Posts in Repertoire
A continuous line drawing: An interview with composer Samuel Smith

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.

Dignity and militancy: Si el clima fuera un banco

liam_on_bike On Friday, Alex Raineri will be premiering my new piece Si el clima fuera un banco for solo piano and fixed media at the Kupka’s Piano concert ‘Outer Sounds’.

The initial inspiration for the piece was as simple as it is impossible: how to put new music in relation to climate change as a scientific, social, and political problem?

While there is a lot of ecological, site-specific, interactive, art being made today, and I think this is a fine thing, I was interested in confronting what seemed to be completely heteronymous worlds: a virtuosic, notated solo piano work, popular political songs from across the last century and a half, conservationism and evolutionary science, and social and political analyses of our climate crisis.

The idea is that through assembling these various strata, complex and dissonant relationships will form, sometimes overwhelming the listener in their density, sometimes opening into enigmatic clarity.

What I was explicitly not interested in doing was writing a piece that is supposed to ‘raise awareness’ of climate change. I had no interest in choosing texts that outline the severity of the situation, the social and environmental costs, horror stories meant to humanise the issue and make us feel bad about our life choices. There’s enough of that out there already. Instead, I wanted to create an experience that in a sense condensed the complexity of the social-environmental relations we find ourselves in today, but also pointed generally to a political way out.

Of course I understand that my music will have limited political effect, but it is my belief that the solution to the climate crisis will come from the political sphere, from popular mobilisation and organisation, and not from art. Without denying art’s potential for political engagement, to my mind art’s primary challenge in this arena is simply to not get left behind: to interrogate what the climate crisis and its social implications means for art’s own presuppositions. There of course will be many ways of doing this.

if-the-climate-were-a-bankSi el clima takes excerpts from texts by John Bellamy Foster, Aldo Leopold and Stephen Jay Gould. At the centre of the textual element is Hugo Chavez’s still-astonishing speech at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit in which he made the statement: “If the climate were a bank, they would have saved it already,” from which the piece takes its title. While I was composing this work, I was also reading Naomi Klein’s fantastic book This Changes Everything, which, in a sense, is the real subtext of the work.

On a basic musical level, I tried to structure the work as a complex, meandering, but nonetheless inexorable movement towards a precipice. A kind of ‘tragedy of progress’ in musical form. The piece ends with a suspended moment, our moment, the moment of the decision, where options are open and things aren’t yet determined.

In general, in this piece and others, I’m aiming for a music that expresses both a sense of dignity, and one of militancy. The dignity comes from the refinement and complexity of the contrapuntal discourse – its resistance to reified musical language; the militancy comes from the ‘stickin’-to-it-ness’ of the lines, the driving nature of a lot of the material, the intentionally crude elements, the unadorned, unaestheticised texts, musical quotations, and so on.

To my mind the one can’t exist without the other: too great an emphasis on dignity turns the music into a paranoid negativity, always avoiding what might be a ‘naïve’ or ‘crude’ idea. Such an approach tends to collapse in on itself, leaving neither complexity nor dignity. On the other hand, too great an emphasis on militancy makes it brutish, unthinking, and, in a sense, easily ‘domesticated’. The idea is to find the point where the two intersect and reinforce each other. This is my idea of counterpoint.

I have to thank Alex in advance for all the tremendous effort he put into the piece. There has been a lot of back and forth between us about the piece since January (cross-continental collaboration: Brisbane-Brussels), with Alex often playing a direct role in suggesting compositional alternatives, etc, and I’m curious to see the result of this combined labour. I also have to thank here the three speakers Andrew Last, Jess Moore, and Nat Evans, whose unaffected and personal speaking styles nicely compliment the powerful oration of Hugo Chavez.

'Outer Sounds' takes place on Friday 19 June at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane. Check out the facebook event here. Book tickets here.

Pregnant nothingness: An interview with Chikako Morishita

chikako This Friday, Kupka's Piano clarinetist Macarthur Clough gives the Australian premiere of Chikako Morishita's solo clarinet work Lizard (shadow). Chikako has kindly taken a moment of her time between composition deadlines and premieres at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to give us a quick intro to her life, music, and guilty pleasures.

Liam Flenady: Let's start at the start. Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your story?

Chikako Morishita: I’m a Japanese composer, occasionally a pianist. I was awarded a BA and an MA from Tokyo University of Arts, and an MA (research) with distinction from University of Huddersfield. I’ve been based in Berlin since 2011. At the same time I’m doing a PhD at Huddersfield under Liza Lim and Aaron Cassidy.

