2 November 1947|
|Died||31 January 1988(aged 40)|
|Occupation||Composer and music critic|
|Notable work||Ned Kelly Music|
David Anthony Ahern (2 November 1947 – 31 January 1988) was an Australian composer and music critic, who became a prominent artist in the avant-garde genre after his best-known work, Ned Kelly Music was released and performed at the Sydney Proms music series.
Born and raised in Sydney, Ahern decided to become a composer in his mid-teens, and studied composition under Nigel Butterley and Richard Meale. His first performed work, After Mallarmé, was recorded by the South Australian Symphony Orchestra and was submitted to the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. He travelled in Europe in the 1960s, studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany and Cornelius Cardew in London.
In 1970, Ahern returned to Australia where, influenced by the Scratch Orchestra co-founded by Cardew, he formed the AZ Music ensemble at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which included such composers and performers as Roger Frampton.
David Ahern was born on 2 November 1947 in Sydney, Australia. As a young boy, Ahern learned how to play the violin and taught himself composition and piano. At the age 15 he decided undoubtedly that he wanted to become a composer, and by the age of 16 he had already composed over 50 pieces and began studying with Nigel Butterley then Richard Meale. Ahern approached Butterley for lessons, and they had a couple of sessions together before he began working under the direction of Meale. During his time with Meale, Ahern had written his first performed composition, After Marllarmé. The piece was performed and recorded by the South Australian Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Patrick Thomas. Although John Hopkins immediately conducted After Marllarmé into the 1967 International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, France, Meale was critical of his piece. In a later interview Meale described his knowledge of music theory and style of composition as basic and underdeveloped. In 1968, Ahern followed Karlheinz Stockhausen and his studies at his International New Music summer course (Musik für ein Haus project) in Darmstadt and the Cologne New Music course. Ahern made his way to London to study with Cornelius Cardew, while he attended his classes at Morley College, Ahern fell in love with the scene that Cardew was cultivating in the city. Following his time with Stockhausen and Cardew, Ahern returned back to Sydney in late 1969 and was inspired to create a weekly course in experimental music called "Laboratory of the Creative Ear," which later evolved into an ensemble called AZ Music which was influenced by Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra. The ensemble performed largely improvised works and consisted of a number of young performers and composers.
Following his time with Stockhausen and Cardew, Ahern returned back to Sydney in late 1969 and was inspired to create a weekly course in experimental music called "Laboratory of the Creative Ear," which later evolved into an ensemble called AZ Music which was influenced by Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra. The ensemble performed largely improvised works and consisted of a number of young performers and composers. Ahern wrote many compositions during 1970 to 1975, which were Reservoirs (1970), a set of three verbal compositions called Stereo/Mono (1971), a live performance of electronic work for wind soloist and utilizing feedback; The Rudiments of Music (1973), a chapter to Journal (1968) that attempted to establish basic elements necessary for making music. He also founded an improvisation group with two other people called the Teletopia in 1970, but disbanded in 1972.
Although it is believed that Ahern completely stopped composing after his ineffecutual performance of HiLo (1975), there are two pieces called Question of time and Rainbow mediation from as late as 1985. Despite the appearance of his halted career, Meale is said to have worked with Ahern again in the early 1980s after reuniting in Adelaide. Around this time, Ahern was studying Bartok with the intent to compose a violin sonata.
His music was described as a ‘daring and bizarre’ by some Australian critics, others characterized his pieces as “a scrambled compendium of noises, some born of musical instrument," and "produced by all manner involving childish fun”. Ahern’s style was a mix between ideas that he had picked up in Europe with ideas that he was taught from Australia.
In interviews with his former mentors and members of AZ Music, there were a wide range of opinions of his skills on the violin. Butterley described his playing as "not very well" and sounding like "squeaky funny things on the violin." Geoffrey Barnard, a former member of AZ music said he was "quite a competent violinist." Hopkins recalls a concert performance that was appalling but "with such conviction that this as what the violin should sound like." Peter Sculthorpe was inspired by his commitment to the instrument despite the flaws and characterized as terrible but able to draw you in with his "dyslexic playing of the violin." 
During the length of Ahern's career, Australia sought to preserve the genre and style of classical European music. The compositions in AZ music and Teletopia, groups that challenged the principles at the time by embedding a "unique radical 'conciousness into the Australian music psyche." 
Ahern composed pieces for orchestras, chamber ensembles, small groups, soloists and film scores. He is known for experimenting with non-musical instruments and objects to create eccentric the eccentric melodies found in his compositions. Ahern is known to have submitted a list of compositions to the Australian Music Centre of works that were composed in 1969, but were either lost or withdrawn. There are no known scores for Arabesque for 48 Strings, Chameleon, The call of the birds unwoke me, Question of time (1985), nor Rainbow meditations (1985).
- After Mallarmé (1966) – for full orchestra
- Atomis (1966)
- Auriga wind quartet (1966)
- String Quartet (1966)
- Nocturnes of love (1966) – for chamber orchestra
- Annunciations (1967) – for orchestra
- Arabesque for 48 strings (1967)
- Music for Nine (1967) – for chamber ensemble for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violins, viola and cello.
- Ned Kelly Music (1967) – for full orchestra and presented by Project New Music
- Chameleon (1968) – Choral music
- Network (1968) – for several players
- Take II (1968) – magnetic tape (co‐composed with Trevor Denham)
- Journal (1969) –a radiophonic piece
- Reservoirs (1970) – 3 verbal compositions, for any number of players
- Musikit (1971) – for any number of players
- Stereo/Mono (1971) – for 2 wind players and feedback
- The Rudiments of Music (1973) – for piano, percussion, string quartet and choir
- CineMusic (1973) – film (assisted by Phillip Noyce)
- Gesture (1974) – for conductor and ensemble
- HiLo (1975) – for orchestra
- Question of time (1985)
- Rainbow mediation (1985)
Compositions without dates
- Ear – for sine wave generators and ears
- Reservoirs for any sound producing objects
- The call of the birds unwoke me
After 12 years of unsuccessful career changes caused by his acute compulsion to alcohol, Ahern died unexpectedly at the age 40 on 31 January 1988. Little was spoken of him other than obscure documentation of his work that is limited to journals from performers in his music groups, interviews from former colleagues and mentors, and a few mentions in a handful books and newspaper articles.
- David Ahern (1947–1988): Represented Artist, Australian Music Centre.
- Barnard, Geoffrey (1989). "AZ it was". NMA 7. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
- "Australian Music Centre". Retrieved 2017-12-13.
- "Adelaide Festival: David Ahern: starting from Scratch" (PDF). 2014.
- "Adelaid Festival" (PDF). Adeliade Festival. 2014. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
- "Search - David Ahern". Australian Music Centre.