Demon Dumplings 2016

Oh Man! What a mind @#$uck.

I had this idea for ages: A large scale, extended, instrumental work for toy instruments. I made something like that happen last year and this web page documents the resulting mess:  complete video footage of the final rehearsal, audio from the piece's 2nd performance, photos, downloadable copies of the full score and somewhat of a personal debrief.
                   (Click on the buttons to the left for links to video/audio/scores)

Since I was a teenager I'd been collecting any instrument I could get my hands on for free / super cheap. Same with records and novelty coffee mugs. People would give me music things they weren't using too. I ended up with a lot of things that made noises. Many of these instruments I had used on previous recordings but I felt they demanded their own showcase. Some were just so weird and amazing and I'd never come across real music written for piano play mats, balloon whizzers and a lot of the other curious things that ended up in the music. 

So I made this Demon Dumplings thing which has 6 movements and goes for about 40 minutes

(see the initial instrumentation list I was working with below.....)
I typically spend the first few months of the year deciding what project I will try and complete before December comes around. By February 2016 I knew it was time to try this one out. I experimented with recording multi track computer jams to get ideas about what sorts of sound worlds could be created with the instruments. In contrast to my normal process, I then came up with a set of scenarios that the pieces would both describe and follow structurally. This was a lot of fun and gave the direction I needed to work towards finished music. I was very interested in the textural possibilities that different instrument combinations would allow. My favourite parts are the 3rd piece and finale opening as these best reflect my initial intentions for a loose, texturally focused work.

'score plan'

As I was turning sketches into compositions I decided to try and get some funding to pay for ensemble players. I wasn't sure how many people were required until very late in the process but I figured on around 20. I talked to my boss Helen Marcou who was in the know about arts funding and contacted lots of other fantastic people for letters of support etc to put together my case for funding. It was a learning process, a shit load of work and initially unsuccessful. At the same time as busting it to make an application deadline I was day jobbing, looking after my little goblin girl, trying to develop / finish the pieces while also finding people to join the group. The composing itself was demanding. I had to stretch my mind to come up with ways to incorporate these non standard instruments into a cohesive piece to be played by people who hadn't used them before. The notating was challenging too and I'd been working mostly outside of notated music in the previous years. Before I knew it I had performance dates, most of the band locked in, a very unfinished piece, no score and no money to pay musicians. All these worms jumped out of a can, stuck their tongues out at me......and raspberried loudly.....

I was up till all bloody hours working on demon dumplings. I'm not fast but I can force myself myself to do things I've set my heart on. I started a crowd funding campaign. People were very interested and supportive and a week or so before the performances we reached my goal of raising $2000 to pay each of the 20 players $200 each for their time. Crowd funding was another steep learning curve and took heaps of time. The weeks before first rehearsal were so intense. I must have averaged 2 hours sleep max per night - trying to prepare scores and organize the instruments etc. Fuckn mental. First rehearsal I remember being totally zombified and having this massive stack of loose parts printed, not organized or stuck together and dumping them on a table. Everyone had to sort through them. THEN there were the instruments.... There were so many of them.... 80 or more or something. Some were small, some large, all lying all over the place, dumped in a pile in the middle of the room. People looked at their parts and said: 'oh where's the ornamental blue plastic flute?' .....Am i doing 'demon honker pt.2?'....holy shit! Our rehearsals were only 3 hours long and setup took 2 hours at the first session.
The band were incredible. Incredible people and incredible musicians. Without their patience, talent. extreme hard work and ability to work with considerable stress / confusion - the music would have never come together like it did. They came to rehearsals. Julian (the amazing bass player who was tasked with holding 90% of the music together rhythmically) organized additional rehearsals to get things working in time. They stretched themselves to learn a very long, complicated piece of music. Some of the players like Jem, Louise, Gray (percussion / assorted) & Tom (zither / assorted ) weren't music readers at all or learned / expanded their reading skills specifically for this music: which was, much harder than I had intended. Selwyn (percussion) pointed out how many time signature changes are in the thing. Can't remember what he counted but it's quite extreme. Watch the band in the video footage....Counting counting counting. On top of this, some of my notation was way wrong. I had to learn for myself how to conduct the thing on the fly too. There is a real art to conducting and I certainly, regularly, flapped my arms about to indicate utterly wrong directives. Ha! Wild. Seat of your pants stuff.

