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reflections through the curtain of haze; England emerges into salience

The first leg of my journey is done. This morning I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport looking quite large with clothing– not ideal for this 26 degree, 6 am weather. Of course, I am preparing myself for a chilly London evening (always in relativity to Brisbane weather). As I was sitting here writing this, waiting for my gate to open, I cast my gaze outside to watch the sun rise through the haze of pollution which I know all too well from visiting Chinese cities. I believe my last post was written post-Nief-Norf, when I was in Knoxville Tennessee which was only around four months ago. It’s not that the time between then an now was too mundane to write about, I was just incredibly inundated with preparing for my final recital and addressing my other university and musical commitments. This post will be a series of reflections on my last few months in Brisbane and the wonderful opportunities and people who made my time there so unforgettable.

gallerie: a graduating recital

 

 

Behold! My ultimate concentration face. Well, for a recital requiring 40 minutes of playing it was a festival of concentration of all mental, spiritual and physical energies–but a feeling of triumphant cathartic release. It was my most honest performance to myself and my audience that I had played in my three years of my degree. In front of an audience of friends, family, teachers and colleagues what more could one ask for?

a little bit of context for those who could not be there and those wishing to know more…

I had my final recital on the 26th of September. This was my last recital in the Bachelor of Music course at Queensland Conservatorium and I was ready to make it more than just an examination. With the guidance of my teacher, Virginia Taylor, I put together my dream program of pieces that complemented each other and created a ‘gallerie’ of colours and narratives when programmed together. I began first with Female Nude (1993) by English-born Australian composer, broadcaster and writer. Apart from the fascinating and quite sensual title I was intrigued to discover the sound world Ford was exploring in this piece. Female Nude is written for solo alto flute (also for alto flute and wooden percussion) and is the third movement from his work Mondrian for flute/s and percussion. The work draws its inspiration from the the Dutch painter Piet Mondrain and his prolific work. Female Nude spells out the word Mondrian (whilst omitting the d) in fragmented utterances from the performer. These syllabic gasps are interjected between quartertonal pitch variants of A (E concert)– A quarter flat, A natural, A quarter sharp. For those who are not musicians, wind players or flute players this technique is achieved through particular fingerings, or/and a physical action such as ‘bending’ the pitch through the mouth. This piece is ornate with nuanced techniques that intrigue not only the player but the audience also. From flutter tonguing, tongue rams, simultaneous singing and playing, each technique adds to the macro-image and idea of the work rather than what can sometimes be a case ambitious overwriting of “extended techniques.” I had the pleasure of playing this again the day after in Gatton at the ‘New Music at the Old Butter Factory’ concert.

The next piece in the program was Michel Blavet’s Sonata No. 4 ‘La Lumagne’. This piece, commonly misspelt as ‘La Lumague’ became a favourite of mine as I gradually realised just how much could be continuously invented when presented with Blavet’s ideas. Blavet himself was a flute virtuoso alongside his career as a composer and I think this shows in the fundamentally simple beauty of his writing. I think that what Blavet offers is a set of collaborations in his sonatas, between what is written and what the performer can further contribute. Of course, this is a evident feature of Baroque ornamentation which was often improvised by performers to portray a heightened sense of virtuosity. These something special about the written characters that Blavet presents. The most particular example that comes to mind is his final movement in the fourth sonata titled ‘Le Lutin’, the hobgoblin. Blavet’s muscial depiction of the hobgoblin is one of mischief and buoyancy. Two light accented crotchets accentuate the opening, a motif that embellishes the whole work and brings to mind the how a Hobgoblin might walk. Whilst I did not do all the written repeats in my recital (due to time constraints), however I am sure that I will be revisiting this work in the future.

Twentieth century French art is so very colourful and is particularly evident in the music of composers and performers during that time. During the 20th century much Flute repertory flourished and we were gifted numerous works which contained then progressive approaches to pitch, rhythm, extended techniques, instrumentation and structures. Whilst the Sonatine for flute and piano by Pierre Sancan is not a ‘radical’ work it is one that has been embraced by many flute players as a popular staple since its publication in 1946, and is his most widely-known work. French music of this period has particular difficulties. Like many French flute pieces the Sancan requires the lyricism of liquid phrases despite widely written intervals punctuated with more rapid statements. There is evident duality in the music, between the cantabile lines and the rapid punctuations that give it a sense of constant movement and colour changes. One particular section, the Andante expressivo, of which I termed the ‘heart throb’ section became a musical outlet for my deeper emotions. There is a very small list of works from the distant past that I have felt a genuine connection to, however I felt that I was able to emotionally synthesise with the Sancan in a way that I could express my underlying emotions. The andante expressivo occurs after a short piano cadenza which paves the way for this more reflective and still movement with leading to a more tumultuous current of release. I found myself on the edge of tears on the day of my recital as I dug into the emotions I had been feeling about leaving Brisbane, a place that had been such a incredible home with genuine people. Of course whilst I knew I would only be away for around six months, I felt that I was leaving somewhere that had become a bit of a haven and a most definite home. I felt like this section of Sancan gave me the means to express this.

