Song Sale Auckland

13 Feb

Song Sale, which started in Wellington and which I brought to Dunedin, is starting in Auckland! Almost seems like we’re franchising this thing proper…

I’ve wanted to start Song Sale Auckland since I settled in the city of my birth in May last year. I’ve held off until now because I only entered Auckland’s stand-up comedy scene a couple of months ago. Now I feel I have the contacts to make it work…

So it’s taking place on Monday 24 February at One 2 One Cafe on Ponsonby Rd. (Facebook event here.) According to the poster below:

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

We have Augmented Fourth on MC duties. This is me (cause I’m used to hosting Song Sale), and Sam Smith (because I want us to have plenty of performing experience together before our Comedy Fest show in May).

Becky Crouch is a comedian I’ve never met in person, but many in the scene have told me she’d fit right in. Sam Polwart is a comic I’ve come across a good few times, sometimes working musical audience interaction into his sets. Louise Beuvink studied in Dunedin and finished just before I arrived in 2012… all through that year, fellow performers told me she would have been great in Song Sale Dunedin, had she been around. Well, she’s in the very first Song Sale Auckland. Hoorah!

Rounding out the team of songwriters are Penny Ashton (I’ve done music for four of her solo shows); Clare Kelso (like Penny, one of the creative directors of ConArtists); Swaren Veygal (producer/DJ, former Music Director of the University of Otago Capping Show, and Song Sale Dunedin veteran); Josh Clark (choir director/accompanist who is wickedly funny); and my flatmate Andrew Grenon, my flatmate and the tenor with whom I make Politics The Opera videos.

By the way, Andrew and I are getting interviewed for the Laugh Track on Standing Room Only this weekend – after the 2pm news, Sunday on Radio New Zealand National. Listen eh. They don’t tend to podcast that segment so I think listening live is your/our only option.

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Silly graphics

10 Jan

Actual work I’m doing:
– Being a real composer with three commissions on the go. All of them involve violin and/or piano.
– Preparing the comedy show Augmented Fourth with Sam Smith. An hour of musical comedy, in both Auckland and Wellington for the New Zealand International Comedy Festival.
– Editing and working up a book of poems from the Eketahuna German Literature Society.
– Writing songs for a musical theatre collaboration with Thomas Sainsbury.
– Tidying up other sheet music and recordings here and there.

Procrastination I’m doing:
– An anagram map of the Congestion Free Network.

I’ve been following the Auckland-focused transportblog.co.nz for a long time. Their collaboration with Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport last year was a superbly clear vision for the future that reached a lot of people, and the maps made us reimagine our city. Aucklanders are starting to realise that efficient, modern public transport doesn’t just have to be for overseas cities, and one of the spin-off benefits is playing silly buggers with maps.

congestionfreenetwork

Anyway, here’s Anal Duck as you’ve never seen it before. Where possible, I tried to make the anagrams fit the place:
– Silverdale = Avid Resell (full of outlet shops)
– Devonport = Pot Vendor (lots of antiquey places)
– Britomart = Tram Orbit (well, once they extend the line from Wynyard Quarter…)
– Grafton = Fang Rot (there is a hospital there, and I presume dental surgeries too)
– Pt Chevalier = Vehicle Trap (down the end it is)
– Smales Farm = Rams’ Flames (that’s what happens when you hold laser light shows on a farm)
– Ellerslie = Seller Lie (I bought a car from the car fair there, it died 18 months later)
– Redvale = LED Rave (it’s near Snow Planet)
– Greenhithe = Neigh There (I can attest that there are plenty of horsey people in the area)
– Glen Eden = Glendene (they are adjacent suburbs after all)
– Ranui = A Ruin (stink for you)
– Mount Roskill = Tourism Knoll (a slight exaggeration of its purpose)
– Interchange Station = Sanctioning Theatre (I hope they do)
and my favourite:
– Waitakere Hospital = Weak Oral Hepatitis.

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Colin Craig Says Words – The Opera

17 Dec

Source: gaynz.com

Source: gaynz.com

My flatmate Andrew Grenon and I made a new video for Politics The Opera. It’s accidentally timely in regard to a particular BSA decision.

