Creative encounters in Crete to meet in Brugge: 26 Feb 2010 at 8 pm

When musicians and visual artists collaborate, ultimately there is an intersection of time and space. How does one condense a year of time into a physical space? Our exhibition entitled GAEA AEOLUS, the result of that one week of “Creative Encounters” in Paleohora Crete, will open at 8 pm on 26th February 2010 in Brugge. There will be an electric piano. It will be a surprise.

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Musicians work in the dimension of TIME, while visual artists deal with SPACE.

When musicians and visual artists collaborate, ultimately there is an intersection of time and space. How does one condense a year of time into a physical space?

After the EFFUSION house concert, the film maker Julian Scaff invited us to a one week working holiday on Crete. It was the 14th Interdisciplinary Meeting of Artists at Levka Ori. There were no obligations. However, if we did create something, we could get it exhibited in early 2010 at the art gallery of the founder of this annual project.

We’d pay our own way, arrange our own stay, and meet daily for “creative encounters.” I was curious. We had nothing to lose but everything to gain. So we went in August 2009.

I began a blog of Paleochora.

Every day we drove up the mountains. What was omnipresent was the wind. In fact, the wind AND the sun competed fiercely for attention. We walked and worked alone. The wind filled the silence. When the sun grew too hot, we retreated and returned when it got cooler.

It was inconceivable to give a concert in Paleochora (the way we’re used to). What could we, as classical musicians, possibly achieve by being far away from our instruments and environments?

The “creative” part of the encounter occurred after we headed down the mountains and met for dinner. There we introduced ourselves and shared our ideas. I decided to give up trying to find a piano. Instead, I’d collect items to make musical instruments.

A box of twigs, rocks, and goat deposits in Paleochora, Crete
A box of twigs, rocks, and goat deposits in Paleochora, Crete

 

I imagined making a wind chime out of twigs and branches. I envisioned making percussive instruments out of pebble-like goat deposits. I crouched on my hands and knees and collected what I could find.

Making a musical instrument in Paleochora, Crete
Making a musical instrument in Paleochora, Crete

 

While I was completely focussed on making my wind chime, Robert had finished his “wind guitar.” He came to me and saw that my wind chime was turning into a mobile. The twigs swung in the wind but did not touch. There was no chime about it. But this gave him an idea of making a wind harp.

A wind mobile not wind chime at Paleochora, Crete
A wind mobile not wind chime at Paleochora, Crete

 

Later I abandoned the goat deposits as they crumbled in the moist plastic bag in our hotel room. I had created nothing feasible or substantial.

What am I going to exhibit at the ARTONIVO art gallery in central Brugge (also known as Bruges) next Friday? Our exhibition entitled GAEA AEOLUS, the result of that one week of “Creative Encounters” in Paleohora Crete, will open at 8 pm on 26th February 2010 in Brugge. Everyone else has got something to show. What will I do?

Luckily there will be an electric piano. It will be a surprise.

ArtoNivo art gallery in Brugge, Belgium
ArtoNivo art gallery in Brugge, Belgium

A Mediterranean Summer on 12 September

The “Mediterranean Summer” programme is part of the larger traditional programme we’ve performed throughout the Netherlands and three times in Spain. This Saturday we will give it away for free in a 600-year old building in central Utrecht: the Academiegebouw at 13:00.

Our Mediterranean Summer began in May with Spain and ended in August with Crete. It was a summer full of sunshine, beaches, fresh octopus and shellfish, new friendship, and cross-cultural collaborations. 

The “Mediterranean Summer” programme is part of the larger traditional programme we’ve performed throughout the Netherlands and three times in Spain. This Saturday we will give it away for free in a 600-year old building in central Utrecht: the Academiegebouw at 13:00. 

Dare we conclude our summer in Paleochora, Crete, the last week of August? I certainly hope not, for I have already booked a flight to Italy for mid-October, to stretch the summer in the Mediterranean just a wee bit longer.

The last sunset in Paleochora, Crete, August 2009
The last sunset in Paleochora, Crete, August 2009

“A Mediterranean Summer” concert programme

Sonatina
Federico Moreno Torroba (1891 – 1982)
Allegretto
Andante
Allegro

Fantasia para un Gentilhombre (1954) (complete guitar concerto!)
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901 – 1999)
Villano y Ricercare
Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles
Danza de las Hachas
Canario


Asturias (Leyenda)

Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)
guitar solo

Summer from The Four Seasons
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)
Allegro non molto arr. R. Bekkers (2008)
Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
Presto

Walking through a misty shower on the strand in Paris, August 2009
Walking through a misty shower on the strand in Paris, August 2009

In between Spain and Crete, we ventured into Paris for some inspiration. The modern art exhibition at the Pompidou Centre got us thinking about contemporary music. Why doesn’t the music of live composers attract the large crowds that pour into contemporary art galleries?