My last piece is a piece most dear to me, and an Australian premiere– Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre (2002) which is a reworking of the second movement of her flute concerto Aile du songe dedicated to flutist Camilla Hoitenga.  WIf you’ve been an avid reader of my posts then you may be familiar with the name of this piece as I played in during the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival. This was the first time I had performed any of Saariaho’s music and I was so stoked that Terrestre was my introduction into her musical language. Upon coming back to Australia, I began putting together my recital program and was determined that this would be my closing piece. All I had to do was put together an ensemble, and I think I found a dream team. I felt so incredibly privileged to have an ensemble of talented members on board, with the multi-talented flutist and composer Hannah Reardon-Smith conducting the work, Flora Wong conjuring sonic sensations from her violin, Oliver Scott with the meditative sounds of his violoncello, Loni Fitzpatrick spiralling through each movement in circular motion and Joyce To leaping from percussion instrument to instrument. Whilst I love this piece it was also the hardest piece to put together as an ensemble. It demands high concentration throughout frequent metre changes, technique changes and rapid gestures. The flute part in itself contains a feast of gestures, tone colours and most notably combines characterised spoken interjections from Oiseaux, a collection of poems by Saint-John Perse. The first movement, Oiseau dansant refers to an aboriginal tale in which a virtuosic dancing bird teaches the whole village how to dance. The second and closing section, L’oiseau, un satellite infime, is a synthesis of the previous parts of the concerto and floats away like the bird, a small satellite in a universal orbit. Who would’ve known that contemporary music would be at the book ends of my recital? Well, I suspect most people! 😉

I will be uploading a video of my recital unto my Youtube in the next week, so click here to subscribe and be notified first!

Again, thank you to my wonderful family and friends who made the room overflow with love and support. You are the dream audience and I’m so grateful that you all came to hear my last recital at the con for a while!

flooding the old butter factory with new sounds

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I had been invited to perform in a very special event the very next day after my recital. Two of my dear friends and colleagues– composer, performer, improviser Jasmin Leung and percussionist and improviser Tim Green had put together a very rare opportunity in the food bowl of Queensland, the beautiful Lockyer Valley. Michael Louttit, Elizabeth Jigalin and myself were invited as guest performers to showcase some of our own work. Over the past week they had been working with children on their holidays to construct a concert of wonderful sounds. I thought to myself that never before had I seen children engaging with experimental sounds and ideas, but this thought was quickly negated as in youth experimentation is what helps us learn. Some absolutely incredible pieces were written by the children, including a piece titled unique rhythms, crazy sounds which was essentially a groovy drum circle and a duo who called themselves the Alfoil Girls who stunned the audience with dozens of ways to make sounds with alfoil in their piece Shimmer. The most astounding idea was wrapping alfoil on a small microphone and running it against the wall. Another piece, Twenty Two Screaming Bowls, written by four of the children involved singing bowls, bows and small objects. I was amazed at how these boys who I had seen running around with uncontrollable energy earlier could create something so utterly meditative. I felt quite inadequate with the sounds I was presenting, especially since I was playing the oldest piece, Female Nude written in 1993! Usually this is still called new music, but an ongoing question I have is when does new music stop being termed “new.” The works composed for the concert were so new, written within the week and some were even improvisations. Jasmin had written a structured improvisation As Close as Lips and Teeth for the whirly tubes swung by the children, vocalisations and me on flute. Jasmin was so eager to have this event the rural town of Grantham as many of the residents had never before heard experimental music let alone a live concert. It was a truly special event and I could see how it touched the lives of the children, their families and the community. It is so wonderful to see experimental music being introduced to children. I believe I wrote about this in one of my other posts regarding Norf-Speak. But this event was different because the children were given the opportunity to make experimental sounds and consequently they composed some of the greatest works I have ever heard. Children have a unique musical perspective and I think much more of this should be heard in ways such Jasmin and Tim’s program.

climbing the stairs to Treehouses

I find myself often working without music. My whole day is spent focusing on intentions of sound that sometimes it can be fatiguing to listen to music for pleasure. Other than instrumental music and concerts I have rarely found myself at ‘band’ shows. This was a bit different. My friend Tim Mead is a vocalist in Treehousesa Perth-based group drawing on folk and spoken ideas. Currently the band are supporting listener, a US based spoken word rock band on their Australian tour. I’m vibing pretty hard to their music currently, especially after hearing them at Blackbear Lodge. Their new track Old Friends is seriously infectious with an absolutely scintillating synth line and fresh vocals and spoken/screamed lines. Non-instrumental music is not my usual subject to write about but I’m liking what I hear and feel that I should do an investigation into more local Aussie bands, especially during my time away. So please comment some suggestions of bands/songs that I should have a listen to. Meanwhile you should all go and give Treehouses some loving on Spotify!

Elim Chan and the New World

This title is pretty multi-faceted. Firstly, it most obviously refers to Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor “For the New World” Op. 95 which was performed by the Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hong-Kong born conductor Elim Chan last Friday night. Secondly, it eludes to this new world we are entering i music regarding representation of gender, musical ideas, culture and politics. Lastly and on a more personal level, it relates to the new world I am travelling to.

