The stunning environment of sand, lakes, rock pools, and creeks that I experienced during my time on K’gari (Fraser Island) was the perfect impetus to write a piece.
Returning to the Sand is inspired by three lakes: Boomanjin, Birabeen, and Garawongera; as well as the Wun’gul sandblow and the Maheno shipwreck. The refrain in this rondo-sonata form work represents the three lakes, with the sandblow and shipwreck inspiring the first and second episodes.
The bell sound reflects the bell of the SS Maheno, a ship built in Scotland in 1905 that held the speed record for the Tasman crossing between Australia and New Zealand. It was converted to a hospital ship and was at ANZAC cove six times, carrying dead and dying soldiers during WWI.
The ship was eventually destined to be scrapped in Kobe, Japan, but some 100kms off the coast she broke free during a storm and was eventually located on the pristine sands of K’gari (Fraser Island) where she has remained since 1935. The bell hear is a tubular bell, but for Camerata’s 2019 tour a replica of the Maheno Bell was carted around Queensland for the performances of this work.
Signs of organic matter still decaying give the wreck a feeling of connection with the living. The process of deterioration is visible in the bends, the rust, the return to the sand. (From diary entry #13, March 9, 2019)
Samuel Dickenson on Returning to the Sand (2019)
Learn more about Returning to the Sand, and Samuel's creative process and challenges.
- What inspired you to compose your piece specifically on?
Returning to the Sand was inspired by various natural and man-made features of K’gari (Fraser Island): Lakes Boomanjin, Birrabeen, Garawongera; the Wungul Sandblow and the Maheno Wreck. The recurrence of the lakes as inspirational elements was conducive to a recurring theme, or refrain, in a rondo-form work. The remaining two elements naturally lent themselves to being episodes within this framework.
- How would you describe your creative process?
During my stay at K’gari (Fraser Island) I visited several locations throughout the island, taking notes about the feelings I experienced at each one. After collecting this conceptual material, I tried to find connections between my experiences at some of these locations, eventually settling on the five places/features that became the focus of Returning to the Sand. From here, some of the melodic and textural aspects began to reveal themselves. My compositions unfurl from smaller motivic cells, which are richly altered as each piece develops, serving the memory function of music and my aesthetic goals of approachable and accessible unification. However, before the music itself is written, I plan out the overall form and length of the work (in this case, a five-part rondo with coda). Once I constructed the work from the macro level, I planned out the general progression of the music, including which tonal areas I would visit (and their relationship to the subject matter).
- What would you consider the most challenging aspect of creating your piece?
One of the challenges of composing my piece was balancing and contextualizing a kind of “reverse Neapolitan modulation” that occurs during the climactic moment of the work. Modulating up a half-step from the tonic for brief periods before moving to the dominant and tonic chords of the original key is a feature of some Romantic-era music, extending and deepening this colourful and interesting predominant area. In my work, I wanted to rework this idea in reverse, modulating a half-step lower than the tonic, then applying the same processes that would normally reach this “Neapolitan area” to return to the tonic. To make this idea sound natural to the ear, I presented the first episode in the Neapolitan key area (a half-step up from the original tonic), anticipating the same process that would later return the listener back home.
- What would you like your listeners to take away from your piece?
K’gari (Fraser Island) is a wonderful natural landmark with beautiful wildlife. I would love for listeners to take away the calming stillness of the lakes, breathtaking grandiosity of the sandblows, and strange beauty of the Maheno wreck, slowly disappearing to time.