Sleep of Reason – Kupka’s Piano

Reblogging a blog I did for the Kupka’s Blog 😉

As my works delve more and more into that murky subterranean post-tonal world, my art has found a renewed purpose, taking on those worldly issues closest to me.

It was after beginning my postgraduate studies, having learnt with a variety of composition teachers, and experiencing a few extra thought provoking art exhibitions that I finally decided that my music would take a new turn. By no means is this the beginning of my ‘mature’ works (whatever that might mean), but simply, that my music can be more than an experiment in sound; that it can function as a vehicle for views, ideas, and even take a stance.

The Sleep of Reason, composed for pierrot ensemble Kupka’s Piano, is one of my first works to address this. Taking its title from Goya’s famous etching: El sueño de la razón produce monstros (the sleep of reason produces monsters), this work is one of 80 satirical etchings and aquatints entitled ‘Los Caprichos’, condemning the many facets of Goya’s 18th-century Spain. These include comments on topics such as the aristocracy, politics, religion and the clergy, superstition, and morality.

Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

Goya’s etching incorporates many concerns of today’s society as it did in his; illustrating that where ignorance outweighs reason, and where sense faults, monsters such as fear, intolerance and superstition emerge, taking on well-known forms in politics and religion.

Like in other works I’m currently writing, these elements are crucial to the development, thoughts, and process of the piece, however they need not rule every component. For The Sleep of Reason, this provided a starting point and a guide to how the piece will evolve. At its simplest level I’ve juxtaposed an intense and fluid opening and ending with a slow static middle section. ‘Reason’ can be complicated and radical concepts difficult to grasp, whereas ignorance and faith lulls, and creates a fabricated sense of reassurance – this is the rather elementary impetus for my work. A pacified middle section ceases the momentum and energy of the work, and an unnerving sense of discomfort develops in the listener. Rumbles and movement begin to interfere more and more until the artificial comfort of the piece break away and reason (as brutal and difficult as it is presented here) takes back the fore.

More explicit musical materials that influence this and many of my works, include my continued exploration of microtonality and my fascination with classical Turkish music. Having delved into music of the Middle East during the end of my undergrad, and then further examining how this could affect my own works in the following years, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t interested in integrating a bastardisation of the makam (quasi-modal like structures) but rather in focussing on heterophony and form. Heterophony is a more complex monophony, a simultaneous variation of a single melodic line. A rather simplistic definition of the textural aspect of Turkish music, I have been fascinated with this push and pull, and slight deviation that play out in largely unison compositions. In many instances in The Sleep of Reason, unison appears to be striving for dominance, however never quite coming to fruition, or constantly being pulled back and forth. Additionally the unique forms in Turkish music and how these develop have provided many possibilities in how my material transform, especially on the micro-scale. Instead of dictating a scalic figure or tone-row, I use certain pitches as mapping points, for example moving from a dominance of C# down to Bb.

A massive thanks to Kupka’s Piano for their tireless work and support and I look forward to seeing the diverse programme of works on the 19th!

Concert: Harrison’s Axe by Kupka’s Piano, April 19th, Judith Wright Centre 7:30pm. Pre-concert Q & A at 6:45pm. See ‘Concerts‘ tab for more info.

Musings, Melbourne, Masters…

So it has been a ridiculously long time since I posted here, and much has changed since my last blog. Firstly, I departed my northern city of Brisbane back in October 2015 and now reside in the changeable but beautiful Melbourne, Victoria. It has been an incredible 7 years in Brisbane. I will miss the endless sunshine, the never-far beautiful beaches, my time at the Queensland Conservatorium, friends and family, the small town feel especially of the quaint suburbs (Paddington, Bulimba etc), and that unique Brisbane look – a harsh contrast of brutal modernist architecture next to fresh new skyscrapers, sitting alongside the meandering Brisbane River, straddled by charming stilted queenslander homes.

So trading the subtropical outdoor lifestyle of Brisbane, I now reside in St Kilda East, Melbourne, only 2 minutes from a tram and a bike ride away from Balaclava. For the next 2 years I will be studying at the University of Melbourne, undertaking my Masters in composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, studying with Elliott Gyger. Last year I frequently travelled between Melbourne and Brisbane, getting a taste for the southern metropolis, learning privately with composer extraordinaire Liza Lim, and preparing for further study.

