Bundanon

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Kupka’s Piano has just spent a week  the artist residency at the Bundanon Trust’s incredible Riversdale property – a property once belonging to artist Arthur Boyd that has been turned into a beautiful retreat for all kinds of artists to delve deeply into their work away from the commitments and distractions of modern city life. There we rehearsed intensively in preparation for our debut studio recording project, which we’re diving into today (back in Brisbane)! The residency was made possible thanks to support from the Australia Council for the Arts and the Bundanon Trust, and our recording is officially funded by all of YOU, thanks to our successful Australian Cultural Fund crowdfunding campaign. We are so terribly grateful to each and every one of you who has contributed, as well as to these major supporters. Thanks to your generosity we have been able to take on this very ambitious project, one that will have a lasting output that we will share and cherish for many years to come.

Before we lock ourselves in the studio for three days of recording funtimes, Hannah hounded everyone to give a brief reflection on our week at Riversdale. Below are quotes from all of us and photos of the incredible building, landscape, Boyd paintings, and our rehearsals.

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Alex (piano):

I find that it’s often tricky to blend productivity and calmness when you’re in the midst of preparations for an ambitious and challenging project, such as the upcoming KP recording. Having the luxury of spending a whole week of music-making at a rehearsal retreat such the Bundanon Trust was a really magical way to make it seem as easy as it can be!

Liam (guitar, composer, conductor!):

We don’t live in a society that encourages concentration, and certainly not one that encourages a high degree of concentration on artistic creation. Usually Kupka’s Piano steals time where we can to rehearse for upcoming concerts, each member making sacrifices here and there and often racing between various commitments—teaching, other gigs, night shifts, family—and we manage to pull off some amazing stuff, despite the constraints.

At Bundanon, however, we really got the chance to let the music sink into our minds and bodies a little more. We had the time to see past the dizzying rush of notes in many of the works we have performed and draw out more defined shapes, characters, and concepts. This was particularly obvious to me in Chris Dench’s flux, which at first seemed like a series of impenetrable musical blocks, but as we rehearsed across the week, turned into a subtle conversation of instrumental lines, with perfectly-hewn gem-like moments emerging fleetingly from dense walls of sound. That’s what a week of rehearsals will do.

There were of course shenanigans of all sorts, appalling karaoke (ask Mac for a rendition of ‘Ridin Dirty’ next time you see him), wombat hunts (no wombats were injured), purge towns (we all survived), a creek walk that had no creek (I think we went the wrong way), and others which I won’t go into, but we also did a huge amount of planning for 2017 and dreaming and scheming for 2018. Something about the country around the Bundanon Trust and the company of great musicians for a week inspires you to want to go on, despite the difficulties that inevitably emerge along the way.

 

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Jodie (flute):

It took returning to city life to fully realise the importance of a place like Bundanon. The dull and annoying buzz of the city, people scurrying around in cars, and the distractions of everyday life seemed so far away during our residency. We only had to worry ourselves with rehearsals, musical details, and wombat spotting.

Mac (clarinet):

Bundanon was certainly an artistically rewarding experience for me. Aside from being a fantastic opportunity to rehearse, it also gave our group the chance to develop closer bonds with each other, which made the residency that little bit more fulfilling.

 

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Angus (percussion):

The epic task of getting all the percussion gear to Bundanon was dwarfed by the company, food, scenery, and happy times!

Hannah (flute, conductor, composer):

What a week! Perfect in almost every way, with the possible exception of the temperature (one day got to 37ºC, two days later it was a top of 18ºC), and the sighting of a (presumed) funnel web spider in the toilet by Lachlan. But rehearsing under the shadow of a huge Arthur Boyd masterpiece, in the magnificent Boyd Education Centre overlooking the Shoalhaven river, to the sounds of bellbirds (which sounded suspiciously like a clicktrack on occasion), kookaburras and galahs, was such an awe-inspiring experience that we could just wipe the sweat away, close the toilet door, and get to work.

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Katherine (cello):

A whole week for all of the things I never get the time to do: I did lots of admin, lots of practice and detailed rehearsing, plus it was so nice to hang out as a group, the wombats were cute, and we saw a lyrebird!

Lachlan (guest violin):

It was an incredible privilege to be invited to tag along with Kupka’s Piano for their residency at the Bundanon estate last week — what a special, awe-inspiring place! It’s not often that I’m given an opportunity to spend a whole week working intensively on a single project like this, let alone in such a beautiful, peaceful setting. It’s quite amazing how productive one can be when the circumstances are just right! As a guest musician who doesn’t regularly perform with Kupka’s Piano, this residency was a wonderful way for me to get to know everyone in the ensemble and find out what makes them tick. These guys are all super passionate about their work and it has been such a pleasure to collaborate and share musical ideas with them. I’ve come away from the residency feeling confident that this recording is going to be something very special and I can’t wait to share it with everyone in 2017! Big thanks must go to the Bundanon Trust for hosting us, the Australia Council for the Arts for supporting the residency, and to the whole KP crew for having me on board for this project!

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Important announcement! KP needs YOUR help!!

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Are you the hero we’ve been waiting for? We’re running our first crowdfunding campaign so that we can record an album of some of the breathtaking new works you’ve heard us premiere over the years. Could you chip in? No amount is too small and every little bit counts (although every bit over $2 might count a bit more for you, as it’s tax deductible!).

You’ll definitely be hearing more about this campaign as it progresses, including some interviews with the composers and members of KP about why these pieces are so special and why we’re so excited to make a studio recording.

To learn some more right away and to contribute to our campaign, click here.

braneworlds reflections, part 1

Liam Flenady reflects on his new piece “braneworlds”, which Kupka’s premiered at our last Judith Wright Centre concert on October 7…

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On Friday night, Kupka’s Piano performed my new braneworlds as part of the ‘Tautologies, Transitions, Translations’ concert, alongside wonderful works by Hannah Reardon-Smith, Michael Mathieson-Sandars, Alan Lawrence, and Eric Wubbels. In the interest of gathering my thoughts about this, and documenting the entire creative process (including the reflection-assessment stage) for the PhD, here’s the first of two more or less stream-of-consciousness reflections on rehearsing and performing my piece.

kupkas_braneworlds_oct7 That’s us playing braneworlds at the Judy on Oct 7 (thanks to Kathleen McLeod for the photo).

The first thing to mention I guess is the fact that I played guitar with the ensemble for braneworlds. This is the first time I’ve done this, and the first time I’ve performed ‘new music’ at all, really, having come from a rock and jazz background, and having more or less quit the guitar about 7 years ago when I seriously began composing.

The…

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Kupkacast episode 1: Hannah, Liam and Michael discuss

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Ahead of our next performance, Tautologies, Transitions, Translations, at the Judith Wright Centre on October 7, Hannah, Liam, and Michael caught up via Skype to discuss composing, naming pieces, extramusical influences, different approaches to counterpoint, and whatever else came up along the way.

All three will be having a new composition premiered at the coming concert, so we thought we’d try to give a bit of an intro to the thoughts behind each of the pieces.

 

We hope you enjoy this Kupkacast pilot – if we get good feedback we might do this more often!

And don’t forget to book your tickets and get along to the show!

 

KP Overseas: Darmstadt 2016

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It’s been a busy few months for all the members of Kupka’s Piano, and we’re fast approaching October when we’ll be performing a program of no less than three world premieres and an Australian premiere at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane (tickets are now available, by the way)! But since you last saw us play in our hometown, most of us have been travelling all over, attending international workshops and festivals, taking lessons with some of the finest musicians in our field, and just soaking up the diversity of new music being made in Asia, Europe, and America.

We were fortunate enough to have received support from the Australia Council for the Arts in order to travel to Darmstadt, Germany for our second appearance at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, this year in its 48th edition. This is the international festival-academy for contemporary art music, instigating a biennial pilgrimage of composers and performers from all corners of the globe. Those of us who attended last time wrote about our experiences here, here and here. It’s already a month on from this year’s festival (where on earth did the time go??), but we wanted to just give a brief comment from each of the members who made it over there to give an idea of what an important experience this has been for us, along with some photos of our exploits!

Stay tuned on the KP blog for our upcoming inaugural “KupkaCast” – our first attempt at a small podcast, where the composers of the new works in our next concert discuss the difficulties of choosing titles, weaving in extramusical material, and different approaches to getting notes onto paper…

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Jodie and Hannah workshop a Beat Furrer work with the composer.

Jodie Rottle

Attending the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music was a time to meet new colleagues in new music, in addition to connecting with old friends from around the world. It was also a reminder of the importance of new music as an outlet for expression, whether it be cultural, social, or political. The performances, personalities, and ideas alive at the course spurred a whirlwind of emotions: excitement, intrigue, confusion, disgust, inspiration, frustration, exhaustion, and satisfaction. I left knowing I had experienced a special event and thankful that I could return to Australia as a stronger performer and creator.

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Alex and Jodie perform in Kupka’s “Showcase” as part of the Open Space program.

Alex Raineri

It was great to be back in Darmstadt for my second stint at the International Summer Courses for New Music. Very inspiring to be ‘inside’ this buzzing hub of new ideas and new work which I found once again to be very artistically motivating, seeing so many people from our generation with such varied and colourful things to say about/with our artform. Particular thanks to Nicolas Hodges and the summer courses for awarding me a Kranichstein Stipendium Musikpries and also the Theme and Variations Foundation which supported my attendance at the 2016 festival.

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A session of the Cello-Piano-Composer workshop that Katherine participated in.

Katherine Philp

At Darmstadt I studied with Arditti Quartet cellist Lucas Fels, and amongst other things took part in the Cello-Piano-Composer workshop which was convened by Fels, Pianist Nicolas Hodges and Composer Brian Ferneyhough. A collection of fresh scores were chosen by the convenors prior to the festival which were then assigned to the cello-piano duos, and subsequently workshopped and rehearsed for a performance on the final weekend of the festival. While there were some excellent pieces developed over the course of the two weeks, I was particularly interested in the unfolding processes of collaboration that were taking place: quality of communication; the effects of ego/insecurity; language barriers; choices of notation; rehearsal process and son on. It was clear to see how positive working dynamics between all parties in the workshop process contributed greatly to the strength of the artistic outcome. For performers of contemporary music, to work constructively with composers first-hand is vitally important – if the collaborative process is thoughtfully undertaken and documented, the composer-performer workshop can serve as both a site to reflect upon process, and a rich source of information for future interpreters.

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Michael samples the local brew.

Michael Mathieson-Sandars

While I had some great lessons, and saw some spectacular concerts, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Darmstadt was the number of ways that, prompted by the celebration of its 70th year, the culture and history of the course was challenged. Much was said regarding GRID [Gender Relations in Darmstadt] – and so it should’ve been – and, more subtly, this attitude also bled into the Philosophy and Art forums where disagreements tended to be drawn not only along gender lines, but often between age groups as well as between those who were native anglophones and (mostly) Europeans. Of course, having heated arguments at Darmstadt is in many ways no change at all, and in a self-aware move, there was also a series of feedback sessions being run aimed to test and teach new methods for musicians to provide criticism to one another which were non-competitive and non-confrontational. Interesting times ahead for the course!

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Hannah rehearsing with colleagues Emilie and Miao for the Chamber Sessions.

Hannah Reardon-Smith

What an honour to be back at Darmstadt for a second round! And this was particularly special to me as it was an opportunity to reconnect with my KP colleagues ahead of my return to Australia in September after two-and-a-half years away studying in Europe. I bookended my study here with Darmstadt festivals, and it was amazing to feel the difference those years made – in my performance capabilities, but also my comfort asserting my place in the European new music scene. This time I enrolled as a composer, though I still spent a lot of time playing flute. A few of the highlights were the GRID and feedback sessions (mentioned by Michael, above), playing Malaysian composer Zihua Tan’s [this].connection with Emilie Girard-Charest (Quebec) and Miao Zhao (China), composition lessons with Simon Steen-Andersen and Hannes Seidl, and connecting and reconnecting with my new music communities and networks from many different continents!

Angus Wilson

Angus has been a bit busy of late playing in Brisbane Festival-La Boite Theatre-Opera Queensland’s co-production of Snow White, so we gave him a free pass on writing a Darmstadt reflection. But here’s some pictures of his festival experience, including workshopping with the incredible Georges Aperghis and a lot of percussioning. Marked shots are by IMD photographer Daniel Pufe.

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Catching up with our beloved Interfacers!

If you haven’t yet had your European new music fill, make sure you check out this Darmstadt photo blog from our Aussie compatriots Tamara and Kaylie of Rubiks, based in Melbourne. One of the great things about the festival is the community of Australian musicians that congregate together – we really do feel like we have something special to offer our European counterparts.

See you in 2018, Darmstadt!

 

Around and between the sounds: an interview with composer Corrina Bonshek

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On Sunday 10th July, Kupka pianist Alex Raineri will perform ‘Nature Spirit’ by Brisbane composer Corrina Bonshek. They sit down to talk about inspirations, birdsong and overseas adventures! 

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Alex Raineri: Your music is strongly influenced by Eastern cultures and musical traditions. Could you tell us what draws you to this and how it manifests in your compositions?

Corinna Bonshek: I’m really drawn to different aesthetic approaches to time and space. For instance, the Japanese have the concept of ‘ma’ or the space around or between sounds (actually it applies to different art forms too). But with music, this concept can help create momentum despite a very slow tempo. Tension and release comes from playing around with the space between/around the sounds. Another example is South Indian Carnatic music where set rhythmic phrases (tala) help create an inner pulse that can be felt by the audience and performers even when the musicians are playing highly syncopated, offbeat rhythms/phrases. This means there is a subliminal rhythmic framework that’s perceptible even when the performers are going for it in almost free-jazz style!

These concepts really spark my creative thinking. A big passion for me is writing music is very spacious yet has a sense of directionality or dynamic energy or movement. For example, the opening of Nature Spirit using overlaid rhythmic phrases that are expansions of a 1 | 1.5 | 2 ratio. This creates a subliminal rhythmic framework that, even at a very slow tempo, has dramatic tension. I like experimenting with ideas like this. This is how I express in music experiences I’ve had while meditating.

AR: Nature Spirit was written specifically for a recent solo performance I gave at Gretel Farm (Bangalow, NSW). This was an outdoor show which was presented alongside a choir of varied Bangalow birdsong! Given that this was such an important feature of the works conception, how do sense the transition will be from this setting, to an indoor and slightly more formalised presentation? 

CB: Ah yes, it would be lovely if the wild birds of Bangalow felt like joining this Brisbane performance, but somehow I don’t think they’d enjoy swapping their tree perches for a stage indoors.

With Nature Spirit, I wanted to write a piece that could be performed indoors or out, with or without birds. I think it works well both ways. Of course, there is a transcribed brown goshawk call from Gretel Farm in the piano music, so that bird will actually still be with us just in a different form!

AR: It’s been really great working on this piece with you and it’s a joy to know that any pianistic advice I give you is immediately taken on board! How have you found it, writing for an instrument which you don’t play yourself, and did your conception of the piece change through the course of our workshops? 

CB: Thank you! I really enjoyed collaborating on this piece with you and I have learnt a lot about the piano, especially in regards to pedalling and sympathetic resonance.

A lot of my composing happens in the realm of the mind/imagination and I do have to continually remind myself that the sounds I’m imagining are going to be created by bodies (playing instruments), and the effort/work involved in producing a note will shape the resulting sound quality/timbre etc.

I remember when we were working on the middle ‘water’ section of Nature Spirit, it was really important for me to understand how easy or hard it was to play those figures and how much of a pause was needed to create a sense of effortless flow.

You were able to give really clear advice on this that helped me shape the phrases in this section and ultimately led to a restructuring of that section as a series of wave-like sequences.

What was fascinating to me was realising that some of my early sketches for that section were very guitaristic. I played classical guitar for 15 years. Of course, what is easy on the guitar, may not be so easy on the piano and vice versa.

Another moment that stood out for me was when you instinctively added a little extra dynamic drama with the very soft ‘pp’ in bar 64, likely from your experiences playing 19th century piano repertoire! This decision really helped bring out the overarching shape of the phrase.

My experiences collaborating with traditional musicians from Thailand and Chinese music traditions has taught me that wonderful things can happen when you invite performers into the creative process. I aim to be open to those moments, and the magical, unexpected things that can happen.

AR: You’ve got some really exciting composing adventures ahead, tell us about whats next for you!

CB: Next week, I’m off to Cambodia for 21 days to participate in Nirmita Composers Institute / Cambodia Living Arts 2016 Workshop and receive mentoring from Chinary Ung. My trip is being funded by a Power Up Your Arts Mentorship grant, a joint initiative of the Queensland Government and Gold Coast City Council.

I’m honoured to be the first visiting scholar for Nirmita Composers Institute. I’ll be collaborating on a new piece with Susan Ung (viola), Yim Chanthy (Cambodia wind instruments) and Ip Theary (Roneat Ek or Cambodian xylophone), and attending lectures and presentations from composers and performers from the Pacific Rim who have a strong interest in Asian aesthetics including Kate Stenberg (violinist formerly of Del Sol String Quartet), composer Koji Nakano (USA/Thailand), composer Sean Heim (USA), tenor Sethisak Khuon (Cambodia) and many more. The workshop participants include traditional musicians from Cambodia, Laos and Burma as well as young composers of western art music from Cambodia and Thailand. It is going to be fantastic to have composers and performers from western art music and Asian traditional music backgrounds spending time together to workshop music within and across traditions. I expect there will be many fascinating conversations, and lots of new and exciting music.

Then right after that I will visit the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh to do a workshop with a pinpeat ensemble (traditional Cambodian court music ensemble) and operatic tenor Sethisak Khuon. This will be the first time I have created music for mixed ensembles with different tuning systems and different traditions. I’m very excited about the sonic possibilities. I hope this experience will give me many new creative ideas for the future.

AR: Thanks Corrina, looking forward to playing your piece! 

Don’t miss the concert! 4pm, Sunday 10th July at ‘The Imperial Room’ (Wynnum, QLD). To book tickets please email avonfun42@gmail.com to reserve a seat and secure some of Helen’s ‘out of this world’ afternoon tea. 

Program notes from Ben Mark’s percussion solo

Below is the program note for Ben Mark’s new percussion solo ‘Passage 4 Artefact 1’ from the Circular Ruins 2. It will be presented by Angus Wilson tomorrow night at Pierrot! 7.30pm at the Judy. 

Passage 4 Artefact 1 could be considered an artefact in terms of both definitions of the word.

The first definition comes from the archeological context:

“An object made by a human being, typically one of cultural or historical interest”.

Passage 4 Artefact 1 is essentially reassembled material from Passage 4, a percussion solo that was one of four overlaid solos in my outdoor work The Circular Ruins 2. This piece sourced its material from a slowed down recording of a noisy, resonating gate that was found in the performance location at Oxley Creek Common. Passage 4 had eight sections all drawing upon the same rhythmic and pitch template. The shifting colour of the various instruments used on each articulation of the template (hi-hat, glöcken, 3 cymbals, 3 drums, bass drum), and a change in tempo of each rereading of the template, was an attempt to retell the ‘story’ of the closing gate, as if these colourful retellings could somehow change fate and the deny the inevitable closure.

While Passage 4 had this loose narrative its expressive purpose was very much tied to its relationship with the distant layering of the other solos, that made up The Circular Ruins 2, and the various environmental sounds that surrounded it: birds, planes, trains, a leaf blower, a gate, and traffic. To present Passage 4 as it is, as a denuded artefact, would be to strip it of its expressive functionality. In considering it as a stand-alone solo in a recital context, I felt a need to break the piece and reassemble it to suit its new environment. New processes were applied in its reconstruction. The larger sections were reordered and, given its loss of environmental accompaniment, new internal layerings of materials were worked in. Windows were cut out of each layer to reveal other layers, creating occasional recurring refrains, often disguised by attack or instrumentation. Within these windows are different time scales, reflecting the tempos of the various parts of the original.

The second definition of artefact is a follows:

“Something observed in a scientific investigation or experiment that is not naturally present but occurs as a result of the preparative or investigative procedure.”

All the Passages from The Circular Ruins 2 functioned very much like environmental artefacts. They were each composed after an investigation of the sonic space and, in performance emerged from this space as ephemeral bursts of expressive energy, much akin to various light distortions (artefacts) one might find in certain photographs. In this sense Passage 4 Artefact 1 is an artefact of an artefact: a re-assemblage of an environmental emanation. The closing gate is still fundamental in some way but it’s direct sound is now absent. The gate can become either much more or much less in our imaginations: a long lost story whose importance is subject to conjecture. What is of importance is what continues to resonate within the piece. It is not just a closing gate that gave life to the original but my response to it, and the artefact carries something of that response. As the gate and outdoor context is lost, the musical intent is emphasized, exposed and refined through the new, broken structures whose relationship to the original becomes ever more coincidental.

 

 

A Symbolist Nervous Breakdown Cabaret with Tabatha McFadyen

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Tabatha managing her daily life through song. Photo credit: Sydney Eisteddfod.


Kupka’s Piano welcomes guest soprano Tabatha McFadyen to the stage once again, this time for a scintillating performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s modernist masterpiece
Pierrot Lunaire at PIERROT! on June 10 at the Judith Wright Centre.

Jodie Rottle: Tabatha, I have run into you in Brisbane a few times over the past six months, but it was never for long; you were always jet-setting elsewhere for a musical adventure. Can you tell us what you have been up to regarding travel and performing?

Tabatha McFadyen: Jodie! Hello! I’ve been about, mostly singing and trying to become better at singing, which is a joy and a pleasure. I did a La Boheme in NZ at the start of the year, and then went to Tel Aviv to do a residency at The Israeli Opera, and have gotten to do some great recitals with my fellow musical terrorist, (KP pianist) Alex Raineri. Have to say, 2016’s been a great year; but it’s about to get exponentially better on June 10!

J: Where do you consider to be your “home base” for the moment? Do you have any upcoming performances in Australia other than PIERROT! with KP?

T: Look, I’m mostly homeless, but Sydney’s where my books are and Auckland’s where the cat is, so it’s a deadheat between those two. I actually have a performance with Alex here in Brisbane this coming Friday for the 4MBS Festival of Classics, in which we’re doing a pretty hefty bunch of Russian ditties. (Tatiana’s Letter Scene = ditty.) My next operatic role though is the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro in late June in Hawaii, because I’m allergic to staying in one country for longer than a minute.

J: How do you prepare for diverse singing roles? Is there a difference to preparing Pierrot Lunaire from a traditional operatic role?

T: In some ways the process is the same. Text first, then rhythm, then notes, and getting little thoughts about the character all the way through that rudimentary process and then putting it together. The main difference I suppose is that this rudimentary stage of learning for Pierrot takes longer because the music’s harder than most commonly presented operas, and therefore the entire process is littered with confusion and sporadic self-chastising that I didn’t pay more attention in Aural Skills at uni. However, the effort is worth it, because the deeper I go into this score the more I marvel at it, and the more I’m astounded by Schoenberg’s capacity for drama, which I think is something he took right the way through his oeuvre. (Something, incidentally, people forget about when they’re blithely blaming him for the annihilation of Western Classical Music; an egregiously erroneous claim, by the way, but we don’t have time to get into that here.) He captures every passing change in thought, and flits between irony and deep pathos with such a deft hand, and, with a penetrating psychological knowledge and a fearless compositional language, he renders our darkest human thoughts in sound. So, the process of preparation becomes thrilling because I get to explore that and figure out how I’m going to bring it to life. But I’m still furious that I continually missed Wednesday morning aural because of the legacy of Plough Tuesday.

J: Schoenberg’s piece uses the Sprechstimme technique, which requires you to blend singing and speaking. How do you think this technique relays the drama of the music? Do you think it strengthens the poetry and themes more than traditional singing styles? Give us your take on how you assume character in Pierrot Lunaire.

T: The bizarre thing about Sprechstimme, I find, is that it ostensibly ought to be a more ‘realistic’ approach to text because it’s closer to speech than the highly stylised operatic sound that we mostly use for songs. However, something about it not fitting neatly into either category makes it discomforting (still, more than a century after its composition) and grotesque, which fits the poetic material perfectly. As a singer it gives you a huge spectrum of colour to work with, but Schoenberg is tremendously specific, and the character comes out of seeing how he’s set the text and how I can best play with that. Without giving too much away, my take on Pierrot is that the night is a kind of Symbolist Nervous Breakdown Cabaret (if that description doesn’t sell tickets I don’t know what will).

J: Can you write us a haiku or provide us with a picture as to why our readers should book a ticket to “PIERROT!”?

T: I have summarised the salient points of the story in that most wonderful of contemporary hieroglyphs, the emoji.

🌝 🍷 👀 🌚 💐 🌚 🙅 🏻 🌚 🛁 💄 🌚 👩 🏼 🌊 💉 💋 ⚰ 🚶 👵  😭  🌚  🤒  🤕  🦃  🌞 🚫 🎭 😄 😟 👑 💍 ⚰  💉 😱 ✝ 🕯 🙋 ❤️ ❌ 🌛 🔪 😀   ❌ ✝   💉 ⚰  😔 🇮🇹 🎭 💀 🔩 🚬 🏸  👵 🏻 🌛 👔 😱 😡 🏹  🎻 🌛 🚣 💨 💭 😄

Yes, the turkey and the badminton racquet are somewhat inapposite, but there is a severe lack of giant, soul-sucking, black butterflies in the emoji software. Knitting needles made of moonlight also glaringly absent.

Also, here is a Venn Diagram illuminating the nature of the work, in relation to other events in people’s lives, which I assume look exactly the same as mine.

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J:
Wow … that’s spot on!

Witness Tabatha and Kupka’s Piano portray all of these things plus a world premiere by Ben Marks at PIERROT! ON JUNE 10, 7:30PM at the Judy. Tickets available now!

Interview with THE MOON

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Kupka’s Piano international correspondent and flutist Hannah Reardon-Smith interviews The Moon (a.k.a. Jodie Rottle), who will be extensively featured in our performance of Pierrot Lunaire at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on June 10 at 7:30pm.

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Hannah: Hello, Moon.

The Moon: Hello, human.

Hannah: We are delighted to have you appearing in our upcoming presentation of “Pierrot Lunaire”. Please tell us about your involvement in the show.

