Musical Curiosities


Join us over three weeks for an impassioned journey of bold, imaginative and curious musical video works.

From the 20th century avant-garde of John Cage, Henry Cowell, Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi, to the mystical, transcendent poetry of Rumi and Yeats. The quiet splendour of a high tea ceremony, to slam poetry and dance, to the dark passions of Romanticism. Musical Curiosities is a feast of Music, Word and Movement.

Join us on Facebook each Wednesday for the premiere of 10 musical video works. Celebrate with us these emerging musicians who have made this work in Covid-isolation, exploring the universal language of music and possibilities of performance and video. 

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Wednesday 14 April
Rebecca Mathews // The Exhibition 
Scott Watterson // Moonshadows
Celine Kang // The Odyssey

Wednesday 21 April
Rachel Aquino // Phrases
Jennifer Murphy // The Circle Game
Jason Kong // Re:

Wednesday 28 April
Jackson Jap // A Fragrant Sacrifice
Olivia Petersen // In Advance of a Broken Theme
Carol Bao // Indeterminacy
Emma Korell // Spectral


Follow School of the Arts and Media for these videos and more. 

The Exhibition
Rebecca Mathews 

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures”
– Henry Ward Beecher 
Sarcasm is often considered the humour’s lowest form but Rebecca Mathews’ satire of capitalism in the 15-minute quasi-opera The Exhibition conveys sarcasm as more so a weapon than a hilarity device. Much like Mel Brook’s satire High Anxiety that both lampoons and makes a loving homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock including Psycho and Vertigo, The Exhibition creates a visual and auditory spectacle of flowing music like Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’ and iconic paintings like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, whilst using such aspects to confront the artist’s greatest enemy: the profit monger. The piece challenges art’s commodification in a contemporary society that prizes manufacturism over artistry, represented through the over eager art dealer attempting to convince five uniform clients to buy paintings using well known vocal pieces ranging from baroque opera to 1940s blues. 

The genre shifts are at times smooth and at times sudden, as if breaking from the manufactured emotion of the previous scene and displaying the short-lasting nature of each expression that the art dealer is adopting. The work’s satirical nature is obvious yet still subtle, with the acting and emotions of the singer being the indicators for the piece’s sardonic humour. The indulgent porta di voces and melismas depict the art dealer as a performer with no care for the artworks, what they represent, and the music she uses to sell them. 
The Exhibition, meshing comedy with irony, ends on a melancholic note in which the Art Dealer is alone, her purpose spent, no longer being of use to a commodifying society that uses human expression as a canvas on which to paint monetary gain. The ending, suitably void of music and contrasting with the continuous music, melodrama, and movement previously in the performance, serves as a message to the audience of the emptiness of exploiting art for capitalist profit. 

Let The Bright Seraphim, George Frideric Handel
Romance, Claude Debussy 
It’s Delovely, Cole Porter
Good Morning Heartache, Ervin Drake, Dan Fisher, Irene Higgenbotham 
Dido’s Lament, Henry Purcell 

Arrangement // Rebecca Mathews 
Lead performer // Rebecca Mathews 
Chorus // Blaize Cavalera-Sivis, Christina Chan, Declan Green, Peter Kostopoulos, Nurhan Solbudak 

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Moon Shadows 
Scott Watterson

       Still as 
  On Windless nights 
              The moon-cast Shadows are, 
            So still will be my heart when I 
                       Am dead.                  

– Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914). 

The moon has often been used by humanity as a point of focus. From mere reflection of its image in the night sky, to its markers of cycles of ritual and agriculture, nurturing aspects of balance and wellness.  The moon is a muse for our collective creativity since our earliest times. 

This project responds to the Tierra composition of Moon Shadows, conceived after the composer was experiencing insomnia and going outside at night and looking at the Moon, with sound, movement and minimalistic lighting, exploring aspects of ritual and spirituality in performance.  Conceptually it aims to provide space for time out in the vein of providing pleasure. 

Your personal experience will have been effective if you feel uplifted. 

Like the beauty of the moon, and its many forms, at core here is aesthetic, and bringing that into focus for an experience. 

