Morris On!

Dear reader,

I realise with great trepidation that it has been some months since I have gathered together enough inspiration to compose something of any literary worth. Said hiatus was caused by an inundation of several projects and PhD work, but also by the lengthy ordeal of relocating away from the crazy cat man in the wee hours of the morning (to avoid detection) and now slowly recovering from the psychological trauma in a much, much nicer environment.

On the bright side, one of these projects I’ve finished was a fun new piece for a very eclectic mix: Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Jazz trio (Piano, Bass and Drums), and also Morris Dancers. It was commissioned especially for the ‘All In The Wash’ concert on 24th of May, (Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane, Australia) where it will be performed by the excellent musicians of Collusion and Trichotomy combined.

Without further, vital, ado, here’s the cover page of it:

Morris Title 22

I absolutely hate program notes. Well, a certain kind of program note … I’m sure I’ve ranted about it in the past before. But if I did write a more tolerable explanation of the piece (which admittedly is necessary in this case … I think I may subconsciously be making these pieces unusual to justify having program notes) it’d be this:

What’s the piece like? It’s very folk/Grainger affected music, on top of major jazz and rock considerations; changing moods frequently, but generally upbeat, cringe-worthy and danceable. The theme for the commission was ‘Morris Dancing,’ and there will be choreography in the concert, so it is constantly bouncing around in 4/4 until an intentional change occurs. I personally evaluated the Morris-ability of it using two ShamWows.

MORRRRRISS ON MAN

All the single morris dancers, put your hands up! Oh. That’s all of you. #causeandeffect

Grande Sonata Brillante? Yup, that’s the title. The intention was to directly clash with the expectations of the kind of person who’d go to see a piece called ‘Grande Sonata Brillante’ i.e.; a lush, romantic work for flamboyant piano virtuoso. Instead it’s a democratic chamber work for mixed genres and mediums, with the surreal Morris concept undermining it all. The cover is also intended to reflect this clash.

What’s with the two guys on the front cover? Storytime: They are from a photo taken last year in a French park. This park had a public “play me, I’m yours” piano (itself a curious topic) under a gazebo, and these two gentlemen spent at least an hour repetitively hacking and belting away at Beatles and Elton John hits. (I’ll elaborate as part of a separate post later- the piano hacking itself I have no aesthetic qualms with. For our present story’s purpose, it was the sheer domination of the poor piano for such an extensive period, while feeding off each other’s encouragement to create an unrelenting and deluded atmosphere of pseudo-pop-star-dom that is relevant.)

Anyway, eventually they were torn off the piano (by a family of small children I recall), and eventually my turn came around. The photo was taken while I was playing some Grainger, forever capturing the moment like the amber-mosquitos in Jurassic Park. I savour their interpretable expressions of disgruntlement, offended-ness, or as a friend remarked “as though they’d had their raison d’etre stolen away.” Which is also the kind of reaction I’m aiming for in the above fictional ‘Grande Sonata Brillante’-hoping audience.

Comic Sans? The use of Comic Sans is not a severe oversight on my behalf, though it did take a lot of deliberation. Whether tis nobler to have people amused at the overstated un-subtlety of it, or risk them silently assuming to themselves: “poor Philip, he mustn’t know much about design” and leaving large mounds of outrageous pity at my doorstep.

Anyway. That’s at least something for now – I’ve been wanting to do a post on public pianos in more detail for some time and shall do that next. But if anyone is in or near Brisbane, totes come to the concer… wait. Why did autocorrect accept ‘totes’ as a word? Oh, of course ‘to carry’. Totes around etc. Anyway, TOTES come to the concert in May!

😀

Blanket Statements

Abstract painting has always been something I avoided. Despite the exploratory tack I desperately like to take with music, being relatively untaught in the art-realm I tend to cautiously stick to the knee-deep waters of photo-realism, where I can judge how effective a painting is purely by how much it looks like the thing I am painting.

Nailed it.

The most exciting thing I found to draw in Bangalow… Nice place though.

The treacherous, murky currents further off-shore contain pretentious, vague beasts of prey, just waiting to pounce when an art student submits a blank canvas with the word “Future” written on it in sparkly glitter. I was going to say clear gelatine, but that might actually be profound, because in the ‘future’ while it is sitting in the garbage, a colony of ants will probably come along to eat the crystals and thus illuminate the word with their bodies… Apart from a woeful tale of artistic anguish and futility, the moral of the story here is that you can justify anything* with enough of an explanation.

*Indeed, I once told a concert audience that the piece I was playing; “Canteyodjaya” by Olivier Messiaen, was written when he was twelve years old and named after his pet axolotl. This is of course completely** untrue, not to mention utterly ludicrous, but, said with a straight face, it was met not with laughter, but with blank stares, approving nods and knowing smiles. Ironically, I later received one of my best gigs that day from a member of the audience who ‘liked the way I spoke (spake?).”

**probably and hopefully.

???

Axolotls can regrow vital organs, including parts of their brains.

But I digress.

Yes, I have taken my first steps into this notorious tide by taking up the palate knife rather than the brush and attempted a non-photo-realistic portrait. Due to the new lack of detail, and the often inadvertent, but welcome, special-effects of the palate knife medium, I am ashamed to say that instead of the usual 2-month effort, I completed this painting in 2 days; one session doing a rough background coat and the other the actual painting.

It is of Molly, the chocolate labrador, from Lake Cathie, on new years eve, with a blanket.

It is of Molly, the chocolate labrador, from Lake Cathie, on new years eve, with a blanket.

Lost in Tranlston

So it turns out that one can make a pretty extensive start on a doctoral dissertation armed only with Google and some pretty obscure squiggles that may or may not be in German, written over 100 years ago. Anyone who can interpret the following will be awarded an amazing prize* because I have no idea:

What?

I think it says ‘Aowiw lz Oardanier’ but Google Translate says no and I don’t think it means anything in English.

*Despair* Suggestions are welcome. That aside, being without means of creativity and in a small room with a big box of M&Ms, I delve once more into the realm of my previous artistic endeavours in a feeble attempt to keep this blog’s head above water in these turbulent times.

Thence introducing Hannah, the talented author of Not All Who Wonder Are Lost, whom I sketched about a year ago. For the first time ever (excepting that rather ineffectual effort with Ella Grainger) I decided to take regular photos during the process in order to make a time-lapse progression. Without further ado.

Hannah

The final result being:

And FinalAh. It’s nice to deal with a tangible art form for a change. Poor Etruscans.** The original title for this post was “Never Look a Gif Horse in the Mouth.” I’d always assumed the phrase was a reference to the Trojan horse legend: meaning if you looked inside the Greeks would know you knew they were there and attack at once. Apparently the actual meaning is much less violent in that horse-age can be determined by the length of their teeth, so if you looked at the mouth of the horse someone gave you as a present you were trying to determine/judge the value of their gift.

*Seriously.

**The Etruscans’ language is basically extinct as of over two and a half millennia ago, or something like that.

On The Concept of Postman Pat

I mentioned the Improvisation on the Concept of Postman Pat a couple of posts ago and I think it deserves a little more of a mention/explanation as it’s a thoroughly remarkable piece. While the main performance went un-recorded in my rare and baffling observance of institutional rules, there was some rehearsal footage that survived (below). This one is a fragment from the second parcel.

But first … or second, to recap:

“The piece was ‘written’ by Brisbane percussionist Cameron Kennedy – a musical innovator and performer of rare humour and intellect. It was first entirely improvised for mixed percussion by Cameron at the 2010 Australian Percussion Gathering, and he wrote down the instructions at the request of Hugh Tidy, who performed that ‘version’ in 2011. Cameron then revised and expanded the instructions for this recital to incorporate the piano as the primary instrument.”

And so, dear reader, it is essentially a structured improvisation… on the concept of Postman Pat. And while it is entirely permissible for the original theme song to crop up thence and whence, (and it deliberately opens quoting said material), the postal element of the piece lies more in it’s structure – short individual ‘parcels’ featuring specific spoken fragments from the episode “Postman Pat and the Cranky Cows” (complete with various British accents) and a set of guidelines for each segment’s musical parameters. Thus involved are the emphatic shouting of things such as:

“Would you look at that Dorothy… They’ve started on me broccoli now!”

“The sheep have taken a liking to our green vegetables, Pat.”

“Is there a postman in the house?”

… all while manipulating electronic delay, a percussion battery of very flexible instrumentation and two or more pianos; one prepared in a rather germane* fashion (germane?! Oh no, I’ve become my supervisor!) with a copy of the very program note describing the piece.

My favourite instruction was from the somewhat liberal “Cameleoparcel:”

Mentally identify a member of the audience and create a musical representation of what you imagine their life to have been like thus far.

"Well that's the Ted Glenn Automatic Sheep Disperser"

“Well that’s the Ted Glenn Automatic Sheep Disperser”

And that’s the great thing about the Postman Pat: the hyper-flexible and practical approach it lends to performance: There are no wrong notes or musical decisions, at worst just unconvincing ones. Whether or not it will go down well with an audience is another thing, but ultimately that is down to the performer. In any case, many thanks are due to Cameron for the fantastic music/concept.

*appropriate or relevant. I learn one new word a year and that was 2012’s.

Cajon Chicken

A little something from our recent quartet concert… a piece by Andre Bonetti requiring two rubber chickens (tuned roughly a quarter tone apart as it turned out, one in Bb and the other a quarter tone lower) and a Cajón – a box-like percussion instrument pronounced roughly as Ka-hon, coming together to make a rather fantastic, yet appropriate pun.

With enlightening directions such as “good luck, sucka” and “ah look. i dont really want to write a cajon cadenza. make some shit up. then come in here” it proved to be a most rewarding musical experience.

Many thanks are due to Andre for such wonderfully bizarre and colourful music!

You Say You Want a Devolution?

My own Hagrid-inspired attempt…

Christmas came early for many on the internet when Cecilia Gimenez took her brush to Elias Martinez’s Ecce Homo, apparently out to prove the semi-motivational saying by Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. 

Talent will not; Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; the world is filled with educated derelicts.
Perseverance and determination alone are omnipotent.

If it is true that talent, genius and education overpopulate the world like three hermaphroditic bunnies in a pit of pheromones, then Gimenez must be quite a rarity! Still, on the upside she has ironically and inadvertently sky-rocketed the original, her restoration, Martinez and herself to global recognition, doing much to enhance the posthumous reputation of the artist, as well as providing a seemingly endless source of humour and brightening many days. Is that not art having value anyway? I’m certain many artists have dedicated their lives to making such a controversial artistic splash.

To this end, the Cecilia Prize was opened just last week encouraging people to submit their own restorations of the work. I could not resist and admit when I saw Gimenez’s attempt I was instantly struck by a certain likeness which I exploited, many thanks to the Potter Puppet Pals. Who are incidentally on tour somewhere. No, I don’t know where.

The Evolution

Bathtub Mock-ups.

Good Evening,

A while ago I was doing some editing with sound files and thought it may be an idea to try and create some electronic music for first time.

The result was a brief electronic tone poem that was eventually entitled “Bathtub Mock-ups,” coupled with an old sketch I did years ago and placed delicately onto The youtube.

It was a curious experiment which has led to the creation of two other short pieces. I figure I may as well explain what it’s about as it won’t take long and I have other things I should be doing.

Bauble. Plastic Christmas decorations. Some more elaborate than others. Some less.

Basically, it was just layered original sounds, modified extracts and voices, mixed in together with no regard for the outcome. It gets its name from the opening quote by Glenn Gould … semi-meaningless and a joke in context. But retrospectively it seemed to reflect an argument for ‘jazz’ being taken as ‘serious’ music. It takes these rather-out-of-context fragments by (American Composer) Aaron Copland explaining (over a mechanical/etherial background I guess) that he was anxious about creating an ‘American’ sound in music, before putting in the disclaimer that however “we had done it in the jazz field.” All the while a jazz motive breaks out and repeats. Then enters Duke Ellington rebuffing this categorisation with: “We don’t use the word ‘jazz.'”

At this point the background music grows more complex and dissonant, until it suddenly reverts to the simple jazz motif and Copland lamenting that an American sound hadn’t yet been achieved in the ‘kind of serious music’ he was interested in. Again Ellington rebuffs as though to say: “Yes we have!”

“Yes we have!”

It closes with Tim Page, in conversation with Gould, referring to ‘celebrated brouhaha’ which seem to me to plague most of these musical identity crises (particularly in Australia). In today’s universal, possibly over-influenced world, the concept of nationality in music has gone way beyond blurred, like the bread I soaked in a bucket of water for a month in ’97. America can definitely (totally) claim things like Jazz as part of its original voice, but nowadays the moment any Western composer attempts to create/discover/define and impose a style on (and only on) a nation they are really engaging in the futile, if for no other reason than even if successful there’s very little stopping it’s spread past the geographical boundaries before a nationalistic label can be affixed. Especially via the wonderful internet.

And (hopefully) ironically, this little piece which happened about American national identity*  is in itself not the outcome of nationalistic identity.

