Three Questions: MIGRATIONS

Kupka’s is gearing up for our end-of-year performance – MIGRATIONS on Saturday December 15, 7pm, at the Seven Hills Theatre – and we recently threw three questions out to each of our featured composers and guest performers for this peripatetic concert: Jasmin Leung, Sarah Thompson, Matthew Horsley, and Alex Taylor. These were first published on our Facebook page, and here they are all in one place, complete with Liam Flenady’s 🔥 emoji use! Don’t forget, tickets are now available for purchase through Eventbrite (and yes, you can also buy them at the door).

Three questions for Jasmin Leung 🤔🤔🤔

We're thrilled to be performing a new work for mixed sextet by the amazing Queensland-based composer and erhu performer Jasmin Leung at MIGRATIONS in a couple of weeks. We asked her a few questions!

Australian composer and erhu player Jasmin Leung. Photo by  Caleb Colledge .

Australian composer and erhu player Jasmin Leung. Photo by Caleb Colledge.

Question 1. You seem to think a lot about the social dimension of your music making, reimagining the relation of composer, performer, improviser, etc. What is the impact of this on your musical practice?

🎶Jasmin: 'Composer', 'Performer' and 'Improviser' can be useful labels, but my practice is really simple: just try to make a music that feels right, within the means that are available to me.

Question 2. Your new work for us features an extremely unique instrumentation of erhu, uilleann pipes, prepared guitar, two flutes, and violin. How in the heck are you handling this weird combination?

Photo by Wing-Hong Leung.

Photo by Wing-Hong Leung.

🎶Jasmin: The way I have navigated it is to treat them as compound sound sources – a few woodwinds, a few strings. At first it may seem very unusual, but actually the instrumentation is quite balanced, the flutes and erhu/violin combination act as slightly warped mirrors, the prepared guitar is reimagined as percussion and the pipes frame and fill. The guitar preparations also share qualities with extended approaches to violin/erhu.

I’m sure the baggage within the physicality of the erhu and uilleann pipes could suggest all kinds of extra-musical information. Another dimension is the very direct, evocative nasal qualities that they both have – these sounds are instantly recognisable and bring all sorts of connotations I cannot control, so I can either accept or subvert this. There are many alignments between these instruments, so it’s become more an exercise in restraint and finding the parameters to work inside.

Question 3. You’ve spent some time studying and living in Central/Eastern Europe and China – how have these experiences shaped your musical thinking?

🎶Jasmin: The influence is (I hope) not so obvious – I’m uninterested in tokenism in music, but time abroad definitely makes you re-examine your own habits from a different perspective. Perhaps being outside of Western concepts of individualism (but still recognising how I am very much rooted and educated within this ideology) has helped me question how this manifests musically. It is also interesting being a descendant from both European and Chinese cultural/musical legacies, but not fully belonging to either, instead working as ‘Third Culture Kid’. There is still a lot for me to learn and understand within this.

Next in the hot seat for three questions: Sydney composer Sarah Elise Thompson! 🔥🛋🔥🤔🤔🤔

We're pumped to be premiering her flute and electric guitar duo Tiny Little Specks at MIGRATIONS. Check out what she has to say about it!

Sydney-based Australian composer Sarah Thompson.

Sydney-based Australian composer Sarah Thompson.

Question 1. You recently said that your piece Tiny Little Specks that Hannah and Liam will be performing emerged from an improvisation you did with a collaborator. Is improvisation an important part of your compositional approach?

🎶 Sarah: Improvisation is often a really great starting point for me when beginning a new piece. Composing can be quite solitary at times, so I gain so much from working with other musicians, and bouncing off different ideas. I find it a great tool to realise my ideas, and continue on the creative flow. It’s like going back to a giant 500 piece puzzle every day, and working out where the next piece is going to fit. I take excessive amounts of voice memos, and like setting myself parameters to try and get a certain texture or sound with maximal results. When I started Tiny Little Specks in particular, I grabbed my guitar and hit a practice room with my friend and set a brief for us to “make the quietest sounds we can possibly make”, and recorded it not knowing what to expect. That’s what made the piece interesting and engaging for me to work on. I wanted to keep the chance element for the final score, so the piece is structured into small sections, interspersed with moments of improvisation. I also was inspired by Hannah and Liam’s previous improvisations they’ve done together, and I wanted to showcase their impressive intuition whilst playing.

Question 2. Your ensemble SPIRAL recently performed Philip Glass’s Glassworks in Sydney. What do you feel minimalism’s aesthetic impact on you has been, if any?

🎶 Sarah: Minimalism was the entrance into new music for me, as I grew up songwriting and playing in indie rock bands in Sydney. I’ve always had a soft spot for pop music, and when I heard Philip Glass for the first time, it felt familiar to me and left me feeling inspired to give composing new music a go. I think Glass, Reich, Adams, and Riley are all subconscious influences on my writing, and I try to channel their approaches to rhythm, the infectious energy, and strong orchestration. Also the influence of Bang On A Can is important in shaping my aesthetic. I remember the first time I heard the recording John Luther Adams In A Treeless Place, Only Snow, I was totally mesmerised and thought of what my take would be. It’s really wonderful to play too as a pianist, and from playing minimal repertoire in SPIRAL it gives me new food for thought for new pieces.

Question 3. You just graduated from Sydney Con (congrats btw!) – what’s next?

🎶 Sarah: I’m heading off to Madeira, Portugal for a 2 week intensive residency! I’ll be writing a new piece for flute and pre-recorded electronics for Keiko Murakami, as well as collaborating with artists from all over the world on new musical experiments. After that, I’ll be working closely with the clarinettist Luke Carbon on a new bass clarinet solo, writing a new piece for Ensemble Offspring, as well planning other sweet collaborations in the works. I’m balancing that with planning two exciting concert series with SPIRAL and lost + sound, going on long extended coastal walks, swimming laps, catching up with my family, and taking much needed rest after a busy year of thesis writing. Stay tuned!

Introducing Matthew Horsley, multi-instrumentalist and uilleann pipes extraordinaire 🥁🎷🎸 (tbh no idea if he plays those instruments, but there's a good chance, and there's no bagpipe emoji, which is criminal, really 😤). He'll be giving Liam's 50 minute A Book of Migrations for solo pipes and electronics its first Brisbane airing at MIGRATIONS and joining us in Jasmin Leung's new work. We asked him a couple questions!

Melbourne-based uilleann piper Matthew Horsley. Photo by  Lucy Spartalis .

Melbourne-based uilleann piper Matthew Horsley. Photo by Lucy Spartalis.

Question 1. You trained first as a percussionist, and now you’re an uilleann piper… How the heck did this happen?

🎶 Matthew: Ummmm, a series of very poor decisions? My parents listened to a bit of (mostly very cheesy) Irish music when I was growing up. And then halfway through my percussion degree, I started obsessively listening to those albums and tootling away on a tin whistle that was lying around in a cupboard. I don’t quite know why that happened but it was a slippery slope from there!

Question 2. How do you see the relationship between traditional Irish music and contemporary experimental music?

🎶 Matthew: I think experimentation is always contextual - it happens when you subvert or outright reject a syntax or aesthetic framework which was presumed normative. Basically, you need to know the rules to break them or know when someone else is breaking them.

A lot of people find Irish traditional music repetitive and formulaic because they don’t hear what’s going on below the surface. They haven’t put in the hours and hours of listening to appreciate the minute nuances of tonality, rhythm and timbre that the music thrives on. But once you know what to listen for, you can find all manner of idiosyncrasy, risk taking and devilry lurking there. So I think there’s already a hugely experimental streak within that tradition that’s there to be tapped into.

