aboriginal culture, notably the idea of ‘shimmer’ as an indicator of the presence of a spiritual reality. Iridescence, optical effects and bright hues are valued for their suggestion of power and at the same time often ritually obscured, veiled or made dull in order to protect onlookers from those same forces. In Kukatja, one of the Aboriginal desert languages, there is a word, ‘kalyururu’ that means ‘like water shimmering as it falls’ which is used to describe the quality of ‘songs found in dream’. A song becomes a way of pointing towards a set of energetic forces. In my composition, aspects of singing are woven into a fine fabric of layers of breathing, shimmering and metamorphosing distorted sounds where the surface turbulence created by passing layers hints at an underlying 'song' without ever revealing its identity.
The dreamscape of ‘song’ and ‘singing’ in Aboriginal culture is intimately connected to the land. When one walks through country with a custodian of the land, one begins to see that every stone, every plant, every inch of earth is named (in incredibly subtle and multiple ways) and contains within it whole histories and liturgies of people and ancestors. One becomes aware of the power of symbolic transactions that underlies this kind of cultural thinking. For me, this is also how I think about composing: at its basis lies the transformative gesture through which one says ‘let this thing stand for that’, ‘let this generate a reverberation over there’,
…the way astronomers
draw constellations for each other
in the markets of wisdom
on a dark blanket
are the heavens’
calculating the movement
of the great stars.
Michael Ondaatje, ‘The Nine Sentiments’, vi, from Handwriting, Picador, UK, 1998.
This performance was conducted by Manuel Nawri at Hall One of Kings Place, London, on March 16th 2010