This year will see a number of performances of my new and older works, across both cities. The incredible Kurilpa String Quartet (Graeme Jennings, Yoko Okayasu, Brendan Joyce & Katherine Philp) will be performing my first work for string quartet as part of the commission prize I won graduating from my Bachelor. Kupka’s Piano (Brisbane’s new music specialists) will also perform a new commission of mine in April, and Melbourne’s Halfsound (Saxophone duo) will be touring a new work of mine across south-east Asia. As part of my Masters here I will be writing an orchestral piece which the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra shall workshop, and a large set of piano works for my partner in crime Sine Winther! And I’m sure many more to come…

Additionally a number of new recordings can be found under the tab Music, including Atmosphoria for orchestra, a trio for bass, mezzo & piano, and Yegâh for solo violin. The latter two delving into the world of Turkish music, an area I am increasingly fascinated by, opening up a world of new structural, developmental, and pitch possibilities.

I shall endeavour to blog more often and delve into my personal approach to composition throughout the year…

Melbourne Con
Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

‘Atmosphoria’ for QPO

Earlier this month I was interviewed by Samuel Cottell about the upcoming premiere of my work Atmosphoria, commissioned by Matthew Schwarz for the Queensland Philharmonia Orchestra. The interview can also be found here: CutCommon Jakob Bragg.

Imagine a hot summer’s night in Brisbane.

“It’s almost midnight, it’s an unforgivable 28 degrees and worst of all, it feels so much more uncomfortable with 90 percent humidity,” composer Jakob Bragg describes.

“The fan is only moving hot thick air around, you can’t fall asleep and the only reprieve you get is the eventual sound of the chimes singing from the apartment upstairs; the wind picks up. Soon you get the tapping of rain from the neighbours’ tin roof and not long after, a torrential storm hits with fierce winds and heavy rain.

“A reprieve, yes, but concerns of where you parked your car, the possibility of hail, or falling tree branches soon plague your thoughts.”

This is the starting point from which Jakob created his newest orchestral commission ‘Atmosphoria’ to be performed on September 20 with the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

The orchestra’s conductor and founder Matthew Schwarz has commissioned works every year since establishing the orchestra.

“When I was approached to write an orchestral work for QPO, I immediately wanted to create a piece that really conjured up Brisbane,” Jakob says. “’Atmosphoria’ is a portmanteau of ‘atmosphere’ and ‘euphoria’ but also refers to the two works that influenced how I wrote this particular piece: Ligeti’s Atmospheres and Penderecki’s Polymorphia.”

Jakob is a Brisbane based composed who studied with Gerard Brophy at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. He has also been taught by Liza Lim and Stuart Greenbaum. “All of these phenomenal teachers have had such a massive impact of my music and how I approach composition,” he says.

“Each has focused on different areas in compositional craft and all have widened my gaze and appreciation of music.” Jakob’s works have been performed by the Australian Youth Orchestra, Kupka’s Piano, the Queensland Mandolin Orchestra, Queensland Saxophone Orchestra, the Conservatorium New Music, Brass and Chamber ensembles and workshopped by The Australian Voices.

Beyond the concert hall, he has composed music for film. Early this year, Jakob was a participant in the Australian Youth Orchestra’s composition program and had his work ‘Dissent’ premiered. His musical influences come from a wide range of sources and are mostly concerned with spectralism and new complexity aesthetics.My music has a strong focus on a morphing of colour and timbre, exploring the spectrum of sound between Western tunings and a constant blurring between cluster and clarity.”

Jakob has a three-fold process in creating a piece and generally begins by sketching out ideas. “I start very vaguely and very graphically, drawing lines, scribbles, shapes… getting an idea on how the piece will build, where it will be most intense, and at what point in the overall duration this will occur,” he explains.

For his new work, he started to make sketches before thinking about instrumental colour and timbre. “Only then did I think about pitch material, sketching an opening cell then allowing my material to flow from there – either mimicking the intervallic relationship or fleshing out the pitch direction. Overall and rather simply, the piece moves from long static lines, to faster and more intense cells, progressing from clear and balanced textures to clutter and thick textures.”