Question 3. Performing 50 minutes of non-stop complex pipe music and spoken text (in both medieval Irish Gaelic and English!) sounds like a bit of an inhuman feat. How do you prepare for that? Do you have to do high altitude training?

🎶 Matthew: Yeah, it’s a fair ask for both body and brain! I’m definitely glad that my set of pipes is set up to take less air (and therefore less muscle strength) than most. And my partner’s a trainee Pilates instructor so I’m in good hands if I hurt myself!

Even more than for me, I feel it’s a marathon for the reeds which are delicate and notoriously finicky. And once it starts there’s no opportunity to fiddle with them if something goes awry. So I spend a good bit of time trying to pre-emptively troubleshoot the most likely issues, making sure that things are as stable and predictable as possible. That involves lots of blu-tack, cotton thread, coffee and expletives.

Fittingly for a concert called MIGRATIONS, we've also cast some questions across the sea 🌊🌊🌊 for Aotearoa/New Zealand composer and performer Alex Taylor. The Flutes of KP (aka Hannah and Jodie) will be playing his duo Resistance Study in the December 15 concert.

New Zealand composer and performer Alex Taylor.

New Zealand composer and performer Alex Taylor.

Question 1. Where is the resistance in Resistance Study?

🎶 Alex: It’s about resistance to orthodoxy. It’s an angry piece in a way; I was thinking about what’s happening to our Universities in New Zealand, and there’s a prevailing managerial orthodoxy that music and the arts must pull their weight, become more streamlined, fit the business model imposed from above. The piece was written for Abigail Sperling and her flute mentor Professor Uwe Grodd, who was recently restructured out of the School of Music, after thirty years of service as a hugely respected and popular flute pedagogue. One way of listening to the piece is that there is a prevailing orthodoxy, this homogeneous linear stream, basically horn fifths, which is progressively disrupted and infiltrated by a more interesting rhythmic and pitch language, an attempt to ‘resist’.

Question 2. You recently had your flute concerto premiered by Abigail Sperling and the Auckland Chamber Orchestra. Has the flute become a particular object of fascination for you?

🎶 Alex: I suppose it has recently, yes! One of the things I particularly like about the flute is its flexibility, both timbrally – to blend with just about anything – and melodically – that pitch can be very fluid. So the concerto is a very fluid piece, constantly shifting through different phases and orientations, splashing colour around, playing with microtones. It’s fairly demanding to play, even if you put the microtones to one side, and Abi has been such a generous and accommodating soloist.

Question 3. Two of our members (Hannah and Liam) hung out with you at BIFEM (the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music) this year, and Hannah also caught up with you at the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt (Germany) last July. What do you think are some of the major similarities and/or differences in the art music cultures of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, and how they are situated in relation to the rest of the world?

🎶 Alex: I think this is a PhD topic to be honest, but I’ll have a crack.

I think art music globally is still orientated towards Europe; despite the what everyone says about the internet, we’re still both (NZ and Oz) quite removed from Europe, physically and culturally, and so when you go to somewhere like Darmstadt, there’s not much of a sense of what a New Zealand or Australian musical tradition or landscape comprises. I was disappointed (but not surprised) when a very senior and respected German musicologist gave an absolutely appalling, contemptuous ‘analysis’ lecture on a New Zealand composer who had been the first woman to win the Kranichstein (the lecture was bookended by two terrific performances of a substantial chamber work of hers, featuring Hannah on flute!). This musicologist asserted that nobody in Germany knew about her and therefore she was unknown (even though she had studied for several years with Stockhausen and Kagel); that she could have had a career if only she had stayed in Europe; misspelled her name in the programme; cast aspersions on her recollections; the closest he came to analysing her music was saying it was very precisely notated. From my perspective, her music is radical and idiosyncratic, and arguably couldn’t have been written by a German composer at that time. This musicologist would never have thought to place her not only in a European tradition, but also in a New Zealand one.

None of this really answers your question, but I think in contrast to the orthodox European view that New Zealand and Australia are colonial cultural backwaters, we see each other as more significant than that. In a place like Darmstadt, kiwis and ozzies gravitate towards one another, and back home we’re starting to see more cross-fertilisation: the New Zealand contingents at Bendigo or at ANAM, or the programming of Australian composers by NZTrio. And I think this is worth nurturing.

Kupka's PianoComment
An effective suspension of the rules of reality | An interview with Hannah Reardon-Smith

Ahead of our upcoming performance of five brand new works by young Australian composers in 'ELEMENTAL' at 6pm on Friday 31 August, KP flutists Jodie Rottle and Hannah Reardon-Smith sat down for a chat about the new piece Hannah has written for the ensemble – Mantis for 2 flutes + trio. They covered a lot of ground, from performer-composer-ing and alternative notation practices, to horror flicks and international new music festivals! Read on, and then come along Friday to hear the piece in the flesh.

Jodie Rottle: One thing I’ve really enjoyed about Kupka’s Piano in recent years is how performers are becoming composers and vice versa. You started as a classical flutist, got into new music and then more recently dove into free improvisation and electronics – and through that into composition. What does this idea of being a ‘performer-composer’ mean to you?

Hannah Reardon-Smith: I think I actually started improvising seriously because I felt a growing need to be composing, but putting pen to paper was frankly terrifying. Improvisation revealed to me my own creative capacity and is still very often the most thrilling and satisfying use of that capability, which is a big part of why I insist on its inclusion in any notated composition I write. In a way, improvising is really the definition of being performer-composer – we’re composing while we perform, in real-time. Notated composition allows me to create my control-freak dream of an improvisation, in that I can fix certain elements and just about make everyone do what I wish they might spontaneously do while improvising! That’s kind of a joke, but sometimes notated composition feels a bit like that – selfishly enforcing my own will on others. Probably what I hope it is more like is a little window into the way my mind works musically – welcoming my colleagues and audience in to have a little look around and hopefully not get too freaked out.

JR: Your new piece Mantis is notated in a really interesting way. Like your earlier flute duo Olive that we recorded, it is very specific in some respects, but has a number of elements (precise rhythm for instance) left quite free, and there are sections that are guided improvisations for different musicians. What’s the idea behind this kind of notation?

HRS: This notation grew out of my wish to spend as little time getting the score down as possible. Maybe because I’m married to a “real” composer and have seen his laborious and very time intensive working process, I wanted to do something as far from this as I could. Like him, however, I wanted a sense of metric/rhythmic malleability – he approaches this through nested tuplets and changing bar lengths, and as precision was not my aim I settled instead on a roughly spatial notation. Articulation markers give phrases direction and extra weight and length to certain notes. I’m often working with a kind of heterophony that is more common in jazz (think Miles Davis’ Nefertiti) than in classical composition, and this way of writing seems to convey that flexibility more readily to musicians that are so trained in rhythmic exactitude. Written instructions then help direct the performer away from the score and into their own creative ideas.

Adult female  Iris oratoria  performs a bluffing threat display, rearing back with the forelegs and wings spread and mouth opened. By CaPro [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ],  from Wikimedia Commons .

