Leagues of Breaking Light fundraiser – Naima

Hi folks!

This year is the year for my big work from China, Leagues of Breaking Light.

I just presented it at the Ecoacoustics Congress in Brisbane, Australia, which was wonderful. I’m presenting it again at the Gender Diversity in Music Making Conference in Melbourne, Australia next week. I’m also presenting it live at Melbourne Fringe Festival in September.

AND I’m releasing it as a multi-media album! I’m running a fundraising campaign to make this album to become a reality – which ends in TWO DAYS! ! I’m so humbled with everbody’s generosity so far. I’m aiming as high as possible. If we raise 100% of my goal, I can pay the recording musicians and engineer. If we raise more than 100%, I can start to finance mastering the album, producing the other sections (e.g. artist-quality image files, etc), and distribution. Please have a look, share it with friends, and donate whatever you can if you can. It’s also TAX DEDUCTIBLE (for Australians) and ends on the last day of financial year, Saturday 30th June!



More details on Leagues of Breaking Light soon.




7th Homophonic! concert.

Hi everyone and Happy New Year. Miranda and Naima have been busy doing their own projects in 2017, but coming up this Monday and Tuesday evening in Melbourne as part of the Midsumma Festival is the amazing annual concert with music by all queer composers: Homophonic!

Miranda is founder/director/producer of 3 Shades Black ensemble. 3 Shades Black produces various projects including Homophonic!.

Naima has had a composition performed in 6 out of the 7 Homophonic! concerts so far, with most of them being commissioned premieres.

Show details:
Mon 29th & Tue 30th Jan 2018, 7:30pm.
La Mama Courthouse Theatre, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton, Victoria, Australia.
Tactile tour for folks with vision impairment: Tue 30th Jan, 6:30pm.

This year Homophonic! includes three works exploring refugees and refugee activism:

Tansy Davies  – Greenhouses – with text by Rachel Corrie, the woman who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer protecting Palestinian homes.

Jack Body – Cries From the Border – about Walter Benjamin, philosopher, literary critic and German Jew, who in 1940 requested an official stamp to depart from France into Spain but was denied. That night, facing being delivered back into the hands of the Nazis, he died of suicide.

Naima Fine – Their Voices Were Over The Sky – an expression of the passing of time in the detention centre on Manus Island. The title is words spoken by Abdul Aziz Adam in a WhatsApp message to reporter Michael Green for the podcast The Messenger, co-produced by The Wheeler Centre and Behind The Wire. Used with permission by Aziz. Aziz has been imprisoned in refugee detention on Manus Island for over four years.

Also on the program is a stunning and rarely-performed piece by Lou Harrison with full gamelan!

Stream Ian Parsons’ interview with Miranda for Homophonic! on his wonderful show The Sound Barrier (PBS fm) here.

Read an interview with Naima, Andrew Aronowicz, and Moya Hendersen – the Australian composers in Homophonic!’s program – by the awesome magazine CutCommon here.

And if you’re a member of Arts Hub, you can read an interview with Miranda focusing on Homophonic! about “programming new classical music, and attracting new audiences to our awesome art-form” here.

3 Shades Black on facebook.

Hope to see you there and don’t forget to book – tickets are selling!

Small Mountain is a 2016 “Two to Three 二到三” Residency Finalist!

Guess what? Miranda got into the finalists for this great residency opportunity in Xiàmén, Fújiàn. I don’t envy the panel deciding which 2 or 3 artists will go out of this bunch, they all sound super-interesting! Check out the finalists list and project proposals here.

Thanks as always to China Residencies for being awesome and the backbone of support for artists-who-wanna-make-art-in-China.

Good luck Miranda!

Naima ~ Qíng Nà Mǎ ~ 晴 纳 玛

China Residencies Interview!

Hello everyone! The incredible China Residencies (who linked us up with Lijiang Studio) has done an artist profile on us recently. Head over to their website to check it out:


Apologies to all those who came to look at the last post only to find it was password protected expression of interest materials. Hopefully you enjoy this interview and keep keeping your ear to the ground – we are still doing residency-related stuff and will be into spring 2017.

Naima ~ Qíng Nà Mǎ ~ 晴 纳 玛

Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 27 & 28 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

(24th August – 6th September)

The past 2 weeks were all work. It was great! I finally settled into the “new normal” of being here with just the family, and got on with my projects.

So this fortnight, you mainly get photos.


It’s mushroom season! There’s mushrooms at the markets everywhere and Xue Mei has gone mushroom foraging twice since we went with the others last time. The first time I walked into the kitchen I was so blown away by the array of mushroom species that I took a photo series. Here it is. We ate them all!


On Saturday 5th Sept, He Er Ge and I went to Mu Yun Bai’s exhibition. It was good, although I felt that I’d seen his work a bit too regularly recently to properly appreciate it. Since I’m drawing ten flowers at the moment, I spent some time examining how he made lines of shade change without drawing a line – which is pretty much what his whole drawing style is. I can’t do it very well yet; and it’s my only specific aim of improvement for my pencil drawing. Oh, that – and less perfectionism! The exhibition was in an old school, in an undercover but only 3-walled area, and it worked really well.

He Ji Yu and I are working on finishing repainting this mural that’s in the family kitchen. Here’s a photo of the mural before he’s done many flowers, and while he’s doing them! My sister Hildy started this mural revitalising project and my aim is for it be finished by the time I leave.

I came home at lunchtime one day and Anai hadn’t cooked because she wasn’t expecting me. She was worried but it worked out perfectly because the day before, she had pulled up all the nettles I was cultivating – well, letting grow, anyway – in my flower-bed that Miranda and Jay built and I’ve grown against the front wall of the studio. So, nettle soup it was!

Hi Ji Xing’s horse has a pretty crappy life when he’s not around, as nobody else takes it for walks and it lives on a short rope. So I asked him to show me the basic, and took the horse out. It was really scary! I have never handled a horse alone before, and this horse is pretty frisky and jumpy. But we made it to the lake, and he was so happy to be out!

