BY LUCY RASH
Now in its seventh year, Homophonic! has earned its (rainbow) stripes as a much-loved and ever-powerful annual showcase of both local and international queer composers’ works.
Featured Australian composers Moya Henderson, Andrew Aronowicz, and Naima Fine spoke to CutCommon Deputy Editor Lucy Rash ahead of the 2018 Homophonic! concert season.
Want to know more about the composers? Read on to check out their biographies, detailing their achievements and talent in the industry.
What’s the first thing we should know about your work?
Andrew: The thing that really fascinates me is tone colour. Sound can be a very delicate and volatile medium to work with, and I love hearing an instrument bend and slip away from pure to distorted tone. It’s this transforming of sound states that I try to explore in my work.
Moya: However complex, these days my music is still based on melody that wells up from deep inside.
Naima: I’m fiercely, innately political, and I’m an ecologist. These [concepts] are interwoven into almost all of my work.
Can you pinpoint a moment in your journey at which you decided you were a composer?
A: I definitely had to wade through a lot of self-doubt before I felt I could really call myself a composer. Actually, I only started identifying as a composer because that’s how my friends and colleagues started introducing me.
M: I was 14 or 15 and stuck in the school infirmary. It was probably the flu. I sang through a long symphony of original music in my head. I didn’t know I would be a composer, but I knew that I could compose.
N: I decided twice! In high school, I did some music composition assignments. I applied to the Queensland Conservatorium of Music with my folio solely comprising these assignments, mainly because my flute and cello playing wasn’t good enough to get in. I was really surprised to get an A+ and a first-round offer. It was then I decided I was a composer
The second time was much later. I stopped composing for 10 years, went off and did environmental activism and work, and got an Ecology degree. Then an old friend asked me to write a piece. Then I saw a call-out for a work. I wrote another, and another. And I happily realised that I was a composer, again.
What three words describe your creative process?
M: Sleep, breakfast, silence.
A: Critical, frustrating, delightful.
N: I’m gonna cheat, sorry. Hyphens! Long-thinking, fast-writing, completion-trusting.
What can you share about your experience as a composer who also identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community?
N: As a composer, I notice gender imbalance issues in representation all the time. Programming and academic staffing are two examples that spring to mind! The spread of genders of composers in the world is rarely well represented! Just the other day I saw an all-Australian composers program without a single piece by a wom*n.
I’m really lucky to have been involved with Homophonic! right from the start, which was just after I started composing again. I’ve met and learnt of lots of other LGBTQIA+ composers. It’s been vital to my finding my voice, continuing to compose, and holding space as a queer wom*n composer.
M: For me, dealing with the overriding misogyny in this society, and all through pretty much all arts management, has been terrible. All my life, it has menaced my creativity and potential.
A: I don’t feel my experience being gay has a direct correlation to my art. Not a conscious correlation, anyway. I’m not an artist whose works comment directly on LGBTQIA+ issues and experiences, though there is a lot to be engaged (and enraged) about.
Which works are you presenting at Homophonic! 2018?
N: The title, Their Voices Were Over The Sky, is words spoken by Abdul Aziz Adam in a WhatsApp message to reporter Michael Green for the podcast The Messenger, co-produced by The Wheeler Centre and Behind The Wire. Aziz has been imprisoned in refugee detention on Manus Island for over four years. The piece is my attempt to express the passing of time in the detention centre on Manus Island.
A: I’m very lucky that Miranda [Hill] has let me write her a double bass solo this year. I wanted to compose something reflecting on the process of writing, an act I often find quite difficult for a number of reasons. The piece, which is called Glyph, meditates on writing as a process that, in its essence, is the act of inscribing or engraving on a surface.
M: Just Stubble. I’ve always worried that the piece is just as much anti-women as it is pro-women. It does mock us for our compliance; our ready acceptance of dreadful bias and the abuse of male power. We internalise so much damaging rubbish. The piece plays with alarming sight gags and guarded truths about women’s bodies.
At what point is Australia in terms of ensuring inclusivity in the arts?
M: There are many men and women exercising power in the music arts world and enforcing horrible and rigid bias. They should be fired immediately.
A: I think we’re progressing. But there’s still a way to go, particularly when it comes to gender balance in the ‘composition world’. It’s encouraging to see not just conversations, but action, particularly on behalf of small to medium arts organisations correcting the gender imbalance when it comes to the programming and representation of women composers.