Dear world: sooner or later we’re going to come to you for a Pledge Me drive, so we can produce Politics The Opera videos all through next year (election year), and with higher production values.

Until then, we’re the ones giving you the presents. Enjoy.

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Robbie’s arbitrarily selective list of “new music” in 2014

15 Oct

newmusicAfter last year’s compiled list, I’m doing the same again this year. Four major classical music organisations that operate in Auckland have released their 2014 programmes: the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Chamber Music New Zealand, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and New Zealand Opera (today at The Cloud).

I have gone through the programmes and picked out all the “new music” that’s in there in one easy-to-read list. Aren’t you fullas lucky?

In New Zealand Opera’s case, there is no “new music” to mention, but that’s not too surprising given there are only three productions next year. In the case of the other organisations, there’s a reasonable smattering. The APO has the most I’m looking forward to. CMNZ’s Kaleidoscope Series has some cool stuff, as will their Encompass Series (not announced yet, but pieces of mine are in there :-)). The NZSO’s brochure has this animal:

We don't care, we ain't caught up in your love of hair

That cat on Page 4 of the season brochure is weird. Just weird. And very out of context. I’ve heard it relates to a subsequent announcement from the NZSO though.

Onto the list! All dates are for Auckland unless otherwise specified. An asterisk * indicates a world première performance.

Added 22 October: Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
Added 23 October:
New Zealand Festival

New Zealand “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: Gao Ping is a rare creature in the modern world - a composer with the chops to perform his own piano concertos. His 四不相 (Si Buxiang, The Four Not-Alikes) looks like a concerto for piano and traditional Chinese orchestra.

What I most want to see: Gao Ping is a rare creature in the modern world – a composer with the chops to perform his own piano concertos. His 四不相 (Si Bu Xiang, The Four Not-Alike) looks like a concerto for piano and traditional Chinese orchestra.

*? Jack Body: Beat (among NZSQ, Forbidden City CO/Liu Shun, Gao Ping, Xiao Ma – 15 March)
Jack Body: Caravan (Nikki Chooi – 16 June)
Jack Body: Little Elegies (NZSO/Hamish McKeich – 2 May)
* Lyell Cresswell: The Clock Stops (Jonathan Lemalu, NZSO/James MacMillan – 10 May)
* Simon Eastwood/Natalie Hunt/Karlo Margetić/Tabea Squire: [new work from The Travelling Portmanteau] (NZSQ – 12 May)
Gareth Farr: Te Puna o Waiwhetu (CSO/Tom Woods – 22 February, Christchurch)
* Gareth Farr: [new piano concerto] (Tony Lee, NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 28 March, Wellington only)
* Gao Ping: Si Bu Xiang (The Four Not-Alike) (Gao Ping, Forbidden City CO/Liu Shun – 15 March)
* Ross Harris: Aria for viola and string orchestra (Robert Ashworth, APO/Giordano Bellincampi – 5 June)
* Ross Harris: Requiem for the Fallen (Voices NZ Chamber Choir & NZSQ – 28 February, Wellington only)
Ross Harris: Te Moanapouri (CSO/Tom Woods – 17 May, Christchurch)
*? Dylan Lardelli: Secrets, Listening to the Qin (among NZSQ, Forbidden City CO/Liu Shun, Gao Ping, Xiao Ma – 15 March)
Douglas Lilburn: Aotearoa Overture (NYO/Ben Northey – 6-7 February, Wellington & Napier only)
* Michael Norris/David Downes: Wu Xing (Five Phases) (among NZSQ, Forbidden City CO/Liu Shun, Gao Ping, Xiao Ma – 15 March)
* Celeste Oram: macropsia (APO – 21 May)
John Psathas: Between Zero and One (Strike Percussion – 10 March, Wellington)
John Psathas: View from Olympus (Evelyn Glennie, Stephen De Pledge, APO/Hans Graf – 4 September)
* Anthony Ritchie: Symphony No 4 (Jenny Wollerman, CSO/Tom Woods – 22 February, Christchurch)
* Kenneth Young: [new work for brass] (Woolston Brass, CSO Brass/Kenneth Young – 20 September, Christchurch)
* Kenneth Young: [new work] (APO/Carlos Miguel Prieto – 16 October)
* [NYO Composer-in-Residence]: [new work] (NYO/Alexander Shelley – 19 July)

Living Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: This Strayan fair dinkum muso Bretto Deano's concerto for trumpet...-o... yes. Only got premièred a couple of months back, and somehow I missed Håkan Hardenberger on his last visit here in 2007 (I think). Not gonna miss this one.