The Moon: I am the intoxicating light shining in the early hours of the night. Through the tone and timbres of the flute, I court the clown Pierrot through the darkness of night, illuminating all that is both good and evil, dream-like and nightmarish. I am the source of comfort to the fear of night, but I am the fear itself.

Hannah: That sounds quite serious. How do you manage such volatile roles in one musical piece?

The Moon: I concentrate on my inspirational qualities. My delicate moonbeams flicker on shining crystals in the night. I intoxicate Pierrot with my beauty and excite him with my presence, and then kindly I lead his wayward drunk self home at the end of his evening of shenanigans. You have to wonder: is it me, or is it actually that silly clown Pierrot that is the volatile one? I’m simply resting on the night sky, or “Heaven’s blackened pillow”, if you will, and Pierrot is the one galavanting throughout town and creating mischief.

Hannah: Pierrot seems to think you illuminate things that shouldn’t be seen. What is your response?

The Moon: If Pierrot thinks I am a threat, then he shouldn’t be drinking in my beauty and teasing Colombine in the wee hours of the night. I am lonesome up here in the night sky, so I must shine on the land below, otherwise I become sick with sorrow. I eventually fade into the day, so Pierrot will get over it. Pierrot is a lunatic, anyway. He is obsessed with me and we all know it.

Don’t miss out on PIERROT! Book your tickets now.

A continuous line drawing: An interview with composer Samuel Smith

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Kupka’s Piano has been busy lately! Just one day after our concert at the Judith Wright Centre last week we launched into rehearsals for our next show, a performance at QSOCurrent for the second year running. KP flutist Jodie managed to catch up with Melbourne composer Samuel Smith for a chat about his sextet set to feature in this concert.

Jodie Rottle: Hello Sam! We are excited to be performing your work things are become new in Brisbane at QSOCurrent this Friday on the 29th of April, 8pm at the SLQ Auditorium 1. Can you elaborate on your inspiration for the piece? What can our listeners expect to hear, and how did you achieve your desired sound using the instruments of the traditional Pierrot sextet formation?

Samuel Smith: When I wrote things are become new in early 2014, I was trying to reinvigorate my music with a stronger sense of line. Prior to that I think had been dealing primarily with vertical arrangements of pitch – dense textures and static blocks of sound – as the principle method of developing form. I came to things are become new wanting to explore a stronger horizontal narrative and develop a more heterophonic and polyphonic aspect to my language.

To do this I split up the sextet into a series of duos – percussion and piano, flute and violin, bass clarinet and cello – and more or less cycled through these combinations, each taking it in turns to heterophonically decorate a single line. This nearly unbroken line runs throughout the entire piece as though it were a continuous line drawing. The narrative trajectory and larger registral contours are then altered by the orchestration alone.   

JR: Speaking of instrumentation, do you have a preferred ensemble size or formation to compose for? I have had the pleasure of hearing your works live for both orchestra and small chamber ensembles. What can be best achieved with large ensembles, and what are the benefits of working with smaller ensembles? 

SS: Both large and small have their joys and challenges. I’m currently working on a solo guitar piece and I am really enjoying the limitations of a single instrument after writing for orchestra. However, I miss the ‘laboratory’ aspect of an orchestra – all those harmonic devices, registral and timbral extremes and the scope of combinatorial colour is a joy to imagine.

My true preference though isn’t so much about size or formation as people. I will always be happier writing for a musician, or group of musicians, that I know personally, that I have heard play and, probably, that I have shared a few drinks with. Music is a very social experience for me and the more I have worked, talked, workshopped and spent time with the players, the more I will enjoy writing the piece. This doesn’t necessarily preclude the larger ensembles, but with my limited experience of orchestral writing, I’ve found it to be pretty lonely.

JR: You have mentioned to me that you are greatly influenced by the work of Gérard Grisey.  Can you tell us why, and do you consider yourself a composer of the spectral style? 

SS: In 2012, about the time I began composing, my brother and I spent six weeks canoeing down the Murray River. Starting in Albury in the flat, green pasture lands and ending 900 kilometres away, west of Swan Hill in the red dirt of the Mallee, I was struck by the analogue of landscape and musical form. Viewing the beginning and end of the trip in isolation, one would not equate the two at all. However, whilst travelling down the river the difference is intangible as it happens at an imperceptible rate.

This sense of organic, immanent development is something I have always tried to achieve when constructing my pieces, and when I first heard the work of Gérard Grisey I realised that his approach to musical time is a devastatingly good example of that. His attention to formal process is so complete, but the music always sounds spontaneous and poetic. His article ‘tempus ex machina’ on the poetics of musical time was a real eye opener for me.

I don’t consider myself a spectral composer. I think of myself instead as a composer whose horizons were expanded significantly by the spectral school, but I’ve probably got feet in several camps equally.

I’m currently thinking a lot about ways of reconciling my interest in cluster and set based harmonies with harmonic devices derived from the harmonic series, ring modulation and frequency modulation.

JR: Thinking back to my days in NYC and the apparent divide between the Uptown and Downtown music scenes, it seems as though we in the new music genre rely on classifying ourselves into different camps. Do you think there is a benefit to identifying with a sub-genre or style in new music? Or perhaps this doesn’t exist in Australia? Do you recognise any stylistic differences within different regions of Australia? 

SS: I think there is a rule of diminishing returns for this type of classification. It can be immediately useful to ally yourself aesthetically with certain composers or artists and in some contexts it can be helpful I guess. But, at least in my experience, it seems to descend so quickly into scrappy partisanship that I find really uncomfortable and disheartening. This hasn’t been helped at all by recent changes to arts funding either. I’d like to think that composers of new musics, old musics, jazz, post rock etc. still have more in common than not and I’d love it if we could all just get along and be more appreciative of difference. I guess that’s a sunny optimism I’ve inherited from my Mum and her love of Kropotkin, but I hate to think of musicians and artists fighting among themselves while politicians continue to make such frightening choices.

I think Australia does have some really interesting and exciting regional differences. Broadly, I’ve noticed that a lot of music from Sydney seems to be working with open forms, with a large scope for improvisation. Perth seems to be producing a lot of musicians with an incredible and original grasp of technology. And Brisbane has you guys!

JR: Aww, thanks!!!!!

Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment? Are there any composers or musicians that you can recommend our Brisbane audiences to check out? 

SS: I’m afraid to say that since finishing Masters earlier this I have a bit of listening fatigue for new music. Instead I’ve really been enjoying listening to bands like the Dirty Three and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings who I was lucky enough to see a few times in Melbourne earlier this year.

If you’re after some Melbourne specific advice though, I’m always hoping to hear more music by Alexander Garsden or Luke Paulding.

JR: Thanks, Sam. We look forward to having you in attendance at the concert.

You can find more information about Kupka’s Piano at QSOCurrent and buy your tickets by clicking here. And have a listen to Sam’s music on his soundcloud.

The sleep of reason produces music…

Ahead of the premiere performance of his piece The Sleep of Reason at the Kupka’s Piano concert on April 19, composer Jakob Bragg talks about what inspired the piece and what some of the sonic ideas therein.

Make sure to book your ticket today!

Jakob Bragg: As my works delve more and more into that murky subterranean post-tonal world, my art has found a renewed purpose, taking on those worldly issues closest to me.

It was after beginning my postgraduate studies, having learnt with a variety of composition teachers, and experiencing a few extra thought provoking art exhibitions that I finally decided that my music would take a new turn. By no means am I considering this to be the official beginning of my ‘mature’ works; simply that music has now become more than an experiment in sounds and theory, but a vehicle for views, ideas; a stance.

The Sleep of Reason, composed for ‘pierrot-type’ ensemble, Kupka’s Piano, is one of my first works to address this. Taking its title from Goya’s famous etching: El sueño de la razón produce monstros (the sleep of reason produces monsters), this work is one of 80 satirical etchings and aquatints entitled ‘Los Caprichos’, condemning the many facets of Goya’s 18th-century Spain. These include comments on topics such as the aristocracy, politics, religion and the clergy, superstition, and morality.

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Goya’s ‘The sleep of reason produces monsters’

Goya’s etching incorporates many concerns of today’s society as it did in his; illustrating that where ignorance outweighs reason, and where sense faults, monsters such as fear, intolerance and superstition emerge, taking on well-known forms in politics and religion.

Like in other works I’m currently writing, these elements are crucial to the development, thoughts, and process of the piece, however they need not rule every component. For The Sleep of Reason, this provided a starting point and a guide to how the piece will evolve. At its simplest level I’ve juxtaposed an intense and fluid opening and ending with a slow static middle section. ‘Reason’ can be complicated and radical concepts difficult to grasp, whereas ignorance and faith lulls, and creates a fabricated sense of reassurance – this is the rather elementary impetus for my work. A pacified middle section ceases the momentum and energy of the work, and an unnerving sense of discomfort develops in the listener. Rumbles and movement begin to interfere more and more until the artificial comfort of the piece break away and reason (as brutal and difficult as it is presented here) takes back the fore.

More explicit musical materials that influence this and many of my works, include my continued exploration of microtonality and my fascination with classical Turkish music. Having delved into music of the Middle East during the end of my undergrad, and then further examining how this could affect my own works in the following years, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t interested in integrating a bastardisation of the makam (quasi-modal like structures) but rather in focussing on heterophony and form. Heterophony is a more complex monophony, a simultaneous variation of a single melodic line. A rather simplistic definition of textural aspect of Turkish music, I have been fascinated with this push and pull, and slight deviation that play out in largely unison compositions. In many instances in The Sleep of Reason, unison appears to be striving for dominance, however never quite coming to fruition, or constantly being pulled back and forth. Additionally the unique forms in Turkish music and how these develop have provided many possibilities in how my material transform, especially on the micro-scale. Instead of dictating a scalic figure or tone-row, I use certain pitches as mapping points, for example moving from a dominance of C# down to Bb.

A massive thanks to Kupka’s Piano for their tireless work and support and I look forward to seeing the diverse programme of works on the 19th!

Living life with more laughter: Jodie Rottle in interview

When Kupka’s Piano performs ‘Harrison’s Axe’ on April 19 at the Judith Wright Centre, we will be giving the premiere performance of a new work by our flautist Jodie Rottle, entitled Wednesday Assembly. In this interview Liam asks Jodie about her piece and about what it means to be a performer-composer today.

Have a read, and don’t forget to book your tickets!

Liam Flenady: Let’s start with the exciting stuff first. I hear there will be some bubble-wrap in your new piece. Tell us about that!

Jodie Rottle: I think I’ll preface this answer by stating that humour is a common thread in my music, and that I try to incorporate ideas or elements that make me smile. This is true even if the inspiration for a piece isn’t particularly funny, which happens to be the case for my new piece. The bubble wrap – which the flutist and percussionist will step on – serves as a type of comedic relief and also achieves a random shift in sound that I was after. Now that I think of it, most of my music includes some auxiliary element. Wednesday Assembly, my newest work, is only my third composition, but my previous two works have employed the use of wolf howls (The Howl, 2013) and electric toothbrushes (Everyday, 2015). I guess I’m not satisfied with Western classical instruments alone.

LF: You’ve told me that your new piece Wednesday Assembly is not really written in traditional notation, but moves between graphic symbols and written instructions. What is the creative purpose of this kind of approach?

JR: I think this follows on my last sentence, that I’m not satisfied with only classical instruments… or traditional notation. The written directions indicate certain instruments or sounds, but there is room for improvisation of the material within those parameters.

Perhaps my aesthetic as a composer is to grant performers artistic authority over a provided framework. I would never want to rigidly dictate a musical idea or tell someone what to do, rather I want to plant little seeds of ideas and provide a structure for others to enjoy through their own musical identity. I also love the idea that my music will sound different each time it is performed based on the personnel and choice of interpretation. Then, it takes on an entirely different idea.

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Jodie Rottle performs at The Piano Mill. Photo: Alistair Noble.

LF: It’s a mainstay of contemporary philosophy that the subject is split (between action and reflection, between self and other, and so on). You have the added joy of being split between performer-Jodie and composer-Jodie. How do you experience the relationship between these two halves of yourself? Is there competition, creative tension, a continuum?

JR: There is definitely no competition between the two roles, although I can confirm that I enjoy being a performer more than a composer. Having said that, thinking like a composer has exponentially assisted my abilities as a performer.

Composing has been my artistic liberation. I have a newly found confidence as a performer and as a person in general, and I attribute it to realising myself as a creator of music, not just an interpreter. Most of my life, I have second-guessed myself and favoured rational behaviour out of fear. Boring! I think performer-Jodie and composer-Jodie collectively took over rational-Jodie.

I think the premiere of my toothbrush piece (Everyday) solidified this confidence. I had never been more nervous than when I walked onstage with my electric toothbrush, about to “premiere” my new “piece”, but it was a situation that propelled me over this hump of uncertainty as an artist. It was such a humbling experience to look around and think, “holy crap, people paid money to sit in this audience and I’m currently climbing onstage with my toothbrush”. It turned out to be a hit, and I still have friends who send me videos of themselves (and their toddlers!) brushing their teeth, making music and living life with more laughter.

LF: Of course prior to the late 19th Century the idea that a composer was not also a performer was largely unheard of. Now that we’ve had a century or more of a fairly distinct ‘division of labour’ between composers and performers (at least in Western Art Music), it appears that perhaps this arrangement might be breaking down. The fact that the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music this year are running a specific ‘Composer-Performer’ next year gives some indication of this. Why do you think more performers are trying their hand at composition, and vice versa, composers deciding they want to perform?

JR: I have a lot of feelings on this issue!

I definitely don’t think everyone should feel pressured to become a composer-performer, and that it is perfectly fine to see yourself in one role or the other. What is currently being labeled a “composer-performer” is really just another form of being an artist, is it not? As you have pointed out, it is nothing new. What about improvisers, are they composers, too? Does a composition need to be written down in order for it to exist? Why does everything need a niche label?

I will say that I have always thought of myself as a performer. I actually can’t imagine a performance of my work where I am not also a performer. I feel such a close connection to the music I write, and when I’m in the process of writing I’m constantly thinking how I will perform it. Perhaps it is a connection similar to the music of a singer-songwriter? That’s what contemporary classical composer-performers are, right, singer-songwriters of new Western classical music? I also realise that not many people are knocking at my door for a commission (haha!), so I have to be responsible for the performance of my work.

Your question has made me realise that I have always conceptualised composers as people who are initially introduced to music as performers (or at least learners of an instrument) who take a brave step into writing music. Until recently, I never thought if myself as a composer, nor have I wanted to be one. I’ll reiterate that perceiving myself as a composer has been liberating in that it has instilled confidence in my attitude as a performer.

I identify my drive to become a “composer”, or “composer-performer”, as just an evolution in my life as an artist, particularly as a female artist. I’m sick of men telling me what to do, what to play, how to play it, etc. (no offence to you or any other dude composers reading this). Taking the initiative to be a creator of music is a way that I can avoid the bleakness of patriarchy and be my own artist in new music. I think this sentiment comes across in my writing; I said before that my objective in composition isn’t to tell people what to do, rather it is to provide a framework for others to interpret as they wish.

LF: One quick final question. Where does the title Wednesday Assembly come from? Is it a reference to some traumatic childhood event, perhaps?

JR: Quite the opposite. My work Wednesday Assembly is in memory of my grandfather, but the title was inspired by my youngest step-daughter, Ava. She is very inquisitive, and one day she asked me what people in heaven do on Wednesdays. I had just recently lost my Grandfather – ironically on a Wednesday, although Ava did not know this – and I couldn’t come up with an answer, partly out of sorrow but mostly out of wonder. Two seconds later, she told me that on Wednesdays she has school assembly and asked me if people in heaven have assembly on Wednesdays, too. It was a very beautiful moment.

LF: Thanks Jodie. Can’t wait to hear it at the gig!

Parallel Approaches: an interview with Lizzy Welsh

 

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photo by Mark Bobolakis

Jodie Rottle had a quick chat to guest violinist Lizzy Welsh before rehearsals for Vortex Temporum next week. Buy tickets for the concert at this link. Friday, November 27th, 8pm at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.

Jodie Rottle: Thank you for joining us for this concert, Lizzy! This year I have had the pleasure of bumping in to you around the country in Brisbane, Bendigo and Sydney. Can you tell our readers about your life as an Australian performer? Where are you based, and what have been your highlights in 2015?

Lizzy Welsh: Thanks for having me, Jodie! It’s been swell getting to know you this year and I’m thrilled to join you and Kupka’s Piano next week. I’m currently based between Melbourne and Brisbane and 2015 has been a very full year so far packed with lots of different musics in Australia, Europe and Asia. I’ve been very lucky to have had so many incredible performances this year, it’s tricky to pick out the highlights. I have to mention the many fantastic festivals including the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, Shanghai New Music Week, Wangaratta Jazz Festival, Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic– these have all been highlights not just because of the great music I got to play, but also the great music I got to see performed by my excellent colleagues. The world premiere performance of Nyilipidgi with the Monash Art Ensemble at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival was another very special project that deserves a mention.

JR: You are a specialist of baroque and contemporary music. What similarities and differences do you identify with these two genres? 

LW: This fascination with the opposite ends of the spectrum of violin music has had me hooked since I was a child and has led me to my post-graduate research at the Queensland Conservatorium where I’m currently studying extended approaches to the baroque violin in the 21st Century. It seems natural to me that a violinist would be obsessed with sounds that are new for the instrument now and sounds that were new when the violin itself was new at the dawn of the baroque era. I can’t help seeing many parallel approaches between composers/improvisors now and the first composer/violinists of the early 17th Century, both driven by a desire for something new and neither hindered by preconceived ideas of how the instrument should sound. There are obvious differences in available technologies and experiences between violinists at these two different moments in history, but, in my mind, the similarities are much more significant.

JR: We will be performing Gerard Grisey’s seminal “Vortex Temporum I, II, II” next Friday, which has a total performance time exceeding 40 minutes. How do you prepare for a work of this magnitude, and do you notice any similarities between “Vortex Temporum” and other compositions by Grisey, such as his work “Talea”? 

LW: Vortex Temporum is one of the most significant pieces of chamber music from the late 20th Century and I’m stoked to have the chance to play it with Kupka’s Piano next week. Obviously a 40-minute-long spectral masterpiece involves a huge amount of preparation and study before rehearsals even start, so I’ve been in a Vortex Temporum-vortex for the last couple of months. Apart from all the practice getting the notes into my brain and my body, I’m making sure I exercise lots. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of extremely valuable experience with Grisey’s language having the opportunity to perform his shorter Talea twice this year.

JR: Have you heard any great new music lately that you can recommend to our Brisbane audiences? What are you listening to at the moment?

LW: At the moment I’m listening to lots of crazy early music by Pandolfi Mealli, Farina and Muffat, electronica by Laurel Halo, John Zorn string quartets, new Icelandic composers recorded by Nordic Affect on their new album Clockworking, the list could go on for days…..

 

Holding Ourselves Hostage: an interview with Gemma Dawkins

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(Credit : Torrey Atkin)

Kupka Pianist Alex Raineri had a brief chat with Gemma Dawkins amongst preparations for our collaboration on the ‘Human Detained’ showing at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Art next Friday October 30th.

Alex Raineri: It’s been awesome working with you so far and I can’t wait for the show on October 30th! I’m interested to know more about your artistic background and what else you’re up to currently?

Gemma Dawkins: I’m really looking forward to it as well! I work mainly with MakeShift Dance Collective, devising works for festivals, events and other non-traditional spaces. It’s been a little while since we created a work for a traditional theatre space so I’m really enjoying getting back into that framework. Now that I live in Sydney I’ve been working independently as a choreographer and movement advisor. My latest project is a photography series that I’m helping to ‘choreograph’ – which is very interesting for someone who works with moving images rather than still ones!

AR: ‘The Human Detained’, in its various guises, is a strikingly vast thematic concept which aims to link together the various segments of the show together. Within the full group of artists involved, we’ve each had markedly different reactions to the thematic impetus, ranging from literal representations of current political issues, to it having a much more abstract influence on the narrative of the works. In a couple of sentences, could you explain how the approach our group has taken towards this theme will manifest on October 30th?

GD: Luckily we were all quite clear that we weren’t interested so much in a literal or political approach, but rather more intrigued by broader concepts around detainment and stagnation. We are examining the ways in which we hold ourselves hostage – whether consciously or otherwise. We are also having a fun time with props…

AR: What does being a dancer in the 21st Century mean for you? From a musicians perspective, it seems that the world of dance is similar to music in that the influence and popularity of competitions seem to promote attention being placed onto the fastest, most athletic and virtuosic performance, without much considered intellectual engagement with the artistic value of the content.

GD: Absolutely. The more our understanding of the human body develops in terms of anatomical intelligence, the more we are seeing focus on an almost Olympic style of dance. There’s definitely a loss of expression, subtlety and finesse there, as amazing as some of the physical feats are. Having said that, there are also a number of choreographers and companies taking dance outside of its previous habitats and putting dance in all kinds of contexts that are thrilling and complex. One thing I love about dance in the 21st century is the collaborative element and the way that lines between dance, visual art, theatre, installation and experiment are constantly being blurred.

AR: Taking a step away from this show, what are some of the most powerful performances or shows that you’ve ever seen?

GD: Last year I saw Hofesh Shechter’s company perform Sun and it was one of the most visceral, heart-in-your-mouth things I’ve ever seen. I always love to see Akram Khan, and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s work Rosas Danst Rosas was totally challenging and at the same time totally absorbing. Closer to home, watching Dancenorth perform Underground was a seismic moment for me as a dance student trying to understand what Australian dance meant, and where it fit. That just perfectly summarised it for me. But ask me again in a few months – I’m going to see Pina Bausch company at Adelaide Festival and I’m counting down the months!

AR: What are your top five favourite things? Desert island list?

GD: This is an impossible question! Can I take the whole of Spotify and its library with me? I am. I’m also taking a book library. I’ll require an endless supply of avocado toast, coconut oil because it fixes everything, and a pen and paper.

Politics, Detention and Dance – Michael Mathieson-Sandars discusses ‘For Reza Berati’

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Jodie, Courtney, and Alethea

Jodie, Courtney, and Alethea

Below is a little piece about a new collaborative work I’ve been part of as part of The Human Detained, a project by Kupka’s Piano and MakeShift Dance Collective, which will be given its full showing at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane at 7:30pm on October 30th. You can get tickets here.

Reading back into my emails, it seems like it was some time mid last year that, in discussions between KP and MakeShift, we settled on The Human Detained as a theme which could unite our collaborative project. We felt it was open and deep enough for our collaborative sub-groups to determine their own interpretative paths. It was bubbling with possibilities; both abstract enough to approach musically and visceral enough to explore in movement. Part of the reason we settled on The Human Detained above other themes, however, was that we felt it would be particularly pertinent and socially resonant given Australia’s policy to imprison asylum seekers in offshore detention camps. While the other groups have taken this theme in a number of exciting directions to create a fascinating array of unique works, I was always enthusiastic to explore the The Human Detained as an explicitly political topic.

In the past twelve to eighteen months, it has been greatly saddening that the situation for refugees has only intensified, with further abuses coming to light at home and anti-refugee rhetoric escalating abroad. In the face of this, however, it has been greatly encouraging to see that the spirit of protest is alive and well, and even more so when considering that the tone of protest has been an uncompromising demand for compassion. It is in this spirit that my group’s new work for The Human Detained, For Reza Berati, was first conceived.

Reza Berati, an Iranian asylum seeker, was twenty-three years old when he was killed during an attack on the Australian-operated detention centre on Manus Island in February last year. But how has this translated to music and choreography? Such a tragic death – the result of such arbitrary cruelty designed to divide us as much at home as it is to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ – could certainly lead to a negative artworld. Modern art can often be permitted only to say what is lost or what is alienated; a kind of anguish that what we once had is gone, and we can never have it back. With this work, and in deference to this topic, however, it seemed appropriate to aim for something a little different. Since his death, Berati’s image has become a symbol in protest movements around the country: in this context his death has become a demand for all to be treated with dignity and justice, with an absolute respect for life. This is the approach we have tried to take with the piece; we wanted to explore the oppression, alienation, and violence in this situation, but to also demonstrate that there is, in resistance to the situation, long-reaching solidarity and a vision for real and positive change.

Reza Berati

Iranian Asylum Seeker Reza Berati

The basic structure of the work reflects the process of coming together. For the two musicians, violinist Alethea Coombe and flautist Jodie Rottle, this happens in a couple of ways. Firstly, there is their physical orientation: the performers begin facing away from one another, but across the work they come to face one another in order to play “together.” Secondly, there is a progression in what is musically asked of the performers. There are three broad sections in the work: in the first Alethea and Jodie are improvising with very limited specific musical direction; the second they perform notated excerpts and are asked to improvise from one to the next so that each player maintains a loose relation with the other; the third section is fully notated and detailed in what they must perform. The aim is to represent a change from alienated individuals, playing at the same time but not together, to two individuals who must work together as chamber musicians, in communication with one another to organise towards a common goal; a coming together to play music as a coming together to protest.

The notated music, meanwhile, can be seen as a “working through” of the tension between the lines towards an arrival point. Each line of musical material is based, very abstractly, on repetitions of the chant “No prisons! No Fear! Refugees are welcome here!” in varied tempos and interpretations. Spoken (whispered and yelled) excerpts of the text are also drawn into the music, transforming from an isolated “prison!” or “no!” to the whole chant. Apart from the symbolism of this linguistic inversion, the chant is included along with marching stomps to capture some of the essence of a refugee rally; a certain kind of sadness turned into positively-charged anger and loud defiance. It can also be seen as the process of being drawn from a situation of turmoil into action to make a change.

The role of our wonderful dancer/choreographer, Courtney Scheu, is perhaps a little more complicated, especially in her relationship with the musicians. At times, Courtney represents the oppressed, and the musicians the oppressors; at the other times her actions are more abstract and allusive, or more reinforcing the music. We were particularly careful to explore possible readings of Courtney’s and the musicians’ movement. Because of the explicit political content in the work, we wanted to avoid creating a reading where Courtney would be seen as an asylum seeker, with Jodie and Alethea as both the oppressors and the (western, imperial) saviours – a misleading idea given how active asylum seekers have been in organising resistance to their incarceration. We have aimed instead for the choreography of the work (especially Courtney’s movements, but those of Alethea and Jodie, too) to depict the oppressive framework that’s been established, offer solidarity to those who are detained, reinforce the overall narrative of isolation to collective engagement, and provide a direct human connection to the work itself. While that seems like a very difficult line to tread, I  hope we have been successful in this!

