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 1 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 PianoComment
"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!


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

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!   Corrina_Bonshek_Composer_with_Score_Photographer_Nick_Morrissey

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

TabathaMcFadyen 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.

Tabatha's graph

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!