On ‘I Want You To Panic’, by my dear friend and creative comrade, Elizabeth Shearon. I gave the world premiere of this piece on flute/piccolo at MASS MoCA in July. Liz’s piece samples Greta Thunberg’s action-provoking speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, augmented by singing (by Liz) and the flute line. Through her piece and this article Liz brings to our attention some crucial realities regarding our role as humans and our unique and powerful voices to act against this ecological crisis.
Since the start of my artistic journey I’ve been wondering what creative purpose I have and how I can contribute with my ideas and skills. There’ve always been a question of how to get from an “A” to a “B” in terms of ideas and the final result. And often it’s the other way around: I’m seeking a path already knowing what I want to achieve and what effect I’m aiming for. Be that in the concert hall or in the everyday life.
I am deeply passionate about music, that’s for sure, but there’re also many other things that I sincerely care about. The things such as our planet, flora and fauna of it in addition to general compassion and love towards other living beings. So I can confidently say that at this time (and surely lot later on) of my career…
Good morning North Adams. I am standing on main street, waiting to cross the road. Germany has drilled into me this ‘waiting’, and my legs have grown patient. Cars pass, traffic much sparser than Manhattan of course. I look up at the sky line and stare into the bodies of green that gently encompass this place endearingly coined, “steeple city”. In the near distance I hear the overtone cry of the spinning sculpture that someone has awoken into song. Perhaps tonight you will find me over the only two dollar beer in town. The lights change and the mechanical bird encaged in the pedestrian pole chirps frantically. I cross, sauntering down the street, sweltering in the summer heat. I enter through the car park as everyone does. Are the many variants of cars not an exhibition in themselves? Parked in their places, a prelude of self-curation. The air smells of food being smoked, and the grinding of coffee beans is a morning anthem. Trees grow upside down here but one has not yet seen the rain falling upwards. Logic inverted. I walk in, ears first. A tunnel of voices rise and fall, recorded sounds and virtual realities, room to room. Alas, more art will be made by me and by you. I can feel the sound of loudness. Can you?
Last month I had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in the Bang On A Can Summer Festival as a performance fellow. Having shied away from applying for the festival last year and regretting it profusely, I was overwhelmingly excited when I applied for this year’s festival and was accepted to perform. This festival has long been on my mind, and I could say, on my musical bucket list. This year marked the eighteenth year of the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival since its conception. It was also the very first year of a very exciting project– The Bang On A CanLOUD Weekend, “a fully loaded eclectic super-mix of minimal, experimental and electronic music.”The people you meet at the Bang On A Can Festival are more than just your fellow musicians, contemporary music comrades and colleagues– they become family, The festival now boasts a big and continuously growing family of over 500 fellows who have taken their experiences at the Bang On A Can festival into their careers and lives. It is said that once you are in the family you are always in the family.
I have compiled a list of 2019 fellows at the end of this entry.
mass moca: the electricity never left
The Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival was born in North Adams. And at the heart of this cosy town is a modern art miracle– the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, that is, MASS MoCA. I speculate that few people have ever spent three entire weeks at a gallery, unless they are working there. I for one have never, until the Bang on A Can Festival. With the festival being based in MASS MoCA I spent a good percentage of my waking hours across the three weeks in the museum. I ate there, rehearsed there, practiced there, performed there and when time allowed I immersed myself completely in the extensive collections of art. When one is walking through the museum for the very first time it is a magical experience. It is hard to explain it any other way. Every room entices you in a different way and some days you feel drawn towards some rooms and works more than others. Each room, each exhibit, each work speaks to a different sense but many of this are viscerally engulfing. With three floors of Sol LeWitt, an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois, selected works of Cauleen Smith, Laurie Andersen, James Turrell, Trenton Doyle Hancock and many more major names, the museum is a maze where getting lost is a pleasure. Even at the end of my three week residency there were still parts of the museum I had not yet discovered. Alas, for next time I am sure!
So what is MASS MoCA? And how did this monumental museum of contemporary art come into existence, in North Adams of all places?
The site on which MASS MoCA is situated was not originally a powerhouse for art as we know today. Having experienced over two hundred years of economic, industrial and architectural change, this site is certainly one of the most historically significant and interesting sites in North Adams and the surrounding areas. This nineteenth-century structure has gone through multiple changes, but originally functioned as a site for small scale industries in the Colonial period. Its location at the confluence of the two branches of the Hoosic River made it ideal made it a prime site for the diversity of industries on-site and in proximity.
In 1860, the site became home of Arnold Print Works. The company was contracted by the government to supply fabric for Union Army and it prospered from this demand, and became the largest employer in North Adams. However, the company closed its doors in 1942 due to falling cloth prices and the effects of the great Depression even despite decades of success.
But the building was not empty for long. Later that year, the site was bought by the Sprague Electric Company. Whilst the exterior of the building was left mainly untouched, the company made extensive modifications to the interior of the former-textile mill to convert it into a functioning electronics plant. Sprague Electric was considered a significant research and development centre and many of their employees (physicists, chemists, electrical engineers and skilled technicians) were called to aid the U.S Government in the design and manufacturing of vital components of some high-tech weapon systems during World War II, including the atomic bomb. From the post war years to the mid-1980’s, Sprague’s products were still in demand. After the war, they were used in the launch systems of Gemini moon missions and in the production of electrical components for the growing consumer electronics market. However, the company’s prosperity began to decline as cheaper means of production for these components became available abroad. The company closed its doors in 1985.
After the close of Sprague, the plant sat abandoned for over ten years, however, the idea of a creative re-use of this complex into an exhibition space was already being discussed by business and political leaders in North Adams only a year after Sprague’s closure. The space would be ideal for exhibiting large works of art that would not be suitable for the limits of conventional exhibition spaces. From 1989–1995, private support, public finding and detailed designs for MASS MoCA coalesced alongside the museum’s mission. Originally, envisioned as an centre for the static long-term exhibit of contemporary visual art, it evolved into a institution that would “nurture the creation of new works that chart fresh creative territory” in addition to presenting both changing exhibitions and performing arts events. In 1999, the site entered it’s third century of production as the impressive institution that we know today as MASS MoCA. The museum is continuing to expand, housing more art, and continuing a legacy of innovation and experimentation. For the past twenty years, MASS MoCA has hosted a bounty of events, festivals and housed a multitude of works of visual art and artists. It is here that the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival was conceived eighteen years ago and it is here that its legacy continues. And so, the electricity never left.
A day in the festival
With MASS MoCA as our festival base, fellows and faculty would go about their daily activities including rehearsals, recitals, seminars and workshops in various rooms of the museum. For performers, the festival is structured around daily rehearsals, usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon, depending on the ensembles one was assigned to. Ensembles were made up of the diverse and international crew of talented fellows and a minimum of one faculty member mostly from the Bang On A Can All-Stars. Composers had different daily schedules, often having workshops with the founding trinity of Bang On A Can (David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon), presenting their portfolios and talking about their musical language and the musical universe. Media fellows joined the festival in the final week under the guidance of John Schaefer and Will Robin. During the final week of the festival and the LOUD Weekend the four media fellows arrived and began writing their daily dispatches. Despite being divided into three factions of fellows we were all united by our passion for contemporary music, and we collaborated as much as we could throughout the three weeks.
On weekdays throughout the festival we had the opportunity to begin our days with yoga guided by yoga and movement instructor Lexi Hartmann. It has been some time since I used to do regular yoga, the last time being when I was studying in Brisbane and now my body had to reacquaint itself with these movements and build strength again. For many of us fellows the intense daily schedule made us cherish one extra hour of sleep and yoga attendance dwindled across the weeks. But those who persevered with the morning yoga routine certainly saw results!
Each week we would have a different 10 AM weekly projects. In the first week we welcomed Faith Conant and Nani Agbeli, a Ghanian, West African Musician and Dancer who kicked off the festival with infectious rhythmic groove. Their expectations were high and Nani’s descriptions of the innate musical talent of Ghanese children years younger than us ramped up the pressure. Together with Faith he taught us the rhythmic patterns of Ghanese songs and the dance patterns to follow. Due to the healthy sized population of fellows we had to be split into two groups. In the group I was part of the song we leant was ‘Gahu Eehh’. The Gahu is a social dance comprising of high energy movements, percussive rhythms and songs. It is “believed to bring positive energy and happiness.” Nani allowed us to choose instruments that we were drawn to and he would teach us the rhythmic pattern for the instrument we had chosen. He would then move us around to try different instruments and assess our connection with each in relation to the ensemble sound. This process was repeated until he was satisfied with where everyone was. Nani would lead on the Boba, “an unusually large barrel-shaped drum”, and the rest of the ensemble would play their patterns, sing or dance according to our assigned roles. This project culminated in a performance in Trenton Doyle Hancock‘s playful exhibition, ‘Mind of The Mound: Critical Mass’. I have never felt so much energy in one room, it felt as everyone was singing, dancing and playing through every pore of their body! The physicality involved in the music and dancing was immense and I could feel it in my body days after.
Our 10 AM project was with Found Sound Nation (FSN). Originally founded as part of Bang On A Can, Found Sound Nation is a “creative agency that uses music making to connect people across cultural divides.” During these daily sessions we learnt about the work of FSN across the globe, engaged in deep listening exercises and composed a piece to present for the weekend concert. However, I will remember our very first session for a very long time. We were each asked to introduce ourselves again and our role as musicians in our communities, and then teach the group our signature dance move. This round of introductions was as if I was meeting these people who I had already spent a week with all over again. I was now aware of all their incredible projects, initiatives and influence they had as musicians and people in their communities. I felt empowered by the enormous presence of creativity and social leadership. I will be featuring many of these musicians and their projects in the upcoming ‘Women Write Now’ blog series as part of Women of Noise. Another very memorable part of the FSN experience was the five minute collaborative compositions site-specific to North Adams. We each had found our own ensembles and had put together a piece to present in the FSN weekend concert in the gallery, in a place of our choice. This concert was a culmination of all the workshops and sessions that we had been having throughout the week. I was in an ensemble with Evan Miller, Eunbi Kim, John-Paul Norpoth and Kirsten Lies-Warfield. We called ourselves ‘Visitor Centre’ and our five minute site-specific composition was titled ‘Letters to North Adams.’ Being a group of five we decided to take a minute each for our personal reflections and then to collage all the one minute limbs together into a holistic work. Each of us had written some text (poetry, slogans, creeds, letters) with directions for the rest of the ensemble to respond and contribute. Our letters reflected our feelings and experiences with the town, our engagements with the community and place, especially in the notorious heart of North Adams’ night life– the American Legion Bar. Evan utilised his tape recorders, which are a central part of his improvisational practice and invited us to each contribute one sentence, thought or memory related to the American Legion. Kirsten ended with her letter to the people she had met in North Adams and from a balcony threw some ‘question confetti’, that is, little bits of paper with questions or thoughts for the audience to respond to. The FSN project was a special experience of collaboration and site-specific response, and the compositional responses were diverse and entertaining. I’ve concluded this blog entry with the poem I wrote for this project.
The Latin Big Band Night was evidently one of North Adams’ most anticipated events of the festival and I could hear the excitement of the staff at MASS MoCA and the town community. There would be live music played by the fellows, faculty and spontaneous guests, and dancing and good times all night! The band was directed by Gregg August alongside guest artists Mauricio Herrera and Ben Lapidus. Our rehearsals for the performance were late night toil, but always succeeded in convincing our wearied bodies to move and our faces smiling again. It was an eclectic ensemble with soulful singers, a healthy string section, a full-bodied wind and brass section, two pianos and a battery of percussion. Of course, the main driving force was the percussion. Led by Mauricio, the percussionists struck out infectious grooves and drove all the tempo changes. We played a variety of tunes, traditional and well-known, including Dos Gardenias, Lagrimas Negras and Danzón Barroco which was my personal favourite on flute. The rehearsal culminated in the highly-anticipated concert at the American Legion. The very enthusiastic crowd was seen dancing energetically whilst the members of the band kept the dance floor alight with the music embellished with scintillating solos. It was a truly lively night!
The final morning project before the LOUD Weekend was with the Orchestra of Original Instruments, directed by Mark Stewart. Spending five minutes in the same room with Mark can transport you to another creative dimension where everything is possible, and everything and everyone has the potential to make music, because really, isn’t everything music?! Combining a hamper full of whirly tubes, balloons and bass clarinet reeds equates to musical mischief and a whole lot of fun. Our mornings were spent awaking ourselves to sonic possibilities, opening our ears and not holding ourselves or anyone back from the gift of making and sharing music. We spent the morning alternating between playing the curious array of instruments in the Gunnar Schonbeck exhibition and creating our own musical contraptions for our ‘fanfare’ to zealously open the second day of the LOUD Weekend. I must confess that I do love the moments I have away from my instrument, especially when I am given another instrument. It can be fun to investigate the sound possibilities outside the realm of one’s instrument. In this way I feel I identify as a musician or artist more than a flute player, flutist or flautist, however you choose to call it. In my experiences with improvisation I feel this sensation of wanting to put down my instrument at times, to sing, to crush leaves, strike objects, play another wind instrument, body percussion, and the list could continue. At first I was nervous to do so. But then I realised that what makes the music is not my instrument. This investment of a silver tube could not play itself if not for me! It is the musician. It is the person. It is me, it is you, that breathes, strikes, plucks, bows, presses sound into the instrument. If I can make an instrument, an inanimate object sing then I can make anything sing. It is no magic. Everything is music, you just need to allow yourself hear it and share it. Working with Mark and seeing my friends and colleagues making music on their own invented instruments was a strong reminder of the importance of music, for everyone. And when Saturday came, our performance triumphantly began with our whirly horns, then gently into a tranquil aeolian hum until only our own voices were left.
