Intensity of Light

New works for Piano inspired by the
Colonial Piano and the Migratory
Journey in Australia

In this unique concert, pianist Gabriella Smart takes the audience on a spoken and musical journey inspired by the narratives of selected pianos from colonial Australia. She invited Australian composers Elena Kats Chernin, Luke Harrald, David Harris, Jon Rose and James Rushford to write works inspired by the narratives of selected colonial pianos in Australia. The pianos still exist in various locations, and their cultural and historical narratives have served to inspire new works that give a unique glimpse into Australia’s colonial history through the eyes of famous artists and Afghan cameleers, telling stories of genocide and the harshness of remote locations.

The result is a living history, revivifying the colonial piano as a significant cultural object: an estimated 700,000 pianos existed in Australia in 1888, with a population of 3,000,000. The program includes a work by Cat Hope that comments on the oppression of colonialism written for piano, ebows and AM radios, and a personal narrative through song on love and loss of homeland, written for piano and electronics by Constantine Koukias. The extraordinary creativity of these composers has resulted in a living history of Australia.

Epirus 8’
An Ancient Voice (Piano Version 2018)
By Constantine Koukias (AUS/NL)
Pre-Recorded Tape Engineer – Evert de Cock

Picnic at Broken Hill 5.30′
For piano and pre-recorded electronics
By Jon Rose (AUS/UK)

Damp Antiquary 6’
For solo piano
By James Rushford (AUS)

Piano Memories 4’
For solo piano
By Elena Kats Chernin (AUS/RUSS)

Station Chains 7’
For solo piano
By David Harris (AUS)

The Fourth Estate 8’
For grand piano, two ebows and AM radios
By Cat Hope (AUS)

The Intensity of Light 7.30′
For piano and pre-recorded electronics
By Luke Harrald (AUS)

EPIRUS - An Ancient Voice

(Piano Version 2018)
By Constantine Koukias
Pre-Recorded Tape Engineer – Evert de Cock

Epirus is the rugged mountainous northwest region of ancient Greece. The end of the Balkan wars and World War I left the region divided between southern Albania and North Western Greece. The word Epirus itself derives from the Greek and means ‘terra firma’ as opposed to Corfu and the Ionian islands. Vasilliki Koukias, the mother of the composer, was born and raised in Epirus Greece and passed away in 2007   Two recordings of Vasiliki’s singing became the basis of this new work: a lament (mirolóyia) and a shepherd’s song (skaros). Recorded in Hobart, Tasmania in 2000 the recorded voice relays ancient roots from Epirus, transformed again in the composer’s new home in Amsterdam.


For piano and recorded voice

On New Year’s Day 1915 at 10 am in Broken Hill, 1200 miners and families scrambled on board 40 open Iron ore carriages fitted with benches and set off to Silverton for what was supposed to be a picnic.

About 3 miles out of town, parallel with a graveyard, the picnic train was attacked by two former cameleers (“Afghans”) from the North East “Ghan town” of Broken Hill. Their names were Mullah Abdullah and Badsha Mahommed Gool. The two men, flying a home-made Turkish flag (neither of them were Turkish), used the horse-drawn ice-cream cart from which to launch their offensive. Australia was rife with pro-British war fever and anti Turkish and German sentiment; the two ex-cameleers clearly felt they were in the wrong place and on the wrong side, so they joined together to start their own war. Knowing how it would end they both wrote suicide letters.

This composition is a musical transcription of those suicide letters.

I have used a pitch to MIDI program to convert the original Urdu suicide letters into notation, then re-worked the material to make it playable on piano – keeping the rhythms, pitches, and delivery of the Urdu as much as possible in tact. The left hand performs Badsha Mahommed Gool’s text, and the right hand in the piano score performs the words of Mullah Abdullah. Mahommed Gool’s suicide letter is more a proclamation of intent, and Mullah Abdullah’s letter (as you might expect) is more in the expression of a prayer.


For solo piano

Damp Antiquary is inspired by the idea of the instrument as somehow ‘haunted’, where past musical memories manifest on the instrument of their own accord. The colonial song Bygone Days tune is re-harmonized according to harmonic overtones and sub-tones, like the resonances around the pitches of the tune are emerging like ‘ghosts’. The ‘above/below’ image is also referencing the up/down movement of the camel and its hump.

The piece is permeated with the feeling of nostalgia, and the ‘depressive state’ Quignard speaks of is not really emotionally ‘depressive’, but I take it to mean an image of a mental ‘pushing down’ (like that of a key on a piano), into a consciousness of the past, of the before. There should be a trance-like, hypnotic effect from the music, as if it is ‘conjuring’ something out of the piano’s memory.


For solo piano

Silent Piano evokes the sadness and melancholy of the now muted Telegraph Station piano, and its own memories of past times. A piano’s life is lived through its beauty of sound and the people it inspires through its music making. The Telegraph Station piano now lives silently behind a locked glass door, and the people who played it no longer exist. It is deemed too old and fragile to be played any longer, so it remains deserted forever, in a place full of ghosts.


