WALLY GUNN is a composer whose work makes use of patterns and processes, and sometimes utilizes physical gesture and speech to heighten the theatricality of musical performance, creating music that is expressive and emotionally direct.
Hailing from a rural town in Australia’s southeast, Wally first began making music in his early teens, writing on a Casiotone keyboard for his electronic dance band, which never played a gig. After high school, he moved to Melbourne to join rock bands, and spent several years writing songs, recording albums, and performing shows around the country.
In 2002, Wally enrolled in the Victorian College of the Arts composition program, where he collaborated with students from the Film & Television, Art, and Dance Schools, and as a result of several collaborations with the Drama School, he developed an interest in composing for experimental theater. After graduating with honors, he worked with his friends and fellow composers Kate Neal and Biddy Connor in the new music organization Dead Horse Productions to stage concerts of their own and other composers’ music in unusual spaces around Melbourne. Wally wrote concert music for several Australian ensembles, including Atticus String Quartet, The Dead Horse Ensemble, Silo String Quartet, Speak Percussion, and Three Shades Black, and from 2005 – 2008 he also wrote original scores for a number of Melbourne theatre companies.
Wally moved to New York in 2008 to begin a masters degree in composition at the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Julia Wolfe, and he began writing concert music for US ensembles such as Dither Guitar Quartet, Ensemble Mise-En, Escher String Quartet, futureCities, Mobius Percussion, Red Shift, Roomful of Teeth, and Sō Percussion. His music has been performed at many US festivals, including Bang On A Can Summer Festival in MA, Carlsbad Music Festival in CA, and River To River Festival in NY. Maintaining his keen interest in theater, Wally composed original music for Manhattan-based The Actors Company Theatre.
In 2011, Wally began pursuing a PhD in composition at Princeton University, NJ, studying mostly with Steven Mackey and Daniel Trueman. In his first summer there, he participated in the Sō Percussion Summer Institute (SōSI), and the experience led Wally to write more percussion music, much of which includes gesture, speech, and other theatrical elements. Several of his percussion pieces have been featured at SōSI 2012 – 2015, at Neif Norf Summer Festival 2014, at TorQ Percussion Seminar 2015 in Canada, and most recently at the Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC) 2015.
A collaboration in 2012 with vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth and Melbourne poet Maria Zajkowski yielded three songs entitled ‘The Ascendant’ that the ensemble recorded and released on their album ‘Render,’ for which they received a Grammy nomination in 2015. The success of the collaboration prompted the commissioning of three more songs completed in 2016, and a release of the six songs together is forecast for fall 2018.
As part of Princeton Sound Kitchen’s initiative The Black Box Project in 2013 and 2014, Wally devised new work with Brooklyn-based experimental theater company Nothing To See Here, under the artistic direction of Laura Sheedy. He went on to become a company member in 2014, and together they created the piece ‘Long Distance’ in collaboration with Melbourne writer Scott Brennan.
Wally is the founder of a collective called Biome Project which is a long-term collaboration between artists from many different disciplines working together to create a multimedia portrait-of-place in unique natural environments all over the planet. Biome Project’s first excursion to collect and develop material was in August 2013, when the artists spent a week at Nanya Research Station in the South Western corner of New South Wales, Australia. This venture continues as a work in progress.
In recent years, Wally has received commissions from Brooklyn Youth Chorus, percussionist Becca Doughty, Gemini Duo, The Letter String Quartet (AU), the New Works For Percussion Project, Roomful of Teeth, guitarist Laura Snowden (UK), Steady State, Tala Rasa, Three (AU), and percussionist Jason Treuting. He has begun work on a multimedia theater and music piece about the Australian outlaw Captain Moonlite, which will be set in countryside close to the rural Australian town of Wally’s origin.
Wally divides his time between New York, NY, USA and Castlemaine, VIC, Australia.