Steve Newcomb is one of four Brisbane composers to be featured in Kupka's Pianos first Brisbane performance for 2015, he is also married to our wonder flutist, Jodie Rottle. Steve took some time out of his busy schedule to let us know a little bit more about himself and his upcoming collaboration with Angus Wilson and Caitlin Mackenzie from MakeShift Dance. See Steve's new work this Friday 10th of April, 7:30pm at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Angus Wilson: Firstly, You have one of the most interesting and diverse careers of any musician/composer I know. Could you tell us a little bit about some of your current and upcoming projects? What is the focus for you at the moment? Stephen Newcomb: I balance performing (as an improvising pianist), composing, arranging and teaching. They all intersect in different ways and inspire one another. I’m currently arranging music for a show at the Queensland Conservatorium in May (where I teach) which will combine the Con Artists Jazz Orchestra with strings, harp and french horn section. I’m also editing some arrangements that I’d previously completed for Chris McNulty and her recently released album ‘Eternal’. I’m currently collaborating with drummer Isaac Cavallaro in a duo project that explores beats, electronics and improvisation. I’m kept busy with my role as Head of Jazz and Program Director of the Bachelor of Music at Griffith University, but there are a lot of writing projects on the go with Queensland Music Festival, Bernard Fanning, and others. AW: I've really enjoyed collaborating on your piece Kicking Goals that will be performed in it's first permutation this Friday night. Could you tell us a little bit more about it? SN: I’ve enjoyed the collaboration too! I find the thrill of collaborative work the same feeling no matter what the genre or setting. I get the same buzz from mixing a record where there are different creative decisions to discuss and agree on. I started on this piece with a plan to develop some audio manipulation techniques (using Max/MSP) I had used in an earlier solo flute work, but the process of collaborating with yourself on vibraphone and Caitlin (dance) has allowed the work to grow and adapt. The title is a play on the word ‘gaol', and the work explores the concept of ‘the human detained’ which is a theme for the collaborative work between Kupka’s Piano and MakeShift Dance. In arriving at the Kicking Goals title I reflected on the slogans we often see in the media relating to the asylum seeker detainment, which are all too triumphant when you think that they relate to the lives of families in asylum from war-torn countries. AW: Is it your first time working with a dancer and/or solo percussionist? What parts of the collaboration have been interesting to you? SN: It is the first time working with solo percussionist, so the immediate question concerned is which instruments (or objects) would be used in the piece. In the end I chose only vibraphone to be symbolic of ‘the human detained’ theme as it applies limits to both myself as a composer and yourself as the performer. I have worked with dance and movement (in a work for Circa) before, but this was a chance to really collaborate on minute structural and specific emotionally linked concepts in the work. Caitlin brings a totally different perspective to the work with staging concerns, such as how a slight movement here of there can translate to meaning. I suppose the visual element is something I consider less when writing music as it’s concerned mostly with sound so that realisation has been interesting. AW: Having studied and performed and collaborated across the world, including an extensive amount of time in New York, what is it that excites you about the Brisbane music scene? SN: I think the Brisbane scene is constantly growing so there are always options for new pathways to be created. There seems to be more underground activity and people just doing their thing, just the same as they do in a large city like NYC. The population scale is just always going to be greater in the bigger cities. I’m excited by the diverse experiences you can have as a musician here, because many players straddle styles, genres, etc. AW: Finally, what are your three favourite places in Brisbane? SN: I like food, so Mondo Organics West End needs to be in this favourite’s list. Also, Fundies whole food store in Paddington is a winner and I feel like a kid in a 'healthy candy store' when I’m there. When I’m not eating, the Brisbane bike paths are another favourite place.
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFf4AgBNR1E]
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. Having 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.
Kupka's Piano is very excited to announce the repertoire for our May performance entitled ‘Giants behind us: German music and its discontents’. Be sure to come along and hear
Peter Clark (b.1991) - In lines, in time I and II (2013) WP Genoël von Lilienstern (b.1979) - The Severed Garden (2009) AP Isabel Mundry (b.1963) – Composition for flute and percussion (1999) Gerald Resch (b.1975) – Splitter (2002) AP Katharina Rosenberger (b.1971) - phragmocone (2006/10) AP Wolfram Schurig (b.1967) – A.R.C.H.E. (2005) AP
7:30pm, May 10, 2013 at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane. Tickets available now.
See you there!
(AP - Australian premiere; WP - world premiere)
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: www.jwcoca.qld.gov.au
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.
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=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxYCLbbW12c] 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=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1fTm7_l0Dc]