Alumna Lisa Illean conducting

Alumna reflection: composer Lisa Illean

In our guest post series, we invite alumni, staff and current students to reflect on their time with the VCA. This week alumna and composer Lisa Illean, a recipient of the Joyce McKenna Scholarship, looks back at her time in the music department.

About Lisa Illean

VCA graduate Lisa Illean (BMusPerf, 2012 – Practical Composition) is a composer with an interest in new music and hybrid-arts collaborations. This year saw the premier of her work Veils in the Metropolis New Music Festival, commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as part of the Cybec Composer Development Program. Her work and studies have been supported by the Lionel Gell Foundation, the Cybec Foundation and Australia Council. She is the 2012 recipient of the Joyce McKenna Scholarship, which supports travel and study overseas.

Lisa’s reflection:

On a recent Sunday in August I had the pleasure and the privilege of recording a piece for string quartet in Sing Sing’s Neve studio in Cremorne. On reflection, that day seems an ideal lens through which to describe the persisting value of my four years at VCA.

To begin with, three members of the quartet recording that day were also VCA graduates, two of whom have tirelessly assisted in playing and developing new works and who, partly as an effluence of these collaborations, I would call wonderful friends. To be able to experiment and create in the context of friendship is a coveted experience. These friendships I owe to the VCA where, particularly in my first year attending, there was a very open spirit and we composers were encouraged to sit in on as many of the instrumental department’s workshops and rehearsals as possible.

Sing Sing’s Neve studio in Cremorne
Sing Sing’s Neve studio in Cremorne

The piece we were recording was the first piece I have written since graduating last year, and as a result the process of making it seemed to summarily touch on many of the internal arguments concerning craft and aesthetic that had first arisen during my lessons at the VCA. A forum in which to discuss issues arising in and pertaining specifically to your work one-on-one is invaluable. I am lucky to have had five such individual teachers across my time at the VCA offering a breadth of perspectives, influences and advice.

My relationship with Sing Sing itself was formed during a time when I was working on several short film projects – in particular with The Apiary’s Gavin Youngs and Lily Coates, two brilliantly creative VCA film graduates I was fortunate enough to collaborate with.

The inspiration behind organising the recording is a trip I embark on in two days – a trip encompassing several European countries, key international festivals, lessons, and professional engagement. I developed a taste for combining my work with travel last year, when Mark Pollard led our composition class on an amazing adventure to create site-specific sound installations in Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology. There is so much to learn, uprooted from day-to-day life and exposed to unfamiliar ideas, with their particular pasts and preoccupations. Contemporary life is full of sound. And the substance, air, in which they fall, is porous; as are our memories and our nerves. My various current preoccupations, I hope, begin to acknowledge the potential permeability of the sound surface, to both material elements and intersubjective spaces.

Lisa at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology, 2011
Lisa at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology, 2011

These new opportunities to travel and study have been made possible with the generous assistance of the 2012 Joyce McKenna Scholarship. I’m especially looking forward to Gaudeamus Musiekweek in The Netherlands, Warsaw Autumn Festival and the extended periods of time I plan to spend in Tallinn and Helsinki. In the spirit of immersive learning, there are some weeks packed with over 20 concerts! But how could one not seize the chance to hear a phenomenal amount of new music in live performance? I’m hoping to come back hearing differently and thinking better, with two new works and a phone full of friends and colleagues.

I’m taking the recording with me as a documentation of what I have learnt so far. It seems fitting that, in making it, so much of what was valuable about my time at the VCA has been present.