ELISION

I recently had the honour to work with my absolute new music heroes: The ELISION Ensemble. Long-time attender of their concerts, ELISION have been my gateway drug to the music of Liza Lim, Richard Barrett, Aaron Cassidy, and Evan Johnson, an eye-opener that virtuosity, dedication, boundary pushing music-making, and integrity does indeed exist. This particular opportunity came out of prolonged contact at the Brunswick Green. Beginning as a casual space for performance and improvisation in late 2018, ELISION’s Brunswick Green nights quickly evolved into a composer workshop session, with anyone welcome to bring 4-bars of music to try out with whoever was on hand that month. Having two sessions with Carl Rosman in December and then in January, I was asked by artistic director and lap steel wizard Daryl Bucky to extend these sketches into a solo work for Carl. By courtesy of Daryl and Carl’s generosity I had a few other private workshop sessions and then spent the next 5 months working on Subdue.

Carl Rosman Jakob Bragg

Jakob Bragg and the incomparable Carl Rosman. Photo by Nico Keenan

Subdue is part of an ongoing experimentation in pulling apart instrumental performance parameters, providing a hyper extension upon ornamentation and heterophony, rather than striving for a more polyphonic approach. Voice, fingers, reed position, embouchure, air pressure, and breath all come together to over-enrich an expressive and overtly decorative piece. Carl has brought his formidable expertise and musicality to a work I was anxious and even unsure of at times. He and Daryl have been welcoming and so supportive of my musical direction, delivering a performance and recording that is beyond reproach.

 

Subdue

1. To conquer; to bring into subjection; to vanquish; to destroy
2. Tame; make submissive; repress; soften
3. To till or cultivate

(1956 Webster’s Dictionary)

I am drawn to these three rather extreme descriptions of the same word. The fact that a single word can simultaneously denote violence, de-escalation, and fertility is rather extraordinary.

In a way, the score subdues the performer via it’s restrictive and confining notation. However through this suppression new possibilities emerge… New sonic material arise from the struggle between instrument, performer, and score.

Join ELISION at the Brunswick Green every 3rd Tuesday of each month for live music, improvisation, composer workshops sessions, and cheap drinks! Entry free with donations welcome. Come while the weather and rain make for an especially moody and cosy night with an eclectic array of old but very comfortable lounges, mix-matched lamps, fading paintings, and random paraphernalia mounded on the walls.

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Elision at the Brunswick Green

Bilkent / Ankara

I recently returned from an incredible 9 days in Ankara, Turkey, where I attend the Bilkent Composition Academy. The academy ran two modules, one with Eivind Buene and Cikada of Norway, and the other with Arditti Quartet (UK) and Hanna Eimermacher (DE) (replacing Mark Andre who couldn’t attend). I was fortunate to be involved in both modules, having my recent work Dust, Dew (which was originally commissioned and premiered by Kupka’s Piano) performed by Cikada, and my older work Unravelling Graphite (premiered by Kurilpa String Quartet in 2016) revisited and performed by the Arditti Quartet!

 

…I really never thought that at this stage in my life I’d be working with these two incredibly renowned ensembles and then only around the corner to be working with Elision upon my return. It’s an understatement to say I feel elated and somewhat in disbelief! (more about Elision soon…)

Back to Ankara! The week long academy was filled with lectures, rehearsals, individual lessons, group sessions, discussions, and concerts. Alongside the performance of our own works Cikada performed a portrait concert of Eivind Buene’s works and Arditti performed Lachenmann’s Grido, and Mark Andre’s “iv13” miniatures, amongst others. I had individual lessons with Buene, Eimermacher, and also with guest Samir Odeh-Tamimi. All three focused on very different components of music making including: the nature and identity of the abstract, the composing and collaboration with human beings rather than instruments, and the discussion of culture, identity, and ritual.

In addition to lectures given by those already mentioned plus guest professors Mahir Cetiz, Noel Zahler (plus more), rehearsals were open to both fellow active and passive participants of the academy, with a debriefing group lesson afterwards. I’ll add that one of the great strengths of this academy, outside of everything else mentioned, is the number and length of rehearsals! We had 4 rehearsals each between 60mins and 80mins each with Cikada, and 3 of similar length with Arditti. This is still rarity in art music and one very very appreciated at Bilkent!

