Sacred Environment – visuals

In December 2016 Dutch artist Ruben van Leer was commissioned by The Holland Festival to make a visual interpretation of the location and landscape upon which Moore’s oratorio Sacred Environment is based which had been commissioned by The Holland Festival a year previously. Moore chose the location because of its Aboriginal, historical and environmental significance and because it is the region where Moore’s European settler family became established in the early 19th Century.  In December 2016 Leer and Moore traveled to Yengo National Park guided by Uncle John Shipp and Uncle Phil Sheppard, where they were taken to a series of traditional sites. From here Leer captured the landscape using recent scanning techniques using lasers to create a 3D interactive virtual environment. These images were used to make a real-time virtual reality installation, projected on the walls of the Concertgebouw during the performance of the oratorio at The Holland Festival Proms 24 June 2017.

Interview between visual artist Ruben van Leer and composer Kate Moore.

30 January 2017

R>>> Could you possibly add some more concrete details also?

e.g. about the orchestra; this is the biggest setting you wrote music for right?

K It’s the second oratorio I have written. The first piece for choir and orchestra I wrote for my final honours piece at The Australian National University. It was never performed despite the fact that I spent a year writing it.

R Why the digeridoo?

K The didgeridoo was suggested by Robert Nasveld. He had worked with Lies Beijerinck with the Radio Phil before, performing works by Peter Sculthorpe, a well known Australian composer. My initial response was that it would be hard to do that because many Australian composers added didge to their compositions in the 90s as a way to create a national identity in music. It was strongly criticised and deemed cultural appropriation insensitive to indigenous traditions. Having mulled it over and after meeting Lies I decided that it was a good idea to tackle this head on, using it as a key, and to find out where it would lead me, what the limitations would be and which open doors would open. Taking Lies with me to Australia in May 2016,  into the bush, she taught me some of the knowledge she had learned through her own travels seeking mentorship with indigenous didgeridoo players. She knows a lot, I would say much more than me. I found it an interesting intersection in that Lies, being Dutch, has based her career on a tradition that lies in Australia. I found her story fascinating and wanted to learn more. Robert commissioned a new giant “G” didge for Lies made especially to perform the Sculthorpe pieces. I will be using this instrument in the final movement of my piece.
I have written for didg before and it is a fascinating instrument. Essentially it is a mouth percussion instrument a little bit like beat boxing but amplified and filtered through a giant tube. You can articulate words through the tube and can you can think of it like a giant natural microphone. The first time I wrote for Didgeridoo was for William Barton in a piece called The Dam commissioned by The Canberra International Festival. The Dam also featured Alex Oomens who is the soprano I have chosen to work with for the Oratorio. In The Dam, I used botanical names of animals and plants situated around a certain Dam in The Southern Highlands in NSW. I consider The Dam to be the prototype for the oratorio, and the spark of inspiration for making a sacred piece based the biosphere of a certain location.

R Who is the soprano singer? Why she?

K Alex Oomens is a soprano from Sydney, currently based in London. She has a similar background to me and a similar love and understanding of the bushland around Sydney. I have the opportunity to workshop with her in Sydney before our rehearsals in The Netherlands and we will make a pilgrimage to Wiseman’s Ferry onThe Hawkesbury River to observe the giant sandstone ridges and bushland that feature in my piece. She also has Dutch heritage. I chose to work with her, having worked with her previously for The Canberra International Festival, because I love her voice. She was a wonderful open minded spirit to work with and has a captivating stage presence. I wanted to take that collaboration further.

R What does the Concertgebouw mean to your music?

K The Concertgebouw represents the pinnacle of Dutch musical Culture. It is a historic building where guests travel from afar to watch and listen to the worlds  greatest musicians performing music by composers who have contributed to our collective canon of music and memory. This reminded me of the aboriginal concept of “corroboree”, a place where tribal men and women from Australia gather to sing, dance and celebrate their collective memory of Dreamtime stories, Song Lines and The Lore. The building represents a sacred meeting place of culture in the same way that the bush represents the sacred meeting place within nature. I was curious about the intersection between nature and culture, and the recognition that both places are awe inspiring and sacred. I imagined an image of bringing the bush into the Concertgebouw where it was no longer possible to tell where architecture ended and giant trees and branches began,  blurring the lines between the two.

