personal practice #18 : bold angularities

Time: 15.5 mins
Environment: practice room, hot day, all packed and showered but shortly to leave for the airtrain before flying to Naarm
Companion/s: concert flute, ceiling fan, slippery lip

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Chaos trills + sweaty times | day 18 #personalpractice

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I think I was feeling pretty good this session, despite the sweaty heat. I was fired up with a little pre-travel anxiety, but I was prepared ahead of time, totally ready to leave at the moment I needed to. I felt pretty in the dress Jasmin gave me, and ready to actually play for people – Tilde festival was the first gig of the 2019 for me.

So I played bold. My flute resonated well into the lower register and I used that. Lots of runs and leaps and assertive statements. I changed tack a number of times throughout, the moment that stuck feeling came on I’m sure. But I didn’t need to go far to find a new angle and I’d come back at it. This chaos trill came on fully formed 10mins in and I danced around with it. Other trill figures followed. I moved actively around the room, getting into the overall sense of motion. Lots of failed circular breathing attempts but I didn’t stop for it. Just kept throwing air through the instrument and committing to whatever came out.

personal practice #17 : bare minimum by candlelight

Time: 5 mins
Environment: practice room at almost bed-time, after a hot home day
Companion/s: concert flute headjoint, flickering candle, ceiling fan, traffic, distant siren

Not much to say about this one – I was clearly pretty fried after the two days out at Gatton/Grantham, playing for many hours in the heat and also dealing with a few emergent flood feels. (The anxiety carried over a bit in the moments that I got home thanks to Liam locking himself out and then not calling as soon as he got to our friends’ place up the road. I remember freaking out a bit and then getting angry once he finally got in touch with me. A little added layer of emotional exhaustion.)

This was one of those moments I had to remind myself “it’s just data”.

Creative things can be done with the headjoint alone, as in Jim Denley’s very beautiful work with the bass headjoint. But I wasn’t really feeling it on this day and it shows. The 5-min video was tedious to review. The above clip is the best of it, and it continues much the same the full time. Sometimes I’m not especially inspired. And I guess that’s okay too?

personal practice #16 : grantham butter factory w jasmin & michael day 2

Time: four sessions (24 + 25 + 37 + 27 mins)
Environment: Grantham Butter Factory on another hot summer day
Companion/s: same again – all flutes, Ableton + midi foot controller, Jasmin on erhu w contact mic, Michael on feedback and electric upright bass, a Big Ass Fan (literally what it was called), and a little bit of contact with old trauma + a bit of a desire to be less mellow-beautiful

Long-form immersions in soundscapes that gradually shift with time. Being comfortable with near stasis. Just enjoying the lushness of beautiful noise.

The interaction of Jasmin’s delicate whining and creaking on the erhu, Michael’s expansive ripples and space-defining shapes, and my own steps into and out of the spotlight actually makes for a very engaging play on subtlety and development. Letting go of the desire to do something and instead just hanging in these in-betweens – I feel that it’s a lot easier to make something appealing, but also that it is appealing. There is still complexity in this simplicity.

It’s not unlike the drone-centred music I found a little frustrating at SoundOut. Slowly shifting timbres, not confidently stated musical figures. It’s not what I want to listen to all the time, everyday. It’s not what I always want to play. But I see why it is so comforting and comfortable, and sometimes that is more than okay. Our final play is especially gorgeous. I’m dipping in and out, playing a series of dyad multiphonics. Jasmin plays with fragility and continuity. Michael creates a responsive resonant space. Even just listening through my headphones it feels like slipping into a deep bath of sound. Not flashy. Thoroughly enjoyable. It is water music, sensitive and immersive.

I still want fire music – flashy and furious – and air music – fleeting and deeply intellectual. Earth music – rhythmic and grounding – and water music – taking its goddamn time and feeling things out as it goes – have their own stories to tell. It is pretty healing to go deep into this space. This is why people got into new age, and why they still play those tapes during meditation sessions and massages. Add a creepy edge to it and it becomes far more interesting and unsettling. That is definitely here.

