Mark Grandison reflects on Riffraction

Mark Grandison reflects on Riffraction

Mark Grandison

Mark Grandison (b. 1965) studied composition with Richard Meale in Adelaide before moving to Sydney to become Director of Music at Kambala School. For Grandison, music education is a passion equal to his compositional pursuits and he writes works in equal measure for youth, community and professional groups. His commissions have reflected this diversity, such as his Sinfonietta for Sydney Youth Orchestra and his Violin Concerto for Queensland Symphony Orchestra. More recently, his Narratives and Detours was the feature work on the Australian CD of the same name.

Mark's work Riffraction will be performed by Omega Ensemble on 5 September as part of the Elgar's Cello Concerto concert at the City Recital Hall. 

Mark shared his thoughts on the work, how it came about and the intention behind it.

Omega Ensemble is looking forward to performing this piece as part of their third concert in the Virtuoso series, a concert which David Rowden, Omega's artistic director describes as 'a concert of contrasts'.  



Tell us a little about yourself, how did you become interested in composing and where and when did it all begin ?

Very simply, I enrolled in a Music Degree at Adelaide Con and went on to complete a Masters. Why did I do this? I still wonder - Music was my worst subject in year 12, and it did not come naturally or easy to me then. But there was something I discovered early on about the act of composing that compelled me to continue regardless of talent. I think it was the centred solitude, unsullied by the messy outer world that drew me in - this world of pure sounds and abstract music structures possessed a purity lacking in our very imperfect outer world. And there was this notion of solving a creative problem that has multiple solutions, and I had to ‘find’ the one truest to my vision.

How did this particular work Riffraction come about ? 

To be perfectly honest, I no longer recall. Other than to say, at the time I was interested in employing a more process-based method to composition, as opposed to my normally freer, intuitive approach. That’s not to say there is little spontaneity in the work: Applying compositional constraints can ironically be very liberating!

Tell us more about the piece and the intention behind it?

Riffraction is a triple pun: the work is based on riffs with pop/funk-inspired rhythmic inflections; these riffs are progressively distorted by processes analogous to the way light is refracted when it travels through a medium of differing densities, like glass or water; and all this leads to plenty of musical action. In spirit, Riffraction is a scherzo, though one who’s form and temperament is twice interrupted. Three brisk riff-based sections are separated by two hovering interludes, darker in character and offering temporary respite from the otherwise manic surface energy.

The clarinet is often featured as a virtuoso soloist, with the piano and string quartet at times purely accompanimental, as though converging into a multi-limbed single instrument. At other times all six instruments are equal partners in polyrhythmic and contrapuntal textures.

A driving factor in composing this piece was squeezing more out of less - for example, with the exception of parts of the interludes, the work is based on the same scale throughout. And often one riff will have derived from an earlier one, rather than presenting entirely new material. For each section, the incessant repetition and gradual metamorphosis of each riff offers a kaleidoscopic viewing of a persistent musical object, fundamentally the same and yet apparently ever different.

Your work is being performed by Omega Ensemble on 5 September at the City Recital Hall, what you are looking forward to most about the performance ?

Hearing and seeing the clarinet artistry of David Rowden in full flight!



City Recital Hall, Monday 5 September at 7.30pm.

Book your tickets now:  Elgar's Cello Concerto


Grandison Riffraction
Connesson Sextet
Mozart Fantasia in F minor, K. 608
Britten Sinfonietta Op. 1
Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 arr. Iain Farringdon