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Generating Songs to the Earth

Natalie O’Driscoll | July 2018

Visitors to Palm Beach Parklands during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018 (GC2018) were given the opportunity to stroll through a forest of musicians, in a live immersive orchestral event entitled Song to the Earth.

Composed of three thirty-minute parts for string orchestra, percussion and Persian Violin, Song to the Earth delivered a unique and euphoric musical experience under the night sky. Composer and Artistic Director Dr Corrina Bonshek discusses her inspirations with us.

“Each part has its own character: the first is inspired by birds flocking and cicadas’ choruses that encircle the performance zone in waves; the second is rhythmic and the violins sing to one another like birds across the treetops; and, the third is meditative and envelops the audience in powerful waves of gong sound with Shah Kaman.”

The idea for the piece was born a decade earlier, when Corrina saw a large flock of birds circling overhead and wondered how she could create the effect with live musicians. In 2016, at a showing of John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World during Brisbane Festival, she found her answer: place groups of musicians throughout a performance space and invite the audience to walk amongst them and create their own sound mix.

Once conceptualised, Song to the Earth needed a team behind it.

“For the visuals, Mimi Dennett, Tiffany Beckwith-Skiller and Wes Bluff created large and small-scale lighting installations that acted like beacons, drawing the audience into the performance space and holding them there,” explains Corrina.

“Musicians DeepBlue and master percussionist Michael Askill led a team of 45 remarkable young musicians aged 10-24. DeepBlue brought a very special element to this work – choreographed movements that they devised along with movement consultant Meredith Elton in response to the music. It was incredible to see my music come to life in this way.”

Song to the Earth drew approximately 2000 attendees during its two day run during GC2018, introducing visitors to a distinctly Gold Coast soundscape and environment.

“Song to the Earth is inspired by nature, in particular, the bird and insect sounds outside my window in Elanora,” Corrina says. “You can hear these sounds literally via birdcall recordings in the sound design, and more abstractly as musical melodies.

“I think this desire to be in nature is something that is quintessentially Gold Coast…the support for nature themes and outdoor art experiences is strong here. I don’t think I could have made this work anywhere else.”

The nature of Song to the Earth may have been supported by the community, but Corrina is aware that the scale of it would not have been possible without support from the City of Gold Coast.

“Song to Earth involved the largest team of performers and creatives that I have ever worked with as a collaborator and director,” she tells us.

“I could not have brought a work of this size and scale into existence without substantial support. City of Gold Coast’s Generate program was in its essence a mentoring program, where participants were supported to develop, refine their vision and actually make it happen. This of course also involves financial support.

“Pitching for funds, doing a work-in-progress showing, working with a festival producer, and in my case securing additional funding, were all part of the process.”

One of the most valuable aspects of the program for Corrina was having feedback from experienced artistic directors and independent artists about her creative vision, as well as the creative problems she had to solve along the way.

“For example, I had originally planned Song to the Earth as a 50-minute or show-length performance,” she says. “But there was a problem of audience members feeling tired from walking around for over 30-minutes and becoming disengaged.”

Yaron Lifschitz, creative lead for Festival 2018, then stepped up shared an experience he had of 5-hour outdoor music, where the audiences could enter and exit as they wished, just like they would in a gallery, and Corrina was inspired to tweak the setup.

“This really provoked a new direction in my thinking and our creative team eventually settled on three thirty-minute performances that audiences could pick from, attending 1, 2 or 3 parts as they wished.”

Corrina remains incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the GC2018 arts and cultural program.

“For me GC2018, was about going on a journey to bring a creative dream to life. I felt privileged to share that journey with the other passionate and talented artists of the Generate program. The passion of the artists coming out of this program is huge. It is contributing to the Gold Coast growing reputation as place for creating and experiencing new and exciting art.

“Looking back, I have far more confidence and skills in creating and managing large music projects as a result of Generate.”

Those skills will come in handy when Corrina begins work on a new composition for the Beecroft Symphony Orchestra, premiering in December, as well as several other concert pieces she has in the pipeline. But most exciting is a potential international collaboration later in the year.

“I’ve come out of the Generate program with a real sense of drive to create and present music-art works for international audiences,” says Corrina. “In October, I hope to start work on an exciting 30-minute work for Pipa (Chinese lute) and digital art projections, pending funding.”

“This is an international collaboration with Chen Yu-Rong (Taiwan), Good Company Arts (New Zealand) and myself. I am really excited about leaping into a major new work for this fascinating and ancient instrument that is much loved in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.”

Visit bonmusic.com.au to keep up to date with Corrina’s projects.

Generate is a City of Gold Coast initiative through the Regional Arts Development Fund and a partnership between the Queensland Government and the City to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. The Queensland Government also supported Generate through the GC2018 Arts and Cultural Program.

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