Musical Connections Amid the Global Pandemic - Series 2

With the continuation of the global pandemic and its severe repercussions, it is of utmost importance for us to attend to our mental and physical health while in extended lockdown. The health benefits of music and meditation alike are generally well accepted in traditional and contemporary societies across the world. In this second response to the global pandemic, IAC Research Fellow Dr Nicholas Ng has curated a collection of original music written by eight highly esteemed composers to help relax the mind and create feelings of peace and calm.

Program Notes and Biographies


Quiet Music I

Performed by Diana Blom

Recorded by Noel Burgess

Quiet Music I is one of two short pieces which explore the low register and soft pedal of the piano. The impetus for the pieces was two friends who have developed extreme sensitivity to sound and who might be able to listen to music which is very quiet and low. Quiet Music I uses the sustain pedal to bind sound layers together into a gentle harmonic flow. The photographs are by Sydney-based photographer, Lynne Mathew. Lynne studied photography at Delta College in Michigan USA. Her published work includes a book on The Journey of Life marrying photos and quotations. In recent years she has been actively working with the iPhone Academy attaining the level of Master.

A/Prof Diana Blom, composer/pianist, was born in New Zealand and moved to Sydney in 1969. She studied music at the University of Canterbury (NZ), University of Sydney (composition) and the University of Michigan (musicology). Composition studies were with Peter Sculthorpe. Diana lived in the USA, Hong Kong and Malaysia for eight years. Diana’s scores and CDs are published by Wirripang Pty. Ltd., Orpheus Music and Wai-te-Ata Press. She is represented by the Australian Music Centre and SOUNZ.

Diana has co-curated several composition/ performance/CD projects with Australian and international composers and performers, including: Shadows and Silhouettes – new music for solo piano with a Western-Chinese confluence; Antarctica – new music for piano and/or toy piano; and Australia East and West, new music for viola and piano. In 1974, she was Composer-in-Residence with the Australian Opera, who commissioned a children’s opera. She has an interest in Australian and New Zealand writers and her song settings have been released on the Wirripang CD Songs by Diana Blom. Music Composition Toolbox (Science Press), a co-authored composition textbook, is published by Science Press. As a composer and performer (harpsichord and piano), she engages in practice-led research and in 2011 received an APRA/AMCOS music award, with Dawn Bennett, for a project of newly composed viola and piano music, Australia East & West. Short Tracks, a CD of short works for several instruments, with works by Diana and other composers, is due for release later in 2021.

Diana has expansive research interests on music education; tertiary performance (assessing group performance, collaboration, interpretation); preferences for, responses to, and descriptions of, music; the relationship between music and words in the musical; music and ANZAC war commemoration; and how arts practitioners working in academia view their practice as research. She is Associate Professor of Music at Western Sydney University.

Photo credit: Lynne Mathew


In The Fields

Performed by Diana Blom

Recorded by Noel Burgess

In the Fields is an introspective and solemn piece that began life as a musical accompaniment to an award-winning audio-visual display at the Woodford Academy, telling the story of the schoolboys who enlisted for WWI. This developed further into a short film using narrated passages from the autobiographical book ‘Red Dust’ and has been transformed into a short solo piano piece. The piece is an emotional reflection upon the thoughts of the Woodford schoolboys on foreign battlefields during WWI, longing for the idyllic days of their school in the bushland setting of the Blue Mountains.

Noel Burgess graduated from the QLD Conservatorium of Music with a major in Sonology and formed the pioneering electronic music act Vision Four 5, which released two albums ‘Texture’ and ‘Humid’ through innovative Australian label Volition/Sony Music. The material of these albums received high rotation on national radio and in the growing electronic music event scene. The band toured extensively including several tours of Big Day Out as part of establishing the ‘Boiler Room’ stage. Vision Four 5’s innovative performances utilized cutting-edge live interactive digital video technology and concepts.The success of this band led Noel to compose and produce under different monikers AapogeE (Rabbit City Records UK) and Chili Hifly (Ministry of Sound UK, No1 USA billboard dance chart 2000).

