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transposed terrains

35102368_1192773024198514_5305017228901482496_nThe festival opens and the faculty begins to plays in a room afloat with small delicate plastic bags, disguised as paper by a trick of light to tease the eyes. Stutters of sound arising from the heave of a breath interwoven with surges of electric energy; vibrations that grasp every bodily neuron with enveloping tenderness. Friends, strangers and magicians of noise I am home. 

I don’t think I’ve ever sat quite comfortably in the skin of being ‘that.’ That performer, that flutist, that environmentalist, that composer, that rock appreciator, that person who speaks to her plants…etc. I guess it comes back to a realisation of the multiplicity of personhood(s), of subjectivity and of being that metaphorically polycephalous being. Since appreciating the writing of Gertrude Stein notably ‘The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas’ to the work and life of Cindy Sherman it became evident to me that there was more than just being ‘that’ in who we are, which is particularly true in our highly multi-faceted, multi-tasking and multi-skilled landscape. This profound thought struck me most when I was deciding which path to pursue in my tertiary studies. Those around me would ask what I was going to do, which passion would lead me into the next phase of my studies? To embark on the path of a musician, or to take the path of an environmentalist? I knew for certain that whichever path I chose, the other would permeate and work alongside that chosen. Environmentalism is so inextricably rooted in my daily practice and the decisions I make that it can not be denied a place in my identity. Evidently, I chose to further my studies in music, primarily because I knew that my role as an activist would manifest through an ‘artivism’ (creative activism through the arts) approach, in using what I knew best to convey the pressing and important ideas and messages. I think art plays a crucial and sensitive role in conveying ideas which often alienate. Statistics, terminology and the graveness of reports in the news can often distance the listener and viewer. I believe that it is how we receive that shapes how we (re)act. But yet again I find myself facing categorisation, particularly manifesting in institutionalised structures. Can I be the flutist, composer, improvisor and activist as my website advertises? Is this not a 21st century human? And is this not Phoebe?

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The festival fellows have arrived, the faculty has performed, rehearsals have commenced and so far we are into day one of the festival. We commenced the day with all those enduring questions you have ever wanted to know, or never thought you did want to know, but now you may just be intrigued.
What is Nief-Norf? Where does its name originate from and what does it involve?
Well, I, amongst many other fellows were enlightened by this introduction. Kerry O’Brien and Andrew Bliss, the founders of Nief-Norf told us about the festivals foundations from how it had grown since its conception in 2011. The story goes that whilst Kerry and Andrew were in university together the not so familiar sounds of new music in the corridors were termed to be “sounding like norf” or “that stuff sounds like nief-norf.” It was something that you didn’t want to really have said about the sounds you were making, the works you were playing, so you had to fit into the mould that was not ‘nief-norf.’ Time passed and the two discovered their mutual appreciation for this zany art form and embraced the term as something endearing and made a space for what people thought was different for those different people who totally loved it. And thus the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival was born. The festival itself has grown from extending itself to just performers and composers to now including a research component. The research conference component focuses on a key topic which in the past have included discussions and presentations on John Cage on the centenary of his birth (2012), Minimalism, Music and Technology, Music and/as Process and Astro-Bio-Geo-Physical Music (that featured the wonderful Annea Lockwood). This year the festival is welcoming researchers from across the globe to present research, works and perform. I will be playing Pangkur by Juro Kim Feliz which is inspired by Javanese Gamelan settings as discussed in my second blog post. The three-tiered structure of Nief-Norf ties in nicely to what I was trying to illustrate about the multiplicity of personhood(s) and how we extend ourselves as multi-faceted, multi-tasking and multi-skilled beings. The performer-composer-researcher model works in a world of symbiotic mutualism where one area informs the other and allows us to critically and creatively perceive from three unique lenses. I am highly inspired by those who are able to harness and embody all three tiers and more. They become a power-house of their art form and a gravitational force of artistic inspiration. Some of the most poignant figures which occur to me are Vanessa Tomlinson, Leah Barclay, Cat HopeHannah Reardon-Smith, Lindsay VickeryMatthew Burtner amongst many other names that my jet-lagged mind is forgetting!

