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Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space

by Australian Art Orchestra | Peter Knight | Tilman Robinson | Andrea Keller

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An elegy to the victims of WW1 created by three of Australia’s most fascinating composers and commissioned by the Australian Art Orchestra.

Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger than Space is a suite of three works that each respond to intimate accounts of lives remembered in fine grain detail away from the thrust of battle as recounted in the 100 Stories archive edited by Bruce Scates.

Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger than Space premiered in 2018 at the London Jazz Festival, and at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues for the centenary of Armistice Day. We are proud to announce the long-awaited release of studio recordings of this music beautifully engineered by Jem Savage.

The Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) has been commissioning, performing, and recording music for 25 years, from notated works with master composers to free-wheeling visions of spontaneous energy that harness the power of collective improvisation. The AAO works with a wide range of musicians from western and non-western backgrounds and in the last 5 years the output has been prolific. To celebrate this creative period, the AAO will be releasing a range of new recordings in 2020 and 2021.

Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space is the first of this series and includes three multi movement works:

SHARP FOLDS - Words and music composed by Peter Knight (2018)

Sharp Folds imagines a parent’s grief.

"Garry Roberts and his wife Berta never recovered from the loss of their son, Frank, who was killed in action in September 1918. I was struck by the image of Garry sleeping in his son’s bed for months after receiving that terrible news in the hope he might ‘feel his son’s presence again’. This all-consuming grief did not subside. Garry spent the rest of his life ‘making memory’ through working each day on scrap books and collections devoted to his son’s life. He and Berta travelled to France to visit his grave near Pèronne and even raised a statue in his honour on the spot where Frank died at Mont St Quentin. Nothing assuaged their despair though, and 100 Stories records Garry dying in 1933 still mourning the loss of his son.

Bruce Scates mentions the ‘tide of grief’ that was set in motion by the Great War that washed through communities for decades after the war. As a parent of a teenage boy I find myself imagining mums and dads like Garry and Berta saying goodbye to their young boys.

I imagine them trying to be brave at the moment of parting, and my mind goes to what it must have been like to wait, then to hear that their precious child would never return. These are not the stories of heroism in the face of impossible odds, mateship, and noble causes that drive the nation building myths that perpetuate war. These stories are the reality of war." - Peter Knight

1. Sharp Folds Teeth Right Held Tight Sleep
Bright Skin Mouth Taut Gold Set Soft Eyes
Packed Nice Hair Straight Pale Hands Clean
Sand Clouds Neat Lines Steel Feet Blue Smile Breath Warm Proud Pressed Still Air Dust Light Neat Bed Cut Boots Cool Sun Blood Chest Brave Lost Eyes

2. Warm Blade Tight Lines Brute Love Shoes Hard Ink Dream Moon Flesh Mud Frost Leaves Hair Clean
Bone Touch Cold Kissed Proud Pressed Cold Kissed

3. Soft Blast Bright Night Hand Dirt Laced Steel Crisp Shirt Flame Mist Hair Touched Smile Straight Eyes Cold

4. Clean Gaze Stars Torn Dark Eyes Wind Salt Soap Dust Warm Hands Fly Child...

5. Blood Mist Lead Hands Wide Eyes Bone Dance His Smile Blue Sky Grey Street White
Card Lead Hands

I WAS ONLY A CHILD - Composed by Tilman Robinson (2018)

I was Only a Child... remembers those that entered the war (and often exited this mortal plane) as children; lying on their enlistment form to say they were 18 when in fact they were younger. Recruiters largely turned a blind eye and welcomed them into the ranks. The piece contains a sample of an unknown school student conducting an interview with an unknown WW1 veteran.

“It was the natural thing for anybody” claims the veteran interviewed in this piece. But why did Australian boys feel compelled to fight and die for the ideals of their elders; older men from thousands of miles away who threw them uncaringly into the fray? Were they proving their worth as men?

The interview repeats and phrases lose their meaning, becoming instead rhythmic material. Words become melodies, and the meaning of the words is lost as clarity dissolves. War becomes the subject of nostalgia as humans struggle to make sense of destruction. The words’ meanings are lost, and the world reforms its powder kegs - first in the 1930s and repeating over & over until the present day. Calamity verges on repeating. We have learned nothing from our broken children.

In memory of Maud Butler (17), Bernard Haines (14), Rowley Lording (16), Samuel Mellor (17), Rufus Rigney (16) and George Seager (17), whose childhoods were destroyed, and whose lives are described in World War One: A History in 100 Stories.