This concert was so incredibly special for a number of reasons. The program was absolutely blockbuster, consisting of Strauss’ Till Eulenspeigel’s Merry Pranks, to Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations played by the incomparable Meta Weiss to the momentous New World Symphony. Elim Chan mounted her podium with presence, intent, her arms outstretched and coursing energy into the veins of the orchestra. I have never before witnessed a conductor with such deliberate intentions, ideas and the technique to coax out world-class playing. The Strauss was taken at a bright tempo, light and drenched in character. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, however I was frequently aware of the rich curtain of sound produced by the strings, often more present that the winds. Motif were dextrously passed around sections of the orchestra with solos sounding incredibly polished. The Rococo Variations seemed a lot more textually balanced. With her cello, Meta Weiss made her first statement of the theme with poise and buoyancy. In my proximity to the stage I was able to witness the detail in her fingering and bowing that conjured incredibly moving phrases. As a flute player I may be biased, but there are a few particular sections in this work that I adore. Without a doubt the dialogue between the flute (principal played by Kyla-Rae Ashworth) with the theme and the cello is a personal favourite. Then of course the theme in the relative minor and the final variation. The incredible thing is that Tchaikovsky plays by some of the most standard ways of musical variation, but the work itself never fails to get audiences excited. The final work in the program was the New World Symphony a work that always is an audience favourite. I like to endearingly call this symphony the symphony of seconds as Dvořák introduces and passes his themes and motifs around second positions of the orchestra (ie. second flute, second violins). The work itself is a narrative of triumph, nostalgia an energy and I can confirm Elim brought out all these qualities. It would have been incredible to have the opportunity to work with her for this project but unfortunately I was engaged with preparations with my departure. Instead I had the opportunity to listen and be an audience, a position that is important to the learning and growing mind of a musician.

London landing

Well, I’m finishing the last few lines of my blog on a lounge in London. I arrived at Heathrow around 16:00 this afternoon after over 22 hours of combined flying. At the airport I met fellow flutist Lindsay Bryden who has been living in London and is also doing the Trevor Wye Flute Studio for six months. For those who don’t know why I’m now in England, I’ll do some explaining! Earlier in the year I applied and auditioned for The Flute Studio under the tutelage of Trevor Wye, a renowned flutist, pedagogue and author of several best-selling books. I found out a few months ago that I had been accepted into the course which has recently received confirmed support by the Australian Council for the Arts and The David Cubbin Memorial Fund. The studio has been operating for over 27 years and has welcomed students from over 19 countries. The primary focus of The Flute Studio is to achieve flute performance to a very high level through a meticulous focus on flute technique, method, tone, repertoire, history and performance. The course prepares individuals for the rigorous and highly competitive nature of a professional career as a musician. Whilst I delve through various ‘corridors’ of repertoire, genres, expressions and settings, having technical autonomy is imperative to greater nuances in expression and communication. I am confident that The Flute Studio is an important next step in my professional and musical development.

Tomorrow, Lindsay and I will be travelling to the Elmstead Court Farm where we will live for the next six months whilst perfecting flute technique with four other wonderful flutists from Lithuania, Korea, the U.S. and another from Australia. I’ll be sure to keep this blog healthy and regularly fed with fresh content so be sure to subscribe to be notified of new posts and activities.

If you are interested in financially supporting my on-going project and production costs (such as food and public transport to and from concerts and masterclasses) then you can do so via my Australian Cultural Fund project page here. All donations over $2 are tax deductible and are meaningful no matter the amount! Thank you for your ongoing support!

To all my family and friends~ I already miss you and Brisbane town and I’ll see you next year!!! 👋🏼 I can’t wait to share all my adventure with you!

from norf back to south

This post is truly hard to write. It feels that as my fingers touch these keys that I am living again in the final hours of the festival. The final hours of sound which brought the festival to a spectacular close. These past two weeks have ripped through in a relentless whirlwind of activity and I have found these moments of reflection through writing to grant me a sense of pause and breath. I now sit on the plane completing this entry, it is my third attempt and I hope I will be able to express the depth of my feelings towards the last two weeks which were the Nief-Norf Summer Festival.

2018 x 11 = a taste of the new

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Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark (2018)

I shall start a few days back, at the Composer’s Concert. This concert was a showcase of the composition fellow’s new works performed by the performance fellows. Never have I seen a program which lists the same year which we are living in as the composition date for each composition. All were composed this year and that was just so incredibly refreshing. Almost so new you could still see the steam rising. Each work had its own compositional style, none exuded or were the offspring of another composer’s idiomatic style. I thought this was quite a remarkable thing. I played in a composition titled Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark for voice, flutes (flute and piccolo), violoncello and percussion. This piece was written to be fun and was quite the whimsical work set to a text by Carl Sandburg. This piece certainly had its own particular challenges. Apart from being one of the more ‘tonal’ works I played during the festival this piece also held some challenging ‘licks’ and passages that required particular attention to the cleanliness of articulation and technique (which is of course important across all works). The composing fellows would always be at every concert, listening to the various works we were performing. During my time at the festival I had the privilege to speak with each of them about their compositional practice and language. I was particularly intrigued by one of the composers, Varun Rangaswamy who had undergone a metamorphosis in compositional identity. In the composition presentation he gave us an insight into how his style had evolved through a reflection on his cultural identity as well as the current political situation in America regarding immigration and foreigners. I have always felt that new music has a crucial perspective in regards to current political, environmental and social situations in the world, as a vehicle for reflection and as a medium to translate its chaos. It is undeniable that every work written bears the weight of the present, of the composer’s internal thoughts and the noise and activity of the external world. For this very reason, I believe that composers who reflect upon their own compositional language and trajectory will have a clearer image of what they want to sonically depict in future compositions. However, this thought does not always reign supreme. Experimentation is an integral part of the compositional process and for many emerging composers this practice is a crucial aspect of developing a compositional identity. During the festival I worked with one of the fellows, Sebastian Zel from whom I requested an electro-acoustic piece for alto flute. We set aside a time where I could show him some techniques characteristic of the alto flute and see how electronics could manipulate these ideas. Some of the most surprising sounds were key clicks and jet whistles. The harmonic richness of the alto in the higher registers also was translated in a unique way by the patches he was using. It certainly was such a intriguing interaction between the interplay of the alto flute and real-time manipulation. I also invited many of the of the composers to send me their flute pieces when they wrote one. This will also tie into a commissioning project from flute and percussion and in future flute/violoncello/percussion which is my dream ensemble configuration. I received a surprise email from Christopher Adler, the Head of Composition at Nief-Norf, with a wonderful solo flute work as well as a duo for alto flute and violoncello both commissioned and to be recorded by Lisa Cella. I am excited to see what works will come my way from the connections and friends I made at the festival. But for now I have so many projects of my own which I shall bring back with me to Brisbane.