I’ve met so many people at Nief-Norf here already. Most of the fellows are from America but there’s one other Australian here (Euphina, from Perth who is a percussionist) which makes my accent slightly less of a novelty. We had our first rehearsal for the Christopher Burn’s Unlit Cigarettes this evening which was such an incredibly uplifting experience. Our ensemble consists of two vocalists, a flute, trombone, vibraphone, guitar and electronics (he moves his hand and it makes noises! It’s kind of like he’s a magician!). The piece involves three movements. The first requires the performer to divide eight minutes into eleven sections with two to three sections being silence (rest). The sounds in each of the remaining sections are left to the autonomy of the performer and should involve a gradual transition in idea, technique and/or tone. The second movement involves ‘teams’ where performers group up in twos or threes and play an instrument together. Katherine (vocalist) is playing the keys and body of my flute whilst I play the head-joint. It still always remains a kind of a bizarre feeling to only have one part of the flute to focus on. The third section involves selecting and speaking/performing provided texts which range from menus to journal entries, important dates to what seems like a lengthy transcription of a game of ‘you say a word and I’ll find a common word.’ The interesting aspect of this section is that Burns encourages the performers to shorten the texts (under the constraints of time) for example by reading every second word or reading only pro-nouns. This will be enormous fun to perform come Thursday.

I also had the pleasure to meet Lisa Cella and the flutes of Nief-Norf yesterday evening. There are three flute fellows in total– Elizabeth who is a three-timed seasoned Nief-Norfer who is completing her masters, Eliza who is in her second year of university and then there’s me! Lisa performed the Hanna Hartman Shadow Box and the Magnus Lindberg’s Linea D’ombra in the faculty opening concert. It was incredible! The last piece was especially virtuosic and sounded so full of crisp complexities. Lisa was super enthusiastic with offering us help through difficult passages in our pieces and finding the time to give us lessons. I had my first lesson with her today and it was so incredibly refreshing. Apart from working through aspects of the Saariaho, we spoke and worked on the throat noises which have started creeping back into my playing, which I am certainly aware of. She talked me through re-alignment and translation of Alexander Technique, which is something that I had studied during the later years of high-school. It appears that I stand too square and consequently this affects my breathing. Instead, I should set up my legs, hip width apart, turn my head slightly and bring my flute to my face and take a “metaphysical step back.” There’s a lot of depth in the last instruction that’s for sure! In simple term, what she means is that we should avoid pressive the face into the flute, hence the thought of ‘stepping back.’ She also suggested returning to a wall and noting what parts of my body are in contact with it (something I have visited in the past but seldom now). I am always so thankful to gain fresh perspectives on playing the flute. This then infuses my practice and performance with greater depth and maturity stemming from critical and meticulous considerations.

Well, it’s been fairly full on! I’ve been transposing my Morton Feldman Instruments I  score during my breaks and I know that tomorrow is going to be heavy day with rehearsals. In the evening two other fellows and I are performing my piece Sharehouse I in Norf-Speak which is an outreach segment to teach about graphic scores. I am pretty excited for what is to come and have been so overwhelmed at how many people are extending themselves beyond the label of ‘that’ at Nief-Norf. They may be a composer but they are also a performer and a chef. I may be a musician, but I am also an environmentalist and composer.

You don’t always see the fence if you look above it.

 

For more see the Nief-Norf Day 1 Video below!

Paganini under inspection…

…a tale in retrospect…

34907800_1190793844396432_8262287007460360192_nI am so often selected for random airport checks- security and customs that I am beginning to ponder whether I exude an aura which screams-“please pick me!” Or perhaps it may also be attributed to the brightly clothing or my inability to resist smiling at people…

The Houston, Texas department of borders and customs by a random flick and focus of the eyes chose me as their subject. But this wasn’t just your average bag check for foreign  items.

If you’re a musician you may be familiar with the eager request from friends, family and even strangers to hear you play a little tune on your instrument. But it’s a bit different when the customs officer asks you to demonstrate your instrument to prove that you can play and that you are not some imposter causally accessorised with a flute and piccolo travelling to Knoxville.

“Play a tune- something that I’ll recognise.”

I laugh a little thinking that perhaps this is in jest.

“I’m waiting.”