Rehearsals at the festival were productive and collaborative. The festival ensures that each ensemble has a faculty member from Bang On A Can to avoid separating fellows from faculty. The vision behind this is that we are all the same, we are artists, albeit some have been active in the industry for longer. I rarely felt that the faculty treated fellows anything different from colleagues. I felt that there was mutual creative input and that the ensemble dynamics were overall collaborative.
Before the Bang on A Can performers received a list of their assigned ensembles and the pieces they were to be playing in the festival finale, the LOUD Weekend. We were then sent our parts, scores, recordings and given several gentle reminders to mark our scores thoroughly with cues to be prepared for our first rehearsals. I was already aware, pre-festival, just how thoroughly organised and professional the Bang On A Can administration and organisational team are.
I received a particular score earlier than all my other festival pieces. This was Peter Maxwell Davies‘ Eight Songs For A Mad King, a piece that came as a suprise in the program. Julian Otis, baritone, suggested this piece in his application to the festival. However, Eight Songs is not programmed extensively due to certain logistical considerations and the sheer demand and dedication that must be invested into delivering a solid and engaging performance of this piece. The piece itself is a quite the beast to put together. It is written for Pierrot Ensemble, augmented with a baritone soloist and percussion, and the vocalist holds the most demanding role of all, saturated in extended techniques and covering five octaves. But baritone Julian Otis was made for this piece. Every word, note, action was magnetising and burning with intensity. Eight Songs is notorious for its Jekyll and Hyde depiction of the text based on the words of George III, the ‘birdcage’ flute and baritone duet that all music students study at some point, and perhaps the most alarming part, the destruction of a violin. It certainly is not a piece that can be performed without the appropriate resources, tolerance and well, utter extravagance. Bang On A Can Festival’s production of the Eight Songs was directed by Ken Thomson on clarinet and David Eppel with stage direction. It was the only piece that had two performances in the entire LOUD Weekend Concert program. Of course, with all the hard work invested in putting the piece together it would have be a shame to have only one performance. So two there was, and out of this came two broken violins and a whole lot of applause. I won’t delve too deeply into reflections on the performances yet as I’ll leave that to the upcoming section in this entry where I’ll revel in some fond memories and perspectives on the entire LOUD Weekend performances and activities. However, you can read more about Eight Songs For A Mad King in Vanessa Ague’s article, Power Struggles and Rebellion In “Eight Songs For A Mad King.”
recitals amongst art
Art has long inspired music, and music has long inspired art. This relationship is no symbiotic secret. The three weeks in MASS MoCA were the perfect immersion into the diverse worlds of visual art. We also were invited to respond musically to artworks of our choosing in lunchtime recitals. At the start of the festival we were sent a sign-up sheet for these recitals, happening every weekday at 1:30 PM in the galleries. Everyone was given the opportunity to play, and there were no expectations for the performances to be exclusively ‘contemporary’ music. It was in these recitals that many fellows who had come as performers presented their own compositions, improvised and composing fellows had the opportunity to perform also. The naturally resonant rooms of the galleries were a acoustic utopia and it was always very exciting to see which spaces the fellows chose to present their works. The earlier weeks of the festival were less busy, but I will remember the first lunchtime recital for the longest time. There were two performances for this recital. The first was by Will Yager performing Valentine by Jacob Druckman for solo contrabass beside Louise Bourgeois‘ intimate sculpture, ‘The Couple’. The piece was highly gestural and drew the audience in immediately, ears leaning closer to perceive sound, or was it only mimery? Dozens of actions I have never seen performed on a bass unravelled before my eyes and the sheer intensity of the performance held the audience’s gaze for the entirety of the piece. The following piece, evoked a different palette of emotions from the audience. Composed by soprano and oboist Theodosia Roussos, Polymnia, is based on the letters of her great-grandmother. Skilfully and beautiful woven, the piece involves intimate exchanges between the weeping vocal soprano line and the modified string ensemble (two violins, guitar and violoncello). It pulled on everyone’s heart strings and it was hard to find a dry eye in the audience. I already knew then that the festival would be unforgettable and imprint upon me a plethora of memories, sounds and creativity that I would carry with my for my entire career and life.
The lunchtime recitals also were a forum to bring contemporary issues into musical discourse. I would like to write about one particular lunchtime performance that silenced the room. Brookyln-based duo MEDIAQUEER (Phong Tran and Darian Donovan Thomas) performed their latest piece ‘Into’. Written for violin, synthesiser and voice, Phong explained that the piece “confronts the societal norms of attraction within the gay community on apps such as Grindr, and how it manifests itself as very casually displayed forms of racism”. The piece gradually built in intensity, with the intricate overlaying of new textures, as the duo began to repeat phrases such as “No Blacks, No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians, No Browns”– real examples of words that are publicly displayed on the profiles of some community apps. In listening, it challenged us, the audience, to question what we have learnt to be physically attractive and the blatancy of soliciting for sex under such discriminatory conditions. Everything about this performance was powerful and heartbreaking. Are physical preferences in any form of relationship not discrimination? What struck me most was that communities that already face discrimination also have sub-discrimination, that is, there is discrimination on other levels (race, appearance, beliefs).
Before coming to the festival I knew I wanted to share some of the music from my community and experiences. I knew the festival would be the perfect place to do so and I wanted to share something that I felt represented my artistic identity. For those of you who follow the ‘Bog-blog’ you would be aware that prior to travelling to the US I spent some days in Oslo, with my dear friend, crafty colleague and courageous composer, Elizabeth Shearon. Liz and I had been talking for some time about the possibility of collaborating on a solo flute work with tape. When I received the news about going to the Bang On A Can Festival, I knew it was time to officially ask her to write the work. In addition to our identity as musicians, we are both extremely concerned about the worldwide climate crisis. Of course we are musicians, but first and foremost, we are people. The concern for our home, the planet seems only natural and a responsibility for everyone regardless of where you come from, your profession, your beliefs. If you are human then you are part of this. And as creatives we decided that the best way to express our feelings towards this issue would be through music. And thus ‘I Want You To Panic’ was born. The title and text of this piece is directly quoted from the Swedish environmental activist, role model and leader, Greta Thunberg‘s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Greta has become a household name and her speeches and worldwide Climate Strike Movement have empowered not only the youth, but amplified the urgency to act on the climate crisis to the attention of entire world. I was very excited to learn that Liz had adapted Greta’s speech for this piece, using the speech as a stimulus for the work and quoting it in the fixed media where Liz sung, spoke and manipulated the speech. The flute part also quoted fragments of the speech, often emphasising syllables into the flute. Speech and singing are elements I love to incorporate into my own writing and improvisations, so Liz’ piece felt like everything I could’ve wanted to play and more. I was very excited to share this work with the MASS MoCA audience and to have Greta and Liz’ message reach more people. The work is continuing to evolve but if you would like to hear a full recording of the performance I can send you a special link.
I also presented my own work Sharehouse I, a game piece with cards and setting for seven players which I revised this year for the festival to incorporate an additional player (it was previously written for six players). I had the dream team and very energetic share house of Flora Wong (who I was already sharing a room with), Kevin Madison, Julian Otis, Matīss Čudars, Darian Donovan Thomas and Tomek Szczepaniak. Originally written in 2018, this piece is always a riot to perform especially in America where the term ‘share house’ often causes some confusion. I also made my debut performance as a “metronomecist” in Flora Wong‘s performance of Chris Perren‘s Escapement for violin and metronome which was commissioned by Flora as part of her Geburstag project. Some new techniques I learnt for metronome included muting it with a bucket and gradually lifting and closing the bucket, changing tempos under time restraint and achieving a 5/8 rhythm through tilting the metronome to one side. Am I a metronome virtuoso now or what? But jokes aside, Flora did a beautiful job performing this very catchy piece of Chris’ to the MASS MoCA audience and fellows. Now more people across the seas are aware of the great music and composers back home in Australia! I also had the opportunity to play two other pieces by the composer fellows– Sophia Jani and Matīss Čudars. Both had written for ensembles with alto flute, and my love for the mellow tones of the alto are no secret. Sophia had written a beautiful piece of two movements called ‘everybody was so young‘ for clarinet (Mary Fortino), alto flute and violoncello (Martha Petri), filled with lush harmonies and poignant energy. Matīss had composed a piece titled ‘Serendipity’ for flute (Jenny Davis), alto flute, viola (Sebastian Adams) and violoncello (Martha Petri). This work was three movements in length and featured punctuated rhythmic sentences, textured harmonic blankets and polyrhythmic playfulness.
There were also 4:30 PM faculty recitals spread across the weeks of the festival. It was brilliant to see and hear the programs that the faculty had created and their performances alongside their colleagues. The Bang On A Can All-Stars‘ Ken Thomson and Mark Stewart had a spotlight recital, as well as violinist Todd Reynolds with composer Nina Young and pianist Karl Larson and Eighth Blackbird’s Nick Photinos. These recitals featured new works and collaborative works and always served as a welcomed treat after rehearsal times. I really enjoyed hearing Ken’s compositions in his recital with Gregg August and in Nick’s recital also. Nina and Todd’s recital was also particularly special. The two teamed up to create a composition with text by Indigenous Australian poet Ali Eckermann, using violin, electronics, struck metal and wood in an ever-evolving sound world.
Another highlight was the composer recital featuring a work from each composer fellow that was composed during the festival. These bite-sized yet flavoursome works featured selected instrumentation including vocals and speech elements. This concert was in sorts a prelude to the LOUD Weekend composer concert of works that were commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting.
Of course, I wish to document every performance that happened during these lunchtime recitals because every single performance was truly noteworthy and memorable. If you were a faculty member, staff, fellow or audience present at the Bang On A Can festival and feel that there is a performance that needs to be mentioned especially please add your words in the comments! The more contribution the merrier.
During the three weeks of the festival we, the fellows, had the privilege of being sponges, to pick the brains of the faculty and staff and soak up copious amounts of information. Seminars were the opportunity we had to learn and ask enduring questions about the logistics of running ensembles, seeking funding, establishing non-profit organisations and much more. There were no secrets or magic formula that could be revealed to make the whole process of being a musician in the 21st century any easier. In the seminar titled The Business of Art with Tim Thomas, Bang On A Can’s director it became obvious that the process of establishing and running an arts organisation, or any organisation, is a whole lot of hard work and knowing the system and legalities according to your state and country. He talked about funding and the many ways that funding can be achieved beyond applications and into face to face conversations. “There are people out there who will buy you instruments!” He said. Well, I’m sure anything is possible and that the philanthropy circle is bigger in the United States. In fact much of the content discussed in the seminars was geared mostly towards being a musician in America. However, like anything you can take aspects of the content discussed and modulate it for your own needs.
Another great seminar was with guest media faculty, John Schaefer and Will Robin. In this seminar they discussed various aspects about what attracts writers to covering a story and the multiple platforms of writing. As with all the seminars the fellows asked some compelling questions. Questions regarding the inclusivity of media coverage and critique of programs and projects that are evidently exclusive (and unfortunately mostly unaware of it). We began delving into some key events and topics including the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and George Lewis‘ A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music which is very much on my to read list. On a personal level this seminar encouraged me to keep persevering with writing my blog and look into extending my writing across other platforms.
We also had the treat of a very special seminar with the founding three of Bang On A Can– David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. We all sat bright eyed, listening to their stories– how they came to meet; their relationship as friends, colleagues, composers and their values and vision. The seminar was playful and light-hearted but gave us insights into how people who share the same passion collaborate and sustain themselves alongside communities with it. I wondered what it would have been like to be sitting in their position looking back at forty eyes ablaze with wonder and determination; forty eyes in the eighteenth year of a project of humble beginnings. Once upon a time contemporary art music may have been considered a niche, and it is by no means mainstream now, but what I do know is that there are people across the world who are unified in their love of creating, playing and enjoying this music worldwide, and this is family.