Have a look at some of the highlights from Concert 10.

Hyper from Varèse’s Hyperprism to New York’s Hypercube

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Hypercube in action for the 11th Nief-Norf Summer Festival Concert

The 11th concert of the festival was not only special as it was our evening to rest before the colossal marathon concert to come but was a concert featuring guest ensemble Hypercube from New York. The ensemble has a signature instrumentation of saxophones, guitars, percussion and pianos. The pieces they played apart from Hout (1991) by Louis Andriessen were either written for or revised for the instrumentation of the ensemble. I have this guilty pleasure for the sound of a well-played accordion you see. Andrea Lodge played the piano-accordion (as well as the piano) and it added this wonderful visual and sonic depth to Sam Pluta‘s American Toyko Daydream IV (Data Structures/Monoliths). After that piece it was announced that they solidify then tilt by (2018) Nicholas Deyoe had to be taken off the program as in the throws of passionate performance the accordion had been injured. The other pieces on the program included Liminal Bridges (2016) by Philip Schuessler and Mastodon Rises (2017) by Christopher Adler. It was a wonderful smorgasbord of music exploring the timbral interactions between the instruments of the ensemble. I was most captured by the ensemble synchronicity and dynamic. They had that telepathic way of communication of an ensemble which has been working together for some time. I think part of this observation came from a craving to have a deeper connection with my ensembles during the festival. Of course, my connection towards musicians I have worked with numerous times becomes strengthened each time we re-engage musically with one another. I noticed in some groups this was better than others, for example Unlit Cigarettes, Pangkur, Terrestre, Mouthpiece 28 held more ensemble glue than some of the other ensembles I worked with. Part of this can certainly be attributet to having minimal rehearsal time, often only with three days to put together a work.

Naturally, ensemble communication comes from experience. The experience of working in a chamber setting and professional performance. Its both a quantative and qualitative experience. One may have the fortunate opportunity for their first chamber music immersion to be with a group of seasoned chamber musicians. I see a salient point in my musical future, where once having played, performed and engaged in myriad chamber configurations I will come face-to-face with a collision. And from this collision I know I will feel the ground beneath as bedrock, a place where the people around me will exude an intricate, telepathic electricity moving from their fingertips, breath, gesture to the synapses of my understanding. I have felt this synergy before, but in ensembles where time seems evanescent. However, one of my upcoming chamber projects this year involves making this desire a reality, incarnate and establishing it as a robust concept.

Have a look at some of the highlights from Concert 11.

counting by hours, closing in songs

Concert twelve– the final concert, they even call it a marathon. 

I ran towards the Natalie L. Haslam Music Centre to catch the beginning of what I knew would be seven hours of intense and gripping music-making. As I slowly opened the doors I was immersed by George Lewis’ Calder which was performed in the echo chamber of the foyer, the sounds of trombones, percussion and piano bouncing off the tiled floors and walls. I was set to play two pieces in the line-up of over 20 works– Christopher Burns‘ Injunctions (2013) and Jordan Munson‘s Heartless Fools: Union + Awaken (2018). Despite the enormous length of the program I listened to a majority of the pieces, only sitting out the works immediately before mine.

There were a few pieces which completely had me entranced with all my senses locked in deep fixation. I begin with Daniel Fawcett‘s Radiant Cry II (2018), composed for soprano and electronics, and I honestly am led to believe, infused with some sort of magic. Katherine Ambrester, soprano and a very dear friend whom I had the lucky privilege of living with during the festival, was the soloist in this piece. Bathed in a blue light emerged whispered words, spoken articulations to sung thoughts. From her body, her fingers and hands were enveloped in gloves with cables travelling from fingertips to a device made only in a few hours of the night. There was a feeling of pause and beautiful ascension. Amongst the many wonderful works, I was particularly excited hear Rain by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and 2.5 Nighmares, for Jessie by Natacha Diels. I was enchanted and so very drawn towards Jessie Marino’Rot Blau (2009) which is for two identical performers, modified gloves, lights, cups and mouth lamps. This was such a quirky piece performed by Alex Richard and Hannah Dick each wearing a blue and red wig. The piece was so full of character and I really would love to try this with my duo partner Joyce in one of our upcoming concerts. I was eager to hear the work by Tomas La Porta titled Haikus sin palabras (2018) which had been chosen from the Call For Scores. This young composer wrote beautifully for flute, piano and percussion with lines which gave space and room for stillness. I had the opportunity to speak with him after about his work and musical ambitions. He said he had to return to Argentina the next day for school. I spoke further with him on social media and he informed me that he had completed his piano quintet on the plane and was working on a piece for soprano and orchestra inspired on the Mystery of the macabre by György Ligeti as well as his second piano concerto. I am excited to hear many more of his pieces and hopefully even play one of his works in the near future. I also was quite eager to hear the work of Weijun Chen, another composition fellow who I was fortunate to meet at the festival. His work, Three Early Songs (2018) was initially intended to be performed in the Composer’s Concert but was moved to the final concert, and fit perfectly into the program. It was beautifully scored for soprano and piano with a peaceful and intimately warm presence.
As I looked down the list of the program which we seemed to be moving through quite rapidly I spotted a work by Matthew Burtner, a composer who had recently featured in  my university essay on Ecoacousticology. His work Cloudprints (2008-2012) was featured in the marathon program. This work is primarily scored and contains a section with images of cloud shapes and formations. The piece has a beautiful and leisurely sense of movement and I found it incredibly refreshing to listen to.