I Midnight Rose 
VII Into the Dark 
VIII Divided Consciousness 
X Ascension 
XI Wistful Slumber 

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The Odyssey
Celine Kang 

Franz Liszt – Mephisto Waltz No.1 ‘Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke’   

In our lives, we experience perpetual sets of opposites. From the contrasting colours of the traffic lights to the multi-faceted images of ourselves created by our own reflections, we are made continuously conscious of the gulf between the essentialist binaries with which we are familiar.  However, we need to acknowledge that the competing forces are not just opposites, but instead, are complementary and are partners that lead to life’s odyssey*.  

Subtitled ‘Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke’ ​(Dance in a Village Inn), Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1 is a brilliant musical translation of Nikolaus Lenau’s dramatic poem ‘Faust’, and in particular, portrays the scene where Mephistopheles (the Devil) dances with Faust (the hero). Decorated by both impetuous energy and sensitive music, this unusual interaction of the contrary has been captured by artist Celine Kang showcasing the spectrum of life’s complexity and the odyssey when two different forces are to meet.  

*Odyssey has big implications in Greek mythology for being part of a quest or transformative journey. 

Rachel Aquino  

 “Music is the universal language of mankind” 
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  

It’s a bold statement. Almost 8 billion people in the world, with so many diverse cultures and experiences to be had…   

… could music really be a cultural universal? 
In a year that has caused the world to look to the arts for hope and connection, ‘phrases’ is looking to be a fresh reminder of the integral social and cultural role music plays in people’s lives all across the world. Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famed quote, ‘phrases’ explores this sentiment echoed throughout music literature, resonating with musicians and non-musicians alike. Music as a common source of love, joy, healing and rest.   

Flutist Rachel Aquino invites you into an intimate world, where music and speech coalesce, revealing the hidden meaning of words by seeking their musical resonance. Her improvisations interacting with her own spoken recordings, as well as American poet, Taylor Mali’s ‘Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh Grade Viking Warrior’ highlight the intimate connection of spoken word to the vocal nature of the flute. The flute's raw, expressive and evocative tones are brought to the forefront in the reimagining of the virtuosic opener of Franz Doppler’s ‘Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy’ Op. 26 for solo flute.  

The performance, visuals and concept come together to claim the power of music as a ‘language’ that can bring healing to souls in times of adversity – such as that which our world is experiencing today. After all, communication is mostly made up of a bunch of phrases strung together. 

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The Circle Game
Jennifer Murphy

The Circle Game is a genre-blending reflection upon the nature of cycles, disorder and transmutation; and on their depictions in music, literature and poetry. 

Divided into three sections, the composition fuses together three well-known songs from popular culture and musical theatre with poems and literary extracts which have been chosen to consolidate and expand upon their themes. 

In the first section, The Circle Game, Joni Mitchell’s famous portrayal of time and the cycle of life is fused with an extract from the poem ‘Seeking the Beloved’ by Sufi poet and Rumi translator, Rafiq Abdullah. In Sufi spirituality, movement in circles represents the renunciation of the ego and connection with the Divine, and this is depicted in the ritualistic dancing of the Whirling Dervishes. 

In the second section, The Widening Gyre, Bob Dylan’s prophetic depiction of karmic upheaval in ‘The Times they are a-Changin’ is fused with W.B Yeats’ ominous prediction of a new era of chaos in the poem ‘The Second Coming’. Through his profound interest in mystical spirituality, Yeats developed the concept of gyres: a geometrical depiction of historical eras based upon spirals. This poem, inspired by the chaos of the times in which Yeats lived, and clearly still very relevant today, predicted the dawning of a new, chaotic era of disorder. 

In the third section, The Philosopher’s Stone, Tim Minchin’s song When I Grow Up from the musical Matilda begins as a representation of youthful optimism about the prospect of adult empowerment; but it soon becomes a battle-cry against situations where reality falls far short of this myth. Ultimately, it is a call to actively strive for one’s own empowerment/potential in the face of injustice and suppression. This is fused with extracts from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which explores the alchemical process of transmutation as a metaphor for rising above negative cycles and connecting with the best, the ‘gold’ within oneself.  

