Art and music improvisation: an observation and reflection

Watching an art and music improvisation session reminded me of the various collaborations I’ve had with artists in London, Utrecht, Crete, and Brugges. It’s about the process.

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As a finishing touch to my recent application for an innovation grant, I asked the Maui-based artist Mike Takemoto if he would consider having his students collaborate with mine. I was thinking along the lines of an exhibit of paintings of musicians, music instruments, or music notes. It would be an extension of the piano ensemble poster exhibit that I “curated” and organized with the photography teacher Harvey Reed and his photo and design students last spring. Such interdisciplinary collaboration raised awareness of the activities we wanted to promote.

Continue reading “Art and music improvisation: an observation and reflection”

Sweet Pain

Robert Bekkers in a recording of “Sweet Pain” sung by Harry.

Googling oneself always yields surprises. There’s a young pianist named “Annie Ku” who won a piano competition. There’s a violinist named “Anne Ku.”

And then there’s “Robert Bekkers” whose youtube clips show our duo and trios. But here’s one that I’ve not seen before.

Harry is the singer. Gaston, the recording engineer in Belgium. And Robert Bekkers, the guitarist.

2010: a year in reflection

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo traveled and performed in three continents: Europe, Asia, and North America in 2010. Among the highlights were house concerts, concerts in churches, collaboration with other artists, and showing others how to produce concerts.

As the last blog post in 2010, we would like to thank all readers for reading, referring, commenting, and supporting this blog. 2010 has been an incredible year for our piano guitar duo. We have never traveled as extensively in any year as this one. We have never collaborated with so many people as this year. We have never had such a variety of gigs.

Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

We began the year in the Netherlands with our usual concerts.

In February, we made a weekend trip to Belgium to open a new exhibition with a selection of solo, duo, and improvisation in beautiful historic Brugge. It was one of several collaborations with other artists.

In April, we made a whirlwind tour of Taiwan, introducing ourselves to the Taipei Rotary Club and a string quartet in Taipei.

From January to April, we coached new house concert hosts on how to produce concerts from their homes, culminating in our debut of the 30-minute long Grand Potpourri National to open a new concert series and the release of our first CD Summer in the home of an artist.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer

In May, we organised our biggest house concert yet: a dozen musicians in 4 different concerts in one day! The Glass Vase Concert was free entry with cover art commissioned for auction. The bonus was the chef-catered Egyptian dinner for 50 people, who queued for seconds.

All the insights from our experience of producing house concerts and interviews with others were presented in a paper to economists at an international conference in Copenhagen in June.

Besides performing as a duo, we also worked with other musicians such as French horn player Emile Kaper and American cellist Stephanie Hunt. We found that piano and guitar worked well with other instruments and the audiences love the idea. We programmed one house concert in Amsterdam with our duo, Robert’s solo guitar of Bach Chaconne, piano and cello, and finally piano, guitar, and cello.

In September, we traveled to Zeeland in the southwest coast of the Netherlands to give 5 concerts in 3 days. It was a busy month, made busier by our reluctance to cancel any concerts including those that took us by surprise and decided upon last minute (impromptu).

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the coast-to-coast America Tour, from Boston to Sacramento in 5.5 weeks. We thank our hosts, guests, and everyone who made this tour happen. We had no idea it would be so empowering and fantastic.

What next? Who knows? We bought ourselves one way tickets to paradise and started a new blog to lure our friends to come visit us. We look forward to seeing our friends from Davis, Houston, Seattle, and Nebraska in the first few months of 2011.

Hope you have enjoyed these blog posts. 2011 promises to be an entirely different year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

BEST WISHES TO ALL!!!

Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands
Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands

Improvising piano guitar in Belgium

Unlike jazz improvisation where chord progressions do matter, contemporary “art music” improvisation is all about gestures. I don’t need perfect pitch to play the right notes. The notes don’t matter. Without the constraints of melody and harmony, we’re free to explore other territories of rhythm, dynamics, and self-expression.

Live music cannot be captured in a bottle or caged in a glass container for all to see.

Live music performance can get everyone’s attention and even unify a group. It can also give rise to meaningful conversation afterwards.

At the opening of the new exhibition at Artonivo Art Centre in Brugge, Belgium on 26th February 2010, I told the invited guests about the Creative Encounters in Crete experience.

