The next part of my Churchill adventure was a 10 day residency at the Visby International Composers Centre. Despite having done a few residencies before, this was my first dedicated ‘ composition’ residency, and I had several works to embark on. This wonderful spot is really very precious, run smoothly and adeptly by Sten Melin, who I met at ISCM 2013, and his accomplice Jesper Elén. A wonderful complex of composition school and 4 residency rooms, the building is on the waterfront only meters from the Villa Carlqvist, once the Governor’s Caretaker’s Cottage, now the composers living quarters. The Centre provides two notation studios, an excellent electroacoustic studio and a piano studio, where I was situated. These lovely rooms are complimented by kitchen facilities (a great range of coffee makers and tea types) and a TV room. Myself and one of the other residents, US Jazz composer Alan Chan, planned a night of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman films here but I just ran out of time ( I had only seen the Seventh Seal, and loved it. But one his films, The Touch (1971), was actually filmed in Visby). This was also because I guarded my time so carefully here; it was such a great opportunity to have a focused time on some important commissions.
Visby is a small town on the Island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea - the only Swedish island not part of the archipelago. As a former Viking site, Visby was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic from the 12th to the 14th century. Its 13th-century walls and more than 200 warehouses and wealthy merchants' dwellings from that period make it the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe, and protected by UNESCO. Its almost intact city wall, winding small streets and location on the water make it a great place to escape
It was very quiet at this time of year, people emerging Wednesday - Saturday mostly, but everyone informed me in summer you can’t move for tourists. The people here were so friendly and welcoming, the food and restaurants fabulous, the peace overwhelming. I hope to come back for longer, in the winter dark. It was actually snowing the day after I arrived, but the flakes just turned to water on touchdown. For spring it was surprisingly cold, but by the time I left, it was warmer and clearer.
If I had more time, I would have investigated the island like a real tourist, rather, I attended a fair classical music concert at the library, whose glass wall overlooked the park and seas, and visited a LP store on one of my few visits outside the city walls, Gotland Records, where I found a few gems. The center had a few bikes for loan, so I took a few rides along the lengthy cycle path that follows the coast North. Being ‘in residence’ was a curious mix of timeless work, getting fresh air, coffee and amazing fish dinners. In some way, it could have been anywhere, but it could only have been there. Some marveled that I would come from Australia for this opportunity, but these kind of residencies are rare. There is a format to the time: the first day it seems necessary to complete nagging administrative tasks so you can liberate your creative spirit to ponder and experiment. I found it hard to keep to that, and not be tempted by nagging administrative things or future plans. But for the most part, web site updates, reports and grant applications were shuffled aside, at least for most of the time. The time difference between Australia and Sweden made keeping in touch with my family a bit of a challenge at times, especially to my free wheeling idea of time and desire for lack of routine.
I met an Italian composer from Treviso, Massimo Bassan, who I think was relieved to talk Italian to someone, and a young Brazilian composer, Leonardo Silver, who came not long before I left. Quite a variety of styles between us, and Sten informed me that the center also has songwriters and folk musicians. The fast Internet made Skype meetings a breeze, with family and collaborators. I was writing a piano work for Australian pianist Zubin Kanga, with whom we workshopped a new work between London and Visby. The work is pretty much completed, as was a work for the Chicago Modern Orchestra and the S.L.A.T.U.R ensemble in Iceland, my next destination. I began work on a percussion solo for Vanessa Tomlinson too, and a solo viola and electronics work that I’d been promising Decibel member Aaron Wyatt for some time. So a very productive 10 days. Then the visit to Chicago fell through, which meant I forfeited my hotel accommodation and had to pay to re-route my flights (and get back to administration again). But I quickly realized that the extra time in Paris was going to be well used, and this was to become even more obvious in my next destination, Reykjavik, Iceland. It was very difficult to leave, and like Stockholm, my hosts urged me to return. I’m never sure if this is politeness or something else, but I plan to take them on their word.
This visit was also assisted by the Australian Music Centre, and ISCM.