Neverwhere

Hi folks! Something that I’ve been curious about for a long time, but haven’t had the guts/patience to really investigate, is making electronic music. I love the idea of experimenting with electronic modes of production, but in the end, always defer to composing in the manner I know best – sitting at my piano, with pencil and manuscript paper.

Well I made this track. It’s short and quite basic, and I know I have lots to learn, but I kind of like it. I hope you like it too.

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Popy Jane photoshoot

Popy Jane

Popy Jane

Popy Jane

I was recently asked by some mates to take some promo shots of their band, Popy Jane (formerly known as Arturo). It’s the first time I’ve been asked to take portraits – usually it’s me asking people to pose for me. It was a real learning experience. I feel lucky that I’ve had the experience of having my photo taken for my own band because I could really empathize with how it feels to be on the other side of the lens. Some words of encouragement to let your subjects know they’re doing alright can go a long way towards relaxing them. And going ahead and posing your subjects helps to alleviate awkwardness. One thing I discovered is that awkwardness comes through very easily into the photo as stiffness in the body, it can all look a bit forced.

The outing was also a great chance for me to get to know my flash. I bought a Nissin Speedlite Di622 while in Hong Kong and this was the first time I really gave it a good go. There was lots of trial and error, but I think the Speedlite and I are probably going to be firm friends.

Of the pictures above, the top one is my favourite of the lot. The second one is definitely not a “technically” good picture, but I still rather like it, and the third is a fun shot we took in a 24-hour convenience store.

News and Musings

Hello, I’m back. My holiday was super-fun and great and also a bit lonely but I’ll get into that later. First, let me draw your attention to the fact that I am very excited that my band Monkey Puzzle Tree has been invited to perform at Womadelaide this year! Womad is my favourite festival and I can’t think of words that can adequtely describe how pleased I am to get to participate as a performer. This is a great opportunity for us so all four of us are very excited.

There’s something about the fresh feeling of commencing a new year that leaves me feeling quite excited in general. It’s the end of January right now, February contains good things like Chinese New Year (which coincides with Valentines Day this year; the 14th), then comes March and anyone who lives in this town knows that March is the best time of year to be in Adelaide. Not only is there Womad (which I’ve mentioned already, click the links above if you want more, more, more) but there’s the Fringe Festival (biggest Fringe in the Southern Hemisphere I believe) and this year is an Adelaide Festival year too.

My recent adventures abroad have really awakened the travel bug in me and I’ve already started making plans. I want to go on a holiday every year. Fortunately my occupation, with its frequent school holidays, allows this. In July, I’m planning to go to Fiji for a tropical escape. And in the December/January holidays I want return to the Motherland, as it were, and go to Hong Kong and possibly surrounds.

Kuala Lumpur was great, especially at first. I explored and got lost and discovered things and ate fruit every day. But I did get a bit lonely towards the end of my stay. I went alone and by the week’s end I was feeling the strain of not having had a real conversation with anyone for that whole time. Pathetic, no? This was of course, only exacerbated by the fact that I caught a cold in the last few days and could do nothing but languish in my hotel room. Boring!

I opted for luxury (for once in my life) and stayed in a beautiful hotel. It as great, but next time I travel alone I will stay at a cheap place, like a backpacker’s hostel as such locations are great for meeting interesting people from around the world.

I flew from KL to Melbourne where I stayed with my sister and attended seminars for work. The seminar days were inspiring and fun. I always leave seminars feeling excited about teaching and it’s fun to be in an environment where I can discuss the teaching materials with like-minded professional musicians. It’s great.

So now I’m back and I’m fresh, rejuvenated and optimistic.

Here’s a scan of some pictures I took in KL to finish…

A Fine Ear

What all fine musicians have in common is a good ear. Music is aural, so the ear gets to make all the final calls. A more discerning ear can detect more ranges of sound and nuance. To “laypeople”, a Steinway grand may sound much like a Kawai upright, and a first year Conservatorium student may sound much like a professional artist.

