Echolalia-ing with Michael Mathieson-Sandars

Composer Michael Mathieson-Sandars shares some thoughts on his latest piece ahead of its world premiere on Friday and Saturday night. Be sure to book your ticket early so as to avoid that embarrassing situation of being turned away at the door... Michael Mathieson-SandarsThis Friday, my latest piece, Echolalia, a Duet and a Chord will be premiered by member's of Kupka's Piano and Ensemble Interface, with a repeat performance on Saturday. The concert, titled 'To Roam with Love: Getting Lost in New Italian Music', is the third of four concerts in the series this year, and is, most excitingly, the culmination of Kupka's Piano's participation in the Australia Council and Next Wave's JUMP mentoring programme. It goes without saying that working with both ensembles across the last two weeks has been a pleasure!

Echolalia, a Duet and a Chord is the first piece I have written since spending some time overseas to attend summer schools in Italy and the UK. While there is no explicit reference to my travels, the experience forced me to ask a number of questions; some which were new, others which I had asked previously much more hesitantly and with hints of quiet suspicion. Now that they have been somewhat solidified, I feel these questions will influence my writing for some time, and I consider this work as my first attempt to explore some possible answers.

Standing at the cusp of a refreshed and redirected investigation while carrying only the tools I have developed to suit my previous musical explorations presents an exciting, though somewhat perplexing, challenge. My solution here has been to experiment quite freely with comfortable materials, which I know and have worked with before, and allow them to lead me towards less familiar territory. The result is a piece made of three distinct sections, which creates, I feel, an interesting instability in the form.

The first section, 'Echolalia', needs a little explanation. The term 'echolalia' refers to the repetition of speech or sounds. While there are different applications of this term medically and psychologically, I had in mind the definition which pertains directly to the development of speech in early childhood. It is believed that children, in echoing the vocal sounds of those around them, slowly begin to put sounds together to form full words and phrases. In the context of the first section of the piece, a clear line (which I delight in describing as a 'limping Bach') remains central to the texture. The texture itself is derived from the central line and transposed, somewhat deformed and at different stages of development, into the other parts which intersect with the central line in different ways.

More broadly (and obviously), I set myself to challenge some of the conventions which surround this now more or less standard ensemble formation. Firstly was the desire to avoid writing an 'expanded piano' piece which places the piano immovably as the centrepiece of the ensemble. The central line in the first section is doubled on clarinet and vibraphone, the duet is for violin and clarinet, and the 'chord' relies on the piano to contribute resonance to other instruments, not vice versa. Secondly, I have tried to avoid the traps of the ensemble becoming a 'composite instrument', where every instrument is relegated to a smaller place in a the production of a singular sound. Avoiding this has been my tendency for quite some time now, but I feel here that an improved balance is being struck between the agency of individual lines and the motions of the entire ensemble.

It is likely also worth mentioning that I enjoy here also, more personally, the notion of echolalia within my own development as a composer. While I have always been hesitant to discuss my composing in terms of 'my voice', and remain sceptical (not to mention that taking this analogy further can quickly become farcical!), I see this piece as affirming a step forward and progress still to come. It will be an interesting step which I look forward to taking with the ensemble!

Come along on Friday or Saturday night, hear this interesting new work, and maybe catch up with Michael for a beer afterwards and tell him what you thought!