Metamorphosis – defined as a transformation, a complete and utter change into something new.

Metamorphosis – 1915 novella by Franz Kafka. Depicts the overnight transformation of a Gregor Samsa into a gigantic insect. His family attempt to adjust, however repulsed by him and ultimately a burden, Gregor eventually dies, a stranger in his own home.

Metamorphosis – Opera by Australian composer Brian Howard, based upon Kafka’s original work. Set design and model by Nigel Triffitt. Miniature set model located in the bowls of the Melbourne Arts Centre.

Metamorphosis – short work written by myself for oboe, bass clarinet, percussion, violin and cello. Commissioned by the Melbourne Arts Centre for the 5x5x5 Programme where 5 selected composers are asked to write a short work, responding to an item within the Arts Centre’s archives.

It was Triffitt’s striking set model (seen below) and it’s correlating subject matter (metamorphosis) that inspired my work for this programme.

The staircase, a ‘vehicle’ that provides access to another location, is seen here fragile and contorted – unwilling. It’s this dichotomy that I took as an overarching concept. The musical material works it’s way moving between various pitch centres, often unstable and deviating for periods of time before returning on track. The idea of metamorphosis is used somewhat ironically. Instead of a complete transformation, the work actually remains in a constant state of unstable and slow change, without ever reaching remotely new material or ideas. The resulting sound world I believe echoes the absurdist and nightmarish (however arguable real) world that Kafka conjures, one of disconnect, disorientation and alienation.

The individual musical gestures are fluid and somewhat slippery. These adjectives have applied to all of my output of the past two years, something I have increasingly become aware of and now trying to move away from, or at the very least, be certain of my intent and not merely the default. This ‘language’ includes frequent leaps between octaves and especially of the minor 9th and major 7th. A littering of microtones, used either ornamentally or harmonically, as opposed to a linear level such as a ‘melodic line’, or in a quasi contrapuntal treatment. Gestures could be described as meandering, freely using neighbouring notes and ornaments such as turns, trills and grace notes. What little harmonic layers exist are unstable, sliding in and out of equal tempered intervals, with the majority of the texture probably falling within a heterophonic description.

My next work, a saxophone quartet for the Bron Quartet, attempts to move away from these approaches, or at used them much less overtly, and explore newer ways of organising pitch (especially with regards to microtones and treatment of the equal tempered system), development of ideas (or lack thereof), pushing away from heterophony, and reconsidering octave equivalents and certain favourited intervals.

So I feel my work Metamorphosis is a sort of summary of where my compositional thinking has been for quite some time, with the next few pieces to come (a quintet, duo and solo [tba!]) exploring newer avenues and other ‘musical’ parameters. The concept of parameters – what we as composers (or any artist) choose to control and what we chose to relinquish, and what is left up to tradition, performance practise, or intuition, is a concept that is at the forefront of my thinking for these next works…

Metamorphosis can be listened to here

A big thanks to the performers Hamish Upton, Andrew Fong, Eve Osborn, Caleb Wong, Lily Higson-Spence, and the Arts Centre Melbourne.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s