A sonic journey into world of Maltese ghana.
began composing works specifically for the radio medium
in 1994 when he was commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation’s audio arts program The Listening Room to
compose and produce the radiophonic opera Vanunu. A large
scale work that focuses on the events that lead to the
imprisonment of Israeli Mordechai Vanunu who revealed
to the world Israel’s secret nuclear weapons manufacturing
facility at Dimona.
Robert’s many works
for radio continue to deal with socio-political and ethical
issues. His prize winning Hong Kong –City in between musicalizes
interviews and soundscapes to document the dislocation and
uncertainty of the people of Hong Kong at the time of
the handover. Marking Time casts
a critical and humorous eye at western society’s obsession
with manifesting apocalyptic scenarios.
is Robert’s most recent radiophonic composition, commissioned
by the Dutch broadcaster NPS for their program Supplement.
The work is Robert’s personal response to ghana (pronounced
‘ahnna’) - the living folkmusic practice of the Maltese.
For this project Robert travelled from Australia to his
mother’s homeland – the island of Malta – to record ghana
practitioners, aficionados, commentators and environments.
While in Malta he encountered a rich
multilayered society with ‘deep historical roots that
possibly go back to Neolithic times’. Robert observed
that “where-ever I looked contradictory elements seem
to pervade many aspects of Maltese society and culture.
Malta is an island yet most towns are situated inland
away for the coast; rabbit is the national dish as opposed
to fish; in every town the simple, unpainted, unadorned
flat topped Arabic influenced buildings are dwarfed by
huge domed Christian churches with richly ornate interiors;
the Arabic influenced Maltese language is written in Roman
script. Contrary elements can also be found in ghana.
Arabic modal and European tonal musical elements intermix
freely as do diatonic and chromatic elements. In fact
in spirtu pront the most popular
and developed form of ghana, an essential part of the
form is that the singers contradict and argue with one
brief for this project was to create a composition that
explored ghana’s relationship
to Maltese society, past, present and future. He travelled extensively
in Malta and with the help and guidance of anthropologist
George Misfud-Chircop he was able to record interviews
and performances by some of the most highly regarded practitioners
of ghana. These recordings are the basis of Malta: In-Land.
He explains some of the challenges of composing a ‘piece
of music’ from such source material.
“After my inspiring
experiences of ghana I was left with a sense of responsibility,
to the people who generously shared their music and knowledge
with me, to spread the word about this unique music practice.
Fulfilling such a brief necessitated a compositional process
whereby you take on a multidisciplinary role as composer,
journalist, sound ecologist, writer and producer. I used
field recordings, soundscapes, commentaries and my own
original music/sounds for raw materials with which I began
composing. The composition is structured in sections,
each one focussing on a particular area of ghana. The
musical sections, which I composed, are all derived from
traditional ghana motives and melodies. A characteristic
of ghana and most folk music is ‘modularity’. Generic
musical phrases, motifs etc are interpreted, performed
and repeated over successive generations. In the case
of ghana these ‘modules’ have remained almost unchanged.
Throughout Malta: In-Land I explore this phenomenon by
juxtaposing and layering autonomous performances to create
new, sometimes fragile musical and textual relationships.
work that is both informative and musical yet not pure
documentary obviously poses complex problems regarding
content, structure and form. Balancing musical structures
with actual documentary material and soundscapes is a