Academy OPUS XXI in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, France

This summer I have been invited to take part in the OPUS XXI International Summer Academy for Contemporary Music. From 21st to 30th August, a group of 37 musicians, composers, teachers and organizers spent an intensive time at the beautiful La Chartreuse in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, an old Carthusian monastery dating back from 14th century. A special thing about this academy is that the 14 participating musicians – mostly young professionals – were working with the same number of teachers and lecturers, plus there were six composers (four of which had pieces performed by the participants and teachers) and a team of four organizers and technicians. In ensemble rehearsals, the participants from France, Germany, Austria, the United States, Turkey, Chile, Belgium and Denmark mixed with the teachers of Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin (KNM). Hereby we all worked at eye level since most of the participants were well experienced in playing contemporary music, while KNM members also could jump in quickly with advice when needed.

Each day started with an improvising session at 9 am. In some of our sessions we made use of the monastery’s vast buildings and corridors, such as the old church ruin in which a couple pidgeons joined our improvisation (and went bananas on it!) or the cloister which turned out to be an ideal space for one of James Tenney’s postcard pieces. Since the weather was great throughout the time, I enjoyed our outside improvising sessions even more.

Two hours of chamber music rehearsals followed, and after the splendid lunch in the wonderful garden restaurant at La Chartreuse, a daily lecture was offered. The lectures were about audience development; the connection of composition and improvisation; musical edition; analysis; presentations of the residing composers.

From there we went directly to the afternoon rehearsals for the next two hours, until we had the possibility to hear another lecture – e.g. a fundraising workshop, artistic research – then go to the bar for an aperitivo and enjoying ourselves at dinner in the garden restaurant again.

As for the four hours of rehearsals, not everyone played in every piece, so for most of us there was some time off between rehearsals or time to practice.

I myself was playing in French composer Philippe Leroux’s piece VOI (REX) from 2002. Leroux was this year’s composer in residence but unfortunately was not able to come because he fell sick a few days before the academy. His composition, however, involves a female singer and electronics plus percussion, flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello.

Other pieces rehearsed were Naomi Pinnock’s ukuðr and Matthias Kranebitter’s Denudationen 1-118, as well as two commissions composed by Benjamin Scheuer (Germany) – the piece that features the nice rubber piggies in the picture above the text – and Jérôme Bertholon (France).

At the end of the week we had two concerts, both on the same evening. The first concert was mainly performances of the teachers: Vocalist Donatienne Michel-Dansac presented several short solo pieces by Georges Aperghis who is known for his compositional treatment of the voice; pianist / improviser Henry Fourès and percussionist Thibaud Weber gave an intense performance of Luc Ferrari’s A la recherche du rhythm perdu (1978) for piano, percussion and tape.

The second concert featured the chamber music pieces we had been rehearsing. In both concerts, ″improvisations″ were added which our teachers had made up for us in class. From my point of view, this was a too much restricted way of improvising which was narrowed down to three preassigned noises per musician that were to be played at strictly determined moments. The core of im-pro-visation, the unforeseeable, was eliminated from those performances, making it more a ″provisation″, a foreseeable performance. The main problem I see here is that the lack of spontaneity for sure affected our attitude on stage. The feedback we got from several people in the audience was that the performance was lacking tension and awareness. In my opinion, it is okay to play structured improvisations with some kind of ″schedule″ or ″score″, but there should always be space for spontaneous ideas. Improvising is much more interesting when one decides to trust in colleagues and students and to rely on their ability to create and react in an inspriring way that allows moments of unforeseen charm and beauty (or ugliness).

After this intense week of lectures, rehearsals and sunshine, I was happy to spend a day in the medieval town Avignon before heading back home to Germany.

