1. The State
2. The Skipper
3. The Island
4. The Heretic
5. The Past
This work takes as its starting point the events of 1629 on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia. On 4th June of that year, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) merchant ship Batavia ran aground on a reef near Beacon Island and was wrecked. After Pelsaert, the commander of the ship, had set off to Batavia (now Jakarta) with the skipper (the questionable Jabosz) to seek rescue, the remaining 200 people on the islands were subjected to the most horrific ordeals at the hands of a self-styled egomaniacal overlord Jeronimus Cornelisz. His abiding belief, related to the heretical ideas of Torretius, was that since he himself was a creation of God, any act he committed must, by extension, be an act of God. This resulted in acts of the most heinous brutality that reduced the population of marooned survivors by over a hundred, and only ended with Pelsaert’s return and Cornelisz and his co-conspirators being tried and punished for their crimes.
I am intrigued by the psychology of domination that is inherent in Cornelisz’s reign of terror, and this lies at the core of my response to this inherently dramatic story. The work is in five movements, with each performer in turn playing from a metaphorical soapbox in the centre of the group. In some instances (namely the 1st and 3rd movements), their material, via a microphone and loop station (a modern day megaphone, if you will), is replayed, looped and electronically treated to create worlds within worlds of texture.
This idea of worlds within worlds is also reflected in my use of extant source music material – Dutch music of the 17th Century, specifically that of Jan Sweelinck. I have quoted him twice – a traditional folk song Mein junges Leben hat ein End’ ‘My young life is at an end’, forms the core of the first movement, and Paduana Lachrimae – Sweelinck’s own arrangement of the famous John Dowland ayre ‘Flow My Tears’ in the final movement. As with many of the works in the Ocean songs group, 12 tone rows are present – in this instance taking the Lachrimae as their starting point.
The work is written for and dedicated to the incomparable Australian Brass Quintet, whose virtuosity and wondrous musicianship are a pleasure to be around.
Soapbox utilises some theatrical staging elements which require firstly the operation of some simple electronics and secondly, a number of easily accessible performance locations around the auditorium.
The electronics that make up the ‘Soapbox’ are a microphone (Sennheiser 609 or AKG 414 or equiv), a Boss RC-50 Loop station (a foot-operated sampling/looping device), a Delay Pedal (Boss DD-3 or equiv) and a powered speaker (Mackie SRM450 or equiv) These should be set (as per the diagram below) in the centre of the quintet’s primary performance space. Secondary spaces are at the performers’ discretion. At the opening of the work, the performers should be as far from the stage as possible, given that they need to be on stage by the end of the movement. Similarly, the performers should drift away as far as is practicable at the end of the final movement.
Recordings of the Horn chords from the first movement are available from the composer through the following link, but it is strongly suggested that the performer records their own version.
The five movements should be performed as continuously as is practicable.