For me personally, it has been a great pleasure to work towards this piece with Alethea, Jodie, and Courtney (who’s also put in a great deal of work on co-ordinating the rest of the show!), and quite an eye-opening experience for me as a composer. It has been at times difficult to engage with such a heavy topic, but I am extremely proud of what we have managed to accomplish. I look forward to coming up to Brisbane to finish the work off and (lucky me as a composer) getting to see the whole show. Hope to see you there!

Freedom and Restriction – An interview with Caitlin Mackenzie

Caitlin MacKenzie

Caitlin Mackenzie is one of four dancers in ‘The Human Detained‘  at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art on October 30th. She is one of the leaders of MakeShift Dance and I caught up with her to get her thoughts on the project so far and find out what else she is up to!

Angus Wilson: Hi Caitlin! It’s been great working with you and I’m really looking forward to our show in October. We are performing together in Steve Newcomb’s ‘Kicking Gaols’. Firstly, Let’s find out a little more about you! What are your current projects? What are you working on at the moment?

Caitlin Mackenzie: At the moment I am having a ball working for Brisbane Festival as a movement director for the Arcadia space down at South Bank. I’m working with groups of volunteers who activate different areas of the space through movement and street performance. It is really fun! I am also about to go into a short but incredible residency at Metro Arts as part of After the Lights, which culminate in a short showing by Gabriel (who is also dancing in ‘The Human Detained’) and myself. A bunch of forums and activities will also be taking place throughout the day to shed some light on artists and mental health.

AW: I went to a MakeShift Dance Production earlier this year called ‘one two ten’ was inspired by a concept introduced to you whilst working in Korea. I had a really great night…. could you tell us a little bit about that project and concept?

CM: Yep! Well it was actually an idea that was gifted to us from the Five Arts Centre in KL, Malaysia. Gabriel and I traveled there in 2013 for a residency through Asialink. making great connections with a group of  producers and artists. They said we should take the structure of the show home to Aus to test on different audiences. So we curated a bunch of hugely talented local artists across music, dance, theatre and visual arts and asked them to devise a two minute solo which they would also need to perform on loop throughout the show. We held the show in the heritage listed building on Shafton Avenue thanks to support from the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts. We had such a fabulous response to the work from both artists and audiences and I hope it can exist again somewhere down the track.

AW: So now to The Human Detained,  how is it being both the dancer and choreographer for Kicking Gaols? What has been your experience working with Steve and myself on the piece? 

CM: It has been awful! No only joking 😛 It has been great. Choreographing and performing is always challenging because you need to be the outside eyes whilst being the ‘body’ or performer at the same time. That’s why being able to talk with and share ideas across art forms is a really important part of this collab. It seemed very clear from the start of our process that we all have different strengths and I think we are pulling them together really well.

AW: How much do you find such a strong title as ‘The Human Detained’  effects your artistic choices for the work?

CM: I think, while it is strong, it is also broad. My take on the title is really about looking at freedom and restriction. I suppose it has become evident through the different works, that those ideas can be approached quite realistically and on a global scale but also abstractly and on a personal level.

AW: Finally, you are a local to Brisbane, what are your five favorite places to hang on a day off?

CM: I am. I would say…
1. Picnicking at Kangaroo Point.
2. New Farm markets on a Saturday morning.
3. Do some yoga at Core Yoga and then grab a coffee at West End Coffee House right below.
4. Antique and vintage shopping at the Woolloongabba or Paddington Antique centres.
5. Hanging out in my backyard 😉

Embracing Uncertainty – Samantha Wolf

Sam wolf

Samantha Wolf is a featured composer at next month’s premiere of the ‘The Human Detained’ at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on the 30th of October. The project is a collaboration between Kupka’s Piano and MakeShift Dance Collective. Sam has written about her approach towards collaborating on this new work with Kupka pianist Alex Raineri, and MakeShift dancer Gemma Dawkins.

Collaborative projects always offer unique and interesting questions for composers. This particular project, with Kupka’s pianist Alex Raineri, and Makeshift dancer and choreographer Gemma Dawkins, posed some particularly interesting challenges. Firstly, I had never written a work for dance before. How could I ensure that this was a true collaboration between equals, and not just dancing to music? Secondly, how would we respond to such an evocative, complex theme as ‘The Human Detained’? Last but not least, the three of us lived in different cities – Gemma was in Sydney, Alex in Brisbane (and travelling a lot), and I had just moved to Melbourne. How was this collaboration going to work, artistically and practically?

It was clear from the outset that approaching this as a (stereo-)typical composer – ie, writing the score on my own, sending it off, and expecting the performers to follow my instructions – would be woefully inappropriate. Nor would I want to approach it this way – it would defeat the entire idea of collaboration, and I had been growing weary of this model for some time anyway. For this project to work, I needed to carefully reconsider what my role was going to be.

The first step was to discuss how we would respond to the theme. Although ‘The Human Detained’ had obvious political significance, Alex and Gemma were eager to explore a more abstract interpretation of this. In particular, Gemma was interested in the ways we confine and limit ourselves. Our brainstorming sessions soon included much broader concepts, such as inner conflict, solitude, introversion, agoraphobia, rationalising the irrational, fighting one’s own instincts, resignation and resistance.

With such attractive, albeit difficult subject matter, my job became mulling over the ideas we had as a group, and finding the sonic potential within them. For example, Gemma wanted to incorporate ‘walking on eggshells’ into her movements, either figuratively or literally (those who attended the preview will know how this turned out!). I responded by exploring piano sounds that were ‘crunchy’, like the sound of eggshells being stepped on. Low-range chromatic chords had a particularly crunchy quality, so we ended up using those as the opening materials, and as the harmonic basis of the piece. I also wanted to capture the sense of unease encapsulated by the expression ‘walking on eggshells’, so Alex and I experimented with unpredictable rhythms and continuously changing dynamic and expressive qualities. We would record some examples and send these to Gemma, who would improvise movements around the musical ideas. Gemma would then send us a video of her movements, which would inspire more musical materials. This feedback loop of ideas, responses and materials was a useful way of building a work gradually from a distance. By the time we arrived at the workshopping phase, and were finally in the same room together, we had a wealth of ideas and materials to build on.

The biggest challenge for me was deciding what to include in the score, and what to leave out. On one hand, fully notating a conventional score from the beginning would have run the risk of discouraging input from Alex and Gemma. I purposely wanted to leave some aspects of the music open to interpretation and discussion, particularly in the early stages, to allow room for group input and experimentation. On the other hand, too little detail and the work could become unfocused, and the creative process directionless. It was important to strike a balance between asking questions and offering answers, and ensuring everyone had the opportunity to speak and be heard. I had to surrender a significant amount of control over the work, which can be challenging for someone who’s used to having her way!

However, the reward for doing so was The Binds That Tie Us, a work that was truly more than the sum of its parts. Alex and Gemma had ideas and suggestions that I would never have thought of, and took my ‘dots on the page’ to places I would never have imagined. Embracing uncertainty allowed room for greater possibilities, and produced a work that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Now, we have the rare privilege of revisiting and expanding The Binds That Tie Us for a second concert in October. It is uncommon for new works by emerging artists to get a second run, but almost unheard of to be offered the chance to fully delve into an idea over such a generous time frame. I am hugely grateful to Kupka’s Piano and the Judith Wright Centre for facilitating this wonderful project, and for having me on board, as well as to my brilliant collaborators Alex Raineri and Gemma Dawkins, who are an absolute joy to work with, and who never cease to inspire me.

Three Distinct Parts of a Shadow: An interview with Mark Wolf

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Mark Wolf

Mark Wolf

Angus was keen to find out a little more about Mark Wolf while learning his solo vibraphone piece ‘Umbra-Penumbra-Antumbra’. Hear Angus perform this piece at Kupka’s Piano at the Imperial Room this Sunday 12th of June, 4pm at the Imperial Room. Tickets are $25 including an amazing afternoon tea. To book your seat contact avonfun42@gmail.com.

Angus Wilson: Thanks for taking the time out to meet me Mark, can you tell us a little bit about your current projects and compositions?

Mark Wolf: Sure. As you may already know, I am currently undertaking my PhD candidature at the Queensland Conservatorium. At present, I am developing creative approaches for translating architectural ‘space’ into musical ‘time’. My most recent compositions are specifically based on unconventional spatial design qualities exhibited in extreme examples of contemporary architecture.

At the end of this month I fly out to Sibiu, Romania for the Icon Arts Festival where I will be a composer-in-residence. I will be there for two weeks working with the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet who will be performing my second string quartet “The Flying Roof”.

I currently have a handful of works in progress including a ‘pierrot’ chamber ensemble (Flute, Clarinet, Piano, Violin and Cello) piece “Less is a Bore”, which I have been working on for nearly 18 months, it is about 80% complete and is based on the deconstructivist architecture of the UFA Cinema Center in Dresden. Also in the works is a piano solo for Alex Raineri. Titled Crystal Cloud, based on the Musée des Confluences in Lyon, the piece sees a shift in spatio-temproal focus, from a direct abstract association with architecture to a more sensual approach to considering the orientation and inhabitant’s navigation of a designed space. Other works include a collection of 12 miniature structures, a piano trio and an orchestral piece.

AW: You spent some time in the UK… what did you do over there?

MW: Yes, I was based in London from 2009 to 2012. I was awarded a scholarship to undertake the Masters Advanced Composition Programme at the Royal College of Music. I graduated in 2011 and thanks to my Scottish mother I acquired dual citizenship and a European passport, which afforded me the opportunity to stay a while longer and spend some time travelling throughout Europe.

AW: What inspired you to write for the vibraphone? Can you tell us a little about your piece?

MW:Well I had composed a solo vibraphone piece back in 2002 and had always wanted to revisit writing for the instrument. Umbra-Penumbra-Antumbra was written in 2010, during my time in London.  The umbra, penumbra and antumbra are the names given to the three distinct parts of a shadow, created by any light source. In the case of this piece the light source is the sun and the occluding body is planet Earth as observed from the moon. UPA is a single movement work divided into three sections shifting in accordance to the gradual shadow variation cast by the Earth.   

AW: You mentioned to me that Umbra-Penumbra-Antumbra marked a change in compositional style… can you tell us a little bit about that change?

MW: Umbra-Penumbra-Antumbra marked more than a change in composition style, upon reflection, it is the piece that signaled a change in compositional thought. I became increasingly captivated by experiences of time and identifying the evident traits for measuring varied perceptions of musical time. UPA is the first piece where I consciously considered ‘time’ an integral component of the creative process. UPA sees early experiments with approximate tempo indications, an assortment of non-measured open-extended-beams and the omission of barlines, all attempts at removing pulse and deliberately inviting the performer(s) own temporal interpretation.

AW: What are you three favorite places in Brisbane?

MW:It is not exactly in Brisbane, but my number one favourite place would have to be Mt. Tamborine. My partner and I live quite close and head up there regularly on the Harley. It is a fantastic distraction from my work, taking in the amazing scenery and views definitely help clear the mind.

The other two I have to say are a bit of a struggle. I have been in Brisbane two years now, the time has gone by so fast I still feel like I am the new guy in town. I love being in the Red Box space in the State Library of Queensland building. I enjoy sitting on the tiered wooden seating and silently witnessing a perfectly framed, cut out portion of the city across the river  and thinking with my stomach I cannot go past The Greek Club. That place serves the best Greek food I have ever had!

Mixed feelings: returning home

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Hannah, far left, working with Belgian group Ensemble Fractales and English composer Olly Sellwood ahead of a concert in Brussels.

Hannah, far left, working with Belgian group Ensemble Fractales and English composer Olly Sellwood ahead of a concert in Brussels.

Flutist and co-founder of Kupka’s Piano, Hannah Reardon-Smith, has been living in Brussels for the past year while undertaking an Advanced Masters in Contemporary Music Performance Practice. She returns to Australia just for the month of July this year, and will join KP in their Wynnum concert at the Imperial Room.

I’ve got mixed feelings about coming back to Australia.

That said, I’ve had mixed feelings about living and studying in Belgium too. I’ve had (and in the next year will have) some incredible opportunities, learning with and playing alongside some of my heroes, making contact with many of the composers whose work I’m most interested in, and realising how small (if widely spread) the global community of musicians playing la musique contemporaine really is. I’ve been mentored by members of Ictus and Ensemble musikFabrik, two of Europe’s leading new music ensembles, and have performed extensively in Belgium, England, Germany and Austria. I’ve met peers from all over the world who are studying and performing here. But being over here has made clear to me just how incredible a group Kupka’s Piano really is, and I miss them like crazy!

So coming home to KP is something I am really looking forward to, not to mention catching up with friends and family and enjoying a bit of Brisbane winter (not all that different to the Belgian summer I’m leaving … only Brisbane will probably have a bit more sun).

But I can’t help but feel how bittersweet it is. The current Australian government is taking a swipe at independent and emerging artists and small to medium arts organisations by quarantining funding previously available to them through a rigorous system of grant application and peer review, putting it instead into a fund that will in all likelihood support only conservative classical institutions handpicked by the arts minister George Brandis himself.

Kupka’s Piano is one of a select group of Australian ensembles dedicated to playing newer art music, which by definition makes it one of the few ensembles in the country with a strong focus on Australian composition (Australian works are included in every program). Not only that, but KP plays a vital role bringing the new music of Europe, the Americas, and Asia to Australian shores, offering audiences in Brisbane the opportunity to hear music to which they otherwise have no access. Kupka’s has a special focus on young composers at home and abroad, and it’s rare to see a program without a world premiere (or two, or three…). Several young composers are directly tied to the ensemble, allowing the performers and composers to develop in tandem – a fascinating process for an audience to witness!

Furthermore, I believe KP to be quite unique in an international context. Due to limitations on touring (in comparison to Australia, European cities are really close together, and also very well connected by affordable and high-speed rail travel), Kupka’s plays a great many concerts in their home city, which has also forced them to learn great swathes of repertoire from the beginning. The identity of the ensemble has developed without restriction to a single style, something that has been possible due the small number of ensembles playing similar repertoire, which is unlike Europe where young ensembles often feel the need to carve out a niche before they really know what they want to do, in order to set themselves apart and avoid treading on others’ toes.

The result is that Kupka’s Piano has developed an excellent rapport, a very high standard of performance, and a loyal following*, something I’ve watched with increasing admiration from afar (it’s always so gratifying to see others step into your empty shoes, and at this point I have to offer the highest praise especially to flutist Jodie Rottle, pianist Alex Raineri, and percussionist Angus Wilson for all their incredible hard work). Such a following is rare in Europe, and difficult to cultivate.

There are two particular sources of outside support which need to be mentioned when discussing KP’s success: the Judith Wright Centre, which has given the ensemble a home and extensive marketing support, and the Australia Council for the Arts, which recognised very early on the potential of this ensemble, and supported us through a series of small grant programs from emerging artists through to young professionals. Without both of these government funded institutions, Kupka’s Piano would likely not exist, and certainly would not be as strong as it is today.

The ramifications of the changes to arts funding in Australia not only endanger ensembles like Kupka’s, they rule out the opportunity for younger groups of similarly adventurous musicians to emerge. The JUMP mentorship program and the ArtStart program, two important grants for emerging artists from which our ensemble members have benefitted, have been completely scrapped. The funding available in future to KP and other groups will be greatly reduced. Particularly in Queensland, where arts funding is yet to recover from the previous LNP government’s brutal attacks, there are few alternatives to turn to when it comes to paying the basic expenses that make a concert possible.

I’m really looking forward to coming home to play with Kupka’s Piano. But I also hope that when I finish my degree this time next year I can return to continuing opportunity for my ensemble in Australia. And I hope that other young musicians can afford to be adventurous in the future.

*I’m not the only one saying this!

Kupka’s Piano: Outer Sounds

A wonderful review of our last concert from Alistair Noble for the Partial Durations/RealTime blog!

“This was an important concert for both Brisbane and Australia. The immense dedication of the ensemble members is clearly evident, as this is a kind of music that requires a huge effort of preparation to perform well and Kupka’s Piano play very well indeed.”

Partial Durations

Kupka's Piano. Photo courtesy of artist. Kupka’s Piano. Photo courtesy of artist.

Review by Alistair Noble.

Kupka’s Piano are a Brisbane-based new-music ensemble, made up of a core group of intelligent and startlingly adept young musicians supplemented periodically by equally interesting guests. They are committed to the performance of important works by living composers from around the world, alongside a focus on Australian composers. Many of their performances are Australian premieres, which says a great deal about the significance of the group in the cultural life of the nation. Over the past several years in Brisbane, they have built up a well-deserved, devoted following.

In this, the second concert of Kupka’s Piano’s 2015 series at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, the ensemble continues its ‘extra mural’ theme with a notion of sounds from “the other side.” What exactly these walls represent is perhaps something open to individual interpretation (a state of mind? Geographical or…

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Snakes and almglocken: An interview with composer Jérôme Combier

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Tomorrow night, Kupka’s Piano will give the Australian premiere of French composer Jérôme Combier’s Feuilles des paupières in their concert “Outer Sounds” at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Percussionist Angus Wilson interviewed Combier on his music, his time in Australia (both past and, possibly, future!), and the idiosyncratic instrument: the almglocken. If you don’t yet have tickets, you can buy them here.

Angus Wilson: Hi Jerome, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me! Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and your style? What can our audience expect to hear in Feuilles des paupières?

Jérôme Combier: Well, my ‘background’? You mean ‘me’? How to answer to such a difficult question? What is the relationship between the ‘background’ of an artist  and his ‘style’?… I can just say that I am an occidental artist, and in that sense I practice music in an intellectual way. I mean my way of living music is quite inner and introspective. On that point of view it’s quite abstract (like philosophy and certain kinds of poetry). For me, musical experience is connected directly to an experience of time, a particular time, subjective and unfathomable, the music-time. I’m looking for this particular perception of time when I write music, and such an experience is what I would like to propose to people. A kind of ‘contemplative’ attitude, as we can feel in Nature. On that point, I’m really ‘Debussyist’:

On n’écoute pas autour de soi les mille bruits de la nature, on ne guette pas assez cette musique si variée qu’elle nous offre avec tant d’abondance. Elle nous enveloppe, et nous avons vécu au milieu d’elle jusqu’à présent sans nous en apercevoir. Voilà selon moi la voie nouvelle. mais croyez-le bien, je l’ai à peine entrevue car ce qui reste à faire est immense ! Et celui qui le fera… sera un grand homme !

Claude Achille Debussy in interview from la Comœdia on 4 November 1909, published in Monsieur Croche and other writings. In English:

We don’t hear the thousands of sounds of Nature around us, we don’t look out for this music, which is so varied and offers us so much. This music envelops us, but we have lived without being aware of it. In my point of view, this offers a new approach. But believe it or not, I have only just glimpsed it, and what remains to be done is immense! The one who will do it… would be a great person!

AW: You mentioned Feuilles des paupières is from a cycle of works, I’d be interested to know about the rest of the cycle.

JC: Yes, Vies silencieuses is a collection made of seven pieces, each one using a different instrumentation, all taken from a set of seven musicians: flute, clarinet, guitar, piano, percussion, viola and cello. Vies silencieuses is closely related to my residence at the Villa Medici for which it was imagined and where it was realised between 2004-2006. These ‘lives’ have been inspired firstly by pictorial universes of various different artists: first and foremost Giorgio Morandi and his still life works made with minimal objects: bottles, vases, pitchers…

I wanted to have such little pieces of music constructed with few elements, always the same. I also wanted to have shorts pieces like small canvases, with a very precise form (duration of time in my case). Usually I prefer these pieces played as a full cycle, because:

Sometimes there are particularly austere, wintry, colours, redolent of wood and snow, which cause one to pronounce once again the fine word ‘patience’, which cause one to think of the patience of the old peasant, or of the monk in his habit: the same silence as under the snow or between the white-washed walls of a cell. The patience which signifies having lived, having suffered, having held on: with modesty, endurance, but without revolt, nor indifference, nor despair; as if, from this patience, one nevertheless expected an enrichment; as if it enabled us to become secretly suffused with the only light that counts.

Philippe Jaccottet, Le bol du pèlerin, p. 57.

AW: Given that the almglocken (several octaves of pitched cowbells) is the main reason we haven’t been able to program the piece prior to this concert, can you tell us a little bit about your experience with them and why you chose them for Feuilles des paupières?

JC: I like very much the sound of the almglocken; mixed with piano sounds it gives a strange colour, not very well-tempered. That’s the reason why I used it in Feuilles des paupières. I was looking for a non-western sound, very raw, and a little bit detuned. Feuilles des paupières and the whole cycle, Vies silencieuses, looks for specific sounds connected to elements such as: metallic sound, wooden sound, the idea of wind…
In this way, the almglocken is really metallic, we can feel the matter inside of the sound.

AW: Liam mentioned that you had a great conversation with him about the spectral legacy – that ‘spectralism’ no longer exists as such. It would be great for composers/musicians in Australia to hear a little bit about your thoughts on the topic!

JC: I don’t really work with spectral material and legacy. However, sometimes I make analysis of a particular sound (for instance clarinet or flute multiphonics) and I try to integrate the result into my harmonic material. But usually I work with scales of pitches, integrating quarter-tones. At the end, perhaps we might believe that the music is spectral, but it is not. My way of thinking music is not spectral at all, even if I very much like spectral music. Here in France, it has become a part of history, very important for us, and absolutely related to two composers: Gérard Grisey (who influenced me for other reasons) and Tristan Murail, who I know a little.

AW: Finally, when you think of Australia… what is the first 3 things that come to your head? Good or bad!

JC: Firstly: My travel in 1997 in Canberra and Sydney. I won a composition competition that was organised by the conservatory of Paris and the School of Music in Canberra. I didn’t like Canberra so much, but my house was near the lake and it was nice to live there for a while. Sydney was more exciting, I was very impressed by the town and I would very much like to come back there.

Secondly: My son, Côme, who is 7 years old and who wants to live in Australia for the reason that there is a lot of snakes and dangerous animals! He’s fond of the taipan…

Third: Australia’s natural environment. I would like to explore the country, especially around Melbourne and in Tasmania. Last year, during the summer time I started to write to Sydney Conservatorium, proposing to work for them as a teacher just for one year. I wanted to live there, with my family, to offer this gift to my son, but in the end I did not send my letter…

AW: Well, I hope you consider sending your letter to the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane instead – we’d love to have you, and you can tell your son we have lots of snakes!

Find out more about Combier on the website of his ensemble – Ensemble Cairn.

Barbaric ideas and ridiculous music: An interview with flautist Tamara Kohler

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Photo by Alan Weedon

Photo by Alan Weedon

Melbourne based flautist Tamara Kohler joins Kupka’s Piano for Outer Sounds this Friday (19th June), 7:30pm at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Tickets are selling fast so be sure to book your tickets now! Kupka pianist Alex chats with Tamara over coffee in between rehearsals to discuss …. 

Alex Raineri: What excites you about playing contemporary music? Were there specific pieces that inspired a love of new music?

Tamara Kohler: I feel a sense of freedom when playing contemporary music that I can’t channel as strongly in other genres. I’ve been told countless times that this type of music reflects my personality really well- whether that’s a compliment or not, I’m yet to decide! I guess it all goes back to the first time I heard Rite of Spring. It was a score reading exercise in school, when I was about 14 and I remember thinking, “I don’t quite understand how this works but I want to do that.”

AR: We’re really excited to have you on board for ‘Outer Sounds’ while our flautists Jodie and Hannah are off on overseas adventures! Could you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to lately?  

TK: After finishing up some study at ANAM last year, I went away on an adventure to India, and then followed this with an artist residency at the Banff Centre, Canada. This trip has really shaped a lot of what I’ve been doing for the start of this year. On top of gigs and teaching around Melbourne, I’ve continued work on a project that I started at the Banff Centre with some fabulous visual artists, exploring how to present a functional score as a sculptural piece. I’ve also been performing and planning some exciting projects my group Rubiks Collective in Melbourne.

AR: You mentioned some exciting upcoming projects, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you? 

TK: Well, I’m off to America next week actually to play in the Bang on a Can Summer Festival! This trip will also involve some professional development sessions and a chance to reconnect with a bunch of my overseas colleagues. As for later in the year, I have some really exciting projects ahead that I can’t go into too much detail about yet, but it should be an exciting (..and busy, yikes!) time.

AR: A hot topic particularly within our generation of colleagues is the general state of opportunity and possibilities within the Australian music scene. Without wanting to offer any of my own opinions on the subject, i’m really keen to hear your thoughts about what you love about being a freelance musician based in this country? Is overseas study something that is firmly on the horizon for you?  

TK: I’ve been lucky enough to have a series of great study bursts overseas, through which I most-definitely developed as a musician and a thinker. I think this is important for the development of any classical musician. Even if you aren’t going to study music, go to Europe to touch the walls and breathe the air of where our whole legacy began. Though certainly in terms of flute education, we have world class teachers all over this country. There is no doubt about it.

Australia has so many fantastic musicians and yes, there possibly isn’t enough work to go around for all of them, in terms of earning a stable income. However, as a freelance musician, I think if you are passionate about a certain type of music or project, then it is your job to search for those like-minded colleagues, get out there with them and present what you love. I’m so lucky that I’ve found a special group of colleagues and close friends who will sit with me, explore the most barbaric ideas and play the most ridiculous music. This is what inspires me currently as a freelance artist in Australia. There will always be a way to find money, I know, a funny thing to say in the wake of Brandis’s horrific arts cuts, but I always try to remain optimistic in the end.

AR: If you had the chance to work with three of your musical idols, who would you choose and why? 

TK: Jonathan Harvey: Easily my favourite composer, Harvey has such a diverse output of work, and an incredibly unique musical language. His exploration of spirituality and early pioneering in the IRCAM scene for me perfectly represents an artist who was always willing to challenge himself, never becoming complacent with what he was creating.

FKA Twigs: because she is a complete babe and I’m totally in love with her!!! Hahah, but seriously, it’s her artistry that attracts me. She consistently challenges herself to perfect every aspect of her work and further her skills in dance, music and live performance and video production. I’m not a massive fan of the pop-music scene in general, but you can feel how she has combined pop, early soul, RnB and electronic influences to create something really unique.