Wind to create energy, art, music, and friendship

High above the village of Paleohora, I and other participants of the 14th Levka Ori project worked with the wind for a week. We arrived on Friday 21 August exhausted from the long flights from Amsterdam and Brussels. The next morning we met in a hut on the sandy beach to discuss our plans.

High above the village of Paleohora, I and other participants of the 14th Levka Ori project worked with the wind for a week. I hesitate to use the word “work” for it has felt more like play than work. Nevertheless, I say “work” for it represents a focussed effort to create something out of nothing, communicate our ideas about self-expression, and engage in a creative process that would spill over to other areas in our individual lives.

We arrived on Friday 21 August exhausted from the long flights from Amsterdam and Brussels. The next morning we met in a hut on the sandy beach to discuss our plans. The founder and co-0rganiser Fernand (pictured below) explained the aims of the project and this year’s theme of wind. As none of us had to pay or were paid to participate, it was a free option bounded only by the opportunity cost of being there. [I’ll explain this later in a future blog on economics and freakonomics.]

Fernand, the founder and co-organiser of Levka Ori project
Fernand, the founder and co-organiser of Levka Ori project. Photo by Julian H. Scaff

Most of the participants had good ideas about what they would be doing or at least aiming for. Robert wanted to use his guitar in different locations to hear it against the wind or with the wind. As I didn’t have access to a piano, I resorted to taking pictures and videos with my mobile phone to blog and remember this event, if nothing else. Unlike others, I had no clue what I would or could be doing on the mountain where we’d be “catching” the wind.

Anne trying to take a picture of the panoramic view above Paleochora, Crete
Anne trying to take a picture of the panoramic view above Paleochora, Crete. Photo by Julian H. Scaff

And what a windy surprise it was to finally get to the plateau 900 meters above sea level, where only goats and their masters roamed. The wind was a constant companion as I explored the dry terrains of this area. The wind was loud against my ears, but only because I was there.

You cannot hear the wind unless it hits an object such as a microphone or your ears. It’s invisible but you can see its effects. You can feel its force and temperature on your skin. It cools you under the heat of the noon day sun. Sometimes it threatens to blow  you away. It’s fearless and arhythmic. It removes all silence and doubt.

While one artist was visibly recording the wind, the other was looking for material to cast her resin. [See the contrast below.]

An artist recording the wind in Paleochora, Crete
An artist recording the wind in Paleochora, Crete. Photo by Julian H. Scaff

The creative process involves making apriori assumptions and ideas, testing them in an environment of exploration and experimentation, tweaking or changing the original plan, abandoning initial plans, starting anew, etc. It’s a necessary part of being an artist. The goal is not to create but to engage in the process.

Blurred and changed by the wind
Blurred and changed by the wind. Photo by Julian H. Scaff

On Sunday, tired of the bumpy, uphill roads and the constant force of the wind, I took to the beach by myself while others pressed on. I finished reading the book “Freakonomics” and wondered why I was here at all. True, I was curious about the workshop in which the outcome would be something or nothing. I was eager to work with others, to see the world from their points of view. Most of all, I needed a holiday. And I expected Robert to want the same. That was the rationale for booking this working holiday.

Robert Bekkers playing guitar in the wind above Paleochora, Crete
Robert Bekkers playing guitar in the wind above Paleochora, Crete. Photo by Julian H. Scaff

On my second visit to the project site, I decided to collect goat droppings, pebbles, and dry wood sticks to make musical instruments. The goat excrements were round and light like coffee beans. I thought of putting them in empty water bottles and Cretan beer cans and using them like shakers. I would make wind chimes out of pebbles and sticks. I was excited about my idea.

On the way back downhill, I saw Julian’s wind machine powering two lights on a simple installation. Art and renewable energy, he told me, was his interest. A few days later, he erected another wind-powered chain of lights which we could see from the village at night.

Julian Scaff and his wind machine on Paleohora, Crete
Julian Scaff and his wind machine on Paleohora, Crete. Photo by Julian H. Scaff

…. to be continued….

Cocktail conversation at sunset in Paleochora, Crete

Five minutes before sundown, a lean man in his early fifties approached our table. Our conversation moved slowly much like the sun before it touched the earth. Until it actually skimmed the top of the mountain, the sunset seemed to take forever. The pace quickened as soon as it intersected the dark silhouette of the distant slope.

