Creating Sound Poetry: An Interview with Luke Paulding

luke-pauldingPromising young Australian composer Luke Paulding has been in Brisbane for the past week working with Kupka’s Piano and Ensemble Interface on his new work ‘Ordination of Verticals’ which was commissioned for ‘To Roam with Love’ and given its world premiere performance last night to a sold out show. In between concerts, our pianist Alex Raineri chats with Luke about his piece and what he’s recently been up to. 

Alex Raineri: You’re a young Australian composer living in Melbourne. Tell us a bit about yourself - who have been some significant mentors for you?

Luke Paulding: I started my formal composition training at the Victorian College of the Arts in ’07, and had the honour of working with some very special people. Composers Chris Dench, Liza Lim, Brett Dean, as well as musicians Peter Neville and Eugene Ughetti were and continue to be particularly inspiring, not only as musicians and composers, but across a vast range of broader artistic and intellectual issues.

AR: You’ve worked with some significant ensembles that have premiered your works such as ELISION Ensemble, Speak Percussion, Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, Chamber Made Opera among others. Also you’ve just returned from a composition course in Royaumont, France with Brian Ferneyhough and had your music premiered by the ensemble in residence there. Tell us about some upcoming commissions, what’s next?

LP: I’m about to jump into a series of solo pieces for colleagues in Melbourne and musicians in Europe (Italy, Germany, Switzerland); works for solo viola d’amore; solo bass trombonist, electronics and video; solo double-bass, and a few others, including a strange piece involving uilleann pipes.

Speaking of ELISION, I’m currently revising a trio for them, where dust is in their mouths and clay is their food, to be presented next year at the Adelaide Festival.

I’m also working on extending a decoupled electric chamber work, which started its life this year as a Coltrane-inspired saxophone and drum-kit duo for Joshua Hyde and Peter Neville. Some musicians from Ensemble Linea in France are particularly interested.

AR: We’re very excited to have given the world premiere performance of ‘Ordination of Verticals’ a brilliantly colourful nonet that you’ve written especially for this collaboration between Kupka’s Piano and Ensemble Interface. Could you explain a bit about the title and your thoughts behind the piece? 

LP: Well, on the theme of “Kupka’s Piano”, I took inspiration (and the title) from a work by Kupka from 1911 (pictured below). It’s a very beautiful early abstract work. I felt a kind of association with his work, particularly the abstract ideal of “freeing colours from descriptive associations”. It reflects some important ideas in my own compositions – deconstruction of sounds, reconfigured to create new instruments and meta-instruments with their own unique sound poetry.

The term in the title, “ordinations”, refers to an analysis method related to data clustering. It’s basically a way of organising objects based a variegated set of characteristics, so that similar objects are close to each other, and dissimilar objects are further away. Structure and form has been on my mind a lot in the last year, and I felt this to be a particularly interesting way of organising the macro- and micro-architecture. The piece begins in a highly organised (ordinated) manner, and gradually unfolds into a more chaotic and organic state. You mentioned nonet, but it’s more like a sextet, extended by a trio of bass flute, melodica and scrap percussion that’s positioned behind the audience. I like the trio a lot – it’s essentially an ordinated cluster set of a brief moment of the material you hear at the end of the sextet part, stretched-out so much over three permutations throughout the work that it appears quite static, almost like time has come to a stand-still.

AR: I like the trio very much – thanks for facilitating my melodica debut!! A very strong interest of our ensemble is building working relationships with the composers we commission and we’re very grateful that you’ve taken the week to be in Brisbane as part of this project. This kind of collaborative partnership between composer and ensemble is nothing new for you, what have been some highlights of working with us and how to you define your role in this kind of collaboration?

LP: As an ensemble, I’ve been really impressed by your willingness and fearless attitudes towards contemporary music. You all bring something quite special and unique, and it’s been such a pleasure to work with you. I think a genuinely collaborative attitude is essential for composers and performers, and crucial to developing long-term working relationships. It’s also been beautiful to witness the collaboration between yourselves and ensemble interface; they’re a very special group of musicians with a passion for new music that’s so refreshing to experience in this country.

As a result, I’ve seen my role as less authoritarian, and more involved with shaping the interpretation with overall artistic suggestions and subtle directions (which is quite a luxury, I must add!)

AR: We’ve been greatly anticipating our collaboration with Ensemble Interface and it’s certainly been a hyper-intensive and inspirational couple of weeks made all the more interesting with the added luxury of working with two composers on the program in person.

To wrap up on a more personal note, what are your current top five ‘desert island’ pieces – what are you listening to at the moment?

LP: And here I thought I’d be spared that question! It’s always a particularly difficult question to answer, as it’s always in flux. I can’t give you specific pieces, but I can say that the musics of Radulescu, Xenakis, Christou and Barrett have been very important to me. I also draw great inspiration from very early music, particularly 13th-15th Century Medieval polyphonic music, which often has an unearthly beauty unlike anything else.

Luke is represented by the Australian Music Centre (

You can listen to some of his music here:

Come along to our repeat performance this evening at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 7:30pm in the Theatre Rehearsal Space.