Music Beyond Borders: An interview with clarinettist Jason Noble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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