Blog / Working in the company of Arvo Pärt

Working in the company of Arvo Pärt

Posted on 22 Jan 2019 by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Photograph of dark and light contrast in clouds by Amiel Courtin-Wilson
Photograph by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

“I remember very vividly that duelling state I was in: not only could I not stop writing but I also couldn’t write fast enough. As soon as the album finished, I hit repeat.”

The line I go to is Simone Weil’s: “There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty. The other is affliction.” Always, this quote makes me think of Arvo Pärt’s body of work – and certainly it has existed for me as a body, as a weight on my chest, as breath, as sunlight.


Arvo Pärt’s music has led me to a place of peace in times of utter chaos. At first, the peace was an unexpected balm. Later, an oft-sought and always reliable sense of the sublime. For me, even in the most delicate moments of his work there is a sense of great violence – a wound preceding the rebirth, a forest fire still felt in the charcoal.


The first time I heard Pärt, I had no idea who I was listening to. I was living with six other people on the floor of an old office building at 401 Swanston Street, Melbourne. It was 1998 and I was 19 years old.


It was a burnt CD-R of Pärt’s first ECM recording in 1984, called Tabula Rasa – a piece he had composed in the late 70s after a period of “artistic reorientation”. My Latvian friend, the artist Emile Zile, had given me the CD-R without telling me anything about it. He had drawn the name of the album in red and black marker in a dramatic geometric font.


With no context, the two scrawled words on the CD-R – “ARVO”, then “PART” – looked like a Dadaist pseudonym or an anagram. I put the disc in my CD player and listened to the album from start to finish while writing a screenplay I was working on at the time. I remember very vividly that duelling state I was in: not only could I not stop writing but I also couldn’t write fast enough. As soon as the album finished, I hit repeat. The music was so unsettling and so profoundly cinematic that it triggered a geyser of images in my mind.


I felt the ache in his music – the reaching outside of oneself for a thing that has always existed. There was a sense of inevitability – like an eclipse of the sun, or the moon in orbit. Yet his music was also alive with upheaval and invasion. I imagined a huge drill heading straight for the centre of the Earth.


I continued to listen. And I wrote down what his music showed me.


Ten years later, I had grown up with Arvo Pärt’s music. I once listened to his music continuously for eight hours while writing a screenplay and found in its repetition the foundation for an unbridled outpouring of ever intensifying emotion.


I am obsessed with the seemingly endless energy contained in the structures of Pärt’s music – an energy that is so boundless, so generous and forthcoming in its effect on the listener. Music created with such pure intent demands an expanding space inside your body – it demands a contemplative space with which very little else can compete. It is a music so full, so alive with spirit and intent, that it dissolves and dominates everything it touches. It contains the universe.


I feel this is something to do with the idea that his music exists at the very source of creation. It is like a naturally occurring mineral, a beautiful ancient engine transcribed without any pollutants. As Tesla experienced the universe through vibration, so does Pärt hover with mercury at the mouth of the machine. I thank him for his gift.

This is an excerpt from our Arvo Pärt & JS Bach concert program, which is available for free at every concert throughout this tour. Amiel Courtin-Wilson is an artist and filmmaker. His feature films include Bastardy, Chasing Buddha, Hail, Ruin and The Silent Eye.

The national tour commences in early February with performances in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Full details and tickets available via the link below.