* …and how American composers sometimes neglected to seriously acknowledge the ((more successful)) identity efforts of their own fellow Americans!

I could close with a nice heart-warming rhetorical sentiment like “And that makes the world a little bit more interesting… don’t you think?).

But that is too typical of blogs, and I don’t mean it anyway.

SEA PIGS!!!! You’re welcome.

I’ll add irrelevant pictures now.

Painting Con Moto Et Al No.2

Good Morning! For lack of inspiration, another brief look at some artwork.

I think sketches are the order of the day. (Although apparently ‘Healthier Breakfast Items’ are according to google).

Health in two matter states. (Liquid and solid)

Sketches. What I like most about them is you don’t have to worry about colour, only shading, and it is one of the more forgiving mediums (coming in closely behind the archaic Microsoft Paint and the immortal etch-a-sketch. Although the latter can be a little too forgiving…

Also, it’s a fast track to quasi-realism without all the fuss of waiting for paint to dry.

So. Going through the output we have chosen the Sketch of Ella Grainger:

Ella Grainger (1913/2009)

Percy Grainger’s wife Ella Grainger. This photo is probably before they met, though I cannot be bothered to check. It was one of the only (read: the only) artwork in which I attempted sequential photos for future entertainment:

Rough Outlines

Filling in the Clothes

1st Draft of the Face

Refining and Background

Almost done!

The quality of the above are generally quite poor as I didn’t use a proper camera. Many apologies.
What can I tell you about Ella? (Without research) Well she was from a scandinavian country… I’ll pick Norway. Enjoyed outdoor sports and skied at some point. She wrote poetry and probably sang. Also happy to travel (walk) around with Grainger carrying heavy loads. Helped him with his experiments in creating new music machines. Outlived him considerably, though I think she suffered some sort of dementia later on. She married Grainger in front of *guessing* around 20000 people at a football stadium in the interval to one of his concerts – if I had to pick where I’d blindly say New Orleans – and she was shocked because she agreed to it thinking he was joking.
What can Google tell you about Ella? (Having researched) She was from Sweden. Enjoyed outdoor sports and skied at some point. She wrote poetry, studied visual art and probably sang. Also happy to travel (walk) around with Grainger carrying heavy loads. Helped him with his experiments in creating new music machines. Outlived him considerably (18 years), though I think she suffered some sort of dementia later on. She married Grainger in front of around 25000 people at a Hollywood Bowl in the interval to one of his concerts – if I had to pick where I’d blindly say Los Angelesand she was shocked because she agreed to it thinking he was joking.
There you have it!

Painting con moto et al.

I thought it may be slightly relevant yet self-indulgent to include here some paintings and such that I do from time to time. Maybe gradually though, and with explanations for two reasons.

A) To prompt me to do more painting in order to keep up with this.

B) To have more posts.

So here is the first instalment, largely at random:

 

The House of the Seven Gables. (2010) Ink on paper.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s relatively-well-known-in-America story: The House of The Seven Gables (1851) is well worth a read. But if you’re lazy/time poor and yet slightly curious you can read a synopsis here. Basically it’s about fundamental guilt and the Salem Witch Trials and whatnot. It’s not about architecture as such. A gable is the triangular part under the roof. You can see four such gables here. One can only assume there are three more elsewhere.

But you can do more than assume! Not only is the story loosely autobiographical, but the house itself actually exists! Hence the painting based on the following photograph.

Original Photograph

I had to read the story as background reading to my masters research (on Ives – the ‘Hawthorne’ movement of the Concord Sonata), and was just starting out experimenting in ink at the time. So it seemed more appropriate to use it in more of a landscape painting then the portraiture I’d been attempting up until then. Ink is not the most forgiving medium, but can be very effective at times, similarly to watercolours I guess. It is no doubt a travesty to be using it for photo-realism purposes, but I was pleasantly surprised on showing it to my piano teacher and his wife that they told me that their house was inspired by this style of…. house (abode for variation), from their visits to America.

Also, it was originally intended as a quick piece to let me ‘finish’ something as I had a couple of longer-term works to do at the time. Sadly it became evident it was also a bigger project than I had anticipated so I had to resort to the following, which was done in one sitting:

 

Fucia/Green Tyrannosaur. (2010) Ink on Paper.

Of course, this is not biologically accurate, as we now know Tyrannosaurs held their tails horizontally.

 

A more accurate, but less cheerful specimen.

But I am not so concerned as art is apparently all about expression and imagination. Is it not?!