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20 November 2014

Snapshot of myself

Tim Munro Image: Tim Munro  
© Joe Mazza

I once believed that musical mastery existed. The process seemed disarmingly simple to my naive young self: complete a degree or two, practice 9000 hours, submerge oneself in the library for years, emerge a master, technique finished and musicianship complete.


Obviously the insecure, impatient younger version of me was rather misguided. More than a decade has passed since then, years of fascinating explorations, frustrating dead ends, my share of sleepless nights, terrible reviews and frequent rejection. The notion of 'mastery' was torn gradually from my hands, and I was forced into the realisation that satisfaction must be found in the hunt, and that the search is the very thing!

My first solo album, one two three, is a snapshot of myself now, after my first ten years of this winding search. The collisions, struggles and important musical relationships I've encountered in an eventful decade are all present in some way or another, adding up to a pretty accurate litmus test of where I am as a performer in 2014.

First things first. In 2004 I met and worked with a fellow Brissie native, the composer, violist, conductor and all-around Australian legend, Brett Dean. Brett and I played Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola and harp, and Brett's raw, no-holds-barred approach to the music shook me out of my buttoned-up, anxiety-ridden complacency. Classical music can be provocative? Rude? Good lord, yes please! After the performance, Brett handed me his newly published Demons for solo flute, and that score has been a constant companion for me over the past decade. I know this piece, a musical portrait of wild, unhinged madness, better than any other solo flute work, and my 20-ish performances over ten years have charted a change from diminutive young professional to rude 30-something. Demons forms the centrepiece of one two three.

I joined the Chicago-based touring ensemble eighth blackbird in 2006, and was immediately thrust into a musical world where any and all things were possible. Memorised chamber music? Sure. Fully-staged, choreographed shows? Of course. Performances with as much singing as flute playing? Yes! This amazing ensemble has redrawn my boundaries as a performer. Yes, 'performer', not 'flautist'. eighth blackbird has helped me think of myself as a 'performer', and I am as likely to take the stage to play piano or percussion, or to let down my hair for an all-sung mad scene.

This album attempts to capture some of my new-found theatrical fearlessness. I met Connecticut composer Amy Kirsten in 2010, and Pirouette was something of a watershed for her and me both. This unhinged piece casts me as a sort of horror movie stalker, whispering, breathing hoarsely, singing seductively, entrancing victims with the sound of my voice and my flute. It is a piece full of surprises, of 'what is around the next corner', which we've enhanced on the album by recording in a space with a 5-second reverb.

Tim Munro performing the American composer Tom Johnson's work Counting Duets (Vimeo).

Tom Johnson's Counting Duets have me trading maths puzzles with a mirror image of myself, and in order to give these pieces a sort of 'arc', some are shouted, some whispered, some sung, some cried with desperation verging on the manic. John Cage's Aria for solo voice is a tour de force, juxtaposing ten vocal styles and five languages. The version on this album turns the Aria into an old-fashioned radio drama, giving each vocal style its own background effects: rain, footsteps and the odd passing car to give a film noir tinge to the sound of a 1950s telephone voice; cathedral bells and an expansive reverb for the voice of a deep, rich Russian bass; and the hiss and crackle of an old 78 for the voice of a warbling old mezzo-soprano.

one two three is chock-a-block full of things I didn't know were possible ten years ago, and although the decade-long journey has had some unexpected twists and turns, I wouldn't change a bloody thing...

Further links

Tim Munro: One, two, three - digital album/cassette details and purchase links (Parlour tapes+)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Brisbane-born flutist Tim Munro (b. 1978) joined Chicago-based, Grammy-winning contemporary music sextet eighth blackbird in 2006. One two three is his first solo album.


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