For her new work, Valley of Lost Things, Kate Neal took her inspiration from memory, grey spaces and a trip to the moon.

In contemplating this new work for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, I wanted to set myself the task of being as free with musical syntax as possible. I wanted to use both consonance and dissonance freely, without being tied to any particular musical form or style. In this way, Valley of Lost Things draws influence from various stylistic paradigms, including those of minimalism, folk, neoclassical, spectral, stochastic, tonal, polytonal and textural genres.

Kate Neal, composerComposer Kate Neal

In considering the works of Adams and Boulez, I was aware that these composers use polarised compositional languages to express musical ideas, and I contemplated the grey spaces between these languages. Is there a place where the love of both these forms can rest and reside within a singular expression? I didn’t set out to achieve this in Valley of Lost Things, but it was something I was thinking about.

Perhaps the title refers to a sense of finding new things in languages of old, or rummaging through memories to find new things in grey space? Certainly the work has been influenced by research and development with visual artist and long-term collaborator Sal Cooper. We are investigating the condition of dissociative fugue as an expression of flight, loss, or escape from reality, or from normal life; the constraints of identity and memory and the shadow of disturbance that might precede it. In this state, familiar objects become forgotten, and the journey with the unfamiliar becomes repetitive; objects and ideas return again and again, transformed, re-configured and re-contextualised.

The title comes from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, specifically from canto 34, in which Astolfo and St John set out for the moon, where all things that are lost on Earth can be retrieved. These things include lost ideals, flattery, unkept vows, and essences of sanity and wit distilled in vases as “liquid, thin and clear”. Astolfo retrieves the largest vial and returns to earth with both Orlando’s wits and his own reason. What a wonderful image, to travel to the moon and ingest our lost things.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra will perform Kate Neal’s Valley of Lost Things at Carriageworks, Sydney, August 13.