With the 2018 World of WearableArt® season fast approaching, the show’s Music Director Paul McLaney took the time to discuss why this year will be particularly special. Those who have not yet experienced WOW® may be under the impression that the show is just to showcase the garments. In reality, the competition itself provides the platform where the most talented minds across all creative industries can come together and collaborate to produce one spectacular performance. In Paul’s 20 year long career in the music industry, he has gained a wide breadth of experience across an array of genres from electronic, to acoustic, to neo classical, having released albums under his own name and under “Gramsci”. Paul was brought on as the maestro responsible for orchestrating the musical pieces that guide the audience through all six sections of the show.  


Q & A with Paul McLaney


What will be different about this year’s World of WearableArt?

To achieve a diverse programme of music I am working with 7 incredibly talented composers who have created their own original and uniquely spectacular pieces for the show.

Whilst one composer can achieve a wide variety, to create pieces across 7 strong aesthetic shifts over a 1h 45m show is an immense task! The benefits of collaborating with the composers I have chosen allows for the sheer variety of approaches. The premise of WOW is sort of like how you’d navigate a dream; there is no solid narrative, each event is incredibly unique, but the sequence is tied together seamlessly.

How did you go about finding each composer?

They’re all people I’ve worked with in various ways in the last 20 years of my career. I thought of what each section would require and each composer felt like a natural fit for the vision of that section.

  • For the first section which is a retrospective theme, an idea of childlike wonder and nostalgia is the goal. My first thought was to approach Claire Cowan who is an amazing composer. In many ways she exposed the same emotional landscape that Suzie has wanted for WOW in the past 30 years. To look back and create sense of nostalgia and sentiment. 
  • For the ‘Open’ section, this requires a sense of the ethereal ‘other’ – what’s beyond the stars, and the prospect of what’s out there. I think Sean Donnelly’s 70’s electronica music has always had transcendent aspect to it. He has a beautiful pathos about everything that he does. 
  • Moving into ‘Aotearoa’ section – Paddy Free has an amazing ability to bring traditional music into a very modern space, with his use of electronica and the contemporary dance work he does. 
  • The ‘Avant-garde’ section is where you see the fanfare amongst WOW® goers – these garments are the ones you see on WOW posters. This year the long term sound guy, Shane Clayton, who has been working since the very beginning of WOW for the past 30 years, he’s also a composer and so this year to mark the 30th anniversary it was a wonderful opportunity to have him be one of our 7 composers. Because he knows these shows inside out. He knows where the emotional landmarks are. He’s creative a beautiful piece of music. It was really great to have him develop through that piece. For that section we brought in a 40 person choir, oboes and strings, it was fantastic. 
  • For the ‘Under the Microscope’ section, we have the very talented Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper. He is normally commissioned more in the classical world, but he was excited to have the opportunity to make something like from Jon Hopkins, you know, ambient and rhythmic music was a real treat for him. 
  • The composer for the ‘Bizarre Bra’ section, Bruce Lynch is a legend in the music scene producing the likes of Dave Dobbyn, Shona Laing, Kiri Te Kanawa and as a long time collaborator with Cat Stevens. He came up from Taranaki in the late 60’s and his first gig was with Merv Thomas who used to have a jazz band that played in Auckland. They had a wonderful full circle moment when Merv came in as the trombonist to record for one of our pieces – most of the guys are 70 and 80 and have been loving that music forever. 
  • Lastly, Eden Mulholland has composed the music for the ‘Reflective Surfaces’ section – this is envisaged as journey into a midnight circus; a potent gumbo of gypsy rhythms and carnival madness.


Will all the music be live?

There is some live singing from the very talented Bella Kalolo, but if we had all the music live there’d be 340 people to coordinate just playing music. Because the last section has a Big Band and is 1930’s prohibition style – that in itself would be 70 musicians!  


Why is original music so important for WOW?

Because there’s no narrative or script in terms of dialogue or narration – music has to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of steering how the audience is feeling about what’s happening on stage. So it’s trying to recognise that mood, and then communicate it. And that’s been the most enjoyable part of the process. Then the idea of composing music from scratch gives you a completely and utterly unique show. Using existing music has preconceived memories and emotion already attached to it, this is a downfall in a way, because what you don’t want is an audience member listening to the song then drifting of into a memory about the first time they heard that music, it’s taking your attention away for the show. If you are hearing something for the first time and seeing something for the first time as a combined moment, then hopefully you should be completely surrendered to that moment and not drifting off into some memory. 

Creating original music also offers different composers an opportunity to manifest their own identity. It’s very powerful. And also, given that WOW is a New Zealand born enterprise and hosted here, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase some of the homegrown talent. WOW creates the opportunity for pieces of music that might not normally have the budget or the ambition to reach that far.


World of WearableArt 2018 shows run from 27 Sept – 14 Oct | TSB Arena Wellington – buy your tickets here.

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