As for listening… Eivind’s Lessons in Darkness (super quirky, like a space-video game on acid!!) and Hanna’s The Hurdy Gurdy (fat gorgeous microtonal chords!) were two works (and two composers) that really grabbed my attention!!

It was such an honour to be part of Bilkent Composition Academy this year and to listen, learn, and discuss with fellow early career composers from the UK, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Hong Kong, and (Australia). This was my first time in Turkey, a country I’ve wanted to visit ever since hearing Ottoman music by Hespèrion XXI back in my undergrad days. Although I couldn’t stay long, nor explore much, I found Ankara to be an incredible city; one crawling over the Anatolian mountains, transformed from an ancient settlement that traverses the rise and fall of civilisations, to that of a modern metropolis rising from the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

Ankara

Ankara in the distance

Bilkent University Faculty of Music

Bilkent University Faculty of Music

Voix Nouvelles

Here are some photos from the 2018 Académie Voix Nouvelles Royaumont…

I was incredibly fortunate to be selected and receive generous support from the Fondation Royaumont, as well as the AE Floyd Memorial Scholarship (University of Melbourne) to attend both Voix Nouvelles Royaumont and the 2018 Darmstadt Summer Course. At Royaumont we had 3 weeks filled with lessons from Mauro Lanza, Philippe Hurel, Noriko Baba, sessions with members of Meitar Ensemble and EXAUDI, gave presentations on our works, sat in open rehearsals, and attended concerts as part of the festival, all alongside completing our new works; mine for flute(s), oboe, percussion, piano. A special thank you to Meitar Ensemble, and especially the tireless work from Antje Thierbach & Philipp Lamprecht for their patience and hard work on my fiendish piece! My work That ferocity within, can be found HERE. I have since revised and extended it – Australian premiere TBA!

Otherwise I had a great time getting fat on French food and dessert, making many new friends, learning the worst profanity in all our collective languages (French, Italian, Portuguese (+Brazilian), Latvian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, English (+Australian haha), and being surrounded by such interesting new music!

Royaumont Voix Nouvelles

If only I could always composer here!

New work, and New Waves for Kupka’s Piano

Having had its premiere in Brisbane earlier this year, Macarthur Clough and Angus Wilson of Kupka’s Piano recorded my new work Dust, dew for the New Waves podcast series by the ABC. Commissioned by Kupka’s Piano, my work also featured alongside works by Samantha Wolf, Samuel Smith, Hannah Reardon-Smith, and Lisa Illean.

 

My work Dust, dew lies within a body of duo’s I’ve been writing over the last year (and increasingly looking like to continue into 2019), exploring the nature of two musicians/people within the same setting – not necessarily playing together or at the same time. The work further delves into the microtonal, ornamental, and highly erratic material that has interested me, with a closer attention to extremes in timbre, most notably articulated by the title – that between dry and static gestures, attacks, colours etc. and those fluid, malleable, and almost slippery. I think these varying extremes also correlate rather beautifully to the extremes in parts of Australian suburbia – housing estates of freshly laid turf, brick and render homes one after the other, sprinklers and fresh gardens, all cropping up at the very outskirts of our cities while on the other side of the fence a dry, harsh, rural landscape unfolds… (see for example Melton and Tarneit on the outskirts of Melbourne!) …(I’ll upload a photo later!)

Two works in particular where a massive source of inspiration and study when writing this piece. Firstly, Elliott Gyger‘s A wilderness of mirrors – especially looking at his writing for the Eb clarinet, that which for me perfectly incapsulates the entirely unique sound and colour of this instrument, and embracing the use of silence (one which Elliott had brought up many times during our past lessons). Secondly, Liza Lim‘s An Elemental Thing – drawing from Liza’s desire and ability to (as she puts) make such a humble and simple instrument sing… This strongly informed my desire to firstly write for the snare drum, an instrument that I typically avoided (due to what I saw as a heavily typecast ‘one-tricky pony’), and secondly to rethink the way I thought about musical and gestural possibilities, especially in relation to solo percussion! There is a fantastic video of Liza’s An Elemental Thing performed by Eugene Ughetti available here:

A sample page and further details of my work Dust, dew can be found here in my list of work.

