Unhappy with the way the music is going? Why not phone the composer?

Recently I’ve been keen to consecrate jarringly humdrum language in choral music. In Toy Story 3 = Awesome! I set Facebook status-updates and in The 9 Cutest Things That Ever Happened, I turned a Buzzfeed article about cute animals into a faux-Anglican chant. When the mundane is recycled into art, it can be elevated to an ironic and oddly contemplative level.

For Ghosts in the Orchestra, commissioned by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, I decided to have my choir, The Australian Voices, stand playfully among the orchestral musicians, prompting them with sung instructions: “semitone… different… darker… longer… halve the bow pressure”.

The orchestra enthusiastically complies, unrolling the commandments into symphonic gestures. A main chord is established:“enjoy the chord: isn’t it just – wicked!? …remember this chord.”

Recently at The Australian Voices we’ve commissioned several new works that blur the meaning of the word ‘composer’. In We Apologise, for example, Rob Davidson slowed down the recording of Kevin Rudd speaking those two words from the historic parliamentary apology. That five-minute sound was then sung by the ensemble. In my own piece Tra$h Ma$h (the dollar signs in mock reverence for Ke$ha!), I stole tiny grabs of modern pop songs and pasted them together into a deranged mosaic – original keys and tempos intact! Neither work was really “composed” in the familiar sense of “writing music,” but in the etymological sense of “putting together”. Here, in Ghosts – drawing into question the role of the composer – the choir muses upon whether or not it must stick to the notes written by the composer onto the score. Even the orchestra and their conductor is invited to rebel: “The conductor might improvise a gesture and the musicians interpret it spontaneously…”

Audience members are encouraged to use their smartphones to “send a message into the future” (that is, by email) to the composer, who apparently was curious to know if they would be enjoying the music: “Bring forth your smartphones! Give me your reaction; Tell me what you make of this … ‘concerto’ … Transmit your comments, questions and complaints to: G–O–R–D–O–N [at] theaustralianvoices (all one word) [dot] com”.

The conversation plays out almost as if the orchestra is “possessed” by a choir. As though they are from different universes, united for a fleeting experience in the concert hall.

WORK Ghosts in the Orchestra
COMPOSER Gordon Hamilton
SCORED FOR Choir and orchestra
COMMISSIONED BY Queensland Symphony Orchestra
PREMIERE QPAC, August 9
PERFORMERS Australian Voices with Queensland Symphony Orchestra