Revisiting their score of Brink Productions’ The Aspirations of Daise Morrow, Zephyr Quartet’s Hilary Kleinig takes us inside this memorable convergence of text, stage and sound ahead of the album’s release.
“It was the first time we’d approached a theatre production in that way,” Kleinig says of the scoring process, which saw all four members co-compose in collaboration with Brink director Chris Drummond. “Chris was a little reluctant at first – he wasn’t sure how it would all work with four different people and different styles responding to the same material. But we all responded in different and similar ways that really made a spectrum that complemented and contrasted each other nicely.”
Just as Brink’s recent Adelaide Festival production Memorial adapted Alice Oswald’s translation of the Iliad, The Aspirations of Daise Morrow lifted its inspiration almost directly from another written text in Patrick White’s 1964 short story Down at the Dump. The play sees the Quartet seated amongst audience members in the round, as four cast members weave through the evocatively dusty, sun-bleached performance space passing White’s words back and forth between them.
That close connection to the written word proved invaluable for the quartet. “Absolutely it was a great influence,” says Kleinig, who is Zephyr Quartet’s cellist and artistic director. “We call it a play but really it’s a word-for-word adaptation of this short story – at certain times the odd word was left out but nothing was added in. It played a really important part in inspiring us all, the language is so rich and the characters are so vivid and real that it provided plenty of inspiration to respond to. It’s so densely poetic.”
The play’s intimate staging and investment in the strength of White’s words posed a rare opportunity for the musicians.
“There are a few lighting changes, but it’s not dramatic, there’s no fourth wall. So the music is given extra responsibility in a way, for changing the mood and the tone and the scenery.
“There’s a beautiful instance where we suddenly go to the dump and there’s quite a long bit of prose that sets the scene – wire, springs and old mattresses – and when you combine the words with the music you’re really taken there. It’s a bit like reading a book, you can imagine things in your own mind, you’re not given a picture, you can create your own image – which is a different way of storytelling than most traditional theatre where you have an elaborate set and costume changes, lighting changes.”
Even in releasing the score as an album, the group continue to embrace White’s influence by inviting cast members Lucy Lehman and Jim Smith to perform short readings at the Sunday, April 8 launch.
“In terms of length and structure it’s quite a different form,” she says, comparing Aspirations to previous releases. “So partly because we can and the language is so beautiful, we thought we’d invite the actors to take part and give the audience not only the music we were creating but also the context and what it was trying to say.”
With the full production about to embark on a national and international tour, the time was ripe for the score’s recording – committed to tape last year – to finally see daylight, something original audience members may have been anticipating since the initial run ended.
“It is a bit more confronting being in amongst people; I had audience members sitting right next to me, they could read what was on my score and I could almost poke them with my bow if we weren’t too careful,” Kleinig says of the experience. “That’s a little bit strange, you know, but also wonderful, and the audience found that too. We’d have people that would come back to the show and sit in different spots so they would notice different things, and be closer to different musicians or actors. It allows people to get into the production in a different way.”
Zephyr Quartet launches Aspirations on Sunday, April 8 (4pm and 7pm) at La Boheme