The alchemy depicted in this third section is designed to relate back to the philosophy of ‘connection with the divine’ presented in the first section whilst also providing a potential way of responding to the chaos of the second. As such, the composition as a whole is designed to recognise the essential interdependence of what might, superficially, appear to be paradoxical forces: the power of recurring natural cycles and the essential evolutionary processes of chaos and transformation which occur within those cycles. 

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Jason Kong

Our connection with nature is one that weakens with every passing day. Urban environments and lifestyles offer little room for anything other than social structures. With serene and evocative music accompanying the organized chaos of the natural environment, this project nurtures the link to a world seldom explored. Audiences are invited to immerse themselves in natural and musical cycles to lift themselves up, to ground them, and above all, to be drawn back to a simpler state of mind, even for just a few minutes. As with the fleeting and unforgiving nature of the earth, this project touches upon broader themes, yet never settles or broods on anything, perpetually moving with momentum. 

From Sabin to Kats-Chernin to Debussy, the span of the project contains tonal and motivic explorations reflecting upon the imagery and experience of the nature surrounding us. At a micro level, the pieces all musically portray repetition and simplicity in a way that encapsulates the cyclic patterns in the natural environment. From a broader perspective, the entire performance and accompanying visuals offer insight into the life, death, and rebirth of worldly elements. 

Jason Kong // Piano
Rachel Aquino // Flute 
Cassandra Ly // Cello 

Another Look At Autumn, Nigel Sabin 
Eliza’s Aria from the Wild Swans Suite (arr. for flute, cello, piano), Elena Kats-Chernin
L’Isle Joyeuse, Claude Debussy 

A Fragrant Sacrifice
Jackson Jap

A fusion of East Asian folk melodies and contemporary extended techniques in the style of the American pioneers of avant-garde music; Cage, Crumb, and Cowell performed by virtuoso Jackson Jap transforms the full range of the piano into endless capabilities. Lam’s ‘Cantonese Opera Paraphrase’ and Cowell’s ‘The Snows of Fujiyama’ reveal the wondrous textural, timbral and colouristic possibilities offered by this intriguingly beautiful instrument through extravagant pentatonicism.

Improvisation on the prepared piano accompanies the authentic tea ceremony ritual, unifying culture and identity through a picturesque sonic experience in light of the traditional zithers, Guzheng (古筝) and Koto ().

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In Advance of a Broken Theme
Olivia Petersen

My original work, In Advance of a Broken Theme, investigates the very essence of contemporary art music in the 21st century; as the ever-expanding world of composition embraces new methods of collaboration and design, my work encapsulates a spirit of beauty existing within the violent microcosm of traditional Olympic Boxing, whilst incorporating compositional identity through the conceptual formulation of the work and its performance. The work consists of a series of variations upon a contemporary string quintet, which was built upon the transcription of rhythmic material from a sparring round. The ‘themes’ are presented, improvised upon, digitally edited and reconstructed to synthesise a fractured series of variations.  

The idea to explore such collaboration remarks on the parallels of a social, performative sport compared to musical environment around stage performance. As such, the opening of In Advance of a Broken Theme remarks on a parallel preparation sequence as a boxer is depicted arranging her hand wraps whilst the violin is tuning and warming up out of frame. The following improvised ‘duet’ sets the tone for the rest of the sonic material in this work; sporadic and undetermined, yet directly interrelated within the realm of this interdisciplinary collaboration. The shadow boxer and the violin interact through communication of energy and anticipation rather than exact musical dialogue which creates an interpolation of pulse and counteraction. This sequence also integrates elements of a retrospective reflection of time, through the ‘prophetic’ treatment of material presented later in the work, as well as repeated material to synthesise a musical canon, which alludes to the subsequent string quartet. The conclusion of the duet signals the introduction of the Prelude and Dance movements for String Quintet (string quartet and percussion).  