Things I saw around and about:

I am in the midst of a completely non-musical project. I am using rubbish and a few natural found objects I’ve been collecting since I arrived here to create a menagerie of animals that maybe once lived in the mountains around Lashihai. There are several inspirations for this project and I’ll put a detailed post up about it after I finish it. Next weekend I plan to exhibit the animals in a little diorama in the village, with Ji Yu helping me explain to the villagers what it’s about.  Here’s a few animals-in-progress.

I sat down to write a Second Iteration: He Family Portrait for Anai. It wasn’t happening. But some other little thoughts and ideas were happening. I tried to focus but to no avail. So I started turning the little thoughts and ideas into a piece. 2 days later, I had a finished draft. I’ve written a piece for 2 tenor voices; violin; bass; and percussion. The piece sets text by Francis Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958), an English botanist, explorer, plant collector and author who spent a lot of time in this part of the world. The text is from one of his many books, “Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges” (1926), and describes the wonder of mountainsides of Rhododendrons. Robbie Hart used this quote in his thesis, which is how I discovered it…and so this piece became my 3rd approach in my Robbie’s-data-into-music project. The text is set simultaneously in Mandarin and English. 周巧(Zhōu Qiǎo)did the translation for me, and it happened to be the exact same number of syllables, which was perfect!

Kindgon-Ward quote 1926

I finally made a decision about my graphic score, and started drawing. Here’s species 3, Rhododendron beesianum: the photo by Robbie Hart, and my drawing in-process and completed. I plan to do high-quality photocopies of the flowers onto transparencies and overlay them onto manuscript.

Qíng Nà Mǎ

晴 纳 玛

Lìjiāng Studio weeks 19 & 20 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

29th June – 12th July (Written 26th August)

After I returned from Hong Kong, I had 8 or 9 days until our big concert. Just after I left for Hong Kong, Crystal Pascucci, a cellist and composer, had arrived from America, and then Jen Torrence, a percussionist, and Lizzie Peacocke, a public health worker, both from, well, Norway, via a lot of other places.

Crystal’s website: http://www.crystalpascucci.com/

Jen’s website: http://www.jennifertorrence.com/

And somehow I think I didn’t mention Michelle/ the weaver, who arrived shortly after Frog: http://www.ozzoombro.com/

I was so happy to come back – be back home; be away from the big stinky challenging city; see my family again; spend time with some lovely people and get to know them better; and perform some of my work in the place it was written.

Lesser Heat Festival poster, by Frog Wing.

Lesser Heat Festival poster, by Frog Wing.

I didn’t count on all of the time the others had all had together influencing my time with them so much, but it really did. Conversations were often continuations of events or earlier ideas that I wasn’t there for, and people had all fallen into the habits and the knowings of each other that happens when you live together. In a way, even though of course I was welcomed, I felt I’d disrupted the rhythms that they’d developed together and they never really got regained in a group sense. I actually feel (still, 2 months later) that I really missed out on something possibly more important than the Hong Kong Academy, not being here for the whole time that the others were. It was a risk I took because the opportunity to participate in the Academy seemed so great, and I’d never done anything like that before, and I was interested in the tutors. But I’d been looking towards this period and writing music for this group of people back at the Studio almost since I arrived in February, and I really think I did myself a disservice by missing out on much of that time.

Michelle/LìLì's homemade loom, with 2 works-in-progress.

Michelle/Lili’s homemade loom, with 2 works-in-progress.

Some things about the week building up to the concert were lovely. But other things were stressful. I didn’t quite leave myself enough time to learn the hardest part I’d made for myself, Crystal Ruth Bell’s piece. And then in putting the time I had into learning that piece, I didn’t do other important things like properly transcribe the part for dí zi (Chinese transverse flute with a membrane) into the right key for the dí zi I own for the Rhododendron piece. There were some disagreements about the venue. Rehearsals were challenging for me because I wanted to make a timetable for the week so that I could manage my time better, but no-one else wanted to. So we didn’t, and I didn’t manage my time well. Miranda wasn’t feeling great about her playing. The whole week was really just organising, practicing, and rehearsing. So I really didn’t get to spend much hanging out/bouncing concepts off each other/giving and getting feedback along the way time with Crystal, Jen or Lizzie. had retreated into quite an internal and ascetic place, and I was worrying about her. She was producing a lot of work, and fasting, and not sleeping a lot, and had really socially withdrawn too. Frog was trying to get her giant dodecahedron sanded, painted and installed in time, as well as doing a really beautiful flyer for the whole event as well, so she was also under the pump.

The orb is installed! Jen and Lizzie are taking photos. Dudu is along for the ride.

The orb is installed! Jen and Lizzie are taking photos. Dūdū is along for the ride.

But also: we had a walk every afternoon in rehearsal break through the village to buy an iceblock. Lizzie and I went to Fēng Le Market together on our bicycles. Lizzie bought a broom that subsequently faithfully travelled with her through Hong Kong, America and Europe and eventually back to Norway. The feeling of being amongst several lovely and hard-working artistic women was pretty great. I had some insight into how someone else (Crystal) composes, looking, listening to and discussing her score-in-process, which was valuable and not that common an experience for me. We were organised enough to rehearse enough for most pieces to be ready to perform.

Us all! Back L-R: Jay; Lili/Michelle; Lizzie; Jen Front L-R; Frog; Naima; Crystal; Miranda.

Us all!
Back L-R: Jay; LìLì/Michelle; Lizzie; Jen
Front L-R; Frog; Naima; Crystal/JīngJīng; Miranda/Shān Mù.

The pieces of mine we played are:

Crystal Ruth Bell: We Keep Going

flute – me;

tuned glass bottles – Jen Torrence;

cello – Crystal Pascucci; and

double bass – Miranda Hill.

