Reflections on "un·habited space" residency April 2016

I had promised Ren I would write something about our "un·habited space" residency by July: there are two more days of July left.

I really cherished those three days of being open to thinking about nothing but art. Being able to push aside the activities of 'normal' life and the logistics of running around constantly; having that space – physically, temporally, mentally – that space locked in, was such a luxury: some days we run around so much, we keep running by default with reasons we tell ourselves. These reasons are mostly not invalid of course, but perhaps they give us more permission to inevitably become victims of our own thoughts than necessary – and mine in particular are not to be trusted.

The company, of course, added a whole new dimension to the event. To be able to hang out with Ren for three consecutive days was a privilege. I have mentioned on Facebook that we hardly spoke. The silence was not awkward, rather it was a trusting kind that didn't require us explaining, justifying ourselves. We just were, and we did. It was a kind of flowing collaboration: we left each other alone, we worked together, we drifted apart, we had coffee, we walked off, we played music.

Our guest artists and visitors brought inspiration in many, many ways. Our hosts provided a warm domestic environment in which our work could manifest organically. The happenings outside breathed life into our occasion with a contemporary Fitzroy context. It was not an individual, isolated event of Ren + Carmen: there were leading paths, with people surrounding us.

After the second night of performance, Juana had asked me how different it was to the day before. I started “Well the energy is really different...” and caught myself - “omg I sound like Ren...” she half-nodded and smiled.  If there was one main thing I learnt from playing with Ren since 2014, it would probably be the awareness of energies.

Sometime mid-residency, Ren pulled out his guitar and played. Usually when I play with Ren, in THIS ensemble, I'm totally chilled and don't give a fxck*. But, for some reason that day, Ren Walters was playing guitar. And my musician training picked up, and I could feel the pressure – so I just listened, and I enjoyed the music.

I found myself seeing the world differently for a couple of days afterwards. I smiled at everyone calmly - and checked myself after seeing their reactions. Moments, thoughts, conversations, questions and hypotheses weaved a net of memories in my head. I let them pass, I went into some of them, I crossed over to others. I knew they would be internalised. In the meantime reality beckoned and my body was hurting from playing. And then, when I least expected it, complete exhaustion set in – but in a good way.


Here is the link to Ren's Reflections on the event.

*'don't give a fxck' refers to the no reservations attitude rather than the artistic decision-making process

Somethings you just have to wait ten years...

Around 2004-6, I was weaving in and out of recording studios at Musikhögskolan i Piteå.  It was all new to me then, fresh out of the Conservatorium - I quickly embraced the medium.  I did some projects: improvisation duos, other people's works, and on ice instruments in an igloo.  And a project  I remember fondly - the sound engineer and I were both exploring techniques but most studios were booked months ahead, leaving only the graveyard shifts.  We were crazy.

I remember the Snickers and coffee machines in the foyer.  The quiet corridors after the hustle of civil people.  Walking to school in the freezing darkness after dinner.  The do-whatever-we-can playfulness when we got to school.  The work - take after take.  And plowing through knee-deep snow on shortcuts back to the student compound after several hours, relieved, joyous, exhausted, as the day broke and sleepy people arrived.

Fast forward ten years and finally, I get to work in that environment again.  Here's to keep on working.

Improv Idol

Clinton Green and I have been working on the Improv Idol concept since late last year – a conversation at a Good Improv, Bad Improv gig between inventor/composer (Clinton) and participant (Carmen) sparked keen enthusiasm. A few meetings then took place in early 2015 where we discussed things like venue options, the feasibility of making a Fringe show, the finances, the logistics among our already busy lives and schedules, and whether we could realistically pull it off. Finally, in May we decided we couldn't let this idea pass - we'd just have a crack at it.

Calendars were pulled out and we quickly put down some dates. Some broad ideas were sketched out. Improv Idol is essentially a talent show, an improv gig, with some comedy. More importantly, as experimental musicians we were wanting to explore improvisation and its current boundaries, through our contestants and judges.

It wasn't easy shortlisting contestants to our final eight – we argued over several applicants back and forth – and we're sorry we could not have everyone on board. Thank you to all of you who've applied.

We are confident however these eight contestants – and three esteemed judges – will give you a night of improv food for thought and great entertainment. We look forward to your input – your vote is important to crown Melbourne's first Improv Idol.

(P.S. in case you were wondering, we ended up not entering the Fringe just so it only costs you $10 to enjoy the night rather than $23)


Last Thursday evening I was lucky to be able to check out three inspiring works/performances/talk - by Julian Day, Matthew Horsley, Adam Simmons + Alice Chang + Lloyd Honeybrook + Clinton Green.  My ears were so fine-tuned by the end of the evening that, on my journey home, I was hearing layers of sounds on the train.  That was exciting, in a Zen kind of way.

A New Frame is Always Exciting

Finally, this old Deagan xylophone has a new frame! After falling apart at THIS ensemble last December, this baby now has a recycled Tassie oak frame. Authentic, fusion, contemporary, original. Just needs some sanding and oiling and it'll be totally delightful.

Custom built by Derryn's cousin, who's never worked on a xylophone before but he's taking orders now.

“What does THIS ensemble mean to me?” - for Clinton, and Ren

In 2014 I was invited to play with THIS ensemble 3 times.

I think for me, THIS represents a space and opportunity for Ren and his artists to experiment. There is a certain sense of fluidity and freedom – freedom to play whichever instruments, sounds or objects, do whatever - to whoever, be whatever, stop whenever, for however long, until we've exhausted ourselves physically, mentally and intellectually for the night.

But whatever, however, whoever, whenever and whichever were also not child's play and careless abandonment. Every decision was carefully thought out by each artist, in response to the other artists and the overall environment, and with the in-built artistic behaviours each of us had developed over the years of respective practices.

THIS ensemble 2014 has been a platform for live artistic experimentation.  It means that as artist, I have been allowed to work with fellow artists in a non-judgemental environment, to test my ideas, sharpen my awareness, and push my skills and knowledge.

On a less personal note, the focussed nature of 2014's last performance says to me that THIS is heading SOMEWHERE.

Thanks Ren and THIS, pleased to have been involved in 2014,

C xo

(and thanks Clinton for posing the question)



Photo: Jenny Barnes and Clinton Green at THIS ensemble, 1 Aug 2014