Puhake ki te rangi

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players), Works with taonga pūoro

For string quartet and taonga pūoro

Puhake ki te rangi was written while I was the Creative NZ/ NZ School of Music Composer-in-Residence. The premiere was given by the NZ String Quartet with Richard Nunns (taonga pūoro) on 6 February 2007 at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson.

About the work

Puhake ki te rangi, which translates as ‘spouting to the skies’ is a celebration of whales.

Although one section is based on a transcription of whale song, there is no programme to the piece — no confrontation with humanity, for instance. The guiding principles were the extreme range of whale song, the changing patterns of their song, and the image, given to me by the late Tungia Baker, of a whale in Campbell Island waters allowing seal pups at play to slide down her flanks over and over again until, tiring of the game, she flipped them gently away.

In the score, the taonga pūoro sections are improvised; mostly the quartet parts are notated, but sometimes the players are required to improvise.


The taonga pūoro used in this piece are all made from whale bone or the bone from the albatross, the whale’s avian counterpart.

In the order they are played, the taonga, all made by Brian Flintoff, are:

  • the percussive tumutumu, made from the jaw of a pilot whale washed up on Farewell Spit
  • a karanga manu (bird caller) made from an orca tooth
  • 2 nguru (flutes) made from the teeth of sperm whales that stranded, one in Tory channel and one at Paekakariki
  • 2 putorino koiwi toroa (instruments made here from albatross bones, which have 2 different voices, being played as flute or trumpet), made here from the wingbones of a wandering albatross from the sub-Antarctic islands and a young royal albatross from the Chatham Islands
  • a nguru made from the cochlea of a hump-backed whale and finally a putorino koiwi toroa, especially made for this piece from the rib of a right whale that beached at Cable Bay.

Members of the quartet play percussive instruments — whalebone tumutumu and tokere (castanets).

Scores and recordings

The New Zealand String Quartet and Richard Nunns have recorded this work.

Puhake ki te rangi — CD

Listen to the title track online.

Puhake ki te rangi — audio on video

There are also 2 performances by the New Zealand String Quartet with Rob Thorne online.

Puhake ki te rangi — Video Nelson 2019

Puhake ki te rangi — Video Wellington 2018