From his roots in Alice Springs (Mparntwe), composer Dave Crowe’s music makes waves country-wide.
Trading as a singer-songwriter, electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist, Crowe also makes music under the moniker Resin Moon. His work has been featured in ads for the Northern Territory Government, Mitsubishi Motors, and Medibank. He’s also the Director of Sing Hum, a record label that engages Australian artists and international collaborations.
On 18 November, Crow’s work for synthesiser and string ensemble To Face the Sun (Crimewaves) received its world premiere with the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra. He joins an esteemed lineup of composers commissioned by the orchestra over the years, including Elena Kats-Chernin, Hollis Taylor and Jon Rose; an impressive feat for both composer and ensemble alike.
Speaking to Limelight, Crowe says that the process of researching and writing a work that uses recent Alice Springs crime statistics to directly evoke bars, melodies and harmony has been a “confronting and challenging process”.
“I started out probing the coldness and negativity in the crime data, and the social repercussions of crime in our community,” he says.
“It’s a really big challenge here, and it’s been made nationally relevant this year, with some ubiquitous and very negative media coverage of crime in Alice Springs. It’s an issue that polarises our local community, with its underlying causes complex and deep-rooted through generations of disadvantage and cultural dissonance.”
His goal, Crowe notes, was to represent the “abstract, disconnected” nature of crime statistics when examining a social problem that’s so human at its core. Rather than following any single “ideological line” or trying to assuage an audience, he felt it important to stay true to his own emotions and thoughts about the crime challenge.
“In the end, I had to look very, very deep inside my own heart and conscience on why I wanted to write this work, and what I thought about the issue,” Crowe explains. “It all came down to a theme of ‘hope’. Much of the crime committed here is, many believe, stemming from a sense of hopelessness in our youth. So in the end I wrote a work that begins cold and distant and becomes warm and hopeful, to represent what is missing.”
Crowe encodes the numbers from the crime statistics within both the melodic and harmonic material in his work. You’ll be able to hear it from the opening arpeggiations from one of the synths featured in the piece – when, for example, the statistic ‘3424 offences of property damage’ is translated into the equivalent scale degrees – “mi-fa-re-fa”.
“There are some melodic motifs in the strings that are derived from crime statistics, and many harmonic choices were made this way,” Crowe says. “In the tail of the piece, I moved away from the numbers into a more emotionally-driven style of competition, to represent the human element and a sense of hope and positivity.”
Crowe performed with two analogue synths – a 1973 Minimoog, and the Korg Minilogue, a staple of many a modern synthesist’s collection. The process of pairing these with strings has been “a fascinating journey in itself” for Crowe, fine-tuning the boundary between natural and synthetic sound.
“The Minimoog has such a warm, natural timbre, it can be almost string-like in its sound,” he explains.
In his first draft, Crowe found a unity in the way synths and sustained strings could bleed together – a unity that ultimately works against music exploring the discrepancy between unsympathetic statistics and human nature.
“The aim was always to have the synths represent the coldness and disconnect. I wanted to bring out the contrast between the electronic and natural sounds.The final work leaves plenty of space for the synths to poke through, but there are also beautiful moments of synergy where the arpeggiator and string swells move together as one.”
After the premiere performance of To Face the Sun, Crowe’s work in the field doesn’t end. He’ll also be facilitating a series of youth music-making workshops for the local community in the hope to “offer something inspiring and positive” for young people.
“I have no illusions that my work may magically solve the crime problems here or address the underlying social determinants. Still, I hope it brings a sense of reflection and positivity to our community and inspires young people (especially via the workshop series) to explore music as a means of expressing and processing their emotions, especially the negative ones,” says Crowe.
“I hope these will be, in a small way, a way to offer something inspiring and positive for young people in our town.”