Posts tagged new music
"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!

KP Overseas: Darmstadt 2016

img_20160810_194152 It's been a busy few months for all the members of Kupka's Piano, and we're fast approaching October when we'll be performing a program of no less than three world premieres and an Australian premiere at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane (tickets are now available, by the way)! But since you last saw us play in our hometown, most of us have been travelling all over, attending international workshops and festivals, taking lessons with some of the finest musicians in our field, and just soaking up the diversity of new music being made in Asia, Europe, and America.

We were fortunate enough to have received support from the Australia Council for the Arts in order to travel to Darmstadt, Germany for our second appearance at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, this year in its 48th edition. This is the international festival-academy for contemporary art music, instigating a biennial pilgrimage of composers and performers from all corners of the globe. Those of us who attended last time wrote about our experiences here, here and here. It's already a month on from this year's festival (where on earth did the time go??), but we wanted to just give a brief comment from each of the members who made it over there to give an idea of what an important experience this has been for us, along with some photos of our exploits!

Stay tuned on the KP blog for our upcoming inaugural "KupkaCast" - our first attempt at a small podcast, where the composers of the new works in our next concert discuss the difficulties of choosing titles, weaving in extramusical material, and different approaches to getting notes onto paper...

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Jodie Rottle

Attending the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music was a time to meet new colleagues in new music, in addition to connecting with old friends from around the world. It was also a reminder of the importance of new music as an outlet for expression, whether it be cultural, social, or political. The performances, personalities, and ideas alive at the course spurred a whirlwind of emotions: excitement, intrigue, confusion, disgust, inspiration, frustration, exhaustion, and satisfaction. I left knowing I had experienced a special event and thankful that I could return to Australia as a stronger performer and creator.

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Alex Raineri

It was great to be back in Darmstadt for my second stint at the International Summer Courses for New Music. Very inspiring to be ‘inside’ this buzzing hub of new ideas and new work which I found once again to be very artistically motivating, seeing so many people from our generation with such varied and colourful things to say about/with our artform. Particular thanks to Nicolas Hodges and the summer courses for awarding me a Kranichstein Stipendium Musikpries and also the Theme and Variations Foundation which supported my attendance at the 2016 festival.

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Katherine Philp

At Darmstadt I studied with Arditti Quartet cellist Lucas Fels, and amongst other things took part in the Cello-Piano-Composer workshop which was convened by Fels, Pianist Nicolas Hodges and Composer Brian Ferneyhough. A collection of fresh scores were chosen by the convenors prior to the festival which were then assigned to the cello-piano duos, and subsequently workshopped and rehearsed for a performance on the final weekend of the festival. While there were some excellent pieces developed over the course of the two weeks, I was particularly interested in the unfolding processes of collaboration that were taking place: quality of communication; the effects of ego/insecurity; language barriers; choices of notation; rehearsal process and son on. It was clear to see how positive working dynamics between all parties in the workshop process contributed greatly to the strength of the artistic outcome. For performers of contemporary music, to work constructively with composers first-hand is vitally important - if the collaborative process is thoughtfully undertaken and documented, the composer-performer workshop can serve as both a site to reflect upon process, and a rich source of information for future interpreters.

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Michael Mathieson-Sandars

While I had some great lessons, and saw some spectacular concerts, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Darmstadt was the number of ways that, prompted by the celebration of its 70th year, the culture and history of the course was challenged. Much was said regarding GRID [Gender Relations in Darmstadt] - and so it should've been - and, more subtly, this attitude also bled into the Philosophy and Art forums where disagreements tended to be drawn not only along gender lines, but often between age groups as well as between those who were native anglophones and (mostly) Europeans. Of course, having heated arguments at Darmstadt is in many ways no change at all, and in a self-aware move, there was also a series of feedback sessions being run aimed to test and teach new methods for musicians to provide criticism to one another which were non-competitive and non-confrontational. Interesting times ahead for the course!

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Hannah Reardon-Smith

What an honour to be back at Darmstadt for a second round! And this was particularly special to me as it was an opportunity to reconnect with my KP colleagues ahead of my return to Australia in September after two-and-a-half years away studying in Europe. I bookended my study here with Darmstadt festivals, and it was amazing to feel the difference those years made - in my performance capabilities, but also my comfort asserting my place in the European new music scene. This time I enrolled as a composer, though I still spent a lot of time playing flute. A few of the highlights were the GRID and feedback sessions (mentioned by Michael, above), playing Malaysian composer Zihua Tan's [this].connection with Emilie Girard-Charest (Quebec) and Miao Zhao (China), composition lessons with Simon Steen-Andersen and Hannes Seidl, and connecting and reconnecting with my new music communities and networks from many different continents!

