Tag: flute

Nathalie Joachim: Stepping Into My Own Identity

Nathalie Joachim

It’s hard to believe that our sit-down talk with composer, flutist, and vocalist Nathalie Joachim was a mere 23 days ago. So much has changed in the world for everyone. I imagine that many of us have now spent weeks sheltering in place—if we have been lucky—in our own homes with no foreseeable end in sight in order to protect ourselves and each other from the further spread of a deadly pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives around the globe.

But I have to remain confident and believe that Nathalie’s exuberant, forward-looking attitude about music-making and her inspiring comments about how she came to follow her creative path still represent our collective future. It’s something I believed about her music the first time I encountered the debut album of Flutronix, her duo with Allison Loggins-Hull, nearly a decade ago which I then described as “a strong case for a post-stylistic, post all-powerful-single-auteur-driven music, one that allows multiple voices to share in the shaping of a music that is equally indebted to and comfortable in several musical lineages.”

At that time, and in fact until our conversation on March 7, I had no idea how Nathalie and Allison met or how they decided to make music together. It was fascinating to find out that they actually discovered each other via MySpace and that when they finally met in person they immediately decided to collaborate.

“So that day Flutronix was born,” Nathalie remembered. “Our rapport with one another was super natural. Not supernatural, but it was very natural! We just sort of hit it off. Sometimes you just meet your people and you know. And Allison was that for me. We just shared that instinct. Immediately we were like, ‘Alright, well there’s no music for two flutes and electronics or two flutes and beats. Who’s writing that music?’ Right away, we were like: ‘Alright, we better get to work, because if we’re going to play some concerts, we need some music to play.’ We started writing music right away.”

It was a sea-change from Nathalie’s experience as a classical flutist studying at Juilliard.

“If you’re a performer, it becomes a little bit harder for you to engage as a composer at this school,” she explained. “That wasn’t something that I could do within the curriculum, because I would have had to formally audition to do that. And up to that point, it had never even occurred to me to call myself a composer, even though I was experimenting with writing music. I had a deep interest in exploring different styles. I was doing a lot of song writing with my grandmother, but unless I could formally present someone with a score of mine, I just wasn’t going to be studying composition at that school, at that level. Not to mention the fact that the people who claimed that title of composer did not look like me, did not live like me, and did not write the music that was coming into my brain.”

Still, she concedes that her time at Juilliard, which began in her childhood as a student in the Music Advancement Program through the Pre-Collegiate Program and progressed through her undergrad years, has provided her foundation as a musician. No matter what genre of music she finds herself involved with (or, more to the point, what genre other people might assign to her), she acknowledged that her in-depth study of classical music “informs my understanding of every other musical style that I engage in.”

In fact, she confessed that at one point in her career an internal “obligation … to the classical world” she was feeling led her to question whether the music she was engaged in was “serious” enough. At the same time these thoughts were tugging at her, she received an email out of the blue from Lisa Kaplan from Eighth Blackbird asking her if she’d be interested in auditioning to be a member of that celebrated contemporary music ensemble. Although she was just beginning to receive commissions to compose works for other musicians and Flutronix continued to be an important focus in her musical life, she auditioned, got the gig, and moved to Chicago.

“It was an incredible experience,” she said. “But for me it was very challenging. … I was the only one who came to the group with this kind of band identity with Flutronix, if we’ll call it that. My sort of alter ego. And I’ve got this composition work that’s starting to brew and I come with this different music education background, but I also was so challenged right away with touring; you kick up with what that schedule is. Everybody else in the group, when we weren’t on tour, they were home with their families, taking a rest. Not that anyone’s taking it easy in that group, but I was just fitting in these other parts of my career in the midst of that. So I was ridiculously busy. I almost was never at home when everyone else was at home. I was really working constantly around the clock to succeed in all of these other ways. I think I didn’t realize how much everything else would take off at the same time that I joined the group.”

During her last two years with 8bb, Nathalie began developing Famn d’Ayiti, her most significant musical undertaking to date. A celebration of her Haitian heritage, this song-cycle cum sonic documentary cum concept album ties together multiple strains of her composite musical identity, merging her classical training, her singing traditional folksongs with her grandmother, and even her early explorations of audio production and sound design. It received rave review from “classical” music critics and even managed to fetch a Grammy nomination in the “World Music” category.

