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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

la petite girafe travaille a la domicile

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La petite girafe travaille a la domicile. —
A story with the little giraffe

This is not going to end up as a new corona-blog. In the course of setting up my new homepage I figured out that the last story with the little giraffe dates back to 2019. What a desaster. I have made the most ambitious LPG-plans for 2020, but it all has come different. As we’ve finally headed back to working from home I’m getting overtaken by the feeling that this should be a somewhat familiar situation to a composers. Of course it is—and of course it isn’t.

Krzysztof Penderecki, the great Polish composer who passed away but a few months ago, was also known for sketching some of his compositional ideas on small tables in coffee houses, which has influenced his way of notating his music. Other than that, composers usually love to ponder over their ideas in peaceul seclusion. Silence helps us because it wouldn’t distort the sounds that we bear in our minds before we write them down, unless we consider that silence itself can be regarded as music. If I listened to the silence in a way I listen to music by John Cage, it would definitely distort my thoughs while composing a new piece. Nonetheless I daresay that I believe it is easier to think of a nice microtonally tuned harmonic progression when there’s less obvious noise around oneself than in a coffee house.

I’m definitely missing having a cup of coffee at the Baristas across from our university building or the unhurriedly homelike Kaiserfeld in Graz these days, though. Art is not only something meant to be shared with as many people as possible but art will also not become seen, if people do not come together. People come together in concert halls and people meet and talk about music and art at places such as the Kaiserfeld. Thus, even my work as a composer cannot be done entirely from home. The act of composing is done at home, whereas bringing a new work to the audience isn’t.

Well, as 2021 nears, let’s be optimistic. Here you are some thirteen giraffe-like plans for the coming year that cannot be done at home:

  1. Drink a cappuccino at Kaiserfeld’s.
  2. Go to see a film at the cinema and grumble about it afterwards.
  3. Argue Ferneyhough’s notation with other musicians—accompanied by a pint of Guinness in order to entirely understand what this is all about.
  4. Turn the pages for a pianist at a concert
  5. Go to a vernissage and ask the artist a silly question.
  6. Hand out flyers at various public places.
  7. Play on an old organ (not in concert).
  8. Play on a singing bowl (in concert).
  9. Visit the Funeral Museum Vienna.
  10. Try to sell a replica of Kircher’s Maltese Observatory on a flea market.
  11. Visit Italy.
  12. Go to the Kunsthaus in Graz and purchase a little friend for the little giraffe.
  13. Travel to Kapfenberg by train, see if they have finally rebuilt the station there and go back again (there’s nothing special about Kapfenberg).

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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

The Adventure In The Christmas Tree

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The Adventure In The Christmas Tree —
A story with the little giraffe

Christmas is almost over. ‘Tis about time to recap what has happened in the past hours. As giraffes are not typically involved in Christmas ceremonies, I though it would turn out to be a somewhat tough task to write about something Christmassy linked to the little giraffe. Guess what! Stories arise from fir trees and there is even absolutely no need to touch upon Christmas songs.

The day before Christmas, our Christmas tree—a fir with fluffy needles—was already mounted in the dining room not being brightened up in the usual festive way yet. The idea that burst into my mind was the following: It might make a funny picture to place the little giraffe on the very top of the fir tree, virtually acting as the only decorative element of the sawn down indoor plant.

This is what I did. Or let’s put it this way: This is what went awry instead of resulting in a nice picture for my blog. We have already discussed at this place, that the little giraffe is a rather frangible animal. Small injuries such as broken legs or a fallen off tail are usually mended on the fly. If the little giraffe happens to be totalled or if it suffers multiple organ failure, it might become necessary to consult the construction manual.

During the photo session on the fir tree, the little giraffe first fell of its assigned twig. In the course of the tumble, it lost two legs and the tail. One might not assume that such an accident was to be considered serious, because obviously it would not have been necessary to look into the construction manual to restore its vital functions. What troubled me was the fact that one leg and the body of the little giraffe landed safely on the floor, but the other leg and the tail got lost in the limbs of the fir tree.