Adult female Iris oratoria performs a bluffing threat display, rearing back with the forelegs and wings spread and mouth opened. By CaPro [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

JR: There’s something really whack and strange about Mantis – something to do with the microtones, the wonky rhythms, the near-unisons, and the abrupt formal changes. It’s also got serious horror vibes, particularly the sections with violin scratch tones, guitar fingernail scrapes, and screeching clarinet teeth tones. From the inside it feels and sounds like a horror movie – and a little confronting, because I suck at watching horror movies! Is there something specific you’re trying to express in this strangeness?

HRS: Maybe because I’m a little twisted (and love watching horror movies), but those scratch-and-screech moments are actually really beautiful to my ears! I freaking love clarinet teeth tones, even though they’re a little like fingernails down a blackboard. Those sections were conceived of as slightly uncanny holding patterns – like when a creature is holding perfectly still and you’re not sure if they’re thinking “if I don’t move they can’t see me” or plotting the right moment to attack. There also is a general sense I’m trying to capture of the violent aggressiveness of the praying mantis when she performs her bluffing threat display or when she rips the head off her mate while in the act of copulation, or the even just the creepy feeling of the little griphooks on her legs catching on your skin as she sits on your hand, but there’s also a beauty in each of those moments. But maybe that’s what makes it truly chilling – to me, the best horror movies are the ones that are most aesthetically arresting.

Beauty can be found in the strangest of places. I know there’s a bit of “nightmare is fantasy realised” in this kind of a statement, which I have mixed feelings about. It tends to refer to sexual assault as women’s fantasy, when used in the Žižek-Lacanian sense (as per its origins) – victim blaming in the extreme. But of course the horror movie is a safe space to work with our darker fantasies, even to reverse the formulation so as make it “fantasy is nightmare realised”. As an anxious human with a vivid imagination who has suffered PTSD, I’ve had problems with catastrophising, panic syndrome, and actual nightmares. Horror films are regularly both cathartic – giving a reason for anxious feelings in my body, helping them build up and release in a way that’s time-limited and within my control – and an effective suspension of the rules of reality so that I might see the beauty in a freeze-frame of fear. We think of horror (and contemporary art music composition, lol) as man-dominated domains, but actually women have long played a role in writing and directing stories of horror and do a spectacular job of it (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook – more amazing women directors of horror are profiled here). Living with the threat and very often also the experience of violence is almost a universal experience by women, so in a sad kind of way this makes a lot of sense.

I think I see the female praying mantis as a spectacular lead in her own particularly gripping but also slightly funny horror flick, and maybe this piece is her soundtrack.

Sexual cannibalism in  Mantis religiosa . By Oliver Koemmerling [ GFDL  or  CC-BY-SA-3.0 ],  via Wikimedia Commons .

Sexual cannibalism in Mantis religiosa. By Oliver Koemmerling [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

JR: Ok… so steering back away from horror… You recently went along to the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music in Germany – in a way, one of the spiritual homes of ‘new music’. You’ve been there three times now (wowie!). What did you take away from this year’s Darmstadt? What’s the latest developments in the new music world and where does what we’re doing in Australia fit in?

HRS: I find Darmstadt to be a really interesting institution in ways both good and bad, and it has delivered a slightly different flavour to me each time I’ve attended. My primary motivation for attending is always the other participants, getting to work with my friends and colleagues from around the world and to meet a host of brand new ones. But it certainly is also an exciting place from which to take the pulse of new European (and increasingly also American) art music. It is however a bit of a funny thing because it has this combination of an established new music tradition – with the composers and performers (especially certain performers) that uphold this – and a desire to always be at the cutting edge of compositional innovation. There’s a tension between old and new even while nearly everything is new (except that some Stockhausen and Boulez always seem to find a way in). There is also a tendency to mistake controversial for ground-breaking, and at the same time a tendency to mistake technical mastery for engaging performance.

Back here in our much smaller scene in Australia, I get the feeling that we’re doing a fairly good cross-section of that music here already with a few notable exceptions – although it’s true those exceptions would look pretty out of place in the scene here as it currently exists. But I also feel there’s a lot more freedom in the experimental realm here than in Europe in general. There’s also the room that allows Kupka’s Piano to be quite an eclectic group that plays a wide range of compositional styles, rather than specialising in one particular school or another and trying to carve out a niche.

As with many of the bigger institutions (...and a lot of the smaller ones), Darmstadt had been dragging its feet on gender representation in its programming. They made a big effort to change that this year, with at least 50% of composition tutors and participants being women, and around the same (as far as I could tell) in the composers of works being performed as part of the official program. There were works by the incredibly influential French electroacoustic composer Éliane Radigue presented at Darmstadt for the first time. This did make a difference to the content presented – there was more of a presence of multimedia in a lot of works, and more creative approaches to how music was staged. This is something I think traditionally concert hall type ensembles like ours might learn from, and indeed I think you can expect more theatre-minded performances from us in the future.

Kupka's PianoComment
A Music Redolent With Endings | Sam Smith in Interview

Kupka’s guitarist Liam Flenady recently grabbed Melbourne-based composer Sam Smith to chat about his haunting new work ‘endings, (anti)ending’ for flute, violin, electric guitar, and percussion for our concert ‘ELEMENTAL’ at the Queensland Conservatorium on 31 August. Things got pretty heavy and serious pretty quickly – which was primarily Liam’s fault – but many interesting ideas were discussed. Have a read, and come listen to the piece!

Liam Flenady: I'm having heaps of fun working on this new piece of yours for our 'ELEMENTAL' gig on 31 August. The electric guitar writing is built around volume swells, harmonics, artificial pitch shifting and reverb freezes – it is not immediately virtuosic-sounding, but is a very effective part. What was the thought behind this approach to the guitar? How did you think about the relationship between the electric guitar and the acoustic instruments?

Sam Smith: Thanks Liam, I'm glad you're enjoying it. The idea that anchored the electric guitar part in this piece was about creating varying categories of activity based around the attack profile of the instrument. Specifically, for much of the piece – through the use of the volume pedal – there is no attack at all with the material instead being presented as ghostly harmonic resonance appearing without the characteristic sound of plucked or strummed strings. I hoped this would find a poetry in the instrument that would help decontextualise the harmonic content.

I was interested in pursuing this for two reasons. The first, as a guitarist myself I think I've had a tendency to overwrite my guitar pieces, pursuing virtuosity rather than the moving simplicity of slowly played chords interacting with one another. In this respect, the guitar part is more in line with something I might have played as a post-rock obsessed teenager and I hope it captures that kind of earnestness. The second is to do with the baggage of the electric guitar and its "guitar hero" image. I was keen to avoid overwhelming a fairly fragile ensemble with anything akin to a "guitar solo."

The electric guitar has something of a post-hoc relationship to the other instruments. I imagined it pursuing its own lines of inquiry and set it firmly on its own narrative timeline (or rather several timelines – one each for the reverb freeze, the harmonic content, and the use of the frequency shifts). The extent of the timeline exceeds that of the other instruments which results in a somewhat stratified relationship between the guitar and the remaining trio. Unusually for me I also approached the harmonic content of the guitar part fairly intuitively. The alto flute part has quite a limited range of pitch material (which was developed by analysing recordings of extinct frogs) so I wanted the guitar part to be a freer element, complementing the restrictions of the flute, and lending an emotional weight to that content.

LF: Yes I was going to ask about the harmonies in the guitar part – they’re very beautiful, exploiting your retuning of the instrument, with a few microtones and a G minor triad in the middle. I know you've spent a fair bit of time looking at spectral music and your piece 'Dead Oceans' at BIFEM in 2016 was heavily based on alterations to the harmonic series. Is the scordatura here based on a harmonic series or some other principle? To me it has a referential quality; it feels like an unknown 'folk' instrument, more so than a spectral construction.