“It was interesting to have ended up in a category that I think no one else saw me popping up in,” she admitted. “I’m committed at this point in my life to making music that is true to me. And so I’m happy for it fall into whatever box it needs to.”

Towards the end of our hour with Nathalie, we talked about what was to be the next live performance of Famn d’Ayiti at the extraordinary Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she was also scheduled to appear on a panel about defying genre, organized and moderated by New Music USA’s own Vanessa Reed. Obviously neither of those events happened, since the 2020 Big Ears Festival was one of the many casualties of the waves of cancellations that hit the performing arts community in the past few weeks. Nevertheless, we decided to include that part of the conversation after a section break at the very end of this transcript to reflect on what might have been and what we must continue to hope will be again after we get past the current hiatus in all of our lives.

Robert Dick’s The Other Flute Mocked on Network TV

Robert Dick Photo by Carla Rees Dawson

Robert Dick
Photo by Carla Rees Dawson

Composer and flutist Robert Dick, or rather his much-praised manual on extended techniques The Other Flute, made an unexpected appearance on network TV this week thanks to a Jimmy Fallon sketch. The segment was devoted to a short stack of books that Fallon suggested “you probably should avoid reading this year.”

It’s perhaps naive to expect sharp, music-based humor during late night television, but the 50 seconds Fallon devoted to talking about the book consisted exclusively of sexual innuendo and character assault related the book’s title and the author’s name. During Fallon’s final remarks on the book, he turns the author shot towards the camera and asks, “Does he look like a dick to you?” The audience cheers.

(Fallon’s comments on The Other Flute begin at 2:18.)
The responses under the YouTube posting of the segment are peppered with an uncharacteristic level of smart criticism, and now Dick himself is asking friends and colleagues to reach out to the Tonight Show and support his appearance on a future episode to play The Other Flute and “blow the minds of the national TV audience.” Those who wish to add their comments can contact the show online via the network’s website or Fallon’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, it’s a book about modern flute technique. Can someone write Fallon some better material at least?

Unfamiliar with Robert Dick’s pioneering work? Catch up with this NewMusicBox piece or buy his book.

UPDATE: Robert Dick offers this further personal insight into the matter.

When I first saw the sketch “Do Not Read — THE OTHER FLUTE” on the Tonight Show, I was incredulous, hurt and angry. This was the same, lame, “dick humor” that I first encountered at age 5. And the jokes were way far from the best I’ve heard (or sometimes made). Then I realized that, in its own bizarre way, a unique opportunity had fallen out of the sky. Because my public persona is really funny and entertaining, I might have the chance to speak up for everyone who has been mocked for being different in some way. Can you hear me, Willy the Whale, with your three voices, shot dead on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House? (I might have gotten the whole multiphonic idea from you, pal!)

And, I might have the chance to play my music for a huge audience and to show the world just how cool creativity really is. That’s why I’m asking everyone to contact the Tonight Show through their FaceBook page or to Tweet them (#InviteRobertDick @FallonTonight) to let them know that you’d love to see me on the show and that I will rock them to the core of their being.

The outpouring of support has touched me deeply. Oft times, we creators in the non-commerial realm feel that very few are listening to our music — in the last couple of days I’ve felt, as never before, that my life and work have made a difference to very many people. I’m truly humbled and grateful.

So please keep the flood of FaceBook posts and Tweets going to Tonight. If its going to happen, it will happen fast, so please act right when you read this.

With gratitude,
Robert Dick

Jamie Baum: Jazz Diplomacy

For flutist Jamie Baum, the formula for what she calls a “complete musician” consists of three parts: performing, composing, and improvising. In her mind, these three activities combine in an organic way to create a rich, full musical life, and she does it all—and more—in spades. Since the 1990s, she has been composing music for her own ensemble, playing with top-notch musicians such as Paul Motian, Randy Brecker, and Fred Hersch, leading workshops on a number of topics including improvisation for classical musicians, and presenting her music to audiences around the globe.