Climate-Driven Change in Himalayan Rhododendron Phenology (sections 1-3 of 6)

pre-recorded sine waves;

dí zi – me;

cello – Crystal Pascucci;

double bass – Miranda Hill;

tuned percussion – Jen Torrence; and

harmonium – Frog Wing.

I felt we played both pieces well, even though we had played both better. But I completely messed up the Climate-Driven Change… piece, and because it seemed easy and I felt a bit embarrassed by it because I wasn’t yet used to how it turned out, I didn’t push enough practice time with it and so we didn’t record it either, which I’m a bit disappointed about.

I also played flute in an improvised version of “Bái Yún de Měi Lì” (“The Beautiful White Clouds”) with Jimmy / Yáng Zé Mín, Crystal and Miranda; harmonium in a movement of Crystal Pascucci’s “Flute Poems”; and metal bowl, pebble and lentils in Jenn Torrence’s “Women’s Work” piece.

One sad thing is that Miranda had rehearsed to play some of the First Impressions Family Portraits that I wrote in March/April. But dinner took longer than we allotted it, and we still had to finish at sundown, so the Portraits got squashed out. Also, Miranda was really taking on an organising and rehearsal-leading role, and so although she also has work that could have been played, she didn’t have the time to introduce and rehearse any of her stuff as well.

Rehearsal time.

Rehearsal time.

Highlights for me:

We were playing Jen’s piece (in which lentils are rolled and swished around in bowls), Ānǎi was sitting next to Miranda, and at first she was really dismayed that the lentils were going out onto the floor and being wasted as food – but then at a certain point she just shrugged and threw the handful she was retrieving off the floor into the air and started laughing. It was the best.

While folks were eating, a bunch of the Jí Xiáng Orchestra members had gotten the tuned bottles from my piece and rearranged them, and were playing Nàxī tunes on them.

Earlier in the day, Miranda and I went for a walk together and collected flowers and sheaves of grasses to put in Jen’s bottles for the piece I wrote for Crystal. It was a really lovely cycle to collect flowers from Lì jiāng Studio and Jí Xiáng Cūn, a place she had loved and had helped Miranda and I get to, as part of playing the piece I wrote for her. She helped me get here, and then I wrote a piece for her here, and we performed it here, with flowers for her from here.

Setting up ‘s work for the festival (she had to leave 2 days beforehand). She had completed a huge number of simple paintings, all in the same format, as well as a number of stunning woven pieces. We laid out all of the paintings on a wooden floor with pebbles holding them down, and it looked really amazing. Throughout the day, people came in and made a same-size painting of their own, left it behind, and took one of hers. So the shape and content of the laid-out paintings slowly changed over the day. I really liked going up to the room every so often to see what had gone and what had arrived.

At the end of Crystal’s piece, she had some troubles orchestrating a part for the harmonium simple enough for Frog and I to play for the final movement (we are not very accomplished!). So she made a last-minute decision to cut the final movement and just follow the penultimate movement with one chord to finish, following her lead for the fade-out. We had never rehearsed it and it was slightly nerve-wracking because I wanted to get it right, but I did, and even though it wasn’t what she’d wanted, I thought it was a beautiful ending to the piece.

Lizzie’s story about street-dental work. It was captivating, and I really loved her photos of teeth and things that reminded her of teeth that accompanied the story, too.

The Dōngbā ritual blessing of the giant dodecahedron/orb. Frog danced a Dōngbā dance inside the orb, at sunset, with a smoky atmosphere from burning green pine needles to purify the area, and it was just magic.

Our teachers from school came; the villagers came; Jay’s family came… there was such a festive joyful feel and I’m so glad we decided to put the festival on, in just the format we did. It really worked.

For a detailed program and more photos of the concert, you can go here: http://www.lijiangstudio.org/lesserheatfestival/

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, the day of the concert, it rained. And the villagers said that we musicians called the rain.

And then the next day, Crystal and her partner Mark left; and the day after that Jen and Lizzie left; and a few days after that Frog left to go to Lú Gū Hú (Lúgū Lake; home of the Mósuō matriarchal folk that we’ve been interested in visiting for months, but we couldn’t go because we had things to do); and Jay left to go to some appointments interstate, and it felt like a really fast exodus with no downtime or group debrief. For me, the whole period of time between returning from Hong Kong and doing our festival and the other 3 artists leaving was a bit of a gasp and a run and it’s over before I got another breath. I really do wish I’d gotten to spend the whole month with them.

But I won’t forget that the villagers said we musicians called the rain. To me, that is a huge compliment, and a blessing beyond any blessing I would hope to have.

Qíng Nà Mǎ

晴 纳 玛

Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 25 & 26 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

Last week was a really intense week. It was Shān (Miranda)’s last week in the Studio and in China. We had: 2 Mandarin classes;

2 trips to the Public Security Bureau to organise her visa;

1 visit to the artist Mù Yún Bái’s house to look at some work of his to buy;

The ditch I fell in. But not in the daytime. It's quite obvious in the daytime!

The ditch I fell in. But not in the daytime. It’s quite obvious in the daytime!

1 rather dramatic and thankfully helmeted dark and rainy night fall into a deep ditch with water in it (that was me…I got away with bruised ribs and a few scratches);

1 delightful trip with Hé Jī Xīng, Hé Jī Yǔ, and Hé Èr Gē to some nearby mountains to go mushroom-picking;

1 last-minute purchase of low-crotch baggy cotton pants (the van home from Lìjiāng for M’s last time waited for us);

1 last walk to Lāshìhǎi that ended up having Miranda’s foot stuck knee-deep in mud; 1 poor muddy little microbat collected into my hat from hanging in the sun on the giant mud pile;

1 train trip to Kūnmíng where we booked a bed each but then gave one to some other nice bed-less passengers and snuggled together in a very narrow single bed on the false assumption we would still be able to sleep;

1 lost or stolen phone somewhere between a taxi ride and picking up Miranda’s luggage;

1 cranky airline check-in staff;

