sweltering in fahrenheit, walking in miles and eating in pounds

vol hall

It was just after midnight when I arrived at Volunteer Hall, or Vol Hall as the students and residents of the University of Tennessee (UT) term it. The front desk representative, despite not knowing any of the surrounding street names seemed quite amused that my uber driver could not find the entrance to the ginormous brick tower above. Google maps had somehow brought us to the back entrance. So we waited, outside Sam’s Party Store, a landmark apparently, until someone walked about 50 metres, I mean 164 ft to show me the entrance.

Here I am in Knoxville, Tennessee, with the Smoky mountains to your left and national parks to your right and all around. It’s a popular spot for camping and caravans, but you can also stay in one of the hundreds of apartments across the twelve floors of Vol hall– if you are a student or festival/conference guest. So that’s where I am– one of four flat mates to be, currently located in Room C, 8th floor. So far most of the people I have met have been uber drivers with a great love for their city, Eric from the Nief-Norf faculty and friendly Vol Hall folk who have remained over the summer. David, the uber driver who escorted me from the airport to Vol Hall gave me a thorough background of Tennessee and its bounty of beauty and the more peculiar. He was born in Knoxville and had lived there all his life, and also spoke with great confidence that he would die in Knoxville where his body would go to the UT Body Farm. Located behind the UT Anthological Research facility the body farm is an open space for the study of the decomposition of the human body. It was established in 1972 after an anthropologist named William Bass realised that little was known about decomposition of the human body. David explained how this study is particularly vital the forensic sciences. Vice has a 11 minute video about “the largest and oldest open air collection of rotting corspes” if it intrigues you, or confuses you just as much as it did to the highly jet lagged me.

To see, to see but what can we see at the University Tennessee?


There’s something curiously charming about the houses and buildings here; an aesthetic which which borders on being a quaint suburban town to a sterile brick satellite city or government facility. The student living areas are particularly lovely, often surfaced with ivy and subdued colours and tones.


Monday 9 June 2018

6:15am, bright, early, and already steamy. I had a mission, an intrigue, and an empty stomach. I needed to go on the pilgrimage, one that most Americans have done early in their lives and now take for granted– the pilgrimage to Walmart. At about 0.9 miles away, with Tacobell, Panda Express and other iconic American food chains offering very few to none vegan options along the way, Walmart was my hope for fresh produce, open 24 hours for that midnight snack of pickle relish.

The walk to Walmart brought me through the university’s residential area to the commercial area which services the university. I had made it to Walmart, a place which could well be the lovechild of Ikea, Kmart and Aldi, a fusion of everything you have never really wanted and more… but still buy anyway. I took to the isles picking up only the staples– dill pickles, olives, teas and some very sweet grain bread. Little fresh food options did I find, apart from broccoli in a bag, bananas and avocados to my joy, and plastic covered potatoes amongst a few other plastic covered goods. Walmart was not exactly the bountiful garden of produce that my mind had somehow hoped to to be. Upon my return to vol hall, another receptionist told me that I had actually walked right past the grocery stall, but told me not to write off all Walmarts of America as the one I had visited was small and not stocked very well. (Small!? It was seemed almost two thirds of the size of Vol Hall!)

The Natalie L. Haslam Music Centre


With only two days remaining until the opening of the festival and seven pieces to learn, I needed to find a space to practice. Eric, one of the Nief-Norf faculty walked me over to the Natalie L. Haslam Music Centre which is the UT Music school. It is a modern building with several floors including a recital hall with 400 seat capacity and 45 practice rooms amongst other practical spaces. Attention Queensland Conservatorium friends, there certainly was no need to line up for a room or practice on the balcony here! I found myself in a small practice room with a wide mirror, chairs and stands and even an inbuilt amplification and sound system. In this little square space, I worked on Pangkur by Juro Kim Feliz for alto flute doubling piccolo, clarinet doubling bass clarinet, violin and cello with an independent percussion and piano part. It’s a piece that follows the balugan (skeletal melodic) structure of the traditional Ladrang Pangkur of Javanese Gamelan music (from Pangkur additonal notes, J.K Feliz). I’m excited to be learning and playing this piece particularly because I have a an interest and love for Javanese Gamelan as I use to play in an ensemble at the Queensland Conservatorium. This piece is notated using Western notation rather that the modal scale degree system I was used to in my Gamelan studies. It requires the flutist to use different timbres– alternating between open residual tones on a given syllable (t, k, ch…) to a formed tone, tongue pizzicato and flutter tonguing. The biggest challenge is playing according to the cues in the scores whilst executing some tricky and constantly changing rhythms. With rehearsals commencing next week this is one of my biggest focus pieces apart from Gee’s Mouthpiece 28, Feldman’s Instruments 1 and Saariaho’s Terreste. Pangkur by Juro Kim Feliz will be performed in the Nief-Norf New Asia Research Summit concert on June 16th. You can find the Facebook event here.

Some other photos


Published by phoebebognar

Flutist, composer and improviser.

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