This weekend, one of the most ambitious commissioning projects in Australian history will take over Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent. The ANAM Set is a series of 67 works by Australian composers, who were commissioned to write a six- to eight-minute piece of music for each of the 67 musicians training at the Australian National Academy of Music in 2021.

This week, Limelight will feature the stories of five pairs of composers and performers, learning more about their work, their process of collaboration, and what they learned about themselves – and each other – through this process. Today we talk to percussionist Al Fane, about the piece [sound is] A Body in Space written with composer K. Travers Eira.

Percussionist Al Fane, whose collaboration with composer K. Travers Eira, <i>[sound is] A Body in Space</i>, will be performed as part of <i>The ANAM Set</i>. Photo © Pia Johnson.

Percussionist Al Fane, whose collaboration with composer K. Travers Eira, [sound is] A Body in Space, will be performed as part of The ANAM Set. Photo © Pia Johnson.

What does this project mean to you?

Commissioning music is a privilege. It is incredible to be able to work with and create such limitless art with my dear friend and colleague Travers.

What is your piece about?

This work is centred around three main concepts: the body, the physicality of percussion and its habitation of space. In their performance notes, Travers writes:

“[sound is] A Body in Space is inspired by Schick’s suggestion to place ‘sticks before instruments…the act of playing before the sounds of playing…the human before the musical’.”

My passion for anatomy and physiology of the human body is an important aspect of this work. The work explores how we can be restricted or constrained by often sub-conscious habitual movements, and seeks to challenge particular functions of given anatomical structures. The performer has space to express responses to the ‘prescribed body’ by enabling emotional reactions and enabling conscious control in the three stages of movement (pre-shaping, transport, and grasping).

[sound is] A Body in Space strips bare the concept of ‘material instrument’, instead honing in on the narrative of movement and the human body.

This work is semi-mobile in form, allowing the performer to develop a narrative through different planes or directions, according to the pathways provided. In this process, they highlight contrasts/links/mirrors in these three dimensions:

  1. directionality of sound and movement: Horizontal – Vertical – Circular
  2. parallels and relationships between instruments and the body through exchanged gestures
  3. different scales of movement and sound.

The performer plays from an inner space, observing and reflecting on the movements of their body and the way it inhabits physical space. The vertical plane provides for moments of realisation, where the breath or movements emphasise the usual verticality of the body. Movement throughout the performance circles around the central space inhabited by the bass drum. Household objects and old toys evoke everyday functional life and memories of physical play and childhood exploration.

How did you approach it/work together?

Travers and I have very unique ways of thinking and interpreting musical stimulus. We are both gender-diverse artists who engage in interdisciplinary interests. This academic focus and subsequent breadth of knowledge actually formed the basis of our first commission in 2021, where we explored Michel Focault’s overarching theory of power and control.

There have definitely been a few ups and downs throughout the past 18-month development period. Recently, I went through a life-changing illness which has completely re-shaped and shifted my perspective on what my body is and how it functions.

Interpretation-wise, Travers tends to leave quite a lot up to the performer, and as a result of this, our developmental approach has been to let the work blossom over time with the aim of workshopping close to the recording/performances. We believe this approach will help to keep it fresh and alive.

Were there surprises for you?

I have worked a lot with Travers over the years, so no surprises… (yet)! I know and absolutely love their writing style.

What have you taken from it and what do you think you have achieved?

I feel as though I have not ‘taken anything from it’, rather, the work is a representation of where my art is at in the present moment. I am currently studying to be an Occupational Therapist, so understanding and assessing everyday movements, cognition, executive functioning like problem solving and multi-disciplinary teamwork is at the core of what I do. The same is true for music. Percussion is all about problem solving, inventing and redesigning instruments and teamwork. To be able connect these two worlds together through this project is an absolute honour.

It is often difficult to quantify achievements, but my hope is that by creating [sound is] A Body in Space, together we can breakdown the inherent barriers of elitism and inaccessibility that co-exist in our society. Anyone can create sound, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status or disability. After all, our body is our instrument.

The ANAM SET Festival will run at Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent, 13–15 May, 2022. More information about the project, and the composers and performers involved, can be found here.

Read other articles in this series:

1. Composer Anne Cawrse and her piece Ruby, written for clarinettist Clare Fox.

2. Composer Andriàn Pertout and his piece Mīmēsis, written for violist Henry Justo.

3. Composer Kate Tempany and her piece Honeyeater, written for trumpeter and Nic Corkeron.

4. Composer Bruce Crossman and his piece Fragility and Sonorousness, written for pianist Kane Chang.

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