Noel’s reputation within the Australian Music Industry is acknowledged by his appointment as Musical Director for the Australian Dance Music Awards (DMA), Urban Music Awards (UMA), three ARIA nominations for his work with Groove Terminator and Chili Hifly and his role as an ARIA Academy Judge and APRA/AMCOS Screen Awards Judge.

While working as Senior Technical Officer - Audio at Western Sydney University, Noel continues to maintain his practice as a composer/producer/mastering engineer on music industry releases, corporate event soundtracks, television commercials, short films, installations, features (Strange Planet, Moulin Rouge, Smoke Between Trees) and television series (CJ the DJ). He is completing a PhD in Screen Media Composition at Macquarie University to develop his driving creative passion for integrated visual and musical storytelling.



Performed by Tomotsune Bizan and Kikuchi Kouzan (shakuhachis)

Spirit-Presence was inspired by the earthy un-lacquered sounds of the Jinashi-Shakuhachi (Zensabo School) and Jim Franklin’s Jiari-Shakuhachi (Kokusai Shakuhachi Kenshukan), especially the heart of his sound—rich reverberation echoes and bell hints from the Hearing Stillness recording made in the Abbey Church in Neresheim, Germany. The reverential honkyoku stillness and reverberation with Christian bell overtones inspired my own evocation of ecstatic glossolalia (speaking in tongues) of the Christian tradition with the spacious bellbird sounds reverberant in the lower Blue Mountains bush, near where I live in Sydney. My work opens with the earthy roughness of long held-note un-lacquered sounds graduating air-noise sounds to half-pitches with slowly evolving vibrato against bellbird-like punctuations of high ringing metal resonances (either crotales or Japanese temple bowl) and glossolalia attack hints. As the work progresses, movement sections emerge of explosive attack breath and whirling arpeggios with wild yuri and vibrato pitch-fluctuations as well as gurgling as if the lower Blue Mountains birdsong had erupted into a reverberant cacophony alongside chant-like bursts of phonemes from glossolalia. Returning un-lacquered long-note stillness provides breath respite after the ecstatic sound but this is still cut by birdsong-like exuberance of lacquered shakuhachi arpeggio bursts. An intense ecstatic centre forms a culmination of the vocalize hints of glossolalia and manic birdsong inspired life through repeated-note chant and agitated-sounds of un-lacquered shakuhachi versus sustained high register arpeggios of smooth-lacquered sound perforated with tamane gurgles on both instruments. The earthy roughness of long evolving sounds merging between half-pitch and air sounds with tamane returning amidst metal resonances and chant phonemes to still the piece to earth again. Spiritu-Presence was performed on 1 November 2014 at the AMF Opening Concert: ‘Asia, Asia, Asia’, Yokohama Minato-Mirai Hall (Small Hall) and during the 32nd ACL Conference and Festival in Japan: Asian Music Festival 2014, Yokohama, Japan.

A/Prof Bruce Crossman is a composer with interests across visual arts, East Asian architecture, poetry and music (classical, traditional world and improvisatory musics) with a focus on Asian-Pacific musical identity. He has achieved international recognition with performances in Australasia, Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines), Europe and the USA. Highlights include working with the Kanagawa Philharmonic (Japan), Korean Symphony Orchestra and with shihans Tomotsune Bizan and Kikuchi Kouzan’s for the Opening Concert ‘Asia, Asia, Asia’, Yokohama Minato-Mirai Hall at Asian Music Festival 2014 in Japan.

Bruce has collaborated with Grawemeyer Award winner Chinary Ung (USA) at Aurora Festival 2008 and has worked for the Rockefeller Foundation in New York (USA). As a scholar, he has published several articles and edited books linking traditional musics of the Pacific Rim with European compositional techniques; highlights include co-editing Music of the Spirit: Asian-Pacific Musical Identity with Michael Atherton, and working on "Living Colours: An Asian-Pacific Conceptual Frame for Composition" as a chapter in Sally Macarthur’s (ed) Music’s Immanent Future: The Deleuzian Turn in Music Studies (Ashgate, 2016).