Any Christmas tree displays itself as a perfect cloak of invisibility for little giraffes’ appendages. After having scanned the fir for more than half an hour I went over to looking for another solution to have our little giraffe bounced back. We have to take into consideration at this point that construction sets for little giraffe like animals contain more components than actually needed. I had a quick look at the spare parts stock just to find out that only one part of an extra tibia was left. A little giraffe never ever breaks its shins. Two of these bone fragments would have made my day, but one solemn splinter proved useless.

I tried to shake the fir tree in order to hear something falling down other than a needle. I even fetched my smart phone in order to illuminate every corner of the tree. Finally the lost pieces of plastic have somehow made it all the way down to the floor too and the giraffe was repaired successfully.

Hoping that you will excuse me for not providing you a better picture of the little giraffe towering over the giant Christmas tree for some obvious reasons I’d like to wish you happy reading—
Season’s greetings and best wishes for the New Year!

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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

Looting The Advent Calendar

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Looting The Advent Calendar —
A story with the little giraffe

The little giraffe is back. After it had been sleeping in its tiny transportation box for a week, I have finally found some time to help it struggling to its feet. It is indeed quite complicated to remember, which foot belongs to which side of the animal and I’m afraid, it has already grown accustomed to the fact thus far, that a left hand attached to a right elbow is akin a right hand attached to the very same elbow. Perhaps the brown stains are on different places each time, but that does not seem to bother the little giraffe in a discernible way.

Unfortunately the little giraffe could not listen to the rehearsals in Brussels. Rehearsing an orchestral piece always means: do not waste any time—at least, when the piece is too difficult for the orchestra to just sight-read it perfectly. Usually my works are not as easy and keep everyone busy enough. Alors, no selfies with the little giraffe, je suis désolé. However, there will be an audio recording of A Manifesto Mill available on this website soon, so you might wish to listen to it.

Rehearsing with an ensemble is very often far more unhurried. There is usually even time to discuss playing techniques or questions of notations directly with the musicians or try out two or three different versions of one section. As you can see, the little giraffe enjoyed the Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles playing four pieces of contemporary music in Mons at a very nice venue called Arsonic. The place used to be a firewarden once and was inaugurated as a concert hall in 2015. We have experienced a wonderful concert there on November 30 that was well-attended—roughly 100 people joined the event which I found definitely remarkable. It also meant for me to speak a lot of French. Most unfortunately I am not very familiar with the very language. Wallonia is a French-speaking region and the primary language is used in conversations rather than English, though.

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What has happened since then? On December 1 Advent started. Along with St Nicholas the famous 24 days every dentist is overwhelmingly looking forward to are now being counted down. By the way, this was the last photograph of St Nicholas seen alive. It was taken on December 8. We tried to make the little giraffe look a wee bit Christmassy as well and had St Nicholas passing his sash on to it. For the little giraffe, the tiny bell proved somewhat heavy, but finally she could bear the chocolate bishop’s burden. Thankfully, because the latter is no longer among us.

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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

En Voyage

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En Voyage —
A story with the little giraffe

Sometimes composers go on a journey. This does not mean that the little giraffe needs to be left alone at home, though.

I have not been counting, how many times one of its four fragile legs fell off the little giraffe. Let’s be honest: It’s not the most resistant animal evolution came up with. However, when it gets down to travelling, this brittleness proves to be somewhat useful. Due to it, the little giraffe fits into a tiny paper box which fits into the camera bag in turn. It has neither building blocks of metal incorporated, nor a rechargeable battery, thus it easily passed all security checks at the airport. We do not know how many extra emissions of carbon dioxide it has caused—we might take that thought into consideration one other time.

On our way to the [‘tactus] Young Composers’ Forum in Brussels which starts this Monday, we stopped at the Munich airport, where the little giraffe watched a parking plane.

