On Thursday the 30th of August, I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing the world premiere of Carl Vine’s 8th Symphony, The Enchanted Loom. As well as playing Vine’s latest musical offering, the MSO also performed Holst’s The Planets Suite. Vine is the current composer in residence for the MSO and his latest symphony was the result of a commission from the orchestra. The Enchanted Loom is a programmatic work depicting musically a discovery by Sir Charles Sherrington, an English neuroscientist. Sherrington theorised that the human brain weaves together our perception of the world, much like the way a loom weaves thread. The loom reference was analogous to the Jaacquard loom – a machine that was unsurpassed in engineering in the early 19th century. Vine’s 8th Symphony is in five movements, which are seamlessly linked – another tip of the hat to the loom.
Carl Vine Symphony No.8 The Enchanted Loom
- The loom awakens
- The social fabric
- Sheer invention
- Imagining infinity
The five movements all have meanings to Vine, who describes these in detail in the program notes. The loom awakens describes the brain making sense of the universe and weaving our perceptions into a recognisable structure. The social fabric describes our relation to each other within the world in which we live. Sheer invention is a topic that is held dear to Vine, and he draws inspiration from the writing and research of Oliver Sack. Sack studied hallucination, subject matter that has been of interest to Vine in recent years, inspiring his work Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra. Euphoria describes the elated states that our brains grace us with and Imagining infinity is a tribute to the fact that the human brain can conceptualise something as vast as the edge of our universe.
The MSO have a Contra Forte instead of Contra Bassoon, and this was the first time I have seen one of these instruments performed live. The contra forte shares much with the contra bassoon and was developed in 2011, with a mission of improving the contra bassoon. In certain registers the contra bassoon can sound weak or start to break up, the contra forte is anything but weak – it filled Hamer Hall with the most menacing low range tone I have heard from an orchestral wind instrument.
As well as hearing the world premiere, composition students from Melbourne Conservatorium were graced with the presence of Carl Vine himself, who discussed in detail the methods he used to compose The Enchanted Loom and Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra. I was so inspired from Carl’s talk and to see a modern composer who appreciates tonality like he does was well overdue.
We had a chance to ask questions throughout his demonstration and I managed to ask a question that had been haunting me for two weeks – how do composers find their voice? My composition lessons with Dr. McCombe challenge my ideals and I do appreciate the way that she tries to pry me from my comfort zone – the last lesson I had I felt as if I come across as insincere with my compositions. McCombe explained that she wanted to hear the real me, not a film or game composer. I thought I was here all along, and this comment had me soul searching for the past two weeks. Every time I would try to compose, I felt these words resonating and became almost unable to write a note, thinking that I was not using my own compositional voice. After asking Carl Vine how he found his, and if there in fact was such a thing as ‘a voice’ he responded that he had put together works of his spanning decades, side by side and found that there was a common thread linking all his compositions – his voice. There was my light bulb moment, my voice was there all along.
By trying to sound original and use what I thought was the real me, I strayed further from what my voice sounds like and this became frustrating and at one stage I felt like just walking away from it all. I know that sounds like an overreaction, but when someone challenges the foundations from which you are built, you really start to question yourself. Meeting Carl was one of the best things that has ever happened to me, his relatability as a composer and as someone who is uncompromising in his use of lyricism and tonality made me remember why I love composition and what composition means to me.
I compose tonally and crave structure in my compositions because I feel that the world is largely chaotic. There is already too much suffering in the world, and by adding to the chaos through music and art is not what I want to do – not for one second.
Howard Bloom is one of my idols, an incredible mind who rejects the concept of entropy. At the core of entropy is the belief that everything tends toward disorder. Bloom time and time again brings to our attention the fact that how can a universe create life if entropy is at its core. Life is order. I feel that many modern composers may in fact believe in entropy, and one just needs to listen to their works to find a lack of order – a school of composers who seem intent on destroying the foundations which our for bearers have laid.
I am not suggesting that I simply wallow in one sound forever, people change, their voice may change too but at the core of someone is their beliefs, and no matter how hard you try you will not change the way someone views their world. This comes back to The Enchanted Loom and the idea that we make our perception of our own reality. My perception is different to many other composers and my music represents this, that is why my voice is here to stay.