LF: You say in your program notes in fact that Lizard (shadow) is a work about silence. You mention that one of the ways of writing 'lizard' in Kanji is with the characters of 'shade' and 'gate'. How do you draw upon this compositionally?

CM: For me, silence is not just a soundingly absent space, it is a space fully filled by one’s imagination even if materially empty. We call it 'pregnant nothingness' in Japan and I wanted silence in my composition to be like that. As for the title... The score of lizard (shadow) contains various degrees of determinacy and indeterminacy -determinate musical materials function as a framework to illustrate something unstable or indeterminate as if the gate (a fixed object) lets shadows exist.

LF: Lizard (shadow) has something of a 'moment'-like structure, How did you come up with the different sections - were they planned in advance, or did you find the structure intuitively?

CM: Firstly I made variations of some original materials (all passages in this work were derived from a single starting material), and then I made fragmentary moments by combining them. I then shuffled the order, added and removed notes or fragments, and so on.

LF: You've dedicated this piece to the works original performer, Heather Roche, and say in your notes that the layered material 'frames the performer's own interpretative sensibilities'. What do you feel the role of the performer is in your music?

CM: I hope my music to be a device to frame performer’s heightened sense of presence, and also to reveal their unique being.

LF: In Kupka's, we have a running joke that we'll do a 'guilty pleasures' concert at some point, playing pieces or songs that each of us hate to admit that we love. My song is Toto's Africa, a sophisticated, but thoroughly corny piece of early 80s pop. What is your musical guilty pleasure?

CM: Easy. AKB48, the Japanese idol group.

LF: Well I look forward to your modernist arrangement of this classic hit: [youtube]

Implied Dynamics and Vibraphone Gymnastics: A behind the scenes look at the preparation for Liam Flenady’s ‘Quite Early Morning, no. 2’

Kupka's percussionist Angus Wilson reflects on learning Liam Flenady's new work Quite Early Morning, no. 2. Come listen to the finished product at our concert Tempi Espressivi on July 18. Angus vibesHaving just come out of a practise session of Liam Flenady's new piece Quite Early Morning, no. 2, I'm grappling with two points which seem integral to the success of the work. The first is what I call 'implied dynamics', i.e. the notated loudness differs greatly from the loudness and/or meaning of the dynamic. Secondly, the 'gymnastics' of his part, flurries of small and complicated manoeuvres that need to be executed with precision, style and accuracy.

It would be an understatement to say Liam gives the vibraphone a workout in Quite Early Morning. I was expecting a notey part given his latest obsession of contrapuntal writing in the 21st century and his 'jazz' background. However he created something quite different and rather exciting. Quite Early Morning (both in the first and second incarnations) uses a range of extended techniques. These include pitch bending, dead strokes (leaving the mallet on the bar so it does not vibrate after being stuck), mallet dampening, white and black note glisses, striking the bar with the rattan handles and more. These are some of the more standard vibraphone extended techniques commonly used by composers today. Some techniques I did not expect were 'bouncing rattan handle on edge of bar', scraping rattan handle on the bar and to hand dampened 'extreme staccato'. (Have a listen to a recording of the first version to get a sense of what these techniques sound like).

Liam and I discussed the 'bouncing rattan' which he has listed at dynamics from pianissimo to forte. Compared to the vibraphone the technique has a capability of dynamic from about ppp (very very soft) to piano (soft). Liam presents the problem of hypothetical dynamic vs actual dynamic. How do I play an mf or f with this technique? Does this mean that I have to adjust all of the dynamics to fit in with this technique? Or is it isolated in its limited dynamic range and I should play everything else as per normal?

After a few practice sessions it's discovered that the dynamics are merely implied. Forte = 'We want to be able to hear the bouncing,' mezzo forte or mezzo piano would usually mean 'I'm a part of the texture and/or I'd like a bounce with less intensity'. Piano or anything less probably means 'Background texture or a very relaxed open bounce.' The reality is each time I play the technique at different dynamics the actual 'loudness' barely changes, just the speed/amount of bounces. You can only hope you have a good set of bendy rattan sticks to reach your full expressive potential.

The majority of the extended techniques used have a decreased capacity of dynamic, due to changing the purpose of the intended way the vibraphone was to be used. Most involve manipulating the metal in a way that doesn’t promote vibration and resonance.

