Wednesday 11th November, 2020


Following AYO's online launch of Avem Asperitas, Words About Music alumna Paige Gullifer reflects on the nuances of this important Australian work, and the growing importance of multimedia

The process of artistic collaboration is one of space making; leaving room for the creative offerings of each collaborator. For Lachlan Skipworth and Greg Barrett, the fusion of their preferred media, music and photography respectively, was a task dependent on selflessness and a search for simplicity.

Skipworth, a composer and Australian Youth Orchestra alumnus, was commissioned alongside photographer Barrett by the AYO, supported by Peter Weiss AO. Their work, Avem Asperitas, for chamber orchestra and film, was premiered by the Momentum Ensemble in September 2019.

Cassie Slater (AYO flautist) 

The work draws its name from asperitas clouds – these cloudforms are the central focus of the collection of moving stills, and the single constancy across evolving glimpses of cityscapes and fields. The work invites us to pause, look up and savour a brief moment under sky.

The music is organic, opening gently with a sparse collection of contrasting timbres: harp, woodwind, percussion. Barrett’s shots powerfully counter the motion the music provides – a rapidly flitting bird accompanies sustained tones from the orchestra, while clean lines in the photography contrast against
hazy instrumental textures. Thrumming moments of musical intensity overcome moments of stillness in the film, and this slight discrepancy of pace is captivating, each medium as independent as it is coexistent.

Each clip is divided by a clean break to momentary darkness, in the manner of a breath, or blink. Our focus, settled on the micro-movements of the film, is immediately drawn back to the music, which persists as an unceasing continuum. This pulsating visual effect is almost hypnotic, each photographic
moment framed.

The film is strategically monochrome, pinpoints of colour are instead generated through Skipworth’s shifting orchestration and use of gentle swells, with a lean into soundscapes over defined melody. Skipworth remarks, ‘I hope the audience will see the image and the music as being together, that they can’t be separated’.

Skipworth and Barrett approached the project with a need to balance their contributions, and to unify the aural and visual elements of the work. As a composer, Skipworth is familiar with collaborating with other musicians, and as a photographer, Barrett frequently encounters other artists as subjects.

However, Skipworth identifies that a different compositional approach and sense of awareness was required for both composer and photographer to meld their ideas and lead the project cooperatively.

James Morley (AYO cellist) 

While the final product is a feat of mutual respect and combined artistic skill, the process was equally as radiant. A large element of the project’s development occurred through lengthy emails back and forth between Skipworth, based in Perth, and Barrett, who resides in Melbourne. The archival remnants of the project’s process are numerous in comparison to the finished product, forming the thorough groundwork from which the final work emerges.

At the time of AYO’s online launch of this work, the concept of multimedia collaboration is more important than ever. Barrett’s visuals in Avem Asperitas have evolved into much more than mere fragments of life. They are reminders of the small aspects of existence that, in the case of rolling clouds and windswept grasses, have remained unchanged, despite normalcy grinding to a halt.

Or, in the case of the movements of people, trains and planes, we are graced with symbols of everyday existence that have become ever more fleeting and precious over the past few months of isolation. The moments of darkness that divide each scene are moments for reflection, the final, prolonged dissipation of
cloud and final chord startlingly contemplative. The slight shudder of the camera is enough to evoke a sense of immersion, as if standing there, trembling slightly, focused completely on a single wisp of fading cloud.

It is not simply for the reasons of creation, diversity and inspiration that multimedia collaboration is a creative ideal. The process of joining forces with others in a way that is artistically personal is a key step in solidifying Australia’s arts scene and emerging from a period of creative uncertainty. Avem Asperitas is a work where two collaborators have shown that it should not be an arbitrary aesthetic choice to forcefully meld two mediums, but that music and visuals can be placed together in a way that is nothing short of necessary.

Our audiences too, are diversified and enhanced by collaborative projects. Regular concert goers are introduced to visual art, film enthusiasts exposed to writers, and the artistic sphere becomes immediately more holistic. In the era of online concerts and armchair arts engagement, artists have had to work harder
than ever, collectively, to garner audience attention, and multimedia compositions offer something for everyone.

While it is often said many hands make light work, it is also many hands that have the power to create works that are brilliantly compelling. In a tentative period for the arts, such projects are not only gems of human collaboration – they are an act of artistic solidarity.

Article: © Paige Gullifer

Photography: © Greg Barrett 

Composer, Lachlan Skipworth

Watch the online premiere of Avem Asperitas performed by Momentum Ensemble here.