Anne Ku introduces the experience of Creative Encounter in Crete
Anne Ku introduces the experience of Creative Encounter in Crete, photo: Liz Miller

Afterwards I played something I wrote a few years ago on the electric piano, explaining the kind of conversation that could take place between two strangers, hence the title “Encounter” or “Ontmoeting” in Dutch.

Where was the guitarist? I didn’t want to play another piano solo. I am too used to playing duo these days.

“Robert?”

“Yes?” I heard a voice from the back.

“Are you there? Are you ready?”

Robert Bekkers joins Anne Ku on stage in Belgium
Robert Bekkers joins Anne Ku on stage in Belgium, photo: Liz Miller

“Ah! You blew my cover,” he said as he walked on stage. He thought I was going to play another piece.

Now, I can’t remember if we played our arrangement of Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Or if we ended with an improvisation. Nothing was recorded. But I do remember the reaction of the audience.

We had talked about improvising many times. But it was the first time we improvised before an audience. The concept of improvisation is simple: you have a conversation through music. You don’t know a priori what to expect. You just have to go with the flow.

Unlike jazz improvisation where chord progressions do matter, contemporary “art music” improvisation is about gesture and communication. You don’t need perfect pitch to play the right notes. The notes don’t matter. Without the constraints of melody and harmony, we’re free to explore other territories of rhythm, dynamics, and self-expression.

The audience watching Robert Bekkers and Anne Ku at Artonivo
The audience watching Robert Bekkers and Anne Ku at Artonivo, photo: Liz Miller

The next day we met with Liz Miller, the photographer whose polaroid exhibition is currently on display in our monument house in Utrecht. “What did you think of our performance?” I asked.

“I love the improv!” She was sure everyone else loved it — more than my composition or the Vivaldi.

“But we didn’t even practise for it. And I’m not sure we will be able to repeat the same improvisation again,” I said.

“That’s precisely why it works well here,” she said. “We were the only ones to have seen that improv.”

Notice the word “seen” not “heard.” An improvisation has to be seen, for it’s about gestures and expression.

No live performance is ever the same. We can play the same piece over and over again. Each time it will be different. However, no improvisation can ever be repeated.

Live music cannot be captured in a bottle or caged in a glass container for all to see, like the items Liz collected from Crete (below).

Display by Liz Miller at Artonivo Art Centre, Brugges Belgium
Display by Liz Miller at Artonivo Art Centre, Brugges Belgium, photo: Liz Miller

It can be recorded. But it will never be live.

Video Levka Ori and guitar at Artonivo

Participants of Levka Ori Creative Encounters in 2008 and 2009 finally meet in 2010 to share their experiences and exhibit their work. Watch the video of Dorit Drori and see the photo of Robert Bekkers.

The current exhibition at Artonivo art centre in Bruges (Brugge), Belgium shows several videos on the big screen. I witnessed the making of Robert Bekkers’ wind guitar high above Paleochora, Crete. I hope it will be available soon to share with the world in cyberspace.

During the busy evening of 26th February 2010 when the exhibition opened, I didn’t get to watch closely or hear the accompanying guitar music of Israeli artist/photographer Dorit Drori’s video until now. Dorit had participated in the 2008 Levka Ori Creative Encounters on Crete project, just a year before ours.

Had we gone in August 2008, we might have produced something different for the exhibition. Perhaps Robert might have played the guitar that accompanied her video. Alternatively, Dorit might have filmed Robert playing his guitar in the wind.

There was no overlap between August 2008 and August 2009. We didn’t meet Dorit until Friday 26th February 2010. We could not have collaborated before then.

Interestingly you could say that we are now collaborating in hindsight. Below is a photo Dorit took of Robert Bekkers performing live music on the opening night. And I’m just discovering the works of Dorit Drori through her websites and videos…… and blogging about it now.

Robert Bekkers on guitar at Artonivo in Bruges Belgium
Robert Bekkers on guitar at Artonivo in Bruges Belgium, photo: Dorit Drori

Creativity and economics in Crete and Belgium

Half a year later, I wrote a short text on creativity and economics for exhibition at the Artonivo art centre in Bruges, Belgium. The owner, Fernand, considers the exhibition his personal hobby, i.e. to bring creative people together and display their work. The gallery is open from 15:00 to 18:00 every day until 5th April 2010.

