the long way home

–part three

Apart from being pride month*, the month of June was dedicated to July. Of course, the time we invest in practicing and working is always an long-term investment and influences our future outputs. But July needed a month of preparation, to learn all the music that I was to be playing. 

And here we are in already some time into July. 

* A belated happy Pride Month to all my colourful and expressive friends and beyond! May this be a celebration of how far we have come, a reminder of those who pioneered to get us here and those who continue to do so. You are your pride, and you are the world’s pride too, and it is never limited to one month but every single day.

vowels, vibrations and Viitasaari

Taken around 1:20 am at the lake outside the sauna in Viitasaari.
The summer nights are known as ‘White Nights’ in this part of the world.

My housemates and I needed to leave our residence in Berlin by the end of June as the lease for the apartment was concluding. I had a few choices– find another sublet until mid-July or accept the invitation to attend the Chamber music Course with Camilla Hoitenga at the Musiikin Aika Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland. I applied to this course after finding it on the Ulysees Network, which you should check out especially if you are a musician with a particular interest in contemporary music. But my need to move wasn’t this wasn’t the only reason. I had an interest in learning and working with Camilla since I started learning the music of Kaija Saariaho. I was captivated by Hoitenga’s cadenza in Saariaho’s ‘Terrestre’ adapted from her flute concerto ‘Aile du Songe’ and used this as the basis for writing my own when I had the opportunity to perform it at the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee and my Third-Year recital at the Queensland Conservatoirum Griffith University. Not only has Camilla collaborated and had a long relationship with Saariaho but she also worked closely with Karlheinz Stockhausen. As a contemporary music addict, how could I not apply? And to add to my already excited state, it happened that Saariaho was to be at the festival also tutoring the composition course with many of her pieces in the festival program. 

The Musiikin Aika Time of Music Festival is the only contemporary summer music festival in Finland. Situated in the central Finland region, the town is surrounded by greenery and lakes and is naturally breathtaking. The festival included a summer academy that was split into three courses: improvisation with John Butcher, composition with Kaija Saariaho and chamber music with Camilla Hoitenga. I honestly wanted to participate in all the courses but to my dismay the timetables overlapped. However, I was already happily busy with the chamber music repertoire and commitments. Working and learning from Camilla gave me insight into the people behind the score. Having worked with both Saariaho and Stockhausen, and with many of the pieces at the festival being by these composers, her collaborations were a guide to interpretation and musical language. This was more so for the work of Stockhausen, which I now understand to approach with a particular mindset and diligence. But Camilla also gave me a lot of guidance into the embouchure and the ways that we have to manipulate the lips and mouth to effective convey techniques, especially in Saariaho’s music with the gradients of breath tones to ordinary notes. She certainly made learning these mouth positions very entertaining by associating each position with a animal face. Let’s just say I practiced the ‘monkey face’ position quite a bit for Saariaho’s breathy passages.

There were two concerts that concluded the course. The main composers featured across the entire festival program were of course Saariaho and Stockhausen, however, the chamber music course participants also programmed works from composers they had worked with and music from their home countries. As a chamber piece I had brought Saariaho’s Mirrors for Flute and Violoncello along with me. I was to be working with Nicolò Neri, a cellist from Italy. As solo pieces I had brought Stockhausen’s ‘In Freundschaft’ and had to revive Andrew Ford’s ‘Female Nude’ for the second improvisation concert. Collectively, we were given the opportunity to prepare ensemble arrangements of Stockhausen’s ‘Tierkreis’ melodies. I must confess, before studying this work I had never voluntarily looked into astrology before. I am by no means an expert now but I am no longer highly perplexed at the words ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ sign and (planet) in retrograde. I still have many questions though. I will share the recordings from the festival on my website once I receive them form the festival, so stay tuned!

Nicolò and I workshopping ‘Mirrors’ with Kaija Saariaho.