As I navigate my way through Liam's piece I find myself feeling like much less of a musician and more like an elaborate gymnast or circus performer. Holding three differing sticks, constantly changing between techniques and tempos, I bend and flex my mallets to bend the pitch, cut and manipulate resonance/attack. My technique is pushed to the limit with p-f crescendos over 3-9 notes, meaning each strike must be very carefully attended to in regards to its gradation in loudness (remember a vibraphone cannot increase dynamic once struck). Rehearsals are much more strenuous mentally and physically on the performer than usual.

As I come closer have my part ready for a rehearsal, I begin to consider the co-ordination. While pulling off these 'manoeuvres' I have to be aware of my colleagues in rehearsal, what they are doing, if they are in sync with me, if we are matching dynamics and sounds. Each manoeuvre is often quite short and precise and usually part of a longer phrase or gesture. Whilst an overriding pulse does exist within the music... the success of the piece seems to much more entangled in the ability of the performers to pass these to each other. The writing is very hocketed in an abstract way. As the group becomes closer to the looming performance deadline it appears that more detail that is realised and cared for, the more homogenous the overall outcome.

Overall I thoroughly enjoy playing and learning Liam's music… While at times it can be difficult to navigate and comprehend, it has a very organic and expressive quality that gives the performer freedom to mould their own version of his work. I am honoured to give the premiere of it on July 18 at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art and to workshop it at the Darmstadt Summer Institute for New Music in August.

Angus Wilson.

Collaboration and counterpoint: Some thoughts on composing my 'Quite Early Morning, no. 2'

Liam score picYesterday I completed the score of Quite Early Morning, no. 2, a 10-minute piece for flute, percussion (vibraphone and woodblocks), and piano. Here are a few thoughts about the piece in an attempt to entice you all to come listen on July 18.

The title refers to the Pete Seeger song of the same name - a song which is ever more relevant. If my piece is 'about' anything, it is about collaboration and the struggle to create social relations where the individual and the collective are mutually supportive of each other, along the lines of the famous Marxist dictum: "Where the free development of each is bound up with the free development of all." In politics this is called communism. In music, we could call it counterpoint.

The piece is in fact an elaboration on a short experiment I wrote earlier this year (which is the version 'no. 1'). This original was recorded by Hannah, Alex, and Angus but not performed live. You can have a listen here:

Workshopping the first version with the musicians and listening back to the recording obviously gave me the opportunity to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses, what worked well and what worked less well.

The path from the first version to the second, much longer, one is certainly not a linear one. I began by writing a whole host of new sections, sometimes related to the original material, sometimes totally new. Much of this was spontaneous and there was very little 'pre-compositional' planning. There's a certain joy in just sketching out an idea with no clear framework and no obligation to include it in the final piece. Elliott Carter used this method to compose his Night Fantasies, and apparently Debussy often worked like this.

Once I had enough new material, I exploded my original version back into its constituent sections (deleting some) and then began arranging a formal structure for all the sections in quite an intuitive manner. Once the new formal 'plan' was decided, I began writing the whole thing out, adding linking moments and altering any section so it will fit in. I'd like to think I came up with a compelling shape for the work, but let's wait for July 18 to find out...

The collaboration with the Kupka's performers made this process what it was. Yet on an even deeper level, the very raw materials of the work are an outgrowth of an ongoing collaboration. Beyond discussing and working out specific techniques on the flute or vibraphone, for instance, this is a collaboration that comes from knowing the musicians personally, and in a way intuitively knowing their musical personalities from having attended so many Kupka's Piano rehearsals, etc. In fact, when I imagine the piano playing a particular figure, it's hard to tell whether I'm not just hearing Alex playing that particular figure. In future pieces I'll want this collaboration even further radicalised to see what more individuality and energy can be injected directly into the compositions.

Liam Flenady.

WET INK, New York, and "Pendulum III": An interview with Alex Mincek

Alex Headshot_0 Performing for the first time in Australia the music of New York based composer Alex Mincek, Kupka musicians Sami Mason and Alex Raineri tackle his saxophone and piano duo Pendulum III in the upcoming concert 'The American Dreamsong: New Music in the USA' - Friday 29 November, 7.30pm, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Our Alex chats with composer Alex:  

Alex Raineri: You're a very impressive young composer, could you tell us a little about your musical journey thus far - who have been some significant mentors and how have you come to be based in New York? 

Alex Mincek: I moved to New York from Florida when I was 19 to study saxophone at the Manhattan School of Music. At that time I was mostly participating in various forms of jazz music, but was already well aware of, and inspired by composers like Ives, Cowell, Cage, Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, etc. Though, I had not seriously considered composing myself until I took a course called "composition for non-composition majors". The professor of that class, Giampaolo Broccoli, recognized my intense interest in composition and really convinced me that I should pursue a more serious study of the craft. Since then I have had many wonderful teachers including, Nils Vigeland, Fred Lerdahl and Tristan Murail.

AR: In addition to composition you're also a saxophonist and clarinettist. I was very interested to learn that you are the artistic director of WET INK Ensemble with Kate Soper (who is also receiving an Australian premiere in our upcoming concert!). I would like to hear your thoughts on how being a performer (especially in terms of your collaboration with other composer/performers in your ensemble) affects the way you approach writing music? Does this allow for a more detailed and intimate workshopping process for certain pieces?

AM: The short answer is yes. But more specifically, I often directly draw from my knowledge of my own instruments to compose, which I believe allows me to write more idiomatically for instruments, albeit in novel ways. Additionally, working with my ensemble has allowed for, as you mention, a more detailed and intimate environment for experimenting with sounds.

AR: Tell us a little about the Pendulum pieces, you're written five as far as I can tell. Are they related to each other musically?

AM: I'm working on the 10th and final piece of this series currently. And yes, they are related to one another, insofar as they each are meant to represent various physical, temporal, and spatial phenomena demonstrated by the simple swinging motions of pendulums, along with some of the more complex forces, environments and mechanisms that make a pendulum’s movement continue or dissipate.

AR: Specifically, what were your thoughts behind Pendulum III? I hear some spectralist influences in the piece, perhaps attributed to Grisey, or Murail with whom you studied?

AM: Both of the composers you mention have indeed been very influential to my approach to composing, but I wouldn't say there is too close a connection between their work and Pendulum III, other than the focus on timbre as inseparable from harmony (specifically) and structure (more broadly). For example, the piece does use variously untempered, close tunings that cause novel timbral effects such as psychoacoustic 'beatings' to represent subtle back-and-forth 'motions' between the saxophone and piano, while simultaneously creating unconventional harmonies.

AR: You've received commissions and worked with some eminent ensembles such as the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Linea, Talea Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra among many others. What projects are you currently working on - what's next?

AM: I'm currently finishing a large orchestra piece for the Guggenheim Foundation and writing a new work for my own group, WET INK Ensemble. In the near future I will also write a new piece for string quartet and orchestra for the JACK Quartet and the American Composers Orchestra, a new string quartet for MIVOS, and a piece for 2 pianos and 2 percussionists for YARN/WIRE.

AR: Our 2013 concert series has been a peripatetic exploration of music from all around the globe with a focus on the younger generation of composers. We've looked at Asia, Germany, Italy and now we wrap up with music from the USA. As a young composer in the States, would you say that you draw inspiration from your American predecessors or contemporaries?

AM: I would say both. Composers of the past like Ives, Ellington, Cage, Feldman, Coltrane, Braxton and Lucier have been VERY important to me, but so have younger composers like my colleagues in WET INK. Many international composers, past and present (mostly European, I suppose), have been extremely influential for me as well.

Immersion is required! Introducing Luara Karlson-Carp

Luara Kupka's Piano is proud to introduce Luara Karlson-Carp in our upcoming concert, "The American Dream-Song: New Music in the USA" - on next Friday, 29 November, 7.30pm, at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art - where she will be performing the Australian premiere of a work by young American composer Kate Soper, as well as a great work by Downtown New York giant, Morton Feldman.

Our violinist, Alethea Coombe, took some time to chat to Luara and find out about her, her music and her connection to the States.

Alethea Coombe: Tell us a little about yourself - Where were you born? Where did you study? What were your early influences? All those things that led you to where you are today!

Luara Karlson-Carp: I was born in Montana, USA and lived there till I was four years old, in a tiny town right next to Yellowstone National Park. It was a pretty wild place, bears and cowboys and the like. I then moved to Bellingen NSW and that's where I stayed till I began a Bachelor of Music in jazz voice at the Queensland Conservatorium, from which I'm graduating this semester. Whilst in Bellingen I attended a Steiner School, which was very alternative and arts-based, and lived with a painter/potter for quite a while and I see both of these "creative" experiences as having a big affect on my values and musical/artistic influences today.

