the long way home

– part one

These writings are for all those I kept waiting, those who encouraged me to write more and for those who are curious and love the worlds woven from words and of course for those of us who are in need of some moments for procrastination pleasure. May these series of belated posts attempt at answering some of the questions I’ve receieved and a leisurely dive into my adventures abroad, my untangled thoughts and emerging escapades. This story will be strewn across three ‘episodes’ or parts, otherwise I may have to redefine this as an online book.

an overdue embrace with exhaustion

In the last few months’ words have eluded me. I’ve been lost in a daze of recovery and every little activity seemed consuming. The patterns that my fingers had danced to for these months, a feverish act of musical necessity had become engraved into my being, an obsession of the mind, even permeating as deep as sleep. My feelings were a melange of things, and quite honestly a bit fractured. Perhaps if you were to place a canvas in front of me it should remain blank for sometime. And this is exactly what I had done to myself. Placed myself in front of a computer and instructed my fingers to type in words emotions and experiences of the months past and time to come. Several times I sat down to write this. Between practice breaks, early mornings, late nights and even when being held captive to a chair by being in transit. Sometimes I could only write a few words and continue to make corrections on previously written material. I painted the white on the canvas a few shades whiter. But, I could not keep putting off the detail that I felt I must paint, in order to illustrate a presence in my absence. This may come in stabs of colour whilst at other times an unruly possession of explosive vivid expression, and sometimes you will visibly see the gaps. Yet I, myself, do not feel colourless, even having slumped into the arms of my long overdue embrace with exhaustion. Alas, I have arisen from my mental hibernation later than preferred.

shadows of the studio

Removing myself from what had become the quotidian, living amongst the peace of the quite alarmingly separated village of twenty-two residents in Elmsted took some time. It was a slow emergence from a flute induced dream back into the clamour of civilisation. I concluded my time at ‘The Flute Studio’ at the end of March. These six months felt non-stop and having stepped right into this intensive residency after completing my Bachelor degree gave me no time to be seduced by any prospects of unwinding. I believe my time in England could be considered somewhat of a “once in a lifetime experience.” I’m not sure when I will get another opportunity to spend six months dedicated to practicing my flute with no distractions, apart from the machinations of my mind and very charming animals and a few people. I speculate that it is very unlikely that I will have the luxury of such a pilgrimage again. But I do hope to embark on more creative residencies where I will need to focus less on technique and more on the joy of music making and sharing. My studies in England gave me time to overcome many technical obstacles that made certain musical ideas more difficult to communicate. It wasn’t such a ‘creative’ experience, as I knew would be the case from the start. I went there to improve the technical aspects of my playing and in turn clear some fog that had preventing me from some means of creative communication. It also opened up new insights into different areas of flute playing that I may not have had the opportunity to explore on my own or during my bachelor degree, such as learning the Baroque flute and recorder, master classes with renowned flutists and pedagogues and repertoire previously unknown to me.

Trevor, my teacher at the studio, is the keeper of myriad resources and erudition when it came to repertoire, flutes of all ages and even advice beyond the flute. Beyond the flute? Well, there were times when Trevor would speak about experiences and anecdotes where one’s character, actions and unfortunately physical appearance are weighed into consideration when one is applying for work and collaborating with others. Talent and hard work is only part of what seems to be some very inconsistent criteria. Keep your elbows off the table when you’re eating your celebratory cake in front of the jury. Tattoos, piercing and hair colour, anything too vividly ornamental can also be considered somewhat overtly individualistic in certain workplaces and contexts. In the context of an orchestra uniformity is key not only to the music, but to dress code. I am a lover of colour, an advocate for freedom of the deepest personal expression and I am genuinely empowered by others who express themselves. Music is inherently expressive. But of course it is not the only way we express. I draw, take pictures and adore gardening but I express in the quotidian; in my daily choice of clothing and adornment, my choice of food and so on. I have begun to ramble but, perhaps this is part of the reason I am so drawn to chamber music groups that exude individualistic qualities of each member. It seems that within more traditional modes of music making virtuosity is valued, appearance is appropriate and structures are safe. I am continuously confronted by rules and it is often said that one must know the rules to break them. I have come across a lot of these rules in my studies and in institutions. But I still find myself questioning, ‘who is making the rules and how (or how not) are these rules evolving and being eroded?’ I’m slowly discovering myself in this world of structures, and when to be myself, if not always.

continental calling

I had planned to return to Australia at the end of the course, on the 31st of March but I decided I was to postpone my flight until later. The northern hemisphere had ensnared me. At times it can be hard to put my decisions into words, and often I am nervous that they may be an act of impulse. But I have begun to trust my impulse as instinct. I am not one to travel for pleasure, I travel to expand my creativity, view and knowledge. Once my mind is captivated by an idea my body seems to follow. Concluding Trevor’s course presented me with a choice– was I to metaphorically throw my pasta in the air and see where it is to land and move from there, or was I to pick just one or a few and follow stick to those chosen pieces. And so I threw my pasta everywhere.

I know that in previous posts I have discussed my thoughts regarding specialising and I still feel I travel on the same wavelengths as these thoughts. But alas, some of the opportunities I’ve applied for and taken have been a melange of musical making. I think this is right for where I currently am mentally and musically.   

I decided to stay on in London for ten days after finishing my residency in Kent. I was invited to play and do a conduction in the London Improvisers Orchestra’s April concert. I was very excited to have this opportunity as I had some ideas I wished to trial including constructing several graphic scores (samples pictured on the left) and conducting them. When I came to conducting though, I was reminded of how expressive, communicative and innate movement is. In fact, I became aware that all movement is dance. The Malaysian theremin player, sound designer, improviser, composer and educator Ng Chor Guan made me most aware of this. His conduction was truly beautiful and evolved from gentle gestures to convulsions that possessed the orchestra to mirror in sound. I will speak more about dance in my later episode. After having some insightful lessons, listening to as many concerts as I could and gorging on vegan pizza it was time to move on to Germany.

A LONG NIGHT SHORT OF SLEEP

Würzburg is a city that I never might have wanted to visit if not for my old flute teacher and friend. Having endured Trevor’s course herself she invited me to spend some time in Germany following my time in England, as a means to unwind back into “normal living” away from the flute farm. But before I continue to describe sehr schön Würzburg I must first tell you about the eighteen hours that got me there.

London to Germany. There are several ways to get there. You can catch a plane, a train and even a bus. But being a ‘student’ and fr-asian (frugal Asian) I was seduced by the price of taking a bus. Not only did it appear to be a reasonable price but it also promised to double as overnight accommodation. I only discovered later that I had to pay a price in confronting hours of oddities.

It was a beautiful day to leave London. The sun was shining, unobscured by clouds, the sky was blue and even the people seemed a bit brighter in colour. That night I was to take the late night bus from London to Würzburg transferring at Frankfurt. Wearing my strawberry hat, I waited in Victoria station with people traveling far and wide. I was somewhat confused when my bus was announced, for it was destined for Bucharest, which is quite some distance from London. I saw some equally lost and confused people around me who also were heading for Frankfurt. The bus drivers, who spoke Romanian and struggled in English, managed to tell us that the bus was making stops in France, Belgium and Frankfurt (and beyond). Once the journey began I was determined to completely immerse myself in sleep, and something about the stuffiness of being in a vehicle often puts me to sleep. I sat down next to a man who was Belgium bound and a connoisseur of long bus rides it seemed. There was a point where my brain could not tolerate the conversation as I became hounded with questions on my religious identity and marriage status. Was I to endure this until the early hours of the morning when he was to alight? Sleep the saviour tugged at my eyelids and all cascaded into a gradient of darkness.

The bus stopped.

In a confused state I opened my eyes. I was quite certain the eighteen hours had not elapsed already. Many passengers seemed familiar with the stops and filed out of the bus, cigarettes and documents in hand. We were at Dover and our documents were to be checked. We went into the immigration building and were coldly met with the grim faces of immigration officers. “Français?” The officer asked each of us. Those of us who nodded were gifted with a hint of acknowledgement. After all documents were checked we went back to the bus. Surely now I could sleep for the rest of my journey. Or not. The doors opened and one of the immigration officers came aboard. He made his way towards the back of the bus. He approached a man who was sitting in the far back.

“Where are your documents?” He asked.

The man grabbed at his belongings trying to find some form of documentation.

“I, uh, left it in a café.” He said.

“I don’t understand.” The officer frowned. “Please explain.”

The man tried several times to explain the absence of his documents, but to no avail.

‘I do not understand what he is trying to say.’ He said to himself in French.

“You will need to come with me.” He said to the document-less man.

The man and the officer left the bus.

I closed my eyes and slept... alas, only to be woken up soon after.

Eyes squinting, I took out my itinerary. We needed to cross the Channel to get from Dover to Calais so that we could be on our way through Europe. I was convinced we would be taking an underground tunnel to get across the river. Naïve I was.

Our bus boarded a ferry, a ginormous boat with numerous other coach buses. We all had to alight from our bus and enter the main part of the ferry. Up stairs we went until we reached an area with levels of seating, shops and food. It seemed like a moving sad shopping mall and we were the cornered consumers.

I wanted to find a place to sit down and sleep for the duration of this ferry trip. There wasn’t much to see from the windows, a darkened view of the Channel. But my mind was a void pulling me towards sleep.  

I slunk up to the food court which had a designated level all to its own. In the very early hours of the morning people were having breakfasts and beer. In an undying state of exhaustion, I lay down my head at a booth and slept until we reached the continent.

People were to alight where they needed, Calais, Bruges, Frankfurt, just some of the stops littered along the way to Bucharest. Stops were made and people moved in and out of the bus for cigarettes, air and stillness. When new passengers would board the language scape would shift slightly. Once we passed France and Brussels the French speaking faded into the distance whilst conversations in German and Romanian grew more prominent. Post-Dover was without much surprise. Sleep faded in and out of focus and often. I clutched onto my flute and bags in a rather dazed state. I reached Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, an area which is considered one the most dangerous areas in Germany. Mind you, this is dangerous by German definition, and as I have now discovered it is barely comparable with crime in other cities in the US or Australia. But it was here that I waited for my next bus with several other people who consistently and quick conspicuously snuck glances at my strawberry hat. I wish I had a little secret camera installed into the hat that could take photos of people’s facial reactions to seeing it. Smiling faces, faces of confusion, wonder, appreciation or sometimes ambiguous expressions. But what I do know is that when children see me wearing this hat they do not hold back from exclaiming: “Erdebeere!” Or, “strawberry” in unrestrained excitement of seeing something fun in contrast with the imposing concrete structures, grey skies and scarce smiles.  

From cows to Castles

I had never been to Germany before. In fact, there are many places in Europe that I have never been despite being half-European. Driving into Würzburg my sleepy eyes and mind thought that I had returned to the lush landscape of Elmsted, instead now castles had replaced cows. The magnolia trees were in at the Hauptbahnhof. I adore the pale colour of the giant flowers heavy on their leafless branches.

Würzburg is a quaint city in Bavaria. A city of wine, wine and beer drinkers at all hours of the day, nature and culture. It is also home to Germany’s best music research centre at the Hochschule für Musik.

To my excitement, I also was informed that the X-ray were invented there. It’s always fun to learn about ubiquitous things that were invented in somewhat obscured places. Each place has their own piece(s) of pride I suppose!

Episode/part two will tell of Berlin and my first audition for a professional job. Stay tuned (not always in equal temprement) and sweet sonic journeys until then!

born of dust and remembering

Looking up at the night sky one can see several patches of darkness. These are the parts of the night-time blanket that haven’t been embellished with the twinkle of starlight. The cornea is at the mercy of this void so vast and so false. Perhaps I’m more aware of the stars out here in Kent. 
It’s a luminous language foreign from that of the structured lighting of a city.
Here one can look up and see generous pointillism.
There is more that the eye can see when the ceiling is your torch.

I now find myself past the midway mark of my time at The Studio. I also find myself, along with the rest of the world* in a new calendar year. Salutations two-oh-one-nine. I think our world is a bit too myopic to consider this the eve of a year of ‘perfect vision’ (two-oh-two-oh), not synonymous with the brave new world that chilled the muses many. Although, the subtitles on the news of New Year’s Eve seemed to believe we were entering 20 AD. Which in some respects could be considered true considering certain policies and ideologies I need not explicitly state. Perhaps 2002 had even more of a ring to it (tragically memorable for more war and bloodshed). But it’s still a number so good the drunks of 2002 could read it backwards and forwards and still know the year they were in whilst quenching the thirst of the underlying human obsession with symmetry. Alas, there is a slight complication. Our fictional protagonist Anna, born in Ekalaka Lake in 2002 has long wondered why the word palindrome failed in itself to be a palindrome. Perhaps palinilap could usurp the word palindrome as a more appropriate term of fitting exactly what it serves to represent. But here’s a proposition for those who get inexplicably fascinated with symmetry: come find me in two-one-one-two and we can stare in the mirror and contemplate our own facial asymmetry in a symmetrical year. It will all be ok. Born of dust, back to dust. That’s symmetry right? Nevertheless, here we are in a new western calendar year and my endeavours are the same but fortified with perhaps what some call the new year’s resolution. V-I: alas even perfect resolutions find themselves challenged. However, the new year is empowering. Why? It’s a time where we look at a construct of closing and entering, perhaps one of the few times where we are encouraged to sit and reflect and meditate upon the internal and the external, achievements and mistakes, our actions and our own desires. However, it is not quite any of the above that serves as the catalyst for this entry to my blog. Instead I felt it was about time to break a rather self-imposed silence, a silence that I hope this entry will explain.

*For those who celebrate the New Year according to the Gregorian Calendar.
Also, I wrote this entry just before the new Lunar Calendar Year.
But now it’s the new Lunar year as well so 新年快樂 to all my Chinese family and friends!

