The latest release from international, Christchurch-based, percussionist Justin DeHart, Landfall, is a deep dive into the possibilities of percussion, inviting listeners to soak up the creative ideas of nine innovative New Zealand composers.
DeHart was lured to New Zealand by a role at the University of Canterbury’s vibrant School of Music. Then Head of School Glenda Keam’s composition Tautology is the first to feature on the eclectic and intriguing playlist.
“My goal with this series is to create a space to promote new percussion music from Aotearoa New Zealand to the rest of the world,” DeHart says. “I hope that other listeners, composers, and performers will be motivated by this work to further support and celebrate the percussive arts here.”
Drawn to Ōtautahi by the opportunities to relocate to a city in rebuild mode, and to build the first percussion programme in a revitalised music school, DeHart was inspired by the music he discovered in this country: “various taonga pūoro, Phil Dadson and From Scratch, Strike Percussion, and music by Gareth Farr and John Psathas-to name just a few”.
He found further inspiration at the University of Canterbury’s School of Music.
“All of the tracks on the album are from innovative composers that I met and wanted to work with,” DeHart says. “Glenda Keam, Reuben de Lautour, and Mark Menzies are my colleagues here at UC, while Robert Bryce and Rosa Elliott are recent UC graduates, and the remaining pieces are by new friends of mine whose music I highly respected and wanted to include.
“I collaborated with each composer to find the most effective sounds and interpretation. It is an invigorating and rewarding process for me to be part of the creation of new music, and to have the opportunity to give premiere performances and recordings.
Scales & Taonga was composed for DeHart by violin virtuoso, Professor Mark Menzies as a ‘lockdown piece’.
“In this piece, the dragon/taniwha sits in a cave over its musical treasures; endlessly enthralled with the way the glittery sounds reflect its own, incandescent skin of scales,” Professor Menzies says.
The piece includes a snippet from Dragon for health, “written for the people of Wuhan in February 2020, before most of us had realised how serious the upcoming pandemic was destined to be”.
Head of New Music at the University of Canterbury Reuben de Lautour composed Braided Plain Soundwalk earlier this year. It’s the first time he has written for river stones, he says. “A braided plain is a kind of riverbed like the Waimakariri and the stones that are used to perform the piece are taken from there. I walked around and picked up a bunch of stones and found a couple that sounded really nice together.
“I spoke extensively with Justin before starting the piece and we decided it would be cool to write a piece for something that has really minimal set up. For percussion one of the challenges is that a lot of the instruments are very large and they tend to be different for every piece. River stones are great because you get a lot of variety of sounds from them: pitched sounds, texture sounds, attack sounds, rolls and trills and you can change the pitch by changing the shape of your hands as you play. At the same time, it’s also quite a challenge to make an 11 to 12 minute-piece only using these sounds and nothing else.”
De Lautour was delighted to be part of the project. “Justin’s album project is incredibly important. All of the composers who have music on the album are incredibly excited to be involved. For me to be a part of Volume one – hopefully there will be a Volume 25! – and to be there on the ground floor is very exciting and something I’m really proud of.”
Local composer and University of Canterbury alumnus Alex van den Broek has been working with the theme of war and contributed Order 81 to the album. “Not only is war abhorrent to me, but the fact that people exploit war for personal gain is atrocious. This piece is in response to war profiteering in general, and Order 81 specifically,” he says.
Landfall – depicting an arrival (on land) of a sea or air journey is Rosa Elliot’s homage to a technique called tintinnabulation, as well as a conceptual journey from space to earth.
Most of the pieces were recorded in DeHart’s home, “after midnight in between the occasional noisy car passing by my house”.
The exceptions are van den Broek’s piece which was recorded in the “beautiful acoustics” of The Piano and de Lautour’s work, which was tracked in a closet in the Fine Arts building in Ilam.