Orchestral Music

As well as writing and producing rock and pop music, I am beginning to compose orchestral works.

Xanthorrhoea

Xanthorrhoea is the scientific name for the Australian plants commonly known as black boys or grass trees. It is also the title of my current orchestral project. The piece is based around the events of a bushfire, and divided into four movements, each representing different stages of a bushfire – a peaceful day in the bush, the calm before the storm, the initial panic as the fire begins to burn, the havoc that the fire wreaks on the bush, the dead silence afterwards, and the regrowth of the burnt out area afterwards. I aim to have the work fully completed in August 2012. It will be approximately 30 minutes long.

Movement 1 is a Prologue scored for a percussion ensemble of 8 players, each playing between 3 and 7 instruments. Acting as an overture for the rest of the piece, it has three distinct sections, each introducing themes and motifs used in the following movements. For the prologue, percussion instruments are divided into three categories – wood, skin and metal – depending on the construction of the instrument. Each section of the movement features a different category of percussion instrument: first wood, then skin, then metal. Wood represents the trees and other life that was present before the fire. The skins on traditionally built instruments were made from dead animals, so these represent the death and destruction that the fire brings with it. The metal represents the ability of the bushland to recover and grow back stronger than it was before the fire.

Movement 2 is titled Peace. It is representative of the calm and peaceful state of the natural bush before the arrival of the fire. It features the full orchestra and makes heavy use of the morse code and gematria for the word “peace.” It also heavily utilises the Fibonacci Sequence, a mathematical sequence that is commonly found in natural objects and organisms. The orchestra is not arranged into its ordinary instrument families for this movement, rather, it has been organised in order of approximate pitch, the first entry being the piccolo, and the last being the contrabassoon. One instrument enters at a time, as the bushland slowly wakes up in the morning. Gradually, the landscape becomes more active as more and more instruments enter and realise something’s wrong. They work their way into a panic as the tempo increases, rhythms shorten, the harmony becomes more dissonant and the chaos builds. The instruments’ calls change from an acknowledgement of peace to a warning message, just as the fire hits.

Movements 3 and 4, titled Fire and Regrowth, respectively will express the raging of the fire, followed by the subsequent regrowth and renewal of the forest, stronger than it was before. These movements will be composed for my final Composition major work at the Australian Institute of Music, completing the piece at the end of August.

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