Anne La Berge is a flutist, composer and improviser working with interactive electronics in both composed and improvised music.
What Anne tries to provide audiences
I offer the individuals who come to my concerts the opportunity to be curious and to hear, see or think in a way that wakes them up, that sparks them to wonder if the world as they see it might be different than they usually assume it is, in some unexpected way.
Her work, in her own words
Most of my works embrace the unpolished and unbridled opportunities that unforeseen combinations offer us to respond to in the process of making art. I try to provide those opportunities by guiding players through improvisations.
Most people who hear my work (and that includes my purely free improvisations), hear that I am trying to communicate something. That I have something to say whether the message is a kinesthetic gesture, an emotion or even words.
On the joy of music and live improvisation
I was performing a piece called Lotus Blue Dream with my daughter, Diamanda, composed by my husband for piccolo and violin. There is one section of the piece where I feel elevated into another world. One of the contributing factors is that Diamanda and I relate to one another on an intuitive level and another is that the composition brings us to a musical place that moves me in a very special way every time we play it.
I play with a couple of small groups where that happens regularly. One is Shackle and the other is a trio called Zebra that has 2 saxophones and me. The improvising magic happens when we are all sharing the responsibility of musical invention and we arrive in a musical place that integrates our instrumental timbres and our personal fantasies in a way that we’ve never experienced before. We all know it when it is happening and have the skills and the desires to stay in the music and develop a mini-composition at that moment that works for us. I know for certain that the audience feels it too. Magic. Wholeness. Entirety in the moment.
On creating a thriving community of composers and performers
I am the director of VOLSAP, a non-profit foundation that supports and produces experimental music in The Netherlands and abroad.
Splendor is a collective of musicians in Amsterdam. We have renovated a historic bathhouse in the old city that has two concert halls, a bar, and a few small rehearsal spaces. The programming and production for Splendor is the responsibility of 50 musicians. We produce our own projects and we can produce other productions by artists outside of the 50 core musicians. We are a club and have around 1000 members who can come to our concerts for free or for a reduced price. Our members pay €100 a year to be part of Splendor. It is a musical mecca of our time.
Making music with others
[Shackle is] an electro acoustic duo that have found a way of making music all our own. At our heart is a self-designed, digital cueing system that operates as a sometimes-visible third member. Both prodding and reactive, the Shackle System suggests musical directions and textures to Robert van Heumen and I, opening up a fascinating array of sonic choices for us to both play with and against. Our performances are between improvisation without borders and tightly controlled forms. Improvisation and structure coincide in our music making. With spontaneous transitions and long, spun-out sections of sound, our music works on many levels at once: full of delightful discoveries that can happen at any moment, we savor the possibilities that those discoveries offer up.
With composer Scott L Miller
Scