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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!