Having positioned this performance of Making Place flute version 2 as an epoché, I attempted a separation from previous and subsequent thinking and activity. The performance is described in the following text as lived experience, focused down on the reality of the event — the location, musicians, and equipment, and observations of what happened through the duration of the piece. Central to the descriptions are the temporal realization of the work, sensations felt, awareness, influences on playing, virtual interactivity, adaptations, and creating a sense of place. The temporality of music performance, however, meant that written observations, or in-the-moment accounts, inevitably occurred after the event. Descriptions are ‘already past as they are reconstructed as text’ (Penny 2021), or as Max van Manen states, ‘The past is always already there’ and ‘The present is always the past’ (2014: 51). Nevertheless, I have attempted an ‘in the moment’ account.
My home, partially converted into a recording studio space; the set-up comprising an alto flute, two computers, two microphones, two mixing desks, a screen, the score, various stands, cables, tables, and chairs. Personnel consisted of flautist (myself) and sound technologist (Andrew Blackburn). Around the walls of the room are five spectacular indigenous Australian paintings, themselves interpretations of place and vivid reminders of ancient connections to this land.
Making Place begins with a black screen on which appear the title and composer’s name. Environmental sounds quickly materialize (I hear the gate, my footsteps), quickly followed by the start of the text: ‘Here, setting out alone…’. I am immediately taken to that place of open air, grassy hills and gravel underfoot, but turn towards the poem on the screen. As more words appear, I begin to play single, monolithic alto flute notes which are, in turn, captured and processed through the rest of the opening section. These sounds set off beautiful colours and shapes from the images, primarily capturing the blues (sky) and yellows (wattle) of the photos from the trail. I vary the notes in pitch and tone colour as they are replayed and begin to mix with the field recordings. A sense of temporality is initiated as the forward movement on the screen, the irregular sound of the wind, and the energetic sound of my footsteps provide momentum, and tempo. I am not ambling along, I am walking onwards past ponds with frogs and birds in tree-tops, capturing the vibrant lights and shadows of the path. From the outset, the inner (my breath) is transferring to the outer (part of the soundscape), drawing me in to inhabit the piece.
The text ‘At first, still in darkness…’ prompts the transition to the second section, a meandering pathway that moves from very fragmentary to more continuous lines as the flute and processing become increasingly active. I incorporate a range of techniques, including pizzicato, key clicks, tongue rams, breath tones, trills, tremolos, and various normal tones, through the darting cascading phrases. I love the volatility and instability felt as my playing combines with the text and colours moving frenetically across the screen: ‘…nothing is something […] feathers across the face […] everything is up for grabs’. I allow myself to play around with the sounds, to enjoy the trajectory, but almost before I know it, the section ends, and I am moved along by the visuals on the screen.
‘But soon…’ leads into section 3, a much drier, more static episode, where the live flute sound is harmonized, creating a sense of other characters, and strange interventions. Concurrently, my flute sounds are captured and replayed at various pitches and intensity as the text guides me along the walk. Somewhat hesitant at the start, an increasing steadiness creates an impression of familiarity with the trail, of everyday human activity (‘stop to buy bread’), of ordinariness (‘hardly special, this quotidian mapping’) emerges as a walking motif drives the piece ahead.
Section 4 is fast and furious, with many notated gestures becoming progressively more frantic. The mix with the electronics creates a dense texture, teeming with short, angular, and fast musical entities that cross and combine, creating a profusion of sounds and flashing images on the screen: ‘…visions, sounds and memories collide | emotions and communities collide’. I respond forcefully to a sense of submersion, of disappearance amongst the pandemonium. Tensions and fluidities come and go in my playing as a feeling of encroaching and uncontrollable alterities mounts and then abruptly stops.
‘And then’ announces the final section. Here, slowly rising or falling two-note gestures create a space for reflection, for quiet meditation. Again, my notes are re-played at varying pitches, sometimes distant, sometimes intensely present. This concluding section is permeated by a sense of ritual through the repetitions and feeling of arrival, of attaining some unspecified knowledge created through the piece. Memories merge with the existent space and a powerful feeling of having made that place occurs. The photographs are shown as stills for the first time, offering a sense of recognition. In some ways the ending feels surreal, a mix of energy and fatigue, of continuity and stillness. The re-emergence of recorded sounds at the end appears to underline and perhaps embody the process of becoming that has been this piece.
Throughout the performance, I was deeply influenced by the virtual interactivity with imagery, sounds, text and processing of the flute sound. The colour and activity of the images was astonishing; the seemingly random processing (capturing, re-playing, pitch altering) applied to some flute sounds, and the unpredictability of the appearance of recorded sounds created a strong feeling of uncertainty and adventure. Playing it ‘again and again’ in rehearsal had increased familiarity (as with the walk itself) but things were not always the same. Adaptations in situ were made from clues from what was happening musically and visually, and from the text — influencing flute volume levels, pitch in relation to sounds, tempos and activity from colours and intensity on the screen, and techniques according to mood.
