YOUNG, David

PhD University of Queensland 2007 (NyiC) Pages: 93 + Folio 380pp + DVD + 2CDs

Folio & Commentary: Thousands of Bundled Straw, Skin Quartet & the Val Camonica Pieces

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Abstract reproduced with the permission of the author
Thousands of Bundled Straw, the Val Camonica Pieces and Skin Quartet are three cycles of chamber music composed by David Young. These works comprise a folio of compositions which is accompanied by a critical commentary, examining the context, inspiration and details of each work.

Composed over a period of almost ten years, Thousands of Bundled Straw is a songcycle for soprano and large ensemble. In many ways an autobiographical documentation of evolving composition approaches, each movement was composed for different ensembles and circumstances. In each case, the movement has a close relationship to the performers who premiered the work, and the compositional process often involved technical and artistic collaboration with the musicians. Japan’s culture, contemporary and past, features as an important catalyst for the song cycle. The macro- and micro-structure is inspired and shaped by influences as various as traditional Japanese packaging, the Japanese postalsystem, a biscuit packet and a temple tourist brochure. The libretto also incorporates fragments from the works of Italo Calvino and Georges Perec. The literary sources, such as Calvino’s Mr Palomar, and Perec’s A Void, provide narratives and stories which have influenced the conceptual shaping of the work.

Skin Quartet was composed in collaboration with a visual artist, Louisa Bufardeci. The conceptual starting point, some of the notational and visual material, as well as the performance context, all rely on this collaborative process across the artforms of music and visual art. Performed by a live string quartet reading their scores from laptop computer screens, the music is accompanied by a projection of a digital film which presents statistics on ethnicities and global populations with micro-landscapes of different skin types.

The ancient rock carvings of the Camonica Valley inspired the Val Camonica Pieces. The pieces, for various chamber combinations, employ the rock carvings indifferent ways, as musical gestures, points of inspiration and eventually as literal transcriptions into music notation. The pieces can be played in any order, muchlike wandering around the valley’s many protected parks and significant archaeological sites.

Thousands of Bundled Straw, Skin Quartet and the Val Camonica Pieces are composed using a complex series of rules and formulae. All three of the works draw from compendiums, catalogues and lists, which are employed as foundations, bricks, mortar and detail in their construction. Taking inspiration from the OuLiPo group (Workshop for Potential Literature), of which Calvino and Perec were members, the purpose of these regulations and restrictions is to create clearly defined structures within which free inventiveness is possible.

Since completing this folio of compositions, many of the experiments, research and ideas explored in the works have been applied in new ways. Later works for chamber ensemble draw from the calm and transparency of the final movement in the song cycle. The use of computer screen-based photographic and animated notation has continued to evolve in subsequent projects. In particular, the practice of collaborating across artforms has influenced compositions created under the auspices of the arts organisation Aphids.

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