Pina Bausch: Sorry I’ve branched away from the musical scene with this last one to name Pina Bausch, the stunning German dancer and choreographer. Pina’s work has a depth of honestly to it, something that I am always really attracted to in any artistic work. But what really inspires me about her work, was her ability and generosity towards other dancers, in helping them to find their individual expression, unique to each of their personalities. What a beautiful gift!

Read more about Tamara at www.tamarakohler.com and come along to Outer Sounds to hear her in action! 

Dignity and militancy: Si el clima fuera un banco

liam_on_bike

Liam on a bike somewhere in Europe

On Friday, Alex Raineri will be premiering my new piece Si el clima fuera un banco for solo piano and fixed media at the Kupka’s Piano concert ‘Outer Sounds’.

The initial inspiration for the piece was as simple as it is impossible: how to put new music in relation to climate change as a scientific, social, and political problem?

While there is a lot of ecological, site-specific, interactive, art being made today, and I think this is a fine thing, I was interested in confronting what seemed to be completely heteronymous worlds: a virtuosic, notated solo piano work, popular political songs from across the last century and a half, conservationism and evolutionary science, and social and political analyses of our climate crisis.

The idea is that through assembling these various strata, complex and dissonant relationships will form, sometimes overwhelming the listener in their density, sometimes opening into enigmatic clarity.

What I was explicitly not interested in doing was writing a piece that is supposed to ‘raise awareness’ of climate change. I had no interest in choosing texts that outline the severity of the situation, the social and environmental costs, horror stories meant to humanise the issue and make us feel bad about our life choices. There’s enough of that out there already. Instead, I wanted to create an experience that in a sense condensed the complexity of the social-environmental relations we find ourselves in today, but also pointed generally to a political way out.

Of course I understand that my music will have limited political effect, but it is my belief that the solution to the climate crisis will come from the political sphere, from popular mobilisation and organisation, and not from art. Without denying art’s potential for political engagement, to my mind art’s primary challenge in this arena is simply to not get left behind: to interrogate what the climate crisis and its social implications means for art’s own presuppositions. There of course will be many ways of doing this.

if-the-climate-were-a-bankSi el clima takes excerpts from texts by John Bellamy Foster, Aldo Leopold and Stephen Jay Gould. At the centre of the textual element is Hugo Chavez’s still-astonishing speech at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit in which he made the statement: “If the climate were a bank, they would have saved it already,” from which the piece takes its title. While I was composing this work, I was also reading Naomi Klein’s fantastic book This Changes Everything, which, in a sense, is the real subtext of the work.

On a basic musical level, I tried to structure the work as a complex, meandering, but nonetheless inexorable movement towards a precipice. A kind of ‘tragedy of progress’ in musical form. The piece ends with a suspended moment, our moment, the moment of the decision, where options are open and things aren’t yet determined.

In general, in this piece and others, I’m aiming for a music that expresses both a sense of dignity, and one of militancy. The dignity comes from the refinement and complexity of the contrapuntal discourse – its resistance to reified musical language; the militancy comes from the ‘stickin’-to-it-ness’ of the lines, the driving nature of a lot of the material, the intentionally crude elements, the unadorned, unaestheticised texts, musical quotations, and so on.

To my mind the one can’t exist without the other: too great an emphasis on dignity turns the music into a paranoid negativity, always avoiding what might be a ‘naïve’ or ‘crude’ idea. Such an approach tends to collapse in on itself, leaving neither complexity nor dignity. On the other hand, too great an emphasis on militancy makes it brutish, unthinking, and, in a sense, easily ‘domesticated’. The idea is to find the point where the two intersect and reinforce each other. This is my idea of counterpoint.

I have to thank Alex in advance for all the tremendous effort he put into the piece. There has been a lot of back and forth between us about the piece since January (cross-continental collaboration: Brisbane-Brussels), with Alex often playing a direct role in suggesting compositional alternatives, etc, and I’m curious to see the result of this combined labour. I also have to thank here the three speakers Andrew Last, Jess Moore, and Nat Evans, whose unaffected and personal speaking styles nicely compliment the powerful oration of Hugo Chavez.

‘Outer Sounds’ takes place on Friday 19 June at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane. Check out the facebook event here. Book tickets here.

All things Australian – An Interview with composer Michael Bakrnčev

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Kupka pianist Alex takes a break from rehearsals for a yarn with composer Michael Bakrnčev. We’re super excited to be giving the premiere of his new trio for flute, percussion and piano entitled ‘Fortified Echoes’ this Saturday 16th May at the State Library of Queensland as part of QSOCurrent

Alex Raineri: You’re a very active young composer! I’m interested to hear about your latest and upcoming projects?

Michael Bakrnčev: Thank you, yeah it’s important to be active, especially as a young composer – I think that’s the best way to learn, by doing and learning from your actions. I have just written a clarinet quartet for Blackwood who will premiere it over in Madrid, it was really cool writing for them because I got to write for two bass clarinets which isn’t something that you get to do very often. My Piano Trio based on a Macedonian folk melody will be performed later this year in Melbourne which i’m really looking forward to.

I’m currently writing a piece for sax and piano which is inspired by heavy metal and thrash metal music, lots of bashing on the piano which seems to be something that i’m interested in lately, that’ll be performed in the Netherlands and here in Melbourne later in the year. I’m also writing a work for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for the Cybec composers program, which i’m looking forward to – it’ll be my best and latest attempt at writing for orchestra, and I have a feeling that not everybody is going to like it, but I know that i’ll probably be able to look at it from afar and think “fuck yeah mate, this isn’t so bad!”

Other than that, i’m curating concerts with my orchestra, The Melbourne Met, which is going really well, the next concert is all female Aussie composers, so it should be top shelf. I’ve also written this fairly bad arse piece for you guys, which i’d say is one of the best pieces i’ve ever written.

AR: Fortified Echoes was commissioned specifically for QSOCurrent and QANZAC100. Could you tell us how the piece explores this thematic context? 

MB: For me, the main thing that I had in my mind was that part in the movie “Gallipoli” (with Mel Gibson) right at the end, when the main actor (the runner) gets shot and killed and that’s where the movie freeze-frames and it rolls to credits. Thats always stuck in my mind, from the first time I watched it as a kid, and the second time as an adult. The work isn’t supposed to go with that scene at all, it’s just what I had in my mind while writing.

AR: How then did that affect the way you approached musical materials?

MB: The frantic-ness of the piccolo part and bashing of the piano as well as machine-gun style percussion part is all reminiscent of war. The only thing that makes any obvious reference is the alto flute part in the end, which has the beginning of the last post – the fifths – which is basically what the entire piece is based on, harmonically speaking. It’s always shifting in fifths.

AR: Who are some musical idols – eg. performers/composers/colleagues/mentors?

MB: These days i’m making a shift in my musical consciousness to revolve around all things Australian. I’m not quite there yet, but the main ones that are sticking with me are my current teacher Elliott Gyger, Peter Sculthorpe, Sun-Ju Song, Phillip Gearing, Martin Crook, Mary Finsterer, Paul Grabowski, Larry Sitsky, and ensembles such as Chamber Made Opera, The Song Company, Syzygy, Plexus, Kupka’s Piano, Chronology Arts, Speak Percussion and others.

But, if I look back, then influences are – Macedonian folk music, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy – Guns n Roses, AC/DC, Queen, Children of Bodom, Powderfinger, The Cat Empire, Michael Jackson & JET.

AR: What are you listening to at the moment? Top five desert island pieces? 

MB: I’ve been listening to Peter Sculthorpe’s ABC boxed set recording, with a focus on his orchestral works – it’s been interesting to map his musical style from the very beginning of his professional career. I’ve also bought my 4th cousin’s CD boxed set – Anthony Pateras’ collected works – which is pretty wicked.

Top five desert island pieces … 1) Pushteno Oro by the Boys from Buf 2) Tchaikovsky’s 5th 3) Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring 4) My own ‘Vidi’ 5) Any recording of my nephew and girlfriend talking/singing

Meanings that aren’t there: An interview with Alan Lawrence

Alan Lawrence (guitarist on the right) c. 50 years ago.

Alan Lawrence (guitarist standing on the right) c. 50 years ago.

Kupka’s Piano are excited to be presenting a new work by Alan Lawrence at QSOCurrent this Saturday afternoon in the Poinciana Lounge at the State Library of Queensland. Alan’s work will be played at approximately 11am, and entry is free. Angus caught up with him to find out a little more about him and his new work ‘The Instant Burst of Clamour’.

Angus Wilson: Hi Alan, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me. You have already shared with me some great stories about your time in the UK and Europe. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your composing life thus far?

Alan Lawrence: I started out with the violin when I was about 9 or 10 but at around aged 13 my interest in the violin was eclipsed by my desire to emulate Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of the Shadows, who at that time I thought was just about as cool as you could get. So, armed with Bert Weedon’s “Play in a Day”, I set about becoming a guitarist. Soon after, I formed band and we did the local youth clubs and the like quite successfully (by schoolboy standards) for a couple of years. This was really the birth of my composing ambitions as I started to “write” instrumental numbers for the band. Then one night I heard a classical guitar recital on the radio and I still remember being amazed when at the end of the broadcast the announcer said that this had been John Williams on guitar. I thought, “Yeah… John Williams, whoever he is, and who else?”  I couldn’t believe at first that it was just one person playing. Anyhow, much impressed I immediately switched my allegiances from Hank to John and took up classical guitar which I pursued to the Royal College of Music and beyond. But the composing bit stuck, shifting with the playing from pop to classical. I studied both composition and guitar at the RCM and have made my living from both, ever since. Anyhow, there were various compositions while still at school, chamber pieces, a rather ambitious Christmas Cantata, pieces for the local choir, and just after I left school, music for an animated film on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” made by my school’s art teacher and students. That last item was where things actually took off because the film was shown at a local arts club where, by chance, a documentary film maker was in the audience. He approached me after the event and asked if I’d like to compose music for his next film. Naturally I did. So by the time I went to college I’d already written about four or five documentary film scores. A combination of playing and writing film music continued during and after college and in 1987 I stopped playing professionally and set up a small studio in central London from where I wrote a lot of music for television over the next 10 years. But before that I’d made a couple of trips to Australia with the Old Vic Theatre Company and in 1979 I’d met the actress Carol Burns, who has been my partner ever since. And that was the beginning of the Australian connection. But there are always swings and roundabouts. I was able to earn a living writing TV music but I rarely if ever had the opportunity to write music that actually interested me as music. When asked about my music in those days I used to say that I wrote music that was heard by millions and noticed by no one. In a way, that was the job. Obviously a signature tune was intended to be catchy in some way but the greater part of the music that I wrote was aimed at the subliminal and therefore avoided the intrusive; something that I hope cannot be said of “The Instant Burst of Clamour”. So I was able to earn a living from composition but not from composing music that greatly interested me. There were other rewards, of course… apart from the obvious financial rewards I met lots of interesting arts and show biz personalities. (This was equally true of working in the theatre, especially at The Old Vic.) But there was also the challenge of making things work – getting the timing of cues to work perfectly, achieving the necessary degree of anonymity while at the same time insinuating the appropriate mood. But in the end, the desire to write my own music pursuing my own aesthetic objectives overcame all else and I handed my studio on to another composer and Carol and I headed back to Australia where we’ve been living (albeit, with regular trips to Europe) for the last 17 years. During that time I’ve written music only for itself, most of which has been performed and/or broadcast here or in the UK. I have revisited theatre music on a few occasions but only when Carol has been directing something and has needed some sound or music. This year is the exception and marks the first time since returning to Oz that I’ll have worked on a theatre production on the open market, as it were, when I contribute to the Queensland Theatre Company production of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” directed by Wesley Enoch and performed by Carol and Steven Tandy.

AW: You are one of our most loyal followers, what first came to mind when asked to write for Kupka’s Piano.

Alan: Okay… Well, first of all, why am I one of your most loyal followers? And the answer to that is that I saw an ad on the web for your first – at least I think it was your first – concert at the Judith Wright Centre back in 2012, was it? I saw Boulez Derive I, I saw Grisey Taléa, and I thought Hey! This is it! Some one from planet Earth has landed in Brisbane! Seriously though, what I’ve always liked about Kupka’s Piano is the breadth of the programming. It really reminds me of the programming style of the major European ensembles like Ensemble Intercontemporain for example. You program brand new stuff in quite a variety of idioms from local and international composers but you also represent the giants of the recent past; Boulez, Grisey, Donatoni, Berio, etc. I could go on. But you know what I mean. I like that bigger picture from around a mid-century break point. And then I should mention that as prodigiously virtuosic as much of this stuff actually is, you always manage a really convincing account of the repertoire that you present. So what’s not to like? Any how, the short answer to your question, what came to mind when asked to write for Kupka’s Piano was “Hey – great!”

AW: Thanks so much for writing ‘The Instant Burst of Clamour’ for us. We will premiere at next Saturday May 16th at 11am at the Poinciana Lounge at the State Library of Queensland. Can you tell our audience a little but about the story behind it and what you envisaged with this work? Is there a link to the ANZAC 100th anniversary?

Alan: Well, I should start by saying that in my opinion all music is and must be primarily about music, that is, itself. Hermann Helmholtz wrote that music is more to do with pure sensation than any of the other arts – or something like that. I go along with that entirely. Don’t get bogged down looking for meanings that aren’t there. But of course there can be associations and I’d bet that most of us have certain strong associations that can be evoked by particular pieces of music. But equally, I’d bet, that few such associations were planted there by the composer. And yet we do write commemorative pieces and pieces called Estampes or Pictures at an Exhibition, etc. in other words sometimes we invite associations for pieces although the associations can only finally be made by the listener. Sorry, I wandered off the question there. So yes… it’s 2015 and there’s much talk of Anzacs and Gallipoli and it’s a chosen theme for quite a few of this year’s cultural events and I’m happy enough to make my contribution. First I should say that the celebration of Anzac now, a century later, presents a more complex proposition than the simple and sincere commemoration of events that took place at Gallipoli in 1915. Many question the appropriateness of a national celebration biased so heavily towards Anzac losses when losses overall were so numerous. Some fear that pageantry at home and tourism abroad may, at a hundred years distance, seem more a celebration of military chutzpah than an annual reminder of the folly of war. Such fears are of course amplified by an awareness of many ill-advised and reckless military adventures undertaken since 1915, always, it seems, with less regard for the men and women who actually risk their lives, than for the political or commercial capital sought by their civilian masters. Conscious of, and actually sharing many of these misgivings, I found myself seeking an Anzac association or at least a starting point for a piece of music; a means by which I could share in the current commemorations while continuing to question the very validity of the tradition. The approach that I chose was to address the matter somewhat obliquely, first from some distance, and then from a particular perspective outside the actual field of conflict but intimately sensitive to its outcomes. For distance I went to Shakespeare and for perspective I turned to the bereaved rather than the battlefield. When Hamlet meets with the players, “the tragedians of the city”, he asks their leader, the first player, to repeat a speech concerning the death of King Priam in The Trojan Wars, at the hand of Pyrrhus. After describing the awful and unequal conflict between the two men in which Pyrrhus slays the “reverend Priam”, the speech turns to Hecuba, the queen and wife to Priam. In a short passage of only fifteen lines the first player recounts the disarray, the distraction and finally the distraught horror with which she confronts the death of her husband in war, finishing with the lines, The instant burst of clamour that she made, Unless things mortal move them not at all, Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven, And passion in the gods. The whole of the first player’s speech is extremely rhetorical in style as befits the characterisation of a theatrical performance within a theatrical performance. Obviously there is a need to up the ante, as it were, so as to distinguish the one level of dramatic representation from the other. And when, the speech now ended, the first player is moved to tears, Hamlet asks, “What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?”; how can one be so moved by the anguish of some one so remote to one’s own experience? Of course, Hamlet has rather more immediate issues of his own to do with grieving — and for that matter, one can wonder if the first player has been moved by the plight of Hecuba or more perhaps by his own emotional investment in the performance? This short episode in Shakespeare’s celebrated tragedy, presents us with a complex of disparate elements; violent conflict matched with its collateral damage; rhetorical dramatization of distant events weighed against the perplexities of personal experience; one level of dramatic reality contrasted with another; the generosity of empathy compared to the potential for self-indulgent emotion. Music is the stuff of balances and contrasts, from the largest considerations of form to the minutest detail in the relationship between any two notes. I have chosen to model this piece on my thoughts about the balances and contrasts suggested in the Hecuba passage from the first player’s speech in Hamlet as well as on the structure of the verse. The music, in itself, can say nothing about Anzac or about Hecuba or about Shakespeare but it can and does arise from my thoughts about those topics prompted by this occasion. As for direct associations, as I have said, that is for the listener.

AW: Can you tell us a little bit about your other work at the moment. I saw a great performance of a work by you ‘Kattrin’s Drum’ by David Montgomery late last year, what is the life for this piece?

Alan: Yes. Dave is a really terrific performer; an excellent musician but a really theatrical (in the best sense of the word) performer, and he played my piece really well. I think he’s doing it again in Brisbane in a couple of months time but I’ll have to check the details. That piece Kattrin’s Drum is the first of a trilogy of pieces. Each piece is for solo instrumentalist and quadraphonic sound where the quadraphonics are pre-programmed cues (60 odd of them) and the performer triggers each cue along with the virtuosic live content. The second piece is for bass clarinet and quadraphonics and is written but not yet performed and the third one is for trombone and I haven’t written that one yet. So current work has been your piece, then the QTC production coming up soon and then back to the Kattrin trilogy. I find that composing for me is a weird cyclical process where I’m always looking to try something that I haven’t done before in a kind of struggle to avoid being trapped in comfortable territory but at the same time always being willing to go back and look at previous thinking to see if with the passage of time it has gained some potential for renewal. For example, my first work with quadraphonics was back in 1991 and although I’ve often used surround effects in theatre music Kattrin is the first time that I’ve returned to it in a concert piece. But there’s no overall agenda. For example, I’ve written for large orchestra, although not recently, but may well do so again. I hadn’t considered a chamber piece for flute, clarinet, percussion and piano, but I’ve enjoyed writing one now.

AW: What are the five best things about living Brisbane?

Alan: Can we make that Brisbane? Okay, and in no particular order of preference; 1. Perfect winter days. 2. Great cinema prgrams equal to big cities anywhere. 3. The view of the city centre at dusk seen from a CityCat (breathtakingly beautiful). 4. Currently a really switched on state theatre company. 5. And course, the best new music ensemble in Australia.

New Territory, New Possibilities: an interview with Eric Wubbels

eric-wubbles_wet-inkTaking some time out from rehearsing ‘Shivering, Confined, Expiring‘ (7:30pm Friday April 10th at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts), flautist Jodie Rottle chats to young American composer Eric Wubbles.

Jodie Rottle: Kupka’s Piano turns three in 2015. Whilst having two composers affiliated  with our group (‘in residence’ per se), the performing musicians don’t write ourselves. What have been the keys to success for Wet Ink Ensemble? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of working with composer/performers? 

Eric Wubbels: I think one of the things that has drawn people to Wet Ink is the fact that the music that we make has a clear and distinctive style. I think it also helps that that style is an assimilation of an extremely wide-ranging set of influences and enthusiasms, that it has a strong sense of place (rooted in New York), and that it tries to synthesise and incorporate elements from aesthetics that until recently were seen as antagonistic to each other. We’re trying to make strong aesthetic statements that are also non-dogmatic, that open up new territory and new possibilities, that invite people in without pandering to them in any way.

Working with a group of composer/performers over an extended period has simply been the easiest way for us to solve a lot of the problems and frustrations that we had had in the past (both as composers and performers). Playing pieces you don’t want to play or that are poorly written (the alienated labor of the freelance musician); woefully inadequate rehearsal periods and no subsequent performance beyond the first; lack of trust between composer/performers; inability to take risks and to experiment, refine, and revise… We just don’t think these things should be normal, and certainly not the accepted state of affairs in new music. It’s not in any other kind of music you listen to.

Having a company of peers and collaborators (just starting from that relationship…!) and growing and developing something personal and meaningful with them over the course of years… It just takes all of those problems I described earlier and inverts them, instantly. Which is not to make it sound easy, of course it’s a long process, and we’ve been very lucky in a lot of ways. But I think we’re pretty sold on the model, and it’s something I would wish for everyone.

JR: We are looking forward to performing your work ‘Shiverer’ this season. Having recently given the Australian Premiere performance in a concert in Sydney with Ensemble Offspring and Aventa Ensemble, we’re also featuring it in our upcoming concert ‘Shivering, Confined, Expiring’ at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on April 10th and again in the QSOCurrent Festival on May 16th at the State Library of Queensland. Can you tell us about your inspiration for this piece or anything about the compositional processes? 

EW: It’s one of the first pieces in which I consciously took unison as the compositional material. The parts are not tremendously difficult to play individually, but when combined into very precise hocket, heterophony, or unison there’s suddenly a negotiation that has to take place between the two players that I find very interesting. They really have to reach a state of group concentrated awareness, listening carefully to one another and making decisions in the moment as a kind of joint-mind. And if there’s any disagreement, in most parts of the piece it’s immediately audible. It’s quite challenging.

The engine of the piece’s development is repetition, but instead of mechanical or literal repetition it’s a kind of organic, spiralling structure unfurling over the course of the whole form.

JR: What are you listening to now? Do you have any suggestions as to what you think should be on our new music radar? Aside from Wet Ink Ensemble, of course! 

EW: I’m listening to the new Kendrick Lamar album a lot. Don’t love all of it, but some of it’s terrific and some of it is breathtaking.

Also been discovering Dmitri Kourliandski’s music, which is all over the map aesthetically and yet always compelling and well-made.

Here’s a shortlist of other young composers whose work I admire and would love to see more widely known and played: Rick Burkhardt, Katie Young, Evan Johnson, Bryn Harrison, Alexandre Lunsqui, Cat Lamb, Petr Bakla, Chris Mercer, Andrew Greenwald, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Yoshiaki Onishi and Andrew McIntosh.

 

 

Kicking Goals: An interview with Stephen Newcomb

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unnamedSteve Newcomb is one of four Brisbane composers to be featured in Kupka’s Pianos first Brisbane performance for 2015, he is also married to our wonder flutist, Jodie Rottle. Steve took some time out of his busy schedule to let us know a little bit more about himself and his upcoming collaboration with Angus Wilson and Caitlin Mackenzie from MakeShift Dance. See Steve’s new work this Friday 10th of April, 7:30pm at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.

Angus Wilson: Firstly, You have one of the most interesting and diverse careers of any musician/composer I know. Could you tell us a little bit about some of your current and upcoming projects? What is the focus for you at the moment? Stephen Newcomb: I balance performing (as an improvising pianist), composing, arranging and teaching. They all intersect in different ways and inspire one another. I’m currently arranging music for a show at the Queensland Conservatorium in May (where I teach) which will combine the Con Artists Jazz Orchestra with strings, harp and french horn section. I’m also editing some arrangements that I’d previously completed for Chris McNulty and her recently released album ‘Eternal’. I’m currently collaborating with drummer Isaac Cavallaro in a duo project that explores beats, electronics and improvisation. I’m kept busy with my role as Head of Jazz and Program Director of the Bachelor of Music at Griffith University, but there are a lot of writing projects on the go with Queensland Music Festival, Bernard Fanning, and others. AW: I’ve really enjoyed collaborating on your piece Kicking Goals that will be performed in it’s first permutation this Friday night. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?  SN: I’ve enjoyed the collaboration too! I find the thrill of collaborative work the same feeling no matter what the genre or setting. I get the same buzz from mixing a record where there are different creative decisions to discuss and agree on. I started on this piece with a plan to develop some audio manipulation techniques (using Max/MSP) I had used in an earlier solo flute work, but the process of collaborating with yourself on vibraphone and Caitlin (dance) has allowed the work to grow and adapt. The title is a play on the word ‘gaol’, and the work explores the concept of ‘the human detained’ which is a theme for the collaborative work between Kupka’s Piano and MakeShift Dance. In arriving at the Kicking Goals title I reflected on the slogans we often see in the media relating to the asylum seeker detainment, which are all too triumphant when you think that they relate to the lives of families in asylum from war-torn countries. AW: Is it your first time working with a dancer and/or solo percussionist? What parts of the collaboration have been interesting to you?  SN: It is the first time working with solo percussionist, so the immediate question concerned is which instruments (or objects) would be used in the piece. In the end I chose only vibraphone to be symbolic of ‘the human detained’ theme as it applies limits to both myself as a composer and yourself as the performer.  I have worked with dance and movement (in a work for Circa) before, but this was a chance to really collaborate on minute structural and specific emotionally linked concepts in the work. Caitlin brings a totally different perspective to the work with staging concerns, such as how a slight movement here of there can translate to meaning. I suppose the visual element is something I consider less when writing music as it’s concerned mostly with sound so that realisation has been interesting. AW: Having studied and performed and collaborated across the world, including an extensive amount of time in New York, what is it that excites you about the Brisbane music scene?  SN: I think the Brisbane scene is constantly growing so there are always options for new pathways to be created. There seems to be more underground activity and people just doing their thing, just the same as they do in a large city like NYC. The population scale is just always going to be greater in the bigger cities. I’m excited by the diverse experiences you can have as a musician here, because many players straddle styles, genres, etc. AW: Finally, what are your three favourite places in Brisbane? SN: I like food, so Mondo Organics West End needs to be in this favourite’s list. Also, Fundies whole food store in Paddington is a winner and I feel like a kid in a ‘healthy candy store’ when I’m there. When I’m not eating, the Brisbane bike paths are another favourite place.

Exploring Greener(?) Pastures; Reflecting on European Study

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Andreas Ottensamer & Alex Raineri on BBC Radio 3

Having recently returned from a months travel in Europe on study scholarships, I’m left with many wonderful experiences and memories to reflect upon. I was very fortunate to have received generous funding from the Theme & Variations Foundation and the Joyce Campbell Lloyd Scholarship (University of Southern Queensland). My sincere thanks go to these organisations for making this endeavour a possibility! 

These scholarship funds allowed me to pursue a number of private piano lessons with sixteen different teachers in Brussels, London, Paris, Manchester & Graz. Also, I was able to spend time in Brussels with Kupka’s composer Liam Flenady workshopping our new work for piano & tape Si el clima fuera un banco which I will be premiering in ‘Outer Sounds‘ on June 19th (at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts).