1 really bizarre and rather hilarious report of stolen phone to police (which involved several police phoning their friends who had a tiny bit of English and then handing me the phone, and getting picked up and dropped off at the Kūnmíng Train Station in an awesome 80’s cop car complete with the occasional flashing lights and siren wail to move through the traffic faster);

1 small box of Miranda’s things posted home; and

1 Miranda safe and sound on her flight.

You’re not allowed to bring knives on any long-distance Chinese public transport, and they have luggage scanners at every major train and bus station. But I really wanted to try to get my pocket knives home. I have no idea how I got them here from Kūnmíng, since I came on the train – but last time I tried to travel with one I had to leave it with security to collect on my return. So I packed them both between 2 steel scourers, and put that inside a silver-lined coffee bag. The staff member who was checking what was in the bass bag went straight past the “coffee bag” when she was unpacking it, and I didn’t say a thing. So my knives are home! : /

The whole luggage situation was quite stressful – one bag was overweight and the other one was full of weird objects that they wanted to examine – namely an electric-acoustic bass with various metal components, as well as electronic metronomes, tuners, etc. Eventually we got everything through, but we were glad we checked in 3 hours before her flight!

Miranda's last Lashihai photo - on the dam wall with Yulongxue Shan peeking out between the mountains and the clouds.

Miranda’s last Lāshìhǎi photo – a beautiful day, baggy new pants, and muddy legs on the dam wall, with Yùlóngxuě shān peeking out between the mountains and the clouds.

To be honest, after I got back from Kūnmíng, I slept for 2 days. I was so tired, and a little bit freaked out! I was suddenly more isolated than I’d planned – no Frog, no Jay, no Miranda, no Hildy, no recorder (it had mysteriously stopped working at the Qílín dance), no phone and as I discovered no internet connection either. Oh well, I thought, I’ll snuggle into bed and watch a movie. But my computer had other plans, and my CD drive reported an unfixable error!

So I read some books and had some quiet time. I bought a new SD card to try in my recorder, and despite it not recognising various other ones, it works fine. I got myself a wonderfully awful alarm clock, and began to try to settle in to the new normal Lāshìhǎi.

I had my last 2 lessons with Shàng lǎo shī, our wonderful Mandarin teacher. She is just so lovely and funny and undeniably adorably clumsy, and she’s moving to stay with her sister who’s gotten into a PhD in computing at the University of Chéngdū. Shàng lǎo shī is a wonderful person and I wish her all the best in her life.

I took copies of the beautiful posters for our Lesser Heat Festival from July down to the old people’s gathering area and gave them to the head of the Nàxī Jíxiáng Village Orchestra to distribute as mementoes.

Drying limes

Drying limes.

And then I started working again. I’ve started on the “Second Iterations Family Portraits” (working title!). First up is Ānǎi, wonderful grandmother. I’m already having trouble – I want the piece to connect to the first piece, but not just restate or recapitulate it. I wrote down an updated list of descriptions and thoughts about Ānǎi, but so far that hasn’t helped much. One thing I love that isn’t in the First Impressions portrait of her is the way she calls Dūdū for food, and the way she calls the chooks for food. But I am not sure if I want to put those calls in as a literal mimic or not. So I’m a little bit stuck.

I’ve also continued on my next idea for the Yù lóng xuě shān Rhododendrons work. When I was messing around with ideas for another approach about 6 weeks ago (oh dear), I ended up drawing out one of the species, RhododeRhododendron Yunnanensendron yunnanense, onto manuscript. That got me thinking about drawing all 10 species of blossom on a manuscript as a graphic score. Each blossom would be positioned on the manuscript as if it were a point on a scatterplot indicating that species’ Mean Flowering Day (x axis) and Mean Elevation (y axis).

I sat on the idea for a while, talked it over with Miranda and Hildy (my sister) and Jay, wrote to Robbie asking for these meta-data averages and close-up photos of all the species, and kept sitting on it. Now in the past few days I have finally started building the work. I’ve got my ~A2 manuscript (I couldn’t draw small enough to fit them all on A4); made a scatterplot of the above-mentioned stats; done a bunch of maths to convert the datapoints to mm on my manuscript; plotted the points; chosen my final blossom shots to draw from, and drawn a bloom! Of course I started at number 1, so it’s good old Rhododendron racemosum, which is always the example, being first.

But in the midst of drawing it, and definitely by the end; I’ve begun questioning whether I’m doing this the best way. For starters, why did I make the data space tall and thin? It would make much more musical sense for it to be short and wide, giving the players more horizontal space to read the complex information I’m giving them. And why did I commit the drawing straight to the manuscript? Maybe it would be better to draw in on plastic overhead sheets so I can overlay it onto all different sizes and directions of manuscript until I’m happy. But I’m not so good drawing with pen as pencil, and pencil doesn’t go on plastic sheets. Or maybe I should draw just on plain paper so I can photocopy onto plastic sheets and go from there. Then I thought well I can just do the drawings more than once – go-on Naima, commit them to the manuscript now! But the drawing I did today took about 3 hours. And there’s 10 of them. 30 hours is already a lot of time, let alone drawing more than 1 of each. Sigh! So I’m not entirely sure what to do now. Start again, lose some detail to photocopying but gain flexibility; or continue on in perhaps not the best format?

Just-polished boots. A huge thank you to Emily whose father donated these boots to me. They are honestly the best shoes I've ever had, and they've been all along the East Coast of Aus; helping me do fieldwork in the Northern Territory; and now helping me hike and walk through muddy puddles and still have dry feet here in China. And there's a lot of life left in them yet!

Just-polished boots (behind: a sleeping Dūdū and an awesome broom made from old Brassica stalks). A huge thank you to Emily whose father donated these boots to me. They are honestly the best shoes I’ve ever had, and they’ve been all along the East Coast of Aus; helping me do fieldwork in the Northern Territory; and now helping me hike and walk through muddy puddles and still have dry feet here in China. And there’s a lot of life left in them yet!