AC: How about now? What's an average day in the life of Luara?

LKC: I've just been struck down with a 24 hour bug so most recently it has included sleeping, reading A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, pumpkin soup and guilt-free internet perusal time....

AC: You recently studied in America - Please tell us a bit more about it! What did you expect, and what was surprising for you? What led you there in the first place?

LKC: I went over on a semester of exchange/study abroad. When I decided to apply, the real impetus for going was a well needed break from my environment and a chance to reflect and chase inspiration. I knew I wanted to be close to NYC, so I looked at the list of exchange partner universities, found the only one in New York state, pointed to it and said "that one". That was the extent of the expectation! I was incredibly lucky and landed in a strong community of positive, creative young musicians in the best town ever(!) and had an incredible time. Together with some friends a band focusing on free and concept-based improvisation was formed and we undertook a six-week, grass-roots, 6000 mile tour of the states, which was a pretty eye opening and pivotal experience. I also did a great workshop in New York City. I was surprised at the openness and positivity of the music scene there, and also shocked by the political situation and who really seems to be pulling the strings.

AC: Of course our aim in this concert is to present some of the music coming from the States that we find exciting and poke a little into what the scene is like there. You've experienced it first hand, though! What music and musical scenes did you discover while you were there?

LKC: The underground improvised/experimental scene was one I got some decent exposure to as we did almost 25 gigs in 25 different places on tour. Due to the economy, culture and licensing, paid gigs in venues are really hard to come by, but the underground scene is thriving. The fantastical existence of basements in nearly every US home provides pretty adequate sound-proofing, so people will set up their houses as music venues, naming them and giving them their own Facebook pages with weekly or bi-weekly events. It's fantastic as it provides a hub for local, self-determined musical communities. I think that's a lot harder to pull off in the rather more flimsy raised wooden suburban Queenslanders we have here!

AC: Tell us a little more about one of the pieces you're performing with us, Kate Soper's "Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say".

LKC: For me this piece is really exciting for many reasons, the first being that it's actually the first piece of music I can remember performing composed by a women, and secondly it's definitely the only piece I've composed by a soprano! That's really inspiring - it can be easy to feel like your only options as a female singer are to sound pretty and, if you please, look pretty too. I also think the way the piece plays on and relates to the text is creatively brilliant, and how the movements sit together is highly surprising and satisfying. This will be my first contemporary classical concert ever, so I've been very lucky to have Hannah's patience, passion and experience at hand for the learning process. We performed the first movement recently and I was surprised at the emotional force of the piece when it's put in front of an audience - there's a lot of intense rationalisation of highly emotional content in the text, and that, combined with Soper's musical treatment of it, creates what felt to be a rather unruly beast to pace and perform, but so exhilarating! I'm very excited about the performance, I think everyone will find it to be a very powerful yet playful experience.

AC: It sounds like there's a lot of music that excites you. What are you listening to at the moment?

LKC: Morton Feldman; this is my first contemporary classical gig, immersion is required!

AC: What's in store for you in the next few years? What would you like to be doing? What do you see coming in your future?

LKC: My current plan is to move to Melbourne and enrol in a BA. I feel my creative-world needs some intellectual-world support to feel meaningful and stay relevant to what's important to me. I'm really looking forward to getting involved in the scene down there and want to continue exploring contemporary classical music, as well as improvised/experimental music and eventually sound based installation works.

AC: Thanks very much!

Luara will be performing with Kupka's Piano on the 29th of November at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts for the fourth and final concert of our 2013 series. Get tickets here!

Stars, not far off - New songs by Liam Flenady

Wallace_Stevens On Friday night Kupka’s Piano will premiere my new work Stars, not far off - a cycle of six songs, settings of ‘Six significant landscapes’ (1916) by American poet Wallace Stevens.

This excites me, as it represents the first successful vocal composition of my output. Successful in a couple of senses: in the melodiousness of the lines, in the setting of the texts, in the interrelation of the voice and the instruments. It has been a great experience talking through the ideas and expression with Tabatha McFadyen and with the instrumentalists, and hearing the pieces come to life. They are sounding fantastic.

It was not an easy piece to write, and took me two months longer than expected - the poor performers only having received the sixth song less than two weeks ago.

