The festival opens and the faculty begins to plays in a room afloat with small delicate plastic bags, disguised as paper by a trick of light to tease the eyes. Stutters of sound arising from the heave of a breath interwoven with surges of electric energy; vibrations that grasp every bodily neuron with enveloping tenderness. Friends, strangers and magicians of noise I am home.
I don’t think I’ve ever sat quite comfortably in the skin of being ‘that.’ That performer, that flutist, that environmentalist, that composer, that rock appreciator, that person who speaks to her plants…etc. I guess it comes back to a realisation of the multiplicity of personhood(s), of subjectivity and of being that metaphorically polycephalous being. Since appreciating the writing of Gertrude Stein notably ‘The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas’ to the work and life of Cindy Sherman it became evident to me that there was more than just being ‘that’ in who we are, which is particularly true in our highly multi-faceted, multi-tasking and multi-skilled landscape. This profound thought struck me most when I was deciding which path to pursue in my tertiary studies. Those around me would ask what I was going to do, which passion would lead me into the next phase of my studies? To embark on the path of a musician, or to take the path of an environmentalist? I knew for certain that whichever path I chose, the other would permeate and work alongside that chosen. Environmentalism is so inextricably rooted in my daily practice and the decisions I make that it can not be denied a place in my identity. Evidently, I chose to further my studies in music, primarily because I knew that my role as an activist would manifest through an ‘artivism’ (creative activism through the arts) approach, in using what I knew best to convey the pressing and important ideas and messages. I think art plays a crucial and sensitive role in conveying ideas which often alienate. Statistics, terminology and the graveness of reports in the news can often distance the listener and viewer. I believe that it is how we receive that shapes how we (re)act. But yet again I find myself facing categorisation, particularly manifesting in institutionalised structures. Can I be the flutist, composer, improvisor and activist as my website advertises? Is this not a 21st century human? And is this not Phoebe?
The festival fellows have arrived, the faculty has performed, rehearsals have commenced and so far we are into day one of the festival. We commenced the day with all those enduring questions you have ever wanted to know, or never thought you did want to know, but now you may just be intrigued.
What is Nief-Norf? Where does its name originate from and what does it involve?
Well, I, amongst many other fellows were enlightened by this introduction. Kerry O’Brien and Andrew Bliss, the founders of Nief-Norf told us about the festivals foundations from how it had grown since its conception in 2011. The story goes that whilst Kerry and Andrew were in university together the not so familiar sounds of new music in the corridors were termed to be “sounding like norf” or “that stuff sounds like nief-norf.” It was something that you didn’t want to really have said about the sounds you were making, the works you were playing, so you had to fit into the mould that was not ‘nief-norf.’ Time passed and the two discovered their mutual appreciation for this zany art form and embraced the term as something endearing and made a space for what people thought was different for those different people who totally loved it. And thus the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival was born. The festival itself has grown from extending itself to just performers and composers to now including a research component. The research conference component focuses on a key topic which in the past have included discussions and presentations on John Cage on the centenary of his birth (2012), Minimalism, Music and Technology, Music and/as Process and Astro-Bio-Geo-Physical Music (that featured the wonderful Annea Lockwood). This year the festival is welcoming researchers from across the globe to present research, works and perform. I will be playing Pangkur by Juro Kim Feliz which is inspired by Javanese Gamelan settings as discussed in my second blog post. The three-tiered structure of Nief-Norf ties in nicely to what I was trying to illustrate about the multiplicity of personhood(s) and how we extend ourselves as multi-faceted, multi-tasking and multi-skilled beings. The performer-composer-researcher model works in a world of symbiotic mutualism where one area informs the other and allows us to critically and creatively perceive from three unique lenses. I am highly inspired by those who are able to harness and embody all three tiers and more. They become a power-house of their art form and a gravitational force of artistic inspiration. Some of the most poignant figures which occur to me are Vanessa Tomlinson, Leah Barclay, Cat Hope, Hannah Reardon-Smith, Lindsay Vickery, Matthew Burtner amongst many other names that my jet-lagged mind is forgetting!
I’ve met so many people at Nief-Norf here already. Most of the fellows are from America but there’s one other Australian here (Euphina, from Perth who is a percussionist) which makes my accent slightly less of a novelty. We had our first rehearsal for the Christopher Burn’s Unlit Cigarettes this evening which was such an incredibly uplifting experience. Our ensemble consists of two vocalists, a flute, trombone, vibraphone, guitar and electronics (he moves his hand and it makes noises! It’s kind of like he’s a magician!). The piece involves three movements. The first requires the performer to divide eight minutes into eleven sections with two to three sections being silence (rest). The sounds in each of the remaining sections are left to the autonomy of the performer and should involve a gradual transition in idea, technique and/or tone. The second movement involves ‘teams’ where performers group up in twos or threes and play an instrument together. Katherine (vocalist) is playing the keys and body of my flute whilst I play the head-joint. It still always remains a kind of a bizarre feeling to only have one part of the flute to focus on. The third section involves selecting and speaking/performing provided texts which range from menus to journal entries, important dates to what seems like a lengthy transcription of a game of ‘you say a word and I’ll find a common word.’ The interesting aspect of this section is that Burns encourages the performers to shorten the texts (under the constraints of time) for example by reading every second word or reading only pro-nouns. This will be enormous fun to perform come Thursday.
I also had the pleasure to meet Lisa Cella and the flutes of Nief-Norf yesterday evening. There are three flute fellows in total– Elizabeth who is a three-timed seasoned Nief-Norfer who is completing her masters, Eliza who is in her second year of university and then there’s me! Lisa performed the Hanna Hartman Shadow Box and the Magnus Lindberg’s Linea D’ombra in the faculty opening concert. It was incredible! The last piece was especially virtuosic and sounded so full of crisp complexities. Lisa was super enthusiastic with offering us help through difficult passages in our pieces and finding the time to give us lessons. I had my first lesson with her today and it was so incredibly refreshing. Apart from working through aspects of the Saariaho, we spoke and worked on the throat noises which have started creeping back into my playing, which I am certainly aware of. She talked me through re-alignment and translation of Alexander Technique, which is something that I had studied during the later years of high-school. It appears that I stand too square and consequently this affects my breathing. Instead, I should set up my legs, hip width apart, turn my head slightly and bring my flute to my face and take a “metaphysical step back.” There’s a lot of depth in the last instruction that’s for sure! In simple term, what she means is that we should avoid pressive the face into the flute, hence the thought of ‘stepping back.’ She also suggested returning to a wall and noting what parts of my body are in contact with it (something I have visited in the past but seldom now). I am always so thankful to gain fresh perspectives on playing the flute. This then infuses my practice and performance with greater depth and maturity stemming from critical and meticulous considerations.
Well, it’s been fairly full on! I’ve been transposing my Morton Feldman Instruments I score during my breaks and I know that tomorrow is going to be heavy day with rehearsals. In the evening two other fellows and I are performing my piece Sharehouse I in Norf-Speak which is an outreach segment to teach about graphic scores. I am pretty excited for what is to come and have been so overwhelmed at how many people are extending themselves beyond the label of ‘that’ at Nief-Norf. They may be a composer but they are also a performer and a chef. I may be a musician, but I am also an environmentalist and composer.
You don’t always see the fence if you look above it.
For more see the Nief-Norf Day 1 Video below!