Featured Composer: Martin Kay

Martin Kay is accomplished saxophonist, clarinetist, improvisor and composer. In the past decade he has released ten albums as a leader or co-leader, each featuring his compositions and/or his improvisations. In 2014 Song Fwaa, an experimental trio of sax, guitar and drums released their second album Sons Of No Guns, For We Are Anomalous. In the same year Martin released a double album of his chamber works: Chamber Music Feasts One and Two. This is a document of Martin’s chamber works. The double album features ABC performer of the year Nic Russionello, as well as members of Continuum saxophone quartet, a leading Australian ensemble Martin co-founded and has played with for 15 years, dedicated to developing Australian compositions. Continuum have recorded eight of Martin’s saxophone quartets, spread across four albums. Martin’s clarinet playing is featured on two albums by The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Tim Davies’ Grammy-nominated extended composition  ‘Counting to Infinity’ features an improvised solo from Martin. Recent international performances of Martin’s compositions have been at the Dutch International Saxophone Convention, and the World Saxophone Congress in St Andrews Scotland, and the World Sax Congress in Strasbourg. Martin has performed with the Sydney and Tasmanian symphony orchestras, the Malaysian Philharmonic orchestra and Opera Australia. In 2001 Martin graduated from a Master of Music (Performance) degree from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. In 2001 Martin studied improvisation in New York City on a Churchill Fellowship.

Allan Zavod's new work The Burrow was premiered in PLEXUS: Progressions on 1 July 2015 at the Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre.

The Burrow (2015)

‘I have completed the construction of my burrow and it appears to be successful.’ This is the opening line of Kafka’s unfinished novel, which I have never finished reading. I imagined a rabbit scraping and digging, constructing through trial and error, retrospectively surveying the turf, explaining untwitchingly of the hard rock and the dangers, even of the abortive entrance. He started digging in completely the wrong spot. 

At the time I though this was a satirical parable for the artistic process. Even with a quick scan I find evidence for this. For instance the Castle Keep, where the rabbit keeps his stores, as a metaphor for structure: ‘My labours on the Castle Keep were also made harder… by the fact that, just at the place where, according my calculations, the Castle Keep should be, the soil was very loose and sandy and literally had to be hammered and pounded into a firm state to serve as a wall for the beautifully vaulted chamber. But for such tasks the only tool I possess is my forehead.’ Kafka further paints it: ‘So I had to run with my forehead thousands and thousands of times, for whole days and nights against the ground, and I was glad when the blood came, for that was proof that the walls were beginning to harden.’

A little dramatic for my late nights, dazed walks and too much coffee, though the creature’s moment-to-moment decisions, influenced by its environment and driven by will and a sense of an aspecific predator, appealed to my improvisational self.  Although the music is notated I wanted to somehow reference an improvisational process. Late nights, coffee and dazes somewhat helped. A certain state of mind is reached, an in-the-zoneness. As I write one idea the next forms. To hold onto that, finish the phrase and write the next is a challenge. This is not always a linear process. There is a constant interplay between the labarynthine burrow, the tunnels, and of course, the Castle Keep.       

I am torn as to whether to finish reading the story. Already there are flaws appearing in my initial reading: ‘a robber may become a victim, and a succulent one too.’ How did I ever think it was a rabbit?

– Martin Kay