A Symphony for Perth

Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea: A Symphony for Perth was composed from October 2013 to February 2014 for Carolyn Kuan and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, on commission from the Perth International Arts Festival. The 25-minute work is a musical, sonic portrait of Perth and surrounding areas, and was created in collaboration with people from Perth of all ages and backgrounds (based on a creative model I developed for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh International Festival, both in 2013, designed to cultivate careful listening to the world around us to discover its hidden music).

Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea is a four movement work, played without a break, which conveys Perth’s dramatic geography, the simultaneous complexity and calm I have found there, and the enormous sense of potential and ‘unanswered questions’ that the city and region suggest. You can read more about the ideas behind the piece here and watch a brief trailer for A Symphony for Perth below:

I have travelled rather widely over the years, but I had never been to Perth (nor the rest of Australia) when Perth Festival Artistic Director Jonathan Holloway contacted me about working on this project. With guidance from the Festival team, and with the help of fairly extensive reading and listening, I prepared for a two week trip to Perth in October–November 2013. While there, I explored the city and surroundings, met with schoolchildren from the CBD to Narrogin (who worked on Perth-related compositions using our Hyperscore software), improvised with electronic musicians and traditional performers, and met with people of all walks of life to get their impressions of Perth and to invite them them to help me write this piece. As a result of this visit, of a series of social media activities, and of the superb collaboration of the Perth Festival team, I collected thousands of sounds recorded in Perth, hundreds of compositions written by young people, hours of music played and produced by a wide range of musicians, and a wealth of impressions about Perth and what makes it tick. You can listen to some of my favorite material here.

Once I received sonic material I made it available online in the form of specially designed apps (created by Akito van Troyer at the MIT Media Lab) that allowed the music to be further shaped and shared (and sculpted with the audio expertise of MIT’s Charles Holbrow and Ben Bloomberg). All of this material has influenced the final form and flow of Symphony of Perth, and much of it has been included in the performance. The work is scored for full orchestra plus electronics – controlled onstage by a keyboard player – which inject and layer real and imaginary soundscapes. Together, these forces make up a kind of musical journey which, I hope, will immerse the listener in the sound and feel of Perth, and might suggest what the land itself offers, what people have done with it, and what might be possible as this remarkable oasis evolves into the future.

The world premiere performance of Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea: A Symphony for Perth took place on March 1, 2014 as the final concert of the Perth International Arts Festival. You can hear an excellent recording of this performance by clicking on the player below:

You can also listen to the piece with beautiful visuals by Peter Torpey of the MIT Media Lab here.

The piece was very warmly received by audience and critics, and I really hope that you will enjoy it too!!

Thanks for listening – watching – reading.


Enjoy this photo gallery!

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