I would like to mention two exceptionally memorable sessions at the festival. Both were with Todd Reynolds, who never hesitates to share his years of knowledge and experience with those who are hungry to learn. Todd always puts in the extra length with all that he does and his kindness and genuine interest in each and every person made me feel immediately comfortable around dozens of new people. He invited the fellows to take part in an improvisation workshop and a technology workshop. Each fellow had different levels of experience in each area. Some of us had never improvised before, or had done specific types of improvisation whilst some of us had been doing improvisation of all sorts for years. The same theme was evident in each of our experiences with technology. Some of us had never amplified ourselves, or ever experimented with live set-up whilst others were fluent in the language of MAX MSP and Ableton. It did not matter what level of experience we were coming from, because as we sat in the room with Todd our curiosities were answered and our uncertainties were lifted. I had always wanted to attend a tech session like the one Todd had kindly coordinated. I have had Ableton but was completely lost when it came to knowing what tech tools to invest in. I mean, I had enough trouble choosing a flute, so when the market presents me with hundreds of pedals and products I get quite cross-eyed. But Todd demystified all of that. He showed us his live set-up, spoke about the pros and cons of his toys and some of the gear that would work best for our individual instruments. My bank account will be a little sore but I know what I’m saving up for next!
bang! A Loud weekend
The LOUD Weekend was Bang On A Can’s marathon concert, only that it now had twins. The original twelve-hour marathon concert model was TRIPLED this year for the very first time since Bang On A Can’s conception in 1987. The result was the LOUD Weekend, which featured big names, ambitious pieces and high-voltage vibrancy.
There were so many unforgettable moments and incredible highlights from the festival. Unfortunately I can’t talk about all of them because sound checks and line checks were often scheduled during other performances. However, I was beyond excited to be sharing the same space as many incredible artists that I have admired for some time including The Sun Ra Arkestra, Pamela Z,Annie Gosfield, Tristan Perich, Annea Lockwood and Horse Lords.
Some stand out performances that I had the chance to hear included the Bang On A Can All-Stars performing selected pieces from Field Recordings. I always enjoy hearing pieces from Field Recordings and it seems that every time I’ve heard the All-Stars perform my ears are treated to some of the selected works from this project.
Julius Eastman‘s post-minimalist piece Stay On Itwas another highlight. The work features a poignant poem/program note by Eastman and was one of the first pieces of art music to be inspired by the chord progressions in popular music. If someone was to ask me which piece summarises my entire time at the Bang On A Can festival it probably would be Stay On It. No other work brought to me such a strong flavour of beautiful nostalgia and magical intimacy. It was such a beautiful performance played by a wonderful ensemble of fellows and faculty.
Meeting and hearing Pamela Z definitely confirmed my suspicious of her being a mega icon. I mean who else comes up after a performance of the Eight Songs for A Mad King to pick up pieces of the broken violin to make earrings?! That’s my kind of idol. Pamela presented her piece Attention during the weekend as well as stellar recital. Attention is composed for string quartet with fixed media. Composed in 2016 the work was “inspired by the ways in which our focus and attention are constantly challenged in this era of endless notifications and non-stop communication feeds”. It requires the players to navigate their way through the score in the face of a series of mounting interruptions and distractions from each other, their phones and the fixed media. It is the ultimate “multi-tasking” piece. The most ironic part was that this piece was originally programmed in the opening concert and needed to be rescheduled due to a technical error with the projector. Even whilst technology consumes our modern world, it does not always work, which can be unfortunate especially at the moments when we need it to most. You can read more about Pamela’s creative practice in Elias Gross’ article: Pamela Z and the One Second Delay that Changed Her Voice.
The Sun Ra Arkestra had me grooving in me seat. It was like a party on stage and I expected no less. I would have liked for the room to be free of chairs and one big open space for dancing. A series of sizzling solos and acrobatics of both physical and sonic forms were witnessed with wonder. Another concert that had me moving was with Horse Lords. If you haven’t checked them out then you need to get onto Bandcamp, find an hour, move some furniture and immerse yourself. These two concerts were the most dancing I had done since the Ghanese drumming in week one of the festival.
Another really great concert during the weekend featured Annie Gosfield‘s Almost Truths and Open Deceptions and Detroit Industry. Cellist Nick Photinos was in the spotlight in Almost Truths and Open Deceptions, with highly virtuosic material for both the soloist and the ensemble. It was splendid to hear Gosfield’s works performed to such a high calibre and the performance was truly exhilarating and nuanced.
One piece programmed sparked some concern amongst the fellows. This was Annea Lockwood‘s Thousand Year Dreaming. Lockwood is a brilliant composer and her piece Wild Energy with Bob Bielecki is a favourite of mine. However, many were concerned at the composer’s seemingly rampant utilisation of instruments from other cultures and this sparked a “cross-generational, multinational conversation” between the fellows and festival faculty. Many questioned whether this was an act of borrowing or appropriation. This conversation hit home, especially as the piece includes didgeridoos, the yidaki, an instrument that has its roots in the ceremonial practices of Yolngu Indigenous peoples of Eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The ethics of the piece utilising the didgeridoo was set into question. Did Lockwood actively collaborate with Indigenous communities when writing this piece, and did she receive permissions to use it outside its ceremonial practices? Media fellows Hannah Edgar and Elias Gross covered the conversation and gave us insights into several perspectives including that of Lockwood in their article Earth Sounds: The Didgeridoo Stirs Controversy at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival. This is an important read for everyone, especially for composers thinking about ‘borrowing’ from other cultures. It is one thing if our ears are open to diverse styles of music but our ears must also be ethically tuned.
Two of the concerts I was looking forward to most were the world-premieres of the works of the composer fellows. It is difficult to talk from a listener’s point of view about the pieces I played in but from a performer’s view, I can say that all the pieces were skilfully written, wonderfully varied and reflected the artist and person that the composer is. It was as if I was meeting them on a deeper level from hearing and playing their works. The Saturday composer concert featured the works of Soo Yeon Lyuh, Sophia Jani, Dai Wei and Darian Donovan Thomas. Soo Yeon’s work Dudurim, featured timbral and rhythmic characteristics from traditional Korean music, especially in her flute writing which extensively utilised pitch bending and ornamentations to evoke the sound of a daegeum. Soo Yeon is also an accomplished Haegeum player as well as a composer and I think her writing for strings reflects the sound qualities of this instrument. Sophia’s piece, We’ll maybe catch fireflies and maybe we won’t, was beautifully spaced and dappled with dance-like rhythmic motifs and warm harmonies. Having played other music by Sophia I can say that I enjoy her use of space and the way instrumental lines interact with each other in her music. Wei’s piece, Shiva She Says, drew on spirituality and cleverly utilised a smaller instrumentation to achieve a desired sound world. As Wei comes from a background of writing and singing Mandarin pop, I really looked forward to hearing her sing in her own piece. In this piece, Wei performed as a Khoomei throat singer. She also prepared the piano in a way that had gamelan qualities. The final piece in this concert was Darian Donovan Thomas‘ Letter from the Composer, and I am so very glad that they put it last because if it had been anywhere else I would have been stuck in the extended technique of sobbing into my flute. Darian expresses his identity as “intersectional”– he is gay, black and latinx. He is a musician, an installation artist, bi-polar. And he is “happier than your average New Yorker.” The world can be eager to typecast and assign identities to people. Is this fear of the ‘unknown’ perhaps, or just blatant erasure? This piece brings into conversation identity and meaning in relation to the self and the greater world. It is also a conversation Darian has with himself and the audience, an introduction to him, who he is, and his complexity. Throughout the piece Darian had Theodosia Roussos sing but also wrote text for the orchestra to speak at given points. I needed to hear this piece, I needed to play this piece, and I know that many more people need to be exposed to this piece. But most of all I have always needed to say “let me be complicated.” And even just typing these words makes tears rise again.
With the success of the Saturday Composers concert, the Sunday concert was eagerly anticipated by the composers, fellows and audience. The orchestra playing these pieces was smaller with a different configuration of instruments to the Saturday concert. The concert began with Matīss Čudars‘ highly-charged work Eclectricity. Perhaps the best way I can describe this work is like a huge slice of lasagne, for my sake, a vegetable lasagna. You are picking a large slice up and you can already see the crispy top but then as you begin to lift you see more layers. Dozens of layers. Spinach, mushrooms, potato, tomatoes, tofu, onions… the list of ingredients go on. What I meant to convey through this metaphor is that Matīss’ work was very texturally rich with multiple ideas all happening at once. I think I’d need to hear it several times, or come back for a second portion, to pay attention to different parts of the work because in the best way possible there was so much to listen to, and that is a great thing! This was followed by Celia Swart‘s Amplification of light that was inspired by the way which light catches on bubbles in the air and the colours that appear. This piece was lavishly embellished with blossoming harmonies that glowed through the whole room. It was soothing as well as transfixing and evidently written with such intent. Rafailia Bampasidou‘s piece three sketches from the backyard followed and featured Julian Otis as a vocalist. This piece was highly enjoyable to listen to, featuring dancelike rhythms paired with some Greek harmonic flavours. I’ve enjoyed listening to Rafailia’s works throughout the festival, particularly her highly sensual solo bass work “Intimate Talk”. Media fellow, Jeremy Reynolds, writes about Rafailia and her music in his article Get a Room:” Composer Rafailia Bampasidou on weird noises and intimate music. The last piece in this program was Phong Tran‘s Opulance. As powerful as his other works already performed at the festival Opulence was representative of Phong’s battle with his own participation in new music. The work engages with the conflict of identifying as a minority whilst operating in a highly Western tradition with its roots in imperialism and colonisation. “Burn me to the ground.” This is the repeated statement, like a mantra, at the end of his piece where Phong questions to what extent he should participate with this tradition of music, knowing dangerously well that by his own contribution he also fuels the problem. Prior to the piece being performed he invited the audience to consider the following questions: “Does the western tradition need people of colour and minorities? But more importantly– “Do those people need the western tradition?”
It was hard to find a concert that wasn’t exalted for skilful execution, transfixing material and poignancy. I wish I could have split myself into three and heard everything at the festival whilst also being a performer, and I do very much wish that there was more time to spend getting to know the other artists and the audience. But what I do know is that LOUD Weekend was a raging success that lived up to its name. And when the festival came to an end, it was not silence, but a meditation into diminuendo.
in diminuendo, never silence
The Bang On A Can Festival was the culmination of copious amounts of hard work from a large number of dedicated individuals and teams. I will forever remember the people I met, worked alongside and spent time with at the Bang On A Can festival. YOU are my friends, my colleagues and family. I am certain that we shall work together again and that I will see each and every one of you again wherever we may be, and hopefully that is sooner rather than later! Banglewood 2019 was a huge success and an absolutely wonderful adventure.
Thank you for reading this short-novel of a reflection on my experiences at the Bang On A Can festival. In writing this I realise that I am a little tired but I am also overjoyed that I got to finally write it all down, and by doing that it was as if I was experiencing the festival all over again. I can only hope that this act of sharing will touch you also. Whether you are a fellow or faculty from the festival, a dedicated ‘Bog-blog’ follower or a spontaneous visitor– I welcome you. I welcome you to share this, use it as documentation, a bedtime story, and I hope that it will make you smile as much as the festival made me.
If you’re a musician and/or curious being and would like to know more about the Bang On A Can Festival please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be more than happy to answer any questions and hear your thoughts and feedback.
I would like to acknowledge the Queensland Government for their support of this project through Arts Queensland. Without funding, my experience at the Bang On A Can Festival would have been close to impossible! I look forward to sharing the experiences, music and joy that I was exposed to at the festival back home in Sydney, Brisbane and beyond. I also wish to extend my acknowledgements and gratitude to all the staff and faculty at Bang On A Can and MASS MoCA, particularly Philippa Thompson, Karl Larson, Adam Holmes who ensured the festival was seamlessly organised. To Andrew Cotton and Chris Lynch for the superb technical facility, amplification and making performances sparkle! In the words of Todd Reynolds: “Treat the sound guy or girl even better than your own mother.” To the Lickety Split kitchen team for catering to over forty different stomach and needs (I have definitely eaten more Beyond Meat products across the three weeks that I would in three years). And of course, to the people of North Adams who took a genuine interest in our craft, to the audience that came to the recitals across the festival and the LOUD Weekend and to those who had the serendipitous joy of stumbling across performances during their gallery visit . Thank you. This is the joy of sharing music. It’s human, it’s magic, and it is what I love to do most.
letter to North Adams
sultry nights drive me restless my skin wrestles with the air in this place reminiscent of home the light night breeze embraces my weary body as my legs begin to move to dance
in the distance I see plumes of dark green feeding nutrients to these concrete worn eyes of mine the lake and the grass are my blanket and the star studded sky are my spectacles
North Adams in the night has a song of its own and like veins all its streets carry life
our time here seems only momentary but it has already tattooed upon my soul an eternity of things
to the people I have met the streets I have walked and the songs we have sung – let these sounds not only ring through these rooms but through the corridors of you.
Apart from being pride month*, the month of June was dedicated to July. Of course, the time we invest in practicing and working is always an long-term investment and influences our future outputs. But July needed a month of preparation, to learn all the music that I was to be playing.
And here we are in already some time into July.
