Voix Nouvelles

Here are some photos from the 2018 Académie Voix Nouvelles Royaumont…

I was incredibly fortunate to be selected and receive generous support from the Fondation Royaumont, as well as the AE Floyd Memorial Scholarship (University of Melbourne) to attend both Voix Nouvelles Royaumont and the 2018 Darmstadt Summer Course. At Royaumont we had 3 weeks filled with lessons from Mauro Lanza, Philippe Hurel, Noriko Baba, sessions with members of Meitar Ensemble and EXAUDI, gave presentations on our works, sat in open rehearsals, and attended concerts as part of the festival, all alongside completing our new works; mine for flute(s), oboe, percussion, piano. A special thank you to Meitar Ensemble, and especially the tireless work from Antje Thierbach & Philipp Lamprecht for their patience and hard work on my fiendish piece! My work That ferocity within, can be found HERE. I have since revised and extended it – Australian premiere TBA!

Otherwise I had a great time getting fat on French food and dessert, making many new friends, learning the worst profanity in all our collective languages (French, Italian, Portuguese (+Brazilian), Latvian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, English (+Australian haha), and being surrounded by such interesting new music!

Royaumont Voix Nouvelles

If only I could always composer here!


New work, and New Waves for Kupka’s Piano

Having had its premiere in Brisbane earlier this year, Macarthur Clough and Angus Wilson of Kupka’s Piano recorded my new work Dust, dew for the New Waves podcast series by the ABC. Commissioned by Kupka’s Piano, my work also featured alongside works by Samantha Wolf, Samuel Smith, Hannah Reardon-Smith, and Lisa Illean.


My work Dust, dew lies within a body of duo’s I’ve been writing over the last year (and increasingly looking like to continue into 2019), exploring the nature of two musicians/people within the same setting – not necessarily playing together or at the same time. The work further delves into the microtonal, ornamental, and highly erratic material that has interested me, with a closer attention to extremes in timbre, most notably articulated by the title – that between dry and static gestures, attacks, colours etc. and those fluid, malleable, and almost slippery. I think these varying extremes also correlate rather beautifully to the extremes in parts of Australian suburbia – housing estates of freshly laid turf, brick and render homes one after the other, sprinklers and fresh gardens, all cropping up at the very outskirts of our cities while on the other side of the fence a dry, harsh, rural landscape unfolds… (see for example Melton and Tarneit on the outskirts of Melbourne!) …(I’ll upload a photo later!)

Two works in particular where a massive source of inspiration and study when writing this piece. Firstly, Elliott Gyger‘s A wilderness of mirrors – especially looking at his writing for the Eb clarinet, that which for me perfectly incapsulates the entirely unique sound and colour of this instrument, and embracing the use of silence (one which Elliott had brought up many times during our past lessons). Secondly, Liza Lim‘s An Elemental Thing – drawing from Liza’s desire and ability to (as she puts) make such a humble and simple instrument sing… This strongly informed my desire to firstly write for the snare drum, an instrument that I typically avoided (due to what I saw as a heavily typecast ‘one-tricky pony’), and secondly to rethink the way I thought about musical and gestural possibilities, especially in relation to solo percussion! There is a fantastic video of Liza’s An Elemental Thing performed by Eugene Ughetti available here:

A sample page and further details of my work Dust, dew can be found here in my list of work.

Darmstadt 2018

Tram no. 3 and 7/8, canvas bags, 30-plus degrees, Große Sporthalle aka sweltering sauna, 3 euro bottle wine, 3 euro small flat white.

Some of the first things that pop into my head when thinking back to my time at Darmstadt in July this year. Running from the 14th – 28th of July in the small German town of the same name, the Darmstadt Summer Course has been at the centre of new music training, discourse, and music-making in Europe since the 1940s. Particularly synonymous with the personalties of Boulez & Stockhausen during the 50s – 60s, and perhaps with Lachenmann & Ferneyhough since the 80s – 90s, I had certain expectations about what culture would purvey the school. In short it had this collective energy, day after day of incredible music making, and surprisingly (despite it’s shortcomings in other areas), Darmstadt was a lot less dogmatic and more musically diverse that I expected!

