Recital reflections

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Yesterday I had my second masters recital and performed a program almost entirely of new works. Here’s a PDF of the program, including program notes for all repertoire (Maderna Dialodia, Hurel Loops I, Flenady Sketches I & II, Marais Les Folies d’Espagne with new variations, Dean Demons, Kurtág Bagatelles, and Takemitsu Voice): Recital 2 Program. Some recordings to follow…

It went quite well all things considered – like my sound issues and apparent lack of preparedness. It’s this second factor that I’d like to discuss at this point, as it’s not so much because of time constraints that I felt under-prepared but avoidance and poor organisation of practise techniques in the lead up to this recital. I do think I’m getting better at learning repertoire, but there are some persistant problems that I was commonly experiencing in my undergraduate days and even before. The causes are psychological, and the only reason they haven’t been an even bigger problem is that I respond fairly well to pressure (in terms of suddenly getting lots of stuff done … not so much in so far as I stress out pretty big time) and kick into gear. I think one of the ways I’ve ‘improved’ is by managing to push this feeling of pressure back a little earlier so I get into that final chance mode a few days ahead.

So perhaps a good thing to do would be to create some kind of pressure situation earlier still, something that I can’t easily weasel my way out of. I have set up practise performances about a week out from the actual thing in the past, but generally exclude some of the repertoire, making up some excuse as to why it’s not ready yet. Not sure how to prevent myself doing that … but certainly practise performances, for some kind of semi-important audience, at least two weeks ahead. If I can get repertoire to the standard it was yesterday two weeks ahead of such a performance I then have the time to polish and refine, building up the strength of everything and my confidence.

While overseas I intended to set up monthly practise performances for Patrick and Kathleen – unfortunately Kathleen’s moving to the rainforest very soon, a sad thing indeed, which puts a bit of a spanner into that plan. I should still think about how I can do this though, especially once I finish my degree. A kind of ‘workshop’ without all the faff and nonsense that surrounded workshop classes at the Con (or performance class at UQ). Maybe some of my friendly musician friends would be interested in doing this too – it could end up being a bit of a house concert every now and then, just regular performances of repertoire we’re preparing, and with opportunity to comment on one another’s playing afterwards (Tab? Alex? Alethea? Whaddya reckon?). We could invite each other’s teachers along every now and then for comment too. Maybe we could kind of combine this with my old idea of a musician’s reading group too… Or Liam and Pete’s seminar series, or composer workshops, playing new pieces. Ideas!

My next performance is the Kupka’s Piano concert on October 5 (buy tickets now!!), in which I’m playing new works by Liam (for flute, clarinet and vibes) and Michael Mathieson-Sandars (for solo flute) as well as Boulez’ Derive I. The ensemble works are good because I’ll have the incentive and pressure of rehearsals to prepare for ahead of the day. I’ll play Michael’s work through for Patrick and/or Kathleen by September 26th, and do a practise performance or two for others by the end of that week.

One other thought I had last night, that would work quite well with the idea of monthly practise performance events, is repertoire maintenance. I am always thoroughly impressed at the amount of mileage Alex gets out of his repertoire – performing the works he has learnt on multiple occasions in many different circumstances. He is solidly developing his own repertoire list, a core part of your identity and functionality as a musician. Time for me to play copycat and decide what of the works I’ve learnt over the past few years I want to keep on hand. Over the next few days I’ll make a list (I did start this when I first began this blog, but neglected to see the project through to completion – all full of ‘repertoire dreaming’ and not repertoire fixing), and draft up a plan to cycle through these works as I learn new things, not only to maintain their standard but also to set up other performance opportunities and become really comfortable with playing them. I ought to always have several works going in maintenance mode as well as note learning.

Another thing I’d like to do to address the avoidance behaviour is think about how I can use my yoga practise to lead into flute practise – I’m stepping up my yoga commitment as it’s the best thing for pain prevention and management, as well as mental and physical balance. I’m even considering starting teacher training next year, with the idea of running a ‘yoga for musicians’ class in future.

Lots of new things as I step into the next period leading up to October 5! Rehearsals galore, new works, old works, sound development practise, yoga, practise performances … and writing for my thesis review milestone (due Sept 23) and an ArtStart grant application (due Sept 20)!! Ech!

