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.