[Big list of names coming…]

As has been for a while now, I was amongst a healthy Australian & New Zealand contingent, making the pilgrimage alongside fellow composers Samantha Wolf, Josephine Macken, Johnathon Win, writers (and composer) Andrew Aronowicz, Megan Steller, performers (and composer) Hannah Reardon-Smith, Amber Evans, Benjamin Anderson, Melanie Walters, Rowan Hamwood, Sonia Wilson, and team Rubiks (Tamara, Kaylie, Jacob, Gemma). [apologies! I know there are more!] Additionally Liza Lim, Damien Ricketson, Cathy Milliken, Graeme Jennings, and Speak Percussion were there as tutors, performers, and guest speakers.

Without going through the entire 2 weeks, some of the highlights for me were:

Lessons: I had composition lessons with Pierluigi Billone, Wieland Hoban*, Rebecca Saunders, and participated in the Composing for oboe/violin course with Cathy Milliken & Graeme Jennings.

*I’ll add that I’m ashamed I didn’t know Hoban before submitting my tutor preferences, however immensely glad that I took the time to look up his work. For those who like me were ignorant do listen! https://soundcloud.com/wieland-hoban/urarbrunnr-2016-4-harps-ensemble

Concerts: In particular those by Speak Percussion (Fluorophone, works by Hodkinson, Ricketson, Ughetti, Løffler); Liza’s Atlas of the Sky (performed by Speak Percussion & Jessica Aszodi); Ensemble Nikel (Poppe, Cleare, Barden, Lang); Tautitotito (‘Disputation Songs’: Another Genealogy of Aotearoa New Zealand Music by Oram); One (Solo works performed by the tutors, works by Aperghis, Cicilani, Holliger, Saunders, Ronchetti, Schwitters); Série Rose (Walshe, Muntendorf, Kreidler et al., Jodlowski, Hodkinson/Rønsholdt); and Ensemble Cepromusic (Misael Gauchat, Estrada, Jiménez, Toledo).

Talks: Notation as Utopia, Deconstructing the Avant-garde, Defragmentation (Decolonisation – though this talk was far too short!), and the ongoing work of Gender relations in new music.

Open Space: so many! all the ones I managed to get too!

Workshop: I was lucky to have my work Territory ; terrain workshopped with Lena Vidulich & Dannielle Lynn McBryan under the guidance of Cathy and Graeme. This work was commissioned by Phoebe Green and Ben Opie and will be premiered later in August.

Alongside so much ‘new musicking’ I managed to complete the final touches to my new work Between giants, for the Horsley & Williams Duo, and continuing writing another new work for the Academie Voix Nouvelles Royaumont in August – in which I haven’t mentioned yet – I’m so thrilled to be accepted into this programme!

I’ll add that without the support of the University of Melbourne through the AE Floyd Memorial Scholarship, and those who commission me (especially most recently Kupka’s Piano), that this trip would not be possible! With the ongoing discussions of gender and race within the new music industry, socioeconomics is another huge barrier for many to enter this field. Without the financial support of institutions, governments, our peers, as well as quality education within the state school system, new music, art music, classical music will be forever only accessed by those of higher incomes.

Darmstadt has been an incredible experience – I think still to this day it contains a certain atmosphere of being a bit of a ‘maverick’.  To put my opening words into context, I’ll fondly look back on commuting from Löwenplatz to where most of the academy took place at Lichtenbergschule and Akademie für Tonkunst. Packing as much as possible into the offical Darmstadt canvas bags, watching many of them slowly falling apart. The dive for fresh air after spending an hour listening to Boulez, in a tin-shed sports hall that slowly runs out of oxygen, amplifying the already scorching late afternoon sun. At one moment furious about the cost of coffee but then delighted next about the cost of a bottle of wine…

Tschüss Darmstadt, Hallo Berlin…


Music from The Caucasus

Sketches and workstation from this afternoon…

Horsley Williams Duo Sketches Jakob Bragg

Currently writing a new work for the Horsley & Williams Duo (Uilleann Pipes and Recorders). Both the concert (21st of August) and my work explore the heritage of Georgian traditional music.

It’s been absolutely fascinating to delve into this rich musical culture! Hearing the wildly different influences coming from Turkish, Persian, Byzantine, and Russian traditions, via the rise and fall of these empires, also the huge variation found within the native Georgian musical identity – from mountain to valley, between ethnic minorities, between language groups, and sub-cultures… to just name a few. It has been thrilling to simply digest so much fascinating music I might otherwise had not.

For a little taste of this music, here is some Georgian polyphonic singing available on the UNESCO YouTube channel (here).

…For those curious, my set-up in the image above includes my keyboard and piano, always tuned out from one-another, at times by quarter, eighth, or sixth… Tea and biscuits were also served!