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A little bit of goal setting

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The last week, I feel like I’ve fallen behind a bit. I’ve procrastinated far too much, which only leads to all kinds of bad emotions and pretty rotten self-esteem. It’s difficult to not shoot blame at myself when I get into a pattern of avoidance, and it’s something I’m going to have to address this year I think. So painful, on many levels. Anyway, I’m going to set myself a few goals now, and if I achieve them by the time Liam gets back from Sydney (Monday) then I might just allow myself a little (planned) time off…

  1. Mock run of YPA program: 11.30am Monday 23 Jan, IHRH. By the way, everyone is invited to this, which means the first thing I need to do is:
    • send emails, inviting people to attend and confirming with Alex and Amy that they’re playing too
    • seriously focus on preparation of Hurel’s Loops and the Feld Sonate, as well as refreshing Ford’s Female Nude – I propose an hour per day of Hurel work (it’s so notey, and I need to really secure the rhythmic changes and make sure they are audibly clear), plus 30mins each on the other two, plus basic tech work and warm-up
    • I’ve already run my accompanied pieces with Mitchell, but listening to recordings of each of them again and doing some serious mental practise is necessary
    • think through pre-performance routine for Monday, plan it out
  2. Have drafted a full and detailed structure of new chapter of paper, filled in with all quotes to be used (that means all reading is complete) and heavy notes. Really all that can be left is joining sentences and re-writing for flow.
    • Friday: formalise structural outline and add further detail, find all quotes from about Fichte (in Bowie and Novalis), as well as most of the music related stuff (Stravinsky, Cook, and Barthes).
    • Saturday: continue to refine and add detail to structure, as well as notes, plus put in Lacanian quotes (Fink and Dolar especially). Which split are we talking about here exactly? Real-symbolic? Real-imaginary? etc.
    • Sunday: go through whole thing and keep adding notes and drawing things together.
  3. German – 30mins work a day as usual: some Michel Thomas speaking practise, continuing grammar work and Berliner Platz workbook, and write an ’email’ (in German) describing tourist attractions in Brisbane.
  4. Tidy up a little and do a fruit & veg shop (today!).

Gah, it’s awful to feel I am here at this point of behindness yet again … Now I need to do my absolute best not to feel overwhelmed and just knuckle down and get it done.

Also, I have discovered a book that may actually be terribly useful. Usually these things are full of mystical rubbish, but this one is full of common sense and excellent practical advice: The Musician’s Way by Gerald Kickstein. Pretty sure it should be a set text for all tertiary performance students, and especially those that go on to teach instrumental music – in schools, privately, whatever. This is the stuff that your private teacher is expected to teach you, but 1. they don’t, either because they found a practise method that worked for them and that’s all they know or because they believe you need to find it all out for yourself (a kind of immaculate conception really), and 2. they often can’t, due to the demands of recital/audition/competition preparation and teaching vast amounts of repertoire in really a very short time. I would like to see this kind of stuff taught in a separate course (at the Con, for example, this is what the “My Life as a Musician” subject should contain). Anyhow…

Program notes (for today’s recital)

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the Other flautist
Recital #1 // Sun 27 Nov, 2011
Nickson Room, UQ School of Music

Program

Tōru Takemitsu // Voice // 1971 — flute solo

Tristan Murail // Unanswered Questions // 1995 — flute solo

Beat Furrer // Presto con fuoco // 1997 — flute & piano

Andrew Ford // Female Nude // 1993 — alto flute solo

Kaija Saariaho // Laconisme de L’aile // 1982 — flute & electronics

George Crumb // Vox Balaenae // 1971 — amplified flute, cello & piano

– – – – –

Tōru Takemitsu // Voice // 1971

Qui va la? Qui que tu sois, parle, transparence!
Who goes there? Speak, transparence, whoever you are!

