William Barton: Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand

Featured composer

William Barton holding a didgeridoo
William Barton, Kalkadunga composer (Image: Tanja Bruckner)
William Barton is Australia’s leading didgeridoo player as well as a composer, instrumentalist and vocalist.

William started learning the instrument from his uncle, Arthur Peterson, an Elder of the Wannyi, Lardil and Kalkadunga peoples, and worked from an early age with traditional dance groups, fusion/rock jazz bands, orchestras, string quartets, and mixed ensembles.

Throughout his diverse career, William has forged a path in the classical musical world, from the London and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras to historic events at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day 2019, at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, and for the Beijing Olympics.

In 2023, William was named Queenslander of the Year and was an Australian of the Year nominee.

His awards include:

  • Best Original Score in a Documentary, AACTA Awards (2022) for RIVER
  • Best Original Song Composed for the Screen and Best Soundtrack Album, APRA AMCOS Screen Awards (2022) for RIVER
  • Don Banks Music Award, Australia Council for the Arts (2021)
  • Best Original Score for a Mainstage Production, Sydney Theatre Awards (2018)
  • Best Classical Album, ARIA Awards (2012) for Birdsong At Dusk

With his prodigious musicality and building on his Kalkadunga heritage, William has vastly expanded the horizons of the didgeridoo.

Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand

Square Circles Beneath The Red Desert Sand is part of my journey through music. It is about the spirits of my land, my country, Mt Isa – Kalkadunga country, coming through the music. The musicians have their own spirit that they bring to this piece, which is very important; collaboration is so important to a musician’s life.

The didgeridoo, the yidaki, is one of the oldest instruments in the world. So too are the violin, the viola, and the cello. Through Square Circles we bring together the didgeridoo, one of the oldest instruments of Australia and perhaps the world, with classical western European instruments, and bring these two cultures together. These instruments, made from wood, from trees, have their own spirits within them; some of these instruments are upward of 300 years old.

Every performance should be special, and have its own experience. The moments at the beginning of Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand are improvised. When performing the piece, we’re telling a story that unfolds before us. That is my statement – channelled from mother earth and the song lines of Australia.

© William Barton, 2023

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