new zealand electronic poetry centre

Emma Milburn

 Capital of the minimal  


Emma Milburn is the lyricist, vocalist and lead guitarist for Palace at 4am, a drone explosion primed by Thomas Bell’s bass, Gregg Cairns’ percussion, and Leslie Paris’ drumming. She also composes for Palo/ona; in March 1999 they released Star of the Sea on Little Brother Records (USA):

Why can’t you be yourself
Can’t stop being someone else
Go to the mountains
To be by the sea
[What You Want, P/o]

Milburn performed at the Dunedin Fringe Festival 2001as part of an improvisatory ‘girl band’ Fomentations. One of several local musicians who make artworks (eg. Susan Ballard, Nigel Bunn, Maryrose Crook, Alastair Galbraith, Hamish Kilgour, Michael Morley, Kim Pieters, Bob Scott, Nathan Thompson), she explains how her songwriting and painting have come to inform one another:

My early experience of music on a ‘hands on’ level would be the school choir, and also a primary teacher who took a country guitar club where we learnt to sing the likes of Hank Williams and John Denver (he also took us on astronomy outings!). As far as general listening, that would be the music of my parents – particularly Motown. I started writing songs from writing poetry, then I learnt to make up my own songs on the guitar. With my first band, Palo/ona, I started trying to work out lyrics for vocals as it seemed that it would be me doing the singing.

The music generally comes first. The initial words may not fit into the context of the music so I tend to trim or add to the vocals, although written pieces often merge into one or get split. Recording seems to make the most difference; from the recording often the song emerges. I have found the links between the two disciplines of music and painting becoming stronger. Now text and ideas cross over; some of the text used in my paintings is from my music lyrics.

We named Palace at 4am from the Alberto Giacometti sculpture of that name. I kind of like the links with the futurist/surrealist art movements and, with music, the whole space/ time thing. Looking at the futurist movement, the work of Duchamp, Brancusi, Puesner and Giacometti. Looking at the concepts of art and design that gave an ideal of dynamism of environment, atmosphere, interpenetration and physical transcendentalism. So some of my lyrics come from this and, in the case of my song The palace at 4am, there’s a direct quote from Giacometti’s comment on his sculpture.



  • Star of the Sea [with Palo/ona] (Little Brother Records, 1999]
  • Palace at 4am [forthcoming, 2004]



© Emma Milburn 2004


Last updated 12 July, 2004