The Musikiin Aika Time of Music Festival brought together people from all over the world and together we shared and made music. My time in Viitasaari was affirming and exciting. I heard and experienced so many brilliant performances, met many people who are now colleagues and friends and had such a wonderful time. I was astounded how impactful every single performance was and how well organised the program was despite some very demanding pieces. Some of my favourite moments in the festival included hearing Stockhausen’s ‘Poles’ performed live, hearing the revised versions of Saariaho’s ‘Study for Life’ and ‘Graal Théâtre: Concerto for violin’ and being one of the ‘test audience’ members for Alexander Schubert and defunensemble’s new work ‘Unity Switch’. I felt changed by these works, uplifted, paralysed by the potency of performance and musically renewed. I knew that I was in the right place and that the people around me were functioning on the same wavelength and sharing the same passion for creating and sharing contemporary music. ‘Unity Switch’ was a particularly intriguing piece of work that incorporated virtual reality headsets with sound, movement, directions, smell and touch. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. I had volunteered as a test audience prior to the programmed performance sessions and I went in feeling a little nervous as I sat at a table with a headset facing a person I had never met before. The experience was peculiar, reminiscent of a more vanilla episode of Black Mirror and I certainly felt like my perception of the world and art had shifted a little post-exposure.

Apart from the musical moments in Viitasaari, I also started to ride a bike again post-Würzburg incidents, enjoyed voluntary insomnia by indulging in some Finnish tradition of late night saunas and lake diving and warmed my hands over a barbeque whilst talking to Saariaho. 

If you’re a musician and avid lover of contemporary art music you should definitely look into Musiika Aika Time of Music festival next year! It is such an exciting festival and I am truly glad that I came across it. 

Listing whilst in Germany

Listening is learning. When I listen to the concerts and projects of others I feel as tough my creativity matures. It’s different, yet just as potent as the physical and mental act of practice with my flute. With concerts happening every night and day I thought it would be nice to share with you some of my perspectives and thoughts about selected concerts that I’ve been to since moving to Germany.

Ensemble Modern plays Mark Andre

When I was much younger my father introduced me to Frank Zappa and Dmitri Shostakovich. It was a baptism of sonic spice indeed. Since listening to Zappa’s albums in my youth I had wanted to hear ‘Ensemble Modern’ perform. The ensemble was in Australia around two years ago and performed ‘Yellow Shark’ in Melbourne. I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t go as I recall that it conflicted with my university commitments. But alas, as I was staying Würzburg which is easily accessible by train to Frankfurt where the ensemble is based, I was able to go and hear them play. This program featured music by the French-born composer, Mark Andre, who was also present in the hall. I had never heard his music live before. The whole concert was performed without any pauses. A wash of sounds emerged from the ensemble, at times delicate and at times coarse. It seemed like the whole ensemble was trying to create a body of air, sounds that felt propelled and spoken by the wind. Wind players certainly were in their element, but even the strings and percussion conjured such sounds from their instruments. It was a transfixing concert and a wonderful feeling getting to hear an ensemble I had admired since I was young. 

Abschied und Entfremdung,
Rundfunk Symphonische Orchester 

a full stage and full hall.