What I most want to see: This Strayan fair dinkum muso Bretto Deano‘s concerto for trumpet…-o… yes. Only got premièred a couple of months back, and somehow I missed Håkan Hardenberger on his last visit here in 2007 (I think). Not gonna miss this one.

Harrison Birtwistle: Oockooing Bird (Joanna MacGregor – 27 March)
John Corigliano: Violin Concerto, The Red Violin (Chloë Hanslip, APO/Eckehard Stier – 20 February)
Brett Dean: Eclipse (Doric SQ – 17-31 July, Dun/Ham/Nap/Wel/Chc only)
Brett Dean: Trumpet Concerto, Dramatis Personæ (Håkan Hardenberger, NZSO/Dmitri Slobodeniouk – 18 October)
*? Gao Weijie: Three Songs of Yuan Qu (among NZSQ, Forbidden City CO/Liu Shun, Gao Ping, Xiao Ma – 15 March)
Osvaldo Golijov: Ainadamar (Kelley O’Connor, Jessica Rivera, Jesus Montoya, Leanne Keneally, James Clayton, NZSO/Miguel Harth-Bedoya – 2 March, Wellington only)
Sofia Gubaidulina: ‘The Little Tit’, from Musical Toys (Joanna MacGregor – 27 March)
Sampo Haapamäki: Signature (CSO/Tom Woods, 24 & 25 May, Christchurch)
Matthew Hindson: Homage to Metallica (NYO/Ben Northey – 6-7 February, Wellington & Napier only)
György Kurtág: Six moments musicaux (Kelemen Quartet – 19 March)
James MacMillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (NZSO/James MacMillan – 10 May)
James MacMillan: Woman of the Apocalypse (NZSO/James MacMillan – 10 May)
Torsten Rasch: Lycanthropy Aria, from The Duchess of Malfi (Tobias Cole, CSO/Tom Woods – 21 May, Christchurch)
Peter Sculthorpe: Memento mori (NZSO/Hamish McKeich – 2 May)
John Williams: Bassoon Concerto, The Five Sacred Trees (Ingrid Hagan, APO/Tito Muñoz – 1 May)
*? Zou Hang: Shi Bian Wu Hua (Ten Changes and Five Variables) (among NZSQ, Forbidden City CO/Liu Shun, Gao Ping, Xiao Ma – 15 March)

Dead Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: this was tricky. Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra was a revelation when I played it in uni orchestra, Pacific 231 will be a mean-as concert opener... but ultimately it's Leoš Janáček's Sinfonietta which will kick the most ass live.

What I most want to see: this was the trickiest to pick just one. Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra was a revelation when I played it in uni orchestra, Pacific 231 will be a mean-as concert opener… but ultimately it’s Leoš Janáček‘s Sinfonietta which will kick the most ass live. Part of the same trumpetlicious gig as the Brett Dean work.