Five minutes before sundown, a lean man in his early fifties approached our table in the corner cafe at the far southeastern end of the sandy beach of Paleochora. [Note: sometimes the village is spelled without a c, i.e. Paleohora.]

“Hello, do you mind if I sit here?”

Paleochora, Crete at sunset
Paleochora, Crete at sunset

The evenly tanned man gently pulled out the empty plastic chair next to Robert.

“I just want to see the sunset for a few minutes,” he added politely.

“Sure, please go ahead,” gestured Robert. “We saw you yesterday. We were sitting over there. But all the tables on that side have been taken.”

The fair haired man nodded and explained that he was here with his girlfriend and her family. “It’s open evening tonight, so we’re free to do as we please. She is with her sister, and I am alone.”

He ordered a glass of fresh orange juice while I sipped the special house cocktail containing creme de cacao, Bailey’s, and some exotic ingredients.

“Orange juice is so cheap here. Squeeze two oranges and it’s only two euros! But cappucino is the same price as in Germany.” He gave the waiter two euro fifty.

“Where are you from in Germany?” I asked.

“Freiburg.” It sounded vaguely familiar though I had not been there in any of my dozen visits to his country.

Our casual conversation moved slowly, much like the sun before it touched the earth. Until it actually skimmed the top of the mountain, the sunset seemed to take forever. The pace quickened as soon as it intersected the dark silhouette of the distant slope.

The German had come to Paleochora (pronounced with a silent “c”) some 30 years ago when it was full of hippies living in wooden huts. “You can still run into a few of those ageing hippies.  There weren’t apartments or hotels dotting the landscape then.”

He was here on a two week holiday, and sunset was a precious moment.

“Where are you from?” he asked us.

“I’m from Holland,” said Robert and turned to me. “Well, Anne is sort of also. But she can explain.”

As usual, to avoid a difficult question, I  tried to summarise it all in one sentence. “I consider myself Chinese although I grew up on an American air base in Okinawa.”

Robert introduced ourselves as a piano guitar duo from the Netherlands.

“Oh?” he seemed interested. “And which instrument do you play?”

“Guitar,” said Robert. “Anne plays the piano. But there’s no piano here.”

“So I didn’t bring my music.”

“Nor your piano, I see. Was it too heavy to carry?”

Robert chuckled.  “She would have to be Horowitz to get her piano here!”

The man smiled and volunteered, “I used to play the piano when I was young and then I studied to become a professional violinist.”

He grimaced, “I had to stop because it was hurting my ears. Thankfully I was forced to discontinue. I wouldn’t want to work so hard for so little pay.”

He complained that traveling in a string quartet got boring and playing in an orchestra grew tedious.

“So did you switch to something else that was easy but more rewarding?” I asked.

“Yes,” he leaned back in his chair. “I became a psychologist.”

“How interesting!” I told him about my busy teenage years on Okinawa. I accompanied choirs in school and church, played keyboards in bands, played organ for five weekly church services, and taught 20 private piano students, all before I turned 18. “It was too easy to earn money in music. That’s why I went to study engineering at college.”

“But you’re a professional musician now?” he was puzzled.

“Yes, after working in various non-music fields in different countries, I returned to music, lured by the idea of being paid to do what I loved and not having to follow other people’s agenda or operate to tight deadlines like my previous job as magazine editor.”

Sunset at Paleochora, Crete
Sunset at Paleochora, Crete

The sun had nearly disappeared by then. But we had only just begun the interesting part of our conversation. What kind of psychologist was he? Why did he choose to return to Paleochora after such a long time? Why didn’t he visit other parts of Crete?

We told him that we were actually jealous of musicians who could audition and play in an orchestra. 

“It’s hard to get hired as a guitarist,” said Robert. “Even harder as a classical guitarist.”

“And there are so many great pianists out there,” I added. “So here we are — a piano and guitar duo, possibly one of the hardest combinations of instruments. Unlike the violin, the piano and the guitar can’t ease into each other to gradually blend into a single sound. The piano hammers. The guitar plucks. We don’t sustain easily on a single note, like string, wind, or brass instruments.”

“Once we play our note, there’s no turning back,” said Robert. “We have to be exactly synchronised if we’re playing the same note otherwise you’ll hear two instead of one.”

The German psychologist shook his head. It did not make sense anyone would invest in such an impossible feat: to play such seemingly incompatible instruments with steep acoustical challenges and actively having to arrange and commission new music for the duo. Like so many others before him, he was skeptical.