At my insistence, we tried a dynamic, almost violent take. It was the least convincing, but it turned up some really interesting sonic materials. But when I just play multiphonics without trying to make anything much happen it is really very beautiful. Drone music can be super enjoyable!

Sadly these two days marked the last time I’ll play with Jasmin for a while, as she’s now overseas for a long stint – first in Europe and then on an extended residency in China. A shame because this really works and I want to work with her more and more and do more fun and amazing sound things. Future fun!

personal practice #15 : grantham butter factory w jasmin & michael day 1

Time: two sessions (45 + 37 mins)
Environment: Grantham Butter Factory on a very hot summer’s afternoon and evening
Companion/s: all flutes, Ableton + midi foot controller, Jasmin on erhu w contact mic, Michael on feedback and electric upright bass, a Big Ass Fan (literally what it was called), and a little bit of contact with old trauma

We just played, over a long period of time. I do remember these two days, because they were well out of the ordinary, and also because they are tied to a little bit of trauma resurfacing which always helps so much with memory haha… Grantham is the town that was washed away in the flash flood that started at the top of the mountain in Toowoomba, where mum and I were caught in a car that started to fill with water (we eventually got out a window, sat on the roof, held onto a rope, and were inevitably washed down the road-that-was-now-a-river, and somehow both managed to climb out virtually unharmed). I’ve had PTSD from the experience, which is largely resolved, but I’d actually never visited Grantham before, so it caught me by surprise and brought up some flashbacks, especially as I tried to go to sleep that evening. My anxiety levels were also heightened for a few days afterwards.

Probably I am the obnoxious one in this group, foregrounding my sounds and filling the spaces generously left by Jasmin and Michael. I leave space where I don’t play, and very occasionally play at such a low dynamic that the details of Michael’s resonances and Jasmin’s contact mic crumples come through. The activity and grittiness of Jasmin’s erhu is a more obvious companion (rather than accompaniment) to my sound, and we alternate periods of greater and lesser movement.

The overall sounding we came to was a creepy, ominous beauty. Things that hang in the air and create uneasy harmonies, with long echoes and delays and expanding feedbacks. It is rarely violent – what is is my doing. I build up and drop out, revealing some of the subtleties of my co-sounders.

In this environment, it’s easy to work with repetitions revealing slowly unfolding changes. Things move as though through thick honey, the viscosity only lessening as you heat it up over time, until it can flow sticky sweet and quickly infect everything.

I have a nice vocalise about 20 mins into the first session. I’m not sure I can listen to all this (and the following day’s) today, although I would like to. There is several hours of this altogether, which is a beautiful thing to have produced. This was Jasmin’s idea and I am deeply grateful for this time, even if it stirred up some old sediment for me – sometimes it’s good to make those contacts anyway as it’s clearly not going anywhere.

personal practice #14 : keeping busy

Time: 16 mins
Environment: QCGU HDR room
Companion/s: concert flute, phone on a music stand that I manage to knock off not once but twice

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Afternoon actions ((day 14 #personalpractice))

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I unfortunately can’t remember what else I was up to on this day, or what I was thinking while I did this, but it’s seemingly one of my more ‘successful’ (whatever that means: inventive? continuous? active? developmental?) sessions. Watching the video back, it’s clear that I’m deeply focussed on the sounds I’m making – I move very little besides some absent-minded pacing and the necessary shifts in position to attack the different soundings I go for. Physical stillness, but very active and engaged music, shifting rapidly between percussiveness and melodic and deconstructive techniques. Just listening and not watching and it sounds like I’m having fun. It’s less about the originality of any one sound (although there are sounds I’m not sure I’ve heard before, either from myself or anyone else), but the commitment to each one of them, and the developing lines that nevertheless rapidly move through a range of materials. It’s compositional and that makes it almost ecstatic.