Béla Bartók: Concerto for orchestra (CSO/Tom Woods – 18 October, Christchurch)
Béla Bartók: Sonata for two pianos and percussion (Diedre Irons, Michael Endres, Thomas Guldborg & Lenny Sakofsky – 1 September)
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No 4 (Kelemen Quartet – 9-18 March, Dun/Nsn/Wel/Nap/Ham only)
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No 5 (Kelemen Quartet – 19 March)
Alban Berg: Three Fragments from Wozzeck (Jenny Wollerman, APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 July)
Benjamin Britten: Noye’s Fludde (NZ Opera – during the New Zealand Festival, Wellington)
Benjamin Britten: Soirées musicales (after Rossini) (NZSO/Junichi Hirokami – 22 November)
George Gershwin: Preludes (Nikki Chooi & Stephen De Pledge – 9-24 June, NP/PNorth/Inv only)
Henryk Górecki: Symphony No 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Sara Macliver, NZSO/Hamish McKeich – 2 May)
Arthur Honegger: Pacific 231 (APO/Eckehard Stier – 27 February)
Leoš Janáček: Sinfonietta (NZSO/Dmitri Slobodeniouk – 18 October)
Erich Korngold: Much Ado About Nothing Suite (NZSO/Alexander Shelley – 25 July)
Erich Korngold: String Quartet No 2 (Doric SQ – 20 July)
Erich Korngold: Violin Concerto (Mikhail Ovrutsky, NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 4 April)
György Ligeti: String Quartet No 1, Métamorphoses nocturnes (Kelemen Quartet – 9-18 March, Ham/Nap/Wlg/Nsn/Dun only)
Witold Lutosławski: Concerto for orchestra (APO/Tito Muñoz – 1 May)
Joseph Marx: [selected songs] (Christine Brewer, APO/Leo Hussain – 28 August)
Olivier Messiaen: L’Ascension: Quatre méditations symphoniques (CSO/Tom Woods – 23 August, Christchurch)
Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques (Joanna MacGregor, APO/John Nelson – 27 March)
Nikolai Myaskovsky: String Quartet No 13 (Borodin Quartet – 22 October)
Francis Poulenc: Sinfonietta (APO/Paul Goodwin – 9 October)
Alfred Schnittke: Concerto for piano with string orchestra (Ragna Schirmer, APO/Eckehard Stier – 20 November)
Alfred Schnittke: Concerto Grosso No 2 for violin, cello and orchestra (Mark Menzies, Ashley Brown, CSO/Tom Woods – 14 June, Christchurch)
Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No 1 (Aroha SQ – 13-25 October, Nsn/Inv/PNorth/NP/Ham only)
Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No 11 (Borodin Quartet – 22 October)
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No 5 (NZSO – 13 March, Wellington only)
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No 12 (APO/Eckehard Stier – 20 November)
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No 15 (NZSO/Alexander Lazarev – 24 May)
Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka [1947 version] (APO/Eckehard Stier – 20 February)
Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka (CSO/Tom Woods – 14 June, Christchurch)
Igor Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 30 October)
William Walton: Henry V Suite (NZSO/Alexander Shelley – 25 July)
Anton Webern: Six Pieces for orchestra (APO/Giordano Bellincampi – 5 June)

Also:

The Adults meet the APO (Jon Toogood, Julia Deans, Shayne Carter, Steve Bremner, Ladi6, Anika Moa, APO/Hamish McKeich – 30 January)
Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular (heaps of guests, choirs, NZSO – 21 & 22 February, Wellington only)
Serj Tankian’s Orca and Elect the Dead symphonies (CSO/Hamish McKeich – 29 March, Christchurch)
The Golden Age of Broadway (Tim Beveridge, Julia Booth, Juliet Reynolds-Midgley, Tainui Kuru, Christchurch Pops Choir, CSO/Luke Di Somma – 11-12 April, Christchurch & Timaru)
Traditional Chinese works (Aroha SQ – 13-25 October, Nsn/Inv/PNorth/NP/Ham only)
Settling the Score Live – an opportunity for you to nominate some “new music” (APO – 28 November)

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The munging of the tunes

9 Oct

Lorde and Dave Dobbyn both have hit songs where the title rhymes with oil.. or oils. Kinda. Royals is currently No 1 on the US Billboard Chart. Loyal was going to be once again overexposed once Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup, but then they didn’t.

MASH-UPS FOR THE SAKE OF MASH-UPS!

This is me in my bedroom. It has nearly 4,000 views in a day-and-a-bit:

This is me in my lounge playing that Yamaha Electone B-60 I bought for $100 off Trade Me. It has pretty much 0 views because I only just uploaded it now:

Also, congratulations Dave Dobbyn on your imminent induction to the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. Hope you’re okay with me wrecking your song. And congratulations Lorde on your Number One single. Hope you’re okay with that one blogger calling you a racist.

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Haven’t published anything in a while.