SS: Yes, my practice has had a post-spectral element to it for a few years now. In this piece, however, the only conscious reference to that tradition is probably in the use of spectral analysis to derive pitch content. I spent a while analysing recordings of recently extinct species and ended up basing a lot of the pitch material in the flute part on a recording of the last Rabbs' Fringe Limbed Tree Frog that went extinct in 2016 (you can hear it on youtube). Beyond that my approach to pitch was largely, as you say, referential.

In my last few pieces I've become more interested in using traditional harmonic elements, particularly those associated with grief, like a minor triad or adjacent steps of a minor mode, which are then degraded and decontextualised through the use of noise, detuning, or other techniques that modify and distort the sound. By doing this I feel like I'm starting to deal with memory as a musical parameter. I'm re-purposing my music at the moment as a way of processing the grief I feel about species loss, climate change and the disappearance of wild places, and I feel like memory is a key element in that process. For me, the presentation of these decontextualised, grief-soaked sonic artifacts helps conjure memory, and I think that might be what you've identified in the guitar scordatura – a G minor triad surrounded by microtonal alterations and noise, which sounds at once familiar and alien; able to pivot between characteristics of new and older musics.

LF: I was really impressed by your solo piano piece for Alex Raineri 'fading lines', which had an almost Messiaen-esque approach to time, with blocks of different material types cycling back in a way that was both constant and irregular. I was particularly impressed since one thing I find too often in works by younger composers (and perhaps younger Australian composers in particular) is a Romantic developmental formal approach, often with predictably placed dramatic climaxes. You seem to be grappling with this question of how to structure time without resorting to this Romantic model – what was your thinking in this piece?

SS: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed 'fading lines.' Yes, I definitely agree with you here – I think we can safely expect to hear some sort of climax around two thirds of the way through a piece at most concerts these days (regardless of their idiom) and finding a way out of this model has been a big concern recently, even though it's certainly a model I have used myself in the past. I think you're right that it is a Romantic legacy, and, as with other legacies we've inherited, I'm finding it more problematic everyday. As I've started to think of my music as something that is feeling its way around the weight and pathos of environmental catastrophe, the importance or distancing myself from this and pursuing new ways of shaping time feel important. I'm more interested these days in an approach that allows me to just create a space and inhabit it for a little while without the need, necessarily, for any development or big displays of drama. It's a gentler approach I think, though it makes structure more of a challenge without a narrative focus to direct it.

In 'fading lines' I assigned each category of activity (I think I had 7 or 8 categories from memory) a defined and independent timeline for repetition across its twelve minutes. That way things appeared, disappeared and interacted with other activities despite the absence of development. Drama is still created when two or more categories meet, but a climax never eventuates. In 'endings, (anti)ending,' I haven't been so rigid, but each instrument still has its own temporal concerns. The guitar timeline in this case though exceeds the timeline of the other three instruments and results in an outro – hopefully more post-rock than romantic. Combining this approach with an abundance of returning materials (which I think have a great expressive capacity), and the grief-associated sound artifacts I mentioned above, feels like a way of creating and inhabiting strata of memory and feeling.

LF: Speaking of grief and time – the title 'Endings, (anti)ending' sounds very Beckettian in a way. It calls to mind the famous lines from ‘The Unnameable’: "I can't go on, I'll go on." And in the work itself, there seems to be this sense of resistance to some kind of impasse; a recognition of an impossibility but a rejection of it at the same time. Did you have a specific impasse or ending in mind that the work is resisting?

SS: Musically I wanted to create a piece that was redolent with endings; that felt like it could end at anytime. I joked with my partner recently that I wanted this piece to sound like it was about to finish for 10 minutes. I don't think I quite got there but I hope it still carries something of that quality. The corollary of that though, is that despite the feeling of ending, it could equally continue. I think this is another quality that's probably precluded by a Romantic approach to development. So by cultivating this sense of ending, I was also giving myself the material to continue the piece whereby any of the material could in turn pivot into new material or returning material. In terms of a specific impasse, I think in this instance I won't shy away from the extra-musical analogues: that we are facing down a lot of endings – like species loss and extinction (which are considered very specifically here by the flute material being derived from the call of an extinct frog) – but that I hope these won't be the ending. Dealing with these feelings then informed the ethos and architecture of the piece.

LF: Yes the work has a mourning quality, but through this mourning, there does seem to be a sense of hope, even just insofar as the beauty of these losses inspires us to keep going. Thanks for the piece Sam, and we can’t wait to perform it on August 31!

Kupka's PianoComment
Home and Rainbow Lorikeets | An interview with Deepa Goonetilleke

Kupka's Piano is super excited to be featuring the incredible Deepa Goonetilleke in our final performance for 2017: False Cognate, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on Friday 15 DecemberOriginally from Brisbane, Deepa is now based in Frankfurt, Germany. She will be joining us for some challenging and exciting repertoire – György Ligeti's trio for horn, violin, and piano, and codex XII by Richard Barrett.

Hannah Reardon-Smith: Hi Deepa, we're really looking forward to working with you in a week's time! You're going to be playing one of the most iconic late-20th century works for your instrument with us, the Ligeti horn trio. We thought we'd ask you a bit about this work, and about your life in Germany.

Ligeti had something of a fascination for the horn – writing not only the trio but also a horn concerto towards the end of his career. Could you give some thoughts about what makes Ligeti's approach to the horn unique?

Deepa Goonetilleke: Ligeti shows an intimate understanding of the horn and I believe the horn trio was revolutionary in it’s use of natural harmonics. His writing inspired other composers such as Thomas Adès and Georg Friedrich Haas in their treatment of the horn. The trio exploits the entire register of the instrument and requires huge demands on the player in terms of both flexibility and strength. It is rare to find a contemporary horn part which is so technically challenging but still keeps the character of the instrument. For example, in third movement the horn player must take the hand out of the bell and play a melody across the natural harmonic register. The instrument captures many overtones from the piano and although it is quite a frenetic, wild moment, the sound is reminiscent of an Alphorn.

HRS: This horn trio is so rarely performed, especially in Australia. As someone who has played it before, would you say that's because of ... its extreme difficulty? (!!)

DG: The challenge of programming this piece is that not only is the horn part rather difficult, the violin and piano parts are also quite virtuosic. It isn’t always easy to find the right combination of players to play this piece. That’s why I am so excited to be playing it in Brisbane this week! The horn part requires many hours of preparation and I think the challenge is to show that you are having fun whilst playing something incredibly difficult.    

HRS: The horn is not usually seen as an instrument for contemporary art music, unlike, for instance, the flute. It generally seems still more attached to German late romanticism. What are some major works involving horn by contemporary composers? Do you think the 21st century will see more of a role given to the horn?

DG: There are some wonderful contemporary solo pieces written for the horn as well as some beautiful pieces of chamber music. One of the most famous works involving horn which is now an older piece in the contemporary cannon is Des canyons aux étoiles by Messiaen, which is scored for piano, horn, xylophone, marimba, and orchestra. One of the movements – 'Appel interstellaire' – is purely a horn solo and explores a variety of extended techniques. Another work which I would love to learn in the future is Nebadon from Karlheinz Stockhausen. It is written for horn and electronics and is part of the huge composition cycle Klang – Die 24 Stunden des Tages.  

