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

View this post on Instagram

Chaos trills + sweaty times | day 18 #personalpractice

A post shared by hannah e r-s (@stay.and.make.kin) on

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

View this post on Instagram

Afternoon actions ((day 14 #personalpractice))

A post shared by hannah e r-s (@stay.and.make.kin) on

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

View this post on Instagram

Reflection exercise. Day 12 #personalpractice

A post shared by hannah e r-s (@stay.and.make.kin) on

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).

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.

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.