Recent projects include performances at the ISCM World New Music Days in Beijing and Asian Composers League Festival and Conference in Taiwan in 2018, and collaborations with Korean Gugak performers, gayageum master Yi Jiyoung (Seoul) and taegum virtuoso Hyelim Kim (London) for a 2021 album release by Navona (USA). His research included working as Scholar-in-Residence, at the David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies (LEWI) in Hong Kong. National recognition has come from Australia and New Zealand with awards and composer residencies. Highlights include a Finalist Nomination in the APRA-Australian Music Centre Classical Music Awards and the Mozart Fellowship at Otago University.

An experienced teacher, Bruce is Associate Professor, Music in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and Discipline/ Professional Field Leader, Music and Music Therapy at Western Sydney University.

KIM CUNIO1875762


Performed by Heather Lee (soprano) and John Holowell (piano)

Sea is part of a song cycle that Heather Lee and Kim Cunio wrote in 1997, (Cunio, music, Lee, words); exploring the intersection between meditation practice and the conception of a nonphysical entity as our true nature. It has a refrain “Just be Still”: a reinterpretation of the words from Psalm 46, “Be Still and know that I am God”. The music has the movement of the sea in it, particularly in its second section which asks us “Just be still and hear the sea”. Sea is a part of the album Inflorescence (Eternity Ink 2001), which is still being bought, sold and given away 20 years later.

A/Prof Kim Cunio, Head of the School of Music at the Australian National University (ANU), is an activist composer interested in old and new musics and the role of intercultural music in making sense of our larger world. A scholar, composer and performer, Kim embodies the skills of the exegetical artist, showing that writing and making art are part of the same paradigm of deep artistic exploration.

A descendant of Mizrachi Jews from Shanghai, Kim is a recipient of the ABC Golden Manuscript Award for his work on traditional music. His compositions have been played internationally with performances at the Whitehouse, United Nations, and festivals in a number of countries. His list of commissioning organisations includes the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Art Gallery of NSW, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Foundation for Universal Sacred Music (USA), and many others. A number of Kim’s projects and tours have been funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Commonwealth Government.

Kim is currently working on a series of albums with the Gyuto Monks of Tibet; a project setting the sounds of space with the British Antarctic Survey and artist engineer Diana Scarborough; and a project on enforced feticide in India with writer and gender scholar Manish Sharma. Under Kim, the ANU School of Music is entering a new renaissance, again valued by the university and the community of Canberra due to the work of its academic staff and the fearlessness of its students.

Photo credit: Anthony Ammar

Heather Lee is often considered by many listeners to have Australia's purest voice. Heather has sung at the Whitehouse and United Nations,1875798 the  Sydney 2000 Olympics, been the recorded voice for major events including the Asian Games and Winter Olympics, as well as major cultural events such as the touring of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Khalili collection of Islamic Art and the Maharajah of Jodhpur's Sacred Art collection. With an ability to sing in many languages and styles, Heather (MCA Voice) has focused on both sacred traditional music and western classical music in her career. Heather has a longstanding commitment to singing the sacred, and has taken many listeners to the spiritual heights in her recordings and concerts. She has made a number of discs for the ABC including The Sacred Fire: Music of Hildegard of Bingen, Sweet Dreams: Lullabies from Around the World, and Under Eastern Skies. Her current projects include music with the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, the music of Rabindranath Tagore, and numerous collaborations with composer Kim Cunio.

