Programme note of the music ‘Animal’ for ensemble and choir

Animal (2015) is a piece for choir, violin, cello, keyboard, vibraphone and video. The choir use a video scoring system, which is a sequence of word, phonetic, fricative, and plosive fragments scrolling across the screen. The sequences are laid out across the four voices (Soprano+Alto+Tenor+Bass) and the choir vocalise the letters as they scroll over a red line. The choir are also asked to follow video sequences with the instruction to vocalise the sounds they imagine the video would be making, much like a foley artist.

At the beginning of the projected video there is footage of a match stick being struck back and forth in a looped sequence. At the end, the match sparks a flame and burns in slow motion, showing a transformation of this visual motif. The vibraphone player complements this by brushing across sandpaper with a small piece of wood, back and forth repeatedly at varying speeds and pressure. This relationship to me represents ideas of resistance, tension and friction. Much like the friction of a bow on strings, it slips and sticks.

The structure of the ensemble part is laid out as 3 repeated sections much like the 3 by 3 grid of the ocean footage used, as it crashing against the rocks in different temporal states.

A section in the score asks the choir to whisper short quotes from parents describing the mental state of their children living in Australian immigration detention centres such as: “Open and close, open and close”, “The locks and the chains”, “I am a bird in a cage”, “I am an animal”. These were taken from the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention: Mental Health of Children in Immigration Detention, 2004– The full quotes are shown below:

“Several children likened themselves to birds in a cage.
I am like a bird in a cage. My friends who went to other countries are free. [One of his drawings was of an egg with a boot hovering above it ready to crush it. Pointing to the egg he said,] These are the babies in detention centres.
16-year-old detainee who had spent three birthdays in detention.
I think that the children should be free and when they are there for one year or two years they are just wasting their time, they could go to school and they could learn something. They could be free. Instead they are like a bird in a cage.
10-year-old Afghan girl found to be a refugee.”


“A father in detention said that the continuous locking and unlocking of gates sent the children ‘crazy’: You should also realise that what kind, what a situation is going on with us. From the gate you came here, until here how many doors they opened for you? Is it humanity that they have made that many doors? They open and close, open and close. It’s made the children crazy – mentally they are affected. Every day they go to the gate, they open the gate and close the gate and just the noise of those chains and the locks can make them crazy.”

“Unaccompanied children formerly detained at Curtin said the use of numbers made them feel ‘like animals’ and ‘like you have a cow tag or something on you’. Another child told Inquiry officers that ‘they have made me forget that I have a name’.

An unaccompanied child stated that: I often asked myself and so did the others ‘why did we come here?’ … My parents would regret their decision. … I feel like I did something wrong, like I was being punished. … Sometimes I feel like the ACM staff treated us like animals. They don’t know how much my mother loves me. … They yell for us to line up, do this, do that. They call you by your number.”