The piece itself constructed a space through the in-room activations of live flute sound, recorded sounds, images and animation, text appearances on the screen, and sound and image processing. Ultimately, it felt to me that this place that was being made was really the performance space, made up from the fusion of all the different elements and actions occurring there.
The Making Place performance brought together the real and virtual, poetics and music, past and present, memories and live interactions. The quotidian, conveyed through a familiar activity, a walk in the neighbourhood, was reshaped, revitalized, and transformed into a ‘sonically enhance[d] experience of place’ (Bass and Rebelo 2014: 61), a ‘dream-like’ space of the music that unfolded through a blend of found sounds and images, live flute performance, live electronics and animated text. This convergence of parts into a whole activated an intensification of sensation and unification of experience.
Images provoked memories, created delightful colour fusions on the screen, patterns and shapes, and associations with place and experience that imbued the visual with meaning. These electronically activated images depended on my live flute sound with which I could influence the visual intensity and complexity by varying levels of dynamics and density. The vibrancy and familiarity of the field recordings, the resonance, the evocations of open spaces, wetlands and forest triggered vivid memories, created a sense of real and virtual space and generated particular sonic aesthetics. Hearing the wind inspired a breathy tone at times; hearing the footsteps motivated a brighter tone and a pushing onwards. The land here is fragile, volatile, susceptible to bushfire and endangered native flora. As the images and field recordings were manipulated and replayed in the piece, thoughts and feelings, mainly of wonder and enjoyment but also of instability and vulnerability that had emerged in the walk reappeared. These emotions became part of the texture of the piece, expressed through flute tone colours, tempi, serenity and tensions, and were amplified to a great degree by electronically generated interactivity, the sound capturing and discrete software processes.
The presence of the artefacts correspondingly opened up questions of temporality. The past — the occurrence and physicality of the walks, the trail as experienced sonically and visually, ancient connections to land — and present — the real-time performance as it drew together memories, instrumental sound and digital conversions — did indeed collide. The performance (13.09 minutes) generated something of a distillation, a capturing of time re-configured, an embodiment of thoughts and feelings newly intermixed.
In the performance, I could express a mix of responses as I sought to negotiate and convey meanings from the threads of text, the ebb and flow of effects, and the score. The live flute sound created a real-time presence, a recognizable embodiment of gesture and expression. Alterations of these sounds incited ambiguities, dualities and immersions in the sonic environment, where unexpected and seemingly random events occurred. I heard myself in a different tessitura, with different harmonies, juxtaposed in unexpected ways. The entire work was propelled by the narrative of the text, intensifying sensations and awareness, providing a blend of poetics and music, and a signification of the passage of time.
Seeking revelations through the epoché was a crucial part of this project. Once again, issues of temporality arose as I strove to detach myself from the performance to objectify the event, to give attention in the moment, and to observe what happened in order to respond reflectively afterwards. Attending to what I was experiencing, as if from outside, in fact accented my feeling of involvement. I noted carefully what I saw, heard, responded to and felt. The spatial zones of the piece, for example, the poem or the footsteps, generated a dynamic atmosphere and sensation of presence in the performance space, a presence that I could absorb and inhabit through sonic immersion and interactivity in performance. I became aware that the exterior space of the rail trail had become the intimate space, the created place (the performance space) — a real place, the place of lived reality. By ‘stepping outside’ from the normal, I had been able to experience the ecstasis, to open ‘new expressions of the feeling of life and new possibilities for its reconfiguration’ (Gosetti-Ferencei 2007: 1).
The opportunity to work with a composed piece that involves co-creation, improvisation and electronics with flute opened up new personal challenges and new ways to create, play and think about my practice. The making of the piece encouraged risks, new skill development, and new processes. The writing of this exposition has also been an opportunity to explore and articulate ideas and the melding of writing and performance — a practice termed ‘a/r/ ’ by scholars including Gouzousias (2018), Irwin (2013) and others, which links the artist, researcher, and teacher and ‘promotes artistic enquiry as an aesthetic awareness […] Through attention to memory, identity, autobiography, reflection, meditation, storytelling and cultural production’ (LeBlanc and others 2015: 355). Throughout this exposition I have presented performer and co-creator perspectives, information that has arisen from the processes, presentation and reflections upon my individual artistic practice. Evolving ideas and insights interplayed with continuous writing within a phenomenological structure that assisted with articulating those perspectives and the conveyance of knowledge embodied in performance. ‘In writing’, states Max Van Manen, ‘we may deepen and change ourselves in ways we cannot predict. We objectify the moment—the now that is already past or absent (through writing—as we dwell in the story)’ (2014: 20). In attempting to ‘objectify’ the performance of Making Place, I feel I have come across a method that facilitates awareness and clarity; that, in moving me slightly outside, accentuated the vividness and progression of the piece. A physical and mental freedom seemed to result from this, and less entanglement with the functionality.
