From top-left to bottom-right: John Psathas, Tane Upjohn Beatson, Devin Abrams, Rhian Sheehan, Gareth Farr, Bruce Lynch.

The World of Hearable Art: Some of NZ’s best composers talk about each other’s work

As part of this year’s World of Wearable Arts Award Show, musical director Paul McLaney has brought six of New Zealand’s best and most acclaimed composers together and commissioned a new work from each of them. Here they comment on each other’s work – not just for WoW, but across their careers.

Tane Upjohn Beatson on Gareth Farr

Gareth’s work overflows with colour and life, I find listening to it a remarkably synesthetic experience. Being taken along to concerts as a child I was very lucky to come into contact with some of his early orchestral and chamber works. I recall how they startled and amazed me; the violence and vividness of the emotions I felt, tones and colours that were foreign but familiar. This piece for WOW is driven with an addictive batucada shuffle, layers upon layers of percussion were better for my afternoon blood circulation than a double espresso. It has an infectious and relentless energy. Nobody does percussion like Gareth. I’m not only looking forward to hearing our pieces unleashed upon WOW’s mighty sound system as the backdrop to this visual extravaganza but sharing a well overdue glass of wine and talking about all kinds of these finicky details.

Gareth Farr on Tane Upjohn Beatson

Over the years that I’ve known and worked with Tane, I’ve always been so impressed by his ease of creation, and vibrant musical imagination – he’s a colleague that I’ve always felt comfortable asking for feedback on my work and giving feedback on his. I had the opportunity to work with Tane as assistant orchestrator on the massive exhibition The Scale Of Our War for Te Papa – he created a series of orchestral music tracks for the project which were recorded by the NZSO. The music had impact and emotion, and I am proud to have been a part of the process.

Tane has a rare ability to compose music ranging from orchestral to modern electronic – the music he has created for WOW this year is so immediately evocative and has the essence of the land and water that surrounds us. I think that Tane and I have a very similar musical aesthetic and although I haven’t heard our music tracks in the venue yet, I just can’t wait, because I know that they will complement each other and give the audience an opportunity to hear how NZ composers work together and influence each other.

You can listen to Tane’s work here.

Rhian Sheehan on John Psathas

Not only is John Psathas one of the most talented composers I know, but he’s also one of the most talented on the planet. New Zealand is lucky to have him. I think what sets him apart from many modern composers, is that he writes from the perspective and ability of the world-class players he regularly works with. You can hear that detailed approach throughout his work. He’s mastered the art of musical conversation. He understands in detail the instrumentation he is writing for, and the ability of the particular musicians he’s writing for, as well as the sonic he is seeking from the instruments.

All of John’s work is so captivating to listen to. The detail in his work is inspiring. It’s emotive, imaginative and colourful. I’ve heard what John has written and recorded for his WOW section. It’s stunning work. Very filmic and emotive. The audience is in for a treat. It’s an absolute pleasure and privilege to be working alongside him on a project of this scale.

John Psathas on Rhian Sheehan

I admire Rhian’s absolute mastery of sound and texture as a strongly expressive element in music. I love how his underlying sense of child-like wonder is merged with a phenomenally sophisticated and subtle use of technology and the recording studio as an instrument. But mostly I just really enjoy listening to his albums. When I imagine a piece of Rhian’s music, I think of an entire album. He creates a complete, integrated statement with each album. I love them all but I think my favourites have to be Little Blue Biosphere, and Standing in Silence.

I’m totally blown away by his work. At times it makes me imagine the future. Then, as it unfolds, I start to feel uneasy, but in a fantastically magical way. I love the incredible sound worlds Rhian has created and the way the music builds inexorably then releases its intensity and transforms into an altogether different and wondrous universe of sound and colour. It’s incredible.

Devin Abrams on Bruce Lynch

I felt honoured to be asked to be part of this amazing collection of musical artists and composers, including Bruce Lynch, and to be responsible for delivering the opening sequence of music for this years WOW. Having travelled all over the world with music and experiencing the exchanges it can create even when a shared dialect is not present, it gives me a lot of hope for communication across cultures with this thing we call music.

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Bruce Lynch on Devin Abrams

Music is a universal language in its own right, for the purpose of communicating higher emotions. I have always relished the opportunity to work with musicians from other cultures and have benefited hugely from those experiences. It is my second time around working on WOW and I’m loving the opportunity to produce an extended piece. I am looking forward to hearing the final result with contributions from Devin Abrams and the rest of the well-pedigreed team.

Read our interview with Devin Abrams from 2018 here

You can hear the work of all these composers at the 2019 World of Wearable Art Show in Wellington from September 26 – October 13. Tickets.


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