13 Jul 2019

Michael NORRIS: Mātauranga (Rerenga) (première)

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 13 July 2019
Alistair Fraser & taonga pūoro in rehearsal

Alistair Fraser & taonga pūoro in rehearsal Photo: RNZ/David McCaw

Mātauranga: “knowledge, wisdom, understanding, skill”.

Rerenga: “voyage, journey, sailing”, but also “flowing”.

The title for this piece by Michael Norris (b. 1973) combines the idea of knowledge with that of a journey, underscored by the connotation of watery movement - of flow. A perfect encapsulation of the inspiration of this piece: Captain Cook’s 1768-1771 voyage to the South Pacific, a journey spurred on by Enlightenment values of rationality and scientific exploration. The ideals of the Enlightenment sprang from a reaction and rejection of institutional religion, entrenched tradition and superstition, in favour of rational thought, logic, and the empirical, organised advancement of knowledge. Captain Cook’s South Pacific journey was very much an expression of these ideals, as were his encounters with Aotearoa/New Zealand and with Māori, the indigenous inhabitants. Apart from faithfully recording Aotearoa’s indigenous flora and fauna, all new to European eyes, Cook’s crew also noted the mātauranga of the Māori – their vast body of knowledge, including their ability to build great waka, garden, fish, weave, and make music, using taonga pūoro.

Michael Norris writes: “The indigenous flora and fauna, as well as mātauranga Māori, are represented in this piece through both the taonga pūoro and the live electronics. The taonga pūoro played in this work are constructed from the unique flora and fauna of New Zealand. They include three kōauau “small cross-blown flute”, one made from toroa (albatross) bones, one from moa bone, and one from a hue (gourd); a pūtōrino (large traditional flute, played as a flute or trumpet and between 30 and 60 cm in length) made from kowhai; a porotiti (spinning or humming disc) made from the vertebra of an ūpokohue (pilot whale); a pūtātara (conch shell trumpet) made from native timber and conch; and a pūkāea (long wooden trumpet, from 1-2m in length) made from kauri”.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Though this piece was inspired by Captain Cook’s voyage over the Pacific (and was commissioned to mark this event), the piece remains a 21st-century response to Cook’s landfall 250 years before. The use of taonga pūoro in combination with the orchestra, as well as live electronics, “based entirely on computer processing of the taonga pūoro in real time”, represent a contemporary braiding together of music and cultures, like the Māori harakeke weaving that fascinated Cook on first encountering it. In Norris’ words: “The piece seeks to both celebrate the individual materials and sonorities of both orchestra and taonga pūoro, as well as ultimately fuse and meld them to the point where it is no longer clear which is which.”

Recorded 13 July 2019, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Graham Kennedy


  • Norris commission evokes Cook's arrival in NZ