Huon Pieces: Letters & Notes (2021)

Huon Pieces: Letters & Notes could be described as a piano album, although the piano is supported by cello and violin, which lends to it the feeling of a small ensemble or quartet. It could also be described as a kind of minimalist neoclassical compositional experiment. Really it was a simple creative exercise, with clearly defined parameters & limitations, designed to haul me from the slowsand of an Unspirational torpor.

The six piano ‘suites’ on this album are comprised of smaller pieces of music (listed in full below), each less than 2 minutes long, and each piece representing a place in the Huon Valley region, our broader home here in South East Tasmania. Each ‘suite’ describes a chronological journey through various sections of the valley, in the general order they may be encountered as one follows the Huon’s highways and backroads. For example, Lower Longley To Huonville comprises 8 locations: Lower Longley, Sleeping Beauty (a prominent mountain ridge), Grove, Mountain River, Crabtree, Lucaston, Ranelagh and Huonville:

All of the Huon’s recognised localities are mentioned musically on the album, as well as a few other places (local beaches, roads or walks) that carry particular personal significance for me. I’ve lived in the Huon for fifteen years, SE Tas for twenty, the longest I’ve stayed in any one place my entire life. Many of these pieces became a process of revisiting, in mind at least, a rich flow of kinaesthetic memories.

I get the impression many musical home recordists use external MIDI keyboards attached to their computer setup when they want a piano option. I don’t have a MIDI set-up, but during 2020’s covid lockdown I discovered I can use a ‘virtual midi keyboard’ within my computer set-up, and ‘play’ piano using the qwerty keys on my laptop. It’s an odd way to access the notes but I’ve been able to do a lot with it.

As I don’t have a classical pianist or string quartet handy (although I’d love to hear these pieces played live), I devised the following self-imposed limitations, for my own amusement & challenge:

– Use only the laptop’s qwerty keyboard.
– Limit instrumentation to piano, cello & violin (using Spitfire Audio’s plug-ins).
– Each musical piece is the name of a place in the Huon Valley region, SE Tasmania.
– Each melody is formed by the notes sounded as I type the name of the place.
– Within each piece, every melodyline (piano, cello, violin) is the complete name of the place, typed from start to finish. Only the timing of the typed name may vary.
– The letter keys A, F and K do not play a musical note, so instead they create space that suggests a rhythmic nuance.

In Cygnet To Verona Sands & Back, the journey moves first along one route, then follows an alternative route on the return. The places in this piece are especially significant to my personal memories, as this is where I’ve lived locally the fifteen years I’ve been in the Huon. Some of these places have also featured in the Walkabout series I created last year. In order of appearance, the 12 locations are: Cygnet, Nicholls Rivulet, Deep Bay, Garden Island Creek, Charlottes Cove, Verona Sands, Randalls Bay Beach, Mickeys Beach, Eggs & Bacon Bay, Sandrock, Abels Bay, Gardners Bay. It entertained me somewhat that, with so many Bays, lots of these pieces ended with the same 2 notes (bearing in mind that on the qwerty keyboard, the ‘A’ key does not sound a note – thusly B_Y).

Using this methodology delivered some surprising results, from unexpected lyricism to jazz dissonance, contemporary classical moments to gothic horror themes. Each piece had its own melody built into itself, requiring only the typing and the interpretation, each placename opening itself outward like a tiny music box responding to the touch. Kind of an inverted synaesthetic of place = text = sound, writing notes with letters, writing letters with notes…..writing music by writing words, that kind of thing…..

The cover image is a pic from when my youngest son Fen & I took a drive to the Hartz Mountains, stopping for lunch at the Arve River campground (both places appear in the track Geeveston To Surveyors Bay). Nearby was the raw stump of a freshly-felled tree, with which Fen created a sculptural arrangement by inserting woodchips into a fine crack in the stump.