I was invited to attend this concert by Ellie Harrison, violist, teacher and writer and the baritone James Young, who are two of my Australian musician friends currently living in Berlin. I had seen posters advertising this concert all around the Berlin underground. It certainly attracted many Australians (I could hear the accent all around the venue) living in Berlin, I suspect due to the programming of Brett Dean’s ‘Vexations and Devotions’ for children’s choir, mixed choir and large orchestra (2005) featuring the Gondwana Voices. The concert was certainly something quite special. The final adagio in Joseph Haydn‘s ‘Sinfonie Nr. 45 „Abschiedssinfonie“’ has a special touch and message to his patron at the time ‘Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy. His musicians and retinue had stayed longer at the palace of Eszterháza in rural Hungry. Understanding the musician’s weariness and desire to go home to their wives in Elsenstadt, Haydn put a request into this music. During this last movement each musician snuffs out their candle or light and gradually leaves the stage until only two muted violins are left on stage. I had my eyes closed at the beginning of this movement and didn’t open them until I heard some murmuring and chuckling in the audience. Curious I opened my eyes to the darkened hall, stand lights being turned off and musicians exiting the stage, even the conductor. The two violinists stood, playing in a conversation of melodic gesture until the very last sound was sung. Such a transfixing way to end a piece, I was completely absorbed in the transformation of the orchestra into this intimate duet. Following this piece was Gustav Mahler’s ‘Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Friedrich Rückert’ featuring the American Baritone Thomas Hampson. As soon as Hampson began singing a smile broke out onto my face, it was as if his vocal chords had extended into the audience and given each person an embrace drawing us closer to the music. Dean’s ‘Vexations and Devotions’ was after the interval and it seemed that many Australians were sitting in proximity to us, my ears have become more sensitive to picking up the accent. Perhaps this was the designated Australian area. I hadn’t heard the Gondwana choirs since I had left Sydney around four years ago. I was excited to hear a little piece of home. Dean’s piece was complex in its musical material and incorporated many strengths of the choir and orchestra. Highlights included the harmonica playing Bassoon player, the two alto flutes with several fantastic solos and the the exchanges between the choir members beyond singing, from clapping games to percussion playing. The incorporation of recorded material into the work added an extra dimension. The recorded material featured a typical calling cue message which began as with familiar sentences along the lines of “your call has been placed in a cue and will be answered shortly. We appreciate your patience.” However, gradually the sentences became more warped and the message twisted into something darker and dystopian. The incorporation of the music with this recorded material seemed carefully scored and effectively intertwined with the music which in turn augmented the changes in the recording. I enjoyed this program thoroughly, it was evident that the artistic directors had chosen a program that would arouse curiosity and wonder. It was particularly wonderful to hear/see the work of an Australian composer and musician closing a concert in Germany. I would’ve loved to have heard more works representing the diversity of people in music but alas, it is still unfortunately rare to find programs that are completely inclusive and balanced.

Anthony Pateras at KM28

At times I feel a little bit of disorientation regarding place since living in Berlin. This is especially so when I see and talk to Australians often. The Australians have sprawled all across the world. It can be fairly tempting to slide back into the comfort of long conversations in English with a person who has the same accent as you. Narcissistic familiarity or home sickness? Maybe a combination of the two. Anyhow, after having heard the Rundfunk Symphonische Orcherster perform Dean the night before I decided to continue with the Australian music in Berlin theme. On a Monday night I took the U-Bahn to KM28, a quaint venue with fantastic energy and some remarkable concerts featuring some ground-breaking ‘living, breathing and creating’ musicians. This concert featured the music of Australian born composer and performer, Anthony Pateras, and marked the release of his  ‘Collected Works Vol. II (2005-2018)‘. Pateras was there himself and opened the concert with a ‘Sphinx’s Riddle’ for piano and electronics. The space was split by an arch and the piano was in one area whilst the other performances took place in another. There were two pieces that I thought worked in perfect juxtaposition. ‘A Happy Sacrifice’ for Contrabass and Electronics performed by Jon Heilbron alongside ‘Burning is the Thing’ for piccolo and electronics performed by Rebecca Lane seemed like a sonic diptych. From the frequencies of the contrabass to the timbre and shrillness of the piccolo. The piccolo and the contrabass are truly interesting characters! I was particularly transfixed by Jessica Aszodi’s performance of ‘Prayer for Nil’ for soprano voice and electronics. Both the performance and the piece completely captivated me. One thing I found to be very intriguing was when the live instrument would weave in and out of ‘tune’ with the pitch being produced by the electronics. The resulting feature unpredictable rhythms and the wonderfully strange sensation of ‘difference tones’, that is the additional tone (the resultant tone) or tones that one hears when two pitches are played simultaneously. At times, this phenomenon can be more obvious depending on frequency and timbre. It’s a fascinating and ‘fairly safe to the ears’ experiment to try at home or in the practice room with another consenting musician or music lover.

