BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
The Australian National Academy of Music has connected 67 musicians with 67 composers. The idea is to create a vast collection of new local music, which will represent who these artists are — and how they understand and perceive the world around them.
The ANAM Set unites these creative minds in a unique way, allowing them to work closely together as they build something new and long-lasting. When percussionist Alison Fane became involved in the project, she already knew exactly who she wanted to work with — requesting composer K Travers Eira for her duo partner.
In this interview, we chat with Travers and Alison about their work in The ANAM Set. But we also take a step back to ask them about the importance of their new Australian music within the context of its creation: both artists are gender diverse, and hope this collaboration dares others to “take risks, challenge binary perceptions of the world, and reach out to members in the community to collaborate and create meaningful change”.
Alison and Travers, it’s so exciting to learn you’re working one-on-one for The ANAM Set. What do you make of this initiative?
ALISON: I think it’s a fantastic platform to foster the emerging composer/performer relationship in a safe space where individuals can take risks, and challenge the norm. It is a great opportunity to engage a diverse range of people.
Particularly for Travers and I, The ANAM Set holds potential for us to collaborate beyond the constraints imposed during 2020 on both instrumentation and performance possibilities.
TRAVERS: For me, The ANAM Set is a really important project in several ways. The commission provides for me to work with a high-quality performer, organises performance and recording, and is set up to facilitate real-time to develop the work-in-progress with the performer. That’s by far my preferred way of composing, as the performer brings their knowledge, interests, and specialisations to the project, which the traditional model of the solo composer simply can’t achieve.
Alison, you’re a young percussionist working to break into the industry. Where do you see yourself going, and what do you feel you get out of working with an Australian composer on new music so early on in your career? How will it help you get to where you want to be?
A: I’ve worked in amazing chamber music gigs like Homophonic!, where I really found my passion playing compositions by queer living composers. The ANAM Set allows me to continue this passion. To be able to convey the reality of life as a young queer person navigating such a volatile world is an immense privilege. It is great to get experience in this realm and the inner workings of commissioning.
Tell us about the composition so far! What have you been up to and what is your piece ‘about’?
T: I’m interested in a couple of ideas I’ve read from percussionist Steven Schick and composer Trevor Wishart. First, that percussion can be viewed as action resulting in sound, rather than by focusing on the sound itself; and second, that space itself – direction, plane, movement – is an important element of music.
These two ideas combine with ideas that Al and I have talked around and explored a little: bringing the physical and contextual aspects of a performance into the foreground, including the body of the performer; the physical presence and locations of the audience; and aspects of motion involved in playing percussion in particular […] I love the symbolism of structures, and these ideas give me large amounts of scope to build interesting structures.
Another idea is about waste, innovative use/reuse, and learning to live positively and creatively with less. This idea connects with my interest in the endlessness of what can be considered ‘a percussion instrument’, and the strong referential effect of performing with items that have uses outside of the concert hall.
A: These ideas resonate with conceptual interests both Travers and I share, including the use of the performers body, the immediate and sociopolitical context of performance, and the role of the audience including both listening and involvement behaviours.
This project is enormous in scale — 67 performers with 67 composers. How do you have the opportunity within this to work with the composer on something really original that “enriches” your strengths?
T: I applied for The ANAM Set largely because I have worked with Al for nearly a year now on various projects, so I have a good idea of what kinds of interests — musical, philosophical, sociopolitical — we share, or what aspects of my directions Al is also interested in developing.
Al and I have developed a working pattern that involves a lot of talk – about concepts, instrumentation, ideals for performance. I generally leave these conversations inspired for how to shape the next stage of the composition, which I send to her in draft form, to workshop together in our next meeting.
In my way of composing more generally, I specify only what needs specifying for my vision for a given work; anything that is not specific to that vision is for the performer to select. Sometimes, that includes elements traditionally considered essential, such as pitch or even instrument. So there is plenty of room for the performer to enrich their musical strengths in their own ways while simultaneously realising the vision in the work I am writing.
A: I think both the composer and I have very unique ways of thinking and interpreting musical stimulus. We are both gender-diverse artists who engage in interdisciplinary interests, which actually formed the basis of our first commission last year, where we explored ideas based on Michel Focault’s concepts behind power and control.
From both performer and composer perspectives, percussion is particularly attractive for its timbral qualities, and its vast potential for semiotic reference. Our collaboration has often involved workshop sessions during the composition process, using both in-person and online modalities, something we wish to continue in this process.
Travers, what do you feel is the value of this program being generated through an educational institution?
T: I think that it helps to open up future pathways for emerging performers — and, for the most part, emerging composers.
A lot of the value you get out of practical study in the arts is the working relationships you make. The ANAM Set picks that up, and provides for working relationships outside of people’s peer groups. For example, Al and I are of different generations: that link may not have been made so easily except for our connection made through educational institutions.
Why is it important to you to take your work in The ANAM Set to the next level — one of positive social change and dialogue?
T: Although I have found the new music community in Melbourne to be extremely trans-positive and queer-positive, it is also great to be working with someone who I know understands some of the things important to me in this area at a deeper level.
My work has a strong conceptual base, but this is always expressed subtly, not overtly. For example, I work a lot with the notion of boundaries – what they are made of, how can they be dissolved or moved beyond – and I know that Al understands some of the ways in which this notion for me includes the importance of dissolving gender boundaries.
Answering more broadly, art that I make or respond to always has meaning for now. Although I love and have given serious study to many art forms of the past, I’m not interested in reproducing something, however beautiful, that was meaningful in some other time. I need to know, ‘Why this particular music/dance/sculpture – what does it mean for people now in the contexts we are in, what does it help us think about or understand?’.
In my work, this level is available to people who would like to take it there. But I never tell people what to think. I would be happy to just provide a space that facilitates their journeying.
What do you hope will be the impact of your collaboration?
A: I hope that queer-identifying people can see our work and dare to also take risks, challenge binary perceptions of the world, and reach out to members in the community to collaborate and create meaningful change.
T: I hope that this will be part of an ongoing collaborative relationship between Al and I. Everyone is on their own journey. I’m just providing space for a particular voice, and some possible ways of thinking or moving or being.
Visit the ANAM website to keep up to date on Travers and Alison’s commission, and to learn about The ANAM Set.