Trio Scordatura: Elisabeth Smalt, viola, voice; Alfrun Schmid, voice, violin; Bob Gilmore, keyboard /
with Anne La Berge, flute, computer
and Scott McLaughlin, sound
Scott McLaughlin – at least two things (2011)
Anne La Berge – away (2008)
Christopher Fox – BLANK (2002)
Anne La Berge – Lumps (2010-11)
Interview with Anne La Berge by Brunel Music student, Phil Maguire
Anne La Berge, internationally acclaimed flautist and member of ensembles such as Shackle, is performing at BEAM with Bob Gilmore’s Trio Scordatura. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work.
Phil Maguire: To begin, could you give a brief musical background? How did you get into performing contemporary music and using electronics, and what can the uninitiated expect from your performances?
Anne La Berge: I am a classically trained flutist with a strong passion for experiment. In my late high school years I performed music by living composers and found that the more contemporary sound worlds and structures of a handful of twentieth century composers really spoke to me. I was hooked. Using electronics is a more complicated story. A simple explanation is simply that I needed to play as loud as the other guys and amplification didn’t seem to be enough. Thus, using processing on my flute gave me that extra dimension that allowed me to enter into the sonic and dynamic domain of my laptop, electric guitar, drum playing colleagues. A more involved story includes many lovely hours working with composers such as Larry Polansky and Nick Didkovsky in the 1970s as a guinea pig for interactive computer music and algorithmically composed music. I like gadgets too.
The “uninitiated” is a very bold word. My performances often include text and narrative. I offer sound and information as food for intellectual and physical impressions. A newcomer would most likely come away with something to contemplate. That can range from what the score may look like, or how the players can play those extended techniques, to what a ganglion cyst actually is.
PM: What flautists have influenced your playing and development of your technique?
ALB: Frank Bowen, Alexander Murray, Carol Wincenc, John Fonville, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
PM: Trio Scordatura is a new venture for you. Could you explain the differences between this ensemble and your usual ventures, particularly Shackle?
ALB: Shackle’s music is almost purely electronic and the improvisations are guided by a communication strategy that includes a computer network.
Trio Scordatura uses the fantastic resources of classically trained musicians that can call up and improvise on myriads of styles in an abstract way. I would not say that my collaboration with Trio Scordatura is a new venture. I would say that it is taking part in a way of making music that has been familiar to me for many years. Some of the members of Trio Scordatura are not as active in their careers as improvisers as I am. This is perhaps what you are asking about. In that case, using buttons as controllers and interacting actively with the computer is new for Trio Scordatura. Making a piece where performers get to do those things is a more recent endeavor of mine. I’ve been building controllers for the musicians who perform my works for the last few years. I could just push all the buttons myself but I think we should all have the chance to do it.
PM: Your recent piece, “Lumps”, is a guided improvisation. Outside of the instructions on the score, are there any improvisational techniques or methods that you adhere to in your playing, or do you use such pieces as an environment for experimenting with new techniques or melodic ideas?
ALB: “Lumps” is a musical collaboration using my patch and instructions on how to use it. We all experimented in the rehearsals and we will continue to make subtle changes in each performance. That keeps the piece fresh. The priority in preparing “Lumps” for performance was to use the musical ideas that each player brought to the work while still adhering to the structure of the piece. That is, to build a performance that worked for us, gave us room to grow and still kept to the composition that I had made. I see our process as an environment for a group of musicians to make a work of art together, whatever it takes.
PM: You’re known for your radical extended techniques and custom instruments. Could you outline some of these techniques and how you developed them? Did they lead to your choice in flutes, or vice versa?
ALB: Oh my. I think there are some PhD dissertations floating around out there with those answers regarding my bag of extended techniques. Certainly in the US, Australia and Great Britain.
I imagine the flute as a tube with infinite possibilities and I imagine my body as a set of tubes with even more. Whatever I can come up with that is not too obscene I will use and I will try to find a musical context for. Blowing, sucking, clicking, popping, grunting, singing, grrr, arggg, thrwwww, flffff. And any combination of them at any given time. Close amplification helps.
The flutes I currently play are relatively recent designs. I have been playing on custom designs since the late 1970s and see it somewhat as my responsibility to the flute and the composition worlds to be able to get around on them. They certainly help with the extended techniques. For the most recent flutes I was a consultant for the design and was very glad to be part of that step in the history of flute building.
PM: Many of your pieces and performances employ the use of electronics, particularly Max/MSP. When composing, do you typically develop bespoke patches for individual pieces, or do you use the same patch(es) across many compositions?
ALB: I do most of my audio processing with the obsolete Clavia Nord Modular. For improvisations with colleagues I use the Nord. For some pieces with ensembles I try to use MaxMSP for the processing. For most of the housekeeping for my compositions I use MaxMSP and recently Abelton LIVE has found it’s way into a few works. Most of my works have common subpatches with minor or major revisions. Each piece uses a new programming technique or strategy. Sometimes very subtle. Sometimes major. MaxMSP is handy for sample playback and sample processing (which I try to keep to a minimum). It is also wonderful for organizing material over time. That is, for structuring a piece where certain things need to happen before or after other things and folks need to turn those things on and off or control them in some way. I would say that MaxMSP is our friend and can sometimes replace the written score, the conductor, the piano accompanist, the government.
PM: What do you wish to achieve with your patches, both sonically and artistically?
ALB: I fantasize that my patches would be able to behave better than I do in performance and think up all sorts of deep, interesting and engaging music for us all to interact with. At this point I use MaxMSP and the Nord to enhance and help organize the pieces I make. They also extend my audio setup.
PM: Do you consider yourself to be more a composer or an improvisor? Which do you feel is the most rewarding, and which offers the most opportunity for expanding your musical language?
ALB: Improvisers are instant composers. I compose pieces that often but not always ask the performers to improvise as part of the music making process. Some days I am a composer because I am creating a piece. Some days I am an improviser (an instant composer). Some days I am a flutist performing works of composers. Occasionally I am a poet.
Questions by Phil Maguire and Eleanor Cully.