Alice Keath, Slava Grigoryan and Leonard Grigoryan, produced by ABC Classic, 2021
ALICE KEATH: Objects and stories from Australian life.
MULTIPLE VOICES: This is us.
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: A telescope.
ALICE KEATH: I’m here with guitarists and composers Slava and Leonard Grigoryan. The National Museum of Australia has thousands and thousands of objects in its collection and you’ve chosen just 18 to respond to in music. Slava, which object did you have the strongest immediate connection to.
SLAVA GRIGORYAN: Each one of them exploded in different moments in our minds. But for Lenny and I the one that we always kept on talking about afterwards, which put a bit of pressure on us, was the Grubb telescope.
This telescope was basically set up in the backyard of a bank, by the bank manager in Port Macquarie, back in the mid-1800s. He was a bank manager by day and a mapper of the skies by night.
ALICE KEATH: William John Macdonnell was passionate about astronomy and in 1885 he used his savings to by a cutting edge telescope made by Thomas Grubb a couple of years earlier, in Dublin. It was shipped to Australia and set up in Macdonnell’s backyard observatory.
Before a night of observation Macdonnell would check the weather for clear skies, prepare his program for the night, then open the shutter in his wooden dome, wind the drive and begin exploring the southern skies. Mapping double stars and sunspots, observing the planets and the satellites of Jupiter.
SLAVA GRIGORYAN: His results were documented and sent through to London and I think, to this day, they’re some of the clearest markings of what actually transpired in the sky from that era.
ALICE KEATH: Macdonnell’s telescope is beautiful. Watching the internal cogs and gears turn is mesmerising — its own private universe.
How do you capture that sense of vastness and wonder in music?
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: That’s a good question, we’ll get back to you on that when we figure it out. [Laughs}
ALICE KEATH: How did you land on the final composition?
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: We’d be doing a sound check or something, we often like to just improvise and play around. As soon as anybody had any idea, we would always look to the sky and be going is that going to be the Grubb telescope?
We always knew that we wanted to explore with different colours in this project. In this case I always had a sense that this would sound nice on a 12-string guitar. For me the 12-string always has …
SLAVA GRIGORYAN: Sparkles like the stars.
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: Yes, it does, it sparkles. But it also has a slightly other-worldly texture to it — sense of space, of course. I think there is a sense of wonder in the melody as well. It’s quite repetitive, it feels like it’s something that could go on forever, like the universe.
ALICE KEATH: And here’s the music. This is ‘Southern Sky’.
[‘Southern Sky’ played by Leonard and Slava Grigoryan]
ALICE KEATH: ‘Southern Sky’ written and performed by the Grigoryan Brothers. I’m Alice Keath and This is us: A musical reflection of Australia was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to mark their 20th anniversary. Head to the ABC Classic website to view the objects, find out more and buy the Grigoryan Brothers album featuring all of the music in the project.
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Date published: 09 March 2021