Klimakonzert

contrabasses after playing the Ustwolskaja.

Have you ever been to a concert that sent electricity through your body? That turned your brain in full rotation? That made your jaw and teeth drop to the floor? And remind you of how powerful and outspoken music and the arts are and can be? Well all but the last are quite metaphorical, but I think I am now able to give an answer to those who ask ‘what is the most powerful concert you have ever been to?’. Admittedly I have yet to be asked this question, but I will answer it here. On the 31st of May at Ewerk, I attended ‘Dies Irae’, the eighth addition to the ‘Klimakonzert’ initiative/series instigated by the Orchester des Wandels. The venue was formerly known as Berlin’s techno temple and has now been converted into a space for various events whilst still maintaining an industrial atmosphere. The vision behind this concert and series is to bring the climate crisis to the forefront through music. All proceeds from the concert went towards supporting the ‘New Life on Lower Prut River‘ project in partnership with WWF for the renaturation of the alluvial forests in the delta of the Prut river. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Moldovan-Austrian-Swiss Violinist staged and directed this concert titled ‘Dies Irae’, which since Mediaeval times has spoken about the ‘The Days of Wrath’ or the ‘Last Days.’ In her words, “Our time faces the unprecedented threat of global warming. Many – and many of those in power – do not want to believe it.” The program began with Giacinto Scelsi’s Okanagon for harp, contrabass and tamtam in a room separate from where the audience was seated. The piece resonated throughout the space and also our bodies. The program itself was a melange of early music to contemporary works without any pause in between. Changes between pieces were seamless and sometimes violent. The unpredictability and instability of the existence of each piece seemed like a sonic representation of the chaos of the climate. My eyes and ears sometimes didn’t know where or what to focus on, so much was happening. Kopatchinskaja would leap around, dancing, convulsing, whilst taking the whole orchestra with her. One of the most powerful works on the program was the Russian-born composer, Galina Ustwolskaja’s Composition No. 2 ‘Dies Irae.’ This piece is scored for a peculiar combination of a piano, eight double basses and a wooden cube, a coffin-like wooden structure that is relentlessly pummelled. If you haven’t heard of Ustwolskaja or are not familiar with her works you certainly should take some time to get to know this powerful musical master and visionary. Click here to read an article that on her life and selected works.

The Klimakonzert ended in the most poignant manner. From the back of the space and above the audience the choir sung the Gregorian hymn, ‘Dies Irae’, accompanied. Yes, accompanied by dozens of metronomes, each ticking away at its own tempo. Members of the orchestra came out one by one, a light in one hand and a mechanical metronome in the other. They dispersed themselves into the audience and each set down their metronome on the floor. ‘Dies Irae’ continued in the background, the ticking of each metronome creating polyrhythms with their mechanical neighbours. One by one each metronome came to a still and each metronome keeper turned off their light. ‘Dies Irae’ came to a close and when the final metronome stopped ticking I heard my heart beating. Breathing steadily, one thought came to mind. Dies Irae– our last days are near. We face an alarming extinction and climate crisis and the time to act is now. We must not wait until the final hour. 