American composer Elliott Carter once said to his student David Schiff that you can’t set Wallace Stevens to music, because his poems lack the requisite drama. Maybe this is why the work was so difficult to compose. It is true Stevens' poems are often metaphysical meditations with no narrative or psychodrama, and these songs are no exception. But one thing that struck me when reading the poems over and over was that, despite their stillness, there was always an implied dramatic movement, albeit a subtle one. In each poem you can always find an internal logic of development in the conceptual framework and imagery as well as a formal and rhythmic logic to the diction and phrasing. It is a matter of bringing this movement and difference to the surface while remaining true to the equal measures of stillness and unity in the poems.

Another aspect that I wanted to explore - in fact, perhaps the main reason for choosing these to set - was the fact that the poems were written by an American poet about China. (Stevens, an 'oriental art' enthusiast, wrote the poems in response to six Chinese landscape paintings, hence the title). It is becoming clear that the economic, political, and cultural relationship Australia has to both China and America (and the tensions that come from this) will be an important part of what it is to be Australian across the first half of the 21st century. These songs therefore try to incorporate signifiers of typical orientalist fantasy - gongs, pentatonics, glissandi, tranquillity, etc - at the same time as trying to have a kind of American busyness, sassiness and worldly nonchalance.

Through this contradiction, I hope the songs to be representative of something properly Australian.

I hope you can come listen to Kupka’s Piano and Tabatha bring these songs into the world on Friday night.


Six Significant Landscapes

I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds.

II The night is of the colour Of a woman's arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance.

III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow.

IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off.

V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves.

VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses -- As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon -- Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Teasers for our upcoming Asia concert!

The first concert of our "peripatetic" four-part series at the Judith Wright Centre is rapidly approaching! So where in the world is Kupka's Piano? Asia! Asia email image

Join us on Friday 8 March at 7.30pm in the intimate Music Rehearsal Room at the Judy for a trip across the islands and countries of Asia and hear the play of Eastern and Western influences in composers from Malaysia, Japan, China, Korea, and of course Australia. Tickets are available here.

Wang Lu (pictured) is an exciting young Chinese composer, her music having been played by the likes of Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris. Her quintet From the Distant Plains II explores the sounds of Mongolian mouth harp and throat singing alongside playful Messiaen-esque passages. AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE. Hear some of Wang Lu's music here.

Japan's most celebrated composer of the 20th century, Toru Takemitsu, was himself strongly influenced by French music. Distance de fée for violin and piano expands on the musical language of Debussy and Messiaen, Europeans who were in turn looking eastward for inspiration.

With a minimum of musical material, Korean composer Isang Yun explores the expressive potential of the bass flute in his fourth of five etudes for the flute family. The low and hollow tone of the instrument along with techniques such as vocalisation, fluttertongue and pitch bending are reminiscent of the sounds of the Daegeum, a large bamboo flute with a buzzing membrane.

Young Australian-Taiwanese composer Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh is becoming increasingly recognised within Australia and around the world for her ability to create beautiful and enticing sounds, as well as the numerous cultural resonances that she is able to synthesise. Her piece Towards the Beginning, commissioned for Encounters III at the Queensland Conservatorium in 2010, combines a suppleness of gesture and a light sound palette that sounds at once familiar and unfamiliar. Visit Annie's blog here.

Born in 1955, Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa studied with Isang Yun as well as spending formative years in Berlin. His music draws as much upon the grand traditions of European art music, from Bach to Beethoven and from Nono to Lachenmann, as it does the traditional art musics of Japan, in particular gagaku and ancient court music. Edi, a work for solo clarinet, was composed in 2009 and shows off our clarinettist Macarthur Clough’s virtuosity but also his musical sensibilities.

Unlike many of his fellow graduates from the Central Conservatory of Beijing from the late 70s and early 80s (Tan Dun, Chen Yi, Zhou Long), Guo Wenjing decided to remain in China. While this has meant less fame in the West, Wenjing has gained some notoriety for his bold uncompromising theatricality and his idiosyncratic approach to his Sichuan heritage. Wenjing’s Parade is a scintillating work of coordination between three percussionists producing a myriad of sounds from just six gongs.

Chong Kee Yong is Malaysia’s leading composer. His music is unashamedly experimental and at the same time lyrical. His Chinese and multicultural Malaysian heritage enriches the Western Modernist language that he has mastered. The piano fragment Time Flows demonstrates the composer’s exciting combination of spiritual stillness and modern complexity. AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE. Visit Chong Kee Yong's website here.