Thanks to some fantastic horn players across the world such as Saar Berger and Christine Chapman, there are many great new pieces composed for the instrument.  Furthermore, due to the generation of new music programs such as the International Ensemble Modern Akademie in Frankfurt, we are seeing a growth of hornists who are interested in contemporary music and able to handle the pressures of such difficult music. Therefore, more composers will have more musicians who will help inspire them to explore the complex and vibrant sound world of the horn.

HRS: On a more personal level, you did your undergraduate studies here in Brisbane at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. What led you to Germany, and what does your musical life in Frankfurt look like? What are your current projects over there?

DG: It seemed like a very natural decision to move to Germany after completing my Bachelor of Music at the Conservatorium. During my first week of studies at the Con, I met a visiting German horn professor and he inspired me with his wonderful teaching. From that point on, I wanted to move overseas to study horn and I started saving for this dream that very week! I moved to Germany in 2008 and have been living in the Frankfurt area for the past 7 years.  

As a freelance musician, my work is constantly changing.  In one month, I can play a wide range of music from baroque to contemporary and this is exciting though at times can be quite challenging. I am often travelling, working with different ensembles, mostly in Germany but sometimes in Switzerland and France.  

One of my current projects is my horn trio for clarinet, cello and horn, Trio Radial. This is a new project which successfully toured throughout Germany and Switzerland this year, commissioning two new works, one each by Iranian-French composer Alireza Farhang and Scottish composer Neil Tòmas Smith. We hope to premiere and tour a new musical theater piece in 2019.  

I also have an ensemble called Heroica – an education project formed through Lucerne Festival Alumni which combines music with dance and theater. I have been very lucky with Heroica as due to its popularity we have played in some fantastic concert halls including the Elb Philharmonie (Hamburg), Wiener Konzerthaus (Vienna) and Luxembourg Philharmonie. Although we currently don’t have any concerts scheduled for next year yet, I hope that we will keep touring in the future.

My first concert of 2018 is in January with Ensemble Ascolta.  This is my first project with this ensemble and I am very excited to be performing at Ultraschall Festival in Berlin.

HRS: You studied at the International Ensemble Modern Academy (Frankfurt) – can you tell us a bit about that experience? What would you say to young musicians thinking about studying contemporary art music in Europe?

DG: I had a fantastic experience at the International Ensemble Modern Academy (IEMA).  Though it was sometimes stressful dealing with such a range of repertoire and a diverse group of people, it was a wonderful opportunity to spend a year studying contemporary music. Because of this experience, I gained contacts with a variety of other different ensembles in Europe and I always love to go back to play with Ensemble Modern.  

I think it is a great decision to study contemporary music in Europe but I think it is important to find a program which not only has great teachers but an interesting and challenging course of studies.

HRS: Final question, since the Guardian have been running this important poll: Favourite Australian bird and why?

DG: My favourite bird is the Rainbow Lorikeet. My parents have massive palm trees in the garden and the lorikeets flock there in the morning. When I hear their calls, I know I’m back home.

Kupka's Piano Comment
Composing our own (foreign) rituals | An interview with Diana Soh

Kupka's Piano is incredibly excited to be performing this coming Saturday night (September 2) at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. In addition to a sizeable new work by Australian composer Elliott Gyger, and our own Liam Flenady's composition braneworlds, we're particularly thrilled to be presenting Incantare : Take 2 by Singaporean composer Diana Soh. Hannah chatted with Diana a few days ago to ask her about the work and her life as a Singaporean composer living in Paris.


Hannah Reardon-Smith: Hi Diana, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me! We're really looking forward to playing your piece at BIFEM, and would love to find out a bit more about it, but first: could you tell us a bit more about yourself? What's your back-story, and how have you got where you are today?

Diana Soh: I started learning the piano at age four and and singing in my early teens. Composing thus came very organically, because music was always a big part of my life I suppose. Also, all music students (at least in the school program that I was in) were required to do stylistic writing and a bit of composition, etc. One day we had a guest composer present some contemporary music and sounds and well, the rest is history…

HRS: You're currently based in Paris. What's it like for you there? Could you run us through a 'typical' day-in-the-life of Diana?

DS: Paris is a very vibrant city, I’m spoilt for choice here when it comes to concerts/shows/exhibitions, etc. And of course we eat well here! I quite like this city... I used to go to as many concerts and shows as I could, but these days it requires a bit more organisation with a toddler in tow. That being said, children's shows are actually very good also! 

For now, my typical day is a juggling act between mommy-duties and composing. I'm usually up by 7am and we have a good family breakfast to start the day and touch base. After which I take my daughter to daycare and then it's work work work till it's time to fetch my little one home. Sometimes I give choral workshops or composition workshops to children but I generally limit that to not more than once a week.  

HRS: Moving on to the piece, Incantare : Take 2 is sonically a rather pointillistic, percussive work. On stage it is very active, with all performers being required to move rapidly between sounding techniques. To me, it sounds as though each of the six miniatures that make up the work form their own 'constellation' of points, perhaps with part IV being something of an anomaly – a microscopic nebula of high pitched tones. Did you have any specific visualisations as you composed this work, words or images to represent in sounds?

DS: Sometimes when I'm watching live concert I like observing the body language of musicians. The little gestures like unconscious tapping of feet, twitches, eye contact, etc. provide a lot of information and contribute to the experience of the piece. (For me at least!). The breath of the musicians, some count with their teeth… it's interesting. 

Anyways, I thought why not use “that” as material to compose with. So I used some utterances, and tapping and sliding of feet as musical material. All these things that “ritualised” concert music deems as undesirable; the things we practise away can also be made into something worth listening to and observing. 

As for the pointillistic sound world, because the starting point itself was the sound of tapping, everything else sort of grew out of that. So there’s a lot to listen to in this piece but a lot to look at as well. 

While the piece is carefully choreographed, one can choose not to look at the musicians and to just take in the aural material and the piece would still work sonically. But because such sounds are so distinct, we hear that it points to live interaction and movement on stage. 

HRS: You mention ritual, and with a name like Incantare, there is an obvious reference to both ritual and recitation. Does this relate solely to the ritual of Western music performance or does it relate to other rituals or to the idea of ritual more broadly?

DS: Yes, of course. As I mentioned before, the impetus for this project is about taking all the undesirable stuff; things that you are not supposed to do, and using that as compositional material. All societies have some form of ritual, whether musical or religious or socio-cultural and they are important because they provide structural points or containers used to hold otherwise scattered details of life.

I find even daily rituals are rather interesting to observe… For functional purposes, rituals are really great. I like being rather ritualistic about my daily routine because its simply more efficient and productive. But in a concert setting, when everything is slightly coded and repetitive, we sometimes need to make second takes. I think we know what to expect only if we are steeped in that particular tradition, but how well do we really understand the significance of a foreign ritual? Or even our own? 

HRS: On the other hand, the work has a distinct sense of fun. Does this playfulness often come through in your music?

DS: I'm a 'the glass is always half full' kind of person so I think it does cut through in most of my music.

It's serious cultural work that we do, writing music, but I cannot help but infuse some of my music with positivity and "light" (as in lumière...) – it's part of who I am and I think there's a lot of pretentious suffering in a lot of contemporary music today. Yes, every artist must inhabit his or her wounds and some of my music does have less desirable "flavours" but, I mean, some music today can go into really unnecessarily dark places which I tend to filter out a little. But I am aware some people in the contemporary music world don't like that... because they think an artist must be complex and miserable. They confound the two. I think an artist needs only to be aware. 

