'Limits are lame': An interview with guest artist Jodie Rottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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