Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I realized on the bus ride to class today that it would be a brilliant idea to bring Halloween candy to school-- so I nipped off to a Tesco Express but they didn't have any Halloween candy (oddly they did have many, many advent calendars). Instead I bought a box of assorted cadbury's mini bars which is basically the right thing, plus- for some reason all of the pictures of the types of chocolate inside had costumes on- close enough for me!

People were very happy to eat the chocolate, laughed at me for calling it "candy," and then ate some more chocolate. I ran into the 1st years at lunch time and passed it around there too. Amazing how popular chocolate can make you...

Things to catch up on

I've had a list in my notebook for a week about things about which I really must blog. But it's just been sitting there for ages... so here you go:

1. In improvisation class we have been working on chord progressions and becoming comfortable improvising over them. This can be quite intimidating, particularly if your bass keeps going out of tune so notes aren't really where you expect them to be... but on Tuesday I had a couple of eureka moments and actually sat down on the floor to scribble down thoughts during the middle of class.

Improvisation is about making a statement, having something to say and saying it with confidence-- even if it is in a structured improvisation. I've become comfortable with STATEMENTS in free improvisation where you can really screw up- but of course you can also say something in a structured environment. This had literally never occurred to me before. Also- there is communication between the soloist and the rhythm section; just like in free improvisation you can have a conversation, play off of each other, communicate something through the playing of the solo. I mean, duh. But a new duh.

2. Last Friday we had a day long class at the London Contemporary Dance School. I'm madly in love with that place. I'll tell you more in another post but what I want to tell you here is that after class (the school is by Euston and King's Cross) and before the Stockhausen concert Emma, Jo, Michael and I went to go find tasty vegetarian food. I lugged the bass quite a ways and was like "Michael! Where are you taking us?!" when we arrived at Ravi Shankar. I tried to tell them that my family had eaten here and they met my teacher/mentor but I hadn't really met my teacher/mentor yet and the story all got very convoluted except that I was able to get across that a smoking viol had been involved...

The waiters loved that the bass was there. They moved a table so that he (this bass is a he. I've never had a male bass before) could have a place to lean in the corner and then one of the waiters in particular kept coming by to ask more questions about it. It was cute.

3. This weekend Latana and Ella and I were all at home which is a bit of a rarity. We were cleaning the flat and got the storage space under the stairs all cleaned out and organized so that there is no longer I giant mound of stuff in front of it. Well done us. We also were giggly all day long and roamed about the flat doing a bit of yoga on the ground floor landing and eventually singing pop songs from the 30's and 50's at the piano in Latana's room. Have I mentioned that I have the best flatmates?

4. Last Saturday was Kate's friend Cos's birthday party to which I was invited. I wasn't really planning on going but then I got this manic phone call from Kate and Simon who it turned out were right outside our flat. They were a bit lost so borrowed my map and dragged me along to the party which turned out to be marvelous. Lots of Cos's friends in bands singing various odes, lots of bouncing around dancing and generally being a bit ridiculous. Much more fun than sitting at home.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Snow in London!

In October! What?!

I was heading to the bus stop after a long day of classes and a voice lesson and then a lecture when I discovered that it was snowing, in London, in October. Apparently this is the first time this has happened since 1934.

I love snow. It was sleeting at first which really just meant that everything was getting very wet and slippery and difficult to walk through the slush (much less cycle through it which is what Jon, who was walking with me, had to do). I took pictures with my phone of snow on glass awnings, snow covering the bus stop sign, snow on grass, and snow all over cars.

It was Diwali yesterday too so there were lights up all over Hackney which made for a *very* picturesque bus ride home.

This was the first time that Moises, my Spanish flat mate had ever seen snow...

This morning there were still patches on cars and bits of grass that were still in the shade.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Aus den Sieben Tagen

I went to a concert yesterday at Wilton's Music Hall which is this hidden, derelict hall right behind a primary school I did a workshop at. I hadn't realized it was still a usable building, but it is awfully pretty from the outside so I had taken a picture of it during the workshop. I was a bit surprised when I found the hall and realized that that was where the concert was. An organization called Cut and Splice (maybe it was a festival? Not sure) decided to perform all of the movements from Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen over the course of two days in that hall.

Do you know anything about Stockhausen? He died last year and is one of the most important figures in 20th/21st century Western Art music. My first encounters with his music happened at Peabody in my Music History IV course. We learned about his string quartet that includes four helicopters, which is pretty nuts.

As part of the History IV we could get extra credit for doing a performance of a 20th century piece in class. My friend Laura found the score for Aus den Sieben Tagen and decided that I should be part of the group that performed pieces from it. This was right up my alley as a couple of the pieces demand that you not practice or rehearse ahead of time- extra credit for making stuff up on the spot? You betcha! So that was my first encounter with Stockhausen and specifically playing Stockhausen.

