Ferroud, Bergère Captive
A funny thing happened at Tiananmen Square. As described in the previous post and after playing in the pedestrian tunnel, we went up and lingered for a while behind police barricades that protected the locked gates of The Forbidden City.
That first night, I couldn’t really figure out what all the fuss was about, and why there were so many people crowding the sidewalk in the hot, humid air. For sure it was amazing being there – we were in such a wondrous state of shock to find ourselves finally in Beijing – and I had fun trying to figure out how many undercover cops there were, taking photos of the tourists on their i-Pads.
It was only the next day when we were trying to sort out what we might do over the next couple of days that I mentioned I really wanted to play flute in Tiananmen Square, and record a bit. It turns out that, unbeknownst to me, that’s where we actually were the night before! I got teased relentlessly over the next few days for being so clued out, which actually was pretty funny…has that kind of thing ever happened to you? Not the teasing part so much, as having been someplace amazing and not actually realized at the time?
Anyways, a few days later we did make it back to Tiananmen. It was late one morning, after the heat had kicked in and tourist groups had descended on the massive open plaza. The line-up for Mao’s Tomb was hopelessly long, so we just kind of wandered around for a while, trying not to lose each other in such a sea of humanity. It was kind of like Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, but without the arcades and roller coasters. As pictured above, an identifying flag might have been useful!
As we were leaving, I realized that I still hadn’t played my flute, so doubled back to courageously set up and play. I wasn’t sure if it would be such a wise idea to open a case and, uh, start assembling a shiny metal object in broad daylight in Tiananmen. So, as I played, kneeling over my music in the open square, I was keeping my eye open for approaching security in case there was a problem…it wasn’t the first time that I half-expected to feel the clasp of a white-gloved hand of the law on my shoulder.
Mid-phrase I glanced up and made eye contact with a father and his young son, who had paused and stood a little ways off, listening as I played.
No security, no hassles, just a bit of appreciative applause from my attentive little audience as I dis-assembled my flute and hastily packed up my things to rejoin my patiently awaiting friends!
Our first night in Beijing, we of course headed straight across town to check out Tian’an Men Square. Turns out the gates were locked tight, but we had a great adventure and caught a vivid glimpse of present-day China.
Just as we were nearing our destination, I spotted the entrance to this largely deserted underground passageway, and we actually ended up hanging out for quite a while, making music and meeting some young students who happened to wander through. The vibe was relaxed and informal – even some workers and the guards on night duty took a smoke break and let us do our thing, as enraptured as we were with the heavenly acoustics!
Hanging out on a bench at the far end of the tunnel, some vagrant teens were partying away happily for the duration, their voices adding an unruly backdrop to this otherwise pastoral recording of Debussy’s Syrinx.
Finally we carried on, heading back above-ground to brave the crowds streaming along the darkened streets towards Tian’an Men Square and the gates of The Forbidden City, a veritable river of humanity in the night!
An intriguing gallery entranceway – derelict and unassuming – caught my eye as we rolled into Beijing’s famed Dashanzi Art District. Or at least I thought it was a gallery. Upon closer inspection it turns out it was somehow even better!
I’m still convinced that this was an elaborate art installation, simulating a functioning storage space, serving as a hub for the work crews shoveling sand into nearby wheelbarrows and the guys wearing hardhats who were clambering in and out of an open manhole just across the street. It even had an interactive element, which I discovered when I offered to help shovel a bit. I thought I might be pushing my luck if I joined them down in the sewers though, so I’ll just have to save urban spelunking for another time.
After recording for a little while in the ‘gallery’ pictured above, I got shooed out just as I was taking this panoramic image, which only confirms for me that this was indeed some leading-edge contemporary art installation. And hey, the acoustics weren’t so bad either!
Improv with Ambient Sound Gallery Sounds
More evocative acoustics from a gallery space in Dashanzi 798 Art District in Beijing…
Typical of the plethora of converted munitions factories cum art exhibit spaces in the north-east part of China’s capital city, the atmosphere and acoustics here were phenomenal!