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Other than that, this place presented itself quite expensive. Don’t get too hungry there. It’s not the place where you’d fancy more than one cappuccino just to kill time too. Try reading a book instead. They have installed seats obviously designed to relax in a rather non-sitting way. Using it cannot be described as lying either. It’s like hanging around in one of those chairs they used to have in spas. Perhaps someone thought that passengers should be compensated somehow for being packed like sardines in a tin in the fuselage of an aeroplane. Not everyone feels as indifferent about that as the little giraffe, I’m convinced.

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Brussels gave us a warm welcome in the evening and all the scores have arrived safely in the suitcase. I have already unboxed the little giraffe in order to have its first photo shooting in Belgium. The Belgian Solutions are absolutely hilarious, by the way and culinary investigations into Belgian beer are to be conducted in the coming days of course. But first and foremost I’m looking forward to the composers’ forum in Brussels and Mons and to rehearsing my works A Manifesto Mill with the Brussels Philharmonic and Échos éloquents with the ensemble Musiques Nouvells respectively. Drop by in the next days again as the little giraffe will stay curious and continue to have a thirst for adventure.

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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

Drinking Coffee

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Drinking Coffee —
A story with the little giraffe

The Irish word for whisky, uisce batha, means water of life. Since drink-driven composing would lead to strictly forbidden dissonances in the best case and in any other case to directly redirecting a musical draft to /dev/null, some endearing people have introduced us to drinking coffee in the occident just a few centuries ago.

One of the first odes to the very hot drink that became well known, dates back to the 1730s. It originally flowed out of J. S. Bach‘s quill, who then wrote a work for choir and orchestra called Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), today widely known as Coffee Cantata. It is not delivered how many drinks it took him to accomplish finishing the piece, however we do know that he relied upon a text by Picander and that it was premiered in a coffeehouse, the former Zimmermann’sche Kaffeehaus in Leipzig. Picander, who obviously had little confidence in his civic name Christian Friedrich Henrici and who was just a few steps away from becoming Oberpostkommissar in 1734 wrote some of the texts Bach used in his cantatas. In an idle moment in 1732 this poet-clerk sat down on his desk to write verses like this one:

Du böses Kind, du loses Mädgen,
Ach! wenn erlang ich meinen Zweck,
Thu mir den Coffe weg.

Translated to English, it would not get any better:

You bad child, you wild girl!
Oh! If only I could have my way:
get rid of coffee!

However, if we have the jog trot–the person singing the lines is called Schlendrian–turned into music by Bach, these lines would not sound like being jotted down carelessly at all. On the contrary: it is as astonishing as funny, how a perfectionist such as Bach intoned the figure of the jog trot. Obviously, the following paragraph had to be transfigured into an aria sung by the choir:

Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffe süsse,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muscaten-Wein.
Coffe, Coffe muß ich haben;
Und wenn iemand mich will laben,
Ach so schenckt mir Coffe ein.

Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
smoother than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I must have coffee,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
ah!, just give me some coffee!

In 1745 a less known coffee cantata by Nicolas Bernier was edited in Paris. In his work Le caffé for solo soprano, flute or violin and continuo, Bernier lauded the drink:

Agreable Caffé, quels climats inconnus
Ignorent les beaux feux que ta va peur inspire?
Ah! tu contes dans ton empire
Des lieux rebelles a Bachus

Other than that, Bernier seemed to be more into extolling higher planes as his other cantatas are in large part dedicated to figures such as Calysto, Cybelle, Aminte et Lucrine, Iris, Vénus and to the portrait of the Greek muse Urania.

I was also looking for pieces that were written within the recent decades and which feature the black beverage prominently. Certainly there are some dozens of composers who have written exactly such a desired piece, but how could we find these treasures? Sometimes it is a good start to rummage through the mica database. This is what I did and the most promising result I got was a piece called Radiocafekaffeemaschine by Max Nagl. I’m gonna listen to that one, if I can dig it up somewhere. Maybe it refers to a percolator that was taped at the café next to the Viennese Funkhaus as the piece is described as an experimental audio feed in the database. Who knows? We will not start reading coffee drags, will we?

