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30 August 2019

The Music Box Project at BIFEM

The music box project with Jasmin Leung and Jaslyn Robertson at ‘playshop’, 2018 Image: The music box project with Jasmin Leung and Jaslyn Robertson at ‘playshop’, 2018  

Elizabeth Jigalin writes about the music box project, an initiative 'collectively exploring and creating music', established five years ago by a group of emerging artists. On 6 September and 7 September, the music box project can be found at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music.

Over the past five years, the music box project's activities have been focused around creating a space and time for the collective exploration and creation of music. Since 2017, post the emergence of a creative core (consisting of Jane Aubourg, Joseph Franklin, Naomi Johnson, Peter Leung, Joseph Lisk, Tina Stefanou and myself), our activities have been centered around a monthly series at the Glebe Hotel in Sydney. Each gathering is like a yet-to-be-tested soup recipe - both with the collage of ideas explored and the people who participate (close and distant music relatives are always welcome!). A pub has proven to be a fruitful testing ground for music making! We are thankful to have a space to freely create and share music outside the usual order of things. A place where our strange experiments, unfinished thoughts, chaotic conversations and rough performances are now the roots of the performance we will be presenting as part of our BIFEM debut.

On Saturday 7 September the music box project is inviting you into a world we have built together. The foundation of this world is situated on:

• 'new-new music' - music co-created by the collective as a whole along with music composed by individuals within and outside of the collective
• 'old-new music' - music that allows us to acknowledge the legacy we have inherited from previous generations

In this world, sonic pillars (works by Moya Henderson, Joseph Franklin, Jaslyn Robertson, Jasmin Wing Yin Leung and myself) are organically interwoven by performative sinew. Our performance exists in both the 'foreground' and 'background' - we hope you are equally drawn to intimate and peripheral details as much as you are aware of the organised chaos of our performance as a whole. Every stage change, movement, sound, action and visual is intentional and we are always performing.

Musicbox met with Moya Henderson ahead of the Australian premiere,
on 7 September in Bendigo, of her 1974 music theatre work
Clearing the Air.

Four of the five pieces we are exploring have been composed especially for and with the collective and stemmed from 'playshop' - the music box project's week of learning, failing, listening and playing. Locked away in a warehouse, the collective, alongside Jasmin and Jaslyn, brewed ideas for the future music to be made together.

Below, each of the composers reflect on their work in the BIFEM program.

Jouska by Joseph Franklin

jouska 'n. a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head - a crisp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating comeback - which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage… '

'Jouska is a work that follows my own psychodrama, as played by the protagonist (mezzo-soprano Tina Stefanou). Written specifically for the music box project, the work seeks to dramatise aspects of both the individual, and the collective personalities, as seen from point of view. The idea and form follow a psychodrama curve - a method of psychotherapy developed in the 1920s by Jacob L. Moreno. This includes the warm up (Trialogue), action (Catharsis) and integration (Integration). A diamond of opposites is employed in the stage layout and the gravitational forces of contradictory 'characters' - represented by indeterminate and determinate musical events. References to core psychodrama techniques - such as mirroring, doubling, role playing, soliloquy and role reversals - appear throughout the work.'

Shallow Listening by Jaslyn Robertson

'Shallow Listening requires the performers to switch instruments throughout and features voice, theremin, toys, music boxes and pitched and electronic instruments. It is the culmination of about a year's explorations in incorporating humour, movement and more complex and personal themes to my compositional practice. The piece was written while undertaking research on alternate gazes in the music of gender oppressed people, particularly studying the works of Jennifer Walshe and Pauline Oliveros. Recently I have pushed myself to create music that is more personal and delves outside of the genres and mediums of music that I feel confident in.

'The piece was workshopped in its early stages during the music box project's "playshop" week in a warehouse. We had the pleasure of meeting Moya Henderson, who spoke to us about her experience studying with Mauricio Kagel and Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany and the subsequent reception when she brought back this "unhinged" music to Australia. Moya's story and music have inspired me to continue on this path of composing music that is comedic, experimental, theatrical, feminist, queer and subverts the male gaze.

'Shallow Listening combines a meticulously notated score for open instrumentation with a Cathy Berberian-inspired graphic page. A dark humour is revealed in the lyrical content, but I would never intend any disrespect to the reverent seriousness of the theremin canon.'

Prelude & Pickle by Elizabeth Jigalin

Prelude & Pickle is a collage of (observational, ephemeral, humorous, mundane to deeply personal) thoughts and ideas as explored by the music box project via elements of theatre, colour, movement and sound.

I conceptualised and structured Prelude & Pickle as if a fractal of our BIFEM performance as a whole - a world within a world. In composing this work, I curated my 'collage' (collection of ideas as documented in a journal I have kept for the past year) into five seemingly disparate yet interconnected sound worlds - each of which I think of as a distant relative or strange derivative of the other works that make up our program. If someone were to attempt to make sense of the web of ideas and pages upon pages of material that my work is drawn from, it may seem difficult to identify the nucleus of ideas that constitute my work. However, I know that the heart of the work is 'play' - the same heart that I believe gets the music box project's blood pumping.

In all the work I compose, like many other composers, it is always my intention to actively consider the people who will be exploring my music and the context within which my music will be shared - working on Prelude & Pickle for the music box project was no different. Composing has always been an activity of contradiction for me and so it comes as no surprise that composing for dear friends is both a joy and unsettling. A lesson in setting limitations for myself whilst I trawl through the abundance of ideas and possibilities in my mind - the product of working with such open minded, dedicated and crazy friends!

Elemental Layering by Jasmin Wing Yin Leung

'Throughout this piece, five different musical ideas occur. Although they are ordered, they can be moved between at any speed, with various space in between and repeated as many times as necessary. However, attention must be given to listening and silence. This piece is for (retuned) viola, (retuned) double bass and 3 treble voices with 3 smart phones. the music box project are asked to consider the ideas of:

• intonation, tuning, to be tuned, attuned to yourself, the group, the environment etc.
• slow motion sound
• elemental sound
• sound in a space, spaciousness and small spaces'

We are proud to begin our performance with the Australian premiere of Moya Henderson's music theatre work Clearing the Air (1974) - the oldest Australian work to be performed at BIFEM to date, 45 years after the first performance at Darmstadt where Moya was awarded First Prize in the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis! Apart from the shared conceptual threads between this work and the four new works, it seems fitting to begin our program by recognising the exploratory work created by Australian generations of composers before us. How fortunate we are to share sounds yet to be heard by Australian ears!

> View of timeline of the music box project.

Event details

the musicbox project at BIFEM 7 September 2019 - event details in the AMC Calendar
Works by Joseph Franklin, Jaslyn Robertson, Elizabeth Jigalin, Jasmin Wing Ying Leung and Moya Henderson

Further links

the music box project website (www.themusicboxproject.com)

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music (BIFEM) (https://www.bifem.com.au/)


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