R And Holland in general?

K Holland is the home of my ancestors through my maternal family. It is part of my identity, one of which I had to search hard for and may not yet have found. My search for a cultural identity is tied to this journey. It is an obsession that has been sparked by my experience as a migrant, having been born in England and moving to Australia, and then moving from Australia to the Netherlands, being the daughter of a migrant Dutch family and an Australian family that reaches back to the very first European settlers. The feeling of being both new and old in a place simultaneously is something that I experience very strongly and I sense that in both Australia and The Netherlands, both countries of which I belong to and neither of which I belong to. Holland is my mother and Australia is my Father. I recognise the importance of place and ancestral heritage to aboriginal traditions and it is something that resonates with me.

R What’s you experience with the Holland Festival?

K An awe inspiring, energy giving platform on the highest level for the most exciting, vivid, colourful musicians and artists in the world to delve deeply into the art of creativity, innovation and invention. It is a grand meeting place!

R Would it be necessary to also perform this piece in Australia? Why?

K The piece is drawn from the bush, the colours, shapes and textures of trees, shrubs, ferns and grasses, the imposing formation of Hawkesbury Sandstone and The Hawkesbury river itself, so filled with history on so many levels. The piece is busting with cicada rhythms and bird song. I wanted to recreate the breathless sensation I felt when confronted with the giant rock formations of he cliffs overlooking the Hawkesbury, the pyramid shapes of the mountains and stretches of bushland that reach beyond the horizon.

R What’s the link with the Aborigine religion and your music?

K This is multilayered. The spirit of the land, the earth energy, dream lines, path of the stars, monolithic structures in the landscape, the ancestors, a feeling of being within the bush and the bush being within oneself and the harmony of all creatures and sentient beings within that ecosystem gives me solace. Recreating the intensity of the smell, light, heat, sound, colour of the bush through music is something that is fundamental to my practice as an artist and what I look for when I am making my own pieces.

R How are these themes inspire your (new) music (e.g. song lines / geographical)?

K I believe the true essence and original function of music is related to the song lines and when I write music, my imagination takes me along a path of memory coloured by sensual experience of sounds, light, colour, smell, perspective, height, depth, weight, temperature and texture.

R What decisions did you make in your composition now?

K Every note, every dynamic, every articulation is a decision. At every moment I am making a thousand decisions about what will come next and how and what it means and how it makes sense.

R What research is still to be done?

K I can never do enough research. There is so much still unsaid, so much to understand, so much that lies buried just beneath the surface. I think it will take a lifetime to process all the information.

R What do the images mean to you? And what’s VR for you? Point clouds (spirits)?

K The images represent the soul of the trees. They are like the spiritual dimension of the forest, the internalised memory of their presence, the ephemeral and fluid being that exists in the imagination, adrift in the forest of the mind. When I close my eyes ad listen to music I experience a sensation of seeing the music with my inner eye and the images created using 3D laser scans are the closest I have seen to the images that appear in my mind when listening to music.

R What kind of feeling are you after with both the images and your music?

K The magnetic, seductive and liberating spirit of the bushland and the sense that all plants, animals and minerals and people possess a universal soul that connects all being to each other.

R What can the audience learn from the piece?

K Nature is alive, our ancestors are with us, the environment speaks. The environment is sacred and to be revered, teaming with the beauty and complexity, eco systems likened to the most beautiful composition or complicated machine. The bushland being world’s greatest orchestra.

R Why do you, don’t you want to talk about the social-political struggle in Australia? Or any actuality in the world (racism)?

K It is something to confront. Placing people on different levels due to race is ugly and left over from a colonial past. We have come so far since then to recognise that all people regardless of skin colour, religion, gender, age, are born with the gift of life and everyone has the right to live that life to its full potential. No one is entitled to place themselves above another human being. Life is a gift.

R Is it important that people can experience the piece couple of days after the live performance at home using VR / internet? Why?

K I like the possibility that people can reengage with the  work in their own time privately, allowing the possibility to to ponder, think, explore and engage with the bushland, indigenous culture and history and a sense of the sacred environment.