21 Aug

My life has been quite bitsy, full of lots of small projects.

Well, here’s one resultable fruit:

The Root Vegetable Opera is an overblown comedy song for mock operatic baritone and piano. Eight months on from the recording session, I’ve mixed the tracks. I don’t sound terrrrible, but I’m no classically trained singer. Corwin Newall, on the other hand, is a classically trained pianist.

On the topic of recording vocals, next week I make a studio recording of Annie & Joshua with my two singers. I’m getting Bridget Costello just a week before she leaves for London to study, but Callum Blackmore’s staying around for ages. Good.

Another composition is finally reaching fruition: I just published Trolling the Tuba to SOUNZ, and it’s getting premièred just outside San Francisco on Friday/Saturday/timezone depending. This is thanks to Jess Rodda and the rest of the International Low Brass Trio, which abbreviates to “ILBT”, which must be either a sandwich or a personality type. They’re going to be performing this work quite a bit over the next few months, including on a Canadiadian tour.

I am making plans for two out-of-town tours myself:
Wellington (15 to 23 September): the 2013 New Zealand Improv Festival is on and I am the Musical Co-ordinator and musician for several shows myself. I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking forward to, but the most involved for me will be Time Lord, a Doctor Who-themed long form directed by David Innes from Melbourne. I’m borrowing synths from Wellington people.
Dunedin (24 September to, uh, something). Song Sale! University Lunchtime Concert! Dunedin Youth Orchestra! Improsaurus (I hope)! All in one week.

Usually I find a picture for posts, so I googled-imaged-searched “most random image on the internet”. This is what arrived.

Happy Wednesday.

Chewbacca wielding a crossbow astride a giant squirrel fighting a regiment of Nazis.

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Having fun with language

24 Jul

Last night I got to speak sustained German for the first time in a while – I chatted with Nadine Antler from Kaktussen, an improv troupe in Würzburg.

She’s here at Improvention in Canberra, and so am I. While it’s okay if I screw up my German chatting in a bar, she’s consistently performing and improvising in English on stage. That’s bravery.

So far I’ve done six shows (two as an actor and four as a musician), and I have at least five to go. More on those later, if I get around to committing thoughts to keyboard.

headerBut that’s not what this post is about! It’s about the Eketahuna German Literature Society.

If you are disappointed that it is a fictional organisation, you are disappointed. It was my brainchild – let’s (mis-)translate classic German poetry and render it in New Zealand English, or in New Zealand contexts. The most-represented poets are Goethe, Rilke, Schiller, Heine, Mörike and Hesse.

And yes, the misspelled German name is intentional.

I enlisted Cordelia Black. While in the beginning we translated roughly even numbers of poems, now she does way more than me. Probably 80% of them. Yeah, I slacked off.

There’s a balance of brooding introspection (y’know, New Zealand arts) and quirk (y’know, New Zealand arts). Cordelia is a bit more skilled at the subtle, nuanced writing. One of her most beautiful and aching is Liebeslied / Joint Custody, a Rilke translation. Paula Bennett’s recent welfare reforms come in for criticism in Die Guttat / Milk of Human Kindness. And I’m quite proud of my boy-racer themed translation of Goethe’s Erlkönig.

But we go odd too – me more than Cordy, I think. My magnum opus in that rendering sections of Wilhelm Busch’s naughty boys Max und Moritz as Van and Munter from Outrageous Fortune. Heine’s classic Dichterliebe lyric Im wunderschönen Monat Mai becomes In the not-so-wonderful month of May, given our southern hemisphere season patterns. Some emotive Schiller from Die Jungfrau von Orleans gets turned into Goodbye Burger King, a wistful pining for Joanne at the drive-through.

This one from Cordelia is piquant, a Christian Morgenstern translation:

Two hardwood poles used copper wire
To have an afternoon conspire.

They shared their creaky Morse-discourse
Above the kanukas and gorse.

They both wore fetching metal rings
To save their trunks from climbing things.

One pole said “chur”. One said “g’day”.
That’s all I will translate today.

