This weekend, one of the most ambitious commissioning projects in Australian history will take over Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne. The ANAM set is a series of 67 works by Australian composers, who were commissioned to write a six to eight minute piece of music for each of the 67 musicians trained at the Australian National Academy of Music in 2021.
This week, limelight will feature the stories of five pairs of composers and performers, learning more about their work, their collaborative process, and what they learned about themselves – and each other – through the process. Today let’s look at the composer Andriàn Pertout and his piece Mimicrywritten for the violist Henry Justo.
What does this project represent for you?
What first attracted me The ANAM set project was the fact that this unique project represents one of those rare opportunities to connect with a young and talented performer with a clearly fresh and enthusiastic perspective on the world of contemporary classical music. And to be part of such a great project facilitating the creation of a new Australian work for every student in an Australian institution is simply amazing, and what is without a doubt an unprecedented initiative.
But this begs the question: shouldn’t all Australian music institutions replicate this model? Australia must build on its artistic heritage for the future and for this dream to materialize, all artistic entities are obliged to support this ideal, including the country’s symphony orchestras. In Chile, for example, every professional orchestra is required by law to perform at least 25% local content. In fact, the National Symphony Orchestra of Chile has performed almost every work composed in the last fifty years by a Chilean composer. The result of this policy being a greater sense of unity, and therefore a more positive artistic community; the negative elements of competitiveness between composers automatically removed due to global and inexhaustible opportunities.
How did you approach the collaboration and work together?
Two extremely important and attractive aspects of a dedicated ‘new’ work – as opposed to a selection from the traditional repertoire shelf or an existing composition – are that here you have the opportunity to make a direct link between the composer and performer. My approach in this context is therefore always to activate a meaningful conversation in order to better understand the character and personality of the musician, to then hopefully capture some of the magic of this individual in the realms of artistic expression. Composition for me is a matter of context and the idea that each creation is associated with a unique human entity, requiring a unique response. The fact that Henry Justo ended up being as eclectically diverse and aesthetically limitless as I was was a valuable bonus. The result of this “openness” was the gift of an open canvas with a rich palette of endless possibilities.
What is your piece about?
According to Encyclopedia Britannicathe ancient Greek term mimicryderived from mimeisthai (μιμεῖσθαι, “to imitate”) is a “basic theoretical principle in artistic creation” and can be defined as “”imitation” (although in the sense of “re-presenting” rather than “copying”). Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle (384-322 BCE) considered mimicry as the imitation of nature, with its realization of perfection achieved through a consideration of the four causes of nature (material, formal, effective or agent, and final or goal) in tandem with the aesthetic quality of beauty, framed by the mathematical sciences around “order and symmetry and definition.”
Mimicry (μίμησις) for Viola and Virtual Nagoya Harp, No 469 (2021) adopts a unique take on the concept of mimesis via the juxtaposition of “organic” or intuitive invention with algorithmic composition based on “probabilistic automata”. The melodic elements of the viola are exclusive to the former, while the materials of the secondary band element – represented by the Virtual Nagoya Harp, or Taishāgoto (a rectangular-shaped wooden zither invented in 1912 in Nagoya, Japan by Nisaburo Kawaguchi – who goes by the stage name Gorā Morita – featuring the mechanics of a typewriter with a traditional koto or autoharp) – generated entirely by a set of algorithms that ‘imitate’ the source primary via a modeling derived from the Markov chain or an algorithmic mapping of the melody which takes into account each set of transitions between the states.
Rhythm adopts the combinatorial strategy of “one-state probabilistic automata”, or “unrestricted compositions of the whole not in m rooms.’ The viola, on the other hand, incorporates a rhythmic structure based on the exploration of the mathematical concept of “scores” or “all the scores of not with m parts of the whole”, subdividing all the 20 second intervals of the work into a varied number of parts and sizes which expand and contract symmetrically in rhythmic density (essentially metrical modulations with the ratios 1:1, 3:2, 2:1, 3:1, 2:1 and 3:2) on an arch-like structure.
Were there any surprises for you?
The score features a distinct non-standard approach to proportional notation incorporating a minutes- and seconds-based timeline with barline-delimited subdivisions. The challenge was how to best synchronize performance with the secondary band element. The solution adopted was an MP4 digital video file (essentially a visual click track incorporating the tape component of the work) consisting of 2000 milliseconds, or 2 seconds of digital black followed by a 10 second countdown. From then on, each second (of the total length of the work: 8’12”) is assigned a unique marker (an enlarged display highlighting all 5-second intervals). The surprise was Henry’s acceptance of this yet-to-be-tested method, which in theory was a great idea, but in practice may have proven unsuccessful. What this underscores is that composition is an evolving art form and that we all need to continue to develop the ‘Australian’ artistic voice.
What did you learn from it and what do you think you got?
The work is both interesting and challenging, yet relatively accessible, and despite its intellectual load, it has enough “musicality” to connect on an emotional level. For a composer engaged in a lifelong journey of artistic discovery, these opportunities are simply invaluable, as what they provide is a platform to test ideas in order to then enrich artistic practice; and to hopefully add one more work to this body of work which is important and which, more importantly, has a lasting legacy. This is the intention; whether it is achieved or not, only time will tell, because universal recognition is not necessarily obtained during one’s lifetime.
In closing, I must say that I really believe in focusing on the present; enjoying the moment, and the actual journey, rather than having an eye on the destination, where we would like to be – in other words, Aristotle’s idea of eudaimonia (εύδαιμονία), or “to realize one’s virtuous potentials”. And while we’re enjoying the moment, be nice to each other. This is the best approach for a positively thriving artistic community and a healthy state of mind.
Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer with a doctorate in composition from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne). His music has been performed in over 50 countries around the world. He is currently vice-president of the Melbourne Composers’ League (2021-); Australian Delegate of the Asian Composers’ League (2007-); International Coordinator, PUENTE Festival Interoceánico, Valparaíso, Chile (2019-); Editorial Board Member, Eurasian Music Science Journal, The State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2022-); and was Visiting Professor of Composition at Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts, Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (2019).
The ANAM SET Festival will take place at Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, May 13-15, 2022. More information about the project, and the composers and performers involved, can be found here.
Read the other articles in this series:
- Composer Anne Cawrse and her piece Rubywritten for clarinetist Clare Fox.