From back home

The results of the Australian election in May were quite honestly heartbreaking on many levels and I felt completely helpless being on the other side of the world. However, I did fulfil my democratic duty at the Australian Embassy to vote (and having a sad democracy sausage afterwards) but I felt helpless having not been able to campaign with my fellow friends and activists on issues at the forefront of the election. But have not extinguished my hope or my activism. Instead it has only made me angrier and put wood in that fire. I see a generation that is willing to fight for a future, for our planet and every living being, and this gives me hope. The youth are outspoken and we need leaders that will listen, for are we not the adults of the future, the leaders of tomorrow? I look to many of the people back home who continuously campaign for justice, are outspoken and empower others each in their own way. These are the people who make me excited to come back to Australia. They make creativity even more vibrant, the voice of justice loud and give my heart hope. I joined thousands protesting for climate justice in Berlin at one of many climate marches happening worldwide. Thousands of people from around the world are attending such protests and taking direct action. Our voices and message of urgency is getting more and more amplified. Climate change is the biggest issue that we face, it exacerbates many other issues such as the refugee crisis with ‘climate refugees’ growing in numbers. This affects everything and involves everyone, of all ages, genders, ethnicities, occupations and identities. Why? Because we are human and this is our home. In fact, those who continue to deny climate change need a huge reality check. There’s no planet B so we should look after the planet and each other. You don’t need to label yourself as an activist. In fact, I am reluctant to because I feel that it our responsibility as humans rather than a title or badge we wear. Less symbolism, titles and more action, from everyone. I urge you to take a look at what you can do in your community because every single action we take now, even from the smallest changes in our daily lives affect the future. If you’re not sure where to start I’ve compiled a list of six helpful organisations taking direct action on climate change. Go and check them out, get inspired and act. 

Five links for to fuel your fire: 

  1. Extinction Rebellion
  2. 350.org
  3. Fridays For Future
  4. Stop Adani
  5. Australian Youth Climate Coalition
  6. One Million Women

*The above just a select few of the many wonderful organisations and initiatives worldwide that are empowering people to tackle the climate crisis.

In sunnier news, here is a wonderful article about big names in Australian music investing in solar farms.

photo taken from the Fridays For Future March, May 2019.

Creative fire in Brisbane

Whilst I started this segment on a rather grim reflection of events I would like to share some of the great things that that I have had the honour to be involved in Brisbane even whilst being away, and also share with you some of the great projects that my friends and colleagues are doing. 

Women of Noise

Previously, I wrote about how excited I was to see Women of Noise’ (formerly known as ‘Noisy Women’) having its second concert again on International Women’s Day. On the 8th of March, the concert was held at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University involving current students, faculty and alumni. I woke up at 3am to catch the concert via the livestream which had been organised for those who wanted to tune into the wonderful program of musical masterpieces. These fabulous recordings are now up on the Youtube channel so you can enjoy these electrifying performances anytime and anywhere. You can have a look at some of the great photos taken by Kate O’Brien on our Facebook page. I was unable to be on site in Brisbane to do a lot of the coordinating and organisational work around the concert as I was at the flute studio. Therefore, I am eternally grateful to all the musicians involved and extend a special thanks to Vanessa Tomlinson and the Women of Noise Team– Courtney Lovell (social media and speaker), Sasha Walker (graphic design), Anna Rabinowicz (co-ordinator) and Elizabeth Shearon. But it doesn’t stop at the concert. We are excited to announce that Women of Noise now has its own radio segment ‘Women of Noizzze’ on 4ZZZ (102.10 FM Brisbane, Sundays from 2-5am) which will also be available as an extended podcast on multiple platforms including iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa. You can listen to the first episode here. The show will be celebrating and featuring music and interviews from female-identifying and non-binary members of the community and the arts. The wonderful and bubbly Courtney Lovell will be spinning the discs and interviewing an array of incredible women and non-binrary artists and members of the community. There’s going to be some super humans sharing their creativity and stories. I will also be launching my sub-project Women Write Now in mid-August. It will involve a series of blog style interviews with women identifying and non-binary artists from around the globe. I welcome submissions and suggestions for this project and you can do so here. There’s some more exciting news coming regarding WoN (including a website!) that I will share within the coming months but some great things are happening for now. I am overjoyed to see WoN thriving, celebrating the achievements and creativity of individuals and having more creative voices heard. I too am continuously learning about and discovering many impressive creative people and projects in our community. 