Peter Sculthorpe represents a true Australian voice all the more for the fact that he dedicated much of his life to understanding and integrating music from our neighbouring Asian cultures into his own composition. The meditative stillness, use of pentatonic scales, and the eerie whistling in the solo violin piece Alone show how effective this Australian-Asian synthesis can be.

Newly commissioned for this concert, Liam Flenady’s Stars, not far off is a setting for soprano and small ensemble Wallace Stevens’ early cycle of poems Six significant landscapes, itself a response to some pieces of Chinese Landscape painting that the poet saw. The composer writes: “I was interested in the idea of an Australian setting a poem by and American about Chinese paintings. Australia’s recent history and future is in part determined by our shared political, economic and cultural links with both China and America - two global superpowers. The poems themselves, however, were what got me. Brilliant and short, they are almost haikus. Elliott Carter once said that it is impossible to set Stevens to music, since his poetry contains no drama. I think this is untrue, you have to find the subtle drama within the often very still poems, and bring it towards the surface… although not all the way.” WORLD PREMIERE. Visit Liam's blog here.

KUPKA'S PIANO's Upcoming March Performances - ‘A new sun rises: Modernist music in Asia’

Kupka's Piano is very excited to announce the repertoire for our two concerts in March entitled ‘A new sun rises: Modernist music in Asia’. Be sure to come along and hear

Wang Lu's From the Distant Plains II (2010) Australian premiere Guo Wenjing's Parade (2003) Toru Takemitsu's Distance de fée (1951) Isang Yun's Etude IV (1974) Chong Kee Yong's Time Flows (2007) Peter Sculthorpe's Alone (1976) Toshio Hosokawa's Edi (2009) Annie Hui-Hsin Hseih's Towards the Beginning (2010) Liam Flenady's Stars, not far off (2013) World premiere

7:30pm, March 8, 2013 at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane 1pm, March 14, 2013 at the Nickson Room, University of Queensland, Brisbane

Purchase tickets here.

See you there!

My Trio - Part 1 - From Grisey to Carter

As part of the Grisey, Boulez, Brisbane concert, the composers associated with Kupka's Piano, myself included, are writing new works. That's the 'Brisbane' part of the title, evidently. (My piece is in fact part of JUMP Mentorship project that I am undertaking this year with my mentor François Nicolas). I thought I'd write up a little something about my piece as a bit of a teaser, and to encourage myself to continue to write it (it's down to the dots on paper bit, the most painful bit... and it must be completed soon). But what can I say about my piece (currently simply titled 'Trio')? I'm hardly going to give an analysis of it, nor do I have any desire to write a little narrative-style blow-by-blow commentary on the moods the piece is supposed to conjure up.

It's probably best to go back to first principles and then find our way back to the piece. I initially tried to fit all this in one post, but now I'm going to have to split it in two. The next instalment can come in a few days. It will deal with my piece as such, the current post will deal with the conceptual lead-up to it.

What can we do today that is musical, after so much musical exploration over thousands of years, and in particular over the last 150? For a long while I thought that there was nothing left we could do except either 1) subvert what people generally like to think of as 'music' or 'that which is musical', usually by way of irony, or 2) flee the realms of music proper as far as possible in order to have something like a narrative sound-painting - not music, just the movement of sounds or sound masses in an evocative manner. Of course the former represents a kind of childish nihilism insofar as it is entirely negative and really just represents a stone in the shoe of music, nothing more - an annoyance. The latter may be more promising if you wish to make a different artform, something like 'acousmatic' music for instance, but from the perspective of music it tends to come across as rather banal. Sure, such art can be full of clever shaping of local material, and it might also be conceptually interesting for someone wishing to comprehend the allegorical structure of the large-scale form. But for me, as I worked under this latter conception, I became further and further disappointed with the results musically. It made boring music.

Why is this? I can't be sure at the moment, and this is of course the subject of a lot of my thinking, but two things spring to mind.

Firstly, that music must relate to and build upon the categories of its own history (i.e. polyphony, rondo, polyrhythm, harmony, etc). This is not so that it may be chained by them, but so that it develops them and develops from them (as slowly or quickly as necessary). Music of course relates to, and internalises, many other forces that are not music - this much is clear from history. Yet the point is that this is an internal dynamic, or becomes one in the historical process of musical creation. The development of these musical categories, their interrelation and their relation to non-musical categories, the expansion of the domain of music - this multiform process is the subject of music. Simply substituting new categories from other disciplines (or just made up ones) for musical categories usually leads to, as I have suggested, pieces of art that are musically uninteresting or simply unmusical.

