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2014 Mozart Fellow’s taste in music

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 4:22pm

Mozart Fellow Jeremy Mayall will this weekend host a performance to stimulate all five of the senses. The world premiere of Flutter will be held at Otago Museum’s Tropical Rainforest on Saturday night – with sounds, smells and even tastes to accompany the music. The Bulletin spoke with him about Flutter, the Fellowship and facial hair.

Mozart Fellow Jeremy Mayall image
Caption: Otago’s 2014 and 2015 Mozart Fellow Jeremy Mayall prepares for his show in the Museum’s Butterfly house. Photo: Otago Daily Times.

The music is written, the performers rehearsed, the butterflies are ready, and the macarons are baked.

All is set for Jeremy Mayall’s one-night-only multisensory experience, Flutter, at Otago Museum.

The 15-minute piece of music will be performed in the Tropical Rainforest Butterfly enclosure. The audience will see the butterflies, smell the distinctive tropical rainforest scent, feel the warm damp air, hear the music – and to top it off – at three points in the performance they will eat specific flavoured French macarons.

A quirky composer

It is not your usual performance. But then again Otago’s 2014 and 2015 Mozart Fellow Jeremy Mayall is not your usual composer.

He is interested in writing for odd combinations of sounds, particularly fusing pre-recorded sound with live performance.

His Symphony No.1 for orchestra and turntables was the first orchestral symphony to feature turntables, and has been performed a number of times around the country. It attracts younger audiences who wouldn’t normally attend orchestral concerts and also opens the eyes of orchestral audiences to the musical role of turntables.

“People really seem to enjoy it,” Mayall says.

Hamilton born and bred, Mayall moved to Dunedin at the start of the year to take up the Fellowship, accompanied by his wife Courteney and two-year-old son Wolfgang (a fitting name for the son of a Mozart Fellow!) He has taken time out from his PhD in Music Composition – which explores ways to merge different genres of music – at the University of Waikato to take up this prestigious opportunity.

Coming up with Flutter

He says he and his family love exploring the city and its surrounds, and he has already found the landscape influencing his work.

This latest piece was prompted by a trip to visit the butterflies soon after they arrived.

“When we went there I was struck by the space and the atmosphere, and it inspired the idea of doing a performance there.”

His initial thought wasn’t for a multisensory performance, but the idea gradually evolved.

“As a musical performance it will be quite odd anyway, I mean it is in a rainforest not a concert hall. In this room the audience can move around and they can look where they want. They will be feeling the humidity of the room, and smelling the damp rainforest. It made sense to engage all the senses.”

A fan of Dunedin’s Saturday Farmers’ Market, Mayall approached Matthew Cross of The Tart Tin who sells the French delicacy macarons, and asked him if he would like to join the project.

“He has customised three different macaron flavours, which are to be eaten to coincide with different parts of the music,” Mayall explains. “Eating them will be triggered by different coloured lights, so the audience will eat the green macaron when they see the green light for example.”

Sound a matter of taste

It’s hard to believe, but as far as Mayall knows, a multisensory performance like this hasn’t been done before.

The closest thing he knows of are “scratch and sniff” films, where people could scratch a piece of card to release a scent during a film – as in the 1981 movie Polyester.

But the relationship between sound and taste is complex and well researched, with studies showing that high pitched sounds make food taste sweeter, and low pitched sounds make it taste more bitter.

In aeroplanes the white noise is so loud that it makes normal food taste bland – so aeroplane food is ultra-flavoured.

“The white noise seems to mute the taste receptors,” Mayall says. “If you ate aeroplane food in the real world it would be like an explosion of flavour.”

All of this will be applied in Flutter. Towards the end of the performance there are high notes, to echo the fluttering, floating flight of butterflies. At this point the audience will taste a sweet macaron.

The show will be performed twice on Saturday night, once at 8pm then again at 8.30pm.

As well as Flutter, the show features the premiere of a song cycle Mayall has written in collaboration with the 2014 Robert Burns Fellow, Majella Cullinane, called Cut Away the Masts. This piece is based on The McIlrath Letters, a series of letters which were written by two brothers, James and Hamilton McIlrath who emigrated from County Down in Ireland to New Zealand in 1860, and wrote back to their family there for over 50 years.

Mayall on the Mozart Fellowship

Mayall isn’t someone to do anything by halves. He doesn’t just have a beard, he is a “beardsmith” and the co-founder of the New Zealand Beard and Moustache Appreciation Association (NZBMAA). He also holds numerous world records for competitive food eating – such as being the fastest person to drink two litres of chocolate milk. Just over a minute in case you were wondering.

Likewise, he has thrown himself into his time on the Mozart Fellowship.

“It’s great, a real privilege to be able to focus on creative work full time,” he says. “For the first few months, and still sometimes now, it seems quite surreal that I can go to an office and create.

“I’m trying to make the most of it – collaborating with the other Arts Fellows, recording work, writing film scores, and working with staff in the Music Department. I am stoked to have it for another year.”

Looking ahead to next year

Next year will see him building on what he has already achieved. He is looking forward to meeting the 2015 Fellows and seeing if any wish to collaborate.

In addition, in February he will travel to Base Camp on Mount Everest, as part of the Step Higher Award, which promotes leadership excellence and provides a unique experience for Scholars that reinforces the leadership elements of the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship Programme, and will inspire them to go on and make a difference in the world. He will get to see first-hand the humanitarian work happening there.

And of course he plans to take a sound recorder with him to document the sounds of the place. Who knows what compositions this interesting, quirky, and inspirational young man will create with them.

The details:

The world premiere of two new pieces: Flutter and Cut Away the Masts
Where: Tropical Rainforest, Otago Museum
When: Sat 29 Nov, 8pm and 8.30pm
Booking is essential and tickets are limited. Book via Otago Museum Information Desk, Ph: 474 7474, www.otagomuesum.govt.nz