And one final great thing is that I finally started writing blog posts again! I must apologise to anyone who was hoping to read anything during my long silence. All the routine went out the window. I wrote this last Sunday afternoon, for the 10th-23rd of August. Then last Sunday night an internet cable that had been dodgy gave out, and just got fixed on Friday evening. Expect a sudden glut of posts as I backdate. I’ve already started on them and I’ll pop them up as they happen. It’s good to be writing again.

Things I saw in town:

Things I saw at home:

Qíng Nà Mǎ

晴 纳 玛

Hong Kong and The Modern Academy, weeks 16-18 – 纳 玛

On the 9th of June I was driven from Lāshìhǎi to Lìjiāng airport, flew to Shēnzhèn, took the bus across the border to Hong Kong, and a subway train to my accommodation. On the 26th of June I missed the ferry so took the train to the border, a bus from the other side to Shēnzhèn airport, flew to Lìjiāng, and got collected by Jay and Miranda and came home to Lāshìhǎi. It was a big 3 weeks. Here are some of the things that happened.

Leaving Home

The day after I left it was my birthday. Miranda organised a whole bunch of friends and family to make little videos, compiled them, and sent them through. It was really one of the loveliest presents I’ve ever received – all those special people thinking of me, taking the time to do such a nice thing, and Miranda asking them all and editing all their clips into 1 film for me. I cried and cried and it was so sweet.

18 Pitt Street

Home away from home away from home…

I stayed at a community centre which has some beds on the floor on the mezzanine for folks to stay by donation. It was pretty cramped and the centre was often open later than I was awake, so there were strangers downstairs nearly every day but it more of a chatting atmosphere than a hang-out atmosphere. Thanks to Chi for hosting me there. The locality, Yau Ma Tei (part of MongKok area) was more my type of neighbourhood than the fancy harbourside places. Not totally gentrified, still a bit grungy, a variety of folks, heaps of cheap local noodle shops and steam bun breakfast joints, older people who seemed to be long-term locals, etc.

If you want to contact 18 Pitt Street to stay there or whatnot, you can contact them through fb (fast response), email (slow or no response) 18pittstreet@gmail.com, or phone (no idea) +852 3428 2565. If you want to drop in, go to 18 Pitt Street Yau Ma Tei, after lunch 7 days/week.

The Modern Academy

The Modern Academy started on Wednesday the 10th, and until the next Wednesday there were only composers. This was a pretty great time, and I think we bonded together as a gang a lot more than the musicians because of this extra week where many of us were in the one small venue.

I met so many great people. I don’t want to leave anyone out so I am not going to list names, but here is a link to the soundcloud of one amazing person called Amadeus, whose composition practice, politics, etc. I really admire and click with:

Dance Module

The dance module was quite intense, but I didn’t REALLY get what I wanted out of it. There were really a lot of communication and organisational issues with TMA. I worked really hard leading up to it to prepare what I understood I needed to prepare. But as it turned out, I would have gotten way more out of preparing way less: just having ideas to develop with the dancers, rather than having a piece done that was able to be modified. Of course, I was a lot less stressed than most the other participants, since my work was already written, but Joyce Beetuan-Koh wanted us to get the experience of developing a work with dancers, not just giving them a piece. I also wanted that experience, as I’ve developed work with directors before, but not with the bodies on the stage directly. But I followed pre-TMA emailed instructions that weren’t really correct, and so got less out of it. However, it was a really tight and supportive group and I got something out of being around for others processes, and also just getting to know everyone, and also watching and listening to the dancers developing my and others work.

Ensemble Gô (String quartet with marimba from Singapore) were our wonderful ensemble on-hand. They didn’t quite know that they were going to be assigned to a dance collaboration that would require them to contribute physically as well as musically. I hope they felt ok with it all. They were really emotive honest musicians and fun to work with and I thank them so much for all their work! https://www.facebook.com/ensemblego

Sarah Xiǎo and Máo Wéi were our contemporary dancers. Both currently live in Hong Kong after graduating from the Academy of Performing Arts there, but hail from mainland China. It was really great to experience the process of translation from composer’s concepts to dancer’s interpretations. They had the intensive job of co-developing 6 works for performance within a week, all unrelated works with their own aesthetics. Sarah and Máo are both great dancers and they did a wonderful job. Here’s a link to check out more about Sarah: http://www.springworkshop.org/?lang=en#/?p=4602  and Máo Wéi: http://www.4degreesdance.com/index.php/maowei/

Another wonderful aspect was the opportunity to work with and meet Joyce, Singaporean Composer, and Elysa Wendi, Singaporean choreographer. Elysa is absolutely lovely and incredibly generous, and I love the way she moves and the way she describes and explains the body. Joyce is hilarious and vibrant and efficient and honest and incredibly generous and I love the way she thinks and the concepts and ideas she’s curious about. I really hope I have opportunities to work again with both Elysa and Joyce. Joyce’s website again is: http://jbtkoh.net/

Some of Elysa’s work can be found here: https://elysawendi.wordpress.com/

here: http://www.objectifsfilms.com/product.php?id_product=120

and here:

Dance Performance

I must admit to a bit of frustration leading up to the dance performance. This is because from 4 or 5 days before, we had rehearsals that clashed with the lectures of my 2nd module. I was totally accepting of missing those lectures whilst at the dance module workshops, but for rehearsals it was a bit frustrating, I think for me more than others because they really were just rehearsals, and I wasn’t needed there that much. There was a heap of effort put in by all the performers and I feel really thankful for their dedication. And a heap of effort was also put in to documentation of our pieces. They were audio-recorded without the dancers and filmed with the dancers, separately to the performance. A special thanks to Lau Hiu Kong (Lawrence) and Boo Chun Kit (Donald) for all their work on the recording process.

Here’s an audio track – I’ll post the film of the work here once it gets edited etc.

