I wanted to thank Impulse New Music Festival for kindly offering me Jacqueline A. Rolle Memorial Scholarship (full tuition fee) to participate in their online program this month. It’s a big honour for me to receive such an opportunity to both learn and share my music by working with Los Angeles based Brightwork Ensemble on one of my pieces.

Due to Covid19 situation in the USA the program will be happening over Zoom so I won’t be able to travel to California. I’m hoping to share some updates with you soon. Thank you for your support! Liz

Who I am and what are my values

Since the start of my artistic journey I’ve been wondering what creative purpose I have and how I can contribute with my ideas and skills. There’ve always been a question of how to get from an “A” to a “B” in terms of ideas and the final result. And often it’s the other way around: I’m seeking a path already knowing what I want to achieve and what effect I’m aiming for. Be that in the concert hall or in the everyday life. 

I am deeply passionate about music, that’s for sure, but there’re also many other things that I sincerely care about. The things such as our planet, flora and fauna of it in addition to general compassion and love towards other living beings. So I can confidently say that at this time (and surely lot later on) of my career and artistic development I am seeking a way to contribute to the improvement of some of these important matters.

Who I am supporting and why

Climate justice now! Listen to the people, not the polluters!

In this light, I’m sure you’re aware of many challenges humanity is facing nowadays, including pollution, climate change, corruption in addition to more “personal” issues such as mental health, equality and violence.

So when my friend Phoebe Bognar asked me to write a piece for solo flute and speech (tape), I already knew what the fundamental idea of it will be, since we both are so passionate about the issue of climate change.
Surely, I have a lot to say, but maybe speech is not my strongest medium. However, the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is a strong and convincing public speaker, considering that she comes towards the microphone with a very relevant worldwide issue to address. 

What’s with the climate change?

I’ve heard a lot of people trying to “brush it of the shoulder” saying that climate change is not real (e.g. Trump) and continuing the lifestyle and political movements purely harmful for the environment. There is a lot of ignorance around everywhere. But I’m not here to judge, and I’m here to fight for our future! I’m here to inform and help the right information reach the people’s ears. I’m a messenger, just like Greta herself, restating what’s already confirmed scientifically. The answers are already there. And the truth is that if we don’t act immediately to change our lifestyle and reduce the amount of CO2 release to the atmosphere, we are to suffer some serious irreversible consequences that will affect our planet negatively. Don’t underestimate the importance of this issue, as it will not only affect the diversity of the flora and fauna worldwide, but us, humans, directly. We can’t ignore that and we can’t give up fighting for our future!

What can we do?

We rarely think over how much of our waste ends up being in the ocean, because it’s an uncomfortable truth.

The solutions are simple, as science suggests: plant the tree, reduce the animal product consumption such as meat and dairy and reconsider your transportation (less flying, more public transport commuting). But is it enough when the fundamental business movements based around fossil fuel usage and other political construction are continuing to ignore the issue? What can I do to help? What’s my moral duty as an artist in this situation?
Other than going and protesting along with millions of other people I can write music about it, of course!
I can spread the word of our generation, with a direct reference to sciencific research and raise more awareness around the topic – seem like a lot more constructive thing to do than turning everything into a personal accuse as some people do. We can make it impossible to ignore. We can make it uncomfortable, because it very much is so. No looking away now! To some extent you can’t really “brush it off your shoulder” when we’re talking about the only home we have. Nor can you do so when you sit in a concert hall and listen to what I have to say as a composer.

There are no other ways than the persistent ones when it comes to such an important matter. Unfortunately, people tend to turn a blind eye to many other very important matters too, or choose to ignore the facts because they’re too “depressing” or it’s too “negative”. But I challenge you to look at the topic under a different angle because I do strongly believe we can make a difference together. Even if I’m “just a composer”, and you might just be a “music teacher” or a member of the administration panel somewhere with no direct attachment to oil industry or politics. It’s the choices that we make every day – that is what matters. 