The score is not particularly score like. There are no written notes, it is all text based and written with words. The instructions include things like- vibrate at the rhythm of your body. Vibrate at the rhythm of enlightenment. Vibrate at the rhythm of the universe. Alternate between them as quickly as you can. Imagine you have infinite time. So it's a little bit weird, and more than a little bit mystical. Stockhausen claimed that this music was not improvised, but rather intuited. In retrospect, performing a few movements from this work was actually my first experience with group improvisation (intuition. Whatever.) Which is pretty darn cool.

There is one movement in particular that has stuck with me since my first reading of the score and that is Gold Dust. In gold dust the ensemble has to be isolated in individual rooms for four days with the instructions to sleep as little as possible, eat nothing, drink as little as possible, and think as little as possible. The performance is meant to happen immediately after the ensemble emerge from their rooms. For obvious reasons this was not one of the movements that we performed for extra credit. However, since Cut & Splice were doing a complete performance they needed some people willing to perform it- which is where recently graduated composers come in handy...

I don't remember their names, but the two people who performed Gold Dust (on piano and guitar) are good friend's of Ella's. She had been worried about them for the entire four days they had been in isolation and so was on the edge of her seat when they arrived on stage.

I've never seen more a more bewildered performance or a sparser one. I think maybe only 12 notes were played over the course of five minutes. It was pretty extraordinary actually- because they were so present with what they were doing, and at the same time seemed to be almost wholly unaware of the audience. There was so much space but there was also so much happening in terms of their intensity in that space. When the lights came on again at the end of 5 minutes the pianist lifted his head (the first time either of them had looked up) and just looked so confused. They had to be helped off the stage. I saw them at the intermission and they seemed fine by that point though- so don't get too concerned on their behalfs. (behalves?)

The rest of the performance consisted of quite a lot of extended techniques and washes of mechanical sound. I had a headache after one movement performed by four bass clarinets and a tuba because it had been so high pitched and loud (think about that one for a second.) I think ultimately it was a very *interesting* performance, but not necessarily an enjoyable one. That being said I would certainly be up for seeing another ensemble's version.

I've been wondering if extended techniques are the fashionable vocabulary with which to realize these pieces. Because the thing is that I don't think the score really suggests extended techniques, though it does seem that straight forward jamming wouldn't really get to the heart of the matter either. Oh! You know what would be kind of a cool thing to try? Making a sample version where you find pieces that to you seem like they sound they vibrate at the rhythm of enlightenment or whatever and then stringing all of those together. I wonder what that would sound like...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Activities for you

We moved Creative Ensemble to today instead of Thursday this week and did some improvisation exersises. It turns out that I really like sitting with an idea or concept and trying it multiple times to really *experience* it before moving on to something else.

Here's a fun game:
*Get a group of people together (it will work with 2, but 3+ is better)

*Let everyone choose a very short sound (a sound with no duration) like a click or a tap or a clap,
whatever you want.

*Start the piece and let it go as long as it goes.

*Listen! Do you hear the rhythms coming out of the texture? What about melodies?


Emma put the lid of the piano down over and over again and I thought that worked very well. I tapped my tuning pegs with a pen. Medium loud is best, too quiet and it might get lost. Actually... super quiet sounds could be an interesting thing to play with-- are you listening enough to be able to work with large variations in volume and still make something coherent?

It's a great activity because you can't do it wrong. Because you can only make one sound and that sound is so short silence is built in and the only thing you can be concerned with is where you are going to put the sound. Does it sound like you should make your noise? Then put it in. How many times? With a pulse? Without any sort of pulse? Are you making a rhythm with someone else? Is it repeating? Can you start the piece over and make it completely different even though the super simple components haven't changed at all?

I could do this for hours. Or at least an hour.

Tuesday Goodness

Today was an open day for the school so there were prospective students all over the place. Our afternoon class today was an open workshop for the three people checking out the programme. Once again it was a very international bunch- South Korea, Columbia, and Japan.

John Miles led the workshop and I just love being in workshops that he leads because he is so high energy and excited about his material- it's nice having classes where everyone in the class is giggling.

We did some work based on an Indian rhythm that goes like this 1 12 123 1234 12345 1234 123 12 . It is the same rhythm that we used the first time I worked with John way back last year during a CPD (continuing professional development) workshop. In fact, not only was it the same rhythm, it was actually the same tune that we had made up with the kids too-- only it was very slightly different which meant I kept singing it wrong.

BUT! Eventually I was singing it correctly and playing the chords along with it on my bass and singing at the same time which I've never done before and was super excited about.

That is really the whole point of this entry. I sang and played at the same time, Yay!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

because I'm vain

Henrikke and Meredith and I went to the Columbia Road Flower market today, and it was gorgeous. Full of amazing flowers and cool antiques and remarkably sparkley cupcakes. (Seriously, can you eat glitter?) Henrikke is a demon with her camera and took bunches of lovely shots of everyone and everything in the market. This is my favorite one of me (see title).

We later had our first dinner party in our new house which was a rousing success. The food took a while to prepare, but everyone was lovely about that and the whole kitchen was giggling pretty much the entire time people were over.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Couple of things...

*I voted! It's all mailed in and everything because I take my civic duty *seriously.* I even voted for the judges who were running unopposed. Do you have your votor guide yet? Check out pg 86 & 87, all women for two pages straight! Neato.

*I have Christmas plane tickets! I'll be hanging out in Seattle from the 9th of December until the 7th of January. I'm flying direct on British Airways and I'm so extraordinarily pleased that I won't have to be switching planes. Such a treat.

*London has been doing a lot of road construction recently- mostly along the sides of roads where they have been ripping out Victorian sewers. Which cool! until you think about the fact that the sewers have been there since victorian times at which point gross... In anycase- I was waiting for a bus outside of Holborn yesterday and thought it was so cool that the big leafy trees were dropping their leaves in a particularly autumnal way and they were being flattened onto the road so that it looked like a giant flower pressing. Then I realized that the other side of the street wasn't a giant flower pressing at which point I realized that it was new asphalt and the leaves are now stuck there. I'm hoping they'll have been preserved in some way so that from now on you can go visit the leaf road at Holborn station. Wouldn't that be cool? Then when they have to rip out the 21st century sewers people will get all up in arms about the fact that they're ripping up an historic landmark.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A note regarding photos

I have taken photos- but currently they are trapped on the digital camera. I know that *somewhere* I've got a thingy that will attach to my laptop so that I can transfer the photos from the old school memory cards- but I can't find it. On the plus side: there are very few places it could be. On the negative side: I've already looked there.

So- pictures- I'm working on it! I want them back too!

MapMaking: the finish line

This weekend was spent in non-stop rehearsals for the MapMaking performance that finally happened at 8pm last night. A lot of time was spent sitting around and staring at the ceiling, but it all came together too- which is my favorite part of large productions like this one.

There were three sections: Indonesia/Water, Africa/Land, and South America/Air. The performance was about an hour long and flowed without interruption through all of the pieces. About half of the pieces were pre-recorded or electronic music. One piece had both electronic and live music- the film was tape footage of San Paolo that had been covered in whatever the chemicals that are found in acid rain are and then buried. The music was a tape recording of 9lives playing a samba song that was then also covered in acid and buried. The final piece began with the original, unmangled footage and the band singing and playing live and then slowly the footage was replaced by the acid eaten film and audio and we stopped playing.

The giraffe piece or "barrier" which is the piece that Kuku made that I worked on as well- went through many, many drafts. Last week (or the week before?) when we were at Toynbee hall I produced what I had been working on and was told by the various tutors that it was too heavy and dark for the video that Kuku had made- and actually- I can totally see that. Though given the instrumentation available (tuba, bass, cellos) it is understandable that it would be heavy. In any case I went back and reorchestrated it and tried again- but ultimately after much rigmarole it was decided that it was still too heavy and ponderous. So it was back to the drawing board and on Friday I presented the video to the group and started workshopping with them. I think we came up with some good material- but then they all decided that they were far too busy with their own pieces. Fair enough. But Oi.

Jorge, who hadn't had his own piece in the project due to his frequent Portuguese trips was enthusiastic about helping when I showed him the video Friday afternoon. At that point I was just so happy to have someone express interest that when he asked if I could manage to get a hold of a marimba I said yes. On Saturday- the day before the performance I brought Kuku in and worked with the tutor John Miles, Jorge, and Emma to see if we could come up with something. We based what eventually became the piece on Kuku's facial expressions: look of apprehensive confusion? Try something else. Smile? Sweet, it'll work. The piece was ultimately a marimba improvisation using both hands and mallets. It was pretty cool- but when Nell (the year supervisor) told me that it was well done and good job- I couldn't help but think I really hadn't had that much to do with it.

So here is what I will do next time I've got a collaboration with an artist, specifically for a video:

*listen to various pieces of music with the video and see what makes sense and works well in order to get and initial starting idea.
*Create samples to show the artist at multiple point during the process to make sure that they're happy with the direction you're taking it in.
*Double check again to make sure that they really are happy and aren't just shy about making their opinions known.
*Think about *all* of the instruments that are available, not just the ones that 9lives tends to lug around. (i.e, Caroline is a very good pianist, Jorge plays the organ, and everyone sings)
*Start talking about the musical concept either much earlier in the process or wait until the final video is complete. Don't make music for draft versions that won't bear any likeness to the final film.

I did communicate well with Kuku about her video. The film would not have been nearly as coherent and concise as it was without my input. Also, she was very happy with our working relationship- I listened well and did a good job of working with the language issues (Kuku is Taiwanese) which was useful during the final collaboration because it meant that we were used to communicating by that point and I knew how to translate John and Jorge's questions and statements another way so that Kuku would actually understand.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

CYO the journey

It took us eleven and a half hours to drive from London to Cornwall on Friday. We hit every patch of traffic possible. It was ridiculous. We were in a 17 seat van with all of the instruments and all nine of us. When we actually got to Cornwall it was pitch black and we discovered that what are called "Cornwall hedges" are actually granite walls with plants growing on them- because Cornwall is made of granite. We dropped the first group of people off at the first cottage at around 11:30pm and then took the van down the narrowest roads possible in the dark and stormy night. We took the wrong track at one point and ended up at a dead end with no way of turning around, so I hopped out the van, opened the gate and we turned around in a cow field before getting stuck on another gate and breaking it. Eventually we went down the right track and crossed a little ford where the water was riding because it was raining. We got to the cottage around half past twelve, killed hundreds of mosquitoes, and eventually crawled, freezing, into bed.

I thought it was all a grand adventure. Even the outdoor toilet.

The view the next morning was extraordinary- it turned out we had driven along the edge of a cliff- it was amazing.

Picture coming soon!

CYO the project

We're doing a new project with the Cornwall Youth Orchestra that started this weekend. The CYO rehearsal schedule is amazingly ridiculous. Because the students are spread throughout the entire region they meet up as a whole orchestra once a quarter somewhere in Cornwall (it changes every time. I had a couple of students right over the border from Devon who were fussy that the rehearsals had never been near them.) Then they have intense rehearsals for a weekend, like 9 am to 9pm Saturday and Sunday and apparently normally there are also Friday rehearsals but there weren't this time because it was the first of the new school year. During the weeks where not everyone is around to rehearse they have sectionals. So this weekend is string sectionals and then next weekend would be wind or brass I presume.

The kids all sleep in the rehearsal building. In this case because the rehearsals were in a school some of the classrooms were sleeping rooms and others, like the one I was in, said "no sleeping." Which is how I found out about this in the first place- because why would a math classroom have a sign that says no sleeping? Oh and the rehearsal schedule? Planned down to the minute and KEPT TO. Which is the amazing part. I've never seen a schedule like that that people actually followed. It was like the anti MapMaking project. (In that MapMaking can't keep to a schedule at ALL). (Seriously, at all.)

So the project itself is based on the paintings of Ben Nicholson who was a fairly important abstract modernist painter who lived in, and frequently painted Cornwall. So there is a retrospective being put on by the Tate that is currently travelling around and will be in Tate St. Ives in... January? (St. Ives is in Cornwall. See? It all begins to make sense.)

The orchestra has been divided into eight groups so that each of us get about six people to work with. Each of the group leaders chose a painting from the exhibition book. We’re meant to make a piece with the kids that relates to the painting and then in January will perform those pieces at the gallery. So that should be pretty cool.

My group is made up of six people: Sarah- oboist who has a kitten that chases its own tail; Peter- cellist who doesn’t have a funny animal story; Lizzie- oboist with two pet bunnies; Alyssa- violinist who was followed by a bull; Jenni- violinist who had some sort of interesting goat story; Lisa- violinist whose story I totally don’t remember; and Ellen- cellist with a cat that does back flips.

The painting that I chose is called “Six Circles” And it has...six circles. So I spent the prep time for the project trying desperately to figure out ways of representing circularity in music. Harder than you might think because music is such a linear art form. I came up with the idea of rounds, octatonic scales (based on a fully diminished 7th chord- neat because they can go *anywhere* which is think is sort of circular- or maybe more wheel spoke like), ternary beats (6/8 and 9/8 as opposed to 4/4 so the beat is divided “1 and a 2 and a” as opposed to “1 and 2 and”), and the idea of anacrusis or upbeat which to me sounds like the wind up to something continuing on- like a wheel rolling down a hill.

We decided as a group to use the painting itself as a score so that the various elements of it represent different musical ideas when read from top to bottom. We then played with the ternary beats which they had a bit of trouble really feeling so I pulled my dalcroze techniques out and had them running and skipping around the room. (Felt pretty pleased with myself at that one) and eventually made up rhythms that I had them use notes from the scale to make into melodies and then we layered those- at which point the whole group decided that really it sounded like the deep grooves in the painting rather than the circles....poo. So they get to figure out what sounds like circles now. They came up with what basically amounts to an ascending scale which I think is pretty linear- but hey. They like it.