Posts in Interview
"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!

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!

Interview with THE MOON

Kupka's Piano international correspondent and flutist Hannah Reardon-Smith interviews The Moon (a.k.a. Jodie Rottle), who will be extensively featured in our performance of Pierrot Lunaire at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts on June 10 at 7:30pm. vintagemoonwomanish11 Hannah: Hello, Moon.

The Moon: Hello, human.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A continuous line drawing: An interview with composer Samuel Smith
 
headshot-samuelsmith.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR: Aww, thanks!!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

 
Living life with more laughter: Jodie Rottle in interview

When Kupka's Piano performs 'Harrison's Axe' on April 19 at the Judith Wright Centre, we will be giving the premiere performance of a new work by our flautist Jodie Rottle, entitled Wednesday Assembly. In this interview Liam asks Jodie about her piece and about what it means to be a performer-composer today. Have a read, and don't forget to book your tickets!

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

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

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

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

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

jodie in woods_quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snakes and almglocken: An interview with composer Jérôme Combier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BrettDean600In our last concert at the Judith Wright Centre - 'Modern Music in Exile' - Kupka's performed Brett Dean's epic sextet, Old Kings in Exile. The work will be heard in Australia several times this year - Melbourne's Ensemble Cathexis also recently performed it in their May program 'Reckless Abandon'. In a special collaborative interview Kupka pianist Alex Raineri and Cathexis flautist Lina Andonovska both posed some questions to Brett about the work, his life in self-imposed 'exile' in Germany, and his reading list. ALEX RAINERI: The theme of our last Kupka's Piano concert was 'Modern Music in Exile' which is derived from the title of your sextet Old Kings in Exile, a work which is receiving a considerable amount of airtime, with SYZYGY also performing the piece later in the year! Much of the Australian repertoire we play (by established and the younger generation) are by composers who have relocated either to Europe or America and I'm always interested to know whether there is for composers a conscious intention to find a musical language which still represents a uniquely Australian sound, and what kind of role this plays. What are your thoughts and is this something you would associate with your works?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Brett Dean's profile on Boosey & Hawkes

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

KP percussionist Angus Wilson caught up with clarinettist Nick Harmsen, who will be performing with the ensemble in Brett Dean's sextet Old Kings in Exile this Friday at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Here's what he had to say. Angus Wilson: Hi Nick, welcome to your debut performance with Kupka’s Piano! We are thrilled to have you on board for ‘Modern Music in Exile’. What excites you the most about performing in this concert with Kupka’s Piano?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'My building blocks are variations': An interview with Melody Eötvös

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Underground Violinist meets Kupka's Piano

AdamCadellThis year we have the good fortune of having Adam Cadell joining Kupka's Piano as our violinist. While we are sad to say good-bye Alethea Coombe (for now...), we're thrilled to be working with Adam for the 'Il faut être' concert series at the Judith Wright Centre. KP composer Liam Flenady had a chat with Adam about his life, his music, and how he came to be in the ensemble. You can hear Adam perform as part of our March 21 concert 'The Machine and the Rank Weeds' at the Judith Wright Centre. Tickets are available now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"music as a weapon against 'moribund capitalism', a radical subversion of imperialism"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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