Some years ago composer Nick Wales and his friend, singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko, travelled to India for a holiday. They hoped it would be a journey of discovery. They weren’t disappointed.
“We met a psychic who said, ‘One day you two will work together’, and we just looked at each other and said, ‘OK, yep’ and didn’t think much of it,” Wales says.
The friends went on to work closely on Blasko’s 2012 album I Awake, and collaborated on a major work with Sydney Dance Company. Wales co-wrote two songs on Blasko’s recent album, Eternal Return.
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For Wales, a freelance composer and musician, collaborations are all about rapport. It’s a rule that has led to some fascinating partnerships and friendships with other creatives, such as choreographer and Sydney Dance Company artistic director, Rafael Bonachela, and choreographer Shaun Parker. He’s also worked with fashion luminaries Dion Lee, Carla Zampatti and Romance Was Born.
Wales began singing and playing violin aged nine, but his passion really flourished when he studied 20th-century composition in Year 10. His teacher encouraged the students to experiment with their own music.
“It was one of those light-bulb moments when I thought, ‘Oh my God, there are no rules!’ So I really got into music,” he says.
It was at Sydney University that Wales formed the electric-string, classical-rock-crossover band, Coda, made up of violin, viola, drums, bass and vibraphone. The critically acclaimed group regularly performed everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to Big Day Out and Sydney Festival.
Wales was on a musical retreat with Coda when he heard Shaun Parker needed a medieval fiddle player for his festival work, This Show Is About People. Wales got the gig, and continued to work with Parker on numerous dance-theatre works, including the multi-award-winning Happy As Larry.
“That was a real turning point,” he says. “The band thing was great, but there was only so far you could push, [so] it was great to find other avenues and new opportunities.
After listening to some of his Coda CDs, Blasko invited him and another Coda member to join her band for an 18-month national tour of As Day Follows Night, performing before thousands of fans at the Enmore Theatre and Splendour in the Grass.
Blasko then invited Wales to Sweden to work on the orchestral arrangements for her next album, I Awake.
Wales and Bonachela became friends in 2008 when Bonachela was invited to Sydney as a guest choreographer with Sydney Dance, to collaborate on a double bill with Parker and Wales. When Bonachela invited Wales to collaborate on his 2013 production Emergence, Wales suggested they involve Blasko, too.
Bonachela’s personal and professional friendship with Wales has continued ever since, and the pair has worked on five productions together. Their latest collaboration, Lux Tenebris [Latin for “light and darkness”] is, Wales believes, their best yet.
With a dark, electronic score, Lux Tenebris is an abstract work based around the idea that darkness can be beautiful. “This one feels different, we’ve really hit our stride and it feels like there’s a unity with both our visions,” Wales says.
The score incorporates everything from Wales’ own voice, recorded in a South Korean art gallery and samples of his 16-piece string composition, to bells, the plucked strings of a piano, even Weddell seals.
“I find inspiration wherever I am. Anything can be a sound, it doesn’t have to be an instrument playing.”
Wales doesn’t classify his music in genres. Instead he is inspired by the artists he works with. This applies to music he composes for the catwalk, or for film soundtracks (he composed the score for the Christina Ricci film, Around the Block (2013).
“It’s about collaborators, having a rapport with someone you’re working with,” he says. “It’s all about relationships.”
Lux Tenebris, part of the CounterMove double bill, is being performed at the Roslyn Packer Theatre February 26–March 12.