Immutable: Adjective – unchanging over time or unable to be changed
This co-composed work, written in collaboration with didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins, grew out of improvisations during the Reef Residency (run by ACO and Tura New Music) at Gnaraloo station in WA.
The title alludes to a certain immutable fact. Australian Indigenous musics speak utterly from and for the country and landscapes in which we live. Every gorge and mountain range has its own song – every coastline its own caretaker. This work for didgeridoo and string orchestra is a request to share one of those songs – the song and story which is carried by Mark Atkins and his didgeridoo.
Structurally, the work is built in a similar manner to some of Mark’s solo improvisations – namely – a slow introduction (both to warm the instrument and welcome the listener) followed by a rhythmic chapter around a particular groove. This is followed by a moment of stasis before the finale based around a second series of rhythmic ideas.
But the undoubtably grounded-in-earth nature of a Mark Atkins solo is counterbalanced in Immutable by moments that allude to the ocean – namely two moments of quotation from early European sources. By way of context, not far from Gnaraloo (across the bay at Cape Inscription) is the spot where in 1616 Dirk Hartog left a plate – the first known European visit to Australia. Many of the vessels that followed him were wrecked on the WA coast. These shipwrecks have slowly decayed and morphed until they are unrecognisable from natural reefs – their story has become part of nature. Gradually, ever so slowly, their European story is becoming entwined in the Australian landscape – the very antithesis of being Immutable. The two transformed quotations are from the Dutch composer Sweelinck, and a fragment of the John Banister setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Full Fathom Five’. The remainder of the work’s harmonic language is based around ever-expanding intervals separated by the semitone, as the strings slowly diverge from an initial unison with the didgeridoo in the introduction.
The irony inherent in the title is the fact that Mark is the embodiment of a considerate and adaptable collaborator, and I thank him deeply for allowing me to share another chapter of his remarkable story.
Note: Iain Grandage 2012
“One of the most impressive sequences [of ‘The Reef’] is a long continuous take from a high spot, slowly moving across the arid beauty of the coast and inland without a living creature in sight so that the lines of the horizon, the swirl of the earth and the dots of the scrub resemble an Aboriginal bark painting. Accompanying is inventively evolving music by didgeridoo player Mark Atkins, composer Iain Grandage and guitarist, singer and songwriter Stephen Pigram.” Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald 25/7/2012
“The centrepiece [of ‘The Reef’] was Immutable by Iain Grandage (who also arranged and linked the concert soundtrack), which skilfully blended Atkins’ didgeridoo improvisations with interjections from the orchestra.” Rosalind Appleby, The West Australian 20.07/2012