3 Symphonic Dances
Composition Date: 2017
Duration: c. 25′ (3 Movements)
Instrumentation: Full Orchestra
I. Floating Bell
The first movement of this work emerged when a friend sent me an image (below) of what I later discovered was an “Australian spotted jellyfish” or “Floating Bell” (‘Phyllorhiza punctata’).1
I was instantly immersed in the details of the image, experiencing sheer delight over its astonishing beauty. I almost immediately wondered if I could express these feelings in musical terms.
As I reflected on the image, and how I might proceed compositionally, I noticed that the jellyfish had a four-part structure. Moreover, once the picture was rotated sideways, this structure could be seen rather like a musical score—that is, with the four parts having a sequential progression, assuming a temporal movement from left to right.
I also noticed that each of these parts had a distinctive character: they contained extraordinarily different, yet related micro-structures, textures, colours, shapes and movements. There were also distinct biological functions: for instance, the umbrella-shaped bell pulsates for locomotion, whilst the stinging tentacles can be used to capture prey.
These features were all highly suggestive to me from a musical perspective. I began to imagine for myself dramatic scenes of this wonderful creature alive, glistening and pulsating in the water. So I chose to use this imagination-infused narrative (i.e. the four-part structure) as the basis for the first movement of this work.
In addition to this extra-musical resource, I also decided to explore the use of an intra-musical framework: that is, I based the musical logic of the piece on a particular sequence of chords, composed by ear, that would express something of my response to the overall image.
This sequence of chords was not intended to require or imply any particular rhythm, dynamics, or timbre. Rather it was designed to serve as the harmonic palette for the piece: in other words, I drew from the tonal colours of this progression in ‘painting’ the details of the piece.
Here is the progression, with a piano rendition below it:
The audio below is the initial statement of the chord progression, as played by the brass:
And this is later statement played by the string section:
II. Sky in Water
For this movement, I drew upon the mirror-like shifting shapes of the trees and the sky as reflected on the lake at Kew Gardens in London. I have also tried to weave into the piece the enchanting interruptions that various creatures—such as the ducks—were making across the water’s surface.
The second inspiration for this piece—as well as the title—is a poem by the 13th century poet Jalaluddin Rumi: “As the Sky does in Water”, especially the lines:
Images. Presence plays with form,
fleeing and hiding as the sky does with water,
now one place, now nowhere.2
And here is the orchestral version of the first 3 chords of this progression:
III. Morialta Falls
The third movement was motivated by the dramatic force that I discovered in an image of Morialta Falls (which is located in Adelaide). For me, the image evoked more severe or intense musical dynamics, tonalities and textures. I was especially drawn to the unremitting plunge, the glistening spray, the harsh and jagged rock face, and, above it all, the calm, transparently blue Australian sky.
For this movement, I created the following two chord sequences, the second of which was intended to suggest a kind of Wordsworth-like hymn to nature, celebrating the serene grandeur or majesty of the falls.
The audio clip below presents the final statement of the second sequence, as it occurs in the movement:
1 I have been unable to track down the source of this beautiful image.
2 From Rumi, J. (2007). Bridge to the Soul: Journeys Into the Music and Silence of the Heart. Trans. C. Barks, A.J. Arberry, and N. O. Ergin. HarperOne.