Dresden Residency: Week 14

My residency in Dresden enters it’s final chapter! 

 

This week, I managed to stay just in time to see the opening of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I was also invited to give a performance for members of the Dresden Stiftung at the Stephanie Kelly Galerie with it’s new featured exhibit called ‘Rage’.   

I performed a snapshot of a work I’ve been developing for solo flute and electronics called ‘Ivy’. Ivy is about beauty that grows beyond control, until it suffocates… much like rage! It was very enthusiastically received and it was wonderful to finally spend time with the members of the panel that awarded me this opportunity, and speak to them about what I’ve been doing.   

 

This has been a really special period of time for me. Having the space to develop ideas I’d never otherwise get the opportunity to work on has been completely invaluable. I have matured exponentially as an artist in my time here and whilst I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly what I want to write, this experience has brought me a thousand times closer to whatever that is.

 

 

So whilst my journey back to London begins, I can say for certain that Dresden is a place of indefinite creativity for me. I have friends here, colleagues here, and I can’t wait to be back in the new year to premiere a new immersive opera!

 

 

 

 

104 Days of Dresden

Dresden Residency: Week 13

To say that we’re crashing into the final two weeks of my time in Dresden is weird. I simultaneously feel like I’ve been here forever and for hardly any time at all. 

I’m going to chat a little bit about the main project proposal that I’ve been dedicating the majority of my time here to, as I’ve been fairly silent on it whilst it’s been in the woodworks. The proposal that won be the grant from the Stiftung Kunst und Musik für Dresden was for a site specific opera, designed to use the building and audience in a new way. Whilst it was clear in its objective, it had no subject matter. I wanted my experience of the residency, the city, people and culture here to influence me. So a considerable amount of time has been spent wandering around the Festspielhaus here in Hellerau, designing an immersive opera that will move through all of the spaces that don’t usually get performed in (stairs, main entrance, foyer etc.) 

 

This is how ‘A Kinder Society’ has started its journey. 

 

‘A Kinder Society” is a title that can be said two ways: kinder like we try to be to each other in English, or Kinder which means ‘Children’ in German. That’s the entire premise of the story. 

 

It’s set in what could be the present day but more realistically, it’s probably about 10 or 15 years from now. Capitalism is prevalent, austerity is high and statistics show that people are more unhappy than ever. But how do we become this way? How do the systems implemented by society change the organic, beautiful mind of a child into that of a weathered, cruel adult? How did the human race get here? If you met your 5 year old self, would they be happy with the person you are, the choices you’ve made or indeed, the things that you think even about? It appears that at some point down the line, we forget how to really daydream.   

 

A resistance movement called the Kinder Society are working underground and without government knowledge to recruit members who will join them commit to their alternative way of living. The group rejects all adult living that is common to the western world and believes that the journey towards this toxic way of life begins from the moment we educate our children categorically and institutionally. In order to rid the grown-up nation of its toxicity, it invites the public to participate in The Program. The Program is a retraining initiative that encourages its participants to consider the world as we did when we were much younger. They will involve themselves in activities and interactions that free their mind from constrictions that have been thrust upon them in the form of social normality. 

 

The audience will travel with the performance through the space, experiencing a variety of non-linear scenes that challenge them to a range of interactions with the performers. These activities range from physical demands to mental and spoken demands and eventually lead to a final initiation process. 

 

Scored for 4 vocalists, 4 instrumentalists and 4 dancers, ‘A Kinder Society’ is set to make it’s premiere in early 2020. 

Dresden Residency: Week 12

It’s the Tanzwoche Festival in Dresden this week and I’ve been collaborating with the Las Tapas Dance Lab on a performance at Projeckt Theatre in Neustadt, Dresden!

Taking inspiration from Punch Drunk, we took advantage of the fact that an audience are much more easily manipulated into doing things when you put them in masks!

I orchestrated the evening with an assortment of flute, vocals and electronics from the background, appearing occasionally as a performative figure. It’s amazing how much influence you can have over a participating audience when you’re improvising sound as a hidden spectator!

It was an ambiguously funny, political, abstract and serious evening of fun.

Las Tapas Dance Lab consists is led by Julija Rusevica and consists of recent graduates and students from Dresden’s Palluca School. Check them out here!