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The Banff Centre

Thanks to support by Goethe Institut and Federal Foreign Office I have been able to carry out several projects in Canada this fall, and a collaboration during composer Todd Harrop’s residency at the Banff Centre (Alberta) was the first one. I joined Todd for the last week of his residency, from September, 27 to October, 6. Todd had been working on a new composition for Bohlen-Pierce clarinet in the past weeks, and in this last week we were finishing it and preparing it’s premiere in Toronto.

Coming from North Germany, my trip took 21 hours in the whole, flying from Hamburg via Amsterdam to Calgary and from there taking the shuttle bus to Banff in the Rocky Mountains, two more hours to go.

Todd’s seven week residency has been financed through a generous scholarship from Conseil des arts et des lettres Québec. Shortly after my arrival I made first acquaintances with some of the other artists in residence from Mexico, Ireland, Iceland and Austria. Musicians, composers, visual artists and writers staying at the Banff Centre for residencies each have their own wooden cottage as a studio, each of which is designed by one architect individually. These studios are situated in a small forest and are called Leighton Artists’ Colony. They are designed to match the needs of composers or writers, some are made for visual artists. One of the studios is a repurposed fishing boat, another one is round with lots of light from above – ideal for a visual artist – and the Valentine’s which was Todd’s working space has a grand piano and huge windows around the desk which give a direct view into the woods with its pine-martens, squirrels and deer.

I was happy to be given my own little practice hut for the duration of my stay. About 30 of these little huts for musicians are situated on the whole Banff Centre area, and mine was the one at the access to Leighton Artists’ Colony. Practice huts are about 2 x 2 m and have a music stand, a desk and a piano. They have a heat, too so that even in fall one does not need to be cold.

Besides working on my projects – Todd Harrop’s new composition Bird of Janus, preparing my solo-recital in Toronto (practicing, program notes, programming electronics) and preparing my masterclass in Montreal – I enjoyed the vast and beautiful landscape of the Rocky Mountains and the deer and elk on campus.

At the end of our stay Todd and his fellow artists – Mina Bárcenas, Daniela Edburg, Ilián González – presented their work in an open studio event. The video and photography projects of the three Mexican artists went well together with Todd’s electronic compositions of the past weeks, plus I gave several performances of the new Bohlen-Pierce piece Bird of Janus. Visitors of our exhibition were artists and musicians staying at the Banff Centre as well as many staff members. Thanks to Banff Centre for providing wine and finger food!

The next day – our last day in Banff – I once more enjoy the splendid music library on campus. In the afternoon Todd and I went on a little hike to the hoodoos, an unusual group of rocks which are one of the area’s attractions.

On 6th October we left Banff for Ontario for my solo recital at Gallery 345 in Toronto on 9th Ocotber, and later travelled to Montreal like I did a year before to give another masterclass in interpretation of contemporary clarinet music at Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. Montreal’s avantgarde concert location Vergil Reality hosted a concert of Roxy auto-config.

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Bohlen-Pierce Notation

If you are interested in Bohlen-Pierce notation, have a look at my paper about BP notation. It discusses several proposals of BP notation, plus it explains a new chromatic notation system developed by me, using a staff of six lines.


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The Clarinet Cache

The Ms Mullerful blog has been silent for a long time. The past months have been busy: Organizing a Canada tour with concerts and a masterclass (October), renovating an moving into my new studio, planning a Bohlen-Pierce ear training class with my colleagues Georg Hajdu and Konstantina Orlandatu which will start in October at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, plus several performances. However, I am going to write about my upcoming projects such as touring Canada (Banff, Toronto, Montreal) and the BP ear training class. In my next article I am going to suggest a Bohlen-Pierce notation.

 By then I would like to recommend a splendid blog run by to young women, Kellie Lignitz and Rachel Yoder. On the clarinet cache you will find a lot of information around clarinet, clarinetists, pedagogy and equipment. Most lately the authors have been reporting about the Clarinet Fest which this year took place in Lincoln, Nebraska. Enjoy!

