Out of Time
I remember a conversation I almost had with my dad once about where we come from. Being an anatomist, he’s inordinately qualified to talk of such things, but, as awkwardness intervened , we ended up talking instead about what we’re made from – namely atoms and molecules. I guess the same things birds and bees are made from, but anyway . . . He talked about atoms and molecules that once were part of other living organisms – famous kings, composers, ocelots, sunfish, lichen – and now just maybe they were part of me. An atom of a dinosaur as part of my lung? A molecule of Henry VIII in my eye? It’s stayed with me- the thought, not the atom. That’s a rather tangential way to start a programme note, but I find it has resonances within the Kenneth Slessor poem that gives this work its title. It is a poem about the unforgiving nature of time, as are many of Slessor’s poems, but this example is laden with images of the cyclical nature of life and death. However, this apparent maudlin content is contained within text of tremendous momentum and energy, with time being personified as the very essence of a narrator who seizes the day. As a body dies and rots, time speeds forward to exuberantly shake the next one to life.
Out of Time was commissioned by Woodside Petroleum (whose very business is ancient rotten plant matter) and the WA Youth Orchestra (who concentrate more on living treasures) to celebrate their respective 50th and 30th Anniversaries, I was given a brief to write an orchestral work filled with energy and celebration. Slessor’s poem forms the core of this work. A vocal line for an imaginary singer, lost in the waves of time perhaps, is embedded in the orchestral part. This line forms the structural framework for the piece, however there are also many temporal and rhythmic games being played. In the fast outer movements, harmonic movement is nearly always symmetrical – emerging from single notes, and the first movement contains waves of expanding and contracting time signatures. Featured instruments are the Trumpet, Clarinet and Cello- the three soloists in the WAYO Alumni concert at which the premiere of this work took place.