Dare to speak

As I’ve said before, I am constantly blown away by the achievements of my friends and colleagues. I feel incredibly honoured when I am invited to be part of projects back home even when I am away. I naturally say yes. Matthew Klotz, Brisbane-based composer and musician curated a concert at The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University titled ‘Dare To Speak.’ The concert brought together music, poetry and art in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and transphobia. All proceeds from the event were donated to the LGBTI youth organisation Minus18. Mat sent me a ‘A Litany For Survival’, a poem by Audre Lorde, an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. In this poem and in her words I could feel a sense of shared human pain and struggle. Brisbane-based flutist, improviser, composer, feminist and writer (and also my mentor!) Hannah Reardon-Smith combined my reading of Lorde’s poem with a structured improvisation on flute and electronics. The result was chillingly beautiful. You can listen to it here and read the poem here.

Encore?

I suppose it’s time to announce that I won’t be coming back to Australia until late September this year. Yes, the northern hemisphere has kept me for longer than I expected. 

I received several pieces of exciting news for the month of July. I have already written about my wonderful time at Musikiin Aika Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland. I then briefly stopped over in Oslo for a few days to work with Elizabeth Shearon, my friend and colleague from my years at Queensland Conservatorium of music Griffith University who is a brilliant composer and also on the Women of Noise team. We spent some time walking in the forest, picking wild berries, eating some tasty vegan food and working on her new composition for flute and tape. Without giving away too much too soon, the piece is written about climate change and is based on one of my favourite speeches. I will be premiering it at the Bang On A Can Summer Music festival this month. Well, I think I just gave away the next piece of my news. It is with uncontained excitement that I share with you this news that I been invited as a performance fellow to the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival at Mass MoCA, Massachusetts. For many professional musicians, the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival has been a sort of rite of passage. Some great Australian flute players have also been part of this festival during the early stages of their career. The festival involves three weeks of intensive music making with wonderful musicians from around the world, an ‘all-star’ faculty and guest musicians including the SunRa Arkestra, Pamela Z, Ben Frost amongst many others. I look forward to working with artists I have not yet had the opportunity to work with and working again with those that I have worked with before. Fellow Brisbane musician and violinist Flora Wong will also be present as a performance fellow at the festival. You should take a look and support her project ‘Geburstag’, which celebrates the 10th birthday of her Helge Grawert violin through commissioning new works from four Australian composers (Connor D’Netto, MJ O’Neill, Chris Perren, Kezia Yap.) i’m sure there’ll be some sneak peeks of the project at the festival. Together we’ll be playing some freshly written pieces by the composition fellows for the festival and I may have a special debut as a metronome operator for one of Flora’s ‘Geburstag’ pieces. I also look forward to working again with two musicians whom worked with at the Nief-Norf Summer Festival last year– the NYC-based guitarist, Neil Beckmann and viola player and writer, Elias Aaron Irving Gross. Neil and I will be performing Michael Gordon’s ‘Dry’ together. I’m excited to explore new repertoire, share ideas and make many new friends and of course copious amounts of music! I will be sure to share my performances on my website and social media so stay tuned. 

This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. Without funding, many emerging musicians like myself would have limited opportunity to attend such festivals, to perform, develop their artistic identity and to share and give back the joy of music to their communities.

Liz and I taking a break with Oslo’s funkiest wall art.

This was a particularly long series of writings and if you made it to the end then you probably need to go for a long walk away from a screen. A snack of hummus is also a good accompaniment. I welcome any comments, suggestions of things to hear/see/taste whilst in this part of the world and just general greetings. I will bring this to a close now and let these fingers rest. Until the next writings. 

P.S. If you have or know of any exciting projects please share them with me. I would love to share and celebrate the work of others in my writing much more.

read ‘the long way home’ part one here
read ‘the long way home’ part two here

The cover photo for this post was taken by my talented housemate, Doro Schneider.