“Perhaps we can continue this conversation tomorrow at sunset?” he suggested.

Yes, of course, we replied.

Meanwhile, he has 24 hours to figure out how we could afford to miss a week of teaching, rehearsing, and performing to come to this island.

Wanted: venues with grand piano and great acoustics in Leiden, Amsterdam, around Utrecht, Crete, and Taiwan

I am floating between the past and future (concerts) this June, a month for practising new repertoire, forever working on our first CD, getting coaching from great masters, and doing market research. That is, I’m waiting for video and audio clips of our concerts in Spain and simultaneously looking for venues with (grand) piano and (great) acoustics for future concerts.

alternative title: Planning for the future

I am floating between the past and future (concerts) this June, a month for practising new repertoire, forever working on our first CD, getting coaching from great masters, and doing market research. That is, I’m waiting for video and audio clips of our concerts in Spain (to load onto our website) and simultaneously looking for venues with (grand) piano and (great) acoustics for future concerts. Rather than waiting for someone to “discover” us, we are deciding where we want to go and actively looking for venues and sponsors.

Dutch composer Gijs van Dijk, Spanish biography May 2009
Dutch composer Gijs van Dijk, Spanish biography May 2009

We are giving our contemporary programme of music of (mainly) Dutch composers in Amsterdam on Sunday 12th July. I’m looking for other venues around that time, as the composers will be present — and only max 50 will be admitted in Funen Park 125, Amsterdam. How about Saturday 11th July in Utrecht and Monday 13th July in Leiden, for example? Where can I find concert producers and venues with piano?

Dutch composer Heleen Verleur, Spanish biography May 2009
Dutch composer Heleen Verleur, Spanish biography May 2009

We presented the same 21st century programme of piano guitar duo music on 3rd May 2009 in La Coruña, Spain, in the beautiful Museum of Contemporary Arts. Three of the Dutch composers were featured, with their biographies translated into Spanish, printed on nice glossy paper, inserted into the ongoing “El Oido Contemporaneo” hard-bound binder initiated and researched by Spanish composer Ruben Someso. This impressive collection of biographies of composers, 20th and 21st century composition techniques, musical instruments, and related musical vocabulary will surely become a book one day.

Dutch composer Henk Alkema, biography in Spanish, May 2009
Dutch composer Henk Alkema, biography in Spanish, May 2009

In the last week of July, the celebrated violin guitar duo of Matt and Beth Gould, also known as Duo46, will stopover in Amsterdam on their way back from the Contemporary Music Festival (founded by pianist Nathanael May in 2005 and continued annually in Cortona and Pavia, Italy). We’re actively looking for a suitable venue in Utrecht or Amsterdam, or surrounding cities/villages, for a double duo concert, tentatively called 2 + 2 = 6, on Monday afternoon 27th July 2009. How many combinations can we make out of 2 guitars, a violin, and a piano?

The million dollar view in Cortona, Italy July 2007
The million dollar view in Cortona, Italy July 2007

Ideally we’d like to give a concert everywhere we go. But I honestly think we will have no time the first week of August 2009 when we’re in London. That is, no time to organise a concert, I should say. We will never say NO to someone else organising the publicity, concert venue, ticket reservations, etc, especially if the concert is for Sunday 2nd August. Maybe I should just throw my wish to the wind? A concert in Ealing? Or a solo guitar concert or a guitar/flute concert as part of the analyticalQ home concert series?

Embracing uncertainty and opportunity, we’ve booked our flights to Chania, Crete for the 14th Levka Ori project in the ancient village of Paleohora. We’ve put a deposit on our accommodations for 21st to 28th August, and look forward to working with other artists with open minds. It’s our first trip to Crete, and Robert Bekkers’ first to Greece. So far, I have NOT found a piano in Paleohora (also spelled Paleochora). Between now and then, if we’re lucky and find a piano, then I’ll be able to schedule a live concert there. And whatever we plan or produce will get presented and exhibited in a museum in Belgium the following January.

In September/October 2009, we plan to give a concert in beautiful Leiden or its surroundings, so as to work with some 14 videographers, to communicate the real-time live performance to an audience who cannot be present physically. In other words, it will be podcasted — captured on video, for the rest of the world to see, whenever and wherever they want. It’s going to be a very interesting experience. But we still need to find a venue and set a date.

As the saying goes, “if Mohammed can’t come to the mountains, the mountains will come to Mohammed.” We took our music to Maui to share with my mother and sister, who had never seen us perform until then. Next winter, we’re looking for venues in Taiwan. Any ideas?