Angus Wilson

Angus has been a bit busy of late playing in Brisbane Festival-La Boite Theatre-Opera Queensland's co-production of Snow White, so we gave him a free pass on writing a Darmstadt reflection. But here's some pictures of his festival experience, including workshopping with the incredible Georges Aperghis and a lot of percussioning. Marked shots are by IMD photographer Daniel Pufe.

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If you haven't yet had your European new music fill, make sure you check out this Darmstadt photo blog from our Aussie compatriots Tamara and Kaylie of Rubiks, based in Melbourne. One of the great things about the festival is the community of Australian musicians that congregate together - we really do feel like we have something special to offer our European counterparts.

See you in 2018, Darmstadt!

 

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.

Kicking Goals: An interview with Stephen Newcomb

unnamedSteve 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.

Music Beyond Borders: An interview with clarinettist Jason Noble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the dream of another: An interview with Benjamin Marks

Benjamin Marks took some tim10329141_10152233164243547_6300274058759110359_ne out from composing, performing and teaching this week to speak to Kupka's Piano percussionist Angus Wilson. Angus performed his new work 'The Circular Ruins' with guest saxophonist Sami Mason last Friday night at Absent, Almost Absent.  Angus Wilson: You are a regular audience member and follower of Kupkas Piano, what excited you the most about writing for Kupkas Piano on this occasion?

Benjamin Marks: Writing music to be included in a Kupka programme is a big challenge. The music programmed (Lim, Ablinger etc.) is exceptional so I feel pretty daunted. Coupled with that I feel like I can write with a great deal of freedom, knowing that so much repertoire has been digested by the ensemble over the last few years. I feel like this is an ensemble which can locate the aesthetic or musical concerns a new piece has and articulate that understanding with intelligent and sensitive performances.

AW: Sami and I are very excited to play your new work.... Can you tell us a little bit about the project? Where did it draw it's inspiration from? Does it have a life beyond it's current format?

BM: Best to quote my programme note here:

Two (The Circular Ruins)

This piece takes as its raw material the sound of water running under a bridge. The sound was recorded and slowed down sixty times to reveal intense rhythmic and pitch activity. This was transcribed and became one of the primary means of organizing the piece.

Two explores the problems of creating an evolving musical landscape from a static sound source. Different notions of flow are explored within static constructs, and different notions of stasis are explored in more flexible, expressive constructs. The expressive capacity of the music lies in the movement between these various states.

In the context of the larger scale outdoor piece, The Circular Ruins, this duo constitutes part two. The piece, when removed from the outdoor context, is accompanied by a tape part that draws directly from sounds found in Southbank, Brisbane, the intended location of the four part work The Circular Ruins.

Jorge Louis Borges' story The Circular Ruins tells of a dreamer who dreams another man into existence only to find himself the dream of another. In the outdoor work for Southbank my goal is to bring to life often ignored environmental sounds, or, more generally, to bring about active engagement with our sounding environment. The composed pieces, including Two, engage with specific environmental sounds and acoustics creating an intense listening experience which is gradually expanded to include the limits of the acoustic horizon.

AW: You have an interesting little setup of percussion in the piece, ceramic bowls, temple blocks, woodblocks and a bass drum. Can you tell us what you were envisaging when you selected these instruments?

BM: I was thinking of sounds that most resembled my idea of water noise slowed down, other than the usual wash of white noise. This is purely imaginary, and these sounds also link into quite a ritualistic sound space. There is a naturalness to these sounds (wood, ceramic and skin) that I feel drawn to and a quiet complexity of timbre. The bass drum has a slightly different function to the other instruments in that it articulates a large scale pulse, which runs through all four pieces that makes up The Circular Ruins. Only a fragment of the pulse exists in Two.

AW: I first met you as a trombonist, playing Pines of Rome in a brass band. Can you tell us a little bit about your activities other than composing? How do you find living and working in Brisbane?