* A belated happy Pride Month to all my colourful and expressive friends and beyond! May this be a celebration of how far we have come, a reminder of those who pioneered to get us here and those who continue to do so. You are your pride, and you are the world’s pride too, and it is never limited to one month but every single day.
vowels, vibrations and Viitasaari
My housemates and I needed to leave our residence in Berlin by the end of June as the lease for the apartment was concluding. I had a few choices– find another sublet until mid-July or accept the invitation to attend the Chamber music Course with Camilla Hoitenga at the Musiikin Aika Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland. I applied to this course after finding it on the Ulysees Network, which you should check out especially if you are a musician with a particular interest in contemporary music. But my need to move wasn’t this wasn’t the only reason. I had an interest in learning and working with Camilla since I started learning the music of Kaija Saariaho. I was captivated by Hoitenga’s cadenza in Saariaho’s ‘Terrestre’ adapted from her flute concerto ‘Aile du Songe’ and used this as the basis for writing my own when I had the opportunity to perform it at the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee and my Third-Year recital at the Queensland Conservatoirum Griffith University. Not only has Camilla collaborated and had a long relationship with Saariaho but she also worked closely with Karlheinz Stockhausen. As a contemporary music addict, how could I not apply? And to add to my already excited state, it happened that Saariaho was to be at the festival also tutoring the composition course with many of her pieces in the festival program.
The Musiikin Aika Time of Music Festival is the only contemporary summer music festival in Finland. Situated in the central Finland region, the town is surrounded by greenery and lakes and is naturally breathtaking. The festival included a summer academy that was split into three courses: improvisation with John Butcher, composition with Kaija Saariaho and chamber music with Camilla Hoitenga. I honestly wanted to participate in all the courses but to my dismay the timetables overlapped. However, I was already happily busy with the chamber music repertoire and commitments. Working and learning from Camilla gave me insight into the people behind the score. Having worked with both Saariaho and Stockhausen, and with many of the pieces at the festival being by these composers, her collaborations were a guide to interpretation and musical language. This was more so for the work of Stockhausen, which I now understand to approach with a particular mindset and diligence. But Camilla also gave me a lot of guidance into the embouchure and the ways that we have to manipulate the lips and mouth to effective convey techniques, especially in Saariaho’s music with the gradients of breath tones to ordinary notes. She certainly made learning these mouth positions very entertaining by associating each position with a animal face. Let’s just say I practiced the ‘monkey face’ position quite a bit for Saariaho’s breathy passages.
There were two concerts that concluded the course. The main composers featured across the entire festival program were of course Saariaho and Stockhausen, however, the chamber music course participants also programmed works from composers they had worked with and music from their home countries. As a chamber piece I had brought Saariaho’s Mirrors for Flute and Violoncello along with me. I was to be working with Nicolò Neri, a cellist from Italy. As solo pieces I had brought Stockhausen’s ‘In Freundschaft’ and had to revive Andrew Ford’s ‘Female Nude’ for the second improvisation concert. Collectively, we were given the opportunity to prepare ensemble arrangements of Stockhausen’s ‘Tierkreis’ melodies. I must confess, before studying this work I had never voluntarily looked into astrology before. I am by no means an expert now but I am no longer highly perplexed at the words ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ sign and (planet) in retrograde. I still have many questions though. I will share the recordings from the festival on my website once I receive them form the festival, so stay tuned!
The Musikiin Aika Time of Music Festival brought together people from all over the world and together we shared and made music. My time in Viitasaari was affirming and exciting. I heard and experienced so many brilliant performances, met many people who are now colleagues and friends and had such a wonderful time. I was astounded how impactful every single performance was and how well organised the program was despite some very demanding pieces. Some of my favourite moments in the festival included hearing Stockhausen’s ‘Poles’ performed live, hearing the revised versions of Saariaho’s ‘Study for Life’ and ‘Graal Théâtre: Concerto for violin’ and being one of the ‘test audience’ members for Alexander Schubert and defunensemble’s new work ‘Unity Switch’. I felt changed by these works, uplifted, paralysed by the potency of performance and musically renewed. I knew that I was in the right place and that the people around me were functioning on the same wavelength and sharing the same passion for creating and sharing contemporary music. ‘Unity Switch’ was a particularly intriguing piece of work that incorporated virtual reality headsets with sound, movement, directions, smell and touch. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. I had volunteered as a test audience prior to the programmed performance sessions and I went in feeling a little nervous as I sat at a table with a headset facing a person I had never met before. The experience was peculiar, reminiscent of a more vanilla episode of Black Mirror and I certainly felt like my perception of the world and art had shifted a little post-exposure.
Apart from the musical moments in Viitasaari, I also
started to ride a bike again post-Würzburg incidents, enjoyed voluntary
insomnia by indulging in some Finnish tradition of late night saunas and lake diving
and warmed my hands over a barbeque whilst talking to Saariaho.
If you’re a musician and avid lover of contemporary art music you should definitely look into Musiika Aika Time of Music festival next year! It is such an exciting festival and I am truly glad that I came across it.
Listing whilst in Germany
Listening is learning. When I listen to the concerts and projects of others I feel as tough my creativity matures. It’s different, yet just as potent as the physical and mental act of practice with my flute. With concerts happening every night and day I thought it would be nice to share with you some of my perspectives and thoughts about selected concerts that I’ve been to since moving to Germany.
Ensemble Modern plays Mark Andre
When I was much younger my father introduced me to Frank Zappa and Dmitri Shostakovich. It was a baptism of sonic spice indeed. Since listening to Zappa’s albums in my youth I had wanted to hear ‘Ensemble Modern’ perform. The ensemble was in Australia around two years ago and performed ‘Yellow Shark’ in Melbourne. I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t go as I recall that it conflicted with my university commitments. But alas, as I was staying Würzburg which is easily accessible by train to Frankfurt where the ensemble is based, I was able to go and hear them play. This program featured music by the French-born composer, Mark Andre, who was also present in the hall. I had never heard his music live before. The whole concert was performed without any pauses. A wash of sounds emerged from the ensemble, at times delicate and at times coarse. It seemed like the whole ensemble was trying to create a body of air, sounds that felt propelled and spoken by the wind. Wind players certainly were in their element, but even the strings and percussion conjured such sounds from their instruments. It was a transfixing concert and a wonderful feeling getting to hear an ensemble I had admired since I was young.
Abschied und Entfremdung, Rundfunk Symphonische Orchester
I was invited to attend this concert by Ellie Harrison, violist, teacher and writer and the baritone James Young, who are two of my Australian musician friends currently living in Berlin. I had seen posters advertising this concert all around the Berlin underground. It certainly attracted many Australians (I could hear the accent all around the venue) living in Berlin, I suspect due to the programming of Brett Dean’s ‘Vexations and Devotions’ for children’s choir, mixed choir and large orchestra (2005) featuring the Gondwana Voices. The concert was certainly something quite special. The final adagio in Joseph Haydn‘s ‘Sinfonie Nr. 45 „Abschiedssinfonie“’ has a special touch and message to his patron at the time ‘Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy. His musicians and retinue had stayed longer at the palace of Eszterháza in rural Hungry. Understanding the musician’s weariness and desire to go home to their wives in Elsenstadt, Haydn put a request into this music. During this last movement each musician snuffs out their candle or light and gradually leaves the stage until only two muted violins are left on stage. I had my eyes closed at the beginning of this movement and didn’t open them until I heard some murmuring and chuckling in the audience. Curious I opened my eyes to the darkened hall, stand lights being turned off and musicians exiting the stage, even the conductor. The two violinists stood, playing in a conversation of melodic gesture until the very last sound was sung. Such a transfixing way to end a piece, I was completely absorbed in the transformation of the orchestra into this intimate duet. Following this piece was Gustav Mahler’s ‘Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Friedrich Rückert’ featuring the American Baritone Thomas Hampson. As soon as Hampson began singing a smile broke out onto my face, it was as if his vocal chords had extended into the audience and given each person an embrace drawing us closer to the music. Dean’s ‘Vexations and Devotions’ was after the interval and it seemed that many Australians were sitting in proximity to us, my ears have become more sensitive to picking up the accent. Perhaps this was the designated Australian area. I hadn’t heard the Gondwana choirs since I had left Sydney around four years ago. I was excited to hear a little piece of home. Dean’s piece was complex in its musical material and incorporated many strengths of the choir and orchestra. Highlights included the harmonica playing Bassoon player, the two alto flutes with several fantastic solos and the the exchanges between the choir members beyond singing, from clapping games to percussion playing. The incorporation of recorded material into the work added an extra dimension. The recorded material featured a typical calling cue message which began as with familiar sentences along the lines of “your call has been placed in a cue and will be answered shortly. We appreciate your patience.” However, gradually the sentences became more warped and the message twisted into something darker and dystopian. The incorporation of the music with this recorded material seemed carefully scored and effectively intertwined with the music which in turn augmented the changes in the recording. I enjoyed this program thoroughly, it was evident that the artistic directors had chosen a program that would arouse curiosity and wonder. It was particularly wonderful to hear/see the work of an Australian composer and musician closing a concert in Germany. I would’ve loved to have heard more works representing the diversity of people in music but alas, it is still unfortunately rare to find programs that are completely inclusive and balanced.
Anthony Pateras at KM28
At times I feel a little bit of disorientation regarding place since living in Berlin. This is especially so when I see and talk to Australians often. The Australians have sprawled all across the world. It can be fairly tempting to slide back into the comfort of long conversations in English with a person who has the same accent as you. Narcissistic familiarity or home sickness? Maybe a combination of the two. Anyhow, after having heard the Rundfunk Symphonische Orcherster perform Dean the night before I decided to continue with the Australian music in Berlin theme. On a Monday night I took the U-Bahn to KM28, a quaint venue with fantastic energy and some remarkable concerts featuring some ground-breaking ‘living, breathing and creating’ musicians. This concert featured the music of Australian born composer and performer, Anthony Pateras, and marked the release of his ‘Collected Works Vol. II (2005-2018)‘. Pateras was there himself and opened the concert with a ‘Sphinx’s Riddle’ for piano and electronics. The space was split by an arch and the piano was in one area whilst the other performances took place in another. There were two pieces that I thought worked in perfect juxtaposition. ‘A Happy Sacrifice’ for Contrabass and Electronics performed by Jon Heilbron alongside ‘Burning is the Thing’ for piccolo and electronics performed by Rebecca Lane seemed like a sonic diptych. From the frequencies of the contrabass to the timbre and shrillness of the piccolo. The piccolo and the contrabass are truly interesting characters! I was particularly transfixed by Jessica Aszodi’s performance of ‘Prayer for Nil’ for soprano voice and electronics. Both the performance and the piece completely captivated me. One thing I found to be very intriguing was when the live instrument would weave in and out of ‘tune’ with the pitch being produced by the electronics. The resulting feature unpredictable rhythms and the wonderfully strange sensation of ‘difference tones’, that is the additional tone (the resultant tone) or tones that one hears when two pitches are played simultaneously. At times, this phenomenon can be more obvious depending on frequency and timbre. It’s a fascinating and ‘fairly safe to the ears’ experiment to try at home or in the practice room with another consenting musician or music lover.
Have you ever been to a concert that sent electricity through your body? That turned your brain in full rotation? That made your jaw and teeth drop to the floor? And remind you of how powerful and outspoken music and the arts are and can be? Well all but the last are quite metaphorical, but I think I am now able to give an answer to those who ask ‘what is the most powerful concert you have ever been to?’. Admittedly I have yet to be asked this question, but I will answer it here. On the 31st of May at Ewerk, I attended ‘Dies Irae’, the eighth addition to the ‘Klimakonzert’ initiative/series instigated by the Orchester des Wandels. The venue was formerly known as Berlin’s techno temple and has now been converted into a space for various events whilst still maintaining an industrial atmosphere. The vision behind this concert and series is to bring the climate crisis to the forefront through music. All proceeds from the concert went towards supporting the ‘New Life on Lower Prut River‘ project in partnership with WWF for the renaturation of the alluvial forests in the delta of the Prut river. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Moldovan-Austrian-Swiss Violinist staged and directed this concert titled ‘Dies Irae’, which since Mediaeval times has spoken about the ‘The Days of Wrath’ or the ‘Last Days.’ In her words, “Our time faces the unprecedented threat of global warming. Many – and many of those in power – do not want to believe it.” The program began with Giacinto Scelsi’s Okanagon for harp, contrabass and tamtam in a room separate from where the audience was seated. The piece resonated throughout the space and also our bodies. The program itself was a melange of early music to contemporary works without any pause in between. Changes between pieces were seamless and sometimes violent. The unpredictability and instability of the existence of each piece seemed like a sonic representation of the chaos of the climate. My eyes and ears sometimes didn’t know where or what to focus on, so much was happening. Kopatchinskaja would leap around, dancing, convulsing, whilst taking the whole orchestra with her. One of the most powerful works on the program was the Russian-born composer, Galina Ustwolskaja’s Composition No. 2 ‘Dies Irae.’ This piece is scored for a peculiar combination of a piano, eight double basses and a wooden cube, a coffin-like wooden structure that is relentlessly pummelled. If you haven’t heard of Ustwolskaja or are not familiar with her works you certainly should take some time to get to know this powerful musical master and visionary. Click here to read an article that on her life and selected works.
The Klimakonzert ended in the most poignant manner. From the back of the space and above the audience the choir sung the Gregorian hymn, ‘Dies Irae’, accompanied. Yes, accompanied by dozens of metronomes, each ticking away at its own tempo. Members of the orchestra came out one by one, a light in one hand and a mechanical metronome in the other. They dispersed themselves into the audience and each set down their metronome on the floor. ‘Dies Irae’ continued in the background, the ticking of each metronome creating polyrhythms with their mechanical neighbours. One by one each metronome came to a still and each metronome keeper turned off their light. ‘Dies Irae’ came to a close and when the final metronome stopped ticking I heard my heart beating. Breathing steadily, one thought came to mind. Dies Irae– our last days are near. We face an alarming extinction and climate crisis and the time to act is now. We must not wait until the final hour.