For young composers, having works commissioned and performed by an orchestra is a great learning experience and can provide many invaluable lessons about music making. You soon discover that readability, clear notation, lack of basic errors and knowing each instrument thoroughly is so important and often completely overlooked,” Jakob says. He also loves the amount of noise you can create in an orchestral piece, though it’s much more than noise that Jakob likes to create when composing music.

There are many challenges for emerging musicians to having new music performed and commissioned, particularly by a symphony orchestra. “It can be a combination of fear and uncertainty over something new and untested, a lack of funds to commission something new, perhaps – and wrongly so – a fear that audiences won’t respond, and a lack of awareness of the rich and diverse music available from living composers.” But Jakob is optimistic that more audiences are coming to listen to new works.

“I think communication is the best way to reach audiences new to ‘difficult’ or ‘avant-garde’ music. It’s important for ensembles and or the composer to introduce new works, show that this music has come from a human being, and give an insight into how or why this work has come into existence. I’d also encourage listeners to give new music a chance.

“Music, and all art, has constantly evolved and progressed, responding to the present day and new ways of creating sound. Many listeners are shocked at the idea that people didn’t appreciate the ‘great’ classical composers in their day, yet are completely guilty in the very same act of dismissing music of today, without at least giving it a go or attempting to understand why.”

‘Atmosphoria’ also has a special meaning for Jakob, who is moving to Melbourne later this year and is continuing his studies in composition. It is a sort of ‘parting gift’ to Brisbane. Aside from his move to Melbourne and further study, Jakob has a few pieces to write.

“I’m working on a new work for the Kurilpa String Quartet as part of the Silver Harris & Jeff Peck prize I received from the Queensland Conservatorium, and about to start a new work for new music extraordinaire group Kupka’s Piano.”

AYO Recording and First Sketches for QPO

Earlier in 2015 I was selected for the AYO National Music Camp Composition Program; an intense 2 weeks of lessons, workshops, seminars and rehearsals. Under the tutelage of Stuart Greenbaum and baton of James Judd, us 4 composers raced to form a complete work, developing our sketches that we brought in various states, ready for the concert only 10 days later… Below is the resultant recording form the concert. Dissent, is a play with line and mass, the breaking away from unity until inevitable chaos break out, a disjunct struggle for dominance by each instrument and family.

Currently, I am working on a commission from the Queensland Philharmonia Orchestra, due to be performed on the 20th of September. Somewhat toying with the idea of humidity, often excruciatingly felt here in the summer, I’ve set out to create an essence of unease and discomfort, a blurring of lines and tight interlocking, until the ensuing torrential downpour relieves the still, bringing a chatter of a thousand voices. In the sketching phase for this piece, I’m analysing Ligeti’s Lontano and Atmosphères, looking at Allen Forte’s Set Theory and completely immersed into Xenakis’s Jonchaies. Details for this concert are below…

Day 9 of AYO’s National Music Camp 2015

AYO NMC 2015: (Left to right) Clare Johnston, Stuart Greenbaum, Connor D’Netto, Oliver Iacono, Jakob Bragg & James Judd.

Having been accepted into the AYO composition program, along with 3 other composers from Australia, I have been busy writing a work for chamber orchestra to be premiered on the 16th of Jan. Spanning 2 weeks in Adelaide (at the Elder Conservatorium), this intense and fast paced course see us write a work especially for the Australian Youth Orchestra, comprised of both tutors and students, while also receiving daily lessons, seminars and masterclasses with composer Stuart Greenbaum and fellow performers. Since being here I had a chat with Samuel Cottell (words about music student) about writing by hand (see below) and additionally was interviewed on ABC Classic Fm for the intermission between last Saturday’s concerts! Today I heard the first rehearsal of my work, conducted by James Judd and am madly making final additions before the Composition Concert this Friday! A dazed and delirious journey it has been, filled with so much music, many lessons and such amazing talent!

Update. October 30. 23:35

 Final composition workshop 2014 Queensland Conservatorium of Music
Graduating composers of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music 2014: (Left to right) Erik Griswold (Tutor), Tim Hondroudakis, Jakob Bragg, Kate Hamill, Nick Rossi & Matthew Schwarz.

