In the many concerts during the Gaudeamus Muziekweek, a lot of works are performed of which the ink is only barely dry. We talked with several composers about the composition that we commissioned them to write. This time we are speaking with Genevieve Murphy, a well-known composer for us who has presented her work at the festival on several occasions. In her pieces she combines performance art and visual art with contemporary composed music to explore themes such as psychology and disability. She wrote her new piece They Move Differently Here for the Australian ensemble Offspring, for which she had to travel to Sidney.
This trip to the other side of the world did cause a problem: she had to overcome one of her greatest fears for this. This fear immediately became the subject of her performance. Overcoming and dealing with this source of fear unexpectedly turned out to be a source of inspiration: “By being so busy with what you are afraid of, you develop a fascination for it at the same time.” Having dived into one of her biggest fears, the composer embarked on a journey to overcome her phobia. During the process she came to terms with the fact that she will never like the thing but it has a right to coexist. She came to realise that fear manifests itself through not understanding someone or something and that this prevents any possibility of coexisting with it.
Now able to see it for what it is, the composer found herself having empathy for it and even managed to connect with it, when recognising it has similar needs to hers. This composition therefore embraces her conflict between disliking something yet immersing herself in it at the same time. In the times of Brexit and dominating xenophobia, coexistence was an extra relevant theme for Genevieve. Where does a fear come from that is so overwhelming that living together no longer seems to be an option?
In her preparation, she has had a number of therapy sessions in which she was confronted with this fear and made many recordings from those sessions, which are now also a part of the concert. At the same time those recordings formed the basis with which she started working with Ensemble Offspring. As a composer you have an idea in mind, especially with such a conceptual work, but how do you convey that to an ensemble? For Genevieve, this was an area to explore: to what extent could she trust Offspring with her concept?
The collaboration with Offspring went very smoothly. In addition to the written music that Murphy provided, Offspring was able to improvise on the other material she presented them. In this way she gave them specific assignments. Based on their reactions she was able to further develop the piece. A piece has emerged from this that is partly improvised and partly structured. To capture everything would not match the theme; unexpected things will also happen to the musicians. Fear comes back there too. Taken together, this results in a collection of playful songs that all fall under the same theme.
This would not be a Genevieve Murphy piece if she didn’t think about the presentation. She does not consider herself a theatre maker, but she is very aware of the audience and their presence. In what context do you present a concert and what kind of experience will the audience have? These are questions that Genevieve asks herself. You could therefore see Offspring more as a band with Murphy as the front woman. During her pieces, she is often on stage herself – to guide the band and to perform. “When it is a personal work, it can be important to be physically present on stage.”
Although this work, including spectacular scenery, was really conceived as one concept, she would like to record it and release it as an album. She also mentions artists such as Laurie Anderson and David Byrne as a source of inspiration, whereby the album and the accompanying tour were conceived as one coherent concept. So who knows what will come afterwards … But first Saturday 7 September, because then you can find out in Theater Kikker what that thing is that frightens her so much.