From back home
The results of the Australian election in May were quite honestly heartbreaking on many levels and I felt completely helpless being on the other side of the world. However, I did fulfil my democratic duty at the Australian Embassy to vote (and having a sad democracy sausage afterwards) but I felt helpless having not been able to campaign with my fellow friends and activists on issues at the forefront of the election. But have not extinguished my hope or my activism. Instead it has only made me angrier and put wood in that fire. I see a generation that is willing to fight for a future, for our planet and every living being, and this gives me hope. The youth are outspoken and we need leaders that will listen, for are we not the adults of the future, the leaders of tomorrow? I look to many of the people back home who continuously campaign for justice, are outspoken and empower others each in their own way. These are the people who make me excited to come back to Australia. They make creativity even more vibrant, the voice of justice loud and give my heart hope. I joined thousands protesting for climate justice in Berlin at one of many climate marches happening worldwide. Thousands of people from around the world are attending such protests and taking direct action. Our voices and message of urgency is getting more and more amplified. Climate change is the biggest issue that we face, it exacerbates many other issues such as the refugee crisis with ‘climate refugees’ growing in numbers. This affects everything and involves everyone, of all ages, genders, ethnicities, occupations and identities. Why? Because we are human and this is our home. In fact, those who continue to deny climate change need a huge reality check. There’s no planet B so we should look after the planet and each other. You don’t need to label yourself as an activist. In fact, I am reluctant to because I feel that it our responsibility as humans rather than a title or badge we wear. Less symbolism, titles and more action, from everyone. I urge you to take a look at what you can do in your community because every single action we take now, even from the smallest changes in our daily lives affect the future. If you’re not sure where to start I’ve compiled a list of six helpful organisations taking direct action on climate change. Go and check them out, get inspired and act.
Whilst I started this
segment on a rather grim reflection of events I would like to share some of the
great things that that I have had the honour to be involved in Brisbane
even whilst being away, and also share with you some of the great projects that
my friends and colleagues are doing.
Women of Noise
Previously, I wrote about how excited I was to see ‘Women of Noise’ (formerly known as ‘Noisy Women’) having its second concert again on International Women’s Day. On the 8th of March, the concert was held at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University involving current students, faculty and alumni. I woke up at 3am to catch the concert via the livestream which had been organised for those who wanted to tune into the wonderful program of musical masterpieces. These fabulous recordings are now up on the Youtube channel so you can enjoy these electrifying performances anytime and anywhere. You can have a look at some of the great photos taken by Kate O’Brien on our Facebook page. I was unable to be on site in Brisbane to do a lot of the coordinating and organisational work around the concert as I was at the flute studio. Therefore, I am eternally grateful to all the musicians involved and extend a special thanks to Vanessa Tomlinson and the Women of Noise Team– Courtney Lovell (social media and speaker), Sasha Walker (graphic design), Anna Rabinowicz (co-ordinator) and Elizabeth Shearon. But it doesn’t stop at the concert. We are excited to announce that Women of Noise now has its own radio segment ‘Women of Noizzze’ on 4ZZZ (102.10 FM Brisbane, Sundays from 2-5am) which will also be available as an extended podcast on multiple platforms including iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa. You can listen to the first episode here. The show will be celebrating and featuring music and interviews from female-identifying and non-binary members of the community and the arts. The wonderful and bubbly Courtney Lovell will be spinning the discs and interviewing an array of incredible women and non-binrary artists and members of the community. There’s going to be some super humans sharing their creativity and stories. I will also be launching my sub-project Women Write Now in mid-August. It will involve a series of blog style interviews with women identifying and non-binary artists from around the globe. I welcome submissions and suggestions for this project and you can do so here. There’s some more exciting news coming regarding WoN (including a website!) that I will share within the coming months but some great things are happening for now. I am overjoyed to see WoN thriving, celebrating the achievements and creativity of individuals and having more creative voices heard. I too am continuously learning about and discovering many impressive creative people and projects in our community.
Dare to speak
As I’ve said before, I am constantly blown away by the achievements of my friends and colleagues. I feel incredibly honoured when I am invited to be part of projects back home even when I am away. I naturally say yes. Matthew Klotz, Brisbane-based composer and musician curated a concert at The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University titled ‘Dare To Speak.’ The concert brought together music, poetry and art in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and transphobia. All proceeds from the event were donated to the LGBTI youth organisation Minus18. Mat sent me a ‘A Litany For Survival’, a poem by Audre Lorde, an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. In this poem and in her words I could feel a sense of shared human pain and struggle. Brisbane-based flutist, improviser, composer, feminist and writer (and also my mentor!) Hannah Reardon-Smith combined my reading of Lorde’s poem with a structured improvisation on flute and electronics. The result was chillingly beautiful. You can listen to it here and read the poem here.
I suppose it’s time to announce that I won’t be coming back to Australia until late September this year. Yes, the northern hemisphere has kept me for longer than I expected.
I received several pieces of exciting news for the month of July. I have already written about my wonderful time at Musikiin Aika Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland. I then briefly stopped over in Oslo for a few days to work with Elizabeth Shearon, my friend and colleague from my years at Queensland Conservatorium of music Griffith University who is a brilliant composer and also on the Women of Noise team. We spent some time walking in the forest, picking wild berries, eating some tasty vegan food and working on her new composition for flute and tape. Without giving away too much too soon, the piece is written about climate change and is based on one of my favourite speeches. I will be premiering it at the Bang On A Can Summer Music festival this month. Well, I think I just gave away the next piece of my news. It is with uncontained excitement that I share with you this news that I been invited as a performance fellow to the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival at Mass MoCA, Massachusetts. For many professional musicians, the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival has been a sort of rite of passage. Some great Australian flute players have also been part of this festival during the early stages of their career. The festival involves three weeks of intensive music making with wonderful musicians from around the world, an ‘all-star’ faculty and guest musicians including the SunRa Arkestra, Pamela Z,Ben Frost amongst many others. I look forward to working with artists I have not yet had the opportunity to work with and working again with those that I have worked with before. Fellow Brisbane musician and violinist Flora Wong will also be present as a performance fellow at the festival. You should take a look and support her project ‘Geburstag’, which celebrates the 10th birthday of her Helge Grawert violin through commissioning new works from four Australian composers (Connor D’Netto, MJ O’Neill, Chris Perren, Kezia Yap.) i’m sure there’ll be some sneak peeks of the project at the festival. Together we’ll be playing some freshly written pieces by the composition fellows for the festival and I may have a special debut as a metronome operator for one of Flora’s ‘Geburstag’ pieces. I also look forward to working again with two musicians whom worked with at the Nief-Norf Summer Festival last year– the NYC-based guitarist, Neil Beckmann and viola player and writer, Elias Aaron Irving Gross. Neil and I will be performing Michael Gordon’s ‘Dry’ together. I’m excited to explore new repertoire, share ideas and make many new friends and of course copious amounts of music! I will be sure to share my performances on my website and social media so stay tuned.
This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. Without funding, many emerging musicians like myself would have limited opportunity to attend such festivals, to perform, develop their artistic identity and to share and give back the joy of music to their communities.
This was a particularly long series of writings and if you made it to the end then you probably need to go for a long walk away from a screen. A snack of hummus is also a good accompaniment. I welcome any comments, suggestions of things to hear/see/taste whilst in this part of the world and just general greetings. I will bring this to a close now and let these fingers rest. Until the next writings.
P.S. If you have or know of any exciting projects please share them with me. I would love to share and celebrate the work of others in my writing much more.
read ‘the long way home’ part one here read ‘the long way home’ part two here
The cover photo for this post was taken by my talented housemate, Doro Schneider.
I had never been to Germany before. In fact, there are many places in Europe that I have never been despite being half-European. Driving into Würzburg my sleepy eyes and mind thought that I had returned to the lush landscape of Elmsted, instead now castles had replaced cows. The magnolia trees were in at the Hauptbahnhof. I adore the pale colour of the giant flowers heavy on their leafless branches.
Würzburg is a quaint city in Bavaria. A city of wine, wine and beer drinkers at all hours of the day, nature and culture. It is also home to Germany’s best music research centre at the Hochschule für Musik. To my excitement, I also was informed that the X-ray were invented there. It’s always fun to learn about ubiquitous things that were invented in somewhat obscured places. Each place has their own piece(s) of pride I suppose!
Würzburg, waking and working
My time in Würzburg was limited. I gave myself four weeks to find a place of my own and options for employment and potentially further study. I spent my first weeks in Würzburg basking in nature, bike rides (and injuries), Bavarian food and stress. The feeling of waiting can often eat away at my mind and causes me to be quite unsettled. I am a patient person however being in institutions and living life by a schedule has structured the way I live each day. I am quite restless when I have no outstanding tasks to do and I find it difficult to embrace free-time, relaxation and holidays. It seems that I perceive my waking hours as working hours. So I spent my time in Würzburg a little disorientated by my lack of structure, and newfound freedoms. I had sent applications for several orchestras in Germany with vacancies, for several festivals in Europe, applied for a casual job and emailed many people regarding subletting a room for the next couple of months. Waiting is difficult, you have to think about various outcomes, and when you do receive news and it is favourable, action must be taken. You have to get working on those excerpts, that concerto, be ready to pack your bags to move and be ready by the given date. It’s a feeling that is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. In addition to the applications and searching I received news that my flute, Lentil, was in quite a bad state and in need of repairs and an eventual overhaul. The six months of drilling technique at the flute studio had worn my flute out as well! I was directed to Herr Abe, a flute technician in Stuttgart who previously worked for Yamaha. He now works from his studio with two dogs who ‘sing’ when they hear the flute.
I decided that I needed to move to a city in Germany that had more to offer for music and the arts. All signs and people seemed to be pointing in the direction of Berlin. This seemed a good option for me with reasonable rent, concerts every day and a healthy classical and experimental scene. It seemed to offer good ground for exploring. The only real downside was that I knew that my progress in learning German would suffer slightly in Berlin. Many people speak English. If you are to buy a coffee, you may be greeted and asked what you want all in English depending on where you are in Berlin. It can be quite disorientating. However, I still persevere with speaking German where I can.
A Botanical Berlin
I surprised myself by having found a place to live for the next two months fairly quickly, having only spent less than three weeks in Germany. Situated near the Botanic Gardens in Lichterfeld, a particularly peaceful area of Berlin, I was to be living with two ladies around my age, Doro and Mathilde. Doro is German and studying Veterinary science, she also is a wonderful photographer (I’ll be using some of her photos as I begin to update my website), and Mathilde from Yverdon, Switzerland who is studying political Geography and is a leader in the climate movement (Jeunes Verts). I was very excited to be moving into such a vibrant and lively household.
Whilst I was preparing to move I also had to prepare for my very first professional orchestral audition. Having spent several years of my studies practicing and learning orchestral excerpts and standard flute repertoire and taking ‘mock orchestral auditions’ I decided it was time to apply this hard work to a real experience.I received a lot of encouragement from Trevor and my colleagues at the studio to apply for auditions. Of course, when you ‘apply’ for an audition you may not always get invited to do a live audition merely on the basis of your experience and your CV. Germany has many orchestras, sometimes a couple for each city and one for each town, and because of this mild abundance vacancies do come up periodically. But of course winning a job is tough, especially with the amount of applicants and competition to secure an orchestral job. You hear plenty of stories of people who have taken dozens of auditions, those who didn’t pass a trial and those who leave orchestras due to conflict. Of course, many positive stories also exist.
I was simultaneously excited and nervous when I received an email from one of the orchestras I had applied for inviting me to participate in a live audition. This was to be my very first audition for an orchestral job and I was eager to find out what this would be like. Back in my undergraduate we had mock auditions which were incredibly helpful and mostly conducted behind a screen but all the other auditions I previously had done for youth orchestras and the university orchestra were never behind a screen. Unsure of how German auditions are generally conducted, I had some questions. “Would it be conducted behind a screen?” “Would I need to speak German fluently?” “Would I need an accompanist?” I knew that the answers to most of my questions would be revealed on the day and so I eased some of the lingering curiosities in my distant scenery in my mind. However, I found this article quite helpful and enlightening when I started preparing for auditions in Germany.
I was only to spend about a week and a half in Berlin before I had to leave to go to my audition. I had been practicing at the flat and was initially quite conscious about breaking my practice into several chunks to give the ears of my housemates a bit of a rest. However, after my first practice session at the flat I came out of my room to find all the doors completely open and my housemates sitting peacefully in their rooms. I was so shocked that the doors weren’t closed, especially after practicing some scales and repetitions but they told me how much they enjoyed hearing the music. I felt a welcome warmth in this quirky and special household.