When you learn a musical instrument long enough, you get to a stage where you are no longer simply concerned with merely playing the right notes. Even louds and softs become obsolete. The way in which you judge the quality of sound has to become so refined. The word “soft” by itself isn’t descriptive enough. What kind of soft? A rounded, pebbly sound? Or a bright, sparkly sound? I often find I revert to visually descriptive words to talk about the kind of sound I want. My teacher, on the other hand, always tends towards describing sound as an energy force. Even the mystery of music as an emotive force is an illusion created by sound.

The difference between a fantastic piano and an average piano, is that the average piano will always sound, well, average. Upright pianos of fairly decent quality usually sound pretty unoffensive. A really awesome grand piano, like the Steinway grands we have at the Con are much harder to control. They can sound pretty awful if you bang away on them, not knowing what you’re doing. (Like how I played for most of my time as a student.) But they are capable of a huge range of sounds. To make the most of the instrument’s capabilities, the pianist has to have a large arsenal of playing techniques to draw upon, and, most importantly, the ear to detect what sound they want, and whether or not they have achieved that.

When I started out at the Conservatorium, I was playing without listening. I came from an electronic organ background, so I knew that piano technique would be the difficult thing for me to master. Only now that I have reached Honours level have I begun to make the connection between the ear and technique. Technique is nothing without ear.

Sigh. I’m rambling. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my first Honours recital is coming up. So I’ve been preoccupied with piano things. In other news, the music room gets devilishly hot when the weather’s warm, as it has been recently. I’ve moved a fan in there, making it more bearable, but I still have to come out for frequent breaks.

Besides recital stuff, term 4 is always a busy term for teachers. There’s a bunch of concerts and things to prepare for at Yamaha. So… much… to… do!!

Well, bye for now.

Things You Shouldn’t Do in a Piano Lesson

Fart. This happens more often than you might think. I’ve learned to ignore it.

Say you were too busy to practice this week. This one never flies, ever. I always want to laugh a little, especially if the student is, like, 11 years old. My response is always something along the lines of, oh really, did you get time to watch TV this week? Play videogames? Yeah, I thought so. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT BUSY IS!! You’re 11!!

Pick your nose. Quite a prevalent habit among younger children.

Cough at me, or on me. Only a few weeks ago I had a student cough directly onto my hand. Yes, it was gross. I maintained my composure and went and used some water-free hand sanitiser straight away. In hindsight I probably should have allowed myself to lose my shit a little. Always cover your mouth and/or turn away to cough, it’s just polite.

Play the piano while I’m talking. How rude. Please give me your attention when I am speaking to you!

What I Wore: Saturday 29th August, 2009

Wore this to see UK dubstep DJ Reso last night. Had planned to wear a dress but as it turned out the freezing cold weather forbid it. I can never bear to be cold in the name of looking good! Of course, out in town I always see girls dressed to the nines despite the weather. I always pity them a little!

Black tee, orange top from my sister, black cardigan, “Private Benjamin” jacket from Dangerfield, black tights, skull & crossbones skirt made by me, purple fishnet lace fingerless gloves from welovecolors.com, Doc Martens with assorted laces.

Do you like my skirt? I made it myself. I had long decided to learn to sew, and after arming myself with a big book about sewing, a basic pattern and some fabric, I made this simple, A-line skirt. Sadly, Mother had to help with the zip, as my first attempt was rather less than satisfactory.

Sewing is actually quite expensive! A pattern alone can set you back 20 bucks. Fabric isn’t cheap either. I suppose the cheapest way to create your own clothing would be to buy secondhand items and then alter them. I’m not confident enough to try alter anything though. I want to find a pattern for a layered, ruffled skirt, like a ra-ra skirt in three layers. I’ve made something similar by myself, but I didn’t have a pattern so I just winged it, and although I was proud of the result, I’d rather do it properly. The thing I’ve discovered about patterns though, is that they are released seasonally, and it can be hard to find exactly what you want if you have a particular idea in mind.

Despite the cold, I had fun last night. My boy played a large part in organising the gig, so it was good to see the dance floor packed out during Reso’s set. I really have trouble dealing with late nights though! I’m pathetic after midnight. Lame, huh?

My boy has a blog now. Here’s his poster design for the Reso gig last night.

Inspiration

Martha Argerich, my favourite pianist, playing one of my favourite pieces by Ravel.

My favourite song by bassist/singer extraordinaire, Esperanza Spalding.