I was reading “Freakonomics” on my way from Amsterdam to Crete last August (2009). I wanted to talk about it with the other participants of the 14th Levka Ori Creative Encounters in Crete. But they were more interested in creativity than economics.

Anne Ku at the Creative Encounters exhibition at Artonivo
Anne Ku at Artonivo art centre in Belgium, photo credit: Dorit Drori

While I struggled with creativity, the other participants actively created. While I argued about the economics of creativity, the others expressed their creativity in different ways.

Half a year later, I wrote a short text on creativity and economics for exhibition at the Artonivo art centre in Bruges, Belgium. The owner, Fernand, considers the exhibition his personal hobby, i.e. to bring creative people together and display their work. [For easier reading, click here for a PDF of left-hand side text and here for a PDF of right-hand side text.]

Creativity and economics in retrospect by Anne Ku
Creativity and economics in retrospect by Anne Ku at Artonivo, Belgium 26 February - 5 April 2010

Hopefully my text will produce food for thought for some of the visitors. The gallery is open from 15:00 to 18:00 every day until 5th April 2010. It is above the Callebert family shop whose motto is “everything you need for a modern life.”

Art and music at Artonivo in Bruges, Belgium

On Friday 26th February 2010, Robert Bekkers and I officially participated as artists in a new exhibition. It was the result of our week of “Creative Encounters in Paleochora, Crete” in August 2009. The exhibition covers the interdisciplinary projects of 2007, 2008, and 2009 spearheaded by the owner of the Artonivo Gallery. GAEA AEOLUS or AARDE WIND or EARTH WIND exhibition runs daily from 15:00 to 18:00 in Artonivo art centre in central Brugge (Bruges), Belgium until 5th April 2010.

There is a first time for everything. As musicians, we give concerts (foreground music) or play background music. Rarely do we get a chance to play foreground music and linger on (without being there) for two months.

On Friday 26th February 2010, Robert Bekkers and I officially participated as artists in a new exhibition. It was the result of our week of “Creative Encounters in Paleochora, Crete” in August 2009. The exhibition covers the interdisciplinary projects of 2007, 2008, and 2009 spearheaded by the owner of the Artonivo Gallery.

Opening night at Artonivo in Brugge, Belgium, photo credit Dorit Drori
Opening night at Artonivo in Brugge, Belgium, photo credit Dorit Drori

I had gone to many private viewings in London and Amsterdam as a spectator but never as a participant. That Robert Bekkers and I would have something to exhibit was a completely new experience for us. As precaution, I had suggested a concert — something we knew well, in case we had nothing worthy to exhibit.

An electric piano made a live performance possible. However, memories of playing on an electric piano in Capetown’s Victoria & Alfred amphitheatre in South Africa warned us against trying anything too fancy.

I began with a piece for violin and cello. It seemed appropriate to play “Encounter” with the left hand as cello and right hand as violin, for the project was called “14th Levka Ori Creative Encounters in Crete.” I explained the programmatic aspect of my composition about a conversation between two strangers.

I will write about our improvisation in another blog. It deserves a separate blog. We had never performed an improvisation in public until then. But that’s how we met, or rather, how Robert and I were supposed to have interacted — in an improvisation ensemble in Amsterdam in Spring 2001. Except, it didn’t happen. I sat in the audience instead. That’s definitely another story.

We ended the short concert with Vivaldi’s WINTER for it conjures up the wind and the elements.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo play Vivaldi's Winter
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo play Vivaldi's Winter from Four Seasons, photo credit: Dorit Drori

So happy I was to see three familiar faces from the Netherlands. They had come to support us — or perhaps out of curiosity. What were musicians doing in an art gallery? What were Netherlands-based musicians doing in Belgium?

Over champagne and sandwiches we chatted with the guests. We got to know the other artists who had gone to Crete before us. Two sisters Ruthi Dekel and Dorit Drori had gone in 2008 whose theme was Archaelogy of the Imagination. I am grateful for Dorit’s photos displayed here.

GAEA AEOLUS or AARDE WIND or EARTH WIND exhibition runs daily from 15:00 to 18:00 in Artonivo art centre in central Brugge (Bruges), Belgium until 5th April 2010.