The town of my audition was situated about an hour away from Würzburg, my first German home prior to Berlin. The ‘Deutsche Bahn’ system can be rather deceptive and there are several ways to travel around Germany with the main trains being the ICE and the RE. It is always helpful to know some German as on these trains they don’t always announce the important information in English such as transfers, changes to services or trains splitting in half. But one does learn very quickly once one has experienced getting lost in translation. The first time this happened to me was when I was travelling to my audition. I was well aware of my transfers and made sure to always listen very carefully to announcements being made but somehow I managed to miss that my final transfer would be the trickiest. Having travelled for over three hours my brain managed to miss the warning that the Deutsche Bahn ticket checker had given me and also the poster in capitals with five exclamation marks telling me that the train would split into two each going to separate destinations. Usually there is a speaker announcement at stations that specifies this strange splitting but at this very tiny station there was only a flimsy piece of paper in a most inconspicuous place. This 50/50 chance of getting on the right train was unbeknownst to me and I got on the wrong train.
“Your ticket please.” The ticket officer asked.
I showed him my ticket. His eyes squinted slightly.
“You’re on the wrong train! You are meant to be in the one in front but it has already left.”
I panicked slightly, my brain translating his relentlessly fast German into some sort of understanding. My train had already left.
Another man joined in and frantically pointed at the door.
I needed to get off or I’d end up lost in Bavaria!
As it turned out I wasn’t the only one who had hopped onto the wrong train. A backpacker also had unknowingly wandered onto the train believing that the whole vehicle went to the town.
We looked at each other and hurried off the train that was ready to depart.
The backpacker looked at me. My exhausted face managed a smile. We both went over to sit under the shelter, there we could also look at the timetable. Her name was Sandra. She asked me if I wanted to go and sit outside the station with her. I nodded. More to look at I supposed.
Our train wasn’t due for another hour. We sat and spoke about Germany, identity, home. Sandra was living in the town I was to have my audition in.
“Do you like it there?”
“It’s nice. The scenery is beautiful with mountains and greenery. But after a while it gets boring for the young mind!”
Between drags at her cigarette Sandra said she wished to move to a bigger location in Bavaria, perhaps Würzburg or Schweinfurt. I recommended Würzburg highly to her but also expressed why I felt it wasn’t for me. She had lived in Berlin once too.
Time elapsed, few cars passed, even fewer people passed, our surrounding never really changing. The station was made up of two platforms and a quaint antique shop only open twice a week. No coffee, no food, not even bathrooms. It was an inevitable mediation of sorts.
The hour elapsed and we made our way back to the platform. This time, with the small piece of paper in sight loud in its punctuation, we would get on the correct train.
And we did.
As promised the town was robed in mountains and greenery and an air of calm. Sandra accompanied me to my lodging for the night. She lived in that direction also. She wished me the best of luck and we parted.
I was greeted by two cats before I saw the concierge. She gave me my keys and showed me on a map where I could find the concert hall where I was to have my audition. I thanked her and the cats and went to my room to study my scores and before I slept.
The town was beautiful. The city centre was comfortably small but still equipped with food markets, restaurants and other shops. I made my way to the concert hall to discover that there were two concert halls. In one of the halls there was a concert in progress, in the other a swarm of flutes was to be found. The sound of thirty flutes playing ‘Voliere’ over and over is quite an overwhelming experience. A swarm of birds indeed it is, perhaps an experience more reminiscent of Hitchcock rather than Saint-Saens. I began to warm up on my flute and piccolo. I had thought that my given time of twelve o’clock was my individual audition time. Thoughts travelled around my head. Perhaps they would get us up one by one in front of each other to play our concertos and excerpts in front of everyone. There was no screen to be seen on the stage either. It would be an open show. I went up to the piano to test the pitch. It was a little lower than expected.
The hall was beautifully ornate with gold filigree sprawled across the ceiling and chandeliers that hung like grapes. Decadent details for a small town dedicated to spa tourism and relaxation. The jury started to trickle in. It was obvious that those who were not holding flutes were on the panel for the audition. A representative stood up to make opening remarks. It was in these opening words that many of my curiosities were answered.
“Welcome flutists! As there are many of you we have decided to have two rounds. In the first round you have the choice to perform with or without accompaniment. And in second round we will choose ten of you. Please wait outside until you are called.”
There were about thirty flute players and many of them had already had generous orchestral experience and experience with taking auditions. This was my first audition for a professional orchestra ever and I was feeling determined. When it was my time to go and play I felt the usual feeling of knowing I could’ve played better. My sound was a bit off in the space. I was truly prepared to go and eat some lunch but the orchestral manager was to announce the second round. My name was called and my stomach had to wait. A banana or two would do for now.
In the second round all repertoire was accompanied by piano. I had never had the chance to play the required repertoire with piano before, so there was an element of excitement and an even more heightened sense of concentration. I would play so that it would never cross their minds that I had never played the pieces with piano before. I gave the accompanist my tempos and explained my repetitions. After playing I was invited to come down to speak to the jury. They asked me some questions which I managed to understand and answer in my basic German:
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” I chuckled slightly. I had come across this question a lot in my Bachelor’s degree.
“I love playing all music, from early music to modern music. I particularly enjoy playing in Chamber ensembles and creating and continuing to develop my own projects. And of course, I see myself teaching new generations of flute players and using music to influence positivity and communicate important messages and values.” *
“Thank you. Have you obtained your B1 Certificate in German?” They asked.
“No. Not yet. I am studying and will take my test as soon as possible.”
“Good, because in order to start here you will need it.” I nodded. I knew this wouldn’t be the first time I would need this certification.
“Thank you for your time. We will call you soon with the results.”
I left the hall with my head swirling. Had I heard everything correctly? Were there details I had missed out on telling them? I decided to catch the train home and said goodbye and good luck to the remaining flute players.
Whilst I did not get the job on this occasion, I am certainly glad that I decided to apply for this audition. Being an orchestral musician is not the job of my dreams but it is an opportunity that I do wish to have, even whilst opportunities in this field are rare. There’s nothing quite like the incredible wash of sound you get when sitting in an orchestra. It’s uplifting and makes you want to lift the audience up also. I also had a surprising amount of fun taking this audition. Enjoyment seemed to override any anxieties I may have had as soon as I began to play. I met flutists’ from all around the world, I got to play some great repertoire with piano and did I mention that I also got to drink copious amounts of soda water? Well, I made sure to drink this only after the audition as to avoid any possible accidental extended vocal (belching) techniques! Although it may have been a rather surprising twist on classic repertoire.
* On a side but very alarmingly real note, it is hard to envision the next five years when we face a climate crisis. David Gilmour, who just auctioned his valuable collection of guitars raising $21.5 million for the non-profit environmental law group, ClientEarth, said: “”The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face, and we are within a few years of the effects of global warming being irreversible… We need a civilised world that goes on for all our grandchildren and beyond in which these guitars [and all instruments] can be played and songs can be sung.” More on this a in my next post.
Never static, never silent
I mentioned in my last post that I would talk a more about my encounters with dance. At times I feel that my experiences with things are by no means accidental and are linked to an experience or experiences that will occur in the future. I’ve been fascinated by the human body and gesture for a long time. Personally I feel it is quite unnatural to not ‘move’ with music and simultaneously be moved by it also. But this is again up for debate. Trevor often told us that it didn’t matter how much we moved, if our music didn’t have vitality and the ability to dance on it’s own then our bodily movements would be for nought. On audio recordings you can’t hear the person’s bodily movement, unless of course they are being deliberately percussive. But if movement helps to heighten one’s sense of musical phrasing and musicality then one should do what they feel can help them communicate best. I love movement. I’ve come to understand it as music itself, a graphic score of sorts.
I was invited to do a performance for an arts exhibition opening at the Alte Munze in Berlin with dancers. It was an opportunity I received after attending an improvisation workshop with Chie Mukai, a musician and improviser from Osaka. This workshop brought together artists from many disciplines, from film, installation art and performance art. It was such a refreshing environment to improvise in and there were many breathtaking outcomes. I can say that I’ve had some really spectacular and wonderfully creative improvisations with those who aren’t necessarily trained musicians. In fact the theme of Mukai’s workshop was about freedom and eroding barriers, there should be nothing stopping us from innate human creative expression. And so we tore down any hesitations and let ourselves speak. It was in this workshop that I met many wonderful creatives active in Berlin. One of the artists, Yaqin Si, invited me to perform with dancers in the opening of an exhibition she was part of.
I had never really worked with professional dancers before. My set was to be the last of three-episodes, a solo flute performance to counter the heightened activity and rush of drums and electronics in Fumihiro Ono’s performances before. I had the pleasure of working with a chorus of innately creative dancers including Angelica Blalock, Veronica Parlagreco, Margherita Mattia, Katja-Maria Taavitsanen, Eva Kaak and Emma Bäcklund who provided a vision behind the performance and loosely choreographed the dancing. Our performance was intended to bring the night to a close and draw the audience outwards. The room was busy with artwork and people and required some conscious manoeuvring. In the centre a ‘battle ring’ had been set up with monitors surrounding reminiscent of a boxing ring. I requested for the lights to be turned off so that the only light would be from the city glow outside and the monitors. The performance was an ethereal moment of intimacy and in some ways transcendence. The dancers were in close contact moving across the space as one entity of movement. I responded to their movements through sound and bodily movement myself and in turn they responded to my music. For this performance I chose to begin on the alto flute, which has undoubtedly become my favourite flute over the years. I adore the organic tone, the richness of harmonics in the middle and upper registers and the simultaneous airy rawness. It reminds me of the smell of earth after rain. I moved around the space with the alto with the plan to transition to my concert flute at some point. As we moved out of the space the audience seemed to move with us, out through the entrance and up the stairs. It was a pied-piper moment. I will be sure to share the footage of the performance on my website and Instagram when I receive it.
I loved every moment of working with the dancers. It was a symbiotic performance whereby the movement of my sound and their movement of the body informed each other and coalesced. Collaborating across the arts is truly special and I feel that other art forms and disciplines can infuse and augment creative delivery, as a matrimony of creative languages that converses with each of our senses differently.
The third episode of ‘the long way home’, part three will tell of some of the fascinating concerts I’ve been to whilst here in Germany, transforming uncertainty to action in light of recent events, powerful projects from back home and upcoming performances and festivals. Stay tuned (not always in equal temperament) and sweet sonic journeys until then!
These writings are for all those I kept waiting, those who encouraged me to write more and for those who are curious and love the worlds woven from words and of course for those of us who are in need of some moments for procrastination pleasure. May these series of belated posts attempt at answering some of the questions I’ve receieved and a leisurely dive into my adventures abroad, my untangled thoughts and emerging escapades. This story will be strewn across three ‘episodes’ or parts, otherwise I may have to redefine this as an online book.
an overdue embrace with exhaustion
In the last few months’ words have eluded me. I’ve been lost in a daze of recovery and every little activity seemed consuming. The patterns that my fingers had danced to for these months, a feverish act of musical necessity had become engraved into my being, an obsession of the mind, even permeating as deep as sleep. My feelings were a melange of things, and quite honestly a bit fractured. Perhaps if you were to place a canvas in front of me it should remain blank for sometime. And this is exactly what I had done to myself. Placed myself in front of a computer and instructed my fingers to type in words emotions and experiences of the months past and time to come. Several times I sat down to write this. Between practice breaks, early mornings, late nights and even when being held captive to a chair by being in transit. Sometimes I could only write a few words and continue to make corrections on previously written material. I painted the white on the canvas a few shades whiter. But, I could not keep putting off the detail that I felt I must paint, in order to illustrate a presence in my absence. This may come in stabs of colour whilst at other times an unruly possession of explosive vivid expression, and sometimes you will visibly see the gaps. Yet I, myself, do not feel colourless, even having slumped into the arms of my long overdue embrace with exhaustion. Alas, I have arisen from my mental hibernation later than preferred.
shadows of the studio
Removing myself from what had become the quotidian, living amongst the peace of the quite alarmingly separated village of twenty-two residents in Elmsted took some time. It was a slow emergence from a flute induced dream back into the clamour of civilisation. I concluded my time at ‘The Flute Studio’ at the end of March. These six months felt non-stop and having stepped right into this intensive residency after completing my Bachelor degree gave me no time to be seduced by any prospects of unwinding. I believe my time in England could be considered somewhat of a “once in a lifetime experience.” I’m not sure when I will get another opportunity to spend six months dedicated to practicing my flute with no distractions, apart from the machinations of my mind and very charming animals and a few people. I speculate that it is very unlikely that I will have the luxury of such a pilgrimage again. But I do hope to embark on more creative residencies where I will need to focus less on technique and more on the joy of music making and sharing. My studies in England gave me time to overcome many technical obstacles that made certain musical ideas more difficult to communicate. It wasn’t such a ‘creative’ experience, as I knew would be the case from the start. I went there to improve the technical aspects of my playing and in turn clear some fog that had preventing me from some means of creative communication. It also opened up new insights into different areas of flute playing that I may not have had the opportunity to explore on my own or during my bachelor degree, such as learning the Baroque flute and recorder, master classes with renowned flutists and pedagogues and repertoire previously unknown to me.