In addition to working with these inspiring musicians/teachers, I also gave my first UK performance, a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of the Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F minor with Andreas Ottensamer (pictured above). Andreas and I had worked together numerous times in Australia and it was so fortunate that our schedules collided, allowing us to perform together again!

Reflecting on the benefits of the trip, it was extremely useful at this point in time to have the opportunity to work with so many great teachers and start to build overseas networks. It was enlightening to notice how often advice was contradicted from teacher to teacher. I felt like I gained many useful things from each lesson individually but perhaps the greatest learning experience of the trip was, in studying with so many different people, to realise just how much ideas about interpretation and pianism differ (sometimes quite radically!).

This might seem like a rather obvious realisation but for me it was quite confronting to face on a day-to-day basis within the context of an intensive study trip. The actuality of discussing my own thoughts and ideas about the repertoire I was working on, whilst also soaking up all kinds of new ideas and approaches became something of a blur and overload of information.

Thankfully I recorded my lessons so am able to slowly go back through the files and incorporate new ideas into my practice. Speaking more broadly, I feel now that in approaching whatever music I’m playing, more of a need to have formulated a very thoroughly structured approach to every facet of the interpretation. This was already how I approached repertoire prior to the trip but I hadn’t ever had to so consistently validate, justify and discuss whether the ideas I had worked into my interpretations were as successful as they could be.

Within the Australian music scene and my generation of colleagues in particular, there is a common conception that ‘the grass is greener’ on the other side of the world and that furthering studies in Europe or America is a logical progression for a serious young musician. I found it was really useful to have this taster (albeit brief) of overseas study to begin to explore this notion.

It was very interesting to catch up with some very talented and entrepreneurial colleagues and friends to discuss how they have facilitated working professionally in a new country, having come from Australia. Without coming to any real conclusion or concrete opinion on this matter, it was good to scope out future possibilities. I’m certainly not planning on leaving Australia on a permanent basis anytime soon!!

Whilst overseas I saw some really fantastic concerts. Some highlights were; Anna D’Errico & Ian Pace performing Enno Poppe’s Thema mit 840 Variationen and Lost by Richard Barrett, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra & Leonidas Kavakos playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Klangforum Wien presenting new works by young composers at the IMPULS Academy (particularly interesting were the pieces by Wojtek Blecharz and Ashley Fure), Louie Lortie performing Preludes of Faure & Scriabin, the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Belle Chen in ‘Kiss of the Earth‘.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging the numerous people that made the trip such a stimulating and maturing experience, and for being excellent people! There wasn’t a dull moment! Whether we worked together or simply hung out in new and exciting places, many thanks to; Andreas Ottensamer, Ute Pinter and the team at the IMPULS Academy, Liam Flenady, Hannah Reardon-Smith, Bethany Shepherd, Katherine Philp, Gian Ponte, Anna D’Errico, Christophe Matthias, Ian Pace, Aquiles Delle Vigne, Leslie Howard, Murray Maclachlan, Vanessa Latarche, Joanna Macgregor, Mark Knoop, Charles Owen, Alexsandar Madsar, Rolf Hind, Christopher Elton, Peter Hill, Pascal Nemirovski, Francoise Thinat, Ian Jones and Graham Scott.

Music Beyond Borders: An interview with clarinettist Jason Noble

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JN

Photo by: Heidrun Lohr

Alex Raineri took some time out post-performance to find out a little more about the brilliant Jason Noble from Ensemble Offspring, whom Kupka’s Piano had the pleasure of performing with for the second time, at our recent performance in Sydney.

Alex Raineri: You’ve just recently come out of a huge national tour with Ensemble Offspring (EO) and Ironwood. Tell us about your experiences!

Jason Noble: The project was “Broken Consorts”, a collaboration between early music group Ironwood and EO, performing at the Sydney Opera House, Fortyfivedownstairs Melbourne, Newcastle Museum, Bahai Centre Hobart and Burnie Art Gallery. A few firsts in this project – first EO gig in Tassie, first gig at Fortyfivedownstairs (a great venue!), and first time performing alongside Ironwood, our early music colleagues. At the centre of this program was a new work written by Felicity Wilcox, alongside Mary Finsterer’s Silva, and Damien Ricketson’s Trace Elements – both seeking inspiration from early music. Throw in a prepared piano and percussion version of Locke’s The Tempest (1674) and you get a varied and very well received show.

AR: As a relatively young ensemble, Kupka’s Piano is constantly in a state of flux in relation to how we function on a musical, professional, organisational and logistical level. I’m really interested to know more about how Ensemble Offspring operates. Are certain jobs within the organisation of the group delegated to members and how are programs and projects conceived? 

JN: It really takes perseverance to keep a new music group existing, and to have some continuity with personnel. The nature of freelance musical work and players leaving the country can cause headaches for planning.

To be honest, the most important thing is having people who get along throughout the rehearsal process and who are prepared to make the group a priority in the pecking order of work commitments. This doesn’t mean we don’t disagree from time to time, but more relates to dealing with differing views or opinions on how things should be interpreted or performed.

EO has always had artistic directors leading the way with project conception and I think you do need some structure or hierarchy to get things done. Having said that, there has always been a forum for the input of the core players, both in terms of the direction and repertoire of the group or whom to work and collaborate with.

These days EO is fortunate to have Australia Council funding that contributes to the provision of a general manager. There is always an endless amount of work though, and the players meet every few months for meetings to discuss previous and forthcoming shows.

AR: I read online that you’ve done some teaching and mentoring in Afghanistan. How did this come about and your what were your experiences with it?

JN: Yes, I have travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan for two of the past three years to teach and perform as part of the Winter Academy at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. This opportunity came about quite by chance. I was getting my fix of documentaries at the Sydney Film Festival in 2012 and attended the screening of “Dr Sarmast’s Music School”, (it was also screened on ABC television). An inspiring teacher of mine, Mark Walton, had attended the school previously and asked in December of that year whether I would attend in his place. I knew immediately that I wanted to help out, and so three weeks later I was on a plane to Kabul.

The school itself is an amazing place. Firstly that it is able to exist, given that music in Kabul was banned under Taliban rule. The school has a Western music focus running alongside the traditional Afghani music and general studies. Visiting musicians are instructed to teach what they can, in a volunteer capacity.  I had a class of about 8 clarinet students from ages 8 to 20 , but also helped out with the flutes, oboes, harmonium, triangle player, yoga, theory, whoever needed help really. The interesting thing is once you are inside the school, you could be at any musical institution in the world . The students needed the same help as ones I instruct in Australia, the only difference perhaps being the desire or eagerness to absorb knowledge. There are both boys and girls at the school, and special emphasis is given to orphans and to underprivileged children, some of whom have a background selling plastic bags on the chaotic Kabul streets.

There are weekly concerts at the school, where visiting musicians from across the world perform alongside each other and with students. There are many wonderful Afghani string instruments to listen to, such as the rubab and dilruba.

I still keep in touch with some North-Indian musicians I met there. We gave a premiere of a work for two sitars, tabla , clarinets, and piano. I just returned in February 2015 from one of these musicians wedding in Assam, India. Together, we managed to record a track for television the day after the wedding, the cross cultural experience lives on.

Unfortunately a suicide blast in late 2014 upset my plans to return in January 2015. The blast at a French Cultural Centre injured the principal of the school. A timely reminder what Afghani’s experience on a regular basis.

Most importantly though, the regular trips to Afghanistan remind me why I ended up in this profession in the first place: the power of music to go beyond borders and to communicate hope and humanity in unimaginable circumstances.

AR: What are some upcoming projects? You mentioned a Dance collaboration in Germany?

JN: I have been involved in a project with Nick Wales and dance group “Shaun Parker and Company” called “Am I”. This show toured the Australian festival circuit last year and this year goes international with tours to Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and Malaysia. The music is a new score which is difficult to define or categorise – but at its premise seeks to find a new music that represents all humanity – part acoustic and part electro, lots of drumming and Armenian music at its core.  Great to work with a band who have skills across a broad range of areas too, from Indian drumming, opera, contemporary classical, electronic, jazz and pop.

Another project I will revisit this year is Ngarukuruwala, a return visit to the Tiwi Islands. There is an incredible group of “Strong Women” who sing the traditional songs and play an important role in preserving the traditional culture of the Islands. We will be working on a new disc of collaborations, and reworking old field recordings of Tiwi women singing.

AR: What are your current top 5 desert island pieces?

JN: Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians”,  Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No.1” (my first ever CD), any track from Anouar Brahem’s Astrakan Café, “Raga Parameshwari” the amazing sitar playing of Abhishek Adhikary, and a new Finnish clarinet piece I have been working on, “Eliangelis” by Antti Auvinen.

In the dream of another: An interview with Benjamin Marks

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Benjamin Marks took some tim10329141_10152233164243547_6300274058759110359_ne out from composing, performing and teaching this week to speak to Kupka’s Piano percussionist Angus Wilson. Angus performed his new work ‘The Circular Ruins’ with guest saxophonist Sami Mason last Friday night at Absent, Almost Absent. 

Angus Wilson: You are a regular audience member and follower of Kupkas Piano, what excited you the most about writing for Kupkas Piano on this occasion?

Benjamin Marks: Writing music to be included in a Kupka programme is a big challenge. The music programmed (Lim, Ablinger etc.) is exceptional so I feel pretty daunted. Coupled with that I feel like I can write with a great deal of freedom, knowing that so much repertoire has been digested by the ensemble over the last few years. I feel like this is an ensemble which can locate the aesthetic or musical concerns a new piece has and articulate that understanding with intelligent and sensitive performances.

AW: Sami and I are very excited to play your new work…. Can you tell us a little bit about the project? Where did it draw it’s inspiration from? Does it have a life beyond it’s current format?

BM: Best to quote my programme note here:

Two (The Circular Ruins)

This piece takes as its raw material the sound of water running under a bridge. The sound was recorded and slowed down sixty times to reveal intense rhythmic and pitch activity. This was transcribed and became one of the primary means of organizing the piece.

Two explores the problems of creating an evolving musical landscape from a static sound source. Different notions of flow are explored within static constructs, and different notions of stasis are explored in more flexible, expressive constructs. The expressive capacity of the music lies in the movement between these various states.

In the context of the larger scale outdoor piece, The Circular Ruins, this duo constitutes part two. The piece, when removed from the outdoor context, is accompanied by a tape part that draws directly from sounds found in Southbank, Brisbane, the intended location of the four part work The Circular Ruins.

Jorge Louis Borges’ story The Circular Ruins tells of a dreamer who dreams another man into existence only to find himself the dream of another. In the outdoor work for Southbank my goal is to bring to life often ignored environmental sounds, or, more generally, to bring about active engagement with our sounding environment. The composed pieces, including Two, engage with specific environmental sounds and acoustics creating an intense listening experience which is gradually expanded to include the limits of the acoustic horizon.

AW: You have an interesting little setup of percussion in the piece, ceramic bowls, temple blocks, woodblocks and a bass drum. Can you tell us what you were envisaging when you selected these instruments?

BM: I was thinking of sounds that most resembled my idea of water noise slowed down, other than the usual wash of white noise. This is purely imaginary, and these sounds also link into quite a ritualistic sound space. There is a naturalness to these sounds (wood, ceramic and skin) that I feel drawn to and a quiet complexity of timbre. The bass drum has a slightly different function to the other instruments in that it articulates a large scale pulse, which runs through all four pieces that makes up The Circular Ruins. Only a fragment of the pulse exists in Two.

AW: I first met you as a trombonist, playing Pines of Rome in a brass band. Can you tell us a little bit about your activities other than composing? How do you find living and working in Brisbane?

BM: I moved to Brisbane (from Melbourne) in 1998 to do my masters in performance at the QLD Conservatorium. My undergraduate was in composition from the University of Melbourne. I’ve always moved between composition and performance in some way or other, although my professional life has been mostly as a performer with ELISION. When I moved to Brisbane ELISION was also based here so it helped kick off a wonderful time of learning and recording new repertoire and broadening my improvisational experience which has carried through to the present day. I studied with Simone de Haan at the time and this experience changed me in many fundamental ways and brought me, through various activities, into contact with the Brisbane cultural scene. Since that initial period of study I’ve developed a strong low brass teaching base (which I love) and I continue to strive to play a creative role in the cultural life of my home city.

AW: Finally, what other interesting projects do you have coming up, where can our audience hear you play, or hear other compositions by you?

BM: I’m currently working my way into a Doctorate of Musical Arts in which I’m exploring multilayered spatial composition and performance in an outdoor context. By developing musical strategies that engage with environmental sound (some of which you’ll hear in Two) I hope to create, for a listener, a shifting network of perceptual frames. My research should result in various performances, the first being early next year in Southbank. This is the project alluded to above The Circular Ruins. I’ll be giving a trombone recital on February 25th next year, at 6:30pm, at the QLD Conservatorium, partnering with my wife Ysolt Clark on French Horn. We haven’t quite settled on repertoire yet although Scelsi and Richard Barrett are likely starting points.

Pregnant nothingness: An interview with Chikako Morishita

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This Friday, Kupka’s Piano clarinetist Macarthur Clough gives the Australian premiere of Chikako Morishita‘s solo clarinet work Lizard (shadow). Chikako has kindly taken a moment of her time between composition deadlines and premieres at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to give us a quick intro to her life, music, and guilty pleasures.

Liam Flenady: Let’s start at the start. Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your story?

Chikako Morishita: I’m a Japanese composer, occasionally a pianist. I was awarded a BA and an MA from Tokyo University of Arts, and an MA (research) with distinction from University of Huddersfield. I’ve been based in Berlin since 2011. At the same time I’m doing a PhD at Huddersfield under Liza Lim and Aaron Cassidy.

LF: You say in your program notes in fact that Lizard (shadow) is a work about silence. You mention that one of the ways of writing ‘lizard’ in Kanji is with the characters of ‘shade’ and ‘gate’. How do you draw upon this compositionally?

CM: For me, silence is not just a soundingly absent space, it is a space fully filled by one’s imagination even if materially empty. We call it ‘pregnant nothingness’ in Japan and I wanted silence in my composition to be like that. As for the title… The score of lizard (shadow) contains various degrees of determinacy and indeterminacy -determinate musical materials function as a framework to illustrate something unstable or indeterminate as if the gate (a fixed object) lets shadows exist.

LF: Lizard (shadow) has something of a ‘moment’-like structure, How did you come up with the different sections – were they planned in advance, or did you find the structure intuitively?

CM: Firstly I made variations of some original materials (all passages in this work were derived from a single starting material), and then I made fragmentary moments by combining them. I then shuffled the order, added and removed notes or fragments, and so on.

LF: You’ve dedicated this piece to the works original performer, Heather Roche, and say in your notes that the layered material ‘frames the performer’s own interpretative sensibilities’. What do you feel the role of the performer is in your music?

CM: I hope my music to be a device to frame performer’s heightened sense of presence, and also to reveal their unique being.

LF: In Kupka’s, we have a running joke that we’ll do a ‘guilty pleasures’ concert at some point, playing pieces or songs that each of us hate to admit that we love. My song is Toto’s Africa, a sophisticated, but thoroughly corny piece of early 80s pop. What is your musical guilty pleasure?

CM: Easy. AKB48, the Japanese idol group.

LF: Well I look forward to your modernist arrangement of this classic hit:

‘Embracing unclear connections with the past’; an interview with guest artist Tristram Williams

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Our upcoming concert ‘Absent, almost absent‘ at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on Friday November 28th features guest artist Tristram Williams (trumpet – ELISION Ensemble). Kupka pianist Alex Raineri catches up with Tristram amidst rehearsals to chat about Liza Lim, ELISION Ensemble and the Australian music scene.

ABQ Tris

This performance is almost sold out so be sure to book tickets now to avoid being absent!!

ALEX RAINERI: We’re really excited to be welcoming you as guest artist in our upcoming concert where the centrepiece is Veil by Liza Lim. You’ve had the opportunity to work with Liza personally before, I wonder whether you could tell us a bit about her character and her manner of composer/performer interaction?

TRISTRAM WILLIAMS: I’ve been friends and colleagues with Liza for about 15 years now and worked with her on around 6 new pieces, including the solo wild winged-one and the tpt-perc duo, Ehwaz.

She is a fun composer to work with, she is always intensely interested in new things one is figuring out on the instrument then she uses them in ways you never imagined possible! I can honestly say I have learnt a lot about the trumpet from her. In so much of her work I’ve encountered things I thought were not possible, then in finding a solution extended my own playing.

She is also an intently spiritual person. I think this is what I most enjoy about her music, the sense of striving for some kind of spiritual transcendence or transformation. It’s powerful stuff.

AR: Having had experience performing contemporary music all over the world, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the new music culture in Australia. There’s certainly a very vibrant scene in this country for exploring challenging and rarely performed works but this music is largely absent within tertiary music institutions and the programming of major concert series (eg. orchestras and established ensembles). In your opinion, how do Australian audiences react comparatively to European or American audiences who might feel more of an association or stronger affinity with the history of contemporary repertoire? 

TW: I think Australian audiences are different from the Europeans in positive and negative ways. We don’t have the same connection to the culture as Europe in the sense we can’t say Brahms lived in our city, or Stravinsky wrote Sacre where we take holidays. (We could have said Ravel taught at Sydney Con, but for the incredible prejudice and stupidity of the administration there in the 1920’s. My how universities have changed…).

In my experience many Euro composers relate themselves directly to Brahms, Wagner et al. And the audiences see it that way too. New music as merely an extension of the existing tradition.

The negative side of this (and the positive for Aussies) is a conservativism and reluctance to embrace something whose connection to the past is not clear. I think Aussie audiences are open minded and don’t mind hearing something whose provenance is unclear!

AR: Also in this concert we’re featuring a new work by Benjamin Marks whom you’ve worked with on numerous occasions, both being members of the ELISION Ensemble. Kupka’s Piano has a really nice link to Elision through the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts who are currently hosting us as ensemble in residence and for a number of years was home of the Elision ensemble. Having been an active member of Elision (among other groups) for a number of years, in your opinion, what kind of role do arts organisations like the Judy play in supporting ambitions young ensembles? How did the residency at the Judy affect and influence the development of the Elision ensemble?

TW: It’s fantastic that KP is at the Judy now. Elision certainly had many important years there and it’s great that such important music making is still going on there. The Judy will make the history books!

AR: Lastly, what are your top 5 favourite pieces? 

TW: Very difficult! At the moment, I’d say;

1 – Schubert die Winterreise

2 – Richard Barret World-line (premiered by Elision in Oct, for tpt, perc lap, steel guitar and electronics)

3 – Enno Poppe Speicher

4 – Messiaen Visions de l’amen

5 – Tippett 4th Piano Sonata 

Find out more about Tristram on his website and book tickets to ‘Absent, almost absent’ before time runs out and we’re sold out!  

Kupka reflects on Darmstadt (part 2)

Welcome to part two of our reflections on Darmstadt! Herein Angus muses on hot air balloons, Michael contemplates the essence of Aussie-ness, and Hannah wraps up with a wide-ranging rumination.

Angus Wilson muses

Darmstadt consisted of four parts for me: Concert-going, percussion class, opera workshop, and discussions at the pub afterwards.

The diversity of music on offer at Darmstadt was exceptional. Concerts and workshops ranged from complex, gestural, performance art, theatre, electronic, club music, spectral, ultra soft, techno, political, improvised, computer controlled music, a lights show and even some HOT AIR BALLOONISTS had a piece that I’m pretty sure every resident of Darmstadt was watching. The festival had a hugely positive attitude and had a enormous emphasis on showcasing all the emerging performers from Europe today. Furthermore the OPEN SPACE (a format whereby you book a space for a concert, workshop or discussion led by yourself/others) was a really well respected part of the festival that people engaged with.

Percussion class, led by the humble Christian Dierstein and Arnold Marinissen was refreshingly familiar. With about three conservatoriums worth of gear (including multiple sets of 4 octaves of cowbells and Thai gongs) and 30 percussionists each doing a handful of projects, Darmstadt percussion was organised with skill and friendliness. For me this was a real highlight. No percussionist seemed to speak up too often, and when anyone did speak… it was always interesting, productive and useful. There was a comfort about the place, respectful of each other’s ideas, thoughts and requests. There was a great variety of percussionists from varying backgrounds, Spanish, Hungarian, American, Russian, Dutch, Japanese, Korean!

Lessons with Christian/Arnold proved to be very inspiring and I was afforded the opportunity to ask some very pertinent questions about the direction of things I am doing for the Contemporary Opera workshop I was a guest of ensemble interface (Awesome people, who mentored us last year!) as their percussionist Agnieska is about to have her second baby 🙂 I played several new opera scenes with them, all with starkly different voices. I initially expected it to be perhaps a shake-up of the current opera traditions. After discussions with the artistic directors of this project Hans Thomalla (also a fabulous composer, look out…. you’ll be hearing him soon at KP concerts) and Patrick Hahn, it turned out the project was intended perhaps more for a voice for contemporary sounds to exist within an operatic context. It was great to spectate as the young composers battled with some fantastic opera stage directors to ensure their sentiment of their piece was realised as much in the music as on stage.

Many thanks to Christian Dierstein and Arnold Marinissen for lessons and organising the percussion extravaganza, along with the percussion team organising all the gear Aram and Peter. To all the composers’ music I played whilst abroad and the musicians I played them with. Ensemble interface for good times, great music making AND encouraging us to come. To the rest of the opera team, Georges Aperghis for the workshop and Nicolas Hodges for an intense lesson. To the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for making my trip possible. Finally to the Thomas Schafer and the Darmstadt administration team for making things happen easily and working ridiculous hours. It was a great experience!

Angus Wilson with members of Ensemble Interface and other participants in the Opera Workshop at Darmstadt 2014. © IMD, Daniel Pufe

Angus Wilson with members of Ensemble Interface and other participants in the Opera Workshop at Darmstadt 2014. © IMD, Daniel Pufe

Michael Mathieson-Sandars contemplates

After having a couple of weeks pass since attending Darmstadt, it’s been highly beneficial to look back and reflect. It seems like a lot of the others have really summed up a lot of the activities at the festival (though it would be impossible to mention everything!), so I thought I might be a bit elliptical and try to articulate one thing which has interested me a fair bit.

This is that there is a definite sense of “being an Australian composer”. This was obvious at the festival not in the least by having so many Australians in attendance (“where are you from? Oh, another Australian…”), but also by the general discourse of the festival. It’s fairly clear that, without trying to “be” Australian, Australian composers and musicians are nonetheless in a fairly unique position. There is a level of critical distance which we seem to have, and no sense which suggests this music should be taken for granted. This all leads to differing aesthetic sensibilities.

I’m unsure how this thought will come out in my compositions, of course, but there’s certainly a level of conviction which has been granted to me by seeing what’s happening on the ground in Europe. It’ll take time to process all of the lessons, concerts, lectures and discussions, but I’m sure it’ll lead to a fairly interesting place for how I make music.

Finally, I have to say a huge thanks to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for funding my trip over.

Hannah Reardon-Smith ruminates

Darmstadt – what an incredible experience! A mass gathering of composers, performers and new music aficionados from all over the globe, that quickly evolves into a vibrant community of creators and innovators; a hotpot of lectures, workshops, discussions, lessons, and concerts (with the pain of having to choose between multiple options at any one time).

This year saw most likely the biggest Aussie contingent Darmstadt has had so far. There were Australians from Australia as well as the many Europe-dwelling Australian musicians. This is so important for us who are just making it over to The Continent, because it gives us the opportunity to meet and become a part of a community, a real head-start for anyone emigrating to (or even just occasionally working in) a new country. There is another good thing about this group of people, and that’s that Australian musicians playing new music overseas tend to be completely fantastic: successful musicians who are also lovely, and have great tips for young musicians cutting their teeth.

The Australians really held their own, recognised this year with three of them taking out Kranichstein “Stipendium” Prizes: violist Phoebe Green, saxophonist Joshua Hyde, and our own pianist Alex Raineri!

For me, the highlights of my time in Darmstadt were my incredible lessons with Eva Furrer (Klangforum Wien), studying further Brian Ferneyhough’s Cassandra’s Dream Song alongside other flautists, some very special performances (the Scelsi concerts, Lachenmann’s GOT LOST, Phoebe Green playing a James Rushford viola solo), and playing with KP in the Open Space.

Open Space is this great program which allows anyone attending the festival to put on performances, run workshops, and host discussions. Participants made great use of this feature and sometimes it was more interesting than the official program! It allowed Kupka’s to give our European debut performance, playing the works of Furrer, Ferneyhough, Aperghis, and Liam Flenady.

I owe a great deal of thanks to the Australia Council’s ArtStart program, which funded my time in Darmstadt as well as my earlier few months in Cologne studying with Dr Camilla Hoitenga and Helen Bledsoe.

If you want to read more on my time in Darmstadt, as well as a subsequent festival academy I attended in Austria, please visit my personal blog.

Kupka reflects on Darmstadt (part 1)

Kupka’s Piano sent a ‘crack squad’ (Hannah, Alex, Angus, Liam and Michael) to Darmstadt this year to participate in the 2014 International Summer Courses for New Music. Going to Darmstadt is something of a rite of passage for performers and composers of new music. The Summer Courses were in many senses the birthplace of post-war European modernism – where Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono and other musical innovators met and developed their radical ideas for musical creation – and they remain a focal point for new music around the world.

Across the two weeks, Kupka’s musicians rehearsed, workshopped and performed new repertoire, participated in masterclasses, had lessons, listened to lectures, joined in debates, went to as many as 5 concerts a day, and met many amazing young new music makers.

Now that the dust is settled, each of the KP crew who went will reflect on their experiences and give a sense of what the whole thing was about. Alex and Liam give us their thoughts in this instalment – keep a look out for the rest!

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Alex Raineri reflects

A week on from the turbo-charged 47th International Summer Courses for New Music I can recall many fond memories from our time in Darmstadt. Whilst the festival was totally action-packed to the point of facilitating attendance at what amounted to only a small percentage of festival activities, I was quite surprised and excited by the aesthetic and stylistic diversity of programming at the festival.

Far from constructing programs solely around compositional giants (although they were ever present, both in actuality and in performance), many of the concerts focused on works by younger composers. This gave the two weeks a wonderful sense of immersion in truly ‘active’ music making, with composers and performers of all generations playing their respective roles in both creative and mentoring capacities.