OH! the group featured:

(op-shop zithers, charm harp, violin, slide violin, hand bells, wobble board, piano playmat, harmonicas, ocarina, tin whistle, upright bass

(baritone, tenor, alto saxes, trumpets, french horn, trombone, tuba, recorders, whizzers, duck / slide / train / party whistles, kung-fu drums, bongos, chimes, siren, dog toys, soccer horns, brass bowl, melodica, ornamental guitar, ratchet, guiro, clappers)


(toy piano, little xylophone, marimba, brass serving plate, bells, kids keyboard, wind tubes, assorted tins, thunder drums, melodica, pump horn, pop gun, snare / bass drum, razzer, glockenspiels, drill, wood block, kung-fu drums, dog whistle)

Well it all happened quickly in the end and we did two performances @ The Village Festival which is a fantastic, kooky arts carnival that pops up annually in Edinburgh Gardens, Melbourne & tours nationally. The Premiere was on Saturday night 29/10/2016 and wonderful support acts were SHRIMPWITCH & WATERFALL PERSON The following afternoon we did an outdoor version which was meant to include children as additional band members after they had been involved in an instrument making workshop though that didn't really work out :)
As a composer you always want to hear music you write totally nailed. Renderings with curly edges are difficult to take as you know how the music should sound and know how hard you worked to finish it. The project was certainly not a failure but, similarly to the last time I did a project like this, it took me a while to feel happy to share it. It's an ego thing as it can take time to stop focusing on what could have been in order to appreciate what really did happen. The project was rushed and would have been served by more time for preparation & technical assistance at the performances. I tried to do way too much by myself! Sometimes though, you just need to lock in a date in order to finish something, work hard and hope for the best. After surviving the performances, packing up the instruments with D'arcy Molan (Tenor Sax) on the last day, then doing two car loads to get them home - I was exhausted and personally overwhelmed. (Those bloody worms that escaped from the can hung around past their used by date. You know the ones that say 'that's shit' about everything and they never flush the toilet and they butt out ciggies on the ground in your house even though there is an ashtray right in front of them) 
Anyway thank you for reading all of this. I hope some people out there appreciate the existence of this page. Sadly the best performance (the Saturday night premiere) was not recorded - though the video footage from the final rehearsal (minus awesome trombonist / 18th member - Nathan Ford) gives a pretty good sense of what was going on. The recording from the looser Sunday morning run through is extremely lo-fi but has it's moments. Kids that were watching and the general sounds of the Village festival are all part of the mix which I do enjoy. The band were half in and half out of a tent that day - playing as the winds whooshed and built up before an afternoon storm which held out until literally the final note of the last piece.

I have no immediate plans to revisit demon dumplings but glad to finally share this record of it. I'd love to one day perform / professionally record it in a quiet hall with nice acoustics and hopefully have a lot more time to work with an ensemble. It was a real honour to work with the players in 2016 and I'm very grateful for the many people that encouraged and supported the project in so many ways. I recently visited the office of Peter Neville who heads percussion studies at Melbourne University. He has two air raid sirens / countless other ridiculous instruments sitting in there and told me about a piece he performed in a Swedish swimming pool, or something like that, composed for 4 air raid sirens. Wild! There will never be a shortage of sounds you can write music for. I've been keen on putting together a piece for vacuum cleaner and a hard plastic sort of nippled non slip mat for a while though that may be only of interest to me alone.
Doesn't really matter I suppose.

Please enjoy diving into this mess. Enjoy the peculiar colours and massive efforts. Better still - I lovingly encourage everyone to make art with and from whatever you have lying around - no matter what demonic, confusing outcome it has. Rope people in / Ask for help. Don't worry if it doesn't turn into some super professional thing. We need more interesting near miss fall apart big balls of wonked weird idea art and less bland perfection. What else are you going to do?

Szonk  - Dec 2017