Throughout the festival I’ve been exposed to the honest, conceptual and almost extraterrestrial work of Carolyn Chen. Every time her name was on the program I would be so excited to hear/see/feel what would occur in the recital hall. For the marathon concert her piece Drown (2011/2018) was performed by the wonderful soprano, Alexandra Porter. It’s a piece which involves singing of course, then singing into a fish tank with a hydrophone which receives sounds outside and inside of the glass. If that wasn’t enough, then a camera was also placed looking at the tank to capture the image Alexandra plunging her face and singing into the water and well as the faces she was making on the other side of the tank. This was projected in real-time on a screen above the stage. Carolyn is full of wonderful and whacky ideas in all sorts of unpredictable places of the quotidian and using objects and combinations of things you wouldn’t quite expect. And…. she has a flute piece which I certainly will be playing sometime in the near future! It was such a joy to be able to meet Carolyn and discover her works and witness absolute fun unravelling.

I now move to the works that I was performing in. Injuctions is a work by Christopher Burns for five or more improvisers and involves a series of ‘injunctions’ given by hand cues. For example, one thumb is ‘no pattern’, vulcan salute is ‘no quarter’ and an open palm is ‘no development’ amongst several other gestures. It seemed only fitting to have performed a Burns work for the first concert I played in and now to be ending with another Burns in the closing concert. Unlike Unlit Cigarettes I found this work so incredibly challenging to engage in as a performer and improviser. There were several times when we would run the piece where I would just feel an urge to sit out, to not contribute as there was an incredible amount of activity happening already and any further contribution would muffle what was already unravelling, perhaps creating a cacophony. I think my difficulty with this piece may have been attributed to the large number of people involved. There were around fifteen improvisers involved all with strong and wonderful ideas and because of this I felt there was minimal space for silence or even a solo, duet or small ensemble interaction. I think I often take for granted the courtesy and practice of listening that I have experienced with working regularly with a small group of improvisers in Brisbane. It almost seemed that everyone played for the entire fifteen minutes of stage time we had during the marathon. But the part of the performance which struck me like a big face palm was when a fellow improviser introduced ‘the lick‘ to the performance. Now, I haven’t got any prejudice against this Jazz cliche, I just felt that it’s introduction seemed alien from the improvisational realm we were weaving. Once it was introduced the realm unravelled into a world of quotations. Improvising with musicians I have never worked with previously has its own challenges as I have mostly identified. However it also presents its own charms, offering fresh ideas and sonic perspectives which may not have arisen if not given the chance and space to improvise together. It is truly rare that I come out of an improvisation feeling unsettled but the version of Injunctions that we performed certainly made me feel this way. Perhaps I could have steered it in the direction I would have preferred through the given hand gestures but in some ways the performers had each taken to their own anarchical ideas and it seemed an unshakable trajectory. I won’t forsake myself of the knowledge that I had fun. I had fun playing my flute, piano, percussion and engaging in the chaotic scenes which unravelled on stage. There was this wonderful moment of interplay between spoken/sprechstimme statements, chewing gum and a rhythmic ostinato. I always find with all improvisations that I am able to remember some truly wonderful moments which even after the close present me with a feeling of satisfaction. Our version of Injuctions made the audience laugh and smile as the chaos, stories and humour which transpired on-stage. I think that despite my own discomforts, that the work was a perfect piece in the lengthy program to perk the audience up.

Do you ever have one of those nights where you put your weary body to bed at a decent hour of the night? Well, I certainly indulged in one of those nights, perhaps when I shouldn’t have. I initially thought I was only going to be performing Injunctions in the marathon concert and had slowly unwinded since having performed Terrestre. The morning after my early slumber, I checked my messages to see if there were any updates or changes. It was 9:50am and I had missed a 9am rehearsal which was only established at 11:30pm the night before for a piece which had been added to the marathon program. Of course due to the late nature of the addition my absence was excused but I am always strict with myself with rehearsal attendance and early arrival as you never know if the person who is hiring you is very particular. Anyhow, I was overjoyed to be involved in Jordan Munson’s Heartless Fools: Union + Awaken a work for flute, bass clarinet, trombone, electric guitar, piano and electronics. I know I have previously expressed my love of working with living composers and how Nief-Norf truly made an effort to invite composers to the performance of their pieces and have composers workshop their pieces, and this was another opportunity to do so. Jordan had been present throughout the whole festival as the Technology faculty, predominantly making sure everything would run smoothly from performance to performance. It was very exciting to hear and be involved on one of his works. The piece revolved around F-sharp Phrygian and would rise and fall in a sort of drunken climb again and again then fall to short melodies and eventually dissipate. Jordan made use of lights which would respond to sound and the intensity of sound, so if I played a forte-fortissimo B7 the light would be at its brightest whilst the light would be duller if I played much softer and lower. We were bathed in a blue light and as our sounds intensified flashes of the bulbs would greet us. It was truly a spectacular and beautiful work to be part of and I am so very thankful I had the opportunity to perform with such incredible musicians. It was certainly a spectacular way to close the festival.