BM: I moved to Brisbane (from Melbourne) in 1998 to do my masters in performance at the QLD Conservatorium. My undergraduate was in composition from the University of Melbourne. I've always moved between composition and performance in some way or other, although my professional life has been mostly as a performer with ELISION. When I moved to Brisbane ELISION was also based here so it helped kick off a wonderful time of learning and recording new repertoire and broadening my improvisational experience which has carried through to the present day. I studied with Simone de Haan at the time and this experience changed me in many fundamental ways and brought me, through various activities, into contact with the Brisbane cultural scene. Since that initial period of study I've developed a strong low brass teaching base (which I love) and I continue to strive to play a creative role in the cultural life of my home city.

AW: Finally, what other interesting projects do you have coming up, where can our audience hear you play, or hear other compositions by you?

BM: I'm currently working my way into a Doctorate of Musical Arts in which I'm exploring multilayered spatial composition and performance in an outdoor context. By developing musical strategies that engage with environmental sound (some of which you'll hear in Two) I hope to create, for a listener, a shifting network of perceptual frames. My research should result in various performances, the first being early next year in Southbank. This is the project alluded to above The Circular Ruins. I'll be giving a trombone recital on February 25th next year, at 6:30pm, at the QLD Conservatorium, partnering with my wife Ysolt Clark on French Horn. We haven't quite settled on repertoire yet although Scelsi and Richard Barrett are likely starting points.

Perspectives from Afar: Kupka at Darmstadt!

Kupka's Piano has sent something of a reconnaissance team to the famous (or infamous) Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music this year. After about five days of the course, Alex Raineri reflects on the experience so far and gives an outline of what we're doing over here... Alex and Angus receive coaching from composer Georges Aperghis and percussionist Christian Dierstein during a masterclass at the Darmstadt Summer Festival.

I’m finishing up this blog post from my cozy little hotel room in the town of Darmstadt, Germany where Hannah, Angus, Liam, Michael and myself are almost a week into the frenetic and overwhelmingly wonderful 47th International Summer Course for New Music!

This trip is very special for Kupka’s Piano for a number of reasons. July was a huge month for the ensemble having played two very substantial programs Tempi Espressivi and Crippled Symmetry, as well as each of us having rather hectic performance and teaching commitments outside of the ensemble. Thus, it’s super exciting to finally be in full swing of the much-anticipated Darmstadt Festival.

The repertoire we’ve prepared for performances and workshops here are among some of the most challenging and rewarding repertoire the ensemble has ever tackled. Pieces such as Liam’s Flenady’s monstrously virtuosic Quite Early Morning no. 2, George Aperghis’ quirky Quatre Pièces Fébriles, Beat Furrer’s punchy Presto con Fuoco, Tristan Murail’s sensual La Mandragore and Brian Ferneyhough’s enchanting Cassandra’s Dream Song have been a long time in the practice room and the prospect of presenting these in this kind of international forum is both scary and exhilarating!

Other pieces on the menu are much more fresh! Within a few of the festival projects, Angus, Hannah and I are working with some of our European colleagues and counterparts that we’ve only recently met in pieces by Eun-Ji Lee, Chaya Czernowin, Misato Mochizuki and others…!

The Darmstadt festival represents for us an enormously exciting opportunity to both collaborate and learn from our colleagues and mentors. Such luminaries and giants in the new music scene that we have the privilege to work with are Nicholas Hodges, Christian Dierstein, Eva Furrer, Yukiko Sugawara, Ensemble Nikel, Uli Fussenegger and composers such as Tristan Murail, Helmut Lachenmann, Georges Aperghis, Brian Ferneyhough, Pierluigi Billone, Peter Ablinger, Clemens Gadenstätter, Oliver Schneller…the list goes on for days!

As well as this, it’s a chance for Kupka to bring our music and ideas to an international forum to benchmark our own standards against those of our European counterparts. Also it’s a wonderful opportunity to soak up some of the contemporary music culture that is so much more prevalent and developed over this side of the world.

I find that it’s often very difficult to find perspective from afar but at the same time this can be a blessing as it helps to remove a rigid sense of framework and conservative performance traditions and their associated limitations.

We’ll be posting some post-festival reflections on the blog over the next month or two but during the festival keep an eye out for our Instragram (@kupkagram) account for heaps of pictures of us meeting awesome people and drinking German beer. Hurrah!

Always something violent with something fragile. Rune Glerup in interview

Photo: (c) IRCAM - DR With our 'Modern Music in Exile' concert coming up this Friday, our violinist Adam Cadell speaks to young Danish composer Rune Glerup (b. 1981) whose work La Rose Pulverisée we will be giving the Australian premiere of. We're pretty chuffed to be presenting the first ever performance of a work of Rune's in Australia. Come along and hear his amazing music!