Darmstadt 2018

Tram no. 3 and 7/8, canvas bags, 30-plus degrees, Große Sporthalle aka sweltering sauna, 3 euro bottle wine, 3 euro small flat white.

Some of the first things that pop into my head when thinking back to my time at Darmstadt in July this year. Running from the 14th – 28th of July in the small German town of the same name, the Darmstadt Summer Course has been at the centre of new music training, discourse, and music-making in Europe since the 1940s. Particularly synonymous with the personalties of Boulez & Stockhausen during the 50s – 60s, and perhaps with Lachenmann & Ferneyhough since the 80s – 90s, I had certain expectations about what culture would purvey the school. In short it had this collective energy, day after day of incredible music making, and surprisingly (despite it’s shortcomings in other areas), Darmstadt was a lot less dogmatic and more musically diverse that I expected!

[Big list of names coming…]

As has been for a while now, I was amongst a healthy Australian & New Zealand contingent, making the pilgrimage alongside fellow composers Samantha Wolf, Josephine Macken, Johnathon Win, writers (and composer) Andrew Aronowicz, Megan Steller, performers (and composer) Hannah Reardon-Smith, Amber Evans, Benjamin Anderson, Melanie Walters, Rowan Hamwood, Sonia Wilson, and team Rubiks (Tamara, Kaylie, Jacob, Gemma). [apologies! I know there are more!] Additionally Liza Lim, Damien Ricketson, Cathy Milliken, Graeme Jennings, and Speak Percussion were there as tutors, performers, and guest speakers.

Without going through the entire 2 weeks, some of the highlights for me were:

Lessons: I had composition lessons with Pierluigi Billone, Wieland Hoban*, Rebecca Saunders, and participated in the Composing for oboe/violin course with Cathy Milliken & Graeme Jennings.

*I’ll add that I’m ashamed I didn’t know Hoban before submitting my tutor preferences, however immensely glad that I took the time to look up his work. For those who like me were ignorant do listen! https://soundcloud.com/wieland-hoban/urarbrunnr-2016-4-harps-ensemble

Concerts: In particular those by Speak Percussion (Fluorophone, works by Hodkinson, Ricketson, Ughetti, Løffler); Liza’s Atlas of the Sky (performed by Speak Percussion & Jessica Aszodi); Ensemble Nikel (Poppe, Cleare, Barden, Lang); Tautitotito (‘Disputation Songs’: Another Genealogy of Aotearoa New Zealand Music by Oram); One (Solo works performed by the tutors, works by Aperghis, Cicilani, Holliger, Saunders, Ronchetti, Schwitters); Série Rose (Walshe, Muntendorf, Kreidler et al., Jodlowski, Hodkinson/Rønsholdt); and Ensemble Cepromusic (Misael Gauchat, Estrada, Jiménez, Toledo).

Talks: Notation as Utopia, Deconstructing the Avant-garde, Defragmentation (Decolonisation – though this talk was far too short!), and the ongoing work of Gender relations in new music.

Open Space: so many! all the ones I managed to get too!

Workshop: I was lucky to have my work Territory ; terrain workshopped with Lena Vidulich & Dannielle Lynn McBryan under the guidance of Cathy and Graeme. This work was commissioned by Phoebe Green and Ben Opie and will be premiered later in August.

Alongside so much ‘new musicking’ I managed to complete the final touches to my new work Between giants, for the Horsley & Williams Duo, and continuing writing another new work for the Academie Voix Nouvelles Royaumont in August – in which I haven’t mentioned yet – I’m so thrilled to be accepted into this programme!

I’ll add that without the support of the University of Melbourne through the AE Floyd Memorial Scholarship, and those who commission me (especially most recently Kupka’s Piano), that this trip would not be possible! With the ongoing discussions of gender and race within the new music industry, socioeconomics is another huge barrier for many to enter this field. Without the financial support of institutions, governments, our peers, as well as quality education within the state school system, new music, art music, classical music will be forever only accessed by those of higher incomes.