Dresden Residency: Week 11

One of my highlights this week was definitely being treated to an evening of analogue technology! Daniel Williams is a composer working here in Dresden, whom I met during his work on ‘Der Flüchtige Körper’ which was performed here in Hellerau this week. Or as I know him now, the man with the gadgets.

We came to an equally beneficial agreement whereby I’d introduce him to my new improvising tools and explain how they could be wonderfully helpful for him and in exchange, he’d listen to some of the stuff I’ve been doing with Ableton and recommend how I could begin to transition over to the analogue electronics world.

I’ve always had a keen curiosity to move away from creating electronic music with a screen, but haven’t really had the bravery or the know-how. Thankfully I now have both. My one let down with digital electronic music is that it often requires a lot of work to get it to behave in a human and musically intuitive way!

So I dived it and have spontaneously bought an Elektron Model Samples (the white box on the bottom left) because it seems to have a lot of scope to deal with fluid tempi in rhythm. It’s light, it’s simple (unlike most other Elektron devices) and I see an opportunity for the music to be able to fit with it really nicely! Either that or some pretty awful techno music is about to happen but we’ll see… 

Dresden Residency: Week 10

Score completions! I’ve been working remotely with Stuart Beard, a colleague and friend of mine from London to complete a private commission for solo tuba.

I’m proud of how this piece has turned out, particularly as it’s the first ‘notes on the stave’ work I’ve completed since arriving. With the focus my work is taking at the moment, it can get a little foggy sometimes when you’re in the purely conceptual part of the process. So it’s nice to turn my attention towards something that’s just sound for a little while. 

The piece is called ‘FATHER FIGURE’ and it’s a comment on our changing perceptions of what it means to be a father, particularly focussing on the role of masculinity, and challenging our fear of vulnerability. It’s a piece with a deep character; challenging, gentle, absurd and full of room for error! 

Something new I’m trying with this work is that players have the option to perform the standalone concert version, or the theatre version. The theatre version is a slightly extended work which involves direction and additional tasks. Although the music is the same, it appears in a slightly different context.

What’s interesting about Stuart’s final recital is that he’s built it to consist exclusively of newly commissioned works for the instrument, with plans to make a studio recording at a later date. So the premiere of ‘FATHER FIGURE’ will sit along others in a recital on 29th May this year to complete his studies at the Royal Academy of Music. 

Dresden Residency: Week 9

Three performances this weekend, two in Dresden and one in Leipzig. Again, all small-scale locations so perfect for trying out new stuff and meeting people who are doing similar.

Marina and I got to continue with where we left off a couple of weeks ago. Three totally free improvisations on consecutive days made for an interest working process. Usually we only meet for one occasion, so rarely get this sort of ‘do, reflect, repeat’ opportunity with a live audience each time!

It’s funny what they say about practice…

Whilst it’s far from perfect, we were pretty happy with this last one…

Dresden Residency: Week 8

This is a very ‘mid-process’ week so whilst there is a lot going on in my head, none of it is quite cohesive enough to write about.  

What’s nice though is being here. There is a lot of art here! 

When I’m very involved with what I’m doing, I often forget how important it is to go and see stuff (performances, good or bad, anything.!) Perhaps I think it can interfere –  valid! It’s also because the benefit is not always obviously attainable, so the effort of going to the thing overthrows the potential reward that I’ll only ever get with hindsight. 

The override switch for this mentality, for which I’m eternally grateful for, is that I basically live in the Festspielhaus so any colourfully developed excuse I have for not turning up to something is completely void here. The total number of seconds it takes for me to get from my bedroom to the performance spaces is >90. When I say ‘residency,’ I really do mean it! 

I’ve lost count of the number of times since arriving here that I’ve had a bit of blank at about 7pm and thought “ah screw it, I’ll go to the concert and deal with this later,” and have then gone to something that has been thought-provoking enough to get the cogs going enough to see me through to the next stage. It’s important enough to teach me to keep experiencing things and not just hide away when I get back to London, no matter how busy I think I am. 

