Recently I’ve been travelling around south-east NSW and elsewhere, photographing, writing and generally absorbing the real-world colours and textures of Eucalyptus trees.
A number of artistic threads have come together to initiate this artistic adventure. Firstly, Four Winds have commissioned a new work to be premiered in their 2018 Easter Festival. The performance will be in their extraordinary outdoor Sound Shell near Bermagui in south east NSW. A tree-inspired work then is a no-brainer, and continues my own long-term exploration of textures, patterns, movement and light in nature.
Composer Damian Barbeler. Photo © Patrick Boland
This year also happens to be the 20-year anniversary of Murray Bail’s Franklin Award-winning novel Eucalyptus. The book is famous for the virtuosic way Murray threads names and characteristics of Eucalypts through the love story: variously as metaphors for characters or as symbols of Australian identity and so forth. And so my new work is also a tribute to, and a revisiting of Eucalyptus.
I can still remember my reaction to the book when I read it in 1998. I, probably like many of us, had a fairly generic preconception of this iconic Australian tree: the lone specimen in a parched paddock for example. However, the book woke me up to the startling reality of the overwhelming variety of colours, textures, shapes and environmental contexts of the genus. In Visiting Eucalyptus I hope to give my Four Winds audience a similar re-awakening experience.
The concert work will be accompanied by a multi-art installation, which I’m making in collaboration with designer Tim Jetis. This will explore contrasting examples of individual trees from a range of visual and poetic perspectives: through photography, film, sound and drawings. The installation will also serve as an introduction to the musical work. I’m in the middle of composing the concert work as we speak, and am happy to report that it’s turning out to be just as riotously coloured as the inspiration demands.
Finally, I want to mention my patrons for this commission. Cliff Wallis and Sayaka Mihara own an ex-sheep farm in Wallagoot (also in south east NSW) that they’re restoring back to a natural state. They are keen students of flora in the area and have helped me find interesting specimens down that way. Their straight-out love of the landscape forms a central part of the emotional grounding for this work.
Damian Barbeler’s Visiting Eucalyptus will premiere at the Four Winds Easter Festival on April 1