For me this is something we often miss out on by necessity in Australia due to our cultural isolation from the rest of the world. Although, ‘flying solo’ isn’t always such a terrible thing when it allows for a sense of being less rigidly restricted in conforming to the current trends and tastes of the musical scene.

Alex, Hannah, and Angus perform Liam's 'Quite Early Morning' in an 'Open Space' workshop at Darmstadt.

Alex, Hannah, and Angus perform Liam’s ‘Quite Early Morning, no. 2’ in an Open Space workshop at Darmstadt.

I strongly feel that there is a responsibility for Australian artists in the contemporary music field to be informed and inspired by our peers and counterparts elsewhere but also to maintain integrity in the way in which we present our ideas and the music that drives us. Of course we lack in Australia the context of the Darmstadt Festival, but perhaps we can recreate the driving essence of sharing our music-making in a similar fashion.

These thoughts are of course rather broad, unclear and somewhat unrelated to Kupka’s activities in Darmstadt (which I spoke about in my previous blog post). I found myself reflecting through the festival on these points and am inspired anew to continue exploring and presenting new contemporary works to Australian audiences and inversely bringing Australian works to foreign audiences.

I was very honored and equally surprised to have been awarded a Kranichstein Musikpries (bring on the 2016 Festival!). I hope to stay in touch with all of the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the intensive two weeks of the festival. Particular thanks go to the musicians I worked with; fellow Kupka crew (Liam, Michael, Hannah & Angus), Jessica Aszodi, Eun-Ji Lee, Ensemble Nikel & Arash Yazdani. I had some wonderful lessons and coachings with such luminaries as Georges Aperghis, Nicolas Hodges, Eva Furrer, Christian Dierstien, Arnold Marinissen & Ulli Fusseneger.

Thanks to Anna, Christophe, Bettina, Aga & Andrea from Ensemble Interface for the breakfast & beer conversations and a shout out to the legendary Darmstadt falafel truck which fuelled almost everyone’s schedules over the two weeks it seemed.

My warm thanks also go to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for funding my trip to Darmstadt.

Liam Flenady meditates

Of course there were many highlights at this year’s Darmstadt, but naturally, for me my composition lessons were the most exciting. Across the two weeks, I had four lessons, one each with: Brian Ferneyhough, Jorge Sanchez-Chiong, Oliver Schneller, and Clemens Gadenstätter. Each one was rather different from the last, from fairly abstract discussion around politics and broad aesthetic questions (Sanchez-Chiong), to discussion of general compositional strategies (Gadenstätter), to questions of form and time (Schneller), and a mix of technical and aesthetic questions (Ferneyhough). In general, a really good mix of encouragement, criticism, probing questions, and provocations. There’s heaps to mull over coming out of these (see my post at ‘usage and continuation‘), and I can already notice how I’m digesting some of the lessons in my preliminary work on my next pieces (stay tuned…).

The other thing that I really enjoyed were the chamber sessions. These were performances of student composers by the student participants at Darmstadt. Beyond my egoic identification and rivalry with the young composers (also known as ‘benchmarking’), these were really enjoyable sessions because I had no prior knowledge of many of the composers or performers and could really engage my listening brain without expectations as to what I should or shouldn’t like. In fact I found a good many things to enjoy amongst the young composers, which I’ll be lobbying the rest of Kupka’s Piano to try to program in 2015.

Of course there were many more facets of Darmstadt to enjoy, even if enjoying meant really working out exactly why you hated a particular piece or performance. The various discussions, debates, and diatribes were all very stimulating, and I had the good fortune of meeting some astoundingly intelligent and principled people, with whom I’ll certainly keep in touch.

Perspectives from Afar: Kupka at Darmstadt!

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Kupka’s Piano has sent something of a reconnaissance team to the famous (or infamous) Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music this year. After about five days of the course, Alex Raineri reflects on the experience so far and gives an outline of what we’re doing over here…

Alex and Angus receive coaching from composer Georges Aperghis and percussionist Christian Dierstein during a masterclass at the Darmstadt Summer Festival.

Alex and Angus receive coaching from composer Georges Aperghis and percussionist Christian Dierstein during a masterclass at the Darmstadt Summer Festival.

I’m finishing up this blog post from my cozy little hotel room in the town of Darmstadt, Germany where Hannah, Angus, Liam, Michael and myself are almost a week into the frenetic and overwhelmingly wonderful 47th International Summer Course for New Music!

This trip is very special for Kupka’s Piano for a number of reasons. July was a huge month for the ensemble having played two very substantial programs Tempi Espressivi and Crippled Symmetry, as well as each of us having rather hectic performance and teaching commitments outside of the ensemble. Thus, it’s super exciting to finally be in full swing of the much-anticipated Darmstadt Festival.

The repertoire we’ve prepared for performances and workshops here are among some of the most challenging and rewarding repertoire the ensemble has ever tackled. Pieces such as Liam’s Flenady’s monstrously virtuosic Quite Early Morning no. 2, George Aperghis’ quirky Quatre Pièces Fébriles, Beat Furrer’s punchy Presto con Fuoco, Tristan Murail’s sensual La Mandragore and Brian Ferneyhough’s enchanting Cassandra’s Dream Song have been a long time in the practice room and the prospect of presenting these in this kind of international forum is both scary and exhilarating!

Other pieces on the menu are much more fresh! Within a few of the festival projects, Angus, Hannah and I are working with some of our European colleagues and counterparts that we’ve only recently met in pieces by Eun-Ji Lee, Chaya Czernowin, Misato Mochizuki and others…!

The Darmstadt festival represents for us an enormously exciting opportunity to both collaborate and learn from our colleagues and mentors. Such luminaries and giants in the new music scene that we have the privilege to work with are Nicholas Hodges, Christian Dierstein, Eva Furrer, Yukiko Sugawara, Ensemble Nikel, Uli Fussenegger and composers such as Tristan Murail, Helmut Lachenmann, Georges Aperghis, Brian Ferneyhough, Pierluigi Billone, Peter Ablinger, Clemens Gadenstätter, Oliver Schneller…the list goes on for days!

As well as this, it’s a chance for Kupka to bring our music and ideas to an international forum to benchmark our own standards against those of our European counterparts. Also it’s a wonderful opportunity to soak up some of the contemporary music culture that is so much more prevalent and developed over this side of the world.

I find that it’s often very difficult to find perspective from afar but at the same time this can be a blessing as it helps to remove a rigid sense of framework and conservative performance traditions and their associated limitations.

We’ll be posting some post-festival reflections on the blog over the next month or two but during the festival keep an eye out for our Instragram (@kupkagram) account for heaps of pictures of us meeting awesome people and drinking German beer. Hurrah!

Teasing out the subtleties: Thoughts on our upcoming ‘Tempi Espressivi’

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Hannah Reardon-Smith writes about our upcoming concert Tempi Espressivi, which will take place this Friday night at the Judith Wright Centre.

This coming Friday we’re presenting a special performance by Kupka’s Piano “sub-trio”, consisting of Angus Wilson (percussionist), Alex Raineri (pianist), and myself (flautist). I guess it comes as no surprise that it is an ambitious program! And each of the works has a special significance for the performers.

One of the great pleasures for me has been revisiting ‘Presto con Fuoco’ for flute and piano by Swiss-Austrian composer Beat Furrer. Alex and I first played this work in 2011, giving its Australian premiere at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in Sydney. We performed it several more times that year, and the result is that as we return to it now we find its hockets and breathless drive are written into our bones. What took us a good many weeks to learn the first time through now requires only the fine tuning of extra details and communications. We’re very much looking forward to performing this, and our security gives us the freedom to take it at a cracking speed.

Those among our audience at the last concert would have noticed that the lovely Jodie Rottle had taken my place on the stage. This is because I was spending several months over in Cologne, Germany thanks to an Australia Council ArtStart grant, studying privately with Helen Bledsoe (flautist with musikFabrik) and Dr Camilla Hoitenga (the flautist who worked with Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho on the vast majority of her works for the instrument). It was an incredible time for me, and I worked closely with these teachers on a large amount of repertoire – in particular Stockhausen’s ‘In Freundschaft’ and Gérard Grisey’s ‘Talea’. With Helen I also worked on a piece that has been on my to-do pile for several years: ‘Cassandra’s Dream Song’ by English new complexity composer Brian Ferneyhough. A piece like this requires intense commitment and patience. Ferneyhough packs an enormous amount of detail into every gesture and line. A flautist himself, he wrote the work with flute in hand, finding ways to cross the established ‘limits’ of the instrument. There is also work for the musician on the level of interpretation, as some of the ordering of parts of the work is left up to the performer. This work is now one of the new ‘standard repertoire’ pieces for the flute, and single-handedly expanded our knowledge of what the flute can do. It was written in 1970 but not performed until 1975! For many flautists it is the kind of piece that you keep on working on throughout your career. I am just starting that process, and this Friday will be my first performance of ‘Cassandra’.

In this concert we will giving the premiere of Liam Flenady’s trio ‘Quite Early Morning No. 2’. Liam has written about it here, and Angus has weighed in on the process of preparing Liam’s music. I’m not sure we’ve rehearsed anything so intensively as we have this piece over the last few weeks. Liam does not write especially easy music, and realising the complexities, particularly those of the communication between members of the ensemble, presents many challenges. The opportunity to work so intensively together on a work like this is, however, extremely rewarding. Liam has been sitting in on every rehearsal, which brings a very different process into play – one where we can negotiate solutions to instrumental and ensemble issues with the composer at hand, and receive insight into the process and ideas behind the music. It’s always both terrifying and exhilarating to premiere new music, and this piece will be no exception.

Angus and Alex have also been preparing ‘Quatre pièces fébriles’ (‘Four feverish pieces’) by Georges Aperghis. The three of us (along with composers Liam and Michael Mathieson-Sandars) will actually be heading to the Darmstadt Summer Festival of new music a few short weeks after this concert, and there we will have the opportunity to play these works for the composers: Furrer, Ferneyhough and Aperghis are all tutors at this year’s festival!

In short, we hope you can join us on Friday for Tempi Espressivi, a concert that teases out the many subtleties that exist between ‘fast’ and ‘slow’.

Implied Dynamics and Vibraphone Gymnastics: A behind the scenes look at the preparation for Liam Flenady’s ‘Quite Early Morning, no. 2’

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Kupka’s percussionist Angus Wilson reflects on learning Liam Flenady’s new work Quite Early Morning, no. 2. Come listen to the finished product at our concert Tempi Espressivi on July 18.

Angus vibesHaving just come out of a practise session of Liam Flenady’s new piece Quite Early Morning, no. 2, I’m grappling with two points which seem integral to the success of the work. The first is what I call ‘implied dynamics’, i.e. the notated loudness differs greatly from the loudness and/or meaning of the dynamic. Secondly, the ‘gymnastics’ of his part, flurries of small and complicated manoeuvres that need to be executed with precision, style and accuracy.

It would be an understatement to say Liam gives the vibraphone a workout in Quite Early Morning. I was expecting a notey part given his latest obsession of contrapuntal writing in the 21st century and his ‘jazz’ background. However he created something quite different and rather exciting. Quite Early Morning (both in the first and second incarnations) uses a range of extended techniques. These include pitch bending, dead strokes (leaving the mallet on the bar so it does not vibrate after being stuck), mallet dampening, white and black note glisses, striking the bar with the rattan handles and more. These are some of the more standard vibraphone extended techniques commonly used by composers today. Some techniques I did not expect were ‘bouncing rattan handle on edge of bar’, scraping rattan handle on the bar and to hand dampened ‘extreme staccato’. (Have a listen to a recording of the first version to get a sense of what these techniques sound like).

Liam and I discussed the ‘bouncing rattan’ which he has listed at dynamics from pianissimo to forte. Compared to the vibraphone the technique has a capability of dynamic from about ppp (very very soft) to piano (soft). Liam presents the problem of hypothetical dynamic vs actual dynamic. How do I play an mf or f with this technique? Does this mean that I have to adjust all of the dynamics to fit in with this technique? Or is it isolated in its limited dynamic range and I should play everything else as per normal?

After a few practice sessions it’s discovered that the dynamics are merely implied. Forte = ‘We want to be able to hear the bouncing,’ mezzo forte or mezzo piano would usually mean ‘I’m a part of the texture and/or I’d like a bounce with less intensity’. Piano or anything less probably means ‘Background texture or a very relaxed open bounce.’ The reality is each time I play the technique at different dynamics the actual ‘loudness’ barely changes, just the speed/amount of bounces. You can only hope you have a good set of bendy rattan sticks to reach your full expressive potential.

The majority of the extended techniques used have a decreased capacity of dynamic, due to changing the purpose of the intended way the vibraphone was to be used. Most involve manipulating the metal in a way that doesn’t promote vibration and resonance.

As I navigate my way through Liam’s piece I find myself feeling like much less of a musician and more like an elaborate gymnast or circus performer. Holding three differing sticks, constantly changing between techniques and tempos, I bend and flex my mallets to bend the pitch, cut and manipulate resonance/attack. My technique is pushed to the limit with p-f crescendos over 3-9 notes, meaning each strike must be very carefully attended to in regards to its gradation in loudness (remember a vibraphone cannot increase dynamic once struck). Rehearsals are much more strenuous mentally and physically on the performer than usual.

As I come closer have my part ready for a rehearsal, I begin to consider the co-ordination. While pulling off these ‘manoeuvres’ I have to be aware of my colleagues in rehearsal, what they are doing, if they are in sync with me, if we are matching dynamics and sounds. Each manoeuvre is often quite short and precise and usually part of a longer phrase or gesture. Whilst an overriding pulse does exist within the music… the success of the piece seems to much more entangled in the ability of the performers to pass these to each other. The writing is very hocketed in an abstract way. As the group becomes closer to the looming performance deadline it appears that more detail that is realised and cared for, the more homogenous the overall outcome.

Overall I thoroughly enjoy playing and learning Liam’s music… While at times it can be difficult to navigate and comprehend, it has a very organic and expressive quality that gives the performer freedom to mould their own version of his work. I am honoured to give the premiere of it on July 18 at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art and to workshop it at the Darmstadt Summer Institute for New Music in August.

Angus Wilson.

Collaboration and counterpoint: Some thoughts on composing my ‘Quite Early Morning, no. 2’

Liam score picYesterday I completed the score of Quite Early Morning, no. 2, a 10-minute piece for flute, percussion (vibraphone and woodblocks), and piano.

Here are a few thoughts about the piece in an attempt to entice you all to come listen on July 18.

The title refers to the Pete Seeger song of the same name – a song which is ever more relevant. If my piece is ‘about’ anything, it is about collaboration and the struggle to create social relations where the individual and the collective are mutually supportive of each other, along the lines of the famous Marxist dictum: “Where the free development of each is bound up with the free development of all.” In politics this is called communism. In music, we could call it counterpoint.

The piece is in fact an elaboration on a short experiment I wrote earlier this year (which is the version ‘no. 1’). This original was recorded by Hannah, Alex, and Angus but not performed live. You can have a listen here: http://usageandcontinuation.com/recordings/

Workshopping the first version with the musicians and listening back to the recording obviously gave me the opportunity to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses, what worked well and what worked less well.

The path from the first version to the second, much longer, one is certainly not a linear one. I began by writing a whole host of new sections, sometimes related to the original material, sometimes totally new. Much of this was spontaneous and there was very little ‘pre-compositional’ planning. There’s a certain joy in just sketching out an idea with no clear framework and no obligation to include it in the final piece. Elliott Carter used this method to compose his Night Fantasies, and apparently Debussy often worked like this.

Once I had enough new material, I exploded my original version back into its constituent sections (deleting some) and then began arranging a formal structure for all the sections in quite an intuitive manner. Once the new formal ‘plan’ was decided, I began writing the whole thing out, adding linking moments and altering any section so it will fit in. I’d like to think I came up with a compelling shape for the work, but let’s wait for July 18 to find out…

The collaboration with the Kupka’s performers made this process what it was. Yet on an even deeper level, the very raw materials of the work are an outgrowth of an ongoing collaboration. Beyond discussing and working out specific techniques on the flute or vibraphone, for instance, this is a collaboration that comes from knowing the musicians personally, and in a way intuitively knowing their musical personalities from having attended so many Kupka’s Piano rehearsals, etc. In fact, when I imagine the piano playing a particular figure, it’s hard to tell whether I’m not just hearing Alex playing that particular figure. In future pieces I’ll want this collaboration even further radicalised to see what more individuality and energy can be injected directly into the compositions.

Liam Flenady.

‘One need not be dictated to by an overbearing sense of tradition’: An interview with Brett Dean

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BrettDean600In our last concert at the Judith Wright Centre – ‘Modern Music in Exile’ – Kupka’s performed Brett Dean’s epic sextet, Old Kings in Exile. The work will be heard in Australia several times this year – Melbourne’s Ensemble Cathexis also recently performed it in their May program ‘Reckless Abandon’. In a special collaborative interview Kupka pianist Alex Raineri and Cathexis flautist Lina Andonovska both posed some questions to Brett about the work, his life in self-imposed ‘exile’ in Germany, and his reading list.

ALEX RAINERI: The theme of our last Kupka’s Piano concert was ‘Modern Music in Exile’ which is derived from the title of your sextet Old Kings in Exile, a work which is receiving a considerable amount of airtime, with SYZYGY also performing the piece later in the year! Much of the Australian repertoire we play (by established and the younger generation) are by composers who have relocated either to Europe or America and I’m always interested to know whether there is for composers a conscious intention to find a musical language which still represents a uniquely Australian sound, and what kind of role this plays. What are your thoughts and is this something you would associate with your works?

I am interested in creating a sound that is uniquely mine, that expresses something specifically personal. However I’m not sure that necessarily constitutes something uniquely Australian per se, nor do I pursue that consciously. When I consider what sounds around us are absolutely and uniquely Australian, however, then indigenous music and language, the Australian-English accent and birdsong come most readily to mind. Aspects of all of these things have been sources of inspiration for me one way or another; indigenous culture in rather oblique ways, the latter two quite overtly at times in specific pieces. In fact, the last movement of the sextet wouldn’t have come about in the way it did without a timely encounter with my most favourite of Australian sounds, the song of the pied butcherbird. There’s one particular song that I seem to hear every time I visit my parents’ place in Brisbane which closes the piece.

LINA ANDONOVSKA: Following on from this, I’d like to know what excites you the most about Australia’s contemporary/newly composed music scene? You obviously spend a lot of time in Europe and know the scene there intimately, but what do you think is different or perhaps unique about the Australian new music culture?

For musicians growing up in Europe, there can be a sense of tradition constantly looking over one’s shoulder. Whilst I’ve loved coming to grips with this wonderfully rich cultural heritage throughout my professional life, it can be a heavy weight to bear and can manifest itself in a very profound conservatism, not only in orchestras (where it’s not so surprising) but to a certain extent even in new music circles. In German orchestras for example, the standard repertoire and the western canon seem set in stone for all time, never to be questioned or tampered with. Many players wish, with an almost messianic zeal, to “protect” their cultural heritage and seem to perceive anything “modern” (in some cases this means anything post-Schönberg, even post-Brahms!) as a threat to their long-perfected ways of making music. The new music scene in Germany can, however, also seem stuck in its ways; specifically in the post-war period of innovation where cutting ties with a weighty and troubled past and a redefining of artistic purpose were of such importance. I feel that times have changed and yet new music in Germany still seems to have to fulfil certain expectations and parameters born out of that period. At times, the lack of acceptance of different voices that don’t fit in with the overriding, “Darmstadtian” aesthetic can seem every bit as reactionary a world view as that of their symphonic-orchestral counterparts. By contrast, Australia’s “outsider” position in the musical world means one need not be dictated to by an overbearing sense of tradition. Whilst the music scene, including the new music scene, has some very conformist aspects to it, In many cases this “traditionlessness” has led to the emergence and flourishing of some highly original thinkers and sonic explorers, genuine mavericks and nonconformists; artists such as Anthony Pateras, Jon Rose, Ross Bolleter, Liza Lim, The Necks and Richard Tognetti come to mind, for example. That is one of our great strengths and something to be cherished.

ALEX: The middle movement of Old Kings in Exile is called Double Trio. It’s not uncommon for composers to feature groupings of instruments within works for this ‘Pierrot’ sextet – such pieces come to mind as Elliot Carter’s Triple Duo, Franco Donatoni’s Arpège, Gerard Grisey’s Talea – and I wonder with this kind of history of core repertoire how you as a composer would approach writing for this instrumentation which seems to have become the 21st century piano trio?!

The Double Trio title of my middle movement is a conscious “doffing of the cap” to Elliott Carter’s remarkable Triple Duo, a work that was a particular source of inspiration in writing my own sextet. The colouristic and textural possibilities and instrumental combinations became in and of themselves a significant part of my approach to the piece, especially in that middle movement. I certainly agree with you about this instrumentation becoming a kind of 21st century standard ensemble; in fact, I think that the remarkable sonic possibilities of the Pierrot-plus-percussion combo will see it emerge further as a standard go-to ensemble for composers in years to come, especially as many orchestras retreat away from commissioning new art music in favour of financially more lucrative cross-over projects, live-music cinema presentations and backing-band type appearances, much to our communal cultural impoverishment in my opinion.

The sextet form is a grouping that allows any number of approaches, whereas by comparison it’s much harder to liberate the piano trio from its overtly 19th century, romantic salon music laden sonic heritage. It could be argued that Schönberg turned to this highly original and (at the time) unusual quintet formation for Pierrot Lunaire in 1912 because he (and his followers) were either ignored by orchestras altogether, or treated with hostile contempt by them, as they were by critics and audiences as well. He later formed the Society for Private Musical Performances in order to address these problems. Over a hundred works by a vast array of contemporary composers including Debussy, Ravel, Bartok and Stravinsky – as well as by Schönberg himself and his followers – were performed over a three year period before the high inflation rates of the early 20s made it impossible to continue. Even large scale works were presented in specially-made chamber ensemble reductions along the lines of the Pierrot quintet combination, further proof of its durable versatility. (In an interesting parallel to the aforementioned money-making ventures of today’s symphony orchestras, Schönberg, Berg and Webern staged an evening of their own arrangements of Strauss Waltzes in 1921 in an attempt to bring some financial security into the society’s coffers, with their manuscripts auctioned off after the show. The society lasted only another 6 months…)

LINA: On another topic, I know that your music is often very influenced by the literature you read, so I’d like to know what you are reading at the moment (and what you’re listening to as well!)?

I’ve been delving into the different versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with a view to an operatic treatment in a few years. In fact my most recently premiered new work is a take on aspects of the Ophelia character, scored for string quartet and soprano and to be performed around Australia by the ASQ and Greta Bradman this coming November. Also, Harold Bloom’s “Poem Unlimited” provides a fascinating analysis of Hamlet and thoughts on the nature of theatrical illusion. I also recently enjoyed reading Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of new music from Canada in preparation for a residency there as composer/performer/curator for the Toronto Symphony’s new music festival in a couple of years and have been enjoying getting to know two new English operas; George Benjamin’s Written on Skin and Julian Anderson’s Thebans.

LINA: Finally… I would like to ask where your inspiration stems from? Some of us have moments where we are really disheartened with ourselves and our creativity, and it is often hard to find momentum to get the energy levels back up. Do you experience this, and if so, where do you regain the momentum from?

Well, without some honest self-criticism, I don’t think any composer or artist of any kind will get very far. But it can be dangerously debilitating as well if it gets the upper hand too much of the time; one has to keep it grounded and real. Three things in the battle with creativity and search for inspiration for which, on a daily basis, I’m very grateful are: firstly, that my wife, Heather, is also a creative artist; secondly, that she has an informed, yet profoundly individual understanding of music and, thirdly, that she isn’t a musician herself but a visual artist! The constant, inter-disciplinary dialogue that has evolved between us over the years about what we’re up to, where we might be stuck, ways to solve problems, how someone else may see/hear what we’re up to, etc, keeps us going and, if needs be, can pick us up from the floor. As a consequence, if something isn’t working for me, I find it helpful to distance myself from music altogether and immerse myself in something else creative, be it a film, an exhibition, reading a good book. Not surprisingly, these are common and reliable sources of inspiration for me, to which the titles of my pieces attest. (Cooking a meal while listening to John Coltrane or PJ Harvey also seems to help….!)

Visit Brett Dean’s profile on Boosey & Hawkes

‘Everybody goes about it in a different way’: An interview with guest artist Nick Harmsen

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KP percussionist Angus Wilson caught up with clarinettist Nick Harmsen, who will be performing with the ensemble in Brett Dean’s sextet Old Kings in Exile this Friday at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Here’s what he had to say.

Angus Wilson: Hi Nick, welcome to your debut performance with Kupka’s Piano! We are thrilled to have you on board for ‘Modern Music in Exile’. What excites you the most about performing in this concert with Kupka’s Piano?

Nick Harmsen: I’ve been a fan of Brett Dean’s music ever since I first played some of his works for larger orchestral combinations like Beggars and Angels.  Playing new, recently written music by excellent composers is always a thrill but Brett’s Australian connection makes his music even more appealing – he’s a friendly face who’s popped up over the years at concerts where I’ve been playing his music and he’s always so encouraging and embodies everything that’s good about classical music. One of the great things about playing music is working with different musicians – everybody goes about it in a different way – and watching what certain personalities can create together is always fascinating and sometimes really uplifting.  Other times it doesn’t work so well and you learn a lot from that.  And I’ve heard around town that you are bunch of guys who are really passionate about bringing life to new music which is a vital part of keeping music making alive.

AW: The centerpiece of this concert is Dean’s Old Kings in Exile. As a musician who’s played several of his works before (including one earlier this year), what interests you about his work and what has been your experience performing it?

NH: Earlier this year I played a trio by Brett Dean for piano, viola and clarinet called Night Window.  As the title suggests it’s all about dreams and nightmares.  It’s extremely difficult to get together.  It is often rhythmically very intricate.  However it also has sections which are slow and expressive.  Contrasting with that it has other sections which are jazz influenced and others have virtuosic cadenzas.  In the orchestral pieces I’ve played of his I’ve noticed too that he’s not afraid to push the boundaries of possibilities and experiment whilst importantly keeping a really strong sense of a piece as a whole which I think is very important.