Trevor, my teacher at the studio, is the keeper of myriad resources and erudition when it came to repertoire, flutes of all ages and even advice beyond the flute. Beyond the flute? Well, there were times when Trevor would speak about experiences and anecdotes where one’s character, actions and unfortunately physical appearance are weighed into consideration when one is applying for work and collaborating with others. Talent and hard work is only part of what seems to be some very inconsistent criteria. Keep your elbows off the table when you’re eating your celebratory cake in front of the jury. Tattoos, piercing and hair colour, anything too vividly ornamental can also be considered somewhat overtly individualistic in certain workplaces and contexts. In the context of an orchestra uniformity is key not only to the music, but to dress code. I am a lover of colour, an advocate for freedom of the deepest personal expression and I am genuinely empowered by others who express themselves. Music is inherently expressive. But of course it is not the only way we express. I draw, take pictures and adore gardening but I express in the quotidian; in my daily choice of clothing and adornment, my choice of food and so on. I have begun to ramble but, perhaps this is part of the reason I am so drawn to chamber music groups that exude individualistic qualities of each member. It seems that within more traditional modes of music making virtuosity is valued, appearance is appropriate and structures are safe. I am continuously confronted by rules and it is often said that one must know the rules to break them. I have come across a lot of these rules in my studies and in institutions. But I still find myself questioning, ‘who is making the rules and how (or how not) are these rules evolving and being eroded?’ I’m slowly discovering myself in this world of structures, and when to be myself, if not always.
I had planned to return to Australia at the end of the course, on the 31st of March but I decided I was to postpone my flight until later. The northern hemisphere had ensnared me. At times it can be hard to put my decisions into words, and often I am nervous that they may be an act of impulse. But I have begun to trust my impulse as instinct. I am not one to travel for pleasure, I travel to expand my creativity, view and knowledge. Once my mind is captivated by an idea my body seems to follow. Concluding Trevor’s course presented me with a choice– was I to metaphorically throw my pasta in the air and see where it is to land and move from there, or was I to pick just one or a few and follow stick to those chosen pieces. And so I threw my pasta everywhere.
I know that in previous posts I have discussed my thoughts regarding specialising and I still feel I travel on the same wavelengths as these thoughts. But alas, some of the opportunities I’ve applied for and taken have been a melange of musical making. I think this is right for where I currently am mentally and musically.
I decided to stay on in London for ten days after finishing my residency in Kent. I was invited to play and do a conduction in the London Improvisers Orchestra’s April concert. I was very excited to have this opportunity as I had some ideas I wished to trial including constructing several graphic scores (samples pictured on the left) and conducting them. When I came to conducting though, I was reminded of how expressive, communicative and innate movement is. In fact, I became aware that all movement is dance. The Malaysian theremin player, sound designer, improviser, composer and educator Ng Chor Guan made me most aware of this. His conduction was truly beautiful and evolved from gentle gestures to convulsions that possessed the orchestra to mirror in sound. I will speak more about dance in my next episode. After having some insightful lessons, listening to as many concerts as I could and gorging on vegan pizza it was time to move on to Germany.
A LONG NIGHT SHORT OF SLEEP
Würzburg is a city that I never might have wanted to visit if not for my old flute teacher and friend. Having endured Trevor’s course herself she invited me to spend some time in Germany following my time in England, as a means to unwind back into “normal living” away from the flute farm. But before I continue to describe sehr schön Würzburg I must first tell you about the eighteen hours that got me there.
London to Germany. There are several ways to get there. You can catch a plane, a train and even a bus. But being a ‘student’ and fr-asian (frugal Asian) I was seduced by the price of taking a bus. Not only did it appear to be a reasonable price but it also promised to double as overnight accommodation. I only discovered later that I had to pay a price in confronting hours of oddities.
It was a beautiful day to leave London. The sun was shining, unobscured by clouds, the sky was blue and even the people seemed a bit brighter in colour. That night I was to take the late night bus from London to Würzburg transferring at Frankfurt. Wearing my strawberry hat, I waited in Victoria station with people traveling far and wide. I was somewhat confused when my bus was announced, for it was destined for Bucharest, which is quite some distance from London. I saw some equally lost and confused people around me who also were heading for Frankfurt. The bus drivers, who spoke Romanian and struggled in English, managed to tell us that the bus was making stops in France, Belgium and Frankfurt (and beyond). Once the journey began I was determined to completely immerse myself in sleep, and something about the stuffiness of being in a vehicle often puts me to sleep. I sat down next to a man who was Belgium bound and a connoisseur of long bus rides it seemed. There was a point where my brain could not tolerate the conversation as I became hounded with questions on my religious identity and marriage status. Was I to endure this until the early hours of the morning when he was to alight? Sleep the saviour tugged at my eyelids and all cascaded into a gradient of darkness.
The bus stopped.
In a confused state I opened my eyes. I was quite certain the eighteen hours had not elapsed already. Many passengers seemed familiar with the stops and filed out of the bus, cigarettes and documents in hand. We were at Dover and our documents were to be checked. We went into the immigration building and were coldly met with the grim faces of immigration officers. “Français?” The officer asked each of us. Those of us who nodded were gifted with a hint of acknowledgement. After all documents were checked we went back to the bus. Surely now I could sleep for the rest of my journey. Or not. The doors opened and one of the immigration officers came aboard. He made his way towards the back of the bus. He approached a man who was sitting in the far back.
“Where are your documents?” He asked.
The man grabbed at his belongings trying to find some form of documentation.
“I, uh, left it in a café.” He said.
“I don’t understand.” The officer frowned. “Please explain.”
The man tried several times to explain the absence of his documents, but to no avail.
‘I do not understand what he is trying to say.’ He said to himself in French.
“You will need to come with me.” He said to the document-less man.
The man and the officer left the bus.
I closed my eyes and slept... alas, only to be woken up soon after.
Eyes squinting, I took out my itinerary. We needed to cross the Channel to get from Dover to Calais so that we could be on our way through Europe. I was convinced we would be taking an underground tunnel to get across the river. Naïve I was.
Our bus boarded a ferry, a ginormous boat with numerous other coach buses. We all had to alight from our bus and enter the main part of the ferry. Up stairs we went until we reached an area with levels of seating, shops and food. It seemed like a moving sad shopping mall and we were the cornered consumers.
I wanted to find a place to sit down and sleep for the duration of this ferry trip. There wasn’t much to see from the windows, a darkened view of the Channel. But my mind was a void pulling me towards sleep.
I slunk up to the food court which had a designated level all to its own. In the very early hours of the morning people were having breakfasts and beer. In an undying state of exhaustion, I lay down my head at a booth and slept until we reached the continent.
People were to alight where they needed, Calais, Bruges, Frankfurt, just some of the stops littered along the way to Bucharest. Stops were made and people moved in and out of the bus for cigarettes, air and stillness. When new passengers would board the language scape would shift slightly. Once we passed France and Brussels the French speaking faded into the distance whilst conversations in German and Romanian grew more prominent. Post-Dover was without much surprise. Sleep faded in and out of focus and often. I clutched onto my flute and bags in a rather dazed state. I reached Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, an area which is considered one the most dangerous areas in Germany. Mind you, this is dangerous by German definition, and as I have now discovered it is barely comparable with crime in other cities in the US or Australia. But it was here that I waited for my next bus with several other people who consistently and quick conspicuously snuck glances at my strawberry hat. I wish I had a little secret camera installed into the hat that could take photos of people’s facial reactions to seeing it. Smiling faces, faces of confusion, wonder, appreciation or sometimes ambiguous expressions. But what I do know is that when children see me wearing this hat they do not hold back from exclaiming: “Erdebeere!” Or, “strawberry” in unrestrained excitement of seeing something fun in contrast with the imposing concrete structures, grey skies and scarce smiles.
From cows to Castles
I had never been to Germany before. In fact, there are many places in Europe that I have never been despite being half-European. Driving into Würzburg my sleepy eyes and mind thought that I had returned to the lush landscape of Elmsted, instead now castles had replaced cows. The magnolia trees were in at the Hauptbahnhof. I adore the pale colour of the giant flowers heavy on their leafless branches.
Würzburg is a quaint city in Bavaria. A city of wine, wine and beer drinkers at all hours of the day, nature and culture. It is also home to Germany’s best music research centre at the Hochschule für Musik.
To my excitement, I also was informed that the X-ray were invented there. It’s always fun to learn about ubiquitous things that were invented in somewhat obscured places. Each place has their own piece(s) of pride I suppose!
Episode/part two will tell of Berlin and my first audition for a professional job. Stay tuned (not always in equal temprement) and sweet sonic journeys until then!
Looking up at the night sky one can see several patches of darkness. These are the parts of the night-time blanket that haven’t been embellished with the twinkle of starlight. The cornea is at the mercy of this void so vast and so false. Perhaps I’m more aware of the stars out here in Kent. It’s a luminous language foreign from that of the structured lighting of a city. Here one can look up and see generous pointillism. There is more that the eye can see when the ceiling is your torch.
I now find myself past the
midway mark of my time at The Studio. I also find myself, along
with the rest of the world* in a new calendar year. Salutations two-oh-one-nine.
I think our world is a bit too myopic to consider this the eve of a year of
‘perfect vision’ (two-oh-two-oh), not synonymous with the brave new world that
chilled the muses many. Although, the subtitles on the news of New Year’s Eve
seemed to believe we were entering 20 AD. Which in some respects could be
considered true considering certain policies and ideologies I need not
explicitly state. Perhaps 2002 had even more of a ring to it (tragically
memorable for more war and bloodshed). But it’s still a number so good the
drunks of 2002 could read it backwards and forwards and still know the year
they were in whilst quenching the thirst of the underlying human obsession with
symmetry. Alas, there is a slight complication. Our fictional protagonist Anna,
born in Ekalaka Lake in 2002 has long wondered why the word palindrome failed
in itself to be a palindrome. Perhaps palinilap could usurp the word palindrome
as a more appropriate term of fitting exactly what it serves to represent. But
here’s a proposition for those who get inexplicably fascinated with symmetry:
come find me in two-one-one-two and we can stare in the mirror and contemplate
our own facial asymmetry in a symmetrical year. It will all be ok. Born of
dust, back to dust. That’s symmetry right? Nevertheless, here we are in a new
western calendar year and my endeavours are the same but fortified with perhaps
what some call the new year’s resolution. V-I: alas even perfect resolutions
find themselves challenged. However, the new year is empowering. Why? It’s a
time where we look at a construct of closing and entering, perhaps one of the
few times where we are encouraged to sit and reflect and meditate upon the
internal and the external, achievements and mistakes, our actions and our own
desires. However, it is not quite any of the above that serves as the catalyst
for this entry to my blog. Instead I felt it was about time to break a rather self-imposed silence, a silence that I hope this
entry will explain.
*For those who celebrate the New Year according to the Gregorian Calendar. Also, I wrote this entry just before the new Lunar Calendar Year. But now it’s the new Lunar year as well so 新年快樂 to all my Chinese family and friends!
monotony and memory
My week is structured around the days that I am at the flute studio. It’s a monotonous motion that I am certain is valuable to my flute playing and development, but perhaps not the most blog-inducing. We’ve ploughed through more repertoire than I ever did in my three years of undergraduate music studies and I am finding that I am learning pieces and concepts faster and that I have become more vigilant regarding my own playing and expectations. I’ve had the opportunity to play for some remarkable guest artists at the studio including Michael Cox (Principal Flute BBC Symphony Orchestra), Rachel Brown (historical flute and music specialist) and Juliet Edwards (accompanist and pianist). We’ve also attended master classes in London with Emily Beynon (Principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) and William Bennet (Professor at Royal Academy of Music) which have been equally enriching. But classes with Trevor are often the hardest and most rewarding. He is a erudite figure who can be simultaneously cruel and caring in character, and my time here at the flute studio has been undeniably beneficial. He speaks of a world of ghosts that seemingly still haunt the way flute is taught and institutionalised. These ghosts are his friends… from Marcel Moyse to Alain Marion and other remarkable figures who he worked with or taught and some that are still alive today. But most importantly, it is fully clear that he respects his friends and colleagues, and that they have imparted lessons regarding music and life onto him and that this equates to a large portion of his wisdom– a wisdom he shares with his students. It is far from an evangelical “church of flute” vibe, and despite many of my friends thinking I joined an obscure flute cult in the English countryside, this is a valuable opportunity to learn from one of the few remaining flutists and pedagogues of a time passing. While many of Trevor’s values and tones of teaching may be outdated, it can still be applied to a large portion of the flute repertory (being that it is mostly composed by dead white guys anyway!). But the sentiment of the rules, character and fundamentals of music transpires across the periods. Even in more anarchical approaches there are always shadows. So in some ways I came to the studio to understand more about the past, because so much of the music I have played in my musical studies is steeped in periods past, but because it helps me to understand more about how we arrived at the sonic inventions of the present. It is also becoming increasingly clear to me just how much there is to consider when learning, performing and teaching music. But also how there is much (somewhat disregarded) simplicity. It is all a matter of understanding. I think after this course I will spend some time reading back through the notes I took from the studio classes. There’s just an incredible amount of information that I could probably compile it into a guidebook that I could use for the rest of my career and to help students and colleagues. I’ve also taken time to think more about the direction of my career. Not too long ago I was somewhat vehemently opposed to the idea of a career in orchestral playing. But I think this course has opened up realms of new possibilities that perhaps I had turned my attention away from. Whilst I gravitate most towards contemporary music, I now see my own musical identity broadening. That is not to say that I do not want to specialise, in fact I think I would eventually love to be a specialist in contemporary music. However, I am in love with delving through different styles and genres of music (and different modes of expression) and at this stage in my career I want to embrace that exploration further. After the conclusion of this course I am eager to explore a variety of opportunities in the various realms of musical expression.