Among my many of my half-baked ideas at the moment, one I’m becoming increasingly proud of are a set of tools for interdisciplinary improvisors of any genre. It’s not going to be a quick process because it involves developing 500 postcards all with unique ‘things’ on them. They’re designed to facilitate a more functional rehearsal narrative between a group of performers. They have no instructions because I’m the main purpose is to not interfere with free improvisation. Think of it like ‘how can affect the thing without touching it?’ This. I’ve been doodling many a thing and it might be time to round up some guinea pigs. Let me know if you’re keen on improv and want to experiment! 

Dresden Residency: Week 7

Another week and onto more improvisational antics. I have Marina Schlagintweit visiting me here and we’re finally finding the time to continue with the work we did with the Rokbook Collective in Viitasaari for the Time of Music Festival back in July. Marina is one of my favourite frequent collaborators, not to mention a wonderful friend, and we’ve been working together for over a year now! We’ve had quite an extensive creative journey together considering we both permanently live in different countries! 

There are some performance opportunities in the pipeline for the coming two weeks so we’ve spent this time getting to grips with relearning our vocal duo setup. We both use an identical Ableton 9 patch and two Korg Nanokontrollers to treat live vocals.  A range of effects are involved including a harmoniser and transposer in Max for Live, frequency shift, granulator, overdrive, delay, reverb. 

What’s really nice is to approach this as ‘older’ artists. Only 9 months has passed but we’re both in a completely different creative headspace than we were previously. Marina is currently studying a jazz piano course in Munich and I’m on this residency exploring how new music connects with the site-specific, immersive theatre world. 

When we first decided to work with an identical setup, the thinking behind it was that the behaviour of the performers would also be mirrored. The current goal is to see how far we can push this. We’re feeding our own musical backgrounds into it and seeing how they work together. We’re looking closely at fluid tempi, recognising when a pulse exists and different ways we can play with it. We’re also spending quite a lot of time bashing out polyrhythms in the kitchen together in order to improve our intuition in all walks of life, with the hope that it can translate on stage! 

Here’s a rehearsal video of our time together this week! This is totally free but it captures a sound world we’ve delved into multiple times now and explored in different ways.  

Dresden Residency: Week 6

Yesterday saw a successful performance of ‘Pesudo Spiritum’, my new work for Dancer and Instrumentalist for Dresden’s Tonlagen Festival for Contemporary Music. 

Play Video

To paraphrase a bit from my last post, the work is called ‘Pseudo Spiritum’ meaning ‘Pseudo Breath’ is an abstract concept with a little bit of a political tarnish. The piece explores a world polluted beyond it’s ability to naturally sustain life as it previously knew. The creatures are born instead with masks to aid their breathing and gradually acclimatise themselves to this world of broken air.

I thought I’d talk as well (as a very non-expert) a little bit about the way I designed the electronics for this piece. It’s mainly just amplification, via a tiny microphone which goes up inside the flute but with some mild mixing in Ableton to make the sound pop. I’m using a super cheap (and bad, actually) Movo LV4 O2 microphones which I love. Low budget, uniform frequency response, designed for multiple uses by non-professionals means that it doesn’t mind being incased in a metal tube and given a wide range of frequency and dynamics. I’ve never had problems with feedback and it’s small enough to fit in a piccolo *fist pump!*

It’s a painfully simple setup with a lot of opportunity. Placement of the microphone not only extends the dynamic range of the more detailed articulative vocal techniques I use, but opening and closing the keys of gives a really nice natural crescendo/diminuendo. The more keys I close, the more the sound concentrates itself towards the end of the instrument, so I can control it like a midi volume fader!  

I play the flute without the head-joint mainly for visual purposes, as it was important to me that the flute resembled the dancers tube as close as possible. This way of playing however does backdate to early 2018 though when I was exploring similar amplified sounds and extended vocal techniques with the flute. No head-joint = wider articulative possibilities!  

Dresden Residency: Week 5

This week welcomes the beginning of the Tonlagen Festival for Contemporary Music in Hellerau this week, for which I’ve prepared a performance installation which premieres next Tuesday 19th March. You can find us in the programme here! 

‘Pseudo Spiritum’ is a work for instrumentalist and dancer. The title, meaning ‘Pseudo Breath’ is abstract with a little bit of a political tarnish. The piece explores a world polluted beyond it’s ability to naturally sustain life as it previously knew. The creatures are born instead with masks to aid their breathing and gradually acclimatise themselves to this world of broken air.