Track-by-Track: Aviva Endean’s “Moths & Stars”

The world that unfolds on Aviva Endean’s tremendous Moths & Stars feels expansive and deeply rooted within a vulnerable space. Visceral stretches permeate every layer of the album while its breadth grows with each track’s forward progression. Electronics spin pensive drones into aural memories spreading through our inner thoughts, encased in the glow of vibrating strings and roaming voice shadows. Endean’s clarinet passages are the high point throughout as she twists the instrument’s tone into beguiling, alien tones and lyrical phrases through inventive techniques, immense talent, and a dash of magic. Beneath it all is a radiance. Sometimes that shimmer is subdued, but it holds the core of this work within a stoic strength. Moths & Stars is not just remarkable but also wholly memorable.


In 2021 I was a composer in residence at The Peggy Glanville Hicks home, a whole year to work on music while living in Sydney, on beautiful Gadigal land. The residency felt like permission to go slow and allow myself time to develop new skills and try new ways of working, including learning to record and produce my own music. Moths & Stars was one of the projects I worked on that year, and it was the first album I’ve made where I approached composition through the process of recording, rather than previous projects where I had used recording as an endpoint to capture ideas that had already formed. The residency gave me the time to learn new skills, watch endless Abelton youtube tutorials, as well as have the patient mentorship of Lawrence English, trying and failing and trying again… It also provided a space to share the works in progress with my new friends, who gathered around the house to generously share feedback and inspirations. This dreamy time was interrupted by a period of quarantine and lockdowns where I found myself back home in Wurundjeri and Djarra country at my mum and partner’s houses, where I continued working, often without all the gear I needed- only to discover happy accidents of what could be made with what I had on hand- working with old cassette players, a leslie speaker, and the unexpected feedback produced by a binaural microphone (strangely the only mic I had on hand while in quarantine). These unusual conditions revealed sound worlds that were fresh and fascinating to me and took me deep into processes that would unfold into the tracks that ended up on the album. 

Between Islands

Breath, proximity, and distance emerged as themes for this body of work. I was fascinated by how the recorded space allows the listener to occupy multiple acoustic positions simultaneously- sounds recorded so close, it’s as if you could hear a moth’s wing beating alongside those which appear to come from some distant place- the vastness of the night sky. On this track, I play with that quality with the simplest of sounds – my breath played through plastic tubes, recorded using a binaural head microphone. I felt like I was revisiting a performance I made many years ago- an intimate sound immersion for one blindfolded audience member at a time. One of the sound sources I used in that piece was opening and closing the ends of the tubes very close to the face and ears of the listener, inhaling and exhaling subtly pitched air that would flit around their head. Many years later, I learned to play another piece of irrigation tubing as a harmonic or overtone flute- The Umtshingo or Umtshingosi (featured in the latter part of the track), which was shared with me by South African musician and composer Cara Stacey. The beauty and simplicity of this instrument continue to astound me, and six years later, I’m still finding new ways to play it.   

Nightwork

When making Moths & Stars, I was determined to make a track using the sound of my clarinet played through a tiny lo-fi speaker I bought years ago from a tiny music store in upstate New York. The speaker cone is so small that it’s housed in an old cigarette packet (made by Smokey amps) and transforms the sound of my clarinet into something more like a basic synthesizer. I had developed an obsession with spinning the speaker around and hearing my sound cycling around in space. I tried and tried to record it, overlaying multiple tempos of it spinning past the heads of my stereo microphones, but it never quite nailed it as a recording. Instead, when back in Castlemaine, my partner Justin reminded me that he had a Leslie speaker for his Hammond organ- designed precisely to spin sound around as I had been attempting. I put the pocket amplifier to the side and instead started working with a bed of microtonal humming, adding layers of bass clarinet recorded through the Leslie as waves of spinning tones that propel the track gently forward.   

Moths & Stars

This track uses binaural recording in two ways- the electronic sound is feedback produced by the binaural mics and my laptop speakers, using my hands around the binaural head to control the pitch of the feedback. The act of playing in this way feels almost like working with a theremin or some strange futuristic version of the Intimate Sound Immersion I mentioned earlier. Another layer used the binaural microphones to capture a kind of prepared bass clarinet (the bass clarinet neck and mouthpiece attached to a piece of flexible corrugated tube) which I use to wave the sound around the listener’s field of listening. 

Photo by Sarah Walker

Same River, Twice

I can spend hours gazing at the shifting light patterns reflected off the surface of water. It drops me almost immediately into a trance-like state of mind. With my eyes, I love playing with changing the depth of focus, or subtly changing perspective, so that the constant almost-perfect repetition of rhythmic patterns gradually transform and distort. This feeling inspired the musical material for Same River, Twice. It was originally an idea for a solo Bb clarinet improvisation- endlessly cascading arpeggios allowing different harmonics to glimmer and rise to the surface. The recorded space allowed me to overlay different renditions of the idea, which were captured in different acoustic spaces, and to evoke deeper parts of the currents with slow waves of bass clarinet. 

What Calls In The Quiet

“What Calls In The Quiet” was the last track to come about for the album and was recorded when I decided I wanted all the tracks to segue into one another. “Same River, Twice” sinks into a kind of melancholic calm before being swept up by a field recording of wind through a giant corrugated pipe which was recorded with Justin Marshall as research towards a project (still in the making!) by dancer/choreographer Rebecca Jensen. 

Mirror Signals 

One of the best things about staying in The Peggy Glanville Hicks house was living with a grand piano. I played classical piano up until I was around 18. I loved the instrument, but I never found my own voice with it, overwhelmed by the genius of the compositions I played on it by the likes of Messiaen, Ravel, Debussy, and Bach. It was a gift to return to the piano in this context with a newfound freedom. Earlier in the year, I had written a score for multiple musicians playing inside the piano, borrowing techniques from Cor Fuhler and Magda Mayas, who developed magical techniques of using ebows and magnets directly on the strings, as well as adding some of my clarinet preparations which translated well onto the piano. After this initial project, I started improvising with these techniques while also playing winds and tubes into its resonant chambers as a kind of meta instrument. I loved the playfulness of working with these techniques, never quite being able to predict the resulting pitch of a magnet placed on any given harmonic or how the magnets would pull each other into different tempos of movement. Listening back now, the piece sounds like a scene I could imagine when reading Richard Flanagan’s ‘Death of a River Guide’ -the protagonist underwater, looking up at the surface of the river from beneath, its glassy appearance occasionally disturbed by falling stones or twigs. Perhaps there are others above, sending out signals to call for help with beams of reflected light. 


Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.


2 thoughts on “Track-by-Track: Aviva Endean’s “Moths & Stars”

  1. It’s wonderful to be given access to the composer’s processes, experimentation and developments creating this wonder world of sound. It leads the listener to more attentive, active listening and involvement in these intimate sound patinas.

Leave a Reply