time-travel, noise travel, feet first into gravel
London is seductive. It’s this noisy and luminous magnet of activity that has abundance. Back in Australia one would sometimes have to wait months, if not several years for an artist, exhibition, program to come from overseas and grace our senses. We have such fine local artists in Australia and we are certainly never short of entertainment. But, envision this, you’re in Sydney for a night and there are three concerts happening simultaneously and you would like to be present at all of them. Omnipresence would border on delusional so you’d have to choose one. Cities are reminiscent of supermarkets, there’s choice, choice and more choice; choices to the point where you cannot choose whether or not you want to be dizzy because you already are. I am a sworn lover of nature and all places not suffocated by concrete but the magnetism of cities always draw my feet back into its streets. It’s no paradox, but more an acceptance that cities often house opportunities, culture, the arts and people to them. I am a victim to that magnetism. I’ve been into London a several times now, to listen to concerts and attend masterclasses. It’s about a 40 minute trip into London via South-Eastern rail that can cost up to £26 return, so I have to choose my visits wisely and sparingly. It certainly proves difficult when there is a worthwhile concert, exhibition or event happening EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’ve had the opportunity to see some incredible exhibitions particularly ‘The Clock’ by Christian Marclay at Tate Modern, a 24-hour film I have been wanting to see for years. I’ve also been to the National Gallery, The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A museum holds such an extensive collection (all the Rodin statues!) and I also went into an exhibition regarding the production and sustainability of fashion. I am yet to go and listen to the many wonderful orchestras in London. I tried purchasing tickets for a London Symphony Orchestra concert but the few remaining tickets were around £80. For most events there reasonable are student or youth fares for around £10, but for these you have to act fast. But I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Claire Chase, Bang On A Can All-Stars (selections from Field Recordings, Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields), Frederic and Jan Rzewski and the London Improvisers Orchestra. On the weekend that Bang On a Can (BOAC) and Claire Chase were playing in London there was also a Ensemble Modern concert, but as I had booked for another concert I couldn’t make it to that. Alas, choices! King’s Place has an incredible series called ‘Venus Unwrapped‘ that shines the spotlight on the creative power of Women in music. The BOAC concerts I went to were a part of that series and as I was sitting in my seat I realised that 80% of the works programmed were by women. What was most intriguing was that the concert was not advertised as a ‘program of mostly women composers’. At times I find that organisations and artistic directors feel the need to highlight that they are making an incredible effort to program the music of women and this is fantastic. But it can also be mildly counter-productive and can perpetuate tokenism, exclusivity and marginalisation. I think it’s about constructing a program that is made up of great music and balance. But when there is an alarming under-representation (or no representation!) in concert programs excluding particular groups in society, that is when we must highlight existing imbalances. But most importantly the focus should be to forge a more inclusive future through providing platforms where these unique creative voices can be heard. So before I went to the BOAC concert I wasn’t aware of Venus Unwrapped nor was I aware of how many composers were women on the program. It was only when I sat down that I thought to myself– ‘damn, this music is good’, and that’s all that should matter.
My time here in Elmsted, Kent is almost solely dedicated to the flute and practice. The other day, I was asked by one of the neighbours (by neighbour I do not mean next door, but rather, across a field) what I do when I am not practicing or at the Studio. I stared into my cup of tea, a pause, for a moment of consideration before I gave an answer. You see, there is not much else to do here than practice, go for walks in the woods, and get creative with a limited diet. However, in this time away from the clamorous seduction of city living I have found gentle entertainment in my the machinations of my own mind. Being here has extended opportunities beyond the flute. I have found more time to compose music and experiment with musical ideas I have wanted to try for some time. During this course I started making composition part a regular practice through composing my own warm-ups and exercises for flute to some larger projects not directly involving the flute. In the last three and a half months I composed my first string quartet ‘A Waning Body‘ that was premiered at the Environmental Sound Art, Classical Music and Australian Female Composers concert at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Each note from this work is a sonic translation of data collected from Antarctic Mass Variation since 2002. It was a concept I’d wanted to explore for some time as a means to promote heightened awareness on the alarming rate of climate change. Consequently, it’s full of sounds that aren’t meant to make anyone feel terribly comfortable. I also wrote a piece for percussion/speaker and fixed media dedicated to my Brisbane duo partner, Joyce To for her solo recital at the Tilde New Music Week in Melbourne. I’ve been exploring spoken elements with vessels (glass, flutes) and wanted to create a piece that featured this idea as a central element. And thus ‘Ingrained/in-grains’ came into existence. There’s no recording as of yet but you can listen to the fixed media component here. There are other ideas and concepts that are still in an embryonic state but are slowly taking form. I am also beyond excited to announce that a ‘Noisy Women’ concert will be happening again this year for International Womens Day (8 March). Last year the concert received overwhelming support from the Brisbane community and beyond with an audience exceeding the capacity of the venue and many more watching nationally and internationally into the live-stream. As well as being a concert celebrating the valuable contributions of women throughout musical history it is also a space to promote established and new works by women. How can masterpieces be made if they are not heard? Hence, this year the concert is happening again, albeit under a new and very exciting name (with an equally exciting acronym): Women of Noise. This year I also have a talented team of young musicians (Courtney Lovell, Anna Rabinowicz, Sasha Walker, Elizabeth Shearon) on the creative and organising unit who are undoubtably the backbone of the project. More information regarding the program and musicians involved will be available on our Facebook and Instagram so be stay tuned to exclusive sneak peeks and exciting updates!
In the final months of my time here in Kent I’ll be up to my knees in pieces, practice and hopefully more snow! I am glad I took the time to write this entry as it has given me moments to reflect on time passed and the time that is passing. After my time in the United Kingdom I will travel to Germany where I will stay with one of my old flute teachers. I’ll be investigating opportunities including jobs, Masters degree options, maybe even going to a festival or two, getting some lessons and doing more performing. From one ambitious plan to another it seems! At this stage I anticipate that I’ll return to Australia late in the year. I’ll certainly be eager to perform, collaborate, catch up with friends and family and share what I learnt here at the studio. Here’s to the continuum of noise.
I’ve been told that England seems to be mostly in eternal drizzle to the point I thought it true. This place I’ve known for less than a week now has welcomed me with a warmth all too familiar. Did I bring that warm weather with me? This question incessantly plays in my head, perhaps a delirium induced by several layers of clothing in weather nearing the twenties. But a few days passed and I looked at the clothes I had brought in worry. Could my plans of being the winter marshmallow wrapped in jumpers been only fantasy? In this somewhat balmy weather I make my way down the narrow roads, greeting the cattle, sheep, goats, horses, badgers and birds as I walk to The Flute Studio. Trevor speaks about the world of flutes and the beauty of music. He places manuscript on our stands and ponders over his collection of hundreds of discs, selects one and it plays. Listening to Les barricades mystérieuses has become the bookends of days at the studio. Calling it a ritual wouldn’t be an understatement. In this landscape few planes fly overhead and cars drive past infrequently, perhaps the distant mooing, tractors and the flute playing of my housemate Lindsay are the sounds that I hear most. In the comfort of the studio and this little farm stead across from St James the Great, I pick up my flute and play.
I’ve arrived in Elmsted “an area of outstanding natural beauty” in the Kent downs, this is where I will be residing for the next six months. Elmsted was given its name in the time of Saxon, Elm referring to its abundance of elm trees and Sted meaning place derived from the Saxon word ‘stede’. It is a place of beauty and history. I walk down roads sided by hedges, sometimes you can find wild berries. The Anglican Church across the road is dedicated to St James the Great and dates back to the 11th century. It is always open and seems like it will be a beautiful acoustic for practice and recording. There are headstones so old they have become sculpture at the mercy of the Elmsted elements of weathering. One can barely make out an a name nor epitaph.
Our days at the studio have begun with high expectations and great intensity. Technical exercises are propelled at us one after the other and are expected to be absorbed into memory and therefore become automatic. Trevor seems to encourage the cacophony of all of us searching around lost in a tempest of tonalities and deciphering patterns he demonstrates to us by ear. After all: “you wouldn’t be doing these exercises if you can do them perfectly.” A week at The Studio is made up of classes on Monday (Technique and Studies) and Thursdays (Repertoire and excerpts) and the rest of the time is spent in personal practice of a specific regimen and research projects on the history of the flute up to 1700. Trevor also takes us shopping once a week, a day I like to call “Tesco Tuesdays” and little excursions to neighbouring towns, Wye, Ashford and London. So far, I’ve met some of the community who seem to welcome Trevor’s students with great excitement. Last Friday, we were invited to play a game called Whist, a classic English trick-taking card game popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. We were taught how to play only days before by Paul and his son Robbie who are friends of Trevor. It was quite a remarkable experience as during a game of Whist there is such energy of concentration and barely any sound other than the tapping of cards and the occasional apology. We are also preparing to have masterclasses Rachel Brown, Michael Cox and Juliet Edwards, among others. This week, we will go to London to hear a masterclass with Emily Beynon, the principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw. In December, we will be playing in two concerts in the local area which I am particularly excited for. Otherwise, our time here is spent inside the house at Elmsted Court practicing all day with walks around the neighbourhood to freshen the mind (I’ve even tried running again!).
So far the house is inhabited by Lindsay and myself. Lindsay is also a flutist/composer who also shares the ability to talk to for hours on end. She also happens to be allergic to soy which means I can no longer be lazy and buy those frozen vegan meals made with soy protein (this is probably for the best!). It’s an interesting dynamic to be living with another flute player. Prior to this course I often speculated about what it would be like. Would it be competitive? Beneficial? Or even a little overwhelming? It’s only been 2 weeks but I can say it is certainly beneficial and lots of fun. Often, we both will practice sight-reading duets and do technique together. It is a helpful exercise to do this as there is pressure to keep up with each other but also you have another person’s perspective rather solely personal practice analysis.
I’ve certainly been busy with adjusting myself to this new environment and regime practice regime so I apologise for the delayed post and not uploading my recital footage yet. I will endeavour to do this tonight and it will be up on my Youtube soon.
Finally, I wanted extend my heartfelt gratitude to those who donated to my Australian Cultural Fund page to support my ongoing project and production costs at the flute studio. Thank you my lovely friends, family and colleagues. To Carlin Hara-Crockford, Judy Brandl, Robert Lantos, Michael Hannan, Daniel Fawcett, Natalie Williams and the mysterious but generous ‘anonymous’. The fund is open for another four days and all donations over $2 are tax deductible! https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/the-flute-studio/
Before I sign off, a few more words. I am quite outspoken about how I feel about “dead white guy composers” and consciously make decisions to program wonderful music that written recently especially my those under-represented. I am not iconoclastic, and I must confess I used to come across as such in my first year at the Conservatorium. However, Contemporary music has always made more contextual sense to me, I think it’s because it’s the world I live in. I don’t live in a palace or go to Church, or get invited to the dinner parties dinner parties of the aristocracy, nor have I lived through any world wars. But it’s a world that many composers did live and work in. This course delves into a lot of repertoire I have never really gelled with. I do of course appreciate and love listening to diverse styles of music but really feel most comfortable in contemporary as most of you know. This course for me is about becoming more versatile and feeling comfortable across all expressions of the musical language. I want to be able to express more honestly how I feel towards something that may be distant from our present time but still translatable to now. It is possible, and I have seen it done, that we are able to communicate our current landscape where we face environmental, social and political crisis’ though music because sound, vibration is what makes up our world and is innately human.
Something old but beautiful that I was reminded of by Trevor:
For flute players and others who might be interested this is the list of repertoire and excerpts for the studio:
Honegger: Danse de la Chèvre
Enesco: Cantabile e Presto
JS Bach: E minor Sonata BWV 1034
JS Bach: E major Sonata BWV 1035
Marais: La Follia d’Espagne. (Flute and piano arrangement in G minor)
Schubert: Introduction and Variations on “Trockne Blumen” D. 802
Mozart: Concerto in D major
Mozart: Andante in C
Telemann: Fantasies 2, 4 7, 10.
Telemann: Sonatas in F Minor
Telemann: Sonata in F Major
Messiaen. Le Merle Noir
CPE Bach: Solo in a minor
Roussel: Joueurs de Flûte
Doppler: Aris Valaques
Müthel: Sonata in D major
Excerpts Bach: Aus Liebe: St Matthew Passion
Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo
Mozart: Magic Flute
Beethoven: Leonore No 3
Rossini: William Tell Overture
Schubert: Symphony No 5 in Bb: 3 movts
Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals: Voliere
Dvorak: Symphony No 8
Rimsky Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol
Prokofiev: Classical Symphony
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf
Bach: Domine Deus from B minor Mass.
Brahms: 4th Symphony
If you hadn’t already established it, these are all dead white guys… but they have an important place the flute repertory.