There I am fumbling at my case, body weary and quite unsure if my lips would be up to the task of forming an embouchure. But I knew that I shouldn’t take their request lightly. Their uniforms seep with the air of authority, badges, rifle on the hip and a tone of command, to pass or not to pass, it all is in their hands.
What to play? Something that he’ll recognise? Well, perhaps something local? Beyoncé is from Houston as is Kenny Rodgers, Hilary Duff and Destiny’s Child. But with my brain feeling not so ready to play Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it) in customs I decide to take to something safe that my fingers know well. So I take my flute out and play Paganini Caprice No. 20, a tune I doubted that he would recognise and whistle along to as most folk only know the 24th caprice. After the first few phrases of the slow lullaby section he smiled, said that was enough to prove that I was not a possible black market instrument sales-person attempting to sell a few flutes to Knoxville folk and said that I could pass (without the need to open my suitcase).

There are several unusual places I’ve played at– from carparks, garages, balconies to public bathrooms. More recently I did I recital at a nursing home that so happened to be scheduled during their lunch hour. It was Cageian bliss of crashing plates and televisions turning on, seasoned with wheelchairs squeaking. The most inconvenient part was that I needed to get a recording out of it to submit for my performance study. But I think the most heart-warming aspect of these unconventional performance spaces is that music visits and enters the space, which is different to us the audience visiting the music in a concert hall. Both at the retirement village and in customs I could see people’s eyes light up, smiles dancing across their lips. This is why I love bringing music away from the concert hall even in the most unsuspecting and spontaneous of performance spaces.

 

sweltering in fahrenheit, walking in miles and eating in pounds

vol hall

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

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

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

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

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Monday 9 June 2018

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

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

The Natalie L. Haslam Music Centre

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

Some other photos

 

Prelude on an eve of departure

In approximately six hours, before the sun has decided it must reveal a golden glow, a  hopefully perky uber driver will be outside my door to transport me to the Brisbane International airport where more people machined with transport will help me to get to the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.

But this is a dawn for something that I have long felt overdue– the blog, well, you may endearingly term it ‘the Bog blog’. So welcome, you are always free to browse, to comment, to linger for a little longer and even to leave.

This post will be short and sweet, hopefully with a taste as memorable as MSG, leaving you thirsting for more. I believe I must write, in all forms, textural and musical (composition), I think this is a way that I am able to navigate through myriad texts and thoughts of others which I have read, performed, played and considered throughout my life. It occurred to me recently that the avid journal keeping that used to be ritualised into my nights, even when not on a holiday adventure has been dormant for almost three years. Fragments of thought have been dappled across pages, napkins, receipts but very few page after page, entry after entry. I’m not seeking a chronological timeline of events but a way to assemble the fragments, perhaps not into a clear salient image or idea but to have the opportunity to perceive and grasp at these sometimes fleeting or presque-vu images or ideas in my curious mind. There’s an abundance to consider in this world. I often think back to Madame Chenoweth, my French and English teacher during high-school who told me to write my thoughts down in third-person as a distance-mechanism, to consider for a time later, then close the book and perhaps revisit. I won’t write in third person, not always, but there may come times when I feel it would be the best mode. I guess instead of a grand ol’ analysis into how I should write and how I will write won’t do much other than make your eyes dry so I will allow you to discover for yourself the cogs behind these typed words. (Fun fact, I also only type with two fingers, I’m not sure if this also assists in extra trill potential for flute… for two fingers only).

Read as you will— I’m certainly very excited to begin this blog especially at on the eve of a new adventure– The Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival, a two week festival (11th-26th June) in Knoxville, Tennessee which I have been invited to as a performance fellow. It’s a mixing pot for musical folk (performance, composition, research, technology) who are part of a wonderful movement, pushing boundaries of sound as you and I know it to convey new ideas. I am overly excited to have the opportunity to play and perform some Kaija Saariaho (YES!!), Morton Feldman, Juro Kim Feliz, Christopher Burns, Drew Baker and Erin Gee (and perhaps also some surprise some sneaky pieces by the composition fellows). Also my newly composed game piece, Share House I will make an appearance at Norf-Speak during the festival and I am so excited to share this with the Knoxville folk! I hope to share with this a world of daring sounds, peculiar and profound ideas as well as a great investigation into the food options for a hungry vegan human in Knoxville. As it turns out there is a small but active handful of vegan restaurants so it will not just be the golden pride of two weeks of potatoes. But, I am so very excited to meet others who love making lots of noise!

Thank you for being one of the first to ponder this prelude. So, again welcome to the ‘Bog blog’, and I’ll be keeping things as fresh and regular as can be!