Pearl, Ochre, Hair String

I think of the moving lines and planes of the music as sonic maps showing ‘turbulence patterns’ created by the passage of unseen forces.

Excerpt from the final part of Pearl, Ochre Hair String, 2010. Live in concert with the Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Lothar Zagrosek.

Also click for: Video documentary about Pearl, Ochre, Hair String made by Peider Defilla for BR-Alpha tv.

In Pearl, Ochre, Hair String, for orchestra, I explore aspects of the aesthetic category of shimmer which is so central to Aboriginal art and ritual culture. Qualities of ‘shimmer’, ‘brightness’ and ‘iridescence’ are factors which both veil and point to the presence of a timeless spiritual reality.  The solo ‘cello at the beginning of the work, makes use of a serrated ‘guiro bow’ (the bow hair is wrapped around the stick to create an uneven playing surface) adding a layer of granulated sounds over every stroke rather like the cross-hatching patterns of bark paintings or the incised lines on the pearl shell surface.  This idea of surface vibrations moving over other underlying shapes is explored in many different ways by the whole orchestra and I think of the moving lines and planes of the music as sonic maps showing ‘turbulence patterns’ created by the passage of unseen forces.


Pearl, Ochre, Hair String. Sebastian Klinger, principal ‘cello, Sinfonieorchester der Bayerischen Rundfunks, photo by Astrid Ackermann

In 2008, I spent some time in the Kimberley area of Northern Australia as part of my Ian Potter Foundation Composer Fellowship, producing a number of works in response to ideas and images from my travels.  In this part of Australia, Bardi artists have long carved pearl shells for ceremonial purposes in the initiation of boys.  One of the key artists in this field is Aubrey Tigan whose works are collected as art objects as much as cultural artefacts. Shells are incised with navigation and other designs, rubbed with ochre (coloured earth) and fixed with string made of human hair. read more

This work was commissioned by the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and West Australian Symphony Orchestra with the generous financial support of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust. It was premiered by these orchestras in Munich, in Perth and more recently performed in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Otto Tausk and at the Gaida Festival in Vilnius by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Berman.