The performance itself had a really good vibe and everybody’s work went really well. I felt really happy with what the musicians and dancers had achieved for my work with all of their constraints – 1 week; 5 other works within this module; as well as whatever else they had going on!  Thanks so much again to Ensemble Gô, Sarah Xiǎo and Máo Wéi, Joyce and Elysa, and all my fellow composers.

Pointe shoes.

Pointe shoes at the Academy of Performing Arts.

Composition Colloquia

I wish I’d more opportunity to engage with the lectures and materials in this module but was quite restricted by the dance module’s timetable. But from the few lectures I went to I learnt some really cool things about micro-tones and just intonation (and other tuning systems), and wrote down lots of composer’s names to look up, and generally felt like my mind was being academically musically engaged which was at times frustrating because I realised how little I know of compositional practice, theory, and history, but was mainly pretty darn exciting. I do love that learning structure!

Olde boat and nouveau city.

Olde boat and nouveau city.

Work-shopping the Rhododendron piece

I had 2 workshops of this piece that I’d been working so hard on before I came to TMA. But it was really quite a disaster. I didn’t have the full ensemble at either of the workshops and I didn’t know how to lead the piece very well myself when I didn’t have a conductor for one of the workshops (I’m not experienced in leading time-based pieces) and even if I had’ve had really successful workshops, it was a bit disappointing that the piece couldn’t be performed because the instrumentalists I was assigned were leaving before the concert of fellow’s works! Anyway, I did get some feedback from those instrumentalists who came and I thank them for their time and patience in this experiment! Most of them were members of this cool new group called the Asian Contemporary Ensemble, and whilst the workshops weren’t that productive, the ACE members are great musicians, absolutely lovely, and I hope to work with them again sometime. They play a lot of arranged traditional music from around Asia and also new music. Check them out here: http://www.ace-sg.org/

I felt the most productive work on this piece was my discussions with Ken and Eli. But after the workshop I felt it was such a disaster and I couldn’t hear anything enough to imagine it could even be a piece. I really thought I’d have to start again. Then chatted with Ken and Eli about what I am trying to achieve here and how to balance purity of input with musicality of output. For example they asked me, what does a flower opening sound like? Have I achieved my desire to directly translate the data if I am not musically happy with the result? Is there a way Robbie can represent this data for me less discretely, so that I can have more continuous patterns to work with? After this I wrote to Robbie and asked him to produce even more graphs for me! Sorry Robbie! But I discovered that his field data collection actually included a classification of flowers into: buds, open, and dead flowers. This is pretty exciting and some of the data representations he sent me, alongside the new ideas and questions, inspired me to work in that direction, but until now I’ve been too busy to really dig into that.

Students walking to a photo-shoot at the University of Hong Kong.

Students walking to a photo-shoot at the University of Hong Kong.


In the last few days I did some workshops on soundpainting with Tim O’Dwyer, an Australian saxophonist (member of chamber group Elision). Soundpainting is both simple and complex to explain. I’ll try to, briefly. Soundpainting is not a cross-media art-form but a conducting method with which to direct improvisation/live composition of an instrumental group. It is a proscribed language, invented by one person, which aims to universalise a set of gestures so that performers can read any conductor without having to learn their individual gestures or guess at their meanings during performance. The improvisation/live composition can be quite free (“play a solo”), or very specific (“guitar and percussion play Cminor reggae riff in 4/4 at 120bpm; rest of group play staccato attack notes on cue”). I’m glad I did this module but I don’t feel particularly drawn to Soundpainting. I ended up singing and performed being one of 2 voices in the group on stage (!). In the workshops I really didn’t feel that we were making music. I felt that we were following signals to make certain (types of) sound. But in our performance I did feel that what we did was a piece of music.

Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of universality of some type of language to enable accessibility; I just think that Soundpainting is too strict. I feel that it actually disables the conductor’s own creativity in some ways by having such a rigid set of gestures to choose from. If the conductor does something not in the language (I would say something organic or spontaneous), performers who are experienced with Soundpainting will not follow the instruction even if they understand it. To me this is a weakness. Surely the point of the conducting-performing relationship is communicating; and if an idea is communicated surely it can be followed through, even if the language is original. Another point of critique for me is that there is a special course, led by the inventor, to become an official Soundpainter. I really really do understand the difficulties of surviving as a musician in these profit-centred capitalist societies of ours. But I also do think that a real language should be let go free. Of course, have studies, workshops, etc., of course. But for the whole language to be effectively copyrighted, I find quite a contrary idea to the concept of accessibility, and a bit detracting from the whole idea. But don’t just listen to me – have a look and see what you think: http://www.soundpainting.com/

Anyway, I would like to experience a Soundpainting performance with a really experienced group sometime, and see if I have a very different experience.

Great independent bookish small kid. Unrelated boring adult on phone behind.

Great independent bookish small kid. Unrelated boring adult on phone.

Meeting with Ken

On the last day I had a really good hour-long meeting with Ken Ueno. I asked about ways to push my compositional practice given I am not studying or really within any academic community. We talked about the push and pull of his ideas of authenticity and specificity of pieces to particular performers, and my ideas of accessibility of music for performers. I voiced my jealousy of access to academic environments, and we talked about the benefits to my music and I, coming back to it being older, politically strong, and not having completed an academic compositional qualification. We talked about Luigi Nono, an Italian avante-garde and vocally anti-fascist composer, who only started music lessons when he was 17, never studied composition at university, and placed his politics squarely within his work. It was a really good meeting and I came away feeling a little bit inspired and enlightened, and with a lot of work to do.

Dusk ferry wake.

Dusk ferry wake.

Days Off

I only had 1 official day off The Modern Academy in Hong Kong, although I took 2. The first day, I went to Lamma Island on my own, like Miranda last month. After waiting for the ferry which included discovering the bizarre and rather sad pedestrian picnic overpass structure, I was extra pleased to see some real green. I followed Miranda’s advice and started at the tiny village with only seafood restaurants, walked across the island, had a swim in the (no doubt highly polluted) ocean, poked around, ate Pad Thai and a beer for dinner in the bigger village, and took a ferry back.