HRS: Speaking of light, have you spent any time in Australia – the sun-burned country? What are your thoughts on hearing that your music is to be played here?

DS: Yes, my uncle and his family lives in Brisbane and I've spent some time visiting them. Great Beaches and BBQ! 

I'm really happy my music is played in Australia and that it has the chance to travel there when I can't. Honestly, I do not know the music scene in Australia that well but now I definitely will take time to at least google it! Hopefully I'll get the chance to visit and to work directly with Australian musicians in the near future.

HRS: And we'd love for you to visit! You're from Singapore, a remarkable cultural melting pot a mere skip and a jump from our southern continent. How do you feel Singaporean culture might (or might not) feed into your music today? Is there anything you especially miss about home?

DS: I've left Singapore for a while now, but I regularly return mostly for family visits. I think that growing up in Singapore made me extremely adaptable and flexible. It also made me very hungry for contemporary/experimental music because there was not much weird and wonderful stuff going on back when I was living there. And so, when my world opened up I just became very greedy and very excited about the freedom that such creation can have. Deprivation sometimes does help to propel one forward. I miss the food and my family very much. I also miss that I can walk around till late and not have to worry one bit about my personal safety. 

HRS: And finally, what's on high rotation for you at the moment? (What are you listening to, watching, reading, etc?)

DS: I just listened to some neoclassical Stravinsky. It has never been my cup of tea and I wanted to see if my taste has changed since… I am also catching up on season 7 of Game of Thrones and I re-watched Richard Linklater’s Before… series on my long flight from Paris to Singapore. It's so weird to watch his accidental trilogy and to watch how the characters age so naturally… It's like watching a video of friends! 

I’ve just finished reading a collection called Fairytales for the Disillusioned (a collection of short stories from the 'decadent' literary movement) but the highest rotation of all would be reading The Hungry Caterpillar and l’Ane Trotro Fait Dodo every night! =)

HRS: Sounds lovely! Check out Possum Magic if you want some great Australian children's literature ;) Anyway, thanks for chatting. We can't wait to perform your piece and we look forward to a future potential Australia visit!

Kupka's Piano Comment
"Lurking in the text" | An interview with Helen Howard and Michael Futcher

In a few short days, Kupka’s Piano presents the Australian premiere performance of 'Words and Music', a radio play by Samuel Beckett set to music by Morton Feldman. For this special performance at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, hosted by the Queensland Music Festival, we are very excited to welcome award-winning actress Helen Howard and director Michael Futcher in a rare return to the stage. KP pianist Alex Raineri sits down for a chat with Helen and Michael in between rehearsals.  

Helen Howard

AR: Firstly, welcome! Thank you so much for joining us for this rather dark and mysterious, yet extraordinarily powerful work. To recreate the context of a radio play as best as possible, we’re performing this work out of sight behind a curtain. There’s also some extended song components. I imagine this is quite a bizarre project for you both?  

HH: I do love a challenge! To be out of sight, relying on just one’s voice for a subtle intention in a piece which defies instant interpretation…? Yes, that’s unusual. I will find being out of sight rather freeing, however. If an actor ever wonders “how am I seen” or becomes self-conscious, then he or she is in trouble! At least being screened removes that danger – I’m being tongue in cheek of course!

MF: Yes, it’s quite unusual to do a radio play in front of a live audience, in the dark, but I think it will be a fascinating experience for all. It will certainly make demands on the audience’s imagination and it will be interesting to hear how people interpret the work, having nothing more than sound to convey the themes and characters (notice I didn’t mention “meaning” as this can only be suggested in a Beckett production – never made explicit!).

AR: It’s also very exciting and rare for us to be collaborating with practitioners of other artforms. In relation to working with Beckett’s narrative (one that is albeit quite abstract), it has been fascinating for us to step outside of the conceptuality inherent in purely instrumental music into a space which is driven by dialogue that alludes to a more concrete meaning. This juxtaposition of ‘words’ and/versus ‘music’ is in itself a fundamental notion of what is explored in this work. How does this manifest for you both in this iteration of Beckett’s radio play with Morton Feldman’s setting of the musical score?  

HH: This collaboration across disciplines is exciting for us too – we have begun associations with Anna Goldsworthy and Karin Schaupp too. Music and words have long been old and addicted lovers – in this piece perhaps they are more like old enemies, or competitors! But that old association we all have with both elements allows for a natural connection to the meaning, as long as we listen with open ears. Feldman has been as articulate in the music as Beckett in the words; rather than being obscure, we are beginning to hear very clear, distilled intentions in the piece. There are technical requirements from words and music, but when we get past those we enter a shared world of the relationship, the dialogue going on between them.

AR: Despite the complexity of Words and Music, there are some fairly notable narrative turning points that serve as structural pillars within the broad arc of the work. Bookending the work we have a prelude and postlude. In-between, the themes of love, age, and face (alluding to a past lover) are discussed. For me, there’s a very nice clarity within these themes. Even if the listener misses some of the detail in the text, these thematic components bear a lovely resonance and lends a sense of continuity to the work. Michael, I am particularly interested in your thoughts as a director, whether this has any immediate parallels with Beckett’s other works? 

MF: Yes, definitely. Apart from the familiar bleakness, which runs as a tone throughout Beckett’s oeuvre, perhaps one of the closest parallels that comes to mind is with my favourite play of his, Krapp’s Last Tape, in which an old man looks back on the key moments of his life by listening to tapes he had made during his late twenties and thirties. All three of the themes that Croak proposes in Words and Music get explored in this wonderful play. In Krapp’s Last Tape, the old Krapp is obsessed with the memory of a sexual encounter on a punt, experienced many years ago, which takes on an almost metaphysical significance for him – a kind of “totem” moment which puts into shadow all other experiences he has recorded. In Words and Music, written a few years after Krapp, Beckett has played with a sparser, more enigmatic variation on this theme, where another old man, Croak, aided by Words and Music, similarly seems to relive a significant moment of sexual union (“the great white rise and fall of the breasts, spreading as they mount and then subsiding to their natural…aperture”) which, one suspects, has embedded itself in Croak’s psyche in an unending “loop” of pleasure and pain! The brilliant interweaving of the themes of age, time and love makes these two works definitely feel like companion pieces.

Michael Futcher

AR: Beckett was famously hesitant about what kind of music was set to accompany his works. Despite having collaborated with Morton Feldman on the opera Neither (1977), it’s nevertheless quite strange that that ten years later, Beckett consented to Feldman writing a score for Words and Music (1987) without any involvement whatsoever. Another oddity is the level of interpretative decision making left open to the performers, particularly in the interaction between the ensembles commenting and quasi-directing the stilted ‘aria’ which emerges within the age and face sections. Helen, I’m interested in your thoughts. How do you define the performers responsibility in making these kinds of interpretative decisions within the framework of a writer, and composer, who are usually extremely clear in their intentions? 