“Souretsu” by Shiina Ringo. I wish there was a PV for this song.

“Nude” by Radiohead. I woke up with this song in my head this morning.

Today

It’s school holidays and uni holidays at the moment, but it hasn’t felt like a holiday because if I don’t plan a decent amount of practice into my day I start having nervous palpitations. Well today I thought “to hell with that” and gave myself a day off. Lounged around in my cosy pink dressing gown, didn’t shower til well into the afternoon, read a large chunk of a book that’s been patiently waiting to be read for some weeks, DIYed a chain harness, made a vegetarian lasagne and walked the dog!

For some reason I find it incredibly hard to resist buying books. Same goes for stationery. Officeworks and Borders, mmmmmmm…… I always buy books and then don’t have time to read them. The book I sank my teeth into today was “Tales of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin, one of my favourite authors of all time. My love of fantasy and sci-fi novels hearkens back to days of teenager-dom, and although I’ve mainly outgrown this nerdy habit, certain quality authors still retain a special place in my heart. As far as I’m concerned, Ursula Le Guin and Robin Hobb (another favourite) don’t just write fantasy/sci-fi fiction, they write fantasy/sci-fi literature. Ahem.

Poor Bear Bear doesn’t get walked nearly as much as he should. But he doesn’t make things easy. A decent walk can’t be achieved unless two people go, myself and Little Brother. When Bear was young he would get freaked out by other pedestrians, lawnmowers, the sound of traffic from several roads away, etc, and simply WOULD NOT walk any further. I think middle age has made him calmer, but he’s still fucking difficult. Currently he is curled up on a cushion on the floor in front of the heater.

Yesterday, after much initial fail, I set up my keyboard as a midi device. I’ve been teaching myself to use Reason by reading the “Getting Started” file. I had much success yesterday. Turns out it’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Also I am excited by keyboard + laptop + software = soooo many possibilities for production, recording, performing.

Speaking of which, the album my band have been working on is nearly done. We had our (hopefully) last mixing session in the studio this week. Next up is mastering and artwork/photos, then finally, pressing. I am hurrah because this has been dragging out for so long and I am feeling quite distanced from the project. Hm, well not to say it’s taken longer than it should have to make the album, I think next time will take even longer, but instead of having the time between recording and the finished mix drag out so long, it would be better imo to spend more time in pre-production and recording and less time mixing. Nonetheless, I really love all aspects of recording. And I really love performing and I get to do that next week, woot!

Tonight I am going to a party and I can already tell it’s going to be good because now I’m in a heaps good mood from recounting my day and stuff I’ve been doing. Makes me realise I quite like my life.

Piano Love!

I am love love LOVING piano right now. Reasons for my joy:

  • It feels good. Seriously. I love that I’m learning how to use all my muscles and weight and bits and pieces properly so that the sound is great and the effort is minimal. It feels so nice and organic. It’s like walking. Natural and comfortable. 
  • Relishing the payoff that has resulted from my hard work. Technique isn’t an art, it’s a skill, and skills can be acquired. I love that the “art” of piano playing isn’t mysterious or enigmatic, it’s very sensible and logical.
  • Being able to actuate the ideas in my head. 

Advanced piano playing is so self-indulgent. My attempts at explaining what I’m learning and achieving to non-pianists or even non-advanced-pianists always results in fail. Consequently I feel as if I’ve had a religious experience or been “enlightened” in some way that is unexplainable to… lay-people. Bahaha.

Technique Accommodating Art

I love this passage because it’s true, not just for music, but all art.

Fundamentally, technique is no more than the ability to say what one wants to say: the greatest performing artists are often the greatest technicians because their technique has grown to accommodate their art, not the other way round. Saint-Saëns’s aphorism “In Art, a difficulty overcome is a thing of beauty” is neatly turned, but for the performer it is true only if Art – or artistry – is present in the first place. Performers need to have their imaginations awakened and stimulated before they can make music from the kaleidoscope of sounds the fingers can produce on the keyboard. As a ruling maxim I prefer the exhortation of that great pianist and artist Edwin Fischer: “Do not destroy this world of artistic visions that comes up from your unconscious – make room for it; dream dreams, see visions”.

– from “Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy” by Paul Roberts.