When it comes to the LGBTQI+ community, I’ve never felt discriminated against, or excluded, based on my sexuality. But as a white, cis male, my experience will be far from representative of the whole community.
Diverse and balanced representation is key, I think. Representation in programming, in participation, and in conversations about music and the arts, that reflects the diversity inherently present in the arts. If everyone has a voice, and is actively supported in having their voice heard, then I think that’s something pretty special and certainly achievable.
N: I think Australia is probably middling in ensuring inclusivity. In the past few years, I finally see a rapid increase in funding and representation for Indigenous folks, and folks with disabilities, and some for wom*n. But there’s still so far to go. Having the security to develop a body of work and be able to ‘get it out there’ is a huge challenge. Artists in marginalised minorities often experience precarious finances and so are at the coalface of this.
As well as targeted support and funding in general, a model like providing a sustainable income[…]would go a long way towards alleviating these pressures, allowing more of us to be able to make and show work. And of course, let’s get much more diversity into concert programming, academia, on the gallery walls, etc.
What would a wholly inclusive arts scene look like to you?
A: Imagine a future where any person from the LGBTQIA+ community can step up onto the conducting podium to direct, say, a Mahler symphony. And no one bats an eyelid. And the conversations after the concert are not: ‘What did you think of that LGBTQIA+ conductor?’, but ‘What did you think of the Mahler?’. That would be incredible. I think we can do that. Though, we still have to achieve this [for] women.
M: It would be so beautiful. Melbourne’s more ready for it than Sydney. The glorious variety it would bring to music; we cannot even begin to imagine it.
N: The same as my vision for society: mutual aid, and from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. It would be genuinely equable, supportive not competitive, generous and vibrant. There’d be no barriers to participating for art-makers, and experiencing for art-lovers, and art from mainstream to experimental would be an integral, accessible and loved part of society.
What thoughts do you most want to share with aspiring composers?
M: Go deep inside yourselves to find your own voice. But I’m also tempted to advise: ‘Stop! Save yourself! Get a life!’.
A: Listen, listen, listen. Know your craft. Don’t doubt yourself too much. Be prepared that a life in the arts is a long-term commitment. And always remember that to compose music is a profound privilege, not to mention a fascinating means of coming to terms with the world.
N: Just keep writing.
Homophonic! 2018 takes place at 7.30pm on 29 and 30 January (Description Victoria tactile tour for the vision impaired: 6.30pm, 30 January) at La Mama Courthouse. 349 Drummond St, Carlton. Presented by 3 Shades Black, La Mama Theatre, Midsumma Festival. Tickets available online.
NAIMA FINE has studied music and science at Griffith University. She has undertaken residencies and commissions across Asia and New Zealand, with her works performed widely in Australia’s major cities. Her music is informed by her studies and passions in ecology, and she combines music and an environmental message to reach her audiences. Her musical influences include styles of jazz and minimalism among others. Naima has composed for film, circus, and chamber ensemble.
MOYA HENDERSON graduated from the University of Queensland. She has studied with Stockhausen and Kagel at the Cologne Musikhochschule. Henderson was a Opera Australia resident composer during the company’s first Sydney Opera House season in ’73. She has composed for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and more, and her opera Lindy based on Lindy Chamberlain’s murder case was performed for the first time at the Sydney Opera House in 2002.
ANDREW ARONOWICZ holds a Master of Music from the University of Melbourne, and was an Australian Postgraduate Award recipient during his post-graduate candidature. He is also the recipient of an Australia Council ArtStart grant. Andrew has composed for major Australian ensembles and performers, and his music has been broadcast on 3MBS Fine Music Melbourne and ABC Classic FM. He has received commissions from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Cybec Foundation, Arts Centre Melbourne, Syzygy Ensemble, Forest Collective and Sarah Curro (violinist), among others. His music has been performed as part of the Melbourne Metropolis New Music Festival and the SoundSCAPE Festival in Maccagno Italy, and he has been a participant in Speak Percussion’s Emerging Artists program and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Composer School.
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Wom*n’ is an accepted alternative spelling of the word ‘women’, as chosen by Naima Fine.
Images supplied. Featured: Lucy Rash.