Kevin Barker writes ‘Gunderbooka’ for MAXed OUT Company

Kevin Barker spent time in Mount Gunderbooka at the Moorambilla Artist Immersion, and from that created a piece, for three-part choir, Song Company and Australian World Orchestra. He explains his inspiration and talks about working with the young students to sing the music in during the residential camps at Baradine.

I spent a long time watching and listening to the slow movements in the landscape around me at Gunderbooka. At times I felt the breadth and age of it, and a sense of its nurturing spirit, flow into me; I could almost feel myself merging with the spirit of the land. I’ve wanted to give a sense of all that in my music.

Knowing that I was writing for the MAXed OUT Company, I thought about how teenage years can sometimes be a bewildering, lonely time. I wondered if the music could help nurture an understanding that individuality need not be isolating, that their experiences are in many ways shared, and that both drawing on and giving to their connection with nature, community, and each other can provide support through their journey.

These, then, are the things I’ve tried to evoke in my music — breadth, timelessness, wonder, and connection.

The opening music is a Dance of Creation inspired by an Ngemba story of how the land around Gundabooka was formed. Goanna-dancers enact the land accompanied by music that is energetic, percussive, primal.

This music is made from layered rhythmic patterns, echoing the layers of time and earth built into the land. The clapping patterns are of unequal length, so as they overlay each other they phase and resynchronise, building a solid but motive foundation to the more freely creative percussion part.

As the goannas finish their creative task and move off to rest, Mount Gunderbooka is formed, and we begin the Dances of Nature. Now
the music loses its impulsive energy, and becomes broad and timeless. Parallel blocks of sound move to the contours of the mountain; each chord its own root but linked one to another by the sweep of motion.

The final section is Song of the Spirit. It begins tentatively, with hesitant phrases interspersed with flurries and arabesques of birdsong. The music is lifted and carried forward on the wind, before touching down and beginning to move more surely. I’ve tried to give this music a soaring breadth of melody, emerging from the timelessness of the cloud dances, yet always with an urge forward, to move and breathe and grow.

Working with the MAXed OUT Company has been a fantastic privilege. At the Baradine workshop they gave their all, and I was floored by what they achieved. Their openness and generosity imbue the music with true spirit.

Collaborating with an artist like Michelle Leonard, working together to shape the music to fit this particular ensemble, has been amazing. I have learnt alot about writing for choral voices, how to draw out the potential of voices within my music. Being able able to draw on her experience and advice has been invaluable.

Photography: Noni Carroll (noto)
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