The task of the music performance researcher is to explore, objectify, remember and categorize, but predominantly it is to express what meaning, what processes and what transformations may have been found in the doing of all these things (Penny forthcoming). This ‘requires a particular kind of interdisciplinary expertise of the artistic researcher: a mastery of creative practice, of critical reflexivity, and of text’ (Tomlinson and Wren 2018: 9). In the studio, processes aimed to capture the energies implicit in the work with new materials and notation development; rehearsals explored, experimented with, and activated the flow of the work through sharpened awareness, such as attention to breathing, interactions, volume, pitch, tempi, and space. In this way, new knowledge was embodied in the performance itself as findings were activated as both aspects of the performance and research process.
My first encounter with Making Place inspired a version for concert flute set in Malaysia. The result was a rather exotic iteration, filled with sounds of Mak Yong theatre, the Muslim call to prayer, and the Malaysian environment where we often went for evening walks around our university grounds. I have discussed this version in relation to aspects of interculturality and heterotopian spaces elsewhere (see Penny forthcoming and a video of this version here) but I am now struck by the difference between the first and second versions of the piece. Taking sounds and photos from my current locale in Australia has entirely transformed it. To me this version is even more quotidian — of course, I grew up with the sounds of magpies and kookaburras, frogs, squeaky gates, and lots of wind — and I wondered how it would come together in performance. Would it be too ordinary? Would I actually want to respond to such mundane things? I transcribed the music for alto flute, also, to explore the different characteristics of this instrument. In fact, as the Making Place text says, ‘knowledge creeps in by stealth’, and when I listen back to the recording, I find that I have changed musical gestures quite substantially, exploited many of the darker tonal colours of the alto flute, and altered my overall response to the piece in unexpected ways. The darker characteristics of the alto reflected a darker undertone which is always present in the Australian bush, such as fear of wildfire, fragility of environment, ancient connections and echoes of colonization, all sitting within the visual and aural beauty of the land. In performance, the familiarity of the field recordings acted as a kind of grounding to place but lifted out as sonic artefacts woven into the texture of the piece, separate but entwined.
From this work I have felt a shift from a knowing about to a knowing from within activated through performance. It is not just seeing the environment (and photographing), or walking, or hearing (and recording), or reading the poem or playing the notes. It is experiencing and feeling all of these things through playing the piece; through absorbing and following the text, reacting to the animations, colours and digitally altered sounds, and finding a deep immersion, the ecstasis, in that zone. Knowing from within involved a comprehension of creating the space for attention, for the blending of disparate elements in performance, and recognition of this transferal to the actual music making.
This research examined personal subjective experience in which an emphasis on the centrality of the performer allowed for the uncovering of layers of individual artistic practice. These experiential layers culminated in an immersive performance environment of blended dimensions in part arising from the distancing of the epoché and the sense of flow and ectasis unfolding within. The sensation of ‘stepping outside’ and the ‘suspension of judgement’ enhanced and energized musical responses and artistic choices in situ, intensifying inventiveness and spontaneity as the work evolved. Attentiveness to interactions, resonance, influences of the electronics, and the sense of place being created drove intuitive decisions about the itinerant nature of the piece. ‘Seen’ from outside, the cascades of notes of the meandering pathways of Section 2, for example, took on a potent haptic, physical presence, particularly when multiplied by capture and replay, prompting scattered runs, and rustling pizzicato; the stuttering gestures of Section 3, combined with harmonizer effects implying shadows and other characters, sparked a mix of quivering and uncertain sensations that shaped a veiled sonority and physical hesitancy, balanced by breath and projection demands. The flow of the performance, the ecstasis, evolved from an ability to at once be intensely in the zone of the piece while ‘stepping outside’ for objective observation. The experience of the work and artistic responses in turn shaped the reflective process, as the nexus of performance and writing highlighted new awareness and emerging thoughts of interpretation, performance and evaluation.
In illuminating ideas of the quotidian, the project created a possibility for transformation, for artistic creativity and, in its provocation of ecstasis was ‘a source for revitalization of the everyday that opens new expressions of the feeling of life and new possibilities for its reconfiguration’ (Gosetti-Ferencei 2007: 11). The work has strengthened my feelings of (re)connection with place, especially in this time of social distancing and low mobility, when our neighbourhoods have gained heightened appreciation. Working within this unusual restrictive environment has revealed to me a previously undervalued layer and created an opportunity to explore artistic responses in a new way. But still, there were silent layers in this project, murmurings reminding me of the original custodians of the land where I live, of the Wadawurrung people whose stories are just beginning to be extensively told.
Many thanks to Andrew Blackburn for his assistance throughout this project — for digital conversions, sound recording, performance set up and video, as well as walking companion, and co-photographer. Many thanks also to Katharine Norman for her composition, performance notes, explanations of technology, and encouragement for my interpretations of her work.
The Ballarat-Skipton rail trail is located within the lands of the Wadawurrung people. I acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to ancestors and Elders, past and present, and the unique cultural and spiritual relationships they have nurtured. I also acknowledge the struggles of First Nations people since colonialisation and support all efforts to address this and promote deeper understandings.
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