The writing process and challenges

Anyhow, while I was facing a challenge of writing a piece with such a powerful narrative, I also had to meet a certain deadlines. The world premiere was set to be on the 31st of July 2019 and that meant I had around 10 days to complete an almost 10 minute composition, produce a tape recording and the score for Phoebe to learn in reasonable time. It was not easy, but I took the challenge because there’s no backing off from that. Since the original recording of Greta’s voice from Davos had a lot of background noises and did not qualify for my ideas around her speech, I’ve decided to record it myself, including singing and adding extra effects to emphasise the meaning. I also used repetitions for some spoken phrases to highlight them (e.g. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gasses). 

By no means am I a professional singer. In fact, I have never received a proper training in the subject but it doesn’t even matter. Art always speaks when it’s comes from the heart, and I hope I succeeded there. The other challenge was the score itself. I do feel at times that the complexity of my ideas does not quite stand on the same level with my current writing skill – something I actively work on improving. Luckily, the current program I’m taking at the Norwegian Academy of Music targets these hurdles.
Phoebe did an incredible job interpreting the score. Because of the restricted time, I had to present her with a very drafty version of the score, where some parts have not been properly written out. In the nearest future I plan to fix these inaccuracies. 

I want you to panic and the outcome of the project

As I mentioned, the piece have been first premiered at one of the lunchtime concerts on the 31st of July hosted by Bang on the Can music festival in Massachusetts, the US. The reception was amazing and I’ve heard people mentioned how my work got them thinking hours and days after the initial performance of it. The other premiere took place in my hometown Oslo on the 7th of September at Cafe de Concert. Yet another great reception of the work, including some of the audience members tearing up. I think that my artistic goal here is accomplished and I feel like I’m on the right path with my writing. The composition has now been premiered in London, once again, with a great reception from the audience, so Phoebe has been invited to perform it again, a week later. I’m looking forward to the Australian premiere of “I want you to panic” later this year and many more to come.

The initial premiere of I want you to panic by Phoebe Bognar 31.07.2019

Musicians for the future

So what is our moral duty as society members, as Earthlings and as musicians? Is it true that we’re powerless against the gritty politicians who feed us with promises to make a necessary difference? What can a teacher, a businessman, a bus driver and a musician do to make a difference when we’re so far away from politics or oil industry?
And the answer is – we can do a lot.
Especially when we are doing it together. And the change starts from small things and reducing our carbon footprint by flying less, commuting by public transport more, reducing our meat and dairy intake and being mindful with our waste. These are some very manageable things for an individual and can be easily achieved with more thought of the nature and with the thought of our planet Earth – our only home! 

I am very grateful to the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University for awarding me with A.G. Francis Prize for Composition. Special thanks to all my teachers, and especially Dr. Erik Griswold, for supporting me throughout my studies. Looking forward to using the knowledge and experience I gained from my studies at the Conservatorium to create more great art and music that makes a difference in this world and inspires others. 

A long story short.
This summer I’ve had a priveledge to travel to Knoxville, TN and share my music with the amazing artists and co-fellows within the Nief Norf summer festival program. The plan for the coming two weeks included lessons, workshops, lectures, multiple new music concerts + rehearsals of own composition before the world premiere at the end of the festival. But other than being a great music gathering, Nief Norf also have had some great activities such as hiking inbetween Smoky Moutains, Sonic Meditation (Pauline Oliveros) and socialising with a cup of coffee or a beer where we talked about life, art, music, ideas and feelings/experiences.

Nief Norf team 2019

The vibes of Knoxville.
I have never been to the United States prior to this year and it has always been a dream to go there one day so I’m happy that I didn’t just come as a tourist but as an artist and a musician.
I came to the town at 3am since my flight from Chicago was delayed for at least an hour. The town met me with a steamy weather, empty neighbourhood and a nice uber driver – who’s American accent was the only indication at the time that I, in fact, have not returned to Australia. And it was weird to realise that my Australian accent was interpreted as foreign to locals while I thought that the local accent sounded foreign to me.
During my stay I’ve had an opportunity to take a walk through the town, and embrace the unknown, different and unusual.
I figured that Knoxvillians were quite friendly people with open minds and their own lovely quirks and it was a pleasure to connect to these people.

