Endangered fauna meets instrumental quintet in modular musical piece with interactive audience participation.
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Borderlands Biophony

Endangered fauna meets instrumental quintet in modular musical piece with interactive audience participation.
Acoustic with Soundscape
Pierrot/Mixed Quintet
Description of Work:

Borderlands Biophony blends together instrumental quintet with acoustic ecologies of the natural world. The piece is focussed on endangered fauna of the borderlands area of the Bundjalung people, located in north-east NSW and south-east Queensland, including Uralba region, NSW. The final movement features recordings from Dorrigo National Park, traditional lands to the Gumbainggir people.

The composition is structured into five distinctive movements, each one featuring a different instrumental subset of the Pierrot (mixed) Ensemble - flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello, complemented by live interactive soundscape. The work's complexity ranges from advanced to moderate, with certain movements presenting less challenge than others. The movements are modular: they can be performed individually, or in subsets: 1. Forest Lyre, 2. Leapfrog, 3. Rainforest Bath at Witches Falls, 4. Sooty Owl Nightcap,  5. Keel Row.

The piece is dedicated to the memory of Syd Curtis (1928-2015), a pioneering figure who brought the soundscapes of Australian birdsong into our collective musical consciousness.  The composer acknowledges the contributions of Mike Fitzgerald and Kimbal Curtis, who generously supplied their recordings to enable the natural world to be present throughout this composition.

Drawing inspiration from Australian birdsong, climate change, Australian fauna, place-making, and Olivier Messiaen, Borderlands Biophony is a testament to the beauty and fragility of our natural world. It invites us to engage with the profound soundscapes of New South Wales and Queensland, offering a unique interactive experience that echoes the vibrant diversity of Australian wildlife.

Commissioned by the Syzygy Ensemble, the work premiered at Melbourne Conservatorium 17 September 2021, and features on Miriama Young's ABC Classic album, This Earthly Round.

Borderlands Biophony: Movements are modular (can be performed individually or in subsets)

Clarinet, Piano, Violin, 'Cello

 Soundscape: Barkers Vale, Border Ranges National Park + Uralba: features Russet-tailed Thrush + Eastern Whipbird+ Uralba Albert's Lyrebird Soundscape recordist: Mike Fitzgerald

 Forest Lyre captures the Uralba soundscape, and the lone last Albert's Lyrebird inhabitingof this particular region of southern NSW. The species is generally endangered.

Flute, Bass Clarinet, Piano, Violin, 'Cello

Soundscape: Border Ranges National Park:
Loveridge's Frog + Rufous Scrubbird

Soundscape recordist: Mike Fitzgerald

Leapfrogfeatures two endangered species in duet – the Philoria loveridgei (Loveridge’smountain frog), and the Rufous Scrubbird in cool-temperate rainforest at 1170metres altitude in Border Ranges National Park, amongst a remnant Gondwanagrove of Antarctic Beech trees, some of which are 2000 years old.

Flute, Clarinet, Violin, 'Cello, Piano

Soundscape: Knoll Park and Witches Falls, Mount Tamborine: by SydCurtis, and featuring George the Albert's Lyrebird

Soundscape recordist: Syd Curtis

Rainforest Bath at Witches Falls celebrates the plentiful rainforest soundscape of Knoll and Witches Falls, both situated upon Queensland’s Tamborine Mountain. It was here in 1988, on Tamborine Mountain, that Olivier Messiaen notated and recorded the Albert's Lyrebird. Messiaen had been introduced to some of the birds ofAustralia by park ranger and ornithologist Syd Curtis who in 1981 sent the composer birdsong recordings including that of lyrebirds incorporating 'flute' music in their song - the reverse of Messiaen's use of birdsong music. In this movement Syd documents, over the passage of time – his long-time friend, George, the Albert's Lyrebird. Curiously, it was Syd's mother who in the late 1800s coined the name Witches Falls. Rainforest Bath is inspired by the Japanese concept of forest bathing, shinrin-yoku.

Bass Flute, Bass Clarinet/ Bb Clarinet, Violin, 'Cello

Soundscape: Border Ranges National Park; features Greater Sooty Owl

Soundscape recordist: Mike Fitzgerald

Sooty Owl Nightcap focuses on absence, and the haunting call of the Greater Sooty Owl, now a vulnerable species. Instrumentals and Sooty owl sound as if they echo and dissolve into one another, leaving space for reflection.

Bass Flute, Bass Clarinet/ Bb Clarinet, Violin, 'Cello

Soundscape recordist: Syd Curtis

Keel Row, a sweet coda, features flute imitations of a Superb Lyrebird, a lyrebird who imitated a flute performing the traditional Scots/English Keel Row. After recording the flute-mimicking Lyrebird in 1981, Syd Curtis explained: ‘The “Flute-playing” Superb Lyrebird needs some explanation: The story I was told is that in the 1920s a lyrebird chick was taken into captivity and raised in a farmer’s fowl-yard. It was a male, and immature male lyrebirds learn theirsongs by copying mature males. The captive lyrebird could not hear any lyrebirds. What he did hear and therefore copied was the farmer’s son practising a flute. Later he was released back into the wild. He then copiedthe other male lyrebirds, and they could not afford to let him be distinctive in competing for female attention, so they also copied him. Over the years his “flute-songs” spread through the population, but also with time deteriorated: the scale, and two simple tunes that it was claimed he learnt, are no longer recognisable. But, something of the flute sound-quality remains.’

Work Details

Year: 2021

Instrumentation: Flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, live interactive audio.

Duration: 24 min.

Difficulty: Medium - Advanced

Contents note: 1. Forest Lyre-- 2. Leapfrog --3. Rainforest Bath at Witches Falls -- 4. Sooty Owl Nightcap -- 5. Keel Row. The movements are modular - one or many may be performed in any order.

Dedication note: For Syd Curtis (1928-2015), who enlivened and encultured Australian birdsong into our collective musical consciousness; and to Mike Fitzgerald and Kimbal Curtis, whose generosity enabled the presence of nature to sound through this piece.

Commission note: Commissioned by Syzygy Ensemble.

The composer notes the following styles, genres, influences, etc. associated with this work:
Australian birdsong; climate change; Australian soundscape; Australian fauna; place-making; Olivier Messiaen; Syd Curtis; lyrebirds NSW; Queensland; interactive audience participation through phone playback of soundscape

Digital score available for purchase

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