Samantha Wolf

COMPOSER  |  SOUND ARTIST

2018 Year in Review

Happy holidays music lovers! As 2018 draws to a close, I’m finally emerging from the deep fog of sleep deprivation and caffeine to reflect on the year that was – and wow, what a year! 2018 was easily the busiest year I’ve had so far, and the privilege of being entrusted to write ambitious new pieces for so many incredible musicians – collaborators old and new – is both exhilarating and daunting. Now that I can relax and take stock, I feel overwhelmingly grateful for everything that 2018’s thrown at me, and I’m going into 2019 feeling confident and upbeat, albeit tired!

Sam Smith, myself, Alex Raineri & Chris Dench at Macedon Music, March 2018.

Sam Smith, myself, Alex Raineri & Chris Dench at Macedon Music, March 2018.

The composition year started with Chroma, commissioned by my good friend and long-time partner in crime, Alex Raineri. Alex is an incredible virtuoso and a champion of new Australian music, so it was a real pleasure to work with him again. Inspired by Olga Neuwirth’s Incidendo/Fluido, Chroma uses pre-recorded piano sounds (all recorded with great care and patience by Alex) to augment the live performance, and plays with the tension between fixed and flexible elements. Alex premiered the piece at Macedon Music in March and went on to perform it around Australia throughout 2018, including just 2 weeks ago at the Brisbane Music Festival (incidentally, in the house we used to share!). Keep an eye out for the recording on Alex’s forthcoming album ‘Inventions’, to be released in early 2019 and featuring new pieces by James Ledger, Chris Dench, Samuel Smith, Corrina Bonshek and Liam Flenady. 

After Chroma, it was time to get cracking on my biggest project of the year, for Rubiks’ Pythia Prize! Slated for premiere at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music, and subsequent performances in Berlin, Amsterdam, Manchester, Sydney and Melbourne (no pressure…), I put six months aside to focus on collaborating and workshopping with the musicians, both as individuals and as a group. Through improvisation and experimentation, we built our sound world from the ground up, focusing on discarded, broken, and disused items. The result of this was Want Not, a 13-minute exploration of the sonic potential of would-be landfill (or, as Tamara called it, a ‘junk chorale’). Underground Media have put together a beautiful video of the piece, which you can check out below – my personal favourite section is from 7:13 to about 9:30, when the quirky plinky plonky sounds of Toy Piano, quartertone Kalimba and Music Boxes dissolve into a wash of bowed metal bowls, prepared cello, piano multiphonics and a wine bottle pan flute. Delish! 


You can also check out Rubiks’ episode on ABC’s New Waves podcast, which features interviews with members of the ensemble, and recordings of pieces by Jacob Abela, Holly Harrison, Samuel Smith and yours truly. 

Want Not was an absolute joy to write. Tamara, Jacob, Kaylie and Gemma were dream collaborators, and were right there with me every step of the way, from the early days of scavenging junk and seeing what we could do with it, through to figuring out notation strategies, weaving sketches into an actual piece, and adapting it for different venues around the world. I’m thrilled that the Pythia Prize will continue in 2019 with Christine McCombe, and I can’t wait to see what the next instalment will bring. 

Tristram Williams workshopping ‘Gremlin’ at the Brunswick Green, December 2018.

Tristram Williams workshopping ‘Gremlin’ at the Brunswick Green, December 2018.

I was stoked to be able to attend Want Not’s world premiere at Darmstadt. While there, I was extremely fortunate to be selected for the ‘Composing for Trumpet’ workshop, mentored by Rebecca Saunders, Milica Djordjevic, and Marco Blaauw. Through close collaboration with the extraordinarily talented and adventurous Chloe Abbott, I wrote Gremlin, a hushed yet dramatic flexible miniature for trumpet mouthpiece and harmon mute. My favourite four bars were workshopped last week by Tristram Williams at Elision’s first ever 4-bar series at the Brunswick Green (composers, if you’re reading this, you MUST come along to these monthly sessions!). Tristram’s ingenious substitution of a piece of paper for the stem added to the intensity of these quiet sounds, and he shared some great ideas about how I could expand the materials. I can’t wait to keep working with Chloe to further develop Gremlin in 2019 – watch this space!