The second day I skipped some lectures and went with Hiu Kong, Amadeus and Scott to Lantau Island, home to the giant sitting Buddha. We took the cable car over the ocean and up the island mountain; visited the big Buddha and his entourage; ate delicious Buddhist food; took bus back down to the coast; took a tiny boat to look for pink dolphins (we didn’t see any); walked around a village; and got a ferry back to the city. It was a really lovely day.

In the evening I went to a UNHCR refugee film festival film, about a whole ethnicity of Bhutanese people who were forcibly kicked out from their country and lived stateless in Nepal in a border camp during 18 years of failed negotiations with the Bhutanese monarchy, before being offered to resettle in the USA. Yes, Bhutan is the country that measures Gross National Happiness, has the national religion of Buddhism but claims freedom of religion, and has a country-wide ban on plastic bags. Yes, we think of it as a secret paradisaical utopian country. Yes, Bhutanese soldiers burned houses, threatened, jailed, tortured and permanently exiled its own citizens, many of whom had been living there for generations, and many of whom’s forebears had been invited to settle there by that same Bhutanese monarchy.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong I love the weather, especially that warm tropical rain (although those more acclimatised than I seemed to get cold when it rained – it went down from ~32 to ~28 degrees!). I love the political integrity and braveness of many Hong Kong-ese – the umbrella movement; the calls for independence; the tent village that remains outside the central government offices long after the larger protests and live-ins were dispersed by force. And I love the old ferries crossing the harbour – big metal and wooden structures full of history, painted green and white, with wooden bench seats with star designs pressed into the seats and simple backs that flip so that you can face either direction, like older Sydney trains.

But I am really confused as to why people love Hong Kong so much. Of course if somewhere is home, it’s home. But as a visitor, I might say that I could be fascinated by Hong Kong, but I am certainly not in love with it! To the contrary, I felt pretty oppressed most of the time I was there, aside from my days off when I went to the islands and took a breath that had freshness in it, and saw some natural things that weren’t either placed purposely by humans; or struggling in spite of humans, but just there because that’s where they were.

Bamboo: the best scaffolding material for every job.

Bamboo: the best scaffolding material for every job.

I struggled with so many things in Hong Kong: the verticality of living (subway; streets; underpasses; overpasses; high-rises) to fit so many people in such a small space; the glitzy malls; the cost of living (an average meal is close to Au meal prices in conversion), so much higher than most of mainland China. The inevitable massive resource-sink city footprint of fuel and food and things, things, things, consuming, consuming, consuming. The producedness of everything – even the local chilli sauce is this creamy smooth thing that comes in a bottle, not chopped fresh chilli in vinegar like in Malaysia or dried chilli soaked in hot oil like in Yúnnán. The feeling of busy-ness: it is quite hard to find a seat anywhere in public space in Hong Kong. A lot of HK folk’s life is spent standing up or walking – walking to subway stations, standing at subway stations, walking in malls, standing on subways, walking in the streets, standing on escalators, walking walking standing walking standing…

The lack of recycling and composting facilities; the bland food that’s almost ubiquitous; the persimmon (a fruit native to China, Japan, Burma and Northern India) that I bought for $25HKD (a pear is $3HKD) thinking I was buying an expensive local treat, and then noticed it was imported from New Zealand. The recorded frog sounds in the central city park pond. The air-conditioning in the trains, which didn’t blow whilst at the station, but then started up and blew according to the speed the train was moving, from the direction of travel, so that it really felt like the wind was rushing through your hair and blowing even though we were under the ground inside a train with windows that didn’t open.

Security guard takes a break on the waterfront.

Security guard takes a break on the waterfront.

I really felt that Hong Kong was some kind of monument to our disconnection with the earth; and I don’t mean that in so much a spiritual sense (although of course that is also true), but in a practical sense: a sense of where did the resources come from that are used every day, how long ago was that meat killed, and where does the waste go, and what did this island look like before high-rises, and what is the weather like and what would lifestyles and structures and diet all need to be like to really live in that weather rather than millions of air-conditioned often windowless units of space, and what community of animal and plant species once called this city their home, and what is underneath the cement and foundations under our millions of feet? A monument to a false idea – the idea that we are completely divorced from our surroundings – from our ecological community – and that we can create whatever kind of place we want, and that that place could continue in perpetuity with our continued ant-like attention to the structures we have invented.

Harmony Music Shop Adventure

So I asked a Hong Kong composer and he asked an instrumentalist friend and I got recommended to go to this particular music shop to buy Dízi (Chinese flutes). I went on my 3rd “day off” (the day I went home). I got up early, packed my bag, and set off up the road in time to arrive at the shop when it opened. I walked through this street that had been blocks and blocks of closed-up shops-in-front-of-shops (permanent street-side stalls) every other time I passed it, and I’d wished I could catch when they were open but when were they open. Now, in the early-ish morning, it was a gloriously crowded hubbub of bustling fruit and vegetable shoppers, and every street-side stall was open as well as every shop in a building, and it was noisy and dirty and hectic and wonderful.

I got to the shop and was overwhelmed by flutes until I asked what the material of the decorative end-pieces was, and discovered they were bone or horn. There were only a couple in the whole collection that just had bamboo ends, and one that had stone. The stone one was in the premium price range and the key I wanted and I played and played it after the attendant had stuck on the membrane for me. But I just couldn’t get it to speak very well and I couldn’t figure it out. The other cheaper one with the bamboo end was easy and enjoyable to play. We tried another membrane and it was a bit easier. I was on a tight timeline so I decided to get the premium stone one, and the all-bamboo one for my uncle, and a soft case for them and a 1/8 size cello bow for Jen back at Lìjiāng Studio to bow cymbals etc., and 2 end-pin stopper things for cello, one green and one a new hollow wooden design to increase the resonance and sound output of the instrument. Whoops! I really could’ve spent all day and much more money in that shop, it had such an amazing range of all-things-musical and the staff were all so lovely. But I had a plane to catch.

