Spirit of the Plains (Soundset Recordings, 2016)
Spirit of the Plains is inspired by the paintings of Sydney Long (1871-1955). Long remains a unique voice in Australian art, particularly for his rendering of the Australian landscape in the European Art Nouveau style; he extends the branches of gum trees into flowing lines with sinuous curves, and he decorates the bush with mythical figures – fauns, nymphs and satyrs. Brolgas and magpies are enchanted by the flute, played by Pan, the Greek god of nature, shepherds, flocks, and pastoral music (Pan, 1989), or by a similarly evocative feminine spirit (The Spirit of the Plains, 1897/1914; The West Wind, 1909). The iconographic image of spirited dancing girls with flowing dresses is given perhaps its most Art Nouveau-like treatment in Fantasy (c. 1914), where the figures are engulfed by Long’s dreamy and imaginative depiction of trees and moonlight.
The musical language of Spirit of the Plains for flute and guitar draws particularly on the French music of Long’s day, especially that of Maurice Ravel, whose meandering lines and lush textures are a fitting allusion to the Art Nouveau style. In the spirit of Long’s appropriation, however, this characteristic style is re-imagined through an Australian lens; the overtone-rich and colourful sound of the Australian classical guitar evokes its own harmonic and textural sound world, which pairs beautifully with Pan’s own instrument – the flute – in an Australian re-imagining of the musical and visual world of the fin de siecle.
Bradley Kunda © 2016.