Although celebrated as an Australian composer, it took Elena Kats-Chernin almost 37 years to finally settle in Australia. Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Kats-Chernin initially moved to Australia with her family in 1975, and studied at the Sydney Conservatorium. After graduating, she then moved to Hanover to further her studies, and it wasn't until 1994 that at last she settled in Australia. While in Germany she established herself as a ballet and theatre composer, but it was her work Clocks, written for Ensemble Modern, that was to be her breakthrough piece. Written for 20 musicians and tape, the pieces revolves around the utterly regular and menacing tick-tock of a clock.
Kats-Chernin is quite free to admit that her music comes from simple beginnings. Her pieces often begin with a single idea, be it a note, chord, rhythm or harmonic progression. She then develops that idea relentlessly, often using extremes in range, dynamic and tempo. Her other obsession is what she calls "a never-ending search for a sound nobody has ever heard," playing around with unusual combinations of sounds to create effects that nobody else is daring enough to explore. Away from the world of orchestral and theatre music, Kats-Chernin has made a name for herself writing works for piano.
Colours of the Sea is unmistakably Kats-Chernin, opening with a simple chord progression which forms the underpinnings for the whole piece. Kats-Chernin uses the alto flute to create a more mellow sound in the ensemble, as she seeks to portray 'what remains invisible deep under the surface, the melancholy, the quiet that creates its own resonance'. The piece was commissioned by the Meininger Trio, and given it's first performance in Oberstdorf, Germany in 2004. Within the prolonged growth throughout the piece there is a hypnotic ebb and flow, with short phrases constantly being varied through subtle changes in timbre giving captivating results.