After hanging out for a while, mesmerized by a video installation in the shadows behind a side partition wall, a video depicting a classical pianist performing on-stage as endless buckets of hot, liquid wax are poured over the soundboard, hammers and felts of his grand piano – the soundtrack for which you can hear in the background here – I decided to discreetly assemble my flute in a corner of the gallery and send aloft some flute sounds…hey, what the hec?
Now, you might question my decision to go ahead and play, uninvited no less, in a public space like this, but over the years I’ve developed a bit of a sixth sense with regards to, uh, red tape, so to speak. It turns out my instincts were spot on: my stealth recording had basically gone undetected, but as I was leaving, I politely asked staff if it were cool for me to play my flute a bit in their wonderful art space, an idea which was summarily shut down.
This cool reception was definitely not typical for the warm welcome that I otherwise received while playing flute while in China – everywhere from Ming Dynasty Temples on Wudang Mountain to airport waiting areas, the reaction was consistently one of cordial, friendly curiosity.
Even in Beijing’s Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, no problem…artist-types, what can I say!
Gariboldi, Etudes Mignonnes Opus 131
On my final day in Beijing, I had one last chance to do some amazing exploring.
After a morning of essential discount shopping, a gaggle of us crammed into a taxi and sat through heavy traffic to go check out Art District 798, on the outskirts of the sprawling city; it wasn’t until this last day that I got a new perspective on just how massive Beijing really is, and with so many possible things to do before heading back to Canada, I’m happy to report that it was worth the journey!
We had an incredible afternoon, poking around the quiet side streets and stopping in to behold one reclaimed gallery space after another. Hey, Beijing was really cool – don’t get me wrong – but finally, some honest-to-goodness, gritty culture!
Crammed into one huge labyrinthian city block that was once home to munitions factories, the low-slung deco buildings now house a bumper crop of galleries instead of guns. Video surveillance on every corner, mind you, keeping an eye on the graffiti artistes, souvenir shops, cafes and..uh, us!?
While our taxi driver hung around waiting patiently, I inadvertently found myself totally on my own, my friends having gone ahead somewhere to wander the galleries while I held back, camera in hand.
Close by, the open doors of White Space Gallery drew me in and offered a welcome refuge from the midday heat. My thanks to the gallery staff, who were so friendly and welcoming as they let me record one of my favourite pieces by Guiseppe Gariboldi. The vaulted ceiling made for some truly astonishing, memorable acoustics, as I’m sure you would agree as you listen.. remember, headphones recommended.
Yeah, I finally caught up with my friends, who had stopped in at a cafe down the street – I joined them for a beer to toast this last adventure together, at the end of what was truly an epic two week odyssey in China!
Hmm, I couldn’t find Opus 131 that this study comes from.. but here’s some equally charming etudes by the same composer: http://erato.uvt.nl/files/imglnks/usimg/1/1a/IMSLP173606-PMLP306573-Gariboldi_-_15_Etudes.pdf ..happy playing, et bon chance!
Karg-Elert, Caprice #18, Opus 107
Just getting blogging again after wrestling with some nasty technical issues for the past 18 months.. the good news being that most of my urban flute site content was backed up, although it appears some recent posts were lost, including tales of my urban exploring exploits while in Denmark.
On the outskirts of Copenhagen, I had spotted an amazing, abandoned warehouse just off the busy circle road, and finally found a chance to sneak in. The massive interior was fascinating, if rather scary! As I wandered alone once inside, I became captivated by the incredible graffiti adorning the interior walls.. constantly looking over my shoulder, I kept trying to remember what kind of travel insurance I had, in case some of the tag artists dropped by!!
