Slight hand of Mentorship
Making space for curiosity in art making – ruminations on working outside one’s genre and practice
In July, Artistic Director Michelle St Anne was a successful applicant to Ensemble Offspring’s Hatched Mentorship Program. Through one-on-one mentoring sessions Ensemble Offspring’s musicians and collaborating composers Véronique Serret and Jason Noble generously shared their experience in how they approach their instrument and composition.
Michelle reflects on the process of co-authourship in LRT’s upcoming The Reckoning – guided through the learnings she gained from the Hatched Mentorship Program, which enabled her to step into a musician’s viewpoint.
Mentorship comes in all forms, and over my career most of the programs have been combative. A silent competition between student and guru; colleague against colleague with a handful being nurturing, eventful and validating. Most memorable were Aarne Neeme and Richard Murphett, where their slight hand led me to the artist I wanted to be and not what they wanted me to be. They taught me how to receive feedback and how to work it into my practice. It was ok to discard.
So I applied to participate in the mentorship program as I believed it would provide me a quiet opportunity to learn from a broader field of composers and musicians of how we listen. Although I am not a traditional composer (meaning scored) my recent works have given me the opportunity to explore exactly how I compose collaboratively with sound makers and other artists. My last project ‘the foul of the air’ worked with an ever changing double bass ensemble that circled around a core of 5. The process took 3 years and the result was a specific kind of listening beyond sound but included our relationship to space, costume, light and bodies.
Currently I am working on a piece called ‘The Reckoning’ which investigates listening through the act of silencing. So I chose my two mentors because Véronique and Jason are both theatrical in their performance styles.
Although both artists are classically trained they are each consistently curious with Serret’s body of work teasing extraordinary collaborations. I thought she would have advice on how I could support musicians in throwing out everything that they have learnt and reshape through a theatrical lens. Her advice was playful and pointed. Ask the musician to generate 6 sounds from their instruments, that I could then manipulate; thread; compete; code. A simple instruction, but it brings a simple non threatening co-authorship between myself and the ensemble.
‘The Reckoning’ includes Microfiche – a six piece improvising ensemble. They have been together for eight plus years and during that time have developed their own language and style. Obsessed with two of their albums I approached them to join LRT as an ensemble in residence. My inquiry – what is it to break Microfiche?
During two studio sessions it became apparent that this was a tricky task. My approach needed to be far more nuanced yet prescriptive and the caring scaffolding requiring a different attention.
Compositionally, I am fascinated by minimalist composer Steve Reich and contemporary jazz artists, because most of the time I don’t know how to listen to it. So to access these sonic works I hone in on how their bodies shift, where they are on stage and how they play their instrument. This allows me to hold my attention and listen through the whole of my being.
My other mentor, Jason Noble is a clarinettist. My questions were around breath, breathing and the inflection of both to create a subliminal tapestry. Using the composition of Alex Vaughan’s Hevel (Breath) for piccolo and bass clarinet we went through a series of exercises of where the breath was drawn from and where it was placed. Jason very kindly surrendered to my process playing me the breadth of his technique.
The sessions allowed me to discuss the issues that I have on the rehearsal floor working with those outside my discipline and process so that I can adequately address them from a musician’s viewpoint. This is imperative to create works that push at the boundaries of genre and practice.
My ambition is to remain curious in my art making and contribute to the cultural sector by creating works that don’t always have a marketing home but which build conversations between artists who sit between genre. I have seen what this opportunity meant for the growth of composer/musician Will Hansen. I am humbled to be part of the program and can’t wait to see where the conversations lead and how I it contributes to the colourful tapestry of my practice.
Jason Noble is one of Australia’s most adaptable clarinettist, spanning the classical to experimental and improviser genres. He has performed at music festivals from Warsaw to London and throughout Australia. His two album releases reflect his collaborations with Australian composers.
Véronique Serret is a super versatile violinist, vocalist and composer whose repertoire ranges from contemporary art music to folk, rock and improvisation. She is know for her inclusive sound world and her original work on the 6-string violin blended with vocals.