Darmstadt has been an incredible experience – I think still to this day it contains a certain atmosphere of being a bit of a ‘maverick’.  To put my opening words into context, I’ll fondly look back on commuting from Löwenplatz to where most of the academy took place at Lichtenbergschule and Akademie für Tonkunst. Packing as much as possible into the offical Darmstadt canvas bags, watching many of them slowly falling apart. The dive for fresh air after spending an hour listening to Boulez, in a tin-shed sports hall that slowly runs out of oxygen, amplifying the already scorching late afternoon sun. At one moment furious about the cost of coffee but then delighted next about the cost of a bottle of wine…

Tschüss Darmstadt, Hallo Berlin…

 

Music from The Caucasus

Sketches and workstation from this afternoon…

Horsley Williams Duo Sketches Jakob Bragg

Currently writing a new work for the Horsley & Williams Duo (Uilleann Pipes and Recorders). Both the concert (21st of August) and my work explore the heritage of Georgian traditional music.

It’s been absolutely fascinating to delve into this rich musical culture! Hearing the wildly different influences coming from Turkish, Persian, Byzantine, and Russian traditions, via the rise and fall of these empires, also the huge variation found within the native Georgian musical identity – from mountain to valley, between ethnic minorities, between language groups, and sub-cultures… to just name a few. It has been thrilling to simply digest so much fascinating music I might otherwise had not.

For a little taste of this music, here is some Georgian polyphonic singing available on the UNESCO YouTube channel (here).

…For those curious, my set-up in the image above includes my keyboard and piano, always tuned out from one-another, at times by quarter, eighth, or sixth… Tea and biscuits were also served!

Post Masters and reflection on Aposiopesis

In late February I submitted my Master of Music folio comprising 6 works written from early 2016 till early 2018. I’ll skip a lot of the details on each piece as you can find them in my list of works, however I’ll spend some time reflecting on the various threads that tie each of these works together and a bit about the middle work Aposiopesis, which I recently uploaded to soundcloud: (a big thank you to BRON!)

 

One of the primary benefits of a Masters (or be that a PhD) is the time enabled to critically look at your own work – to understand what and why you’ve done as you have. I think prior to this I could broadly describe the many characteristics and preoccupations found within my output, however given the opportunity to search a little further, my accompanying commentary for the folio focused on what I eventually recognised as five core concerns within my work. These have been and continue to be:

  1. Heterophony
  2. Ornamentation
  3. Microtones
  4. Rethinking harmony
  5. Instrumental parameters

If anyone reading this is familiar with any works of mine, I think the first three are very apparent. I have my first principal teacher, Gerard Brophy, to thank for the profound influence that music of Turkey and the greater Middle East has upon my work. This rich and vast set of musical cultures quite naturally drew out my fascination with the first three concerns; especially evident in pieces such as The Sleep of Reason, Metamorphosis, Babbling House, and Ochrelîla.

I’ll add that although these are at the core of what I write, they are certainly not the only concerns; these really only focus on a somewhat music theoretical viewpoint. Neglected are the more extra-musical concerns and the very-musical concerns, in particular timbral-transformation, which I feel is also at the centre of my writing. This re-enforces the problem of categorising and making broad conclusions (even of ones own output) – it illuminates but equally leaves so much unsaid.

On to the fourth and fifth concerns of my little list: rethinking harmony and instrumental parameters. Largely noticeable from many of my work is the lack of harmony, or at least the lack of a stable harmonic bed. Enter my work Aposiopesis. Almost entirely harmonic in thinking, multi-movement in structure, simple panel-like gestures, and generally soft, subdued, quiet; this piece does almost everything I never do!

The harmony in this work arises out of a playful use of frequency modulation. At times this is a morphing bed of pitches that derive from a higher sum-tone (e.g. frequency A + frequency B = frequency C), and other times the entirety of the pitch material is derived from all possible combinations of say the first three pitches. Although at times frustrating and a little mathematical, I soon worked out what arithmetic would yield what pitches, thereby bringing my personal sound preferences back into the equation.

Aposiopesis Jakob Bragg page 2 excerpt

Excerpt from Aposiopesis

The last of the five concerns, instrumental parameters, I’ll talk about in more detail in another entry. However this is mostly what is described as decoupling; breaking down various musical parameters, instrumental and physical components, into independent lines or concerns. In Aposiopesis I barely scratched the surface with this, focusing on the quality of the tone; a spectrum from airy tone with barely any pitch audible, to a full bodied and rich tone. Rethinking these parameters and their increasing independence is something I explore much more in works Fragile Notions, and my latest work Territory ; Terrain.