Sarah Hopkins is a composer and performer specialized in "sound art" since 1976.
Sarah Hopkins was born in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, in 1958. Second daughter of well known conductor John Hopkins, she receives her basic musical education at the High School of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, where her family had moved in 1964.
After obtaining a Diploma of Arts in Music at the Victorian College of the Arts, where she studies between 1975 and 1979, she specializes in the soloist cello, New Music and experimental composition.
Tutored by professor and composer Richard Hames, she gets in touch with the music of the 1950s, and studies the music of John Cage, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, James Fulkerson, Luciano Berio, Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis and others. Also, she privately learns acrylic and watercolor painting, which allows her to combine her artistic and musical drives. All this will be reflected in her visual and graphic scores, influenced by her studies of diverse musical notations. This means that in her graphic scores different signs and symbols refer to different ways of sound performance, with additional explanations if needed, section by section, as seen for instance in her work "Cello Timbre" (1976).
In her picto-graphic scores abstract visual images (a picture, a photo or a drawing) are included, with or without any clues on their interpretation.
In her text scores, the artist may include a text which inspires the music to be performed in response to this text, or a re-interpretation of this same text in musical form, and/or detailed explanations to perform the work in question. And in her number scores, each performer may for instance have their cards with lists of numerals indicating the time between notes, therefore producing sounds distributed into changeable spatial patterns.
The artist also makes use of proportional or space-time notation, which allows for accuracy in pitch together with freedom of rhythm.
In her compositions Sarah explores a wide range of forms and sounds, while at the same time perfecting her cello technique. Likewise, Hopkins develops new musical notation models, and creates multitrack cello works, performance pieces and a variety of free improvisations.
This versatility Sarah is so keen on is no doubt reflected in her interdisciplinary works and various collaborations. The composer works with different visual artists and choreographers, like for instance Jacek Grzelecki, with whom she develops her multimedia performance "Enactment" (1981), a piece where she combines video, sound and tape collage, and live musical performance.
Sarah has been in several occasions resident artist in different Australian schools, colleges and community artistic institutions, which often serves her as inspiration to create new works and performances. Furthermore, her works have been recorded for different radio stations, and the artist has toured Australia, America and Europe in several occasions.
In 1976 Hopkins becomes a member of the New Music Ensemble of the VCA, The Victorian Time Machine, founded by Richard Hames this same year. It is then when she begins to perform a great deal of innovative scores and to compose her own works and cello improvisations.
In 1977 Hopkins performs solo the work "Projections" by James Fulkerson, originally for chamber orchestra. The artist re-creates this work by using these innovative notations and multitrack applications, together with a color spectrum/chromatic scale system, all this combined with 11 slides to provide the visual part of the performance, which marks her beginnings as a New Music composer.
Hopkins completes two years of postgraduate studies at VCA, specializing in the application of electronic sounds to the cello. Still collaborating with the Victorian Time Machine, she tours her country with an extensive New Music program, collaborates with several film makers, dancers, painters and performance artists, and is resident artist at various institutions.
In 1980-81 Hopkins receives an International Fellowship from the Music Board of the Australia Council, which allows her to continue touring abroad, visiting over 20 European countries. She works with different improvisers, such as Maggi Nicols, Derek Bailey and Mario Sanco, and several of her works are recorded for the Dutch radio in 1980. Also, she participates in different New Music events such as the Fete Musicale de La Sainte-Baum in 1980, an academic studio in Darmstadt and an improvisation festival sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Art from London in 1981. It is in this city where the artist joins for a time the theatre feminist collective "Cunning Stunts", participating in over fifty performances in Europe. Her most remarkable work in this sense, called "The Opera", played by nine women from different backgrounds (from circus to the visual arts, gymnastics, dance and music), explores new ways to define and present the image of womanhood.
In 1980 she travels to Bremen to participate in the Pro Musica Nova Festival, and it is there where she contacts Mongolian chant and harmonic singing, based on the techniques of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, which allow to sing in two voices at the same time, creating ethereal melodies in a very high register, an effect Hopkins reproduces with her cello, by means of the technique she calls "harmonic bowing".
In 1981 she goes back to Australia, and since then she develops new forms of musical expression. Sarah Hopkins expands her musical skills taking her creativity to the production of new, innovative sound source, as seen in her inventing what she christens as "whirly instruments" and "sound kites" (kites that create sounds as they fly), as well as the installation of large scale musical environments. One of her projects, "Whirliworks", initiated in 1982, illustrates the use of these "whirly instruments", built with corrugated hoses of different lengths and diameters, tuned and played into a variety of percussive and melodic styles, which produce sound as they are whirled through the air, very much like certain aboriginal instruments. One of the works in which the artist collaborates with this technique is "Wind Music For Earth And Sky", together with choreographer Beth Shelton.
In late 1981, Hopkins visits Darwin as Musician in Residence at the Brown's Mart Community Arts Centre, and tours the country for three months for the NT Arts Council. There she meets her future husband, whom she marries in 1982.
Two years later she founds the Darwin Whirliworks Ensemble, a group of six musicians from different backgrounds with whom she composes "Interweave".
Hopkins collaborates in yet another three projects with dancer and choreographer Beth Shelton together with composers Ros Bandt and Elwyn Dennis, at the Victorian College of the Arts. Another community project, "Eclipse" (1986), for the "handbell choir" of the Nightcliff High School, is inspired by a spectacular mooon eclipse.
Hopkins has collaborated as a cello performer with several Autralian musicians and New Music composers, among these Ros Bandt, Jo Truman, Leigh Hobba, Colin Offord and Peter Carolan. She has released several pieces under the label Soundworks between 1981 and 1986.
By mid 1981 she develops an interest in structured acoustic improvisations, which permits her to express herself with a lively spontaneity. Since then, she chooses to compose under this viewpoint, centering her work in essentials and not using more or less notes than the necessary ones.
In 1980 and 1981 she collaborates with the London Musicians Collective (LMC), who organize several improvisation sessions and concerts. Among her cello works mention must be made of "Cello Chi" (1986), premiered at the 1986 Sydney Biennale, and recorded by the ABC. This piece was conceived as a "journey through sound", inspired in the aboriginal rhythms of her lands, which includes the use of the didgeridoo, harmonic singing and all the innovative techniques that the artist has been developing throughout her career.
In 1984 she initiates her series of "sound kites" in collaboration with the kite specialist Sharon Pacey. Both artists design sound generating kites as they fly. Their best creation is the "singing stunter", a dual-control kite made from sail cloth and fibreglass, whose spine supports an attached "whirly instrument" to produce song and weave melodies as it floats in the air. This gives rise to three projects, two of them are performed at the NT (in 1984 and 1985), and the third one at the Orange Arts Festival in 1985. Another piece, "Bellworks" (1986), includes the use of cathedral bells and handbells.
In one of her works, Hopkins collaborates with composer Alan Lamb and choreographers Beth Shelton and Trevor Patrick for an interdisciplinary large scale project, "Sky Song", where she incorporates movement, cello, voice and music produced by means of resonating wires and "whirly instruments".
(By Montse Andreu)