monotony and memory

My week is structured around the days that I am at the flute studio. It’s a monotonous motion that I am certain is valuable to my flute playing and development, but perhaps not the most blog-inducing. We’ve ploughed through more repertoire than I ever did in my three years of undergraduate music studies and I am finding that I am learning pieces and concepts faster and that I have become more vigilant regarding my own playing and expectations. I’ve had the opportunity to play for some remarkable guest artists at the studio including Michael Cox (Principal Flute BBC Symphony Orchestra), Rachel Brown (historical flute and music specialist) and Juliet Edwards (accompanist and pianist). We’ve also attended master classes in London with Emily Beynon (Principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) and William Bennet (Professor at Royal Academy of Music) which have been equally enriching. But classes with Trevor are often the hardest and most rewarding. He is a erudite figure who can be simultaneously cruel and caring in character, and my time here at the flute studio has been undeniably beneficial. He speaks of a world of ghosts that seemingly still haunt the way flute is taught and institutionalised. These ghosts are his friends… from Marcel Moyse to Alain Marion and other remarkable figures who he worked with or taught and some that are still alive today. But most importantly, it is fully clear that he respects his friends and colleagues, and that they have imparted lessons regarding music and life onto him and that this equates to a large portion of his wisdom– a wisdom he shares with his students. It is far from an evangelical “church of flute” vibe, and despite many of my friends thinking I joined an obscure flute cult in the English countryside, this is a valuable opportunity to learn from one of the few remaining flutists and pedagogues of a time passing. While many of Trevor’s values and tones of teaching may be outdated, it can still be applied to a large portion of the flute repertory (being that it is mostly composed by dead white guys anyway!). But the sentiment of the rules, character and fundamentals of music transpires across the periods. Even in more anarchical approaches there are always shadows. So in some ways I came to the studio to understand more about the past, because so much of the music I have played in my musical studies is steeped in periods past, but because it helps me to understand more about how we arrived at the sonic inventions of the present. It is also becoming increasingly clear to me just how much there is to consider when learning, performing and teaching music. But also how there is much (somewhat disregarded) simplicity. It is all a matter of understanding. I think after this course I will spend some time reading back through the notes I took from the studio classes. There’s just an incredible amount of information that I could probably compile it into a guidebook that I could use for the rest of my career and to help students and colleagues. I’ve also taken time to think more about the direction of my career. Not too long ago I was somewhat vehemently opposed to the idea of a career in orchestral playing. But I think this course has opened up realms of new possibilities that perhaps I had turned my attention away from. Whilst I gravitate most towards contemporary music, I now see my own musical identity broadening. That is not to say that I do not want to specialise, in fact I think I would eventually love to be a specialist in contemporary music. However, I am in love with delving through different styles and genres of music (and different modes of expression) and at this stage in my career I want to embrace that exploration further. After the conclusion of this course I am eager to explore a variety of opportunities in the various realms of musical expression.

time-travel, noise travel,
feet first into gravel

London is seductive. It’s this noisy and luminous magnet of activity that has abundance. Back in Australia one would sometimes have to wait months, if not several years for an artist, exhibition, program to come from overseas and grace our senses. We have such fine local artists in Australia and we are certainly never short of entertainment. But, envision this, you’re in Sydney for a night and there are three concerts happening simultaneously and you would like to be present at all of them. Omnipresence would border on delusional so you’d have to choose one. Cities are reminiscent of supermarkets, there’s choice, choice and more choice; choices to the point where you cannot choose whether or not you want to be dizzy because you already are. I am a sworn lover of nature and all places not suffocated by concrete but the magnetism of cities always draw my feet back into its streets. It’s no paradox, but more an acceptance that cities often house opportunities, culture, the arts and people to them. I am a victim to that magnetism. I’ve been into London a several times now, to listen to concerts and attend masterclasses. It’s about a 40 minute trip into London via South-Eastern rail that can cost up to £26 return, so I have to choose my visits wisely and sparingly. It certainly proves difficult when there is a worthwhile concert, exhibition or event happening EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’ve had the opportunity to see some incredible exhibitions particularly ‘The Clock’ by Christian Marclay at Tate Modern, a 24-hour film I have been wanting to see for years. I’ve also been to the National Gallery, The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A museum holds such an extensive collection (all the Rodin statues!) and I also went into an exhibition regarding the production and sustainability of fashion. I am yet to go and listen to the many wonderful orchestras in London. I tried purchasing tickets for a London Symphony Orchestra concert but the few remaining tickets were around £80. For most events there reasonable are student or youth fares for around £10, but for these you have to act fast. But I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Claire Chase, Bang On A Can All-Stars (selections from Field Recordings, Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields), Frederic and Jan Rzewski and the London Improvisers Orchestra. On the weekend that Bang On a Can (BOAC) and Claire Chase were playing in London there was also a Ensemble Modern concert, but as I had booked for another concert I couldn’t make it to that. Alas, choices! King’s Place has an incredible series called ‘Venus Unwrapped‘ that shines the spotlight on the creative power of Women in music. The BOAC concerts I went to were a part of that series and as I was sitting in my seat I realised that 80% of the works programmed were by women. What was most intriguing was that the concert was not advertised as a ‘program of mostly women composers’. At times I find that organisations and artistic directors feel the need to highlight that they are making an incredible effort to program the music of women and this is fantastic. But it can also be mildly counter-productive and can perpetuate tokenism, exclusivity and marginalisation. I think it’s about constructing a program that is made up of great music and balance. But when there is an alarming under-representation (or no representation!) in concert programs excluding particular groups in society, that is when we must highlight existing imbalances. But most importantly the focus should be to forge a more inclusive future through providing platforms where these unique creative voices can be heard. So before I went to the BOAC concert I wasn’t aware of Venus Unwrapped nor was I aware of how many composers were women on the program. It was only when I sat down that I thought to myself– ‘damn, this music is good’, and that’s all that should matter.

