(b Adelaide, 10 June 1945).Australian composer. From 1965 to 1967 he studied composition with Peter Tahourdin, Peter Maxwell Davies and others at Adelaide University; there an enduring interest in electronic music was aroused. In 1971 he went to Britain, undertaking postgraduate studies at York University, where he completed the DPhil. In 1974 Wesley-Smith returned to Australia to take up a position as lecturer in electronic music at the Sydney Conservatorium. Here he designed, developed and ran the Electronic Music Studio, a facility which has been central to the teaching of composition at the conservatorium and to the evolution of Wesley-Smith’s own compositions. In Sydney his reputation as a composer, teacher and administrator quickly grew, and he received part-time appointments to lecture in electronic music at Sydney’s other tertiary music institutions and (later) at Hong Kong University. He has been a member of various important music committees, principally those which focussed on the assessment of grants for composers at the Australian Music Centre and, since 1975, the Australia Council.
Apart from his work as a composer and lecturer, Wesley-Smith has been active as the founder of a number of contemporary music ensembles. These include Watt (1976), a performing group which pioneered audio-visual art in Australia using electronic music integrated with multiple computer-controlled slide projectors, and the Greenway Group (1993), a Sydney Conservatorium ensemble. His passionate concern for environmental and political issues is reflected in the activities of these and other groups and in a number of his compositions, principally the a cappella work Who Killed Cock Robin? (1979), the tape piece Vietnam Image (1969–70), and Quito (1994) an audio-visual music theatre composition, with a version for radio (1997). Quito, which in 1997 won the prestigious Paul Lowin Award, is one of a number of his works focussing on the East Timor situation.
Wesley-Smith is a prolific composer, with over 140 works extant. Although traditional forms including music theatre, songs, choral works, film scores and orchestral music obtain significant representation, music which involves the use of technology – tape, electronic, computer and multimedia compositions – dominates his output. One such piece, For Marimba and Tape (1982) is perhaps his most admired and frequently played composition, with many performances realized in Australia and internationally.
A strong element of fantasy permeates a number of Wesley-Smith’s compositions. This is reflected in his many songs and other compositions for children and particularly in a series of works inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll, including Doublets, Snark-Hunting and White Knight and Beaver and crowned by the widely acclaimed music theatre piece, Boojum!, with text by Peter Wesley-Smith, his twin brother and frequent collaborator.
Wesley-Smith is something of a rarity among contemporary Australian composers in that, since 1979, his music has reached an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. Before then his musical style, although distinctively personal, followed prevailing modernist trends. However, in Who Killed Cock Robin?, Wesley-Smith determined that the text demanded more traditional melodic and harmonic treatment. The resultant success of this work and others which followed came at a price for the composer, who came to be regarded by modernists as no longer a serious composer. Today, however, he is widely regarded as being in the vanguard of contemporary composition in Australia.
Stage: Pie in the Sky (children’s op, P. Wesley-Smith), 1968–71; The Wild West Show (children’s music theatre), 1971; Machine (children’s music theatre), 1972; Boojum! (music theatre, P. Wesley-Smith), 1985–6; Quito (audio-visual music theatre), 1994 [radio version, 1997]
Inst: Guitar Music 1, gui, 1973; Oom pah pah oom pah, pf, 1989; 3 Little Pf Pieces, 1991; On A.I. Petrof, pf, 1992; Visiting the Queen, mar, Yamaha Disklavier, 1992; Brother Jack, fl, cl, pf, vc, 1994; Janet, fl, mar, pf, 1995; 3 Pieces, 2 mar (4 players), 1996; White Knight Waltz, pf, 1996
Vocal (all set to texts by P. Wesley-Smith): To Noddy-Man, high v, pf duet, 1969; Who Killed Cock Robin?, choir, 1979; Lost in Space, children’s choir, orch, 1982; Songs for Snark-Hunters, SATB, pf, 1985; Songs of Australia, choir, pf, perc, tape, 1988; M.C. Pig, choir, pf, 1989; Songs for Kids, 1991; Mrs Hargreaves Remembers, S, ens, 1997; Walk in the Light, solo vv, gospel choir, 1997; barbershop songs and arrs., conservation songs
Multi-media: Film, Hydrophonics and Synthesizers, 1977; The Rosella Sisters and the Rainbow Eel, 1979; Wattamolla Fire Dream, 1980; Echoes and Star Tides, 1981; The Unfound Land, 1983; Silêncio, perc, live elec, graphics, 1986–7; Red Cockatoo, band, mime, tape, poetry, video, transparencies, 1989; November 12 1991, b fl, live elec, tape, transparencies, 1995; X, singing cellist tape, transparencies, 1996
Audio-visual, for tape and transparencies unless otherwise stated: Kdadalak (For the Children of Timor), 1977; Japanese Pictures, 1981; Wattamolla Red, 1983; VENCEREMOS!, 1984; Snark-Hunting 2, 1986; Star Trails, 1988; Balibo, fl, tape, transparencies, 1993
Tape: Vietnam Image, 1969–70; Doublets 2(a), sax, tape, tape delay, 1974; For Marimba and Tape, 1982; Snark-Hunting, fl, pf, perc, vc, tape, 1984; White Knight and Beaver, trbn, vn/va, tape, 1984; Beta-Globin DNA, trbn, perc, tape, 1987; Riffs, 1989
Elec: Dah Dit Dah Dah, 3 Fairlight CMI, 1983; Media Music 7, live elec, 1977; Pat-a-Cake, trbn, Fairlight CMI, 1980; Pip!, narr, vn, trbn, live elec, 1991