– from Shuzo Takiguchi // Handmade Proverbs // 1970

You’ll notice the two earliest works in this program were both written in 1971 – together they are the first instances of composed Western art music for the flute that feature use of the instrumentalist’s voice, a technique known as “vocalisation”. For Tōru Takemitsu, this technique is the result of his revolutionary fusion of Eastern and Western musical cultures. In Voice he draws upon the ancient Japanese art of Noh Theatre as well as the sounds and techniques of the shakuhachi, inventing new symbols of notation for the silver Boehm flute that nevertheless leave much room for interpretation. Shouts and whispers, multiphonics, air and percussive sounds meld the flautist into something of a one-man theatre of the absurd, performing at once as voice, flute, and drum – the traditional instrumental make-up of the Noh onstage ensemble.

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Qui va la? These opening words echo the first line of Hamlet, with similarly intense psychological repercussions. The flautist demands a disembodied presence (or perhaps the audience) reveal themselves and make known their identity. The “voice” of the title seems to refer both to the exposed voice of the performer and to this invisible apparition, silent as it is.

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Tristan Murail // Unanswered Questions // 1995

Murail is one of the first generation “spectralists” – composers who used analysis of the fundamental properties of sound to determine pitch material, as well as duration and formal structures. Such a process is made possible by the advanced technologies developed at IRCAM in Paris (the European institute for science about music and sound that has also become a cultural centre for musical modernism and electro-acoustic art music), where Murail later taught composition and computer music. As with many terms used to classify styles of composition, “spectralism” has not been especially well received by the composers most central to it. Murail has said of spectral music that is an aesthetic rather than a style, not so much a set of techniques as an attitude – that “music is ultimately sound evolving in time”. Fellow spectral composer Gérard Grisey was similarly lukewarm, preferring his own term “liminal” composer (a composer of the margins or the limits).

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The title Unanswered Questions is an obvious reference to Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, a work for a solo trumpet, a flute or woodwind quartet, and offstage strings. Each layer has its own tempo and key, and Ives himself described the work as a “cosmic landscape” in which the strings represent “the Silence of the Druids – who Know, See and Hear Nothing”, the trumpet begs “The Perennial Question of Existence” and the woodwinds vainly seek “The Invisible Answer” eventually giving up, so that ultimately the question is answered only by the “Silences”. Murail’s work for solo flute echoes Ives’ ascending, open-ended trumpet lines, as well perhaps as the desperation of the woodwinds to find an impossible answer, now set in the beautiful yet alien quartertone musical language characteristic of spectral music.

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Beat Furrer // Presto con fuoco // 1997

For a recording of me and Alex playing this, click here!

In Furrer’s Presto the flute player teeters on the edge of a kind of hyper-anxious speech. From percussive blips and half-swallowed consonants, through Aeolian sound (breath tone), the “normal” flute sound eventually emerges in frenetic ascending chromatic lines. Meanwhile, a detailed hocketing between the two instruments creates a thoroughly contemporary take on two-part counterpoint. The piano seems to imitate Morse code at first, gradually increasing in complexity until the pianist is diving from one end of the keyboard to the other. The flute bursts into all out screams – perhaps a kind of non-human within the human. The subsequent disintegration culminates in tiny glimpses of sound that are eventually lost to silence.

Beat Furrer was born in Switzerland in 1954, but later relocated to Vienna for study. In 1985 he founded Klangforum Wien, now one of Europe’s leading contemporary music ensembles, which he continues to conduct today. His music features idiomatic ascending (yet interrupted) chromatic lines, giving an atmosphere of intense anxiety. His is a style not reducible to any current category of composition, but draws upon the work of Luigi Nono, Helmut Lachenmann and Salvatore Sciarrino as well as Boulez.

– – – – –

Andrew Ford // Female Nude // 1993

The very suggestive title of this work does not in fact indicate that the performer need shed their clothing to perform it, but it nevertheless demands an uncomfortable level of intimacy. The rich and sultry tones of the alto flute are matched by voiced phonemes that increasingly take the form of moans and gasps. The title in fact refers to a painting by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (of red-yellow-blue neo-plasticism fame), a portion of which will be projected as the piece is performed. Mondrian’s block shapes and square angles are mimicked by the sharply altered material of Ford’s piece, with its abrupt changes from sparse tones and songful melodies to rhythmic, percussive figurations. Ford wrote a series of works in honour of Mondrian, and this piece itself exists in several forms – this solo version, and a duo with wooden percussion (the third movement of the Mondrian Suite, which also may be performed separately).