But why am I posting about the Eketahuna German Literature Society now? Because we reached 100 poems today! What is our 100th poem? Well, it’s called A Hundred Runs. It wouldn’t be a survey of New Zealand without the troubles of New Zealand cricket.

Thanks Cordy, this is great fun to do.

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Ngā ingoa o Te Wiki o te Reo Māori

2 Jul

Source: New Zealand Gazette.

Source: New Zealand Gazette.

It’s Māori Language Week, bitches!

Yesterday I saw that my improv colleague Jennifer O’Sullivan had changed her Twitter name to “Kōtea Patupaiarehe“, or ‘pale fairy’, the literal way-back-when meaning of “Jennifer”. I was inspired to discover my own best conversion into Māori, but to go hardout and do all three of my names. And none of this transliteration crap either, Mr Ropata.

Note: I did all this research before someone else pointed out that Te Reo educationalist Te Mihinga Komene was already running “Pimp My Ingoa” for the Twitterverse – that’s where Jen got her name done. With the caveat that Te Mihinga is an actual proper Te Reo speaker and I’m just a Pākehā who knows how to use Google, here goes.

“Robert” comes from the Old Germanic “Hruodberht”, which means ‘bright fame’. I could make it “Rongopurata” (rongo = fame, renown; purata = bright), but given that “Robbie” is a diminutive, let’s go with “Rongo”, which has the advantage of being a name already.

“Thomas” comes from the Aramaic for ‘twin’. Pretty easy literal translation there: “Māhanga”.

Where shit gets interesting is with my surname. “Ellis” apparently entered Great Britain following the Crusades as a loan name from Hebrew (related to Elias/Elijah). The Māori Bible names Elijah the Tishbite as “Iraia” (Kings 1 17:1), obviously a transliteration from English and unsatisfactory for my purposes.

So, let’s go back to the Hebrew. “Eliyahu” literally means ‘Jehovah/Yahweh is God’. The monotheistic Christian ‘God’ is called “Atua” (somewhat controversially given pre-European Māori spirituality but whatevs). But guess how ‘Jehovah’ is transliterated? That’s right: “Īhowa”.

So basically every time you sing the first line of the national anthem, “E Īhowa Atua”, you’re addressing all Ellises… and Elis, and Eliases, and Elijahs, and Eliassons, for that matter. Just don’t get me started on that line’s completely out-of-place skippy dotted quaver-semiquaver thing in the published version… yeah.

Anyway, I still haven’t found a non-transliterated surname. I could go with the clumsy but literal “Kō-Atua-Te-Atua”. Hmm. Seems a bit… repetitive.

Nah, screw it. My name on Twitter this Māori Language Week is:
Rongo Māhanga E-Īhowa-Atua.
Āmene to that, Aotearoa.

Starving Artist Productions presents

19 May

Dawn. Music suggesting an impending battle scene.

ROBBIE surveys the creative landscape and delivers a soliloquy to camera.

leonidas-gerard-butlerAs I return to the soil of my birth after a long exile, I wish for strength. I wish for courage. I wish for the fortitude to withstand long periods of no work coming in before that six-hour job that pays two grand will see my rent through for the next little while. Or that out-of-town tour where I get paid and I keep most of my per diems.

I summon the gods to be on my side in this endeavour. To help me accept with equanimity the vicissitudes of the self-employed life. To guide me towards restraint in times of feast and parents’ free meals in times of famine. To ward off malevolent witchcraft from infecting my Subaru chariot’s motor so as not to summon an eye-wateringly expensive mechanical shaman. To give me the clear sight of Teiresias to know I don’t really need to buy that book for forty bucks because, let’s face it, I probably won’t get around to reading it.

As I approach the ramparts of Auckland atop this less than comfortable divan in the bowels of a noble Boeing ship, I call on all potential employers within the city gates to regard me with favour. To broadcast producers who will employ my oratory across vast distances. To directors of Dionysian festivals, those theatrical presentations that may use my talents. To the agents of merchants, those advertising creative directors, who wish my stentorian tones and facility with the barbarian argots of foreigners to help sell their wares in a pre-recorded fashion. To orchestra managers who see use in an arrangement of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop for solo cor anglais, strings and drum kit. To musical performers of any instrument who want to commission me to channel the muse of St Cecilia. To Creative New Zealand, and to anyone who can pay me to do improv theatre. (Probably mutually exclusive groups, to be honest.) Give me recompense for my toil, ye nobles of the arts!