Heather also works in the Indian subcontinent. Her work there includes a semi improvised opera at the Calcutta Arts Centre (2018); setting Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri to Western chant styles (2014- present); a long work with the eminent Carnatic flautist Dr Natesan Ramani; Garden and Cosmos, Art Gallery of NSW and the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s sacred art collection; Oneness, an international commission on the life of Swami Vivekananda was premiered at Sydney Opera House before touring Australia and Dubai. A project close to Heather’s heart is The Vanishing with Dr Manisha Sharma, which is concerned with the practice of female feticide in India. The project has seen a multi-channel installation prepared for Australia, the US and India and combines field recordings with fictionalized stories based on ethnographic research in the field. Heather is also involved in a major project to document and compose with the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, with two releases in and a multi disc set to capture traditional practices. Beyond Karma, the first release of this project was longlisted for a Grammy. Recent highlights include the Pushkar Sacred Music Festival, a 2019 concert for the United Nations in New York and a special award from the Government of India honouring her singing of Ghandi’s favourite bhajan, Vaishnava jana to.


The Rain

The Rain is the third track from the album the old capital (released October 2020 on Lost Tribe Sound). The album is the debut album from Melbourne-based composers Claire Deak and Tony Dupé. The duo describes themselves as a home orchestra well-suited for late night rambling, having made the album late into the evenings as their son slept. A wide variety of acoustic instrumentation weave their way into the music, including: pianos, accordion, harp, harpsichord, pump organs, recorder, flute, trumpet, euphonium, clarinets, stroh violin, viola, wulf fidel, cello, double bass, guitar, charango, mandolin, baritone ukulele, banjo, xylophone, glockenspiel, gamelan, drums and voices. The album is essentially an exploration into finding a balance between the duo’s individual composition and music production sensibilities, and finding space for them to converse. The Rain began as a loop made on a nineteenth-century pipe organ, housed in an old desert church in North-West Victoria. The piece bloomed into an amorphous meditation exploring texture and timbre, with a fluid approach to structure.

“We’re quite taken with the grace and stillness inherent in the music. It feels like the perfect tonic for these difficult times” - CYCLIC DEFROST (who premiered the video for The Rain)

Claire Deak is a composer living and working on Wurundjeri Country in Naarm (Melbourne). Her music is propelled by a limitless curiosity. As a multiinstrumentalist and instrument collector, her music blurs genre to focus on affect, narrative and the sounds themselves. She is an intuitive musician who works primarily by ear and feel, though brings a wealth of training, including an MA in screen composition from the AFTRS (2007). Balancing the paradox of authorship and collaboration, Claire has created scores for the big and little screen, as well as theatre and installation. She has also toured and recorded with bands as multiinstrumentalist/ vocalist and has created arrangements for a number of Australian music artists including Melbourne songwriter Lucy Roleff (Lost and Lonesome/ Oscarson) and Brisbane multi-instrumentalist Andrew Tuttle (Room 40).

In late 2020, Claire released her debut album the old capital in collaboration with Dupé (saddleback) on US label Lost Tribe Sound. A humble yet ambitious instrumental album, the old capital was embraced by radio and reviewers alike, making it into a US Rolling Stone’s end of year top ten list. She is represented by Gaga Music and is enrolled in a Master of Research (Music) at Western Sydney University.

Tony Dupé is a critically acclaimed and commercially successful producer/engineer, arranger, composer and multi instrumentalist. He has produced around 100 albums for Australian and overseas artists, including Holly Throsby, Bec Sandridge, Sui Zhen, Lucy Roleff, Jack Ladder, Grand Salvo, Melodie Nelson, Sophie Hutchings. He has released two critically acclaimed albums under the name Saddleback on Australian label Preservation. He composed the score for 'The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch', an animation series narrated by Toni Colette for the ABC and after spending three years living and working in Berlin he returned to study a Master's Degree in improvisation on cello. He subsequently moved to Melbourne and formed The Abandoned Fireworks Factory with film composer/musician Claire Deak to provide album production and composition/arrangement services. The ethos behind the production is supported by a clear philosophy of placing the artist and music at the forefront and technology in service to that (not the other way around). Tony is also involved in historical instrument restoration and extended studio techniques.