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Born in Liverpool, England, Andrew Ford immigrated to Australia in 1983 where he now lives and works as a composer, writer, and broadcaster (he presents The Music Show each Saturday morning on ABC Radio National). Female Nude was written for Australian flautist, vocalist and performance artist Kathleen Gallagher, who also happens to be one of my teachers.

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Kaija Saariaho // Laconisme de L’aile // 1982

Ignorants de leur ombre, et ne sachant de mort que ce qui s’en consume d’immortel au bruit lointain des grandes eaux, ils passent, nous laissant, et nous ne sommes plus les mêmes. Ils sont l’espace traversé d’une seule pensée.

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(“Ignorant of their shadow, knowing of death only that immortal part which is consumed in the distant clamor of great waters, they pass and leave us, and we are no longer the same. They are the space traversed by a single thought.”)

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– from Saint-John Perse // Oiseaux (“Birds”) // 1962 (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)

Saariaho is another composer influenced by spectralism and the technologies at IRCAM, although this work greatly differs from Murail’s solo flute piece in its treatment of spectral material. The title is difficult to translate, but means something along the lines of “brevity/fleetingness of the wing”, which when combined with the above text (spoken by the flautist) seems to indicate the dual thematic content of birds and death, connected by the concept of flight.

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The piece, for flute with subtle electronics, features a rich palette of extended flute techniques, in particular the scale of tonal colours from pure flute tone to harsh breath sounds. Opening with the spoken text, the flautist slowly lifts their instrument to their mouth. Whispers become flute tone, and a poignant melody emerges, ‘accompanied’ by insect-like clicks and resonances. The melody develops, and a sense of anger becomes clear, only to dissipate in a held multiphonic and a return to whispered text. The final section is a series of ascending runs – the futile escape attempts of a bird trapped.

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– – – – –

George Crumb // Vox Balaenae // 1971

Their music is immense
Each note hundreds of years long
Each complete tune a moon-age

So they sing to each other unending songs
As unmoving they move their immovable masses

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Their eyes closed ecstatic

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– from Ted Hughes // Moon-Whales // 1976

When you hear the songs of the whales, they are so spaced out that what sounds like a gigantic, drawn-out and endless moan is perhaps only one consonant to them. This means that it is impossible to perceive their speech with our constant of time.

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– composer Gérard Grisey, who contrasts “human time, normal time, the time of language” with “dilated time, cosmic time, the time of whales”.

– –

Vox Balaenae (“Voice of the Whale”) for amplified flute, cello and piano tells the story of time from beginning to end, through the song of this most majestic of earth’s creatures. It is at once a celebration of and a lament for the planet we live on – its natural wonders, its inherent beauty, and its many rich cultures.

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The work opens with a wild flute cadenza entitled “Vocalise”, in which the flautist simultaneously sings and plays an exotic melody, as well as singing into the instrument while altering the tone using the keys to evoke sounds made by the humpback whale. A parodic quotation of Also Sprach Zarathustra heralds the dawn of time, along with dramatic brushes along the piano strings and cascading flute triplets.

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The middle section takes the form of a set of variations on the haunting “Sea-Theme”, with each variation named after a geologic period (“Archeozoic-Proterozoic-Paleozoic-Mesozoic-Cenozoic”). The intensity builds with each one, climaxing with the arrival of man in the Cenozoic period, which is announced by a partial restatement of the Zarathustra theme. Many interesting instrumental techniques are employed to unparalleled dramatic effect – from harmonics in cello and flute, to various methods of preparation in the piano.

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Of the concluding “Sea-Nocturne” (an elaboration on the “Sea-Theme”) George Crumb says: “I wanted to suggest ‘a larger rhythm of nature’ and a sense of suspension in time”. The shimmering quality that he captures along with the beauty of this simple melody certainly give an air of great majesty but also fragility, and a creeping sense of teetering on the edge.

// All notes by Hannah Reardon-Smith, 2011

‘Critical Vocalisations’ – getting started

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I have only a little over three weeks to prepare a talk for a postgrad student conference at UQ, which obviously falls within the period where I will also be preparing for my recital! Therefore, I need to get really bloody organised and ensure I have a routine of writing and practising rather than my usual method of cramming in full days of one or the other in the final fortnight. I simply can’t afford that.