I wish for strength in this endeavour because the prize is worth it. The spoils of my battle are to be a freeborn citizen of the City of Auckland. Not I, a common slave to a common master who will capriciously order me to be present at his place of trade from the ninth hour of the morning to the fifth hour of the sun’s descent, five days of every seven excepting civic and imperial feasts.

Nay, my life is henceforth mine own. My projects are worthy, if most likely underfunded. My credit card limit has just been increased by three grand. I am ready. I am capable. Come at me bro.

This is madness. Madness? THIS.. IS.. FREELANCE!!!!!!

ROBBIE strides purposefully towards the sun as the music swells to its conclusion:

Ending to an epic film score.

Ending to an epic film score.

The “wow” moment – Part 1

18 May

I have a habit of writing blog posts at airports. But that is apt – airports are portals for the beginnings and ends of journeys. Palaces of taking stock. Palaces of excitement of what is to come and reflection on what has been. And palaces of not enough power points and intrusively annoying WiFi networks. Yes, I’m at LAX.

I’ve been on the road 127 days on my longest travels yet. I’ve been in two improv festivals, gone to the world’s largest musical festival, seen improv, comedy, music, theatre, ballet, musical theatre and opera. I’ve entered five countries, three Canadian provinces and twelve US states (four of which I was in for transit only).

I’ve identified 15 performances in which I had a “wow” moment. Or a “whoa” moment. Or “Fuuuuuck.” Put simply, they amazed.

I can rattle off honorable mentions by the dozen, but for the time being, here’s the first half of my abiding memories from Travels 2013.

1. Roberto Fonseca & group
Thursday 24 January 2013
La Zorra y El Cuervo (Vedado, Havana)

Originally from Cuba, jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca divides his time between Havana and New York. He is a demon on the keys, and his band were equally virtuosic. The final number of their first set was a relentless 15-minute fast rock groove, with a head so fiddly and complicated (yet memorable) that most musicians couldn’t even attempt it. Solos lasted an age but maintained momentum the whole way. I sat with a Uruguayan couple who told me I had my mouth open for the last 80% of that number.

Clint & Buck Vrazel, from Twinprov. (Source: their Twitter.)

Clint & Buck Vrazel, from Twinprov. (Source: their Twitter.)

2. Twinprov (workshop)
Friday 15 February 2013
Jet City Improv (University District, Seattle)

Two white guys from Oklahoma do an improv rap show. Not a promising description, but these guys are deserved megastars of the North American improv scene. Twinprov is the twins Buck & Clint Vrazel, and I met them at the Seattle Festival of Improvisational Theater. They bring it for a show, no doubt, but more significantly they are the most effective workshop teachers I’ve ever seen in improv. Teaching music to non-musicians is a difficult prospect – if adults have had negative experiences with music when young (like being told they aren’t good at it), it’s so hard to get them to open up. Rap is a more intimidating genre still. But Buck & Clint are f**kin’ mint at breaking down those barriers – Nick from Canberra, if you’re reading this, get these mofos down to Improvention some time.

3. 3 For All
Friday 1 March 2013
BATS Improv (Fort Mason, San Francisco)

All down the west coast I’d been told “book for 3 For All, book for 3 For All, they will sell out”. For reasons of geography, this long-tim trio gets together only three or four times a year, so it was lucky coincidence that I was in San Francisco the same weekend. The thing I took away from this was the superb physicality they exhibit. I don’t mean that they are frenetic and full-of-energy, but rather their immaculately controlled movements to indicate changes in time, place, setting, character. I once heard it said about Jane Austen’s writing that you never need to see “said so-and-so” after lines of dialogue; you instantly know who’s speaking by the precision of her writing style. The same applies to the actors of 3 For All – the moment you look at them, you know where the story’s at.

