Resonances of Culture: Place, Spirit and Sound
Weaving my way through the bush in the lower Blue Mountains, I came across a spacious gully, with gum tree spaces and striking bellbird reverberations that made me stop in my tracks. The startling beauty of the space and blurring of time with resonance caused me to pause, wonder and be transported somewhere else within that bush cathedral. It seemed to be that sound was momentary mediation. On another day, and in another way—through Mulgoa Nature Reserve’s curving trails—the awakened mid-morning cacophony of bellbirds and white-plumed and brown-head honey eaters warbling in ecstatic celebration of being alive reminds me of the joy of awakening piano keys in darting experimental blues as my morning meditation in my Glenmore Park home. In practice and experience was an expression of stillness and ecstatic joy from within as a response to the presence of life, which find expression in my warbling—musical expressions of extemporized and meditative joy in composition.
It was some time later for the Aurora Festival 2008 in Sydney that these mountain resonance and cacophonic joy ideas gave birth to music in my work for percussion and piano, Double Resonances. Here, the wondrous sense of the space and throbbing vitality that I felt in nature was responded to through ebbing bowed vibraphone sounds lingering whilst Chinese modality resonances in darting piano sounds weaved bird-like around the throbbing vibes. These throbbing sounds gave way to pattern drones of Filipino kulintang gong-chimes interrupted by erupting interval-colour chordal moments in combative tensions. The lingering moments of sound remind me of venerable Chinese scholar and composer Chou Wen-chung’s description of colouristic opening up in extended darting sounds akin to nature of qin techniques and Filipino ethnomusicologist and composer Jose Maceda’s discussion of undampened resonating systems of bronze gong-chimes as free-moments and dronal colour as a new theory of music for Asia. Other moments in the music erupt into cacophonic jazzy thrusts with combative percussion outburst born of an experimental extemporization practice
in free form jazz on piano. My own sound world was stretching away from the distant sense of a European formalist training into something more personally felt and resonant of my place in the Pacific. At the time my wife and I were privileged to have my friend and mentor Chinary Ung and his wife Susan as our first guests in our Glenmore Park, bush-nestled home, at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Sydney. Upon listening to my new work—freshly cut from the recording studio—Chinary gently pointed out that piece was a resonance for the Pacific, not just myself, and that I could extend this through not only gong-like prepared piano moments already present in the work, but finger sliding moments—almost like Chou’s citing of birds in descending lines as metaphorical descriptions of single Chinese zither qin tones.
In my continuing journey of awakening to the resonances of my surrounding culture—the Pacific rim of fire—other Asian-Pacific cultures began to mark my music with the resonance of place and spirit. My sojourns to Korea and the Philippines marked an engagement with exciting samulnori percussion immersion as a total oneness vibration of sound that made me want to dance, run and jump whilst the subtle undulation of kulintang gong-chime percussion suggested drifting presence. In my music for violin, percussion and piano, Not Broken Bruised-Reed for the ISCM World New Music Days 2010 in Sydney, these resonances emerged but in a kaleidoscope of shifting colour arguments in the way that might be comparable to Chou’s wriggling description of shifting qin tone. The music opens with attacking bruised-resonances of prepared piano but
with uncertain finger-damping placement out of which metal-wound string and undampened gong ring alongside crotales lingering and fading as Korean aftertone inspired resonance. This time the colours warble in a cacophony exchange amongst forced bow violin bruising, sharp kkwaenggwari high brass gong and shifting prepared piano stabbing aftertone and gradually flower from uncertain whistling to high violin harmonics and soring lyricism of charged upper height violin. This living colour opening up, prepared and placed in the moment had a warbling unpredictability that found its climactic utterance in samulnori inspired accelerating frenzied rhythms across tightly notated B-bop-like virtuosic lines on piano. What was awakening in me as a composer, encouraged by Chinary’s warmth of friendship and gentle insight, was a heightened response to Pacific Rim vitality where colour wriggles in eclectic conglomerations of unpredictable life.
Still warbling my way through the bush each morning, startling kangaroos with bright orange runners, my Glenmore Park nature reserve run has become a journey of stasis and life moving moments that refresh my spirit and mind with the presence of an undefinable yet knowable presence of the creator. The creation of sound in composition has become listening to the presence and the joy of the Pacific and expressing its living moments as lingering dronal stasis of rich intersections and sudden eruptions of ecstatic joy to reach above and beyond the moment to something else.