HH: If we take the work on face value, there are some instructions as to tone for the word actors playing Joe and Croak. For instance, one tone is “orotund”, another “cold”, and many within sentences “How much longer cooped up here, in the dark? (With loathing) With you!” – where is here? Why dark? Why confined? Why loathing? Why no sense of an ending to it? All those questions get the mind moving. What is interesting is the exploration amongst the clues we are given as to what inspired them, what lies beneath them, unsaid. As a young actor I’d have lost confidence in the search for meaning, to which I was so wedded then! But as a mature actor, I trust my instincts more, and no longer fight for an impossible “perfection” or certainty as to the writer’s intentions. As soon as you stop being concerned with the lack of clear instructions, you find them lurking in the text. The more familiar you become with the whole, the more the words seem to be connected to a story of sorts, or an experience. When I read Beckett I always get flashes of connection - he evokes sensations, or dream-like knowledge that you suspect we all feel intuitively, and which connect us in this human experience, reduced to an essence. It can be bleak, living. I think even the most optimistic, cheerful people recognise that. Beckett articulates it idiosyncratically, and I’m grateful for his assumption that artists will embrace what he gives them. As for the music – well, it seems Beckett trusted the composer to speak for “Music”, and leave Words and Music to slug it out. Oddly, Beckett’s “composing” in words is more like music to me – suggestive, rhythmic, sometimes exultant, sometimes a flatline – than most other writers. I love the growing partnership with the ensemble in finding out who’s leading whom and when, and why! Who’s winning, who’s losing – who’s above all that?!

AR: Ending on a different note, I’m sure readers would love to know what other projects you both have cooking at the moment?! 

HH: I’m looking forward to playing Mrs Sivan in Anna Goldsworthy’s dramatized memoir Piano Lessons – that’s in September and October down in Sydney, Newcastle and Port Fairy. I love that character – she’s a Russian, she’s an inspiring teacher, and she’s a vivid character to portray. My own teaching has been enriched by her influence since first I directed the piece, with our dear, much-missed Carol Burns in 2014. I was honoured to play the role next time the piece was revived in 2015, and to revisit it this year is wonderful. Carol and I agreed with Anna’s frequent exclamations of delight at the commonality in our art forms. I’m also deeply involved in a second draft, for Sam Strong at Queensland Theatre, of my own play – a dramatization of the last months of Jane Austen’s life, which encompasses an adaptation of her last, almost finished, novel, Persuasion. A quarter of the piece is my own original writing, and I’ll admit that setting it alongside Austen’s awe-inspiring prose is daunting. I hope audiences will see the play produced at QT before too long.

MF: I’m directing Helen in Piano Lessons, as well as being her dramaturg on Persuasion so we’re fortunate to be working alongside each other a lot at the moment, which we both enjoy very much. For our theatre company, Matrix Theatre, we’re also working as artists in residence for Clayfield College and producing a play called Over the Moon and Far Away, which goes on at the Roundhouse Theatre in August. Following that we both work with the 2nd Year Bachelor of Fine Arts Acting students at QUT, on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which is a wonderfully challenging piece. I also have a couple of projects in development.

Tickets are available here for concert 2 of the "Words Fail" series: the Australian premiere performance of Words and Music.

Kupka's PianoComment
"Some kind of a kaleidoscope" | An interview with Jessica Aszodi

The first Kupka's Piano performance for 2017 is rapidly approaching, on May 11th (yes, the Thursday night) at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. We'll be featuring the spectacular vocals of Chicago-based soprano Jessica Aszodi in performance of works by Beat Furrer, Patricia Alessandrini, and Anton Webern, as well as a new piece by KP members Jodie Rottle and Hannah Reardon-Smith. Before Jessica hopped on a plane headed for Australia, Hannah managed to catch up with her for a quick skype about the upcoming concert.

Jessica Aszodi

HRS: Hi Jess, we’re really looking forward to concerting with you in a few short weeks’ time!

JA: I’m very excited to come and perform with you guys! I’ve known [KP pianist] Alex for a little while now, and have various links to your ensemble. I have been spending quite a bit of time in Brisbane over the last few years, but it will be the first time that I’ve performed in Brisbane off the campus of Griffith University. It’s timely, because I just graduated [with a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University]!

HRS: Exactly! I think congratulations are in order on several counts, seeings as you are now Dr Jessica Aszodi, and you’re shortly to be launching your new LP in Sydney, and you’ve just had an article in New Music Box come out that I read only this morning.

JA: You know, it’s a strange thing when you spend a lot of time working on projects that require a long, quiet fermentation – the doctorate and the album took four and seven years respectively, and, you know, the article took a few months – but I had no control whatsoever on the fact that they were finalised within about 30 hours of one another! So it feels odd, because I’ve spent years working on all of these things and now they’re out in the world and I have to figure out what I’m doing with my life in the aftermath.

HRS: Yeah, amazing, also because it’s this kind of wrapping up feeling – the end of an era.

JA: Yes, so I’m excited to be doing some new projects like this one with Kupka’s, which is a different way of thinking than just lots and lots of writing. Because it’s lots and lots of notes! With new people! And building a new relationship, with new repertoire and a new audience.

HRS: The major piece in the concert that we’re going to be doing with you is Beat Furrer’s Aria for soprano and six instruments. I believe this is the first time that you’ve performed this particular piece?

JA: It is. I’ve sung a couple of pieces of Furrer’s before, one of which I believe – auf tönernen füssen – you’re going to hear performed by members of Kupka’s, and the other one is Invocation VI, which I worked on with Beat Furrer, and that was really useful for Aria, as it uses a lot of the same techniques. What took me months of hair-pulling-out when I first looked at them in Invocation, now make sense within his language, given that I’ve had a bit of time to digest it.

HRS: How would you describe that language, in Furrer's writing for the voice?

JA: I think that he breaks down the vocal performer into lots of small parts, and it’s as though he’s put the singing subject through some kind of a kaleidoscope. Most of the time the little wheel is turning but it’s turning really fast and the singer does not come into focus – you have a sense of a person in there but it’s these sort of shards of ideas, and flecks, and moments of breath, and phonemes that pop out. [In Aria] she’s never really intelligible, until – and this is very characteristic of Furrer – there are these sort of expressive break outs, where the singer addresses the audience in a more direct manner. He said himself that the piece is based on this movement towards revealing the voice, so in the beginning the singer is part of the ensemble and the ensemble is part of the singer, and they’re all living in this kaleidoscope together, circulating very very fast, with all of these breaths and sounds and phonemes, and then by the end the singer reveals herself, and together with the clarinettist walks away from the ensemble and the voice is left alone. Which makes sense, given the subject matter of the text: a goodbye letter, albeit an angry one, shouted through the window at an ex-lover by a woman going through a break-up.

HRS: And that original text is from, as I understand, a radio play, so in a way in this piece you’re giving a body to the voice. I don’t know if that’s something that you’ve thought about specifically in this piece, but given that you’ve done a lot of work on embodiment as a performer, as a vocalist, I wonder if you might share some thoughts on that?

JA: I think that Furrer, like some other European avant-garde composers of his generation and a little bit older, has a very careful approach to the way that he presents the subject and the body of the subject that is quite philosophical, and then deconstruct it. So in this piece a lot of that work has been done by the composer for me. I don’t think that I need to do very much, other than perform what’s on the page to the best of my ability, in order to convey the ideas that are present in it because he writes in this deconstruction of the body. In practicing it, I feel as if I’m constantly hyperventilating, but at the same time I’m instructed to be quiet and subdued. The cognitive dissonance of performing this very difficult but very quiet kind of vocality I think – if I can do it correctly – conveys the composers intentions without me needing to do anything too actively expressive.

HRS: Yeah, the sheer physicality of being there and going through these phonemes and the stuttering rhythmic material that he uses, before you can get the words out, before you can eventually reveal the voice, it already creates that for you. On that, the theme of Kupka’s concert series at the Judith Wright Centre this year is “Words Fail”. Given that this is taken from a radio play, which is just the sound, the words, and placed in this context to try to go further – do you think that the way that he’s set this text reveals something new about it?