I dance around the instrument and its possibilities. This short clip demonstrates a slice of that, and one that I like very much, but it’s hard to tell if it’s the very best of what I do on this day. (Side note: I generally don’t read too much into instagram likes, as they’re unreliable at best thanks to algorithms and posting times, but it does seem oftentimes that the clips that get less likes are the ones I tend to be more excited by. Possibly because I’m a weirdo and I like weird things that others aren’t quite so keen on. Regardless, we’re dealing with very small numbers of likes here – 8 as opposed to 24. Not exactly statistically significant.)

personal practice #13 : the gentle evening alto

Time: 10.5 mins
Environment: practice room, 8.40pm
Companion/s: alto flute, air and street traffic

This session focussed on alto multiphonics, lullaby-esque melodic lines, and soft little microtonal turns. I can hear the potential for a future where I can more fully and easily integrate all of these things together, so that multiphonics emerge organically from lilting melodies with delicate moments of microtonal variation. It’s not far away from this, although this is more practice based and exploratory, which is lovely too.

The alto, with its slightly off harmonic feeling (it’s in G) and muffled tone (I always feel like it’s a bit like a flute heard underwater), seems to lend itself to unusual melodic figurations. These are probably not unlike those I would play on concert flute, but sound more mellowed, slippery, caramel-delicious. I need to work a bit more on multiphonic stability on alto so I can snatch and hold onto them without issue, but perhaps my favourite multiphonics are those that occur by chance.

The video is again taken from the last little fragment of this session. It’s a slightly sudden change, where I tire of the lines and multiphonics I’ve played before, turn in and play this delicate little microtonal figuration. The fragile, barely-there quality makes it sound like fairy music (there’s a little fragment just after this video even more like this).

personal practice day #12 : the active bass

Time: 12 mins
Environment: practice room, mid-afternoon, fan going; started facing the camera, then a very short stint where I moved to facing up against the door as a kind of reflection exercise
Companion/s: bass flute, tick of fan spinning, awareness of my own existence, no glasses no filters

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Reflection exercise. Day 12 #personalpractice

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The date of this and subsequent posts will indicate how badly I fell off track with regards to keeping up the blog post component of my ‘personal practice’ project. I left it for a few days after the last flurry of posts, and then went away – first to Gatton/Grantham to play and workshop with Jasmin and Michael, and then to Melbourne for Tilde festival and to do an interview for my PhD. When I got back I had a little over a week to finish out January in Brisbane, but during that time I completed and submitted a grant application to BCC Creative Sparks, and then got started on two others for OzCo before heading to Canberra for SoundOut, then getting back again and submitting the OzCo apps. Now I’m in Cedar Creek (near Samford) for the QCRC writing retreat and it’s finally time to play catch-up. But the above improvisation happened a long time and many plays ago, so it’s virtually impossible to remember what was going through my head unfortunately. I’m going entirely off recordings and video documentation I collected (the video really helps!).

I started this session playing some of the chromatic interval exercises in one of those enormous Jerry Bergonzi books, but on bass flute. The bass doesn’t really want to move around those so easily, although the bigger problem is just one of my reading skills combined with the different embouchure required by the instrument. It still stimulates my brain a bit and I start off the improv session with some wonky intervalic lines and then throaty almost-multiphonics.

The more interesting bits in this improv though are when I dive into some manic percussive sounds, a little after the 5 minute mark. This characterises the full remainder of the session, and in particular I find some fun stuff to play with around different mouth shapes and fricatives from 9’40” (tss-whhh-tss-whh-slow inhale through the flute with key changes), which I later add brief trills figurations to. The video above is taken from the final minute, where I move against the door and practice a rapid tonguing cascade of sounds. This is fun, and something to work on building stamina for, so that I could keep it up for a seriously long time in live performance (at SoundOut I experimented with this on piccolo, and could maintain it for quite some time, but I can always do to extend that).