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Ross Edwards on Composition I – In Conversation With…

September 22, 2019


I found my voice at a certain stage when
I had rejected all music, I was really upset about it. I just thought I don’t relate
to anything, I don’t relate to the western tradition anymore, it was a time of high modernism
and I found that pretty depressing. So I was almost on the verge of stopping, but I was
living overseas at the time but I came back to Australia and walking in the bush was the
thing that saved me really. I started actually listening to the environment and I came to realise or
to assume that this is where music came from in the first place. So having wiped the slate
clean, I then started to build on that. Very very gradually, so I would walk in the morning
when I wasn’t teaching and then I’d come back and confront a bit of blank paper, music
paper, to see what would happen. I didn’t record anything, I just, it was an experiment
in a way because I wasn’t in those days depending on it for a living, that came later,
and then of course you just have to keep going, but then I for a small piece I would have
a great wad of paper that I’d been trying and trying to get it right, because I was
working something new, a new language for me was slowly developing, and eventually I
got some very slim pieces, some piano pieces, and others which were very spare, they didn’t
have a great deal of content at all and I was working with something I felt was me,
at the time, and it was based on my, not so much reminiscence of, or recording, I certainly
never wrote down things like bird song or insect patterns, but these are the things
and their intersection that inspired me to write certain types of music, which I gradually
built on; that’s another story – at this stage it was very spare, I could mention pieces ike Kumari for solo
piano, and The tower of remoteness for clarinet and piano, and um I think the songs that you
sung, the Michael Dransfield songs were just starting to change at that point, but before
that it was very austere. I’ve retained the influence of the environment,
it’s always there in the background, but I added to it increasingly, and often quite
eccentrically, all sorts of things which are coming from diverse cultures, or my perception
of what they are and their function, and I’ve sort of fleshed out the scaffolding that I’d
established. The surface of the music has changed dramatically. I was just listening
to a piece of mine which is being edited for a double concerto for alto saxophone and percussion
and orchestra, a big piece, and I thought god, what have I done. It’s incredibly eccentric
and very dense and covering all sorts of things I mean gods and goddesses pop up and shamans
sort of cross the concert platform and do things, and it’s in costume, so I mean,
but behind that the scaffolding, the austere framework that I’d established before, but
it’s now very different for a listener. When I’m writing a piece of course I’m
right inside it, talking about vocal music, I remember walking along a beach with the
Dransfield evolving in my head, then I go back and go to the piano and so on. But it
does take a while to get right inside what I’m doing, and feeling sort of confident
about it. Not too confident, because I can’t do that because of the way I write by sort
of accretive process, it just adds on and on and on. I’ve actually, in the score here,
I’ve got a little tick after some of the bars. But Some; I come back to the pieces I get sort of fairly discouraged sometimes,
and then I have to have a little break. Not too long a break, but my whole working process
is focusing very intently and getting inside the thing and coming out and realising I’m
hungry or whatever, but I have to have a bit of a break, and this goes back to my student
days – I have to be reading a book that will switch me off for a while These days I’m usually, when I finished
a piece, I find that if it works it works and I’m happy to leave it, except of course
that we’ll go through it and the rehearsal process is very important to me and I depend
on my colleagues to sort of point things out and that’s, and if they don’t I encourage
it of course. This is a bit high, well a bit high for me, it would work better if… because
they know better about the voices, the instruments, I’m just a.. well I can’t do it, I’m
just someone who imagines I can. I’m obsessed with every little detail and
making sure that what I think will work works. And increasingly it does – well, it should
by my age shouldn’t it?

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