In a mere few weeks I will be graduating from my Bachelor of Music (Composition) at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and off to the UK and Denmark for 5 weeks!! However, to more recent events, I have completed a new work for the Queensland Mandolin Orchestra (rehearsals to be begin next week), finished a commission from Amanda Terry (solo violin), and experienced the success of an cross art-form, unusual concert collaboration, entitled moððe – featuring art, film, music, movement, improvisation and voice (artistic director/composer Amanda Terry, Film artist Naomi O’Reilly and producer/composer myself)… Stay posted, more of this project to come! Additionally, I have been undertaking a second Theory Project with Gerardo Dirie, analysing select repertoire from Turkish classical music; building directly from my previous project on Arabic music theory. The next few weeks are dedicated to finishing a new work for solo soprano (Amber Evans), taking – or should I just say ‘stealing’ – influences from Berio’s Sequenza III and Lachenmann’s Got lost – I recently had the pleasure (and somewhat terror) to page turn this piece for Alex Raineri. January next year I will be off to Adelaide after being selected for the Composition Program at AYO’s National Music Camp, studying under Stuart Greenbaum. And in another 3 weeks, I will be bound for the UK and Denmark, experiencing the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and a well deserved (I think), relaxing break…

– – moððe – –

moððe poster

moððe (old english for moth, pronounced mothaaar) is an interdisciplinary project between violinist (artistic director) Amanda Terry, composer (project/stage manager/producer) Jakob Bragg and video artist (co-producer) Naomi O’Reilly (Queensland College of Art), along with students of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.

moððe is a series of small individual experimental works that follow the story of a man who has gone into the afterlife and is awaiting his “judgement”. Each movement goes through events in his life that has lead up to this moment, portrayed through film, movement and music.

Can the weight of our lives transform us into the very creatures we despise? How quickly a flame consumes, how quickly it disintegrates… you take and take and only give back ashen cries but in the end you have only one chance in this life, one chance to make it right, your one chance that put you in this life – don’t forget the many eyes, they see that.

See ‘upcoming’ for concert details…

Corrade Collection & Con Sordino

September 26th will see a new concert by the Corrade Collection at the Queensland Conservatorium. Corrade is Amanda Terry (violin), Caleb Colledge (percussion) & Michael Louttit (double bass/electronics) who are joined by a host of talented musicians performing a truly unique, cross artform concert. As of next week I’ll begin work on a piece for act 6 of this ‘multifaceted art/music/drama work’, utilising violin, viola, double bass, percussion, piano and flute. Envisioned and directed by Amanda Terry, this striking and challenging creation will see 7 acts cross the spectrum of genre, style, intensity and pysche; a production that can only be adequately described as a true Gesamtkunstwerk.

Additionally this week will see a new work for brass reach the final editing stages. This composition echoes the texture and colour of Krzysztof Penderecki with the movement and structure of Ingram Marshall. An exercise in timbre and colour, mutes and microtones; this will be submitted for the Adolph Spivakovsky Scholarship run by the University of Melbourne.

An Experimental Collaboration of Photography and New Music

An Experimental Collaboration & Exhibition will feature works by photographers, musicians, composers and student folios from QCA. This event will also include my latest work Varient, written for the Conservatorium New Music Ensemble, led by Vanessa Tomlinson. This work can best be summarised as intense and haunting, a textural work stemming from Ligeti and Penderecki. Details are:

Monday 26th of May, 2014 – 5:30pm

White Box Studios (S03, level 4), Queensland College of Art

Admission Free.

New Work for the Queensland Ballet

Currently 1 day away from the recording session of my latest work. I have be asked to write a short Ballet, Choreographed by Paul Boyd, for the Jette Parker Young Artists Program, Queensland Ballet.
It is a 10-12 minute work for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Piano and String Trio. The performance will be during mid 2014, around July, and will feature two young talented girls from the Jette Parker program. The music will be pre-recorded and conducted by Matthew Schwarz (from the Queensland Philharmonia) and recorded by Sarah Ward.
A BIG thank you to all the instrumentalists involved: Annabelle Swainston, Sunny Yeh, Hannah Harley, Aichlinn Huang-Ryan, Richard Shaw, Charly McIntyre and Corey Sinclair.
I will post soon as the recording becomes available and how the work progresses…

Secondly, my other new work ‘Variant‘ for the New Music Ensemble (run by Vanessa Tomlinson) will be performed later this month. Details to be up shortly!