Peter Knight on ‘Diomira’

It is only recently that Peter Knight was featured here, talking about his adventurous outfit, Way Out West. In the meantime, not only did he tour with his other project, The Australian Art Orchestra, launching a new album, which is now up for an ARIA Award, but he also set out for a whole new venture, a work inspired by one of the greatest works of european literature, Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’. (If you haven’t read the book, by the way, drop whatever it is that you’re doing, go to your local bookstore or library and get a copy; if they don’t have it, yell at them. Better yet, order a copy online from here or here and help us pay our bills, while you’re at it*).

Named after the first of the cities in the book, ‘Diomira’ will be presented on Saturday at the Melbourne Festival. So, at least one follow-up question was in order. Here goes:

Q: Mr Knight, have you ever been to Diomira?

A: Does Diomira even exist? I don’t think so. It’s an imaginary city. In the book, Marco Polo is recounting these cities to the King but I think they are all imaginary and they are all chimaeras. I wasn’t trying to represent the story, either. I’m really interested in the very particular feeling that you’re left with, after reading a piece of dense literature like that, rather than the actual narrative itself.

I made music inspired by other literature as well, like e.e.cummings, who evokes a very particular space in me and it is very interesting to try to then think about music from that space and try to imagine music for that space. With Calvino, it’s kind of similar; I love the story, when I read it, it kind of phases me and kind of confuses me, so I like to try to imagine music that would try to match this; it’s more of an intuitive process than anything else.

I’m really interested in the way that Calvino delves into the fallibility of memory, for instance in passages like this:

“But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a womans voice cries ‘ooh!’, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”

This strange sense of yearning and of trying to capture the essence of a memory and understanding that memory is fallible and you can never really re-experience something as it was, I was interested in that and interested in the way that music can communicate that gradual decay of memory. So the piece is kind of about patterns and the decay of patterns, it’s about memory and the beauty of decay.

Peter Knight | Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis

I started this project a year ago, to create a new piece for the Metropolis new music festival. At first, it was a 15 minute piece, but during that process, I realised that there was a lot that I could do with the idea, that it would work under a much longer duration.

I was lucky enough to win the Albert H. Maggs composition award for that first 15 minutes and I used it to write the longer version, which premieres on Saturday at the Melbourne Festival. I also had the opportunity to commission a filmmaker to make video art for it. Scott Morrison has made an extraordinary work, responding to the music with images. He’s been able to listen and make a video very closely in relation to the music.

The video starts off with quite strong patterns of eyes and other things and gradually you see them so much, that they start looking really strange. You know that thing, when you hear a word over and over again and the word starts sounding strange? Similarly, when you see a thing over and over again, it starts to morph into something else. Scott Morrison and I worked up this kind of theme of the eye. Memories kind of enter the eye in a sense and burn into the visual cortex.

The text itself is also partly heard. There are some recordings we did, which were cut onto dub plates that are played on turntables, of the text being whispered by Georgie Darvidis, who provides the vocal part of the piece – it is mostly wordless, but very critical.

The piece ends with a field recording of my son, when he was about five or six and I suppose it relates a little bit to the experience of being a parent and being very aware of change and time, in a way that is different than moving. You can go along in life and see that things are pretty unchanging and stable and then a kid comes along and you become aware of the passage of time, because everything changes so quickly. I was inspired by that event and that experience.

Diomira – Australian Art Orchestra from Australian Art Orchestra on Vimeo.


Diomira’ will be presented on Saturday at the Melbourne Festival

*[ is affiliated with Booktopia and Angus & Robertson Bookworld]