Post Masters and reflection on Aposiopesis

In late February I submitted my Master of Music folio comprising 6 works written from early 2016 till early 2018. I’ll skip a lot of the details on each piece as you can find them in my list of works, however I’ll spend some time reflecting on the various threads that tie each of these works together and a bit about the middle work Aposiopesis, which I recently uploaded to soundcloud: (a big thank you to BRON!)


One of the primary benefits of a Masters (or be that a PhD) is the time enabled to critically look at your own work – to understand what and why you’ve done as you have. I think prior to this I could broadly describe the many characteristics and preoccupations found within my output, however given the opportunity to search a little further, my accompanying commentary for the folio focused on what I eventually recognised as five core concerns within my work. These have been and continue to be:

  1. Heterophony
  2. Ornamentation
  3. Microtones
  4. Rethinking harmony
  5. Instrumental parameters

If anyone reading this is familiar with any works of mine, I think the first three are very apparent. I have my first principal teacher, Gerard Brophy, to thank for the profound influence that music of Turkey and the greater Middle East has upon my work. This rich and vast set of musical cultures quite naturally drew out my fascination with the first three concerns; especially evident in pieces such as The Sleep of Reason, Metamorphosis, Babbling House, and Ochrelîla.

I’ll add that although these are at the core of what I write, they are certainly not the only concerns; these really only focus on a somewhat music theoretical viewpoint. Neglected are the more extra-musical concerns and the very-musical concerns, in particular timbral-transformation, which I feel is also at the centre of my writing. This re-enforces the problem of categorising and making broad conclusions (even of ones own output) – it illuminates but equally leaves so much unsaid.

On to the fourth and fifth concerns of my little list: rethinking harmony and instrumental parameters. Largely noticeable from many of my work is the lack of harmony, or at least the lack of a stable harmonic bed. Enter my work Aposiopesis. Almost entirely harmonic in thinking, multi-movement in structure, simple panel-like gestures, and generally soft, subdued, quiet; this piece does almost everything I never do!

The harmony in this work arises out of a playful use of frequency modulation. At times this is a morphing bed of pitches that derive from a higher sum-tone (e.g. frequency A + frequency B = frequency C), and other times the entirety of the pitch material is derived from all possible combinations of say the first three pitches. Although at times frustrating and a little mathematical, I soon worked out what arithmetic would yield what pitches, thereby bringing my personal sound preferences back into the equation.

Aposiopesis Jakob Bragg page 2 excerpt

Excerpt from Aposiopesis

The last of the five concerns, instrumental parameters, I’ll talk about in more detail in another entry. However this is mostly what is described as decoupling; breaking down various musical parameters, instrumental and physical components, into independent lines or concerns. In Aposiopesis I barely scratched the surface with this, focusing on the quality of the tone; a spectrum from airy tone with barely any pitch audible, to a full bodied and rich tone. Rethinking these parameters and their increasing independence is something I explore much more in works Fragile Notions, and my latest work Territory ; Terrain.

…from Reason to Notions

Braneworlds – Kupka’s Piano debut album is now released and available for purchase. The CD features music by Liam Flenady (the title track), Hannah Reardon-Smith, Alan Lawrence, Chris Dench, and my work The Sleep of Reason, which was premiered in 2016.
I thought I’d take the time to contemplate what this work has meant, how it has informed my compositional approach, where this approach has now lead me, and to reflect on the year that is almost past.

The Sleep of Reason was commissioned by Kupka’s Piano in 2015, completed in early ’16 and premiered that same year. It’s written for the standard new music/pierrot line up, piano, percussion, flutes, clarinets, violin, cello; taking Goya’s etching (El sueño de la razón produce monstrous – the sleep of reason produces monsters) as it’s title and impetus for the work.

Like much of my work, this piece explores the use of heterophony, microtonality, ornamentation, and pitch trajectories. There is a push and pull between lines as to who leads, who follows, and what seemingly small ornament or figure becomes the catalyst for development. Quarter tones are used to enhance these ornaments as well provide unstable pedal points throughout, while the overwhelming sense of pitch being driven in a forward singular motion is the underpinning structural device. Other than these more technical devices used, the work proceeds through an ‘organic’, animated, and at times changeable first section, before leading to the ‘sleep of reason’ – an uncomfortable lull, a suppressing of energy, a false sense of ease. The energy of the opening attempt to break through – increasingly repressed, increasingly fierce – as the pacified middle section eventually breaks and reason (as brutal and difficult as it can appear) take the fore once again. This idea compliments Goya’s set of works in which this etching belongs; criticising ignorance, superstition, and the influence of aristocracy and church upon late 18th century Spanish society…