There the Dance Is

Performed by Hyelim Kim (taegŭm) and Claire Edwardes (marimba)

The title of this piece refers to a phrase from T.S. Elliott's Burnt Norton: 'At the still point, there the dance is.' This idea has resonances in many spiritual traditions, and in this work Korean and Western traditions are drawn apon. A plainchant Sanctus (XI) forms a loose cantus firmus, and a short falling motif from the Korean Salpuri dance recurs throughout. A still point is embodied in the held notes, and as the melody weaves around them, tonal centres come in and out of focus, hinting at stillness behind the flux.

Dr Clare Maclean was born in New Zealand in 1958. She studied composition with Gillian Bibby in Wellington, New Zealand, and with Peter Sculthorpe and Bruce Crossman in Sydney. As a student she began singing with the Sydney Chamber Choir, and this experience, particularly with the Renaissance repertoire, influenced her writing style, which often uses modal tonalities and contrapuntal textures.

Clare has written a number of pieces for the Sydney Chamber Choir, including the Osanna Mass, recorded on the Osanna CD, the second CD of her music by the choir on the Tall Poppies label. In 2012, this work won the Australian Art Music Award for vocal music. Clare has also been commissioned by ensembles in Australia and overseas, and was Composer-in-Residence with the St Louis Chamber Chorus (Missouri) from 2006 to 2011.

Above the Water (2015), commissioned and premiered by the Sydney Chamber Choir, was also performed by the Taipei Chamber Singers, directed by Yun-Hung Chen, at the Asian Composers' League Festival in 2018. Psalm 11, commissioned by the Adelaide Festival, was performed at the 2020 festival by the Song Company, directed by Anthony Pitts.

In 2021, Clare was named as a finalist in the APRA AMCOS Australian Music Centre Art Music Awards for her piece Beannaicht an Long, nominated for Choral Work of the Year.

Having served many years as a teacher of music theory, analysis, arranging and composition, Clare is Director of Academic Program, Music and Music Therapy, at Western Sydney University.


龙的飞行 Lóng de fēixíng (‘Flight of the Dragon’)

Performed by Nicholas Ng (hulusi)

This composition was created for the children’s theatre show Descendants of the Dragon, which toured to the Canberra International Music Festival and Riverside Theatre (2017). It follows the flight path of one the show’s main characters, Pearl Dragon, who loved to jump into the morning sky, feeling the warmth of the sun on her back, before diving down to glide above the waves of the Eastern Ocean. Pearl, along with her associates Yellow, Long and Black Dragons turned themselves into water in order to help the people of the world during a time of drought—a global crisis that seemed to last for years. As they lived in an age before rivers existed, their physical bodies became the four main waterways of what is now China. This heroic act is remembered today through this folktale and the flight of Pearl is in my imagination one of meditation and ultimate tranquility.

Dr Nicholas Ng is a composer, performer and Research Fellow at the Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture (Western Sydney University). A former Lecturer (Australian National University) and Research Fellow (Queensland Conservatorium), he has been teaching erhu (2-stringed Chinese fiddle) and theory at Sydney Conservatorium since 2016.

Nicholas' upbringing as an Old Rite Catholic church musician, combined with his world music interests has led to a unique style in his compositions for The Song Company, The Australian Voices, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles. He collaborates with William Yang and appeared with Benjamin Law in Annette Shun Wah's Double Delicious (2020), which has toured to the Sydney Festival, Asia TOPA (Melbourne), Geelong and now the OzAsia Festival (Adelaide). On the erhu (2-stringed fiddle), Nicholas has toured to festivals around Australia, New Zealand, North America, Canada and Europe. These include KunstenFESTIVALdesarts (Brussels), Sydney Festival and Auckland Arts Festival. He established the ANU Chinese Classical Music Ensemble (2003).

