• 14 min

Programme Note

‘Aboriginal people in the rocky environments of western and south-western Arnhem Land relate stories of spirits which they call mimih. The Mimih taught the first people how to survive on the Arnhem Land plateau and also instructed them in dance, song and art. Mimih are still depicted in a popular form of wooden sculpture thought to be an adaptation of artefacts used in ancient mortuary ceremonies. The sculptures are regarded by the Aboriginal communities as a way of sharing their way of life with the outside world whilst also containing complex references to their cultural traditions. The Maningrida people describe the Mimih as extremely thin, having necks so slender that a stiff breeze would be fatal. For this reason they emerge to hunt only on windless days and nights. As soon as a breeze develops, Mimih run back to their rocky caverns and disappear inside.’ (Copyright: Maningrida Arts and Culture in the catalogue of Australian Indigenous Art Exhibition 2017, Sculpture Park Wesenberg.)

The work is in six sections that run continuously: Mimih’s Song (a melody collected by anthropologist, Domeny de Rienzi in 1830, entitled by him as Air australien des sauvages de la terre d’Arnheim); Sunrise over Maningrida; Mimih’s Song Heralds the Dawn Chorus (with transcriptions of Northern Territory Pied Butcherbirds, Yellow Orioles and Rainbow Pittas); Mimih Dances with the Birds; The Birds and the Mimih Dance with the First People (fast, quirky music underpinned by the clapsticks, based on an Arnhem Land tune called Truganinni’s Song); Mimih’s Last Song at Sunset (Lament) - a final meditation on the post-colonial destruction of much Aboriginal culture with the clapsticks now absent from the landscape.

Mimih's First Song was commissioned as part of my Residency with Künstler Bei Wu, its first performance taking place on 30 June 2018 with Concerto Brandenburg conducted by Christian Dallmann. The Residency was supported by an Arts Council England/British Council International Development Grant and a Performing Rights Society Foundation Composers Fund Award. © Sadie Harrison 2018.