{ starchild }

While the libretto and narrative of Starchild is my own construction, much of the work is inspired by the fantastical allegories of George Macdonald (1824 – 1905). In his book At the Back of the North Wind, there is a conversation between a young boy and the North Wind, in which she tells him : “In every noise I hear the sound off a far-off song,” and this, she explains is how she is able to bear the “sound of crying.” This instantly resonated with me and provided, in part, an answer for my long held fascination with wheelbarrow sounds; When I push a wheelbarrow around the garden, it often seems to me that it is singing one of these far off songs. I can’t actually hear the song, of course, but I have the feeling that it is there, just on the edge of perception, and that if I were able to hear it, it would be the most beautiful thing anyone has ever heard.
Wheelbarrow sounds therefore became the impetus for Starchild. It was not necessarily interesting to me, nor was it ever the point of the work, to attempt to somehow capture and compose this far-off song, and to present to an audience the Platonic form of music (sorry if you are expecting this work to climax with the most beautiful song ever heard!). Not only would that be impossible, the inevitable failure of an attempt would probably take me further away from the song than I had been before I started (The ‘song’ is always distant and necessarily remains distant for it to have any meaning). What was interesting to me was to acknowledge that a distant echo of the song does seem to exist within the squeaks and groans of a wheelbarrow, and to then examine what that might mean.
Starchild begins with the woman actively waking into a dream. She is lucid dreaming, and Sound is her guide as she explores her subconscious. The sounds of the wheelbarrow provide her with a purpose and sense of a direction, but other sounds too, expose parts of her subconscious that she must interrogate. She perceives, for example, the sound of a wide toothed comb being slowly drawn over a wet pebble, as voices laughing at her, and is something she must deal with before she can move on. In this way the sounds become something like an aural Rorschach test, for the woman in the story, but also for myself during the compositional process; the wheelbarrow isn’t singing a song, and wet pebbles aren’t laughing at me, but these sounds reveal to me images, ideas and conflicts buried somewhere in my subconscious.
George Macdonald was deeply interested in dreams and ‘inner worlds,’ and this is what I think he meant when he spoke of the far-off song that the North Wind hears. She finds meaning in what she hears, though what she really hears is I think not a physical vibration at all but a silent music which assures her that her toilsome work is not in vain.
Of course what a sound means to any one person (if anything) is completely subjective, and so it seemed that opera, with its extra-musical elements would allow me communicate both visually and aurally what these particular sounds mean for me. Staging an opera, even a short work like this one, is a quite an undertaking and I would like to thank the following people for making it possible: Constantine Koukias, Willoh S. Weiland, Mona Foma, Australia Council of the Arts, Benj Krom and Hobart Music Centre.

Premiered @ MONA FOMA 2013
Allison Farrow – Soprano
Ben Price – Saxophone
Jabra Latham – Saxophone
Abby Badcock – Flute
Emily Le Bis – Percussion
Ruby Pensalfini-Brown – Child soprano
Sara Pensalfini – Dream Guide
Dylan Sheridan – Electronics
Lighting – David Szoka