With one to two hours per day of paper prep and three to four hours per day of practise I should be okay. This needs to be locked into each day with priority and other things (teaching, politics, chores, socialising…) will just have to fit around that.

But I’m finding it very difficult to make a start on this paper – I’ve now cancelled three meetings with my supervisor Rob Davidson and I can’t put it off any longer, I’m meeting him this afternoon. Rob’s not a bad supervisor actually, he knows how to work the academic sphere to suit himself. Anyhow, here’s the abstract for my paper:

The Western art music tradition has a firmly established, three-tiered hierarchical system: the great musical master, the composer; the working musicians, the performers; and finally the audience, the listeners. Contained within these are further hierarchies, for example the conductor’s role of authority over the orchestral musician. Given these structures, how might the inclusion of the performer’s voice in modern instrumental music – a technique commonly known as ‘vocalisation’ – challenge the traditional situation? And what might this mean for the performer in question?

Drawing upon texts by Jacques Rancière, Lacanian theorists Mladen Dolar and Slavoj Žižek, and 20th century composer Helmut Lachenmann, as well as specific examples of vocalisation in the contemporary flute repertoire, this paper examines the position whereby vocalisation acts as a critique of the ‘imaginary’ structure of the Western art music tradition. According to this position, this technique could be said to disrupt the logic of the ‘distribution of the sensible’ in the performance situation, changing the power relationships between composer, performer and listener. The emanation of the performer’s voice, essentially from ‘behind’ their instrument, leads to a heightened presence of the musician which throws into question the authority figure (the composer) and opens up spaces for new analytic and performance practices.

This paper concludes with a number of questions, for instance: what lies beyond this critique of imaginary structure? And does this mode offer a genuine framework for the performer’s interpretation or realisation of the work, or how can we move to one from this point?

It is not a particularly original approach – I intend to make the very standard critical move (rupture, etc.) – however it has not before been applied in this specific case (to my knowledge) and it is useful for my purposes (I need to follow this line of thought through to its conclusions to see whether it actually holds anything of worth to me).

But I haven’t yet made a start on turning these thoughts into anything more besides a long reading list, and a basic idea of the paper’s structure. So! Time to turn these things into progress…

Draft Structure matched with texts:

Introduction //

  • Commonly accepted hierarchical systems in music: composer, performer, listener (Stravinsky – The Performance of Music, Cook – Music: A Very Short Introduction, Warren – The Composer and Opera Performance)
  • The ‘distribution of the sensible’ (Rancière – Aesthetics and its Discontents)
  • The performer in the middle – slave to both ends or position of power?

What is vocalisation? (Rigler – Vocalizing with the flute) Played examples (Crumb, Takemitsu, Saariaho, Ford, Rigler – project score examples on screen)

Vocalisation as critical gesture //

  • Potential of voice to disrupt hierarchy (Penny – Flutes, Voices and Maskenfreiheit, Dolar – A Voice and Nothing More, Barthes – The Grain of the Voice)
  • Psychoanalytic implications (Dolar, Miller – Jacques Lacan and the Voice)
  • The composer’s role: critical art (Rancière – The Emancipated Spectator, Lachenmann…)
  • The performer’s role: body in motion (Rancière, Penny, Bradshaw – A Performer’s Responsibility, Clarke & Davidson – The Body in Performance)
  • The listener’s role: ’emancipated spectator’ (Rancière, Beaumont – Expectation and Interpretation in the Reception of New Music)
  • Longer musical example (Takemitsu?)

A series of questions //

  • Beyond the critique – what does this actually mean for the performer?
  • Approaching a framework for interpretation/realisation

Not entirely sure I’m going to manage to keep all that to 20 minutes… Having just written all of that out, I am starting to remember how interesting this might be (rather than just how terrifying the prospect of writing a paper is). And writing for a talk can be pretty fun. Next step will be fleshing out the notes for the introduction – I aim to have this done by Thursday at the latest, and I want to have much of the notes done by mid-next week.