A frog chorus to croak about

Master of Music (Composition) student Alexis Weaver with one of the instruments in her frog percussion. Photo: Steven Siewart

A musical way to discover wildlife at the Australian Museum

A chorus of frogs is the basis of an innovative, new piece of music created by Sydney Conservatorium of Music Masters student and sound artist Alexis Weaver for Culture Up Late at the Australian Museum.

Alexis Weaver is one of four composition students from the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music invited by the Museum to create and perform original music and interactive sound works inspired by its exhibitions and science projects.

The imaginative, short works composed by Henry Hulme, Nicholas Theodorou, Alexis Weaver and Josh Winestock will be heard across the galleries of the Australian Museum in a series on Wednesday evening performances from 31 January to 28 February.

Dr Damien Ricketson, Senior Lecturer in Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, who facilitated the collaboration said: “Our young composers are increasingly taking their creativity out of the concert hall to animate unique spaces and exhibitions with sound. Projects such as this enable our students think about new ways in which music can be used to engage in a commentary with the world around them.”

Alexis’ piece, Frog Chorus, celebrates the diverse sounds of native frog calls recorded via the Australian Museum’s new FrogID app, which enables members of the public to help track and save endangered frog species across the country.

“As an electroacoustic composer, I predominately work with sounds rather than instruments or notes, so I’m always looking to find interesting sounds to work with, which these frog calls certainly are,” said Alexis Weaver.

“In my piece you can hear around 20 different frog calls, each with a strikingly individual personality and character. I wanted to create a soundscape that makes the audience feel like they are surrounded by frogs in their natural habitat. I didn’t manipulate the frog calls themselves too much, but I’ve added recordings of water, crickets chirping, and stylised thunder to create a rainy, forest-like atmosphere,” she said.

As part of Alexis’ first Culture Up Late performance on 31 January, 20 people from the audience will form a frog percussion to play alongside the composer’s Frog Chorus recording.

The percussion group will create its own cacophony of frog chirps and croaks by playing a small, frog-shaped wooden instrument to produce distinctly frog-like sounds by stroking the spine with a stick.

“I’m not used to having a live element in my work, as I usually compose everything on the computer. Imagining what the audience might do with the percussion instruments and how it might sound with the track, was new for me.

“So long as the audience makes noise, has fun and becomes aware of the diversity of our native wildlife, that’s all that matters. I am looking forward to hearing them contribute to this beautiful froggy soundscape in the galleries of the Australian Museum,” she said.

The compositions of Henry Hulme and Nicholas Theodorou are also unique instrumental and vocal works that respond to a 42,000-year-old baby mammoth, currently on show in the Mammoths – Giants of the Ice Ageexhibition. Henry’s electronic, keyboard and vocal work, Ani/Stuck/Sotropy, reflects on the mammoth, Lyuba, being stuck or frozen in time for 40,000 years. While Nicholas’ solo act on trumpet, backed by a virtual recording of 1,000 trumpets, conjures up a herd of mammoths in his work titled Stasis.

For Joshua Winestock’s piece, Paths, six saxophonists including Joshua, will weave their way across the spaces and balconies of the Museum’s newly-restored Westpac Long Gallery, the nation’s first museum gallery, in a live mobile performance.

“We’re so excited to present the thoughtful, creative responses these talented Sydney Conservatorium of Music students have developed around the Museum’s Mammoths exhibition, FrogID citizen science project, and the dynamic new spaces of the Westpac Long Gallery!” said Sue Saxon, Creative Producer of the collaborative project at the Australian Museum.