Archive for the ‘creative development’ Tag

The first Nests experience

With Nests, my collaborators Ken and Rebecca and I have been given the creative space (and funding) to develop the work in three stages. We knew that there were some aspects to the concept that needed trialling, in order to fine-tune the details of the installation experience. The three stages allow us to try our ideas and observe the children responding to the space and the instruments, enabling us to create by the third stage the richest possible experience of exploration and interaction for our chosen age group (3-5 year olds).

Putting the Nests together, 8 Feb 2013 (G.Howell)Stage 1 of Nests took place at the start of February, with two sessions open to the public. We spent a day bumping in the show the day before, constructing the three Nests under Ken’s instructions, setting the lights and placing the instruments in the respective eggs and nests. Each nest is made of individual leaves (crafted from the light-weight foam that is used for camping mats and yoga mats), water-cut to their specific shapes by a specialised cutter, and hand-painted by Ken. The detail is beautiful.

Detail of leaf by Ken Evans

I’d organised the instruments into groups, matched according to pitch and tone-colour so that each of the three nests would have its own particular musical ‘flavour’. Each instrument had a large-scale egg to live in; the eggs had big zippers in them, so that the children’s first task in the installation would be to open an egg and find the instrument inside. I’d chosen instruments for their physical beauty and exotic qualities as well as for their sound. We had things like bass tone bars (a rich, deep, caramel sound), an extremely resonant, energy chime, a 2-row thumb piano, juju shakers, some strange sprung clackers that I bought when I was travelling in Vietnam a few years ago, a log drum from Africa, hewn from a length of tree trunk, and some small castanets. We also had 2 sets of wah-wah tubes.

An ongoing area of discussion in Nests (and probably in most installations) has been about how the young audience will enter the space, and the pathways they will choose as they move about the installation. We wanted it to be a magical ‘other world’ would encourage the children to explore with care and attention, so we were a little thrown when we trialled the instruments at the Creswick Playscape in December and the children began running around, boisterously bouncing from place to place, nothing really holding their attention (apart from the sand in the sandpit). Of course, the environment you create determines many things about how people will interact with the space and each other, and an outdoor space, familiar to the children as a place for energetic play, was quite different to the theatrical installation we were imagining. Nonetheless, Rebecca, a visual theatre and reverse pedagogy specialist, gave a lot of thought to the question of how the children would enter the space, and her genius solution came about through watching her son at play.

At some stage, while walking in the bush near their home, her 4-year-old picked up a bendy stick and began to carry it with him. Rebecca noticed how carrying the stick changed the way he moved about. His feet moved more slowly, and he carried his little body differently, with a kind of alertness. Building on this observation, and her boy’s obvious delight in the bendy stick, Rebecca and Ken devised light-poles for each of the children to carry when they entered the installation. The light-poles were made of thin, flexible dowel and had a small LED torch [flashlight] fixed to the end. The children could carry these in front of them or behind.

At the end of the bump-in day we had our first visitor. Rebecca and Ken’s son entered the space. Rebecca told me later that, “He walked in and then just stopped, and said, ‘Ooohhh!’. He walked around slowly, taking his time. And he only spoke in whispers.”

Later, he told Rebecca and Ken, “I really like what you guys have done with this space!” Here he is, unzipping his first egg.

Opening an egg in a nest

Prison project – planning the last 2 sessions

Tomorrow and the next day I go back into the prison for the final two music workshops with the inmates. This evening I have been listening to some of the material we have created so far in our improvisations. I don’t have recordings of everything – this is a very prolific project, with a lot of material created. Our sound designer burns me grabs when he can but things get hectic in our workshops, especially at the end when we have to pack up and re-account for all the gear, so I only have about 40 minutes of material to listen to so far.

Even so, it is pretty interesting. I thought I’d write this post to record what my thoughts are at this midpoint. Given that every workshop plan I have made so far in this project has not been followed at all (due to the momentum in the workshops always taking us in new, unexpected directions), it could be interesting to look back at the end and see how much things did or didn’t change.

One thing that we haven’t really been able to develop so far is stories, or writing, or words of any kind. It is a tricky thing to broach. I sense the guys are wary of the starting points I suggest – wary of being expected to reveal or disclose personal things, or highlight the life experiences that have brought them here. I try to suggest quite neutral starting points – but in their neutrality they raise suspicions. For example, in the first week I suggested a project focus might be musical maps – of any kind – imaginary or otherwise. But the immediate reaction was quite negative and frowning.

I think that any writing work we do, or development of any words specifically for the piece, needs to focus on the things we all share, rather than the notion of things that separate us.

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‘Note to Self’ – Day 3

Today was a half-day rehearsal with only the musicians in the Note to Self music & puppetry collaboration with children aged 9-12 years. It was a chance to review all the music we have written so far, and create one last piece of accompaniment.We also revisited an exploratory idea from yesterday and gave it more shape.

We have a lot of content from these two days of workshops – six pieces of very structured, arranged music, and a seventh piece that is quite a free improvisation, governed by some simple rules. There is in fact a lot to remember – for all of us!

We had to steam-roll through a bit today. Not quite enough time. TP was very active today, giving a lot of cues and feedback to the Ensemble. It was great to share the load in that way.

As their confidence grows, and they become more familiar with the process, the children get quicker and quicker at responding to ideas. They use their ears more, and start to pick out notes and riffs as they are suggested. Some are following every conversation that takes place, (even if it doesn’t involve them), and working out new riffs as they are created – just in case they will be called upon to play them.

I arrived at rehearsal with a very full head (I spent the morning drafting program notes for ‘Hunger’ so had not fully adjusted to the quick change of project), which got fuller as LL and I started a conversation about the Ensemble’s position in the space. I know there are reasons why it needs to be decided now, but part of me would like to get to that bit after we have had our rehearsal, so that I can let go of some of the music in my head to make space for information about stage moves. I really think multi-tasking is over-rated. It just causes great stress as your brain bounces about trying to keep everything on track.

Workshops, training, collaboration

It’s been a busy week. I think they are all busy now, pretty much until I get on the plane to fly to Paris at the end of November. Here is what I have been working on:

Australian Youth Orchestra

Today I led an improvisation workshop for young musicians from the Australian Youth Orchestra as part of their collaborative Style Workshop with The Cat Empire. It’s a collaborative project that takes the AYO musicians quite a way out from the traditional orchestral musician role, into the realms of improvisation, devising and composition. They started the project with me, doing a workshop on the ideal mindset for improvisation and creativity, building an awareness of factors that can inhibit creative responses, and trying their hands at a number of different creative tasks. They created what I felt were some truly original pieces. They have raised the bar pretty high now, for other students with whom I do the same tasks! Later today they will work with Tony Gould, one of Melbourne’s great improv gurus. From tomorrow they start working with The Cat Empire guys. Then on Thursday night all the music created through the collaboration will be performed in concert.

One of the violinists was also present at my ANAM talk, and it was nice to see her again and follow up some of the discussion points that were raised on that day – in particular the distinction she (and one or two others) made between music listening and music making. We chatted in the break about ways of listening to music, and the difference in the way we listen to music we know well and have played, to the way we listen to something new.

One of my tactics as a listener is to try to listen with ‘new ears’, to hear every sound as new and unexpected, and to try to put myself into the composer’s imagination.

I have another project coming up with AYO in November – this time with the Young Australian Concert Artists (YACA) program, during their Regional Residency in Albury. We’ll work together on two projects with primary school children. Probably inspired by music of Shostakovich.

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