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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

A New Recording

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A New Recording —
A story with the little giraffe

Shh, listen! The little giraffe unboxed the big green headphones and is enjoying a first sonic impression of a new piece. Let’s have a look at how an audio recording emerges from the silence of a formerly white paper.

Recordings are definitely a crucial part in documenting a composer‘s work. Too often it occurs that a piece is written only for a particular event. Once the work is premiered, it would disappear into the abyss of oblivion. That is not exactly the intention of many of the composers who are affected by the very phenomenon. There are a couple of ways of how to face that issue. One good approach is to record the works. Not only can a good recording be shard via the internet or broadcasted by a radio station, it also documents the first interpretation the piece which is very often developed in a close collaboration with the composer. Sometimes composers conduct their music themselves or play it on the instrument that is most familiar to them. It is still interesting, for instance, to listen to Stravinky’s own interpretation of his famous ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, although there might be better and more enthralling versions conducted by Boulez. Undoubtedly Stravinsky’s interpretation remains a very important and historically relevant source all the same. By the bye, Le Sacre du Printemps has never had to fight for its omnipresence of course: It burst into being already at its premiere, accompanied by one of the most notorious scandals in the recent chapters of music history.

Let’s jump back into the 21st century. Last year, in 2018, I started to compose a cycle of 21 oracles for the piano. In the same summer I finished the first book which I dedicated to Richard Dünser, my teacher in composition, to his 60th birthday. On this occasion a CD with works by Richard Dünser and his students is scheduled to be released in the coming months and my first book of oracles will be part of the disc. I rehearsed the work for nearly a whole year until I dared to stage it for the first time in June 2019. It is always a somewhat good idea to play a new work several times in public or at least for some invited friends before recording it. The premiere which took place in the Alte Schmiede in Vienna was quite successful—I even sold some of my ORF portrait CDs at the event—so I felt optimistic enough to record it at the end of July in Graz.

Everything went fine and the recording session ended up in a stack of some hours of uncut material. It was a somewhat brilliant idea to keep records accurately of all the takes that were poor and those few that might be considered usable. At the end of the day the cut version looked like a rag rug, but thanks to the ingenious tonmeister Simon Dünser it does sound brilliant now and makes me very much looking forward not only to holding the CD in my hands, but primarily also to feeding it my CD drive.

By the way, in the meantime I fixed two concerts in 2020 on March 15 in Graz and on April 25 near Zagreb, where I will play the work live and where I will hopefully sell some more CDs—the new ones as well.

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la petite girafe Miscellaneous

Proofreading the Parts

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Proofreading The Parts —
A story with the little giraffe

Writing a decent piece of music is the one thing. Let’s call it the exciting part of a composer’s work. Admittingly, reflecting—for hours and hours—on what kind of sound should come next isn’t always so exciting, though. However, once a piece of music is written it cannot be considered finished—at all.

Usually, the primary outcome of a composer’s work is a score. Of course it would be quite impracticable for the musicians to play from a full score, at least when we’re speaking about orchestra pieces or such music written for large ensembles. For that reason, the seperate parts are extracted from the score and need to be put into a pleasant layout in order that the musicians can read their parts most easily.

Finishing one part might take up to two hours, depending strongly on the length of a piece and the complexity of the graphics of the notation. When each part is done and looks nice, I always print the entire parts and continue working with the paper sheets. I observed that proofreading the parts only on a screen would lead me to overlooking too many mistakes, so I do this step of procedure in a rather old-fashioned way with a red pencil.

Now, let’s have a look at what the little giraffe can see on the picture. There’s a decrescendo-al-niente-line that’s colliding with the barline. This isn’t really looking so terribly beautiful and would perhaps bedevil the legibility of the part, so it needs to be patched. Furthermore, I marked a tempo text. As you can see, the A tempo is too close to the molto rall. and a musician could read A tempo rall. instead of playing the first bar A tempo and starting the molto rall. in the second one.

So, proofreading is somewhat important and one should carry out this work very carefully as it needs plenty of time and concentration.

In the end, there is one golden rule: The most annoying mistakes won’t reveal themselves, unless the final score is printed in high quality. (-;