We bundled everything up and added everything up and then my card failed. I went to the bank around the corner but no joy. I called Miranda to pop money into my bank but that didn’t work. In the meantime another staff member was desperately trying to create me a paypal account so Miranda could pay from back in JíXiáng. After so much rushing and waiting, and many frantic text messages and swapping of passwords, I became Harmony Music’s first paypal client and Miranda paid the bill and I rushed out the door clutching my booty of musical delights!


Coming home

I rushed back to 18 Pitt Street and grabbed my bag and rushed to the MTR and rushed to the ferry terminal and rushed up the escalators and rushed to the ticket office. I missed the ferry by 0 minutes (yep, it hadn’t left but ticket sales had closed), and didn’t have 1 1/2 hours up my sleeve to wait for the next one, so I rushed back down the escalators and back onto the MTR and changed train 3 times and got to the border at 2. I passed through the border – back in China! – and saw a flower shop and bought a Nepenthes for Miranda and I even though I’m not sure it will survive in Lìjiāng, and found the bus to the Shēnzhèn airport and got on and got to the airport at 4pm, perfect! I hopped on my 5pm plane, watched the ocean and the country and the clouds beneath me for hours – so incredible – , hopped out at Kūnmíng, got on the next plane, got out at Lìjiāng, collected my bags, and walked through security to find Jay and Miranda with a hand-written sign in Mandarin in coloured texta in the back of her homework book waiting to take me home. HOME!!!!


Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛

Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 14 & 15 – 纳 玛

(Written on Saturday 7th June).

My auntie Jacqui is arriving in a couple of hours! And I have had SUCH a productive last few weeks. I really have been composing every day since I wrote last. I’ve finished 3 pieces: We Keep Going. Crystal Ruth Bell; Climate-Driven Change in Himalayan Rhododendron Phenology; and Bǎn zhù dòng zuò.

We Keep Going. Crystal Ruth Bell is a piece for a woman I never met in person. She is the co-founder of China Residencies – a fantastic resource and potential funding source for anyone who wants to do a residency in China. That’s how I met her, on skype. I was driving across Australia from Melbourne to Darwin last year in June, right when Miranda and I were waiting to hear back from a funding application we’d submitted. One day Miranda sent through a text that I got in the next town, telling me that we didn’t get the residency but the folks who assessed the applications wanted to talk with us on skype. I called her and we had quite a discussion as to what they might want, since we hadn’t gotten the funding. After some complicated arranging, we had a time and a place. I bought an hour of internet from the Katherine Public Library; borrowed one of their (or maybe their only) tiny study rooms, scruffed my hair in a hopefully pleasing way, and nervously phoned up.

That was when I met Kira and Crystal. 2 incredibly vibrant, buzzing, busy, enthusiastic women who quickly explained that they loved our application and wanted to help us make it come true. They just didn’t think a 2nd teir city was the right place for it. They told us all about Lijiang Studio and wrote to Jay (the director of the Studio) and linked us up and backed our proposal and basically enabled this entire wonderful thing to happen. They were even planning a trip to China that they hoped would include the studio while we mgiht be there! I came away shining with excitement and anticipation, telling the library staff as I left that I’M GOING TO CHINA TO MAKE ART!!!!! That was when I met Crystal. A few months after that skype meeting we heard that Crystal died.

When Kira was visiting here a few months ago, I asked her to tell me about Crystal, so that I could write this piece. So it’s also through the eyes/heart of Kira, her best friend and co-conspirator in many adventures and projects. So, here is a piece of Crystal.

At the moment I’m being bold and presenting you what I’ve written in a very average MIDI file. When it’s recorded with actual musicians (hopefully early July), I’ll share the real version with you.


I also finished my first iteration of “auralising” a graph of the lovely Dr Robbie Hart’s data. It was a really excitingly inclusive process. After our first, 1+ hour talk, we swapped many emails all the way through the process, from choosing which graph to focus on, to discussing what musical parameters axes and lines and points should represent, to explaining terms to each other, to re-sketching ideas based on each other’s suggestions. It was darn hard work, with a lot of maths and zooming of graphs to 400% and conceptual thinking about such topics as whether it matters to turn a linear scale into an exponential scale. It is really different from my usual composing techniques: for example, there are a number of musical cells within which the musicians can make choices about the order and timing of musical motifs. I’m usually much more proscriptive than that. But yes it’s still on manuscript, even though I don’t find the computer program options very helpful for this kind of music. I can’t give you a MIDI file of it because the computer can’t freely choose motif order and timing! But it’s going to get workshopped at The Modern Academy and I will record and upload it then.


Finally, there’s Bǎn zhù dòng zuò, the string quartet plus marimba for the dance module. The name roughly translates from Mandarin as “Mud brick motion”. I drew a little map of what I wanted the shape of the piece to look like: still and sitting, low to the ground, in a pile; moving along at ground level (via people carrying them); describing wonderful upward arcs as the y are thrown up the side of the house from hand to hand; settling high in their new position. Then I just started writing. I like this piece but I didn’t have an easy time writing it. Even though I had the map which is more than I usually have, I didn’t have any particular musical ideas, which is less than I usually have! I felt a bit like I was walking on a moonless night with just a half-flat torch. And sometimes the torch went out and I couldn’t see ahead even to the next bar. But, it got there. And I like it.

So here again is a crappy MIDI file for you to listen to. Again, this piece will be workshopped and recorded at The Modern Academy (and hopefully performed with the dancers!). So I will upload am audio or video file for you when I can. There are 2 dancers: I assume they are a man and a woman. I am curious to see whether I have to work hard to prevent them from including sexual tension, even undertones, in my piece. It’s just about mud bricks! Dancing flying solid earthy mud bricks.


Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