Included in the music I had on hand, I had a copy of Karg-Elert’s 30 Caprices on me. Sigfrid Karg-Elert is one of my all-time fav composers, and once I was warmed up and settled into the space, I decided to brave the rather daunting-looking Caprice #18, the notes of which look pretty black on the page! Despite all the 64th notes, this Adagio really isn’t so bad if you bring out the sustained melodic notes – like a lot of Karg-Elert’s works for flute, this fantastical piece is very well written for the instrument and actually lies so nicely under the fingers.
I fell in love with the spacious acoustic of this desolate warehouse, and the sustained reverberation allowed the ‘vertical’ harmony of the music to bloom and create a decidedly evocative mood, especially accompanied by the waves of highway traffic sounds washing through the space.
Hey, here’s a free download.. scroll down to #18 and you can follow along!
Well, after Hurricane Sandy rips through, we may very well be looking at some of this white stuff in Ontario, somewhat prematurely mind you!
On a languid weekday afternoon and as in a dream, three of us trucked north of the city to check out an old haunt of one Canada’s most iconic visual artists. Our slushy highway meditation led us here, to this lovely cabin, sequestered on private property and tucked away in a magical, secluded forest, just beyond the Grip of Toronto.
Purported to be Tom Thomson’s place to party en route to parts north – either Algonquin Park or Owen Sound – to imagine the young Thomson and his compatriots hanging out in these very woods, this wintery interlude was so welcome and truly inspiring.. think Canada’s Group of Seven meets Narnia – although the place was locked up tight, it was like discovering some incredible time portal, akin to C.S. Lewis’ magic wardrobe!
Yeah, my improv here is somewhat, uh, improverished, but bear in mind that I was standing knee-deep in snow and admittedly absorbed in the way that the sounds of my vintage 8-keyed flute was ricocheting off the surrounding tree trunks…
Looking back on it now, I like to think the nuance and gesture of my flute-playing was like ‘sketching with sound’, perhaps even suggesting the movement of Thomson’s paintbrush over canvas or wood panel; apparently, often short on cash, he even resorted to painting on the wooden slats from flour or orange crates that he had salvaged.
Listen for the chickadee part-way through.. this, together with the husky low register of my wooden flute, are the seminal moments of this short recording, at least imhe!
Welcome toThe Diefenbunker, a throwback to ’50’s-era Cold War mentality, and where worlds collide!
Certainly not the first giant flute I have played in, and hopefully not the last, the sound of my flute echoed all the way back to the 1950’s! Admittedly a card-carrying member of the Get Smart generation, I was intrigued by this eerie and ominous entrance way to this once top-secret Canadian bunker, discreetly buried beneath farmers’ fields just 30 minutes west of Ottawa on the bucolic outskirts of Carp, Ontario.
The acoustics were captivating, though not nearly as disturbing as the 100,000 square foot underground lair that lay beyond…and for those of you who have been waiting patiently for new material on UFP, here’s a thematic bonus track.
Read more about The Diefenbunker here…definitely not for the faint of heart!
When recording in public spaces, it’s important to keep a wary eye open for friendly cops…out on the beat!
Before finding a morning coffee, I gave this lively Bach Allegro a read-through in the wonderful Galleria shortly before these two helpful Polizia offered me directions to El Duomo. Hey, I was watching out for security and caffeine-deprived, so if my tempo is a little unsteady in places, maybe go easy on me.
First time I’ve been busted for not keeping a steady beat!
Poem, Griffes (Introduction)
It was hard to leave the acoustic playground of Milan’s famous Galleria, so after finding a cafe that was open so early – believe me, something at least as strong as a double espresso was badly needed – I set up to record right under the massive central dome.
Bach had sounded great in the space, but I really wanted to see how the opening of the Paul Griffes’ evocative Poem would behave in the crazy acoustics before I carried on to the big cathedral.
Listen at the end, where these friendly polizia suggest Sunday is not the best time to be playing flute…oops, busted by la poesia di polizia, aka the Poetry Police!
