personal practice day #11 : at j & s’s with a round window

Time: 17 mins
Environment: sunset, Jodie & Steve’s apartment after watering their plants and enjoying their air con and getting more angry than I should at people online
Companion/s: concert flute, a round window, shadows, and lorikeets outside

I was very melody focused on Friday. Maybe it was the pretty lighting and the space. I was fired up after getting faux-trolled slash gaslit by a middle aged dude on facebook who I don’t really know. The anger might have been good for my creative energy, as this turned out to be quite an effective and playful melodic development – the first five minutes especially is close to a fully formed piece. My sound is nice, and distinctly mine. Could have a little more dynamic contrast, but I start playing with that more around 8 minutes in.

Of course, I couldn’t resist introducing practice-practice, and so I try my hand briefly at some circular breathing. I’m thinking a bit that I need to go back to basics a bit, I seem to have lost a bit of what I’d gained. Although it maybe works sometimes. I don’t feel like I have much control. And then I’m doing articulation exercises, on major scales no less. My earlier focus and creativity disintegrates and flurries out of control, replaced mostly by frustration. But the frustration breaks – it leads me to other soundings, rough and slightly aggressive breath accents and microtones, double and triple trills, microtonal raindrops and dances. Sometimes pushing through in that forceful way turns up something useful and interesting.

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personal practice day #10 : some piccolo adventures

Time: 19.5 mins
Environment: afternoon, jazz floor practice room at the Con
Companion/s: piccolo, concert flute and air con, Yusef Lateef’s “Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns”, unused amps and gear, closed cupboards and upright piano

After a brief melody, I launched straight into some wild piccoloing this day, shrieking through scales and lines – not worrying about ‘good’ classical technique for the most part, and the result was pretty wonderful, though would have been better if I could have worried less. I played with articulation and melodic figurations, and later changed to concert flute to work circular breathing and sing-playing in unison across intervalic lines. Some way to go to really match my ear and my fingers, but it was better than I expected. I’d love to be able to stay a semitone out consistently, and I tried this slowly for a bit. Then manic lines again – I was feeling fast this day, searching for virtuosity first and foremost. I think I wanted to be able to turn corners as well as fly upwards and downwards. Another change and I’m tongue slapping to start notes, and then again and I’m playing with finger-led intervals and weirdness. Each idea passes before I’ve finished writing about it; too much material, not enough patience.

Because I seem at a loss for what to do, I’m practicing multiphonics with my tongue behind my teeth. I give up quickly and it’s tremolos and low attacks and scales again and legato intervalic lines.

One of my more manic sessions, rapid changes from one idea to the next. Indicates some frustration, but the sounds are good.

personal practice day #9 : soft little movements

Time: 20 mins of playing + a small monologue
Environment: evening, living room seated at corner of table, just me and Will in apartment (L in Melbourne)
Companion/s: concert flute, uneven floor + wobbly monitor on the dining room table, some small Willow appearances

I stayed with some soft high-pressure sounds for this one. It was late-ish in the evening and I wasn’t sure if our neighbour’s young daughter was home and trying to sleep. So a lot of thin, turned-in flute sounds, playing with tension and fragility, and then some breathier, tongue-directed, bottom-end-closed-against-my-leg sounds. Whispers and whistles and choked soundings.

This was on Wednesday, and I’d come back from an afternoon GoMA (Asia Pacific Triennial!) visit with friends – one of whom was going to an art gallery for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a space for him as an Aboriginal man, and that he felt welcomed and connected deeply with some of the works on display. I won’t write more here, to protect his privacy and to not pretend to understand his particular experience, but it was a deeply moving moment for me, and personally I actually got much more out of those artworks than I had the first time around – both through what he said he saw in them, and the privilege of sharing that space with him, as well as just taking some extra time to sit with the works. It was a beautiful shock for both of us I think.

We went for dinner at Punjabi Palace afterwards and I ate more than my fill of chana masala, so that my belly was still a bit too full when I pulled my flute out at home. So there was a bit of discomfort there as well as a deep existential (and physical!) satisfaction.

Unlike the previous day, I was better able to stay with the sounds and have the patience to follow them where they were going. But I still hit a small wall 15 minutes in. I started to speak aloud to record some of my thoughts and feelings in that moment.

