It seems fitting that my new work for Richard Tognetti and the ACO, “Electric Preludes”, has been commissioned by Melbourne art curator and gallerist Jan Minchin. My work has always had a strong visual aspect to it, owing much to the long-standing partnership with my wife, Heather Betts, herself a painter. Several of my works, such as “Beggars and Angels” and “Night Window” pay direct homage to the influence of Heather’s remarkable paintings on my own creative life.
These new preludes follow this line of creativity, owing much of their inspiration and development to visual stimuli. Whilst conceived as pieces of pure music, the lines, gestures and energies contained within nevertheless owe much of their ultimate shape to imagery.
Some of these came to my attention by traditional means; seeing the National Gallery of Victoria’s extraordinary exhibition “Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art” last year, for example, proved to be an especially inspiring encounter. The magical cartographic works of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri in particular, displaying such an encyclopaedic knowledge of his country, led directly to the second movement, “Topography-Papunya”, in which the music unfolds as if seen from above, taking in more and more detail as it scans and focuses, joining the dots as it were.
Another prelude was inspired simply by browsing through images on the web. The initial idea for the very opening of the piece, an ascending arpeggio over all six strings of Richard’s Violectra – and its subsequent descending counterpart heard somewhat later, reminded me of a rusty, squeaky swing in an abandoned playground. Just entering those two words in a google image search provided a beautifully wistful gallery of possible narratives and imagined sounds. Try it.
But the most striking image that fired my fantasy throughout the entire compositional process was that of Richard standing with the ACO, his exotic electric fiddle under his chin, taking mere breaths of sound and embryonic motivic shapes and transforming them, with the help of this impressive piece of electronics and sound designer Bob Scott at the mixing desk, filling the hall and enticing the orchestra’s manifold responses.
My heartfelt thanks to Richard and Bob for their invaluable contributions to this joyfully collaborative commission, and to Jan Minchin for her belief in the project and the financial support to allow us to realize it.
Brett Dean © 2012
"Six fleeting sketch-like movements catching the evanescence, fragility and luminosity of sound in moods ranging from the disturbing to the nightmarish, from the intimate to the cosmic." (Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12/02/2013)