…no fall of a curtain but only applause and goodbyes to know it was over…

So here I am, I’ve attempted to write this post a fair few times and now I’m completing it. It’s been hard trying to put this festival into words when I often run to music to express what words cannot.

Two weeks, twelve concerts, and thousands of memories. Ok, this totally is not a weeping moment. I’ve already done that. But in all honesty Nief-Norf Summer Festival made me experience an infinite amount of thoughts, sounds, sights, ideas and emotions. I’ve met many incredibly prolific and passionate musicians who also are hooked on this world of whacky and weird noises and want to celebrate and create much more. I was given the opportunity to play pieces that may not have been so easy to facilitate in Brisbane. And I now I have the confidence that I can tackle ALL repertoire no matter how gnarly it appears. Coming from classical performance, contemporary music often is a sort of secret identity I engage with outside of my studies. At Nief-Norf I felt completely welcomed into the outstretched arms of the festival and through the pieces I played, the people I met and the things I experienced I was invigorated and in many ways rejuvenated. It was hard work but I honestly would do it all again. The people I met gave me names of other festivals and intensives which I am so excited to look into for next year. I also have many couches to sleep on and homes which have open their doors to me as part of the new friendships that have been born. So, of course, this will make the United States much more accessible to me in future. These friends are indeed musical colleagues which I see myself working and collaborating with in the near future. To the entire Nief-Norf family (especially Andrew Bliss, Eric Retterer and Abby Fisher) I thank you for the noisy and incredible time that was the Nief-Norf Summer Festival. See you and hear you soon!

 

P.S Nief-norf friends please keep me updated with your musical movements and beyond!

If you’re a fellow lover of noise and want to hear more or have any questions about the Nief-Norf Summer Festival please don’t hesitate to contact me using my contact form.

recollection of resonances

There has been a short period of silence from the ‘Bog-blog’ primarily due to the intensity of this noisy festival schedule of back-to-back rehearsals and a concert each day. It’s unrelenting but here is a recollection of the past few days which have seemed to me much longer than just “a few days.”

…composed connections…

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I will start with Pangkur, a piece selected from the ‘Call for Scores’ submissions by Juro Kim Feliz. When I first received this piece I looked at it, trying to decipher its language of notation, with arrows from instrumental line to instrumental line and changes from piccolo to alto flute. I was so incredibly in awe at how it had been scored as I had never approached anything like it before. The scoring was reminiscent of Crumb (many logical spaces in relativity to other parts) but involved many more indications. Pangkur is originally intended to be for sextet of piano and percussion on stage with the quartet (flute (alto and piccolo), clarinet (Bb and Bass), violin and violoncello) offstage. The quartet is without measured time whilst the duo is written using metre and is conducted. Whilst both components form the piece, they may be performed independently of each other, that is as just a quartet or a duo. For the festival we performed the quartet which certainly alleviated the challenge of having to coordinate with a conducted part on the other side of the hall. We still performed offstage, playing on the balcony with the hall lights off. This piece which had previously made me question how on earth I would pull it off revealed itself to be a work of incredible nuance and beauty. Whilst I did miss the beautiful complexity of the interactions between the two ensemble groups of the piece, particularly the vocalisations in the percussion and piano parts the quartet stood as a complete work in itself. It was such a pleasure to put it together as well as perform and premiere the quartet in the presence of the composer who was overjoyed to hear it’s premiere as a quartet. Jonathan, the violinist I have been working with during the festival expressed that he wanted to perform the piece again in LA where he lives. Who knows, I may just be coming back to America sometime soon…

HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM CONCERT 5.

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The Pangkur Quartet with the composer Juro Kim Feliz.

Working with living composers on their works is always such a privilege. It gives insight into the character of the composer as well as immediate feedback and communication which is an integral part of realising their musical language and expression. I have been in awe of Nief-Norf’s commitment to contacting living composers and communicating with them in regards to pieces of theirs which we are performing at the festival and even inviting them to listen to their works being rehearsed and performed. Another instance of working with a living composer during this festival was in Nox by Drew Baker. Like Juro, Drew arrived on the day of performance to give some final notes and any tweaks to how we were executing the parts of the score. This piece was another exploration of the space of the concert hall. It is written for four groups: stage, centre, left and right hall. Each group has their own set of sections which are cued by the conductor and each section corresponds to new musical idea or material which builds off the previous idea. This was an incredibly straightforward work to put together and it was made so much easier through the way it was scored in ‘sections’ of sound ideas. It was certainly one of lesser demanding works in regards to note content. The works to come certainly demanded more time and attention.

HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM CONCERT 6.

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stacking sound: a trombone, alto flute and piccolo, oboe and cor anglais, makeshift celesta and a battery of percussion…

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I’ve always wanted to play Feldman. When I first received the score for Instruments I (1974) I found myself straining my eyes to distinguish between minims and crotchets as the notation program had kindly printed them with as much distinction as the facial features of an ant. Feldman’s writing is so incredibly idiomatic and intricately explores how timbres of each instrument combine to form a new compound timbre. Flutes, oboes, trombone, celesta and percussion? A unlikely combination of instruments which each suffer from being characteristically obvious. All is intended to be “extremely quiet” in Instruments I (and a large majority of his other works) with a focus on the sustain of sound rather than on the initial attack. Personally, I found this piece an exercise in heightened awareness of focus in sound, sustain, rhythm and timbral blend. Third octave alto flute is a challenge to execute especially at a more delicate dynamic as I often find that the timbre of alto flute is characteristically rich in harmonics and at that register a pianissimo sustain becomes rather difficult. The piece served as a wonderful exercise to explore the physical commitment required to execute such demands and I must say my alto flute tone truly evolved. This piece gave me the opportunity to focus on tone quality in for auxiliary instruments which often don’t receive the careful attention to nuance of tone and colour which I invest in my concert flute.