When do I stop? I stop when I feel a kernel of frustration somewhere in the back of my neck. It’s like a little internal sigh that doesn’t get manifested, it’s like ugh, what, no, this – what are you doing? Is it some kind of judgement that gets turned on? It’s a weariness. It’s definitely in the back of my neck but also probably somewhere in my stomach region, somewhere, like, in my forehead, where this feeling of frustration – it’s like a pressure that’s both internal and external. Exasperated pressure. And I just don’t want to deal with anymore so I just stop. But it sets in and goes away very quickly, it’s a split second thing almost before I realise what happens, or what’s happening, I’ve already stopped. It’s rare that it happens in performance, it’s very common in practice sessions, even when I’m recording. It’s definitely something around a self-critical gaze, an internal gaze. [plays] I think it comes out of a feeling that I start thinking sometime before the frustration sets in thoughts like ‘oh I should do something that’s in more sensible’, in terms of like being able to understand, legible scale patterns maybe, or less in the particular kind of microtonal language that I find myself in very often. But that self-comment comes some time before and I pushed away but something in it still lingers, and then a few seconds to a minute later I suddenly find myself getting that little pressure and just stopping. It’s a give-up. Because listening back, especially to the session on the 5th, I can hear that I’m sort of stopping and starting in the second half of that and the ideas aren’t bad and they’re not getting tedious, like I could transition from one into the next. But I increasingly just do these blocks of sound where I’m just doing one thing for a while and I don’t really introduce other ideas – I develop it for a bit, but not a lot and it doesn’t really ever, or rarely develops into something new, it usually stays within its material set. And then I get fed up with it and then I move onto the next thing. On that occasion I was moving on really quickly. I was going from one thing to the next with very short breaks in between. But on days where I’m struggling more with it all, the breaks are longer and the stuff that I’m playing is less vibrant, there’s less of a commitment behind it, there’s less enjoyment and liveliness to the sound. I’m not really getting excited by what I’m doing. Then it starts to feel tired and old and heavy, like I’ve done it before, and it’s really hard to get it moving and moving into something new and shifting, it’s a very stuck kind of energy.

Then I move into more scale-like patterns and dancing around. It’s silly in a way, because if I want more versatility and a kind of freedom in scale runs, I just need to practice more scales! I think I want to feel like I can construct new scale-worlds in the moment and fly through them without too much conscious brain decision making. I don’t want to go through traditional tonalities to get to this freedom. I want new ways of practicing, not old ones. This is part of the reasoning behind some of my PhD research and thinking. But maybe it just needs some kind of reframing?

At some points in this session I play with a kind of weird rhythmic interjection by the wobbling monitor that’s on our living room table at the moment. But mostly I think I’m playing with my own thoughts interpreted as limitations. In the last seconds I’m also joined by phone notification buzzes.

personal practice day #8 : emergent frustration

Time: 24 mins
Environment: afternoon, HDR room at the Con
Companion/s: concert flute, fresh haircut, post-air-con cold, general feeling of summer-abandoned institutional solitude

I think the problem with this session was that I tried to recreate the successes of day 5 (the previous HDR room practice). I started with some jazz stacked tetrachord exercises, for note pattern inspiration – and you can hear from my intervalic work, especially early in the session, that this stuck a bit. But I tired very quickly with every material type I came to. I played briefly with each idea and jumped to something new. It felt frustrating and heavy. But listening back, it sounds a little manic in a good way. Apart from the slightly listless, expressionless quality to my playing (everything is basically mf or f, without variation or liveliness), the dynamic material shifts actually make for some engaging listening. And there are some qualities that carry through the frenetic changes.

There are some breaks as I try to gather myself, and it’s clear my patience (already fraught) becomes basically non-existent as I go on. I move more and more into practicing multiphonics, circular breathing, articulation, without much commitment. I even pull out a book again and attempt a bit of sightreading. This is interspersed some fairly half-hearted attempts to be playful, and by more silence.

I remember the feeling of this. Why isn’t this working today? Everything sounds like shit. I never have any good ideas. This is very similar to the feelings I got after only a few days of the failed attempt at a monthlong hour-a-day practice I tried to do last May – in large part I guess I’ve been brought into contact with the limit points of my own creativity and well of ideas. It’s a mood thing or an attitude thing, more than actually a matter of the materials. It’s also to do with this stubbornly lingering belief in certain ways of practice and of virtuosity as some kind of end goal – that unshakeable desire to be impressive to impressive people. This kind of work wish is antithetical to ideas of play, especially around the points of failure, which is where I find the most fertile ground for something new. It’s a sticking point that makes me wish for less failures, or different failures, rather than staying with the trouble of where I’m at today and what I have accessible to me right now and exploring/exploiting the holes in that fabric. I’m scared of not being ‘good enough’ measured up against some non-existent scale of opinions of people I don’t actually really care about or maybe I do but maybe I shouldn’t. Messy feelings, with no room for actually just trusting the process.

personal practice day #7 : lazy bass flute

Time: 17 mins
Environment: afternoon, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my study
Companion/s: bass flute and gentle background traffic noise + neighbour’s radio + lorikeets + other neighbour’s dogs

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Good hair day vocalise for day 7 #personalpractice

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I’m getting a bit behind on the blogpost component of this little project – it’s Saturday now and I’m writing about my session last Monday. (I’ll try to rush through a few of these this morning.)