For solo colonial or grand piano

Station Chains explores the sonorities of the now aged first piano to arrive at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. Its old strings reminded me of the chains that First Nations people were so often chained together by the neck with.

Painting the picture of the cross-cultural strife the piano arrived into we hear sounds reminiscent of many yidaki (didgeridoo) playing simultaneously sometimes burning our ears violently while at other times reminiscent of a sacred fire. Other sections in the piece are biting awkward dances built of juxtaposed and re-sculpted indigenous rock/folk tunes representing the pain of colonisation as it continues. These sections surround a slow lament for the Arrente culture and people and The First Nation Mparntwe, also known as Alice Springs, so much of which has been lost, while also questioning the culture, the piano and the people that have supplanted it. The volatility of the old Telegraph Station piano is symbolic of the destabilization of the time of its arrival. The 1880’s were a time of war in Central Australia as the original First Nations inhabitants were cleared from their land. ‘Station Chains’ solemnly remembers this part of the Frontier Wars.


For grand piano, two ebows and AM radios
By Cat Hope (AUS)

The Fourth Estate is a societal, political or institutional force whose influence is not officially recognised, and is a term often used to refer to the press. Its original use relates to the three estates of the realm: clergy, nobility and commoners. Australia in particular has seen just how powerful ‘unofficail’ voices can be, through monopolisation of the media, editorialised media reporting and political bias. The Fourth Estate is a work that compares the sonoric qualities of the piano with those of small electronic devices that extend and contrast with it. Small voices that have, the ability to change everything. As the Fourth Estate is thought to be an element of society ‘outside’ official recognition, here the electronics attempt to pull the piano into a different sound world outside its usual realm.


For piano and pre-recorded electronics

The Intensity of Light aims to capture a sense of the unique beauty, and light of the South Australian landscape, particularly in the mid-north and Flinders Ranges.  The work was influenced by an archival recording of an interview with Hans Heysen from 1960, where he describes his approach and work.

Despite being almost 60 years ago, many of his statements are quite prophetic; the most poignant for me being “we’re forgetting the sky”. Vivid skies, sunsets like fire, deep purple evenings in the heat of summer, and rich blacks of the night punctuated by the milky way are re-imagined through the work, coalescing with a sense of the colonial within the landscape and lament for the loss of appreciation of simple pleasures through the pace of modern life.

Technical Performance Information

Three works require Pre-recorded electronic tracks:
Epirus by Constantine Koukias
Picnic at Broken Hill by Jon Rose
The Intensity of Light by Luke Harrald

Pre-recorded electronic tracks to be operated by performer, a sound operator is required to set up sound equipment.
Stereo PA, preferably with a subwoofer with 2 to 4 speakers.

Equipment Provided by performer:
Computer to play the electronics (in Quicktime)
Headphone jack with a stereo 3.5mm – RCA cable into the mixer

December 20, Frankfurt
Radio broadcast, Hessischer Rundfunk/Radio Frankfurt, interview and piano program of Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories.

December 6, United Kingdom
Bournemouth University Gabriella performs works from Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program (Hope, Emmerson (WP), Veltheim)

December 5, United Kingdom
De Montford University  Gabriella performs works from Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program (Hope, Emmerson (WP), Veltheim)

October 27, Cologne
Perform Klangstrom Austealia-Europe at LOFT
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program (Koukias, Harrald, Rose, Kats Chernin, Hope, Sistermanns)

October 25,  KuBa Saarbruecken, South Germany

Sprach-Klang-Fantasie über das Wesen des Klangs, (Speach-Sound-Phantasy about the Essence of Sound) Johannes S. Sistermanns – Komposition / Sound Installation / Monochord Gabriella Smart – Piano Wolfgang Korb – Textcollage / Rezitation
Live radio broadcast at KuBa Art Station. Gabriella performs works from Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program (Koukias, Harrald, Rose, Rushford, Kats Chernin, Sistermanns)

October 21, Amsterdam
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program (Koukias, Harrald, Rose, Rushford, Kats Chernin, Harris, Hope)

October 16, Bratislava
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program (Harrald, Kats Chernin, Harris, Veltheim)

August 25, Sydney Australia

Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories in ‘Extended Play’, a 12 hour new music event at Angel Place Recital Hall ( Harrald, Rose, Rushford, Kats Chernin, Milliken, Harris, Hope)

July 15, Adelaide Australia
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories, a solo concert by Gabriella  as part of her Prelude Residency at Beaumont House, South Australia (Harrald, Rose, Rushford, Kats Chernin, Milliken, Harris)

June 29, Perth Australia
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program in Perth as part of TURA series (Hope and Veltheim)

April 22, Melbourne Australia
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program in MLIVE, Monash University (Hope and Veltheim)

April 13, Adelaide Australia
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program at Adelaide Central School of Art as part of ‘Listening Gallery’ Series (Veltheim)

April 5, Adelaide Australia
Of Broken Trees and Elephant Ivories program in Two Horizons Conference: Australian Association for Pacific Studies Conference, University of Adelaide (Milliken, Harris, Kats Chernin)

Constantine Koukias
Foundation IHOS Amsterdam

Phone + 31 6 549894484