Much of Baum’s work has been inspired by elements of 20th-century classical, Indian, and Afro-Latin music, worlds between which she nimbly moves as a performer. Her 2004 album Moving Forward Standing Still takes musical cues from Stravinsky, Ives, and Bartok, all composers who were important for her during her early composition training at the New England Conservatory. The music on her most recent release, In This Life, is deeply influenced by a tour through South Asia, and specifically by the music of Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In both cases she deftly weaves elements from diverse musical sources through her own prodigious artistic imagination to create compositions that sound highly distinct yet perfectly natural at the same time. Her ensemble, the Jamie Baum Septet, is comprised of flute, piano, trumpet, French horn, alto sax doubling bass clarinet, drums, and bass, and expands with the additions of guitar and hand percussion such as congas and tabla to form the Jamie Baum Septet +.

Baum says that one of her musical goals has always been to make the flute a primary ensemble instrument, rather than simply an instrument for doubling or a secondary textural element as it is sometimes viewed within a jazz music context. The somewhat unusual instrumentation of her group is intended to help give the flute more weight within the ensemble texture and to provide different musical coloring options than the standard grouping of trumpet, alto, tenor, and baritone sax or trombone. However, never having been one to save all the big soloing opportunities for the leader of the band, she is happy for the flute to become an inner voice and allow other instruments plenty of creative freedom when it comes time to solo. No doubt this sense of openness and her willingness to collaborate is part of what has kept the membership of her group stable for over 14 years.
In addition to a bustling composing and performing schedule, Baum also leads a variety of intriguing musical workshops centered upon improvisation and fostering creativity, including ones entitled “A fear-free approach to improvisation for the classically trained musician” and “Jazz flute technique is not an oxymoron,” intended to teach classical flute and double reed players techniques appropriate for jazz performance.

Through the practice of her own “complete musicianship” Baum has become an integral player in the jazz tradition, without becoming confined by it; she keeps her ears and mind open to whatever external influences might play a role in expanding her writing, performing, and composing.

Sounds Heard: Blowing In The Wind (Flute Edition)

Among the CDs that have landed on my desk in recent weeks are a few that showcase flute prominently. Here are three artists whose highly individual styles of integrating flute into their compositions perked up my ears.
Elizabeth Brown, Arcana
Performed by Elizabeth Brown
New World

Composer/flutist Elizabeth Brown is aptly described in the liner notes of her recent CD Mirage as a “gentle maverick.” Her work is experimental in nature, yet rather than whacking the listener over the head with that, the music has an understated and beautifully handmade feel that begs careful listening and exploration. Brown is a talented flutist as well as a shakuhachi and theremin player, and within the disc’s seven works she performs on those instruments in combination with ensembles that include string quartet, recorded sound, Harry Partch instruments, and Japanese traditional instrument orchestra. The track featured here, Arcana, for flute and recorded sound, is full of bending, melting sounds that suggest a dreamlike tale of intrigue.


Harris Eisenstadt, What Is A Straw Horse, Anyways?
Performed by Nicole Mitchell, flute; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon; Mark Dresser, contrabass; Harris Eisenstadt, drums, compositions
Golden State
Order Directly

Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State features the somewhat unusual instrumental combination of flute, bassoon, contrabass, and drums. I was immediately struck by the pointillistic style of drumming that opens a number of the tracks—as if Eisenstadt (who is performing on drums) is reveling in the individual sound world of each drum or cymbal—and by the pleasantly quirky, occasionally stuttering, restless nature of the woodwind writing, not to mention the casual sprinkling of extended techniques through the pieces. What Is A Straw Horse, Anyways? combines all of these elements into an engaging (and fun!) musical statement.


Matthew Joseph Payne, flight of the bleeper bird: obviously I was abducted by paper aliens
Performed by Meerenai Shim
The Art of Noise

As an unrepentant fan of most things “bloop-bleep”-oriented, I couldn’t resist Matthew Joseph Payne’s work flight of the bleeper bird for flute and Game Boy on flutist Meerenai Shim’s compilation album The Art of Noise. The second movement, entitled “obviously I’ve been abducted by paper aliens,” opens with a somewhat “typically contemporary music flute-y” melodic line, but is quickly enveloped by cascading waves of electronic tones, transforming into a gleefully bouncing, frenetic duet. Anyone needing a fix of well-honed music derived from electronic game sounds should have a listen.

And while you’re at it, give the whole CD a spin—the four other thoughtfully constructed and well-performed works on The Art of Noise, which also deliver doses of cello, piano, and percussion in addition to Shim’s flute, were composed by Daniel Felsenfeld, Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Jay C. Batzner, and David E. Farrell.