BENT HEART - Composed by Andrea Keller (2018)

Bent Heart reflects four stories of women whose lives were inexorably impacted by World War I, either through their service, or the service of those they loved.


For Olive Pink - a woman ahead of her time, she moved to Alice Springs and was an advocate for the environment and the rights of Aboriginal people. Olive lost her love in the Great War and never re-partnered. Every ANZAC Day long before the service commenced, she placed a bunch of native flowers at the foot of the town’s war memorial. She lived to be 91.

Text/Lyric: “Bearing grief alone, needing no words, nursed in reverent silence.”


For Mary Chomley - who established the Red Cross POW department. She referred to the POW’s as her “big family of boys”, and packed and delivered parcels and letters to them, creating a lifeline to Australia. The soldiers claimed she kept them alive, “we will treasure you forever in our memories”. Credit for the POW department was given to a man.

Text/Lyric: “Angels. Treasured Angels. In our memories for ever.”


For Margaret Broadhurst & Rachel Pratt – two vastly different stories connected, however, through shared experiences of profound loss, fear and loneliness.

Margaret Broadhurst was abandoned by her fiancé who fell in love with a British nurse during his time wounded in the war. In her words, he had left her “a broken doll.” At that time, female fulfilment was only seen as being possible through becoming wives and mothers. The war had created a surplus of women due to a lost generation of men; the women that never married because of the war were described as ‘imaginary widows’. Margaret sued her ex-fiancé upon his return, and won.

Rachel Pratt was a nurse. “She wrote hundreds of letters home to Britain, New Zealand and Australia, assuring grieving mothers that the sons they loved had not died alone, had not died in pain, had died bravely.” Severely wounded herself in a bombing attack, she continued to nurse her patients until she collapsed. She was awarded the Military Medal ‘for bravery under fire’ (the first Australian woman to receive the Military Medal, and one of the few nurses to be decorated), but enjoyed little of the limelight. She never recovered from her injuries and upon her return developed what the medical authorities called ‘war neurosis’. Admitted to hospital for the mentally ill in 1938, she died there in 1954, never having returned to civilian life. Every ANZAC day she is celebrated as a hero, but only half her story is told.

Text/Lyric: “Depressed and melancholic... Worried the whole of her waking hours... Unable to face anything... Lost all self-confidence... Has no companionship... No practical purpose in life... suicidal... Prospects of ultimate recovery must now be regarded as improbable”. (Quotes from doctors’ assessments of Rachel Pratt).


Epilogue - a prayer for all.

Text: “Cry heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life.”

Text taken from Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, illus. by Charlotte Pardi, and translated by Robert Moulthrop. Used with permission from Enchanted Lion Books.

With an emphasis on improvisation, the multi award winning Australian Art Orchestra explores the meeting points between disciplines and cultures, and imagines new musical forms to reflect the energy and diversity of 21st century Australia.

Over the past 25 years, the AAO has released a series of landmark recordings, including the celebrated album Ruby (AAO Recordings, 2005), featuring Archie Roach and the late Ruby Hunter, the ARIA nominated Water Pushes Sand (Jazzhead, 2017) by Erik Griswold, featuring Szechuan master musicians, Crossing Roper Bar Vol 2 The Ghost Dances (AAO Recordings, 2014) featuring the Young Wägilak Group, and The Chennai Sessions (AAO Recordings, 2009), featuring the legendary Guru Kaarakkudi Mani from India.


released November 11, 2020

Peter Knight - composition/trumpet/electronics
Andrea Keller - composition/piano
Tilman Robinson - composition/electronics
Georgie Darvidis - voice
Lizzy Welsh - violin
Aviva Endean - bass clarinet
James Macaulay - trombone
Jacques Emery - bass
Simon Barker - drums

Recorded and mixed by Jem Savage
Mastered by Joe Talia

AAO Artistic Director – Peter Knight
AAO Executive Producer - Jerry Remkes

Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space was made possible through financial support from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund, Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, City of Melbourne and the Ian Potter Foundation.


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Australian Art Orchestra Australia

With an emphasis on improvisation, the AAO explores the meeting points between disciplines and cultures, and imagines new musical forms to reflect the energy and diversity of 21st century Australia. The AAO explores the interstices between the avant-garde and the traditional, between art and popular music, and between electronic and acoustic approaches. ... more

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