Secondly, the levels of the work - the local, the regional and the global (from the small phrase or motif up to the large-scale form of the work) - must interact with one another and have bearing on one another. Much music that is the simple amassing and sculpting of sonic forces often results in a kind of formal shell (derived from intuition, from physiology, from mathematics, etc) that is then filled with content that is more or less neutral with regard to this shell - it is often even neutral with regard to itself (i.e. lacking an internal dynamic)!

For my development as a composer (and more broadly historically too), the movement from the amassing of sonic forces to something that I now see as more properly musical was an internal compositional process that I derived from the trajectory of Gerard Grisey's entire oeuvre. From Grisey's early spectral pieces (in particular Partiels), which were heavily sonic in conception, with very neutral local material, you see a slow development towards construction of local material that has its own dynamic, as well as more complex global forms - signifying for many a rapprochement with traditional Western music. One of the works in this concert, Talea, was a very significant moment in this process. In Grisey, the simple process or sonic block gave way more and more to phrase structures, supple metres, a near-syntactic harmonic logic, and dramatic global forms. All while still remaining within a specific conception of time as proportion, a concept clearly derived from the structure of the harmonic spectrum (by this I simply mean that the general time in the work is divided into different streams of time that only line up every now and then). Each piece in this development was a masterful negotiation of this problem.

For Grisey, time as proportion, pushed in this direction, almost generated local-level non-neutral material as I conceive it, but Grisey's emphasis on stasis and balance (again as a result of the emphasis on the spectrum) usually meant that this newfound musicality was curtailed. By the time of his masterpiece Quatre Chants (his final work before his untimely death) this process has reached a stage of brilliant tension, between dynamic structures and stasis, between musical categories and non-musical ones.

Strangely, for my development and for my ears, American composer Elliott Carter has represented a breaking out of this contradictory stasis into new terrain (even though chronologically speaking Carter is prior to or contemporaneous with Grisey). Proportion is re-interpreted simply as polyrhythm which can function at a long and short range. Whereas for Grisey, time as proportion meant a cycling back onto itself, and any free play of materials generated in one cycle is in a way negated by the conclusion of the cycle and the emergence of the new commencement, for Carter on the other hand, the rhythmic structures and cycles represent something closer to a skeleton over which a continuous flesh can be built, or a fundamental mesh over which can be developed a kind of crochet of actual musical materials. This just means that there are long-range polyrhythms in Carter's work that only meet up once or twice in the whole piece, as well as short range ones that meet up every couple of beats. What is then done with this is often quite free. Theoretically, this allows for a much more complex and musical way of writing.

I'll leave it there for now. I can't even be sure anybody has made it to the end of this rant. But the next one will deal with how I take up these concerns in my piece for the concert.

Modern French Masters

Grisey, Boulez, Brisbane

Date: 7.30pm, Friday 5 October 2012 Where: Music Rehearsal Room, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 420 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane Ticket: Full $20 | Conc $10 Bookings: Phone: (07) 3872 9000 or Online:

The newly formed Kupka’s Piano puts two modern French masterpieces tête-à-tête in this enthralling concert of new music entitled Grisey, Boulez, Brisbane. Get lost in the vast sonic landscape of Grisey’s Taléa (1986) and the frenetic filigree of Boulez’s Dérive I (1984). Expose yourself to the latest experiments in art music: three world premiere performances of new works by emerging Brisbane composers Peter Clark, Liam Flenady and Michael Mathieson-Sandars. Come enjoy some sounds and ideas rarely heard in Brisbane! To find out more see the NMN website HERE.

The Repertoire:

Pierre Boulez' Dérive I (1984): "Dérive" translates roughly as “derivative”; the piece is derived from the two compositions Répons (1981) and Messagesquisse (1976/77). The “derivative” is also a sequence of variations “on the name Sacher”. Six chords build a circular rotation, which mimic the structure of the piece, but also soften it. (Description from Universal Editions page.)

[youtube=] Gérard Grisey's Taléa (1986): "Talea", in Latin, means "cut". In medieval music, the term refers to a repeated rhythmic pattern on which is grafted a configuration of heights repeated or not coinciding with the first and the so-called "color". In the 20th century, we find this dissociation between pitch and duration. [youtube=]