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10 COMMISSIONS: Carolyn Schofield

10 COMMISSIONS: Carolyn Schofield

As a musical celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Melbourne Recital Centre, 10 composers have each created a new work to be performed at the Centre throughout 2019.

The 10 composers represent a diverse range of musical styles but are unified by their critical acclaim and dedication to their craft. The series features an outstanding line-up of composers and performers, with each work designed to connect audience and performer in an intimate and personal way, making a significant contribution to the repertoire, across a variety of styles. 

The fourth individual to premiere their composition is Vietnamese-Australian electronic musician Carolyn Schofield, aka Fia Fiell. Schofield performs her piece Residue of Structure with Horsley & Williams Duo on Thursday 13 June.

Carolyn Schofield aka Fia Fiell

About Carolyn Schofield

Carolyn Schofield combines her profound practical and theoretical chops as a pianist and composer with a modern and perceptive ear for stretching out the orbit of millennial electronic music constructs. As a live performer, Schofield plays and processes multiple synths in real time to create hauntingly ethereal, unsettling and other-worldly soundscapes, a sound which formed the basis of her first release, A Hair, A Heap (2016). Also a composer of notated and electro-acoustic music, Schofield often brings together electronic sounds and acoustic instruments in a fluid and adaptable way, inspired predominantly by the rhythms and movements of the natural world, and informed by romanticism, minimalism and drone.

Since her debut as Fia Fiell, Schofield’s unique live shows have seen her invited to perform at respected Australian festivals including Dark Mofo’s Laterne, Freedom Time and Inner Varnika, as well as crucial support slots for Laurel Halo, Rashad Becker, Merzbow and more, and a European tour in late 2018. Notable commissions as an emerging composer include a piece for percussion and electronics for the Arts Centre’s 5x5x5 program, and a series of headline performances of a specially commissioned work for Play On at 2017’s Melbourne Music Week.

What is your new work about?

Residue of Structure is a way of bringing the electronic synth music I make together with the sounds of uncommonly heard wind instruments (uilleann pipes and contrabass recorder), and exploring ways they can blend and flow together while drawing on our individual backgrounds within folk and art music traditions. I consider both instruments to be very synthesiser-like in their pure tones (although far more humanly expressive), while I play synths more like an improvising classical musician than most other electronic musicians! And although it’s not obvious at all, folk music is quite a big inspiration for my own music because of how rooted it is in improvisation, fluid rhythmic movement, and cyclic, simple melodic patterns. So the piece is a way of seeing how we can draw on our shared love of improvising and folk music in a new way, that is very unlike the music typically associated with the recorder and uilleann pipes (known as the national bagpipe of Ireland). 

The title is taken from a quote by scientist Raymond Peat and is a reference to the idea that in living systems, energy and structure are interdependent at every level, and energy flow creates structure in a generative and regenerative manner (within cells, for example). Peat writes, 'Energy flows through all systems, and the flow of energy leaves a residue of structure....the flow of energy through substance increases the order in that substance. More life and more energy can solve many of the basic problems of life.' 

Although the piece is not ‘about' this idea, I see it as a long movement of flowing, building and dissipating ‘energy’, with all performers actively improvising and working together within a fluid structure. For me, it’s a way of moving past the typical idea of a composer dictating all the rules for a musical interaction, while also creating a meditative space and a structure through which all parts can flow while generating new ideas. Also unlike a typical composer-performer interaction, I am a performer in the piece myself (and in other collaborative pieces in the program), which for me is a more satisfying way of creating music and working with others. 

Where did you get your inspiration from?

I wrote the piece after meeting with Matt and Ryan a few times to improvise together and get a sense for their individual playing styles. In many ways, the piece extends ideas I’ve developed in my solo work as an electronic musician, bringing them together as a cohesive whole. Much of my work comes together through solo improvisation on synths, which happens in a very rhythmically free way, and my style has been developed over many live performances over the past few years. After playing with Matt and Ryan I saw how their playing could complement and add depth to what I do.

I had no direct inspiration for this piece aside from Matt and Ryan themselves, but perhaps my music has been generally inspired by other improvising synth musicians and composers (such as Terry Riley), as well as romantic and folk traditions. My music is very emotionally expressive and as dramatic as it is ambient, and it’s often quite simple in terms of pitch and harmonic material. This is informed by my background as a classical pianist, which has given me a huge appreciation for composers such as Scriabin and Ravel, while driving me towards a mode of performing on electronic instruments that is very ‘live’ and involved — more like an organ player than a button presser. 

What musical styles influenced you?

I thought Horsley & Williams Duo would be interesting to work with because they typically play in very different musical styles than myself, yet we do have very common interests, including improvisation, instrumental folk music, experimental music and electronic music. In my case, the kinds of traditional music that have influenced me are Asian, African and South American, while for Matt and Ryan it is probably more European. Of course, synth-based electronic music is also huge influence for the piece, simply because that’s the style I work within the most. This kind of thing is often called ambient or new-age music but as I’ve noted, minimalism, drone and romanticism are also big influences. 

Carolyn Schofield's piece Residue of Structure will be given it's world premiere on Thursday 13 June in the Primrose Potter Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

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