4. Dudamel Conducts Firebird
Sunday 3 March 2013
Walt Disney Hall (Downtown Los Angeles)

I hadn’t intended to go through Los Angeles so early in my trip. I had booked to spend a week in the area at the end of my four months and have a single direct flight home. However, when I saw the LA Phil‘s offerings for early March, I changed my plans: Stravinsky’s Firebird and a brand new John Adams work within five days of each other, both conducted by His Curliness, Gustavo Dudamel. My eye-wateringly expensive ticket for Firebird meant for one superb seat at eye level with the front desk of the first violins. And Disney Hall has such a clear sound! I do love the Auckland Town Hall for all its fond memories for me, but it is a wallowing Brucknerian shoebox that doesn’t do any favours to my own compositional style, or many other composers’. As for the playing, what an all-encompassing sound. Stravinsky’s jagged string writing sounded so full and rich, the brass was immaculately balanced with the winds, ogh, it was heaven.

5. Matt Davis Gets a Girlfriend
Tuesday 5 March 2013
UCB Theatre LA (Hollywood, Los Angeles)

A very pleasant surprise! Taking a look at the offerings of the main comedy and improv theatres in Hollywood, I came across this intriguing one-man musical on the UCB website. Matthew Patrick Davis performs his show solo from the keyboard, in the first person, and has this rich Sondheimesque linkage of themes and motifs that inspired me so much. Some still linger in my head: “I’m gonna get a girlfriend”, “I’m gonna die alone”, etc. I got inspired by all the thematic threading and repetition of musically-associated phrases, and designed my libretto to Annie & Joshua around that principle. Now I’ve got my own phrases like “None of your business”, “Okay, okay”, “If you must know”, “Please, please, please go on a date with me!”, etc. (More on Annie & Joshua another time – Bridget Costello and Callum Blackmore perform it in Short+Sweet Song, 11-15 June at the Herald Theatre in Auckland.)

The Bolzen Beer Band's album cover. (Source: Bandcamp.)

The Bolzen Beer Band’s album cover. (Source: Bandcamp.)

6. Bolzen Beer Band
Tuesday 12 March 2013 (or early Wed 13)
Corner of 6th Street & Trinity Ave (Downtown Austin)

I went to SXSW. It’s probably the biggest music festival in the world. I saw Coolio. I saw The Specials. I had a great Saturday night watching the most amazing mélange of styles (see below). But the Bolzen Beer Band made me lose my shit in the geekiest way possible. They’d done one single official SXSW showcase that Tuesday night – a lowly slot, to put it mildly – but they didn’t care. They were just going to jam the shit out of the rest of the festival, on the street, in indie gigs, wherever. I’ve recounted this story enough: they are a polka punk band from Lincoln, Nebraska. They have an accordionist, a tuba player and a punk drummer. They wear Lederhosen. The one hook of theirs that is still in my head is “We love weed and beer, my friend, we love weed and beer! / Pour a glass of ice-cold weed and score a sack of beer!”. And the coup de grâce (grass?) was when the lead singer went into a half-time rap breakdown IN GERMAN. They had all the right spirit.

7. Red Baraat
Saturday 16 March 2013
Stage on Sixth (Downtown Austin)

This looked like a pretty good night at South By: long-time LA-Mexican party band Ozomatli, home-town favourites Grupo Fantasmo, and Bajofondo from Argentina. But Red Baraat killed me. Hailing from Brooklyn, their frontman plays the dhol. Combine that with a rhythm section; a sousaphone for the bass line; and horns that include the unusual bass trumpet, you have a bitchin’ crossover of Bollywood dance rhythms and New Orleans bounce. My first ‘wow’ moment came when the frontman called for a sousaphone solo. Perfectly synchronised, every other band member ducked down low to the ground, flashed their attention towards the sousaphone’s bell, and the lights snapped to put a solo spot on him. These mofos finished their set with a procession out onto the floor of the venue and being right up and close with us dancers and punters. They were drenched in sweat by the end, having given their all. What an impressive group.

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Part 2 of my “wow” moments will take in the Chicago Improv Festival, a diverse range of Broadway offerings, one of the most novel theatre shows I’ve ever come across, and a live dog. You can look forward to that in a few days.

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