Discover and play with Blackbird in the Garden

Andrew Aronowicz and Naomi Johnson collaborate



Multidisciplinary work Blackbird in the Garden is the tantalising new collaboration between two of the most promising young minds in Australian contemporary music.

Emerging composer Andrew Aronowicz and flautist Naomi Johnson describe the project as “a garden of music; an imaginative place of childlike play and discovery”.

It comes after a string of achievements from the pair – Andrew has received commissions from Syzygy Ensemble, Forest Collective, and the Cybec Foundation and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and his work Strangle Alchemy set to feature as the ABC’s under-30 entry in the 2015 International Rostrum of Composers.

Naomi, an Australian-British flautist with a deep interest in contemporary chamber repertoire, has performed with the University of Melbourne and Australian National Academy of Music Symphony Orchestras, Melbourne Youth Orchestra, Metropolis New Music Festival, and SoundSCAPE Composition and Performance Exchange in Italy.

Blackbird in the Garden is a continuation of an earlier project between the two, and they once again combine forces to produce an immersive contemporary work that links music with its real-time setting. Let’s learn how.

Andrew sketch
Andrew sketches the project


Hi Andrew and Naomi! Congratulations on the coming about of your project, Blackbird in the Garden. How was the idea conceived?

A: Blackbird in the Garden is a larger project built around Following the Blackbird – a selection of miniatures I wrote for flute and electronics in 2014. I’ve since changed and added to that series, but at its core, the series explores the relationship between a child (the flautist), a blackbird, and a strange garden world. The electronics serve to warp and transform the flute music into an eerie world, or garden, of sound.

N: Though we premiered Following the Blackbird in 2014, we were really keen to present it in a more creative, magical way. We conceived Blackbird in the Garden to do just that, using Andrew’s miniatures as both the musical and thematic links in a program of contemporary chamber works. I see these works as experiences or moments within the garden space we’re creating, which my child character happens upon unintentionally. Or was she led there by the blackbird?

How does Blackbird in the Garden fit within your personal bodies of work?

N: I feel like this project definitely encapsulates where I’m at as a performer at the moment. I’m intrigued by non-traditional performances spaces, and am keen to experiment with elements such as movement and theatre. Following the Blackbird really cemented that for me when we first began working on it a few years ago, and Blackbird in the Garden feels to me like a natural progression of these ideas. The chamber works that I’ve picked for the rest of the program are by composers that I really admire for various reasons. Some, like Carter and Saariaho, are already very well established, whereas others like Iddo Aharony are composers I’ve met and worked with who I believe have a really unique musical voice.

A: Well, it’s definitely one of the more adventurous and ambitious works I’ve undertaken! Following the Blackbird is one of only a few works of mine to employ electronics. I love what interactive electronics can do to instrumental sounds, and so I’ve been inspired to explore that more during this process. I’ve needed a lot of help there, though! This is also the first work of mine to be danced to. As for the use of miniatures, I have become more and more attracted to the idea of composing in miniature. It’s a really neat way of conveying a succinct musical concept – not always feeling the need to compose long-form works is actually quite liberating. The miniature series as a whole is a nice concept for me, because it’s not set in stone. It’s a fluid, flexible approach to composing. You’ll definitely be hearing more from my inner-miniaturist in the future!

What inspired you to take a multidisciplinary approach to the project?

A: Naomi and I were really eager to take the original Following the Blackbird series and turn it into a more immersive experience for the audience – and also for the performer. The idea of involving a dancer seemed like a really cool one. I didn’t originally conceive of the miniatures as dance pieces. However, they are heavily gestural and this translates well to physical interpretation.

N: You see, I feel like the possibility of dance was there from the beginning. In our very early conversations about the piece, Andrew and I tossed about a whole lot of very crazy ideas about where the work might ultimately end up. One, if I remember correctly, was that I could memorise a whole series of 15 or 20 miniatures, and that the audience could select which miniatures would be performed by selecting objects in the performance space. While I really enjoyed the invitation to move in the first performance, I was also limited in what I could do. The role of the dancer in Blackbird in the Garden will appear much more spontaneous and creative.

What are some of the things that visitors to the garden can expect to encounter?

A: The garden is first and foremost a musical one – so there’s my own compositions, as well as music of other Australian and international composers. As well as the music and the dance, we really hope to involve theatrical and other artistic elements as well. Our audience can expect to be interacted with in playful and intriguing ways. The blackbird is quite a capricious character, so you can expect her to be flitting about, maybe sharing some secrets. There might even be some musical games.

How will the garden appear on a physical level?

N: Well, we’re right in the middle of developing the work, so can’t give away too many secrets yet! But we’re experimenting with staging the work in a quasi-theatrical way. There won’t be the normal set-up of performers on a stage and then an audience. Instead, myself and the other performers will move around the space, giving the sense of a more flexible, playful environment. Then, through some clever lighting and the use of electronics, we hope to create the illusion of a magical, rather whimsical ‘garden’.

What can CutCommon readers do to support the project?

A: As of a few days ago, we officially reached our fundraising target to receive MATCH funding from Creative Partnerships Australia. This funding is incredibly important for paying our artists, and also for developing the work for the June performances.

N: Our campaign page is still live and we’re still accepting more donations. We would really love to develop the more theatrical side of the project, and create more of an art installation with the space – which we’d be able to do with a little more funding. In the end, though, the project is about presenting an exciting concert, so we’d love CutCommon readers to show their support by coming along to the performances in June!


You can support this project by donating via the Blackbird in the Garden campaign page at the Australian Cultural Fund website right here, and visit the Facebook page for updates. 


Images supplied. Original sketches by Andrew Aronowicz.

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