On another note, the reason I said makeshift Celesta was because we did not have access to a real celeste so we used a keyboard with a celeste patch instead. It did the job just like the real thing, just with less physical majesty.

The concert seven recap can be found below. This concert also featured Static by Vanessa Tomlinson, who had convened the Queensland Conservatorium New Music ensemble and is my primary new music mentor. It is a great piece with plenty of sandpaper action and lots of great percussion sounds and actions.

…I use my mouth as a mouthpiece…

Concert eight was THE CONCERT. It was certainly the most demanding for me and contained two of the pieces which I had invested an enormous amount of time and commitment into. The Erin Gee and the Kaija Saariaho. It was an undeniably cathartic and noisy evening.

I use my mouth as a mouthpiece. This is a direct reference to Erin Gee’s Mouthpiece 28 and her mouthpiece compositions which utilise the voice as “an instrument of sound production.” Scored for voice, bass flute, bass clarinet, violin and percussion the piece is highly interwoven and is truly a work of chamber music. So much of the piece is dependent on the interplay of different instruments with different voices filling in the gaps to form the piece that is Mouthpiece 28. I had a wonderful time playing bass flute. I rarely have the opportunity to do so in Australia as I do not have access to a usable instrument. The bass flutes at the Queensland Conservatorium are mouldy and are not the right instruments to be executing new and experimental music on as this music demands a lot of contact with the instrument (breathing in and through the instrument, tongue rams and other highly specific actions which require hygienic instruments as to not contract disease from the last 100 players who did not have cleaning cloths and swabs provided and left tuna sandwich residue which has fermented over two years). Ok, I am aware that this is highly graphic but I have smelt tuna residue in the communal flutes before. I was thankful to have Lisa Cella bring the bass flute from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This flute looks gold (it’s actually brass but still so very impressive in appearance) and is so responsive and easy to play. It also didn’t give me extreme wrist pain but that was mainly because I was wise enough to support it with a chair during rehearsals. My flute teacher, Virginia Taylor once gave me a stern warning that if she ever saw me practice bass or alto flute without the support of a chair she would come into my practice room and lecture me on my lack of sensibility. I have truly taken this advice to heart.

Gee’s Mouthpiece 28 was a pleasure to perform. It was a privilege to perform alongside Felicia Chen once again especially in a piece where the flute player has to match the nuance and character of the intricate and highly quirky vocal part. The ensemble members Jonathan Tang, Alexandra Hecker and Kevin Zetina were so incredibly easy to work with and made a piece with complex rhythms and constant time signature changes less intimidating. Also our wonderful conductor (and professional cellist) Ashley Walters was the bedrock of the ensemble and made all the changes in time signature incredibly clear.

…how to put together a concerto in three days…

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Taken from her flute concerto, Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Terrestre‘ is a piece which maintains the demands of a flute concerto but is scored for a smaller ensemble of solo flute, violin, violoncello, harp and percussion. When I first received the email that I was playing this piece I remember feeling my stomach do a huge backflip. I stood up, approached my CD shelf and took out Claire Chase‘s album Terrestre and listened. I received the sheet music for the piece the week before the Nief-Norf festival and was so incredibly thankful to receive guidance from Hannah Reardon-Smith on executing double trills and the spoken lines. I had to start learning this piece immediately because I knew Terrestre is one of the monumental contemporary flute works and all the praying to the bird gods would not make it any easier. It is a truly unrelenting piece but so undeniably rewarding.

I had thought the piece was programmed for the last concert of the festival, the marathon concert and felt that this was somewhat ample time to really have the work solid under the fingers. However, when I discovered that the performance had been moved to concert eight  (Wednesday 20th) my jaw dropped. I felt like I needed Lisa more than ever but she had departed form the festival to prepare for the Soundscapes Festival in Italy (I certainly will be applying for this next year!). I was left to my own devices, just my flute, a practice room, my metronome, my manuscript and I with limited time to put together this large and demanding work. Help did come and I was privileged to have Jennifer Ellis arrive for week two of the festival to coach the Saariaho chamber group. She was suprised that they had not assigned the work to a flute player who had played it previously, but none of the three of us flutes at the festival had ever played it before. Jennifer had played it before with Claire Chase so she knew the exact demands of the piece especially from the perspective of a chamber player. She had done it unconducted and expected that we would too but also said that it was unusual and most unheard of to perform this piece after only three days of rehearsals. So Ashley Walters became our conductor rather last minute and that was when the ensemble was able to truly make music. What I mean by this is that we had previously been so caught up in trying to stay together as an ensemble and by having a conductor we were able to have that grounding and focus on the intricacy of Saariaho’s musical narrative.

The ensemble was such a pleasure to work with and their solidity as an ensemble made the piece a lot easier to put together. I was absolutely stoked to get to work with two-thirds of the other members the Pangkur ensemble, cellist Ashlee Booth and Jonathan Tang on violin. I was lucky to be joined by Kevin Zetina on percussion in the same concert and play with the harpist Celia van den Bogert for the first time in the festival.