fertile ground

My time here in Elmsted, Kent is almost solely dedicated to the flute and practice. The other day, I was asked by one of the neighbours (by neighbour I do not mean next door, but rather, across a field) what I do when I am not practicing or at the Studio. I stared into my cup of tea, a pause, for a moment of consideration before I gave an answer. You see, there is not much else to do here than practice, go for walks in the woods, and get creative with a limited diet. However, in this time away from the clamorous seduction of city living I have found gentle entertainment in my the machinations of my own mind. Being here has extended opportunities beyond the flute. I have found more time to compose music and experiment with musical ideas I have wanted to try for some time. During this course I started making composition part a regular practice through composing my own warm-ups and exercises for flute to some larger projects not directly involving the flute. In the last three and a half months I composed my first string quartet ‘A Waning Body‘ that was premiered at the Environmental Sound Art, Classical Music and Australian Female Composers concert at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Each note from this work is a sonic translation of data collected from Antarctic Mass Variation since 2002. It was a concept I’d wanted to explore for some time as a means to promote heightened awareness on the alarming rate of climate change. Consequently, it’s full of sounds that aren’t meant to make anyone feel terribly comfortable. I also wrote a piece for percussion/speaker and fixed media dedicated to my Brisbane duo partner, Joyce To for her solo recital at the Tilde New Music Week in Melbourne. I’ve been exploring spoken elements with vessels (glass, flutes) and wanted to create a piece that featured this idea as a central element. And thus ‘Ingrained/in-grains’ came into existence. There’s no recording as of yet but you can listen to the fixed media component here. There are other ideas and concepts that are still in an embryonic state but are slowly taking form. I am also beyond excited to announce that a ‘Noisy Women’ concert will be happening again this year for International Womens Day (8 March). Last year the concert received overwhelming support from the Brisbane community and beyond with an audience exceeding the capacity of the venue and many more watching nationally and internationally into the live-stream. As well as being a concert celebrating the valuable contributions of women throughout musical history it is also a space to promote established and new works by women. How can masterpieces be made if they are not heard? Hence, this year the concert is happening again, albeit under a new and very exciting name (with an equally exciting acronym): Women of Noise. This year I also have a talented team of young musicians (Courtney Lovell, Anna Rabinowicz, Sasha Walker, Elizabeth Shearon) on the creative and organising unit who are undoubtably the backbone of the project. More information regarding the program and musicians involved will be available on our Facebook and Instagram so be stay tuned to exclusive sneak peeks and exciting updates!

Encore?

In the final months of my time here in Kent I’ll be up to my knees in pieces, practice and hopefully more snow! I am glad I took the time to write this entry as it has given me moments to reflect on time passed and the time that is passing. After my time in the United Kingdom I will travel to Germany where I will stay with one of my old flute teachers. I’ll be investigating opportunities including jobs, Masters degree options, maybe even going to a festival or two, getting some lessons and doing more performing. From one ambitious plan to another it seems! At this stage I anticipate that I’ll return to Australia late in the year. I’ll certainly be eager to perform, collaborate, catch up with friends and family and share what I learnt here at the studio. Here’s to the continuum of noise.

some photos…