Jane in Iceland

by Jane Aubourg

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This July I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Iceland and travel with a group of artists as part of Light Grey Art Lab’s Midnight Sun Art Camp. I got to see some awe-inspiring, gorgeous places and meet some awe-inspiring, gorgeous people.

Being in a completely new place with completely new people, who are all there to take in their surroundings with their artistic practice in mind, was an amazing experience. I learnt to listen in new ways, I learnt to see in new ways, and had breakthroughs in my music and playing that I’m very excited to continue exploring back at home.

Armed with my trusty Zoom recorder, I captured moments big and small as we explored the north of Iceland. I was really interested in the way that having a microphone in hand really changed the way I listened to my surroundings. Sometimes there was a sound interrupting, interacting, or overshadowing the original reason for turning on the microphone. Stepping back from frustration and into curiosity towards the soundscape as a whole is a learning process that I am still going through; that there is a certain authenticity in an imperfect recording. I have tried to capture an aspect of Iceland as I experienced it, rather than attempting to create an imagined version of Iceland that fits expectations.

As I continue to write the pieces that were started during my time in Iceland, I will be trying to keep that attitude by creating work that reflects my personal experiences rather than catering to anxieties about the music not meeting expectations (not being experimental enough, too experimental, not academic enough, too academic, too different to my other work, too similar to my other work, etc.). I will follow my instincts and trust anyone listening to come along with me.

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Something that I will be trying to reflect on is the landscape in Iceland, which was one of extremes of scale. There are very few trees and the landscape can look barren. Look closer, however, and it has so much going on. Tiny berries, mosses, lichen, and small flowers all sit together and on top of one another. The plants have a tenuous grip on the soil, so being thoughtful about where you step and the destruction you can leave behind is important.

Step back again and your breath will be taken away by the scale and shape of the mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, craters, and lava formations. Though they were more obvious, they were much more difficult to capture in photos!

How do you capture such extremes of scale in music? How do you perform it? I don’t have answers yet, but with any luck things will emerge from the experiments ahead of me.

Something I took away from the experience of living with a group of artists I had never met before was that it’s not only important to give yourself opportunity for artistic experiences, but also that communicating your ideas to others is such a valuable part of the creative process. No idea comes into your head fully formed, and so many details and connections become clearer to you when you begin the messy work of translating it to others.

Having people around you who are open in a genuine, vulnerable, and enthusiastic way is invaluable to the process. Equally important for myself (or perhaps even more so!) is being that person for others and cultivating a genuine sense of enthusiasm for the ideas and projects of others. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to surround myself with the wonderful Light Grey Art Lab crew and the Midnight Sun family with whom I felt that happen.

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Being a musician in a household of visual artists for a week affords some interesting opportunity for collaboration.

Some things I have really enjoyed exploring with the music box project over the last few years (and particularly in Playshop) are:

  • interpreting visual art as graphic scores

  • trying new ways of exploring communal and collaborative authorship

  • finding new ways to involve and connect with an audience that might not have a musical background

These exciting ideas were swimming in my head when I invited the other artists of the Midnight Sun family to contribute to a graphic score.

Everyone was really excited by the idea of creating a score, and they didn’t hold back! The result was a score with really interesting variation. The influence of the place we were in and the week we had spent together was strong, and I was really interested to see the similarities between some of contributions and my own graphic notes made during the trip. I love that I can see their styles and personalities come through in each section.

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A small detail that I found really funny from the experience: I had ruled a few lines to help divide the page up between everyone. As a musician, I would have used the line as a stave (running through the centre of what I drew) but as illustrators they interpreted them as panels to fill! If I do it again, I think I would also get their input into the layout of the page, as many of the artists do amazing things in the layout of their own work and that would be really interesting to have in a score.

I plan to do 2 versions of this work: one as a solo interpretation, and one with the music box project. I’d really like to detail the process of interpretation in both cases, and the different forms the music and performance will take (so stay tuned!).

After the whirlwind week of the Art Camp, I appreciated having time to decompress in the wilderness with my partner, who helped me to start exploring the seeds of new ideas in more detail, always with a sense of wonder and thoughtfulness. Here again, I learnt that involving others in your process and your craft helps to bring a deeper connection between yourself, your art, and those around you who experience it.

I loved my time in Iceland, but coming home was wonderful, and I felt it in more ways than just the geographical sense. It meant appreciating the inspiring collaborators I have here in the music box project (where enthusiasm, openness, and playfulness are never in short supply) and the wonderful community who listen to us play.

