Music - Damien Ricketson

When Damien Ricketson embarked on his mission to create ‘Secret Noise’, a performance based on the theme of secrecy in music, he was astounded by the many ways people had tried to hide music from listeners. Ricketson mused on the challenges of inviting an audience to a performance where the core theme is the private and hidden.

By Tim Groenendyk

Damien Ricketson

“The way we assume knowledge and experience it is not only through the written word.” Lecturer Damien Ricketson

“As a musician and listener of music I’ve often found that the music that I engage with or enjoy I discovered in curious other places,” said Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Damien Ricketson, lecturer in Composition and Contemporary Music Studies.

“I got interested in discovering this whole world of music that is not actually made for public consumption.”

Ricketson began delving deeper into the world of secret music, uncovering a multitude of cultural practices that, for one reason or another, shielded music from public life, from sacred forms of ceremonial music to ‘legally extinguished’ compositions, to backmasking and personalised music players.

“I went down a bit of path to find all these different forms of making music that were not to do with, necessarily, commercial consumption in a sort of a traditional sense.”

Ricketson has assembled a creative team for Secret Noise consisting of dancers, actors and musicians who would also be creative contributors to the work.

“This will end up in some kind of very unusual production with overtones of secrecy. Which is slightly contradictory given that we will perform it for the public in the end.”

With financial assistance from the Australia Council, The City of Sydney and an internal grant from the SCM Ricketson hopes to develop the work over the Summer with his creative team.

“I’ll have written a lot of the music by then, but I would also work through a lot of the other ideas and see where they go on site in this development period.”

Secret Noise continues Ricketson’s exploration of the notion of incomplete knowledge, where the performer is given a piece of music that is not definitive (either because the composition is missing parts or has been ruined) and requires creative interpretation from the performer.

“Which partly means the work will always be different every time it’s performed and the performers have a level of ownership of the project.

“And also, on a more philosophical level, lends a view of the world which is very pluralist – that there is not a single, truth or reality just multiple perspectives.”

For Secret Noise Ricketson takes this a step further encouraging the audience to engage with the performance.

“I have been interested in changing ways in which the public engages in, not just artworks but other things like secret restaurants.

“Even the way that my students share music there’s often a notion of exclusivity or rarity.”

To lend Secret Noise the element of exclusivity Ricketson plans to distribute unique plis cachetés (sealed envelopes) to audience members prior to the event, giving them access to one-off secret performances.

“Rather than being a spectator in some giant event, each individual audience member has a unique, personalised kind of experience, which they actually have to work on to get. They’re not just an entirely passive participant,” Ricketson explained.

Although the theme of private music making was the impetus for Secret Noise over the course of Ricketson’s research he was drawn to many different areas knowledge, including musicology, history, cultural studies, and instrument building.

“My practice or the creation of a work involves research at multiple levels. And I think that the expression of that research doesn’t have to be a journal article or a book, it can be very many things in the now increasingly creative, content rich world that we live in.

“The way we assume knowledge and experience it is not only through the written word.”

To catch a glimpse of Ricketson’s latest work Ensemble Offspring, a music collective he co-directs, will appear at the Sydney Festival, performing a new project called Ligeti Morphed.