By the time I got around to this session, I was feeling that familiar pressure of the day almost done. I wanted to head into the city to buy some goggles before going swimming at Musgrave and I was fast running out of time. I planted myself cross-legged on the floor and faced my phone camera to play bass flute (my first session with bass flute). As I write this, my bass is still out, sitting across its open case, waiting for its turn to be picked up again.

I often feel less flexible on bass, and to a lesser extent alto. But in a way that’s a very good thing. I’m less inclined to think I need to be virtuosic/impressive somehow. I stay with slowly morphing sounds. My most successful moments this session perhaps were some vocalising – captured in the little instagram extract above. Later I tried to be a bit more notey and practice-y, but I lost patience with it fairly quickly.

personal practice day #6 : richard&linda at home

Time: 22 mins
Environment: evening, living room electroacoustic set-up
Companion/s: alto fl and Ableton (me), Liam w Montreal Assembly pedal + distortion; some little Willow appearances too

My christmas present to L was a second-hand Montreal Assembly stomp box that plays on complex loop/delay/grain delay figurations. It’s really fantastic, and allows him to fiddle with many of his favourite sound manipulations. For this jam, I used the same Ableton set-up as our last Richard&Linda gig, which was maybe in August. It was fun revisiting the materials I’d played with then, this time on alto instead of bass flute.

Because I’m addicted to musical complexity, playing with electronic processing allows me to be a lot more chill about my fluting, and create that complexity through layering freezes and delays and oscillators and chorusing. I’m still not super well versed with all the possibilities of the program, even for the kind of things I’m interested in – I tend to play around with a few things until I find 3 or 4 ‘spaces’ I like, and then work with them more purposefully in jams with others. I also then regularly return to these spaces at times like these, and only make a few changes for freshness when we want to change things up. But that means there’s a great deal of unexplored territory in what I could be doing.

With this pedal, Liam has those spaces already fairly well defined for him. (Usually he works through Ableton as well for R&L stuff.) He’s able to do some pretty wack stuff with it already after only having it for a fortnight or so. His solo at about 11′ is wonderful, and the way I come back in is also fairly effective – we’re getting a lot better at listening and responding to one another while also juggling the extended parameters of electronic processing (like having to play pedal boards with your feet and maybe respond to stuff you see on a screen). Somehow your senses have to be more open, and then they are bombarded with way more stuff than you are dealing with when playing acoustically, or at least a different and expanded set of stuff. For me, I maybe worry a lot less about sound production and introducing complex and virtuosic flute materials, because the complexity is built elsewhere. In a way, simpler flute materials can often be more effective. The continuation of sound through freezes/delays/loops also means that there is room to take a break away from playing the instrument. You can continue to manipulate the sound after the breathing through the flute bit is done.

personal practice day #5 : extended solo play

Time: 28 mins
Environment: mid-afternoon, HDR room at the Con (air con and fluorescent lights on)
Companion/s: solo (low drone of electronics)

I preceded this session with some jazz scale studies I’d gotten out of the library. It put me in a good mind-frame, it’s clear listening back that I got into things very quickly. The video above was from about 2 minutes into a half-hour session. The ideas emerged, they developed, they kept coming. (This is in stark contrast to my experience today – three sessions later – where squeezing out every little idea was a struggle and everything felt tired and heavy and seemed to go nowhere.)

After the first 10 minutes, I interrupt the flow and start fiddling with some limit points, doing some more practice-ish stuff. But it’s still phrased and musical – multiphonics, vocalising, bold fanfare phrases, circular breathing. I stop more frequently and change tack. Maybe at the time I felt (as I did today) that the idea was sticky and going nowhere, and that I needed to try something new. At one point (around 15′) I start experimenting with breathing into the closed embouchure hole, putting the end of the flute against my leg and opening and thumping shut keys to let air escape. It’s fun to do, but listening back now it sounds creepily weird and almost unidentifiable on the recording. Worth keeping in mind for future recording projects. Hard to close mic, but from a distance/with room sound you can capture it nicely.

I jump from soft multiphonics to articulation to rough and loud split tones to wild harmonic trills to overblown sweeps. From 19′ I dance around with chromatic gestures successfully – practicing more of these weird jazz and chromatic scale patterns and studies will help develop these skills. I basically end with a warped version of Mozart’s D Major concerto … weird choice, but okay! It has the potential to be a bit interesting, but I find it hard to hold the memorised notes in my head while I warble the sound so dramatically. There’s a minute or two after this, where I develop a little modal melody and vary/ornament a turn in it. It’s a strong idea and I can hold and handle the materials very well! One of those moments where I surprise myself – ‘oh yeah, I’m actually quite good at this.’