Another highlight of 2018 was working with my Brisbane fam, Kupka’s Piano, on revising and expending at the mercy of the elements. It’s not often a young composer has the chance to reimagine an existing piece, and working with Hannah, Jodie, and Liam to bridge the worlds of Bass Flute and bowed Electric Guitar was a delightful challenge. The new version was premiered in Brisbane in August and recorded by ABC Classics for the New Waves podcast, which also featured new pieces by Samuel Smith, Hannah Reardon-Smith, Lisa Illean and Jakob Bragg.

Myself, Josten Myburgh, Georgina Oakes & Jakob Bragg at Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Summer School, December 2018.

Myself, Josten Myburgh, Georgina Oakes & Jakob Bragg at Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Summer School, December 2018.

2018 also brought opportunities to write for the BRON Saxophone Quartet, who premiered Echo Chamber at the World Saxophone Congress in Croatia in July; the incomparable Ensemble Offspring, who workshopped Beg, Borrow, Steel as part of their Hatched Academy; and the Enyato Duo who, with the generous support of Stephen Whateley, commissioned Out of the Depths for Bass Clarinet and Percussion, premiered in November at the gorgeous Athenaeum Library. 

As wonderful as it is to write new pieces, it’s also a delight when an older piece begins to take on a life of its own, so I was thrilled that the Forest Collective performed The More I Think About It, The Bigger It Gets at their Gala Concert in November. This work is very special and personal to me, and it seems to have gained more significance since its humble beginnings as a university assignment back in 2015. Reflecting its impact, the piece also formed the basis of Dr. Linda Kouvaras’ chapter, ‘(Post?-)Feminism, “New Topicality” and the “New Empathy”: Australian Composers working with the Concrete’, in Diversity in Australia’s Music: Themes Past, Present and for the Future, published this year by Cambridge Scholars. I never ever thought that my music would feature in a book, so I owe a heartfelt thank you to Linda for being such a strong advocate for the piece, and for new electroacoustic in Australia generally.  

Me helping Lisa put on her bridal shoes, December 2018.

Me helping Lisa put on her bridal shoes, December 2018.

As if the musical year wasn’t packed enough, 2018 was also a big year for me personally. I will always look back on 2018 as the year that I made huge strides in my financial and mental health – no mean feat for any young composer, as these issues loom so large in our field. And I was honoured to be crowned Queen of the Puns by Lentil As Anything – free hoodie yay!! But by far my proudest moment was standing beside my bestie, Lisa Cheney, as she married her long-time partner James. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there wasn’t a single dry eye in that stunningly beautiful ceremony at Emu Bottom Homestead. 


Side note – Lisa co-runs Making Waves, a monthly series of curated playlists showcasing the best of Australia’s new music. Be sure to visit their website or Soundlcoud if you haven’t already. 

So, what’s next? I can’t say too much yet – t’s need crossing and I’s need dotting – but I’m looking forward to working with some formidable talents in 2019. I’m especially excited that the Horsley & Williams Duo will record my piece for them, Splinter, for release later in the year. I also can’t wait to work with one of my favourite local groups, Plexus, on a new piece to be premiered in November. And the rest? You’ll have to wait and see 😉 

Rubiks Collective right after the world premiere of ‘Want Not’ at Darmstadt 2018. L-R: Sonia Wilson; myself; Jacob Abela; Tamara Kohler; Natasha Fearnside; Gemma Tomlinson; Kaylie Melville.

Rubiks Collective right after the world premiere of ‘Want Not’ at Darmstadt 2018. L-R: Sonia Wilson; myself; Jacob Abela; Tamara Kohler; Natasha Fearnside; Gemma Tomlinson; Kaylie Melville.