Following on from The Sleep of Reason, I next wrote for saxophone duo (Babbling House), orchestra (Ochrelila), and quintet (ob., fl., vln, vc, perc.) (titled Metamorphosis). All three of these works follow directly on from the sound world explored and what I had learnt in writing The Sleep of Reason. Of all, Metamorphosis (listen here) is almost a sister work to The Sleep of Reason, employing not only similar instruments and a similar gestural language, but acting as a kind of bookend to a set of works that all had a similar aesthetic and approach. The Sleep of Reason began this exploration and Metamorphosis in a way rounded it off; marking a shift in focus towards newer music ideas while my previous development/lessons become more naturally integrated into my compositional language.

My latest works this year include Aposiopesis (2017) for BRON (saxophone quartet), and Fragile Notions (2017) written for Syzygy Ensemble (flutes, clarinets, violin, cello). In both these works, and very much what I’m preoccupied with right now, is moving away from heterophony, away from a strict pitch trajectory, and attempting to find a way to reimagine harmony and further refine my microtonal language. Looking back at previous works, my microtonal use has largely been used ornamentally, adding ‘colour’ and nuance, pushing the ear to brief unknown territory, or used to augment a pedal note or single pitch. In my earlier work Unravelling Graphite, there are small moments of microtonal harmony, however for the large part it’s a kind of a Scelsi-esque inflection of a pitch trajectory.

To give a new structure to my harmony and discover interesting intervallic relationships, I’ve been looking at the use of combination tones in deriving pitch material (used extensively by Radulescu, and the more recent Enno Poppe). This has yielded some fascinating results, avoiding the overtly spectral sound-world of just intonation and the overtone series. Through essentially playing with sum tones, difference tones, and frequency modulation, rounding to the nearest 8th tone, I’ve been able to knit together my pitch material and a explore a newer way of thinking about music in a vertical fashion.

Aposiopesis uses exactly this in an almost entirely harmonic fashion. It’s largely a collection of fragmented harmonic statements, punctuated by silence, with a very restrained dynamic range – and across 3 movements – all of which I very rarely do! Whereas Fragile Notions finds a somewhat middle ground, tying together my newer harmonic approach with the previous heterophonic one. Fragile Notions also begins to consider other parameters in the creation of sound, those other than the traditional pitch and rhythm–centric focus. Air vs full-body tone produced by wind instruments is expressed on a separate stave, whereas on the strings this is reserved for bowing positions – allowing for great precision, a more fluid spectrum of possibilities to be explored, and rhythmically independent parameters to exist.

Aposiopesis will be premiered either late this year or early 2018 in the Netherlands by the BRON quartet, and Fragile notions recently was premiered by Syzygy at Macedon Music.

…I suppose the narrative of this post is realising the importance of key works – The Sleep of Reason undoubtedly, and also my string quartet Unravelling Graphite, as being the somewhat roots in which the rest of my pieces have grown from – and as a sort of update to my latest works, discussing where my compositional thinking has currently been.

Also, I am so indebted to all the dedicated musicians who perform, workshop, and rehearse my works, especially Kupka’s Piano with whom I have a long standing relationship – I am now listed as an associate artist, plus do listen to their debut album Braneworlds! A new work for Kupka’s is coming mid 2018, as well duo’s for Phoebe Green & Ben Opie, and Tamara Kohler & Kaylie Melville, stay posted!

Shanghai New Music Week

In mid-September I had the privilege to travel to China to attend the 2017 Shanghai New Music Week as part of the international masterclass programme. The composition tutors were Liza Lim (Australia), Yann Robin (France), and Narong Prangcharoen (Thailand) with Quatuor Tana (France) performing the selected composers works as part of the festival.

It was an absolute honour to hear my work Unravelling Graphite performed for the second time, performed by a different ensemble, and receiving fresh feedback from a panel of internationally renowned composers. This was also a unique chance to hear what both the younger and older generation composers are writing in China, plus hearing and meeting the other 4 immensely talented composers selected for the same programme: Catherine Robson, Stevie Jonathan Sutanto, Jifang Guo, Tianyang Zhang. The festival also featured an extensive selection of the tutor’s works performed by the masterful Elision, Quatuor Tana, Shanghai Opera Orchestra, New Zealand Trio, and Berlin Piano Percussion, and famous selections from Europe’s late 20th century.

Quatuor Tana

Quatuor Tana