Published by Orpheus Music, Nicholas obtained his PhD on diasporic Chinese music from the Australian National University (2008), where he co-established the ANU Chinese Music Ensemble (2003). He later curated the festival ENCOUNTERS: China (2010), which inspired his first edited book 'Encounters: Musical Meetings between Australia and China' (2013). He curated Shanghai Club at The Famous Spiegeltent (2013) with Jasmine Chen from the film Crazy Rich Asians and appeared in Lah-Lah's Big Live Band (ABC Kids). Nicholas’ life as a researching artist has been documented on SBS Mandarin Radio, ABC Music Show, and in the Compass program, Divine Rhythms (2018).

Photo credit: Christopher Fulham


Keening Song

Performed by Josephine Truman in collaboration with Jean Schwarz

Josephine (Jo) Truman is a singer, composer and performer interested in exploring the voice and all its potentials.

Commencing classical piano studies at five, she was fascinated with the ultimate potentials of her voice from a young age and enjoyed creating narrative driven improvisations for voice and piano. Whilst studying Fine Arts at Alexander Mackey, she worked with Sydney-based improvisers such as Jon Rose, Jim Denley and Sandy Evans. An International Study Grant from the Australia Council of the Arts to research voice and improvisation, took her to Europe, where she lived and worked for nine years. There she became involved with projects with improvisers such as Phil Minton, Maggie Nicols , Sylvia Hallet, Lindsay Cooper, Fred Frith, Tristan Honsinger and others. As a vocalist, she performed in notable projects such as Songs From A Prison Diary ( Le Mans Jazz festival and the Musica Festival (Strasbourg); First International Jazz Fest, Vilnius, Lithuania (Tchekassin/Tarasov), John Cage Song Books project (as a guest student at Koninklijk Conservatorium / VPRO radio). She also appeared with the Bull's Eye Orchestra, Staatdgarten Koln, Wie Es Ihr Gefhalt (Lindsay Cooper & Robyn Schulkowsky), George Lewis, Fred Van Hove and Johannes Bauer (tour Belgium), Jon Rose, Joe Sachs (tour DDR), and Amanda Stewart (European tour Voices Unvoiced). Jo created and produced A Bite In Time, a three-part mobile performance sound/music installation multimedia work based on three historical and personal perspectives on food and eating, involving twenty eight musicians and visual artist (Akademie Schloss Solitude Residency); a commission from MONA FOMA 2013 Hobart (with Len Marks & Daniel and Alia Grinvalds), including a voice workshop at the Hobart Baha'i Temple. Last year she was the support act for Elysian Fields, performing a solo voice, piano and computer backing composition inspired by the lockdown at SIMA's Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival '21, Mary's Underground, Sydney. Between 2016-2019, she produced The Water Babies, Freddie Hill's Opera for Adults and Children, which was performed at the Seymour Centre, as a community project with Kindlehill School and at the ACA Theatre, Leichhardt for the Sydney Fringe Kidz program.

Jo was commissioned to record CD Sdreamings, by Staalplaat, Amsterdam, which earned a four star review in the Sydney Morning Herald by jazz critic John Shand. She has had several commissions for her original feature-length audio arts programs involving her music, sound, texts, poetry, and prose from ABC Classic FM & Radio National, WDR Koln and SWF Baden Baden. A five part mini series co-produced by Stephen Adams for ABC Classic FM was largely based on her MMus thesis on Extended Vocal Techniques (Sydney Conservatorium of Music).

In 2014, she was librettist (Australia Council for the Arts New Work Grant) in the creation of Traversing the Void a new chamber work for solo voice, woodwind and strings in eight movements, by the Icelandic composer Hildigunnur Rúnarsdóttir. It had its world premiere at the Harpa Music Hall in Reyjkavic, February 2021 and was sung by mezzo soprano Hallveig Rúnarsdóttir with the Camerartica Quartet, and received broadcasts by RUV (Icelandic state broadcaster) and an appearance on the arts program 'Menningin'.

Jo is also a highly accomplished visual artist who runs a freelance practice in the Blue Mountains. She is currently completing her PhD at Western Sydney University.