NOTE: Check out the octagonal mosaic pattern in the floor, as mentioned in the previous post.
Romainmotier, Improv #1
My friends had gone ahead and were sitting in the distant shadows, somewhere down this gently sloping main aisle, a path barely discernible to me as my eyes valiantly tried to adjust to the gloom. It was this central, downward slope that left a lingering impression perhaps even more than the incredible acoustics, as I found its incline pulled me inexorably from the world, drawing me down and away into the depths of time.
Having arrived late in the day as the afternoon light was fading, it turned out we had the place to ourselves, such a remarkable gift to find ourselves alone and undisturbed; after all, we weren’t sure if the 1,500 year old abbey would even be open when we set out by car a couple of hours earlier.
Tucked in a quiet vale of the Swiss countryside north of Lac Leman, Romainmotier is extraordinary in so many ways…and our Time Travel, as we later observed, was about to begin!
Entering the atmospheric abbey space, I was immediately enveloped by darkness, save the oddly comforting glow of the large stained glass window hovering before me and the steadfast presence of a single, unwavering candle in the middle-distance. The high, vaulted ceiling soared far above, to the point of invisibility.
I remained toward the back, deftly assembled my silver flute, and sounded some notes, tentatively at first, exploring the living echoes and history of the cavernous space. Reaching out with the sound of my flute, I awakened the centuries-old mystery of the place. At times I tried closing my eyes as I played; however even with eyes wide open I could see only dim shapes.. such a strange sensation!
Improvising as I peered into the inky depths, I allowed myself to be guided by sound alone like dancing with ones eyes closed as described in the movie Pina. A dialogue gently emerged with the overlapping notes, a conversation with the invisible generations who remained in the dark, pressing in and reverberating all about me, ineffably beyond the grasp of my physical senses.
Mystery and gloom prevailed.
As we drove away into the twilight, we were left in a profoundly contemplative state, long after getting busted by the nun who came to check on the place as we were hanging out, lost in our time travel reveries!
Here’s a quaint, pre-wikipedia link that describes Romainmotier and provides a little more background info.
Phantom Concert 2
My thanks to those brave souls who attended the second in a series of innovative infiltration concerts. The CBC thankfully was on the scene to capture the extraordinary acoustics and some audience feedback as the daring and rather audacious event unfolded.
This segment, recently aired on CBC’s Radio 2, wonderfully conveys the magic and nuance of hearing fine music performed in unusual, off-limits locations – especially when you consider that audience and performers alike might have been busted by security at any moment!
After-hours on the evening of the full moon, Lucas and I performed several short sets in this purportedly haunted, abandoned ballroom high above the city, and I think there were just enough shadowy figures wandering about the space that this would qualify as a Classical Music Rave!
A special thanks to Andrew for his superb coverage and editing!
More pics and soundfiles to come, so stay tuned…
Craigie-Burn Wood, Trad
Here is another remarkable staggering recording made inside the National Rubber Industries factory as it was meeting its untimely demise last week. I’m glad that I could bear witness to the final days of this dinosaur of a building out in the the west end of Toronto, as described in the previous post.
There are more images and soundfiles, however this is the one that is truly unbelievable, and that I thought I was describing in the A Jurassic Moment (see previous post) where I described the sound of a wall crashing down. If you listened intently to the last soundfile and perhaps were disappointed, I guarantee there will be no mistaking the incredible sonic wall of sound towards the end of this recording.
I would love to score some of my playing that day for solo flute and percussion. For this one I might need the services of five percussionists! The sound of the demolition at NRI was truly symphonic in its scope, diversity and intensity!
Nice pic, eh? I love the primary colours here with the afternoon light angling in. This photo was taken just minutes before I headed up those red stairs to record. Funny to think this is all gone now.
There I go again, risking my life for Art, and all for a rubber flute.
National Rubber Industries, R.I.P.
