Tram no. 3 and 7/8, canvas bags, 30-plus degrees, Große Sporthalle aka sweltering sauna, 3 euro bottle wine, 3 euro small flat white.

Some of the first things that pop into my head when thinking back to my time at Darmstadt in July this year. Running from the 14th – 28th of July in the small German town of the same name, the Darmstadt Summer Course has been at the centre of new music training, discourse, and music-making in Europe since the 1940s. Particularly synonymous with the personalties of Boulez & Stockhausen during the 50s – 60s, and perhaps with Lachenmann & Ferneyhough since the 80s – 90s, I had certain expectations about what culture would purvey the school. In short it had this collective energy, day after day of incredible music making, and surprisingly (despite it’s shortcomings in other areas), Darmstadt was a lot less dogmatic and more musically diverse that I expected!

[Big list of names coming…]

As has been for a while now, I was amongst a healthy Australian & New Zealand contingent, making the pilgrimage alongside fellow composers Samantha Wolf, Josephine Macken, Johnathon Win, writers (and composer) Andrew Aronowicz, Megan Steller, performers (and composer) Hannah Reardon-Smith, Amber Evans, Benjamin Anderson, Melanie Walters, Rowan Hamwood, Sonia Wilson, and team Rubiks (Tamara, Kaylie, Jacob, Gemma). [apologies! I know there are more!] Additionally Liza Lim, Damien Ricketson, Cathy Milliken, Graeme Jennings, and Speak Percussion were there as tutors, performers, and guest speakers.

Without going through the entire 2 weeks, some of the highlights for me were:

Lessons: I had composition lessons with Pierluigi Billone, Wieland Hoban*, Rebecca Saunders, and participated in the Composing for oboe/violin course with Cathy Milliken & Graeme Jennings.

*I’ll add that I’m ashamed I didn’t know Hoban before submitting my tutor preferences, however immensely glad that I took the time to look up his work. For those who like me were ignorant do listen!

Concerts: In particular those by Speak Percussion (Fluorophone, works by Hodkinson, Ricketson, Ughetti, Løffler); Liza’s Atlas of the Sky (performed by Speak Percussion & Jessica Aszodi); Ensemble Nikel (Poppe, Cleare, Barden, Lang); Tautitotito (‘Disputation Songs’: Another Genealogy of Aotearoa New Zealand Music by Oram); One (Solo works performed by the tutors, works by Aperghis, Cicilani, Holliger, Saunders, Ronchetti, Schwitters); Série Rose (Walshe, Muntendorf, Kreidler et al., Jodlowski, Hodkinson/Rønsholdt); and Ensemble Cepromusic (Misael Gauchat, Estrada, Jiménez, Toledo).

Talks: Notation as Utopia, Deconstructing the Avant-garde, Defragmentation (Decolonisation), and the ongoing work of gender relations in new music.

Open Space: so many! all the ones I managed to get too!

Workshop: I was lucky to have my work Territory ; terrain workshopped with Lena Vidulich & Dannielle Lynn McBryan under the guidance of Cathy and Graeme. This work was commissioned by Phoebe Green and Ben Opie and will be premiered later in August.

Alongside so much ‘new musicking’ I managed to complete the final touches to my new work Between giants, for the Horsley & Williams Duo, and continuing writing another new work for the Academie Voix Nouvelles Royaumont in August – in which I haven’t mentioned yet – I’m so thrilled to be accepted into this programme!

I’ll add that without the support of the University of Melbourne through the AE Floyd Memorial Scholarship, and those who commission me (especially most recently Kupka’s Piano), that this trip would not be possible! With the ongoing discussions of gender and race within the new music industry, socioeconomics is another huge barrier for many to enter this field. Without the financial support of institutions, governments, our peers, as well as quality education within the state school system, new music, art music, classical music will be forever only accessed by those of higher incomes.

Darmstadt has been an incredible experience – I think still to this day it contains a certain atmosphere of being a bit of a ‘maverick’.  To put my opening words into context, I’ll fondly look back on commuting from Löwenplatz to where most of the academy took place at Lichtenbergschule and Akademie für Tonkunst. Packing as much as possible into the offical Darmstadt canvas bags, watching many of them slowly falling apart. The dive for fresh air after spending an hour listening to Boulez, in a tin-shed sports hall that slowly runs out of oxygen, amplifying the already scorching late afternoon sun. At one moment furious about the cost of coffee but then delighted next about the cost of a bottle of wine…

Tschüss Darmstadt, Hallo Berlin…

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