Jessica Wells was born in Florida, USA in 1974 and migrated to Australia at the age of 11. She completed her Bachelor of Music degree in Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1996 and graduated with first class honours. This was followed by a Masters Degree in Composition under Dr. Bozidar Kos completed in 1998. After teaching composition at the Conservatorium for four years, she spent time living in Antwerp, Belgium and then returned to Sydney in 2003. She then completed a Masters in Screen Composition at the AFTRS (Australian Film, Television and Radio School) in 2005, and was awarded the Film Critic’s Circle Award for “Best Display of Technical Excellence” for her work on eight short films.
Jessica’s compositions cross many genres in the classical, commercial and film music worlds. She has worked for some of Australia’s best composers as an orchestrator, arranger and copyist.
Her orchestral music and arrangements have been performed by many of the major Australian orchestras (SSO, MSO, TSO, WASO and QSO). Her work Ainulindale was commissioned by Symphony Australia for the TSO in 2001 and was nominated in the APRA Classical Music Awards for “Best Orchestral Work” in 2002. Many of her works have been recorded and broadcast by the ABC, including The Eight Immortals which was the only Australian finalist in the prestigious Alexander Zemlinsky International Prize for orchestral composition in the USA.
Composer website: www.jessicawellscomposer.com.au
Eel in Green, for two marimbas.
Written for KARAK Percussion (two marimbas). This piece takes its name from a traditional Belgian dish – eel in a spinach sauce – and the reaction I had to it after eating it…. The piece requires the performers to move from one section of repetitive phrases to the next via silent communication. Thus the piece can have many different versions and lengths.
Featured in Playlist 3: Boundary-Crossing Waves (31/03/2015)
Muntu Walunga, for harp.
Muntu Walunga is a piece influenced by African mythology and the sounds of African thumb-pianos (mbiras – or “lamellaphones” to be precise!). These instruments produce a metallic percussive sound that has little resonance, and the music is typically fast and extremely rhythmic. In the piece the harp is asked to play using certain effects which imitate this sound, and the pitch material is based on six to eight-note cells (typical of the eight-note scales of the African mbiras). The pulse of the rhythmic sections is often in three which is also typical of mbira music.
From the book “African Mythology” by Jan Knappert, I learned that the Bakongo people of Zaire (central Africa) tell a myth of the creation of people: Nzambi (God) first created Mahungu “Breath”, a human being who was both male and female, and so: Muntu Walunga “The Complete Person”. It had the shape of a palm-tree with two heads. Wooden statuettes show the tree with breasts on one side, with a woman’s head, and on the other side a bearded head, the two coming out of a spathe, like a spadix emerging from a sheaf of a palm-leaf. This double person lived a happy life since it knew no jealousy or hatred, no desire or want. One day Mahungu saw the tree called Muti Mpungu, the tree of the Supreme Being. Mahungu went up to the tree trying to embrace it, but the tree split Muhungu into two equal personalities, who were henceforth called “Lumbu” (Man) and Muzita (Woman). After this event they always wanted to be together and to embrace one another.
Featured in Solo Waves – April 2016 (1/04/2016).
Squirrels in Hyde Park, for two marimbas.
This piece began without a title, but soon, as I was listening back to what I had written, the squirrels we encountered in London’s Hyde Park last month sprang to mind and wouldn’t let go. The title stuck!
The squirrels reminded me of my childhood days in New York….living on the 3rd floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn, a squirrel climbed up onto the fire escape outside our window. It was a zappy, nervous, and utterly cute creature which had my little brother and I peering out the window every spare moment hoping we’d see it again. We named it “Hungry” as it had tried to cart away a whole plastic container full of bread that we put out for it!
The Hyde Park squirrels were also zappy, nervous and utterly cute, and my husband Mike had so much fun when they creeped up around his outstretched hand, grabbed the offering and bolted for the nearest tree.
Kookaburra Sits in Antwerp Zoo…, for two marimbas.
How very sad. When arriving in Antwerp for our 12 month stay, we visited the local zoo – the oldest zoo in Europe. There were the usual suspects…tigers, lions and bears…but the birds were quite amazing. Amongst all the noisy silent plumed ugly spectacular weird tiny enormous varieties of birds we found a lone Kookaburra, sitting with its back to us on a perch in it’s own isolated cage.
The zoo was packed with people, so we found it slightly difficult to converse with the bird without getting strange looks from observers, but we tried. It moved its head a little when I tried to imitate it’s raucous laugh, but we got no vocal response.
The lonely Australian, segregated from it’s mates, hit a chord with my slight homesickness.
I sang the little song as I walked away.
Featured in the playlist Percussive Waves (April 2017)
Moon Fire, for Grand Carillon and electronic track
Moon Fire is inspired by a famous tale about a Belgian cathedral tower. Legend has it that on January 27th, 1687, in the town of Mechelen, a local looked up at St Rumbold’s tower and perceived it to be on fire. The townsfolk called the alarm and ascended the tower with buckets of water and anything they could muster to extinguish the blaze. Upon reaching the top of the tower it was discovered that there was no fire, but the blood red moon shining through the fog had created a mirage! Hence the Mechlians were jokingly referred to as Maneblussers (“Moon Extinguishers”) and even named a local beer after the legend.
Featured in Radiophonic Waves (March 2018).