Adam Cadell: Rune, since you are a Danish composer living far away from Australian shores, I fear few people would know much about your work here. Indeed I believe our performance of your piece La Rose Pulverisée is an Australian premiere. Could you please give us a brief introduction of yourself and your compositional endeavours up until this time?

Rune Glerup: My first impressions of contemporary music was of Danish contemporary music. 10-15 years ago, almost all contemporary music performed in Denmark was Danish. Fortunately this has changed since then, but at the time I felt a need to get to know what was happening elsewhere, and as old-fashioned it might sound, the internet was not what it is today, so it was more difficult to orientate oneself. That's why I left for Berlin when I was twenty-one, and later to Paris. I felt I had to leave Denmark to get a wider horizon. I think living abroad so much has made an impact on how I consider many things, and of course especially my music.

AC: You speak of your music as being minimalist in a way. To me, rehearsing your piece La Rose Pulverisée, it seems that in this piece you start with a larger idea, a more complex idea, and gradually pull it apart until the final movement is like the thematic material has been pulverised into dust. It’s almost as though the minimalism is a literal process within the piece, a minimising of the material during performance. Would you say this description represents well the process behind the piece? What would you say is the essence of your compositional process?

RG: Yes, in a certain way you can say my music is minimalistic, but it has very little to do with the American minimalism. It is minimalistic in the sense that I often tend to use a reduced and static material. I almost never use these large organic forms. Usually I define some elements that I can combine in different ways. I should say though, that La Rose Pulverisée is an earlier piece, and I'm not sure that the term "minimalistic" applies very well to it. It's a piece closer to the modernistic idiom influenced by surrealism, and you are right in your analysis that the piece begins with a large idea that gradually gets pulled apart. I was also interested in some contradictions, or a certain kind of inertia: The lyrical and violent in the image of a rose that gets pulverised, and the predominantly violent style of the writing, but for two very classical instruments that cannot produce that much sound. Always something violent with something fragile. You can find these oppositions in many aspects of the piece.

AC: Would you call your desire to “short-circuit” the known a subversive act? And is the known you are conducting a frontal attack on the traditions of Western classical music or a broader metaphorical notion of the known?

RG: I think the idea of short-circuiting interest me because if it's successful, it can reveal something new about what we thought we knew already. I think this is what happens when you invent something. You have all the known in front of you, and short-circuiting it - doing something you are not supposed to do with the material - can be a way to create this new aspect that was impossible to think before. You can apply this to musical thinking, but you can also apply it to everything else.

AC: You talk of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock being an influence on your work. How important do you think the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is to contemporary composition?

RG: Pollock was an inspiration for one work in particular: a piece for cello and live-electronics. I think the avant-garde of the 1950's and 60's has been extremely important for the development of the musical thinking up until today because those composers - Stockhausen, Boulez, Cage among others - opened up a new world of possibilities. However, the world we are living in is post-modern, and we don't just have one singular development to focus on, but a multitude of things to take into consideration. We cannot say that there is only one true way. Therefore I would say that the legacy of the post-war avant-garde is very important, but there are many other things that are equally important.

AC: This upcoming Kupka’s Piano concert, at which we will perform the Australian premiere of your work La Rose Pulverisée, is themed around exile. Exile has been a potent state in which artists have produced great work throughout history – indeed some artists of the abstract expressionist era (Burroughs in Tangiers, Nancarrow in Mexico for example) are a good example of this. How relevant do you feel the theme of exile is to art in our current time in which millions of people live in forced exile, and is it something that you have or would like to address in your composition?

RG: I don't really think the theme of exile is so relevant to art itself in general, but only in particular situations where artists are living in exile. Of course, if an artist is isolated from the rest of the world, I'm certain the art he/she produces will be different from what others, who can always be updated on the latest development, produces. In that way exile can make a very big impact on the artistic result. In another way, I don't consider art as a kind of commentary to politics, and therefore I will say that I don't address political questions in my works, and I doubt that music is even capable of doing so.

AC: And lastly, other than yourself of course, which Danish composers should we be keeping our eyes and ears on?

RG: Well, I think there are actually many interesting composers in Denmak right now. Christian Winther Christensen, Nicolai Worsaae and Simon Løffler among others in the younger generation. And I would especially like to mention Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen from the older generation, who has enjoyed a growing reputation the last few years. I think his music and ideas deserve to be more known, also outside of Denmark.