Motif explores my research on motif in Tongan music to achieve specific aesthetic and functional principles, and a proposed homology between Tongan musical and non-musical structures that is underpinned by motif and the philosophical nature of Tongan time (tā) and space (vā). It explores how motifs become a part of cultural memory, and how different motifs interact with one another to create meaning.
The ocean is adopted as a primary audio and visual motif representing the physical space of connection and separation between the Moana Oceania region and the West—specifically Tonga and Australia. Building on this motif, the work incorporates other symbols of transit, and transitional physical, psychological and emotional spaces. The aural and visual landscapes in the work represent my experience of the ‘space between’ these two cultures; a space of incessant journeying and fluctuation without reaching a destination, climax or resolution. Other visual motifs include flowers and hair braiding, which signify the transference of memory from one generation to another.
In this transitional space, the subject is in a constant state of negotiation between symmetrical and asymmetrical social, cultural and political values. The work expresses my internal experiences of the external world, by depicting experiences of shame, anxiety, confusion and fear of exclusion that can exist in this space. It highlights issues of mental health, disconnection and alienation that surround the silencing of these experiences, as well as the connection, unity and empowerment that can come from being heard. The music is in the style of a lament with cinematic elements. It is scored for string quartet, solo flute, piano and percussion, with electronic accompaniment. Field recordings of the ocean and vehicles in transit are also used. The work explores traditional elements of both Tongan and European music styles, such as tengihia (Tongan lament) and compositional techniques for developing motifs, in a contemporary electronic setting.
Still images focusing on interactions between the Moana Oceania region and the West are cast upon the physical landscape: personal photographs; colonial imagery; World War I and the Pacific War; blackbirding of 350 people from 'Ata atoll, Tonga in 1863; the Dawn Raids and the Polynesian Panther movement; Western religion; tourist iconography; popular culture; and American Hollywood movies such as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and Hawaii (1966).
Single-channel High Definition video
6 minutes, 47 seconds
16:9, colour, sound