We waited to go on stage. The self-made mohawk man opened the doors and we assumed our places. A purple light bathed the stage and I could feel a fiery intensity. L’oiseau dansant was about to appear, dance and set the stage ablaze and then ascend to the satellites above… 

Terreste is so infused with lush colours and narratives. As an ensemble we decided on stories to match with Saariaho’s adjectives dappled throughout the work. I was so overjoyed when after the perfomance audience members and peers expressed how they felt that a story was unravelling on stage that they felt enraptured and entranced. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much energy in one room. Whilst there are elements of my performance that I felt I could have done better (as I always feel with all performances I ever do!) I felt that I was not choked by nerves and that I was free to express, to enjoy and dance. IMy vocalisations alongside the flute line felt heightened and I found myself feeling like thirteen minutes had been swallowed up in my very first breath. It went by so quickly.

I want to play this work again. I want to play it many more times and share Saariaho’s wonderful and strange musical language. She knows how to write for the flute and I want to keep playing and sharing her works. Now that I have learnt and had my first performance of Terrestre I will seek out an ensemble of musical friends to play this when I return to Australia. I am so very thankful to the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival for having programmed this challenging work (although it gave me quite the scare!). After the performance, Jennifer came up to me and said that this work is a favourite to program in concert and now that I have leant and performed it I will have the opportunity to do so again and again. So it turns out that this work will be on my concerto and repertoire artillery alongside the notoriously requested Mozart concertos. It has imparted on me a fiery intensity that I will revisit again and again. I look forward to also hearing how it evolves in future performances.

You can listen to some snippets of Concert eight below. They cut out the very opening of the Saariaho so it’s contextually a bit odd but I’ll post the full video once that has been published.

The remaining days of the festival are rather quiet for me. Tomorrow I am performing one of the composer fellow pieces, Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark and then on Sunday I will be performing Injunctions by Christopher Burns in the marathon concert. Tomorrow night I’ll also be doing Sharehouse I again in a late night ‘Norf-Space’ performance. And on Sunday I’ll be attending the Knoxville Pridefest to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Hopefully I’ll also get the chance to explore Knoxville a little further and maybe even the Smoky Mountains before I leave.

Till next time.

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The Terrestre team.

a few crayons, graphic scores and a concert of unlit cigarettes

I’ve been caught up in this incredible whirlwind of sound, energy and activity over the past few days and it’s been hard to catch a breath away from the flute and the festival. Myriad things have taken place– from going to the Joy of Music School and presenting performing and making graphic scores with Knoxville families to my first concert at the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival.

Norf-Space– the sounds of crayons on paper

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On Wednesday afternoon five ‘Norfers’ (including myself!) travelled to the Joy of Music School in Knoxville. The Joy of Music School is a not-for-profit organisation which provides free music lessons and instruments to hundreds of financially disadvantaged, at-risk children and teenagers. Founded in 1998, the school has over one-hundred teachers who volunteer and give these children the opportunity of music education. At the school, we had the pleasure of sharing our love for the strange and wonderful sounds of contemporary music notation with the children and their families. We spoke about graphic notation, extended techniques and played some live examples. James Meade, a guitarist played William Walton’s Bagatelle No. 3 to introduce guitar extended techniques and introduce some more unconventional symbols which were unfamiliar to the children. We then catapulted the room into the world graphic notation. From examples of Cage, Eno to Cardew. A performance fellow and singer, Felicia Chen sung Stripsody by Cathy Berberian which is one of my favourite pieces for voice as it has boundless character. As the children were going to be constructing a graphic score of their own, I decided I would perform Sharehouse I, a game piece involving improvisation and theatre that I wrote a few months ago for the Queensland Conservatorium New Music Ensemble. The children and their families were then invited to collaborate and construct a big graphic score that we would perform to them. Their hands were busy, their smiles wide at the thought of how we would interpret their lines, squiggles and cartoon animals. Two large and colourful scores emerged and were attached to the wall ready for their performance. This part of the evening was certainly the most special. Norf-Space made me speculate how my musical trajectory may have been shaped if I had been introduced to the world of contemporary music, extended techniques and graphic notation at an early age. Would I have rejected classical conservatoire level training or have been left a little confused? The children expressed that they felt that the music was a little strange but agreed that they loved every aspect of our performance. I think the power of contemporary music is that it is a diverse art form where aspects of its practice are highly accessible to all levels of musicians, non-musicians and listeners.

 

You can view the video of the day here

Concert II– unlit cigarettes

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After only a few days of rehearsals we had approached concert two. I was playing in Christopher Burn’s Unlit Cigarettes (2012). This piece is so exciting and involves three movements. I wrote more about the details of the piece in an earlier post. For the performance I felt that the ensemble energy was elevated, all gestures and ideas were executed with certainty and clarity. The audience embraced the piece and I had many fellows and audience members approach me after telling me how they laughed, cried and felt on edge throughout the entire fifteen minutes of the work. I would love to do the Burns again in Australia. It can be done in so many different ways and is never the same even when playing with the same people again and again. It’s the pleasure of dynamicism. In the same concert there was H. by Navarro for two singers and spring drums which was such a riot of a piece; Roger’s Bandwidth for guitar and pedals and cello and in honour of the renowned sad trombone effect, Sad Trombone by Shankler for trombone clarinets, cello, piano and electronics. It was a concert of such intense energy and pieces that literally SCREAMED. The teaser video from the concert can be viewed here.

After the concert I had my first ‘downtown’ Knoxville experience and went and explored the area with some of the other fellows. It’s such a great looking area with quirky buildings and arty lanes and parks. I’ll get some decent photos next time I go as my camera doesn’t seem to like night shots!

Until next time, for now I have to run off to more rehearsals!

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