AW: On top of being an awesome Bass Clarinettist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, word is on the street that you also pursue other musical ventures including composing. Can you tell us a little bit about some of your recent compositions?

NH: I don’t really consider myself a composer, but occasionally I have dabbled with it.  The last piece I wrote was for two ocarinas, and before that a piece for bass clarinet, vibraphone, irish whistle, gong and kalimba.  I also play occasionally with a bush band on banjo.

AW: You mentioned during a rehearsal a few weeks ago that you were a part of a charity concert raising funds for the continued relief and support of tsunami affected people in Japan. Could you tell us more about this?

NH: It seemed immediately after the tsunami first hit Japan in 2011 it was constantly in the news.  However now we hear about it very little.  The problem has not just gone away – people are still trying to repair the damage, and to get their lives back on the rails.  And the effects of the leakage of nuclear waste from Fukushima may be felt for many many years to come. I wrote a piece which I performed in this recent benefit concert based on a story of a 93 year old woman who lived in Fukushima with her family.  After the nuclear plant was damaged in the tsunami her family decided to flee Fukushima to find a safer area to live.  The woman decided to stay in Fukushima – she was old and frail and couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving the place she had such a deep connection with.  However eventually she committed suicide because she was so devastated about what had happened to her home town and the break it had caused with her family.

AW: Finally what projects have you got coming up? Any performances with your brilliant significant other percussionist Nozomi Omote? Will the Brahms Quintet get another outing? Will we get to hear a concert of all Harmsen works in the near future? Where can our audience hear you next?

NH: Anyone wanting to hear fairly ordinary renditions of some great Chad Morgan, Paul Kelly and Red Gum classics should camp outside my window in the next week or so.  Failing that, Nozomi is working on the follow up concert to her extremely successful Marimba Galaxy!

‘My building blocks are variations’: An interview with Melody Eötvös

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Kupka pianist Alex Raineri chats with exciting young Australian composer Melody Eötvös, now based in Indiana. Come along to ‘Modern Music in Exile’ this Friday night to hear the world premiere of her new work!

Alex Raineri: We’re really excited to be giving the world premiere performance of your new work Wild October Jones at Friday night’s concert. Could you tell us a little about the piece? What does the title reference?!

Melody Eötvös: Wild October Jones has been quite a while in the making.  Several summers ago (which was actually winter in Australia) I spent some time in Melbourne.  I was at one of my first record fairs and happened to be curiously browsing through several albums of playing cards these people there had accumulated and were selling.  They were rather special cards because of the particular edition and ‘frontispiece’ each had.  So I was flipping through pages and pages of these cards and then one suddenly jumped out at me (as pictured above).  It was a reproduction of a beautiful painting that depicted a train passing a carriage at full speed, and the carriage halting to avoid a collision, and a young woman falling off the back of the carriage.

Thomas Hart Benton's "Wreck of old '97" provided the spark of inspiration for Eötvös' new work "Wild October Jones"

Thomas Hart Benton’s “Wreck of old ’97”

The whole image has a very animated perspective to it.  I bought that single card there and then for $3. Anyway, several years later I found it while cleaning out a box of souvenirs I’d gathered over the past 5 years or so, and decided to research it a little. After some intensive googling I discovered the painting belonged to an Indiana artist Thomas Hart Benton, and that we have several of his works throughout the IU Bloomington campus. For me this was too serendipitous to ignore and I knew I had to write a piece based on this painting one day, but it had to be a piece with a particular kind of energy and sound… something I hope I’ve captured. It was strange though, because I knew I didn’t want to use the title of the painting “Wreck of old ’97”. So I brainstormed a little while staring at the picture for hours. To me the painting has a wild, untamed look about it – I started seriously writing this piece back in October – and of all the references my crazy, film saturated brain instantly connects with Indiana (even after living here for 5 years)… you can probably guess..

AR: Already at such a young age you’ve got a very impressive list of achievements to your name! After completing a BMus at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (Griffith University) you went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music (London) and you’ve just finished up a DMA at the Indiana University (USA). On top of this you’ve had a significant amount of successful grants and funding opportunities, including a substantial one recently from the Australia Council for the Arts. What are some upcoming projects for you and where to now?

ME: I remember listening into the online streaming of the Soundstream Collective broadcast by the ABC in 2012, and Julian Day saying something quite similar about my collective activities and how they’re contributing nicely to my ‘mantelpiece’ – it’s always flattering when somebody points out these advances (so, thank you!).  I’d have to say though that the foundation of that mantelpiece is structured around an uncompromising outlook – for each success there has probably been about double the number of rejections! So, we composers develop very tough hides over time and need to have a very quick bounce-back rate.

I am thrilled about the Aussie Council of the Arts grant – given the changing climate in Australia at the moment with arts funding (and just funding in general) I feel exceptionally lucky to have received one of these – I’ll be using it for a collaboration with Bernadette Harvey (Sydney) to develop a large piano work, most likely a Piano Sonata, and this project will carry through in to 2015.  In the meantime I have a wonderful collaboration with Musica Viva and the Red Room in Sydney that will be coming to an exciting conclusion in October this year, and in a few weeks I have a reading/workshop with the New York Philharmonic as part of the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings program.  After these I have to make a decision about teaching applications to universities beginning with the 2015-16 academic year… so very exciting times ahead with lots of change!

AR: Extended techniques play a large part in the instrumental writing of Wild October Jones. There’s now quite a tradition and a ‘repertoire’ of sorts for these techniques and I’m interested to know how you personally approach this as a composer and what kind of a role they play in the compositional process? 

ME: For me it’s been a gradual building up towards using extended techniques like I have in Wild October Jones. It was also a very dangerous decision as there is only so much you can indicate on the score, and couple that with a brand new piece without a recording to refer to, there’s a lot of room for interpretation and many different directions the sound of this piece could be taken in.  So I’m very excited to hear what Kupka’s Piano does with it! As for the compositional process, as I mentioned earlier I wanted a particular sound and energy for this piece, and the extended techniques are a crucial part of that.  I think it comes down to a common desire with composers to expand the timbral plane that they’re working with.  For me, I wanted both more transparency and a thicker, harsh-block sound as part of my palette.  What happens in between those two extremes could be anything, as long as it works with the structure etc.  My building blocks are variations, and through these I can alter the tone colour around a basic theme, while leading the piece towards its high-point, then releasing that tension away at the end.  That’s a really simple, wordy way of putting it though… actually doing that in the music required a lot of thought and fluency/fading of colours across the variations

AR: Lastly, what are some desert island pieces? Top five?

ME: No. 1 is always going to be Bartok’s 3rd String quartet.  It’s also my “if you have 15 minutes left to live” piece.
No. 2 is Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano concerto (my mum was learning this when she was pregnant with me… so it kind of stuck)
No. 3 Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin
No. 4 all of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier (both books)
No. 5 probably Stravinsky’s Firebird (1910 version)

Always something violent with something fragile. Rune Glerup in interview

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Photo: (c) IRCAM - DR

Photo: (c) IRCAM – DR

With our ‘Modern Music in Exile‘ concert coming up this Friday, our violinist Adam Cadell speaks to young Danish composer Rune Glerup (b. 1981) whose work La Rose Pulverisée we will be giving the Australian premiere of. We’re pretty chuffed to be presenting the first ever performance of a work of Rune’s in Australia. Come along and hear his amazing music!

Adam Cadell: Rune, since you are a Danish composer living far away from Australian shores, I fear few people would know much about your work here. Indeed I believe our performance of your piece La Rose Pulverisée is an Australian premiere. Could you please give us a brief introduction of yourself and your compositional endeavours up until this time?

Rune Glerup: My first impressions of contemporary music was of Danish contemporary music. 10-15 years ago, almost all contemporary music performed in Denmark was Danish. Fortunately this has changed since then, but at the time I felt a need to get to know what was happening elsewhere, and as old-fashioned it might sound, the internet was not what it is today, so it was more difficult to orientate oneself. That’s why I left for Berlin when I was twenty-one, and later to Paris. I felt I had to leave Denmark to get a wider horizon. I think living abroad so much has made an impact on how I consider many things, and of course especially my music.

AC: You speak of your music as being minimalist in a way. To me, rehearsing your piece La Rose Pulverisée, it seems that in this piece you start with a larger idea, a more complex idea, and gradually pull it apart until the final movement is like the thematic material has been pulverised into dust. It’s almost as though the minimalism is a literal process within the piece, a minimising of the material during performance. Would you say this description represents well the process behind the piece? What would you say is the essence of your compositional process?

RG: Yes, in a certain way you can say my music is minimalistic, but it has very little to do with the American minimalism. It is minimalistic in the sense that I often tend to use a reduced and static material. I almost never use these large organic forms. Usually I define some elements that I can combine in different ways. I should say though, that La Rose Pulverisée is an earlier piece, and I’m not sure that the term “minimalistic” applies very well to it. It’s a piece closer to the modernistic idiom influenced by surrealism, and you are right in your analysis that the piece begins with a large idea that gradually gets pulled apart. I was also interested in some contradictions, or a certain kind of inertia: The lyrical and violent in the image of a rose that gets pulverised, and the predominantly violent style of the writing, but for two very classical instruments that cannot produce that much sound. Always something violent with something fragile. You can find these oppositions in many aspects of the piece.

AC: Would you call your desire to “short-circuit” the known a subversive act? And is the known you are conducting a frontal attack on the traditions of Western classical music or a broader metaphorical notion of the known?

RG: I think the idea of short-circuiting interest me because if it’s successful, it can reveal something new about what we thought we knew already. I think this is what happens when you invent something. You have all the known in front of you, and short-circuiting it – doing something you are not supposed to do with the material – can be a way to create this new aspect that was impossible to think before. You can apply this to musical thinking, but you can also apply it to everything else.

AC: You talk of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock being an influence on your work. How important do you think the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is to contemporary composition?

RG: Pollock was an inspiration for one work in particular: a piece for cello and live-electronics. I think the avant-garde of the 1950’s and 60’s has been extremely important for the development of the musical thinking up until today because those composers – Stockhausen, Boulez, Cage among others – opened up a new world of possibilities. However, the world we are living in is post-modern, and we don’t just have one singular development to focus on, but a multitude of things to take into consideration. We cannot say that there is only one true way. Therefore I would say that the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is very important, but there are many other things that are equally important.

AC: This upcoming Kupka’s Piano concert, at which we will perform the Australian premiere of your work La Rose Pulverisée, is themed around exile. Exile has been a potent state in which artists have produced great work throughout history – indeed some artists of the abstract expressionist era (Burroughs in Tangiers, Nancarrow in Mexico for example) are a good example of this. How relevant do you feel the theme of exile is to art in our current time in which millions of people live in forced exile, and is it something that you have or would like to address in your composition?

RG: I don’t really think the theme of exile is so relevant to art itself in general, but only in particular situations where artists are living in exile. Of course, if an artist is isolated from the rest of the world, I’m certain the art he/she produces will be different from what others, who can always be updated on the latest development, produces. In that way exile can make a very big impact on the artistic result. In another way, I don’t consider art as a kind of commentary to politics, and therefore I will say that I don’t address political questions in my works, and I doubt that music is even capable of doing so.

AC: And lastly, other than yourself of course, which Danish composers should we be keeping our eyes and ears on?

RG: Well, I think there are actually many interesting composers in Denmak right now. Christian Winther Christensen, Nicolai Worsaae and Simon Løffler among others in the younger generation. And I would especially like to mention Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen from the older generation, who has enjoyed a growing reputation the last few years. I think his music and ideas deserve to be more known, also outside of Denmark.

‘Limits are lame’: An interview with guest artist Jodie Rottle

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Jodie Rottle

Whilst Kupka’s Piano flautist Hannah Reardon-Smith is momentarily abroad, we’re pleased to announce that we’re welcoming American artist Jodie Rottle into the ensemble fold for the next concert ‘Modern Music in Exile’ on Friday May 23rd. Kupka’s pianist Alex Raineri chats with Jodie about her musical life thus far and what’s ahead in 2014.

Alex Raineri: We’re really excited to be working with you for two of our concerts this year in our series at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, ‘Modern Music in Exile’ (May 23rd) and ‘Absent, Almost Absent’ (November 28th). We’ve got some wonderful and challenging repertoire on those two programs, I’m interested to know what excites you about the style of music Kupka’s Piano presents?

Jodie Rottle: I’m honored to be working with Kupka’s Piano this season. My experience with the ensemble so far as an audience member has been nothing short of inspiring, and I can’t wait to share the stage in Brisbane with such a committed group of musicians. I’m particularly excited to perform Brett Dean’s mammoth Old Kings in Exile and premier Melody Eötvös’s newest work in May. I think the ‘Modern Music in Exile’ concept is brilliant. To me, it challenges the idea of nationalism in music and addresses the contribution that identity and environment provide to artistic output.

AR: I was really interested to read about your ensemble Dead Language. How do you manage your involvement with the group from afar and what are your thoughts about the composer/performer collaboration? Perhaps could you speak a bit about the role of improvisation in your creative practice?

JR: Dead Language approaches the contemporary classical music realm with a sense of humility. It is a physical embodiment of everything I stand for in new music. We don’t care who listens to us; we care that we have something to say and do so through the medium of our instruments. We are open to performing anything: contemporary classical “standards”, commissions by our colleagues, graphic or improvisatory works, and self-composed pieces about wolves, white noise, and people who eat noisy sandwiches during quiet moments. I think I have maybe played flute for only half of our performances. I have spent the rest of the time dressing in hazmat suits, playing with stuffed toys, and having a great time.

When I made the decision to move to Australia last year, I was devastated to leave a group that had made such a huge impact on my artistic life. I didn’t need to worry, though, because we have learned to accept the distance, and it has further strengthened who we are as an ensemble. The fact that we make music together only once or twice a year has allowed us to realize the importance of quality over quantity. I haven’t rehearsed or performed with Dead Language since December, but I oddly still feel as though I am on a ‘high’ of inspiration from our latest performance. We aren’t New York based anymore, we are world-based.

I have always cherished the opportunity to work directly with composers as I believe it is vital for informed performance of new works. Being a part of Dead Language has not only confirmed this belief, but it also has put the composer/performer collaboration in a new light. We grant ourselves full artistic freedom. Anything goes, as long as it is informed and done with conviction. I am not just an instrumentalist in Dead Language, I am an interpreter, a composer, and an improviser. I have really enjoyed taking this attitude out of Dead Language context and applying it to all my playing.

AR: You’ve spent some time as artist in residence at the Banff Centre and the Bang on A Can Summer Institute and you also have a masters of contemporary performance from the Manhattan School of Music. How would you say living in the States and being exposed to so many new works by American composers has moulded your musical tastes and influences?

JR: Location has definitely played a role in defining my musical tastes, but I don’t think that I have ever thought to throw an “American” label on the weight of my experiences. I met my former teacher, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, while at Banff and her inclusive approach to performing any music from any genre with vibrance and energy radically changed my views about being an artist. She taught me that no limits exist unless I define a boundary, and why set any limits in the first place? Limits are lame.

This attitude helped me digest the quantity of schools of musical thought that you are inevitably smacked over the head with when living in New York. It’s almost like choosing sides: are you Uptown, or Downtown? Free improv or art music? Classical or contemporary? I’m not about to completely exclude something just because of a judgement or label. I have enjoyed exploring the musical gamut with an open mind and without any limitations, and I think this has shaped who I am as a person just as much as it has shaped my musical tastes.

AR: Now that you’re based in Australia, how would you make a comparison between the new music scene in the USA and Brisbane? For me, the arts in Australia are imbued with a wonderful openness to act as a springboard for interesting thoughts and projects to become realised but I imagine it must seem rather contained having come from the hustle and bustle of the American musical culture?

JR: My life in Australia is still young, so perhaps I do not have enough authority to make a statement on the matter. Given my experiences to date, I completely agree that the arts in Australia are approached with an open and appreciating mind. I’m not sure if the new music scene in the entirety of the USA can fairly be pitted against that of Brisbane. Scope is an enormous factor. The new music scenes are even drastically different on the west coast of America than on the east, which creates a bit of an overwhelming barrier.

I will say that regardless of location, musicians operate within some sort of circle connecting them to resources, people, and an environment that drives personal creativity. Even though the population is much larger in the States and the musical history is quite vast, I believe that Australia and America are similar in respect to this interconnectivity. It is so important to realize the reach of artistic circles and never be afraid to extend it further.

I wouldn’t say the life of contemporary music in Australia is any more contained than it is in America. Currently, I’ve noticed that Americans feel an obligation to do something different that will give an edge to their artistry, and this is actually quite crippling. It detracts from one’s innate artistic sensibilities and instead focuses on the importance of an outsider’s reception. Gone are the days of the nineties when everyone received a gold star. There is a rising expectation for artists to be different, cutting edge, or revolutionary solely for the sake of doing so. This pressure is the biggest container of all.

AR: Lastly, what are your top 5 desert island pieces?! What music is making you tick?

JR: Steve Reich’s Different Trains, anything by The Books (I guess I’m cheating on that one), Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV for ‘cello, Bjork’s entire “Vespertine” album, and Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A minor op. 50.

Check out Jodie’s website here: www.jodierottle.com

“A physical, bodily approach to the way I compose”: Michael Mathieson-Sandars discusses his latest work

Kupka’s Piano composer, Michael Mathieson-Sandars, will have his first piece for 2014, Character Motions, premiered by Kupka’s Piano at our concert ‘The Machine and the Rank Weeds’ at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.  Here are some of his thoughts!

Michael Mathieson-Sandars

Hélène Cixous, in her 1975 essay The Laugh of Medusa, calls for a feminine writing (écriture féminine) which combats and reframes what she argues to be a masculine discourse inscribed into writing and language (and thinking). She offers the following advice: “Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.”

While I believe similarities between language and music to be much more complicated than a clear parallel, there is a clear masculine discourse within western classical composition. It goes without saying that this should be challenged here as it should be challenged in other appearances of patriarchy and phallogocentrism. (I should probably also note that, for Cixous, a feminine writer need not necessarily be female “there are some men (all too few) who aren’t afraid of femininity”). There are lessons to be learned from Cixous for any artist, let alone composer – and there is even more at stake here because to write “from the body” concerns the subject and the subject’s relationship to music.

The subject’s relationship to music is, of course, something about which I have very little understanding and I imagine it will continue to escape me for some time yet (probably indefinitely). Nonetheless, I feel, largely intuitively (physically? Pre-intellectually?), that a physical, bodily approach to the way I compose will increase the possibility of creating music which carves its form from its own material – which represents, at least partially, the complexity of the modern subject in its multiplicity of relations.

Which I guess brings me to my new piece, Character Motions. My musical implementation of this thinking is, of course, quite naïve, but, at the same time, quite exciting. (It’s also quite an interesting experience to attempt to write in a less conscious, more physical way which can only be achieved by becoming conscious of physicality!). In many ways, it is not such a grand or radical departure (Rome not built in a day, climbing to stand on the shoulders of giants, etc.), but I feel the material of the music in this piece contains a vibrancy and depth beyond what has appeared in my music previously. The piece itself is quite short, and moves very rapidly. This, in part, is for future plans to expand the piece for performance by the ensemble later in the year, but more broadly to build material which will allow me to create more expansive works in the future.

As always, it’s a great pleasure to work with the musicians in Kupka’s Piano, and I’m looking forward to kicking off our series ‘Il faut être’ next Friday. Feel free to come along to the concert and let me know what you think!

‘I found myself seeking out the new, the exciting, the different’: An interview with Claire Edwardes from Ensemble Offspring

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On March 21, Kupka’s Piano will be joined by Sydney’s Ensemble Offspring for a concert exploring the mechanical and organical in new music (tickets available here). KP flautist Hannah caught up with one of EO’s artistic directors and percussionist Claire Edwardes to talk about their origins, their busy touring schedule, and passing on acquired knowledge to the next generation.

Hannah Reardon-Smith: Ensemble Offspring has been a Sydney fixture for almost twenty years now! Kupka’s Piano is just entering our third year. Can you tell us a little about how and why you formed, and what has kept the group ticking for so long?

Claire Edwardes: We formed the group as the Spring Ensemble to showcase the works of then young student composers Damien Ricketson and Matthew Shlomowitz. We were just a group of 2nd and 3rd year Sydney Conservatorium students trying to do something different and we were lucky enough to be invited by Roger Woodward to perform as part of the Sydney Spring Festival which was indeed an exciting start to the journey. Hmm – what has kept us ticking for so long – I think for me personally it is just a deep passion for what we do – this strange and intangible thing we call “new” music – working with composers (i.e. real human beings) – working with wonderful musicians (eg. Jason Noble and Lamorna Nightingale who are an inspiration as people and musicians) and being able to share my vision in programs that take the audience to a wonderful new place that they may have never been before.

HRS: Like us, EO has a very close working relationship with composers – Damien Ricketson is your co-artistic director, and Matthew Shlomowitz was also involved from the beginning. How do you work with these composers throughout the creative process?

CE: Since the early days as the Spring Ensemble we have kept the work of Damien and Matt at the centre of our programming without it being any sort of forced content. Although the group did form to perform their works, Damien especially has always been very staunch about the fact that we are certainly not only in existence to perform the works of these two composers, which has meant that our repertoire choices over the years have been very eclectic. We as musicians really relish our relationships with Damien and Matt as well as the other composers we collaborate with regularly – having that tacit understanding and not needing to waste time with too many niceties can really not be underestimated in my opinion!

HRS: EO stands apart from other new music groups in Australia in that it doesn’t restrict itself to a single style or musical aesthetic. How do you find and decide on repertoire for the group?

CE: We define our repertoire choices purely through innovation – this often means brand new works but it could also have been innovative when it was written and still sound new and innovative to the modern ear (such as Stockhausen’s Kontakte and Glass’s Music in Similar Motion) – that said we don’t tend to go back before around 1960 and we also don’t spend very long back there – when we program those older works it is usually to give a context to the new stuff – after all what we are truly passionate about is working with living composers and trying new things!

HRS: How do you balance artistic issues against practicalities when EO is touring so often?

CE: Starting out as an almost London Sinfonietta size, EO has gradually turned into a tight core of chamber musicians over the years and this has in part been touring and funding related. Obviously touring is expensive and we have developed our smaller combo repertoire over the years to service for example our European tour at the end of 2013 where we took just 4 musicians. This is practical, but for me also an artistic decision as I personally really get a lot out of working with just a few musicians who have a very close musical relationship rather than in larger groups where a conductor is necessary. This way I feel we all have more artistic input, awareness and we are in a position to mould the music and the program.

HRS: What is your most “out there” new music gigging experience? Surely after 20 years you’ve clocked up a kooky story or two!

CE: Of course there are many but strangely enough what always comes to mind is an EO gig many years ago (when we were probably still called the Spring Ensemble actually) where I had to hang these wet towels off a boom stand to capture the sound of dripping water – but anyone who has gotten a towel soaking wet will know how heavy they are and of course it kept crashing the cymbal stand to the ground and we ended up with water absolutely all over the floor of the Eugene Goossens Hall. Other memorable moments are playing the thongaphone in the rain (on a musical ship) with Sarah Blasko and a small group of musos in Cooktown for Queensland Music Festival, performing solo on scaffolding over Amsterdam’s most famous canal the Prinsengracht with flames lapping at me from either side, and of course the good old super ball falls off the stick and spends half the piece bouncing about the stage whilst everyone is still attempting to concentrate on the music, trick!

HRS: We’re extremely excited to have the opportunity to perform with Ensemble Offspring in our upcoming concert. EO has also just begun a mentoring program – “Hatched” – in which you will be nurturing performers and composers from the up-and-coming generation. What interests you most about working with younger/emerging musicians? What is EO’s vision for the next generation of new music afficionados?

CE: Obviously we are not getting any younger and I guess we just feel that it is time to start giving back to the younger generation in terms of the years of experience we have clocked up thus far. In working with Jeremy Rose and Callum G’Froerer (who are both in their twenties just like the Kupka’s crew) we hope to impart both our vast administrative experience (the highs as well as the lows) as well as programming concepts and of course musical insights. Jeremy will be writing new works for Callum (trumpet) and ourselves and as both of them come from a jazz background we actually hope to learn a bit from them too over the course of the year. 2014 being our inaugural year we are all just trying to stay really open about what it will be – needless to say we are all really looking forward to it immensely.

HRS: I think for a lot of musicians there is a process of discovery when it comes to playing new music, which in turn sparks a love of new sounds that they want to pass on to both their audience and to other musicians. Speaking more personally, was there a piece that for you made you certain that new music was your thing?

CE: I can’t recall a specific piece (although it may have been George Crumb’s Madrigals now I think about it) but I do distinctly remember, about the time that the Spring Ensemble formed, starting to choose my solo repertoire in a much more open minded fashion. I championed Hans Wener Henze’s Five Scenes from the Snow Country in our concert practise classes and found myself seeking out the new, the exciting, the different – repertoire that the other students and even my teacher had never heard of…some things never change!

HRS: Percussionists play such a wide variety of instruments. What will we be seeing you play in our March concert?

CE: As this is one of our touring shows we have kept the percussion side of things minimal – that said we will still feature the good old vibraphone alongside a lovely set of pitched woodblocks (which is a rather unusual phenomenon) and in the Shlomowitz some weird and wacky ‘instruments’ alongside theatrical choreography for all three of us.

HRS: I’m sure you’ve got a super busy year ahead! What upcoming projects are you most excited about, both in EO and as a soloist?

CE: Ensemble Offspring has a busy year ahead including exciting collaborations with Jon Rose and Speak Percussion (Ghan Tracks), hard hitting chamber classics in Plekto (which we will also be performing in Brisbane on 11th July) and also Damien Ricketson’s amazing showcase for dancers and musicians called The Secret Noise. I am particularly excited that for the next two years I get to focus on myself as a soloist once again as a result of receiving an Australia Council Fellowship. This means that I am planning many and various collaborations outside of Ensemble Offspring including a collaboration with Brisbane based guitarist Karin Schaupp, a brand new children’s show and a solo percussion project with electronics featuring a new commission by Marcus Whale and Tom Smith.

Kupka’s Piano and Ensemble Offspring present The Machine and the Rank Weeds, the first of KP’s four-concert series ‘Il faut être’, at 7.30pm, Friday 21 March, at the Judith Wright Centre. Tickets are available here.