JA: I think that his approach to timbre and his approach to texture, and to rhythm and metre, they do things that words can’t do in terms of their immediacy. The experiencing of it by the listener is very different to trying to follow a line of syllables that are supposed to make sense to us. I think it’s immediately apparent listening to this music that we are not expected to understand what’s going on in a logical sense, in an ordered sense, but we need to listen generously with our attention in order to make out these small patterns and these moments of expressivity to construct a constellation of meaning for ourselves that isn’t as obvious as words placed in an intelligible order may be.

HRS: You also contributed quite a bit of thought to program as a whole for this concert. We’re covering a lot of ground, from Webern’s Drei Lieder of 1934 to a brand new work.

JA: I think that there’s a nice line to be painted between Webern and his approach to poetry and his approach to texture and rhythm that is kind of a proto-influence to what we end up with in Furrer. And we nicely leap generationally across that by programming Patricia Alessandrini’s companion piece to the Webern, Wie bin ich froh, which uses the same text as the first song of Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Hildegard Jone. I think it’s a nice journey through the twentieth century for the audience, to hear these different approaches to text and different ways of listening to the sound of text and the messier parts of the timbre of the voice as they relate to the meanings inside texts.

HRS: Before I let you go – you’re a successful Australian artist, and you do perform fairly regularly here in Australia, but you’re based in Chicago. Can you shed any light on the experience of being an Australian performer in America?

JA: I have to say, I don’t have an in-a-nutshell answer. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, especially with regards to current politics, both in Australia and in the US – it’s a strange thing to be a foreigner right now, anywhere in the world. I love that I can come back to Australia and that there is such a strong community that I get to work with over there. And I also love my community here in Chicago, so I feel not uncomplicated about being a foreigner in America right now.

You can find out more about Jess on her website, and don't forget to book tickets for "Words Fail" concert 1: Aria!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Important announcement! KP needs YOUR help!!

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...

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.


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 experience was an interesting and very enjoyable one. It changed my perspective as a composer somewhat. Being less exterior to the work, I felt I was more able to treat the performance as a performance, and less as a score to be represented. In this scenario, the ‘simplest’ parameters of dynamic definition and balance, and cleanliness of entrances and exits of sections, became the most important elements, rather than the pitch and rhythm elements internal to the sections, for example.

Having practiced this piece about four times as much as the others in the group (since their capacity to wing it in this style far outstrips mine), and having played most of the work very well in rehearsals, I nonetheless had the inevitable freakout when I came to perform it. In the first section in which I play, I was distracted worrying about whether the clicktrack for Group III (clarinet and piano) was actually working. This entirely threw me, and I was pretty much all over the place in the first few sections. I likewise was distracted thinking about the balance of the piece later on and heard my count-in wrong in my chordal section, and entered early, which again threw me somewhat… Having said all that, I held up ok in most of the rest of the work, and nailed a couple crucial passages, so not bad for a first go.

So being a composer performing their own music comes with difficulties. One thing that really intensified these was the specific construction of the work and its technological dimension. The fact that there isn’t a score for the work, but only four parts, and the fact that everyone was buried in their own part and clicktrack meant that performers (myself included) had very little awareness during many sections of what was happening around them. This week I’ll be drawing a graphic representation of the whole piece as a kind of ‘study score’, but in retrospect it would have been much better to try to have this available during rehearsals.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting, and I think effective, way to rehearse: only a very vague amount of attention was paid to ensemble coordination, dynamics, balance, etc, during rehearsal itself (though clarinetist Annie Larsen very kindly came to two rehearsals just to give some basic feedback). A recording was made during rehearsal that I later listened to and took notes. I then read out to the ensemble before the following rehearsal, and we tried to then be a little more conscious of those aspects. With more rehearsal for future performances/recordings, I think we will reach a really powerful performance of the work.

I really enjoyed the confidence that the clicktrack lent to the performance. It meant that entrances were (almost) always completely bang on target, and people were able to play with a lot of confidence in some essential aspects of the work, and could therefore stress more about getting their own parts right, and getting more clarity to gestures, etc. We don’t have to worry about who is cueing whom, and we don’t have to have a conductor. (Obviously it also enables a performance in multiple tempos and time signatures as well, and the shifting between temporal stratification and temporal unison across different groups, which is one of the key ideas of the piece.) In the end, for this concert we ran the work about 5 times in total in rehearsal, with a couple of sectionals for each group. That was sufficient for the premiere. With a score of this complexity, without the clicktracks (even if everyone was in the same tempo, and even if there was a conductor), rehearsals would have been much more complicated and time-consuming just to get together basic elements like coordinating entrances, not getting lost, etc.

Obviously this takes out the conversational, ‘chamber music’ aspect of the piece. (Although not entirely. With more rehearsal and comfort with the various parts, and with clicktrack performance, each musician would be a little more freed up to explore the interrelations between parts). A year or two ago, I would have discarded it for this very reason. The kind of Adornian idea, however, that this kind of non-hierarchical chamber music, where the time is controlled collectively and internally to the subject of performance, is somehow more free than a music where the performers are ‘dominated’ by an external technological device, which controls their time (above which stands the authoritarian composer), misses a couple things. Firstly, the clicktrack makes possible musical relations and experiences simply not possible without it, and thus is a vehicle for our aural liberation. Secondly, the collaboration involved in the creation of this kind of music (amongst the musicians, and between the composer and the musicians), is very far from a model of authoritarian structures. In fact, I felt this was the most egalitarian piece I have written, partly because I was also subjected to the performance experience, and partly because it was my most thoroughly prepared piece, with a lot of logistical stuff sorted out in advance.

Creating the clicktrack itself was a time-consuming process. After I had determined the number of pulses and tempo of each group for each ‘region’ of the work (as I’ve described in an earlier post), I created a click-track via midi in Logic for each section at the point of beginning to compose it. I then bounced that and dropped it into the overall click file, which included each group as a separate channel (sometimes I had to time stretch the region slightly to fit its intended length, since the tempo I wrote in the score was sometimes rounded slightly from the value I determined mathematically).

I then bounced each click separately, so there were four independent clicktracks. I had initially thought of having just one computer, which would play a 4-channel file, which would then go through a multi-channel DAI and perhaps into wireless headphones, but the cost was somewhat prohibitive. Fortunately, my friend Vincent Giles in Melbourne provided me with a Max patch that creates a server-client situation so that sending a bang from one computer will start the clicktrack on all four computers. Obviously a network connection needs to be established across the four. I was initially going to go through the Judith Wright Centre’s wifi, but was advised against that by the Judy technician (it just wasn’t reliable enough in his opinion), so I decided to buy my own router and lan cables. This made it very easy in fact, once I had fixed some weird connectivity issues on some laptops. Anyway, once all connected, the laptops just needed some headphone splitters and headphone extension cables so that two people could access each laptop. To make sure that the audience couldn’t hear our click, we got headphones with noise-reducing rubber earbuds, and taped up each of our spare headphone with toilet paper and electrical tape.

Now that I have all the gear, this piece is actually a fairly straightfoward thing to perform, so perhaps we’ll be doing it again soon. The plan is also to record it very soon for Kupka’s very first album… which will be an interesting process unto itself.

Ok, that’s it for this post. In the next post I’ll take up some specific aspects of the composition that I thought were either particularly effective, or are in need of revising…

Kupkacast episode 1: Hannah, Liam and Michael discuss
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

img_20160810_194152 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...


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.





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!