Boxing also expresses the dynamics of controlled footwork akin to dance movement. So, composing the String Quintet theme in the format of a Baroque-style dance Suite became fundamental to the conceptual expression of this analogy. The contrast of this controlled dance-like action against abrupt strikes of violence is represented in the musical and visual material via two contrasting themes: the slower gentle ‘Prelude’ accompanying slow motion footage of footwork against the more vigorous ‘Dance’ paired with overlaid footage of a real sparring round and the arrangement of a drum kit within the boxing ring. The energy that permeates throughout the development of each variation in the ‘Dance’ movement is maintained through contrasting string timbres, varied dynamics, extreme registers and occasionally, sudden silence.  

The final sequence of the work uses a synthetic reconstruction of the string quintet with abstract tempo, registers, and melodic development which become gradually more fragmented and fractured through digital editing techniques. Through sampling only material from the original quartet recording, the effects produced by this digital variation can surpass the contemporary possibilities of live performance, whilst maintaining the correlation to its source material. The variation increases tension by moving the sampled material below registers possible on any live instrumentation, whilst varying tempos beyond expectation. The concept is to deliver familiar material disguised by unfamiliar contexts, which has been incorporated into the visual format of the work through similar variations in speed and sequence.  

In Advance of a Broken Theme acts to transcend the traditional concept of time in the story-telling form, through a fragmented collision of tangible reality and retrospective imagery. This compositional effect delivers a correlation between a live moment and its musical reflection which ultimately expresses a collage of harmony and dissonance through the juxtaposition of a ‘violent’ sport alongside the refined ‘beauty’ of contemporary art music. 

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Carol Bao

An exploration of the idea of indeterminacy in American piano music by John Cage and Morton Feldman, and the 1950s and 1960s. This project is inspired by a piece composed by Mozart called Table of Measures, the translation to English is A Musical Dice Game. Aleatoric is an important element of chance like Mozart’s dice game.   

However, around the 1900s to 1950s, all the details were written on the score, for example, the dynamics, tempo, fingering, etc. All the pieces were determined by the composer, and the performer had very limited room to do creation, especially for classical musicians.  

John Cage (1912-1992) and Morton Feldman (1926-1987) were American experimental composers in the 19th century. Most of their compositions avoid a fixed and determinate sequence of sounds in performance. This can lead to a redefinition of the relationships between composer, performer and audience, thus changing the role of the musicians and asking for a different attitude on the part of listeners. The composer provides a guild line for the performer that allows the performer to express their personality and do their creation in music. However, even the compositions gave performers the freedom to create the sound, but the general idea could still come up with the visual of the score.  

Through my whole performance, I used dark to light to create an atmosphere that represents the indeterminate in music. The pieces might sound differently than the expectation of the audiences as people always have a different understanding of music. However, my performances were still following the guild line created by the composer. For example, the Piano Piece 1956, a composition by Morton Feldman, was slow and soft, which is the rule that I have to follow.  

The four pieces performed each have a different theme of indeterminacy:  

  1. John Cage – Music for Piano No.20: Performer needs to choose the tempo and dynamics.  

  2. Morton Feldman – Piano Piece 1956 A: This piece is an experiment in sound and harmonics  

  3. John Cage – Sonatas and Interludes No.1: Performer has to choose the materials that they want to put on the strings.  

  4. John Cage – Sonatas and Interludes No.2:  Performer has to choose the materials that they want to put on the strings. 

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Emma Korell

Featuring the work, Tre Pezzi by Giacinto Scelsi, readings of his poetry and accompanying Improvisations, Spectral is a homage to our relationship with light, form, dreams, time and our relationship with the absence of anything at all.

Spectral is a solo soprano saxophone (Emma Korell accompanied by a live generated soundscape of colours and shapes, composed entirely of reflections and distortions of the pure waveform of sound. Spectral expresses the spinning descent into the corners of your mind, bringing Scelsi’s otherworldly music into another dimension. Scelsi’s music, born of his meditative and spiritual practices, is known for its explorations on a single note, enriched by the entrancing imagery and colours which evolve and transform throughout.

Five of Scelsi’s poems, as read by Blaize Cavalera-Sivis and translated by Emma Guitera, provide insight into the creative world expressed in his music and together reflect the essence of the psyche.

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