The Underground Violinist meets Kupka’s Piano

AdamCadellThis year we have the good fortune of having Adam Cadell joining Kupka’s Piano as our violinist. While we are sad to say good-bye Alethea Coombe (for now…), we’re thrilled to be working with Adam for the ‘Il faut être’ concert series at the Judith Wright Centre. KP composer Liam Flenady had a chat with Adam about his life, his music, and how he came to be in the ensemble.

You can hear Adam perform as part of our March 21 concert ‘The Machine and the Rank Weeds’ at the Judith Wright Centre. Tickets are available now!

Liam Flenady: You’ve come to Kupka’s Piano via a different and more complex route than other members. Can you give us a little summary of your musical activities over the past few years?

Adam Cadell: Always happy to be different and complex! For a bit of background I must say I probably continued on a similar course to most so-called “classical” musicians but I always suffered from a yearning of sorts to do something other. This desire for otherness manifested itself finally when I formed an improvisatory rock duo called The Scrapes with guitarist Ryan Potter somewhere in early 2009. The Scrapes is derived from several sources of inspiration, all of which could be called underground music.

Around about the time of forming the Scrapes I had long since been a fan of some violinists that I would now term “radical violinists”. Violinists whose practice is not only informed by a desire to do something new and meaningful on their instrument, but also informed by a strong radical ideology or philosophy. Quite literally attempting to make their instruments, instruments of change! Besides the Scrapes I do my own thing whether through collaboration with other musicians or on my own attempting to radicalise violin performance practice further through improvisation, technological gadgetry and general noisiness! I have several albums of improvised violin madness out through various different outlets. I very proudly call myself a subversive and radical violinist. On top of all this I spent 2013 living in Accra, Ghana where I worked performing with local bands playing Ghanaian Highlife music, as well as being somewhat of an artist-in-residence/strings tutor with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana. I also collaborate frequently with musicians overseas (the wonders of the internet!) and am a member of a couple of mysterious ensembles: Brend and Secret Black… I guess true-to-character I’ve had somewhat of a rambling path so far.

LF: So how was your time in Ghana? What did you learn (musically or otherwise) from your stay over there?

AC: My time in Ghana was incredible. I learned a lot musically and otherwise. I don’t even know where to begin! I’ll try and condense it somewhat. My partner got involved with an NGO based out of Accra, and I had just finished my PhD so off we went together. Through my partner’s work I met some incredible people who helped verify a lot of my long held suspicions about the state of the world and how things truly work. Exploitation and even slavery is ever-present in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to Western demands for minerals and cheap factory and agricultural labour (coffee, textiles etc). Not to mention the legacy of European colonialism is as horrifying as it is here in Australia. I’ll never forget standing on a beach on the coast of Benin where millions of slaves were shipped to the Americas on French and Portugese ships. The way people live in Ghana and West Africa (we travelled around the region as much as we could) is incredibly inspiring, full of joy, colour and dancing (endless dancing!) but also sometimes truly heart-breaking. After 12 months there West Africa has really got under my skin and I think I’ll always see Accra as another home… even if it drove me to the brink of absolute madness on a daily basis! To be honest I can’t wait to one day go back to that part of the world.

Music is in every thing and person in Ghana. No matter how hard their life might be people will dance in the streets at any opportunity. The culture is much more communal and musicians, even extremely famous ones, are always keen to play with new people and new instruments. I was able to play the local popular music, Highlife, with some legendary musicians and learned a lot more about improvisation and different ways to approach it harmonically and rhythmically. Particularly rhythmically! Through working with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana I learned a lot about resilience and about how truly important making music together as a collective is. I also learned a lot about Ghanaian traditional song, rhythms and the fascinating tradition of West African “art music” that many in the West are probably completely unaware of. Through studying the Gonje I have learned how a living culture, not unlike the violin, can hold such great importance in a community as a bearer of messages and stories. Not to mention the extraordinary sound of the thing!

LF: Given all this experiences, it’s perhaps not surprising that you draw upon a broad range of radical art traditions and emancipatory political theory to end your PhD with “The Manifesto of the Radical Violinist.” If it’s not too difficult a question to answer, what is the main point the manifesto tries to get across?

AC: I’ll use a line or two from the manifesto to explain. Radical violin music is:

“music as a weapon against ‘moribund capitalism’, a radical subversion of imperialism”

And the Marx-inspired final declaration of the manifesto says it all really:

“Radical Underground Violinists of the world, stand up, take your instruments and your intellects and help build a culture in opposition to the powers that are degrading our disadvantaged fellow humans and making our planet uninhabitable!”

It’s a call to arms for violinists to use their instrument as a vehicle for progressive change.

LF: It seems a lot of this idea of the violin as an ‘instrument for progressive change’ is linked to the experimental musical tradition. What do you feel is the relationship between experimental music and more traditionally composed (i.e. written on musical score) modern music today?

AC: I think today they are hand-in-hand and so much experimental music is born of a mixture of composed and experimental approaches. I think there is less totalitarianism in the modern composer today, but then there were composers in the 16th and 17th century that not only encouraged, but expected the musicians to experiment and improvise. At the end of the day though it is hard for the composer-musician power-imbalance to be wholly erased when there is a score in the picture. The composer is still boss! However, I think since Cage composers have learned to relinquish a bit of control again and allow for genuine experimentation. I think the sort of music Kupka’s Piano plays for instance is a testament to this dualism. Grisey for instance seems to invite the player not just to follow his own desire to experiment but to experiment with the textural possibilities at hand that the composer ultimately has no control over, and I think Andriesson’s Worker’s Union is another prime example. He lets the collective decide the notes.

LF: On that point, what interests you about the kind of music Kupka’s Piano plays? Apart from the fact that we’re pretty cool people, and that I’m quite persuasive over post-lunch beers, why did you decide to join us for 2014?

AC: Well you were very persuasive Liam, although I didn’t need much persuading! I joined because I was aware of the kind of work the group plays and because I know you are all brilliant musicians. What interests me is the challenge on a selfish level, and on a wider level it’s the possibilities and the beauty that is inherent in so much of the kind of music Kupka’s Piano plays. Philosophically-speaking I think Kupka’s Piano and I may see eye-to-eye.

LF: The theme of our concert on 21 March with Ensemble Offspring is ‘The Machine and The Rank Weeds’, which is the subtitle of the major work we are performing that evening: Gérard Grisey’s Talea. The concert will explore the mechanic and the organic in music. How do you interpret that theme?

AC: The mechanic and the organic in music is something I’ve been wrangling with as an improviser for years now. I interpret this theme on two levels: the Romantic idea of a kind of Miltonian “dark satanic mills” – a kind of fear of the corrupting nature of machinery and technology over the landscape and over people. But on another level I think the machine can liberate, so in music the use of machinery in order to open up possibilities is very exciting, using the machine to enhance the organic – on a broader level we could and should use the machine to make the organic more sustainable. That’s a couple of interpretations I find interesting.

LF: Interesting interpretations. Just one last question. Who are the experimental violinists from whom you draw most inspiration? Are there musicians from other traditions that you been influenced by?

AC: The holy trinity of experimental violinists for me, so to speak, is Tony Conrad, Henry Flynt, and Takehisa Kosugi. To extend it to a pantheon I would also include Jon Rose, LaDonna Smith, Leroy Jenkins, and Malcolm Goldstein. The list could be much larger though!

There are indeed many musicians from other traditions from whom I draw inspiration from, and I am often drawn to the musicians who are either extreme traditionalists or innovators and forward-thinkers blending popular music traditions with their local traditions to make something new and exciting. I’ll give a couple of distinct examples of this otherwise this list could go on forever. In the extreme traditionalist corner we have Pandit Pran Nath, and many others of the Hindustani tradition and in particular the ancient dhrupad and khyal traditions. And for an innovative blend of tradition and popular music I look mostly to West Africa. As an example I would say Ghanaian Highlife music is a huge influence for me now, with the likes of Agya Koo Nimo, Alhaji K. Frimpong, Ebo Taylor and ET Mensah permanently altering my musical DNA. Other important West African styles for me are Tuareg “guitar” music by the likes of Mdou Moctar and Senegalese Mbalax by the likes of Thione Seck. And of course Northern Ghanaian gonje music as played by my teacher Shaibu Abdulai Idrissu, which is really a mixture of both extreme traditionalism and a living, breathing popular expression.

KP in 2014

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This last year has been super exciting for Kupka’s – we presented our inaugural four-concert series (“Where in the world is Kupka’s Piano?“) at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, sold out the majority of our shows (!), made contact with composers from all over the globe while preparing their music, commissioned a bunch of new works, worked closely with Ensemble Interface from Frankfurt thanks to an Australia Council JUMP Mentorship, and performed by invitation at the Brisbane Experimental Art Festival (BEAF). In total we gave ten Australian premieres on top of eight world premieres!

Hannah Reardon-Smith (flute) and Luara Karlson-Carp (voice) perform the Australian premiere of American composer Kate Soper’s Only the words themselves mean what they say (2010-11) at our concert in November 2013.

But now we’ve hit the new year and there’s many fresh projects on the boil. We’re extremely fortunate to have continued support from the Judith Wright, where we will be presenting a further four-concert series this year, entitled Il faut être.

The series takes its name from a line in Arthur Rimbaud’s 1873 poem A Season in Hell“Il faut être absolument moderne.” Our aim is to hold true to this claim, to venture into the possible paths of the musically modern. We will continue to seek out new music by the composers of our generation from around the world, as well as to commission new works from Australian composers and to have a crack at some of the great pieces of the last fifty years.

For our first concert of the year we’ll be joined by Australia’s premiere new music ensemble, Ensemble Offspring (Sydney), in a performance of high octane, quasi-mechanical, factory floor works. Kupka’s will be performing Gérard Grisey’s mixed quintet Talea plus a new flute-piano-percussion trio by Michael Mathieson-Sandars. The ensembles will also present a joint performance of Louis Andriessen’s Workers’ Union. That one’s on Friday 21 March, so put it in your diary – tickets will be available in about a week.

For more about the series, visit our Upcoming Performances page.

In other exciting news, several of our members will be traveling to Germany in August to partake in the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music! There we will have the opportunity to reunite with Ensemble Interface, which we are very much looking forward to, in addition to meeting a huge number of composers and new music performers from around the globe, hearing and performing stacks of fresh repertoire, and receiving tuition and guidance from the masters in our field. This is an incredible opportunity for us, and one which we will be reporting on regularly as we prepare and then make our journey overseas.

On July 25 (okay, so I’m not being especially chronological here), we will perform Morton Feldman’s 90-minute epic Crippled Symmetry for flute, piano and percussion in a concert at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.

We also have a very exciting recording opportunity that we’re not yet able to announce… So stay tuned!

There will no doubt be other performances and events involving Kupka’s Piano or some of our members. Make sure you check back to our website for updates – or you can subscribe to our email list for timely reminders. See you soon!

In search of living materials: Matthew Lorenzon interviews Liam Flenady

liamMatthew Lorenzon of Partial Durations caught up with Kupka’s Piano composer Liam Flenady recently to discuss his new piece Material Fantasies, receiving its world premiere this Friday in The American Dream-song: New music in the USA.

Matthew Lorenzon: The concerts by your ensemble Kupka’s Piano have been surveys of music from different countries in Asia and Europe. What have you discovered through this process as a composer?

Liam Flenady: Kupka’s Piano is a process of discovery for all the ensemble members. It has allowed me to have practical engagement with lots of different music from new and established composers. Whether any of that work has had a direct impact on my own is less clear. It’s more a matter of confidence. If you try and write modernist music in Brisbane—and as I’ve realised recently, I write “high” modernist music—you don’t have a lot of confidence in what you are doing because the “first principles” stuff is not in high circulation. But when your ensemble starts playing it and people are actually coming to the concerts you think “well fuck it, I’ll write like this and I’ll push these boundaries, whichever remain.”

ML: But how do you see your compositions in regards to those you have been playing?

LF: You have to put two hats on: That of the curator and that of the composer. As a composer, I like so little music. I can gain technical insights from various pieces, but I wouldn’t say “That’s it! That’s where it’s happening and I want to emulate that!” about many of the pieces we’ve been playing. I maintain a relatively antagonistic relationship to much of the music we play, even though I am very excited to create the opportunity to present this music in its diversity.

ML: In your upcoming concert of contemporary music in America you will play your own piece called Material Fantasies. What is the “material” in Material Fantasies?

LF: Of course, as my teacher Gerardo Dirié remarked to me recently about this, one’s concept of what material is will influence what one looks for in a piece. It’s not a self-evident duality between material and form or anything like that. The idea behind Material Fantasies is to take stock of some of the post-serial innovations in terms of “local material,” like pitches and phrase-length constructions, which I see as mainly attempts to de-reify these parameters. That’s the “material” part. I try to see where this new material itself wants to go. That’s the “fantasy” part. It was a largely intuitive compositional process, which is unlike my previous attempts, which have been more formal and which I have found limitations in. But there always has to be a countervailing force. For me the subjective intervention of the composer is not just listening and being totally passive, it’s about drawing out the inherent counterpoint in these newly-liberated (over the past thirty or forty years!) materials which are, largely speaking, anti-contrapuntal, anti-polyphonic.

ML: What are your newly-liberated materials in particular and which movements liberated them?

LF: At the moment I’m looking at three main movements. Spectralism liberates not just sonic, but also local and global formal possibilities. It de-reifies the pitch or note as such, calling into question the abstraction of the “pitch”. This produces a whole bunch of materials that are now available and which can’t be put back in the bag now. At the same time, I’m critical of the larger-form constructions that come out of the spectral world. There’s a tendency towards very banal structures and cheap effects. Helmut Lachenmann and others de-instrumentalised the instrument, taking it from a filter of pitches in orchestration and liberating its internal possibilities. The third is less clear. I say it’s New Complexity, but at this stage my hypothesis is that New Complexity de-reifies the line. Which is funny, because it was already destroyed by Webern. But there’s a sense in which Ferneyhough both preserves and undermines the line by layering contradictory processes within a single line.

ML: You also have three different sites of liberation, namely sound, the instrument and writing, which you are bringing together in your piece. You say you have composed this piece in fairly intuitive way, but I feel there is often more process at work than people are letting on when they say this. Do you mean you are being intuitive in your choice of processes and your use of those processes?

LF: There are layers of intuition. It is unavoidable regardless. There are parts where I have just sat down and said “Here’s my very basic framework: I want to start working with these sorts of materials. I’m just going to sit down and listen internally and start writing.” That’s a pretty unsustainable way of approaching music from my experience. After a few bars you say “Why am I doing any of this?” and you have to keep telling yourself “No, it’s important to listen to where the materials themselves want to go,” but I increasingly recognise that there has to be more of an intervention. So even across these pieces I’ve been coming up with strategies for the development of even local-level content.

ML: In our fetishisation of materials in the sense you’ve outlined we forget about global form, which has seen huge innovations over the past century-and-a-half. Can you intuit large-scale form or do you have to fill it in from the outside?

LF: I think of Adorno’s article on Alban Berg where the latter says the twelve-tone method was necessary because free atonality could not develop along a large-scale form. You needed another constructive principle in order to have large-scale forms. Adorno basically retorts “nobody really tried, so how can you say that?” I think form is incredibly important and maybe there’s an individual aspect to this, which has to do with my own development. I’ve had to emphasise local-level material because two or three pieces ago I was composing “from the outside in.” I’d draw up a structural polyrhythm and lay out the harmonies. These are things I got from composers François Nicolas and Elliott Carter, where you have a rhythmic grid and fill in the detail. Hopefully some magic happens along the way. I found that while the form was convincing, the materials that I filled it in with sounded dead. They didn’t sound alive and there didn’t seem to be enough of a dialectic between the local and the global. So at the moment I’m writing short pieces. I’m writing one- or two-minute pieces. They are tiny experiments in the local-level material. Of course you look back and say “oh, that was a formal strategy, I alternate between these two types of material,” but it’s not so conscious at the time. In the future I imagine drawing formal conclusions from local material rather than the other way around.

ML: Do you ever try to think about material in a non-musical fashion? We’re often encouraged, if not forced, to think of the political or social materiality of music. Is that a concern for you?

LF: There is a sedimentation of the social in musical materials. But that’s all it is to me at the moment. You choose a style—or it chooses you—that comes with a set of assumptions, and according to the prevailing postmodern orthodoxy none are better than any other. Particularly the high modernist stuff comes with this criticism of being ivory tower and perhaps even having blood on its hands. But for me the category of experience, or the de-reification of experience is the material that you try to work with. This has a social dimension. But then I wonder: Why haven’t I tried to de-reify the concert? Why do we still present our music in a chamber music context? I guess the answer is that the music must be abstracted from the real world in order to contain sediment from the real world. So the de-reification of the line is fine, it doesn’t challenge the absolute boundaries of music as such. Once you start challenging the boundaries of music as such you can be creating all sorts of things, but certain things are lost. Does that answer your question?

ML: Well I suppose the de-reification of music as such would threaten your idea of musical material in the way you have outlined. Not that I’m arguing for that! The wonderful thing about our generation is that we are able to rediscover this material after it was wilfully forgotten by much of the previous generation and discover that there is a lot of fun in it, that it doesn’t immediately alienate you from the rest of society, who are just about as curious as you or I.

LF: Yes. And also growing up in Australia. I grew up in the ‘burbs and had no real relation to this music, but then you take it up consciously after exploring a lot of other music and you go “No, this is it” without a lot of the burdens others have. But there’s also a matter of defence, of defending a lost cause. I’m one to do that as both a socialist and ivory-tower high modernist. For the last few decades we’ve just been shitting on this music, saying that it is so unethical to pursue this music in the modern world. I think we have to be a bit more sophisticated than the post-war enthusiasm for New Music and realise that the New Music that came after the war was pop music! That was what changed society and our relationship to music, not Boulez. However, we should defend the idea of the constructive de-reification of experience. Art music is, if not the site, then one of the principal sites of that de-reification, much more than clever pop music or contemporary jazz.

WET INK, New York, and “Pendulum III”: An interview with Alex Mincek

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Performing for the first time in Australia the music of New York based composer Alex Mincek, Kupka musicians Sami Mason and Alex Raineri tackle his saxophone and piano duo Pendulum III in the upcoming concert ‘The American Dreamsong: New Music in the USA’ – Friday 29 November, 7.30pm, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Our Alex chats with composer Alex:  

Alex Raineri: You’re a very impressive young composer, could you tell us a little about your musical journey thus far – who have been some significant mentors and how have you come to be based in New York? 

Alex Mincek: I moved to New York from Florida when I was 19 to study saxophone at the Manhattan School of Music. At that time I was mostly participating in various forms of jazz music, but was already well aware of, and inspired by composers like Ives, Cowell, Cage, Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, etc. Though, I had not seriously considered composing myself until I took a course called “composition for non-composition majors”. The professor of that class, Giampaolo Broccoli, recognized my intense interest in composition and really convinced me that I should pursue a more serious study of the craft. Since then I have had many wonderful teachers including, Nils Vigeland, Fred Lerdahl and Tristan Murail.

AR: In addition to composition you’re also a saxophonist and clarinettist. I was very interested to learn that you are the artistic director of WET INK Ensemble with Kate Soper (who is also receiving an Australian premiere in our upcoming concert!). I would like to hear your thoughts on how being a performer (especially in terms of your collaboration with other composer/performers in your ensemble) affects the way you approach writing music? Does this allow for a more detailed and intimate workshopping process for certain pieces?

AM: The short answer is yes. But more specifically, I often directly draw from my knowledge of my own instruments to compose, which I believe allows me to write more idiomatically for instruments, albeit in novel ways. Additionally, working with my ensemble has allowed for, as you mention, a more detailed and intimate environment for experimenting with sounds.

AR: Tell us a little about the Pendulum pieces, you’re written five as far as I can tell. Are they related to each other musically?

AM: I’m working on the 10th and final piece of this series currently. And yes, they are related to one another, insofar as they each are meant to represent various physical, temporal, and spatial phenomena demonstrated by the simple swinging motions of pendulums, along with some of the more complex forces, environments and mechanisms that make a pendulum’s movement continue or dissipate.

AR: Specifically, what were your thoughts behind Pendulum III? I hear some spectralist influences in the piece, perhaps attributed to Grisey, or Murail with whom you studied?

AM: Both of the composers you mention have indeed been very influential to my approach to composing, but I wouldn’t say there is too close a connection between their work and Pendulum III, other than the focus on timbre as inseparable from harmony (specifically) and structure (more broadly). For example, the piece does use variously untempered, close tunings that cause novel timbral effects such as psychoacoustic ‘beatings’ to represent subtle back-and-forth ‘motions’ between the saxophone and piano, while simultaneously creating unconventional harmonies.

AR: You’ve received commissions and worked with some eminent ensembles such as the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Linea, Talea Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra among many others. What projects are you currently working on – what’s next?

AM: I’m currently finishing a large orchestra piece for the Guggenheim Foundation and writing a new work for my own group, WET INK Ensemble. In the near future I will also write a new piece for string quartet and orchestra for the JACK Quartet and the American Composers Orchestra, a new string quartet for MIVOS, and a piece for 2 pianos and 2 percussionists for YARN/WIRE.

AR: Our 2013 concert series has been a peripatetic exploration of music from all around the globe with a focus on the younger generation of composers. We’ve looked at Asia, Germany, Italy and now we wrap up with music from the USA. As a young composer in the States, would you say that you draw inspiration from your American predecessors or contemporaries?

AM: I would say both. Composers of the past like Ives, Ellington, Cage, Feldman, Coltrane, Braxton and Lucier have been VERY important to me, but so have younger composers like my colleagues in WET INK. Many international composers, past and present (mostly European, I suppose), have been extremely influential for me as well.

Immersion is required! Introducing Luara Karlson-Carp

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Kupka’s Piano is proud to introduce Luara Karlson-Carp in our upcoming concert, “The American Dream-Song: New Music in the USA” – on next Friday, 29 November, 7.30pm, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art – where she will be performing the Australian premiere of a work by young American composer Kate Soper, as well as a great work by Downtown New York giant, Morton Feldman.

Our violinist, Alethea Coombe, took some time to chat to Luara and find out about her, her music and her connection to the States.

Alethea Coombe: Tell us a little about yourself – Where were you born? Where did you study? What were your early influences? All those things that led you to where you are today!

Luara Karlson-Carp: I was born in Montana, USA and lived there till I was four years old, in a tiny town right next to Yellowstone National Park. It was a pretty wild place, bears and cowboys and the like. I then moved to Bellingen NSW and that’s where I stayed till I began a Bachelor of Music in jazz voice at the Queensland Conservatorium, from which I’m graduating this semester. Whilst in Bellingen I attended a Steiner School, which was very alternative and arts-based, and lived with a painter/potter for quite a while and I see both of these “creative” experiences as having a big affect on my values and musical/artistic influences today.

AC: How about now? What’s an average day in the life of Luara?

LKC: I’ve just been struck down with a 24 hour bug so most recently it has included sleeping, reading A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, pumpkin soup and guilt-free internet perusal time….

AC: You recently studied in America – Please tell us a bit more about it! What did you expect, and what was surprising for you? What led you there in the first place?

LKC: I went over on a semester of exchange/study abroad. When I decided to apply, the real impetus for going was a well needed break from my environment and a chance to reflect and chase inspiration. I knew I wanted to be close to NYC, so I looked at the list of exchange partner universities, found the only one in New York state, pointed to it and said “that one”. That was the extent of the expectation! I was incredibly lucky and landed in a strong community of positive, creative young musicians in the best town ever(!) and had an incredible time. Together with some friends a band focusing on free and concept-based improvisation was formed and we undertook a six-week, grass-roots, 6000 mile tour of the states, which was a pretty eye opening and pivotal experience. I also did a great workshop in New York City. I was surprised at the openness and positivity of the music scene there, and also shocked by the political situation and who really seems to be pulling the strings.

AC: Of course our aim in this concert is to present some of the music coming from the States that we find exciting and poke a little into what the scene is like there. You’ve experienced it first hand, though! What music and musical scenes did you discover while you were there?

LKC: The underground improvised/experimental scene was one I got some decent exposure to as we did almost 25 gigs in 25 different places on tour. Due to the economy, culture and licensing, paid gigs in venues are really hard to come by, but the underground scene is thriving. The fantastical existence of basements in nearly every US home provides pretty adequate sound-proofing, so people will set up their houses as music venues, naming them and giving them their own Facebook pages with weekly or bi-weekly events. It’s fantastic as it provides a hub for local, self-determined musical communities. I think that’s a lot harder to pull off in the rather more flimsy raised wooden suburban Queenslanders we have here!

AC: Tell us a little more about one of the pieces you’re performing with us, Kate Soper’s “Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say”.

LKC: For me this piece is really exciting for many reasons, the first being that it’s actually the first piece of music I can remember performing composed by a women, and secondly it’s definitely the only piece I’ve composed by a soprano! That’s really inspiring – it can be easy to feel like your only options as a female singer are to sound pretty and, if you please, look pretty too. I also think the way the piece plays on and relates to the text is creatively brilliant, and how the movements sit together is highly surprising and satisfying. This will be my first contemporary classical concert ever, so I’ve been very lucky to have Hannah’s patience, passion and experience at hand for the learning process. We performed the first movement recently and I was surprised at the emotional force of the piece when it’s put in front of an audience – there’s a lot of intense rationalisation of highly emotional content in the text, and that, combined with Soper’s musical treatment of it, creates what felt to be a rather unruly beast to pace and perform, but so exhilarating! I’m very excited about the performance, I think everyone will find it to be a very powerful yet playful experience.

AC: It sounds like there’s a lot of music that excites you. What are you listening to at the moment?

LKC: Morton Feldman; this is my first contemporary classical gig, immersion is required!

AC: What’s in store for you in the next few years? What would you like to be doing? What do you see coming in your future?

LKC: My current plan is to move to Melbourne and enrol in a BA. I feel my creative-world needs some intellectual-world support to feel meaningful and stay relevant to what’s important to me. I’m really looking forward to getting involved in the scene down there and want to continue exploring contemporary classical music, as well as improvised/experimental music and eventually sound based installation works.

AC: Thanks very much!

Luara will be performing with Kupka’s Piano on the 29th of November at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts for the fourth and final concert of our 2013 series. Get tickets here!