J.S. Bach, Sarabande
My thanks to everyone at Music By The Lake for a fantastic week of music-making in a beautiful setting – some readers may recognize this view from the second-floor of the Stone House where we had our flute masterclasses and ensemble coaching sessions.
MBTL was a great experience, and the enthusiasm of the flute students a true inspiration!
On the final day, after the campers and their families had packed up and the grassy parking lot had emptied of cars, I bravely returned to the deserted Stone House to record a few pieces in this historic old house on the hill.
This is what the ghost heard!!
The Ballad of Jesse James
I have no idea why, but at times I feel like a bit of an outlaw flutist!
So you might imagine that I felt right at home playing in the Jesse James Museum while visiting Liberty, Missouri recently – such a renegade, asking if I could play my flute in the restored room that was the setting for the first daylight bank robbery in America, land-sakes, the audacity of it all!
On the lam during a lunch break while conducting music exams at nearby Jewell College, what better piece to play than the Ballad of Jesse James, especially in this evocative and even spooky space with its wood-stove, historic clock and original, creaky floors? Funny thing is that I hadn’t even heard of this piece until earlier in the day.
And perhaps odder still – a classic example of art imitating life – was that Frank and Jesse’s grandfather, a baptist minister, was one of the founders of resplendent Jewell College. How crazy is that?
I’ll put together a slideshow on Phanfare, Jewell is such a beautiful, quintessential American college campus, and I won’t get into how back in the mid-1800’s the college would only accept money from the outlaw brothers’ sister, or how the portrait of the minister that hung for generations on campus was, uh, recently donated to the Jesse James Society!
Back to the museum, it’s a rare example of pre-Civil War architecture, and it’s a good thing I didn’t play all 50 verses of the ballad – I was having such a fun time of it I near lost track of the time and had to saddle up and dash back to the Pillsbury Music Center for my afternoon session of exams!
Such a vigilante, I know, no wonder they gave me trouble at security coming home! And speaking of outlaw artists back here north of the border…
As if the rumors swirling about the infamous graffiti artist Banksy* and his first ever visit to Canada to tag random Toronto laneways wasn’t enough, I’ve heard on good repute that Greg Patillo, aka Mr. Beatbox Flute will be in town this weekend with his ground-breaking trio, Project – definitely worth checking out.
Too bad I’ll be in Denmark, but I’ve put members of my Urban Flute Ensemble on the case to sleuth out any workshops or guerrilla concerts!
Jesse James was said to be as iconic as the legendary Robin Hood, stealing from the rich, etc, and perhaps any art worth its salt also features a redistribution of wealth, at least in a fashion – the wealth that is to be found in the provocative nature of the shared aesthetic experience.
And the more daring and audacious the better, at least in my law books.
* Get it? Banksy?! -ed.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Arlen & Harburg
With time on my hands waiting to board a flight back to Toronto from Kansas City MO how could I resist sounding the opening of this classic tune from The Wizard of Oz?
Hey, besides some pretty amazing mosaics in the flooring, they actually have tornado bunkers at the KC International – how cool is that?
Getting through security was another story. As it turns out tornadoes were the least of my concerns – stories to tell, but one rainbow at a time!
Here’s the space at the east end of the terminal where I recorded…
Paul Horn, Prologue/Inside
No, I didn’t play while sitting in the hot tub here, but it was this view as I listened to the ambient sound of the water in the deserted pool area that inspired me to set up and record a bit while the coast was clear.
At the tail end of a recent conference I had been attending up near the airport, I was determined to get at least one swim in, and finding myself alone in the pool area, I couldn’t resist checking out the acoustics – sitting in back-to-back workshops was all fine and dandy, but I needed to play my flute a bit!
This terrific piece was first performed in the Taj Mahal back in the 60’s, and more about Paul Horn and how he provided the original inspiration for Urban Flute Project in upcoming posts.
Or you can read more here – not the first time I’ve played some of Paul’s music in a pool setting!