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Sax Radio Music 2018

by Peter Leung

 Pete and friends at the Sax Radio Music Festival in Taiwan

Pete and friends at the Sax Radio Music Festival in Taiwan

In 2017 I was asked by one of my good mates Peter Chao, to be part of the Sax Radio Music Festival and summer school, Kaohsuing, in the south of Taiwan. I’d never been to Taiwan before but was on board from the start. For our recital performance, I contacted a few close composer friends, particularly Adrian Kingwell and Brenna Noona, who set about creating awesome new solo tenor saxophone works for me. Alongside these works we brought on our good friend Chris Higgins to help us perform some new duos and trios (and generally eat too much amazing food and have too many side-splitting laughs)!

While I was warned before arriving, I was not ready in the slightest for the humidity in Taiwan. Thankfully my reeds survived the entire festival, even with some days of 6+ hours of rehearsing. Each day started with a morning of teaching, in which I directed different groups of eager young Taiwanese saxophonist. The difference in approaches to learning the saxophone and music in general was really eye-opening. These young players were performing and studying repertoire I had not even encountered till my university days and it was exciting to hear them take on board and apply new advice so readily.

One of the standout experiences for me at the festival was meeting and performing with the great Japanese saxophonist Nobuya Sugawa. As both Sugawa and myself are endorsed artists with Yamaha we were treated to lunch by the company on the final day of the festival. This will always be a fond memory for me for both sharing a meal and conversation with one of my saxophone idols but for also doing this at the restaurant (now a chain) which originally made pearl milk tea (almost a staple in Taiwan, which I may have become slightly addicted to). Being part of the 2018 Sax Radio Music Festival was an amazing experience – a big shout out to Ku Jung Chen for fantastic organisation and the other members of the faculty for making it such an awesome week!

upstairs @AYH: two

by Joseph Lisk

 Joe Lisk in a meditative moment at Playshop. 

Joe Lisk in a meditative moment at Playshop. 

One of the things I enjoy most about playing with the music box project is trying out different ways of improvising. It's not like jazz (where I've come from), with its own specific language and conventions. The language is more about the space between the individuals - searching for some kind of common ground. So for this gathering, I thought it would be fun to explore this space and find common ground between individuals through a series of duets. I've paired myself and five fellow explorers and music box regulars (Naomi Johnson, Tina Stefanou, Pete Leung, Liz Jigalin and Joe Franklin) with six other fantastic and versatile musicians (Novak Manojlovic, Jacques Emery, Jack Stoneham, Miles Rooney, Holly Conner and Sam Gill). Each of these people will bring a different voice to the conversation, so I'm excited for them to meet.

Shallow Listening

by Jaslyn Robertson

 Joe, Jasmin and Jassy enjoying a soundbath. 

Joe, Jasmin and Jassy enjoying a soundbath. 

Coming into the music box project’s ‘playshop’ (straight off of a flight from Toronto), I had no idea what to expect. Liz kindly invited me to join the ensemble for a week to workshop the piece I’ve been writing for them, Shallow Listening. Throughout my days and nights at Legs on the Wall, though, I ended up spending a lot of my time improvising, playing the out-of-tune piano, making a guitar maypole, and being on both ends of a soundbath. Having this time to really experiment without the pressure of a performance or recording project gave me the freedom to enjoy sound again, making me question the ways of music-making I fall into during the busy uni semester. Writing dots and words for weeks on end can make one feel removed from anything musical, and I am grateful to the warm, accepting people of the music box project for giving me a space to reconnect.  

The morning I arrived, we had a chat with composer Damien Ricketson. It was great to meet him and hear his opinions on both how the music box project could grow over the next few years, and his thoughts on how to interpret text scores. As someone who hadn’t worked with or even met most of the ensemble, these group discussions were also a chance for me to get to know everyone’s personalities and aspirations. While I continue to refine the piece I’m writing for them, I’ll keep their diverse characters in my mind.

Our casual workshop with Moya Henderson was incredibly inspiring, and her words have stuck in my head since. A prominent figure in Australian music, Jasmin, Liz and I have been interested in her work since a lecture with Alistair Noble at Music Analysis Summer School. In particular, we were all curious about some of her early works from when she studied in Cologne with Mauricio Kagel and Stockhausen. Moya explained to us that upon her return to Australia there wasn’t much interest for these sorts of theatrical work in the new music scene, so she didn’t follow that path much further. She was excited, though, that we’d all taken an interest in her crazy side, and left us with the wise words “unhinged is good”. 