D-formation: formation of the “D”.
I’ve had a big plan for my composition, I wanted it to be intense and memorable so I thought that a percussion trio and a bass clarinet would be an amazing combination to try out. Back in my time at the Queenland Conservatorium I have had an attempt to make that combination happen. It presented a challenge as I have never written for percussion before and I was quite busy with other assignments and study commitments.
But I have not forgotten the idea! This time I was determined to make it work even though I wasn’t quite sure how. To be honest, that sort of mindset represents me as a person too: curious, corageous and daring. Or at least I’m trying to be like that!
Throughout the first week of the program, two lessons with the amazing Sara Kirkland Snider and Chris Adler + the first reading I realised that if I wanted to try something else music-wise, then this festival would be the perfect opportunity to do so. There came the idea of chance music and rapid composing throughout the first week. This, in addition to having a limited amount of time where I needed to make it work, as a conductor’s score and the parts. I have made a not-so-smart decision to write everything by hand as I was still figuring out how to notate my ideas.
I probably didn’t have the digital tools necessary on this occation anyways. I have noticed that an ipad is a popular option for the performers for the obvious reasons and it worked out well in many cases such as score study, eco-friendly and convinient in terms of space.
Still, I was behind the technology and going old school this time. But despite the hand-writing being a very time consuming activity, I thought it was a necessary discovery and a good (or maybe not so good) experience. I have been asking the experienced composers about the notation methods and how it’s been working for them and the answers were quite broad: everything between Finale and Photoshop + some Sibelius for playback, which I felt I have had enough of in the past three years.
Nevertheless, it’s been great to see some scores by Christopher Adler and Alexandre Linsqui as well as listen to the charming music of Sara Kirkland Snider, all of whom have had multiple performances throughout the two weeks of the festival.

Musicians and friends.
The high standard of musicianship at the festival amazed me, so did the social environment between the fellows and teachers. I’ve seen some very unique personalities through music and talks and maybe has been a bit too reserved to come forward too much. What I thought was a particularily great idea – letting the experienced meet the emerging at the platform where ideas can be shared. In that way, I’m a true believer that everyone has something to say and contribute with no matter of the current writing skill (always improving).
My composition ended up getting titled as “D-formation” for the amount of D’s in the picture and how I based the whole score around one note. I’m quite prone to work with tonal centres in music and have very visual approach to my scores. On that piece I’ve had a priveledge to work with the stunning clarinetist Alexandra Hecker, who’s personality had a lot of depth. She otherwise proved to be such a supportive and engaged person in many ways. Along with her, my percussionists were Kevin O’Connor, Dustin Haigler and Andy Holmes did an amazing job at their assigned instruments and demonstrated some real craftmanship throughout the rehearsals and during the performance on Friday night the 21st of June.
I feel honoured to have met and worked with these amazing souls and hope to collaborate with them furher on!

As you may have heard, I’ve been part of a short film project directed by Seamus Murphy while I was about to finish my last year at the Conservatorium in Brisbane. Seamus’ project have been presented me as a short film with an interesting plot and even though I have never done any film music before, I decided to take that challenge.

The process went better than expected, and after a 2 weeks me and my colleagues from the Anemoi Wind Quintet and my good friend Darcy Adam, with whom I had pleasure working on many occasions before, were able to make a click-track recording of my music at his studio.

Happy post-recording faces. Left to right: Lily Bryant, Brooke Hitchmough, Nicola Robinson, Sasha Walker and Dayna Johnston + myself

I would definitely write for film again and explore possible musical approaches to film genres . As a visual artist myself, I find visual stimulation very relevant to my music composition and often have it as my source of inspiration (check out my brass piece “Geometrical Figures“). Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that it’s not that common to have a live recording for semi-professional films or short films so some amazing collaboration opportunities along with experience for composers and performers are missed.

Anyways, check the film out and give it a thumbs up!
Till later,