Michael Norris wins the 2018 SOUNZ Contemporary Award with a concerto for throatsinger and chamber ensemble

Wellington composer and NZSM Composition Programme Director Michael Norris has won the 2018 SOUNZ Contemporary Award with Sygyt, for throatsinger, ensemble and live electronics - a work crossing both musical and cultural boundaries.

Michael Norris

Composer, Arts Foundation Laureate and Icon Award recipient, and three-time SOUNZ Contemporary Award winner Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead presented the Award at the 2018 APRA Silver Scroll Awards held at Spark Arena in Auckland on Thursday 4 October.

The SOUNZ Contemporary Award, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, recognises New Zealand compositions demonstrating outstanding levels of creativity and inspiration and has been presented in collaboration with APRA AMCOS NZ since 1998.

This was Norris’ fifth nomination for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, which he won in 2014 with Inner Phases. The Wellington-based composer, software programmer and music theorist teaches composition, sonic arts and post-tonal music theory at the New Zealand School of Music -Te Kōkī and is editor of Wai-te-ata Music Press. He is also the Co-Director of Stroma New Music Ensemble, who commissioned the winning work.

Sygyt was written for Wellington based throatsinger Jonny Marks, singer of the experimental band The All Seeing Hand.

“The richness of Jonny’s improvisational practice kickstarted the piece, and provided me with a great pool of material to work with. I discovered he had great pitch, could quickly switch between the different styles of throatsinging, and could pluck a seventh harmonic out of the air at will.”

The work explores and imitates the two styles of Tuvan throat singing, sygyt and kargyraa, bringing together the traditional Tuvan singing with Western music. Norris said Sygyt was one of the ‘funnest’ pieces he has ever written and he even had to create a new way of notating music for the singing style, which is usually improvised and not-notated.

“The piece was written quite naturally and rapidly thanks to the aural phenomena of Jonny’s deep ‘kargyraa’ and high, whistling ‘sygyt’ techniques that kept me excited throughout the creative process. I amplified and enlarged his voice with bass trombone, detuned viola, cello, and double bass (amongst other instruments), acting as extensions of the natural overtone series of his voice. I also transformed his singing with real-time spectral processing that sustained and further transposed his vocal sonorities into deep, rich drones."

SOUNZ Executive Director Diana Marsh said, “Ngā mihi nui, congratulations, Michael. Once again the winning work, ’Sygyt’, brings different musical traditions together, bridging art forms and cultures to make something new and exciting. This is a quality that fully demonstrates the essence of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, which for twenty years has been awarded to celebrate New Zealand composition, and the composers who dare to explore news ways of expressing their creativity."

The winning work was selected by a judging panel of independent industry representatives including an international judge Annea Lockwood (USA/NZ) and New Zealanders Justine Cormack, Bridget Douglas, Ronan Tighe and Kenneth Young. This year, over 50 works were entered by 37 composers, demonstrating the high quality of New Zealand composition with compelling, stylistically broad in range and fascinating works.

The winners of the other awards were:

APRA Silver Scroll: Marlon Williams - Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore

APRA Maioha Award: Ria Hall, Tiki Taane, Te Ori Paki -Te Ahi Kai Pō

APRA Best Original Music in a Series: Conrad Wedde, Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott - Cleverman

APRA Best Original Music in a Feature Film: David Long - McLaren

NZ Music Hall of Fame: Jenny Morris