4(III,IV=picc).3(III=corA).3(III=bcl).3(III=dbn)-4.4.2.btrbn.1-timp.perc(4):I=vib/tam-t/SD/hi hat/whip/4tpl.bl/tpl bowl/3wine bottles/3tom-t/vibraslap/2tgl/whirly tube; II=marimba(4.3 octaves)/lg BD/SD/3susp.cym/1tuned gong/hi hat/tpl bowl/plastic water bottle/tamb/crot; III(orch Group I)=med thunder sheet/SD/glsp/3susp.cym/tpl bowl/1wine bottle/whirly tube; IV(orch Group II)=lg thunder sheet/SD/glsp/4susp.cym(incl. 1sizzle cym)/tpl bowl/1wine bottle/whirly tube-harp-pft-MIDI kbd-elec.gtr-strings(184.108.40.206.6);
taken from above, 3 groups of players are to be situated in the hall: GROUP I: fl3.tpt3.perc3; GROUP II: fl4.tpt4.perc4; GROUP III: solo string quartet
Fire Music was written in response to the disastrous “Black Saturday” bushfires of 2009. As part of my background reading while writing the piece, I studied the uses and restorative power of fire in Australian and other indigenous traditions. Fire was (and still is) used in Australia not only for land management purposes (controlled burning), and as an agricultural technique (fire-stick farming) but also as a significant part of indigenous ceremonial and cultural life, such as in Aboriginal smoking ceremonies.
Whilst the 2009 fires obviously had utterly disastrous consequences, fire can also cleanse and replenish; these thoughts, as well as its use in ritual, informed aspects of my Fire Music, especially in the slow middle section. The material which developed even included specific musical evocations of the event; for example, the extended electric guitar solo about half way through the piece evolved as a musical interpretation of the momentous, dizzying heat that greeted Victorians on the morning of February 7th, 2009.
As the composition progressed I moved beyond the original trajectory of the fire itself and the piece started to follow its own internal, music-based logic. Nevertheless, the character of the force of destruction and ultimately rebirth that comes from such a fire remained the energetic source of material. It’s not an uncommon working process for me; strong extra-musical ideas, after providing an initial stimulus, then recede into the background as the piece evolves in purely musical terms. The remnants of original ‘programmatic’ ideas become a point of reference only.
From the onset, I knew that Fire Music would also be choreographed. I was approached almost simultaneously by both the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic for a new orchestral work (co-commissioned by the BBCSO) and the Australian Ballet for a new score for Australian master-choreographer Graeme Murphy as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2012. It was my suggestion to combine these two projects into one.
In first discussions with Graeme, he stressed to me that he wasn’t planning a narrative ballet and didn’t want its dance use to influence how the work might unfold. This was liberating as choreographers often come to composers with very specific ideas of subject matter and even timings. The accompanying thought that the music I was writing was destined to determine the unfolding of a new ballet and its language of movement helped shape and inform Fire Music’s energy flow and dramaturgical nature.
The orchestration affects the entire space of the hall: in addition to the orchestra on the podium, there are three satellite groups of musicians placed around the hall, in order to let the audience be swept into the soundscape of Fire Music.
© Brett Dean, 2011
“Fire Music is inspired by the bushfires that ravaged Australia a couple of years ago. It is possible, of course, to extricate this image from the musical experience, but otherwise it was not difficult to hear how the fire took holdof the grass, leapt up to the treetops and set entire forests aflame, before the flutes – spread out over stage and gallery – sowed the seeds of a more beautiful world.”
“a fascinating, effective piece, brilliantly performed ... The ominously rumbling introduction creates the sensation that something terrible is coming this way, a feeling that is enhanced by an electric guitar solo. The combination of large orchestra and three instrumental groups distributed around the auditorium builds a sonic topography that reinforces the drama of the piece.”
“Dean doesn’t stop at the ashes and smoke – the very devastation – but studies the role of fire in Australia’s history, in the smoking rituals of the aborigines and other traditional ceremonies. He often takes this kind of dramatic historical event as the departure point of his compositions, but then lets the music take over on the strength of its own inherent logic.”