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La Scena Musicale

The latest issue of “La Scena Musicale”, a big Montreal music magazine, has an article about the Bohlen-Pierce system and the BP clarinet. During one of my stays in Montreal, author Marc Chenard asked me and my colleague Todd Harrop for interviews and turned them into a concise article.

For the English version, press here and scroll to page 10.

For the French version, press here and scroll to page 14.

Furthermore, Marc Chenard led an interview with clarinet maker Stephen Fox (Toronto) who is the one to make Bohlen-Pierce clarinets. You can find the interview on the Scena Musicale blog.

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Karen Rose: Helenka

Some time ago I have been part of a beautiful film project. Canadian dancer Karen Rose made a short film version of her project ″Helenka″ and asked Todd Harrop to compose new music for it. He asked me to record the clarinet track to carry out his musical ideas, and violist Robin Streb added the string part, along with Todd himself on percussion and (a very old detuned) piano. Here is the touching result:

Helenka from Karen Rose on Vimeo.

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Wendy Carlos Scales and the Bohlen-Pierce Clarinet

Some alternative tunings that I like a lot are the Wendy Carlos scales. One of them, called Carlos Alpha, divides the perfect fifth into nine steps. As a result, it has almost just minor and major thirds (312 and 390 cents). Plus it is a non-octave scale, and the amazing thing is that the interval closest to the octave is the same as in the Bohlen-Pierce scale: 1170 cents or 49/25. Realizing this, I picked up my Bohlen-Pierce clarinet to try out if Carlos Alpha would be possible and comfortable to play. Here is a successful trial I made. My idea was to be able to play together with a keyboard tuned to the same scale. I connect my Yamaha Clavinova (1991) to Cakewalk Rapture, an inexpensive softsynth that has access to Scala files. As someone who is not very good at programming I appreciate this solution a lot as it gives me every scale I want just by pressing one button. Using Rapture, the scales are tuned to middle c’ (262 Hz). And here we go! I started my explorations on the notated c’ on the BP clarinet (sounding pitch: c’ +22 ct) which meant just a slight correction of pitch by fingering. Playing up through one tritave, there were many notes that are easy to achieve, some of them even by use of the normal clarinet fingering, and only two notes turned out to be unachievable because they are in between two BP notes, just above the register break where the keywork for the little fingers is used. Microtonality of any kind is hard or even almost impossible to achieve in that region on any clarinet due to ″all or nothing″ keys and relatively big toneholes that are either open or closed. Modulation by fingering like half-holes is not possible (few exceptions and little tricks).

Speaking of ″playing up through a tritave″: I was wondering that the Carlos ″tritave″ came perfectly with the same fingering than the starting note; there is no perfect tritave (twelfth) in Carlos Alpha! Instead of 1902 ct (BP perfect tritave) it is 1872 ct in Carlos Alpha. I listened closely to my BP clarinet and found that with right that fingering I was using for the c’ the tritave was slightly flat. This is a helpful coincidence, and usually all tritaves are totally fine with my BP clarinet thanks to a good maker.
For those who want to try out my fingerings it is important to know that my BP clarinet has two extra keys. They usually do not have any real ″function″; I asked for them when I ordered the instrument to be able to play better and more mulitphonics, bisbigliandi etc. So my BP clarinet is probably the only one worldwide that has additional e’ flat and g’# keys on the upper joint. However, these keys turned out to be very helpful playing Carlos Alpha, and in my fingering chart I wrote down these fingerings but added alternatives for those who do not have extra keys.
As in all microtonal fingering charts, it is likely that little changes in the fingerings have to be made, depending on the properties of the clarinet which is used and the habits and material of the player. And, seriously: It’s for Bohlen-Pierce clarinet. Not for a B flat clarinet.

The fingerings marked ″special″ are the ones that are only playable on a BP clarinet with extra e flat and / or g# key. Two notes require to put your tongue flat on the reed to flatten the pitch considerably. ″ø″ means half hole.

And here is the fingering chart. Have fun exploring more xenharmonic woodwind spaces!

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