 Jassy and Tina discussing  Shallow Listening  by candlelight. 

Jassy and Tina discussing Shallow Listening by candlelight. 

In the busy weekend we were able to find time for some rehearsal and workshop sessions on my piece Shallow Listening. The first step was to assign parts over pizza by candlelight, as the nature of the work is that the performers can switch lines on each page. The piece is scored for soprano, theremin and 6 performers who switch between electronic, pitched and toy instruments as well as music boxes. Notation disintegrates in the work from a strictly timelined series of gestures to a Berberian-inspired word page that allows the talented improvisers of the group to shine. Starting the rehearsals with this fun, free page gave the musicians an understanding of the comedic nature of the work. They gave a mini-performance of this page to some invited friends, and the audience seemed to enjoy the shouts of “Beethoven’s Eroticaaaaa” and “I’m a genius male composer!” I’m excited to add to this section and the rest of the work after hearing a taste of it on the weekend and getting to know the ensemble.

playshop: day 3

by Naomi Johnson

It might be impossible to make a large warehouse space feel homely, but by day three of Playshop it had definitely taken on some cosy additions. A kettle, numerous varieties of tea, and enough musical gear to stage a national tour all made the space feel just that bit more lived-in and welcoming. 

 Ideas and questions with Damien Ricketson.

Ideas and questions with Damien Ricketson.

Wednesday had been a quiet day at Playshop, with Jane, Joe L. and Joe F. in situ working on individual creative projects but many others returning to their regular lives for a while. It was with delight that we arrived back on Thursday to find others, too, had been making good use of the space: music box friend James Hazel had been busy experimenting with sound sculptures, suspending metallic coils, a bell and a melodica from the imposing roof beams. 

First off on Thursday morning was a visit from composer Damien Ricketson. Mugs of tea in hand, we settled down to chat about creative directions as the music box project, concepts of communal authorship, how to give works an ongoing life after their first performance and lots more. It was great to ask questions both of Damien and ourselves, bringing up new ideas and clarifying some existing ones.

The afternoon was a more relaxed affair, with several different projects existing simultaneously in the echo-filled space. Joe F continued work on a film score, then he and Naomi read through a new work for an upcoming Upstairs@AYH gig. Jane, not content with having catered a fabulous pasta and lentil lunch, built a pyramid of matting. By far the most unusual endeavour was a new sound installation mounting Liz's Aldi electric guitar on a pole and attaching fine nylon strings. Hissing, chirruping, sawing and more came through the amp, though from a distance it might seem that we weren't touching the guitar at all! 

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As the light changed and dimmed, we settled down for an in-dept discussion of Jaslyn Robertson's new work for soprano, theremin and six musicians. Jassy herself had arrived from Canada that morning, spending at few days with us at Playshop before winding her way home to Melbourne. Pens and highlighters in had, we discussed allocation of parts and what might fall into the different instrument categories of pitched, electronic and toy, along with the all-important techniques of playing a music box. 

By now the darkness was complete, any final traces of light long gone on the year's shortest day. Time for pizza, more musical brainstorming and then a nighttime jam in honour of the winter solstice. With plenty of tea to fight the cold and a few sneaky candles for atmosphere, music and hilarity gave a glow of warmth that no heater could replicate. 

playshop: day 1

by Naomi Johnson

 Getting to know the resident piano.

Getting to know the resident piano.

Rain on the roof of a large, resonant building is a sonic feast. Tuesday's rain on the roof of Legs on the Wall in Lilyfield bordered on auditory overload! But such is the energy of a residency that a deluge of rain seemed to be exactly what we needed to get the creative juices flowing. 

Tuesday was bump-in day, with the music box project and creative friends arriving from as close as just down the road and as far away is Brisbane. Joe F's double bass was already looming large in a corner (he'd had Monday as a head start), to which we added instruments familiar and unusual, plenty of microphones and a grocery shop. 

Then it was time for a jam. The cavernous space revealed a disused piano, whose tuning was so delightfully other that we began experimenting with percussion-like sounds almost immediately. What happens when we thread bow hair through this string? Where is a tiny music box best amplified on the piano's body? To this musical soup we added violin and voice, flute and toy piano in a free-form exploratory improvisation which lasted close to an hour. 

 Naomi and Henry performing Hosokawa's Bird Fragments III.

Naomi and Henry performing Hosokawa's Bird Fragments III.

As the clouds were beginning to turn orange and pink, Naomi and sho player Henry Liang shared their work on Hosokawa's Bird Fragments III, which they're preparing for an upcoming performance. Sho and piccolo pulsated together in the space, just about contending with the deluge of rain as it started again. 

From there we settled down for an evening of talk and music; Joe L sharing a multi-part Korean rhythm, improvising around and about a single note, chatting about how we allocate parts in Jassy Robertson's new work for soprano, theramin, toys and music boxes. 

When we finally locked the door and headed home it was still raining...a tuneful patter on the warehouse roof. 

playshop: learning, failing, listening, playing...

by elizabeth jigalin

This week, the music box project is taking up residence at Legs on the Wall, Lilyfield for an intensive week of music making. Throughout this week of playshop we intend to learn, fail, listen, experiment, argue, play, grow, work, make and share in lots of music together as a group alongside the friends, collaborators and mentors who will be joining us along the way. Taking this time ‘off’ as a young group is fundamental to our evolution and the future music we hope to create and share. Having a space (the fact it is a large, sunlit warehouse over looking the harbour is a bonus), allows us to create a temporary sonic home that we can open up to our noisy neighbours for intentional and exploratory music making.

So…who is visiting, what is going to transpire and what are our noisy hopes and dreams during our playshop week? The answer is deliberately uncertain. playshop is an incubator for the unknown to breed. However, the central ingredients to make the week possible are the following incredible humans who we are incredibly thrilled and grateful to be working with:

Jassy Roberston (Melbourne), Jasmin Wing-Yin Leung (Brisbane), Timothy Green (Brisbane), James Hazel, Kezia Yap, Henry Liang, Danica Hobden and others alongside our line up of musicians - Naomi Johnson, Jane Aubourg, Joseph Lisk, Joseph Franklin, Tina Stefanou and myself. Additionally, we are wide-eyed and thankful to be lead by composers Damien Ricketson and Moya Henderson in two morning sessions. These sessions will surely be a recipe for a whacky soup of ideas and sounds, impacting the group’s growth and future.

Throughout the week we will be documenting and sharing the music made and explored via this blog. We are looking forward to giving you a peek into this fruitful time and space that will allow us to open up and strengthen the mechanisms of the music box.

 our temporary sonic home

our temporary sonic home

upstairs @AYH: soup

by Tina Stefanou

This Saturday, upstairs at the Australian Youth Hotel in Glebe, Joseph Franklin and I have invited all sorts of sound-makers and musicians to come together for a musical soup. Having this space to invite people to experiment with their instruments and ideas without expectations of what it should look or sound like is really fun, and crucial for developing and trying material. It’s a joy to sit with others, sharing sounds and exploring different relationships to material and music making modes.

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I'm particularly excited about jamming with changgu player Hannah Kim. We'll play around a song form exploring rhythm diamonds, connecting it to themes of alienation, sanity and the madness of discarding people who are in need of refuge. My brother Constantine Stefanou from Melbourne will also be joining us. He's a multi-instrumentalist with a deep inquiry into ecology and human nature, and we'll perform a duet in the form of a dialogue about family and place. Then comes a tasty soup vortex where all the ingredients of the afternoon will combine. My old friend Mark Xiao - who I have know since I was 14 - and his wife Tomomi Matsuo are wild flautists who, along with music box project's Naomi Johnson, will be performing a musical recipe by Liz Jigalin. Finally, Will Hansen is a rocking double bass player who will perform solo followed by a double/electric bass duo bonanza. Come along, soak up the warmth and diverse influences, and feel welcome to offer your own ingredients to the mix.

When: Saturday 9th June, 3pm
Where: Upstairs @ the Australian Youth Hotel, Glebe

introducing: Lauren Austin

Artist Lauren Austin joins in on the fun and will be producing work in response to "in 4.". we can't wait to see what she comes up with. 

laurenaustin

about Lauren.
Lauren Austin is an artist, collector and writer. She is interested in the connections between abstraction and comprehension. Ideas of the body, language and architectural theory also influence her many artistic adventures. You may find her writing about squid and researching house paint in her spare time.

more at her blog:  www.wordchalk.wordpress.com

d e a d l i n e extension.

to all c o m p o s e r s. please note that we have extended the deadline for submissions so as to give as many of you as possible the chance to be a part of this project. you have one extra week - until the 21st JANUARY. we have been so overwhelmed at the number of submissions we have received over the past couple of days - so keep it up! 

check out the guidelines and get writing:

http://www.themusicboxproject.com/submission

also - we are getting ready to make some pretty big (and awesome) announcements over the next couple of days - so make sure to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

over and out.

tmbp.