A new commission, while in process
Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison
A Weight of Albatross
Maroondah City Council’s new library, cultural, knowledge and innovation centre Ringwood Town Square, Victoria
“Above us is a violinist, below us another, next door a singing teacher who gives lessons, and in the last room opposite ours, a hautboyist. Merry conditions for composing! You get so many ideas!”[i], wrote Mozart in a letter to his “dearest sister” (Milan, 23rd of August, 1771), and in his words I allow myself to hear a nugget of Louise's and my working process. We gather ideas for our visual compositions from a variety of sources not so very different to being animated by a player of the hautboy across the way and inspired by a flautist in the rafters. Performance, of all kinds, sandwiches us top and bottom, while film is conducting lessons, and words on the page and nature room down the corridor like Leonard Bast and his bluebells (Howards End). From such ‘merry conditions’, ideas appear almost within reach, and of the graspable, some might even be ready for harvest, salvation is found, and my heart is filled, one way or another. Recently, as we continue work on our commission for Realm, A Weight of Albatross, we have called in on François Truffaut (at ACMI), though not as often as we’d like, fused about symbiosis with Stephanie Lake Company (for Fjord Review), and I have ducked into Scots’ Church to hear Maurice Sendak’s “purpose for life[:] to hear Mozart”; to hear first-hand, first-ear, first-soul, the “generative force which is transplanted from generation to generation, and is not likely soon to be exhausted or devoured” that is within the compositions of Mozart, according to Goethe.
To slip into such moments flickering before and possibly through me is why I return to take my seat. To live vicariously, don’t we all? And tied to this, if I remain open, is the invitation to be awed. I cannot dance like Christina Chan and Aymeric Bichon in Stephanie Lake’s new work Replica, but I can be transported, spun, and elevated. To this end, I recently found myself at Scots’ Church to hear Mozart’s Requiem (K626) using instruments of the composer’s time, performed by the Australian Chamber Choir, directed by Douglas Lawrence, sung alongside Palestrina’s Stabat Mater, on a Sunday afternoon. I cannot play the timpani, nor the basset horn, but I can listen to them played by others (namely, the musicians from the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra). And whilst my ears may have failed to detect the tonal gradations within Mozart’s Requiem, my eyes registered them in the flickering of light that made the stained-glass windows a cast of luminous dancers. I saw the sound of the bassoons, and trumpets, and trombones, in the blaze of reds, and blues, and golds. Just as Replica, allowed me to see a colour spectrum near ultra-violet, like a bird, this performance let me see what I normally cannot: four-dimensional colour as sound.
A handful of films which have featured Mozart’s Requiem come tripping off the tongue: Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Amadeus (1984), of course, Primal Fear (1996), a turn for the books, The Mother and the Whore (1973), less so, admittedly. To say little of The Big Lebowski (1998), Happiness (1998), and Elizabeth (1998). With cinema so close to the mind, and lodging in the same building, it is no wonder I thought of Andrei Tarkovsky as I left Scots’ Church, my head filled with the sounds of the ACC, and the sensation that I was now in some place else, through largely no doing of my own. In the space of sixty minutes perched upon a pew, I’d been transported somewhere else, no tax paid for a pair of novice ears. When Tarkovsky wrote (in Sculpting in Time) of films ability to sculpt for the viewer, and in turn their consciousness, “the opportunity to live through what is happening on the screen as if it were his own life, to take over, as deeply personal and his own, the experience imprinted in time upon the screen, relating his own life to what is being shown”[ii], to me he could also be referring to music (and dance) and the experience of taking it as one’s own. The passage of time, condensed only to expand, and reverie the outcome. In one hour, a deliciously condensed and expanded view of all it is to be human that is authentic to my experience of reality. “The eternal within the finite, the spiritual within matter, the limitless given form”[iii], yes, I left the performance in an entirely different frame of mind, ever-elevated by a fugue. (Thank-you Australian Chamber Choir and Melbourne Baroque Orchestra. Because every thing informs everything, I like to think that there is some part of the meditation of Requiem in the wings of our albatross.)
I cannot fly like an albatross, but I can try (to imagine it). We are not sculptors, and we are unfamiliar with metal, but we can treat our albatross as if they are made of paper. We can make a weight of albatross (of stainless steel and Perspex) to soar in the atrium. We can, we can, we can.
We cannot. We can. This is a process.
I can not write poetically; I am no poet. I can not divide and subdivide my phrases so as to produce light and shade; I am no painter. I can not even give expression to my sentiments and thoughts by gestures and pantomime; I am no dancer. But I can do it with tones; I am a musician.... I wish you might live till there is nothing more to be said in music.
― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), Mannheim, 8th November, 1777, in a letter of congratulation to his father who was born on the 14th of November, 1719.
[i] Friedrich Kerst, trans. Henry Edward Krehbiel, Mozart: The Man and the Artist, as Revealed in his own Words (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1905), p. 16.
[ii] Andrei Tarkovsky, trans. Kitty Hunter Blair, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema (Austin: University of Texas, 1986), p. 183.
[iii] Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, p. 37.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Stabat Mater
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem
Australian Chamber Choir
with the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra
playing instruments of the Classical period
With concert master, David Irving
Soloists, Elspeth Bawden (soprano), Elizabth Anderson (contralto), Timothy Reynolds (tenor), and Oliver Mann (bass)
Directed by Douglas Lawrence
The Scots’ Church, Melbourne
Sunday 22nd April, 2018
Presented by Darebin Arts Speakeasy and Stephanie Lake Company in Association with CultureLink, Singapore
Main Hall, Northcote Town Hall
Until Saturday 5th April, 2018
Follow #AWeightofAlbatross to see this work continue to develop.
Image credit: A family portrait of the Mozarts from 1780 or 1781 by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, depicting Wolfgang, center, with his sister Maria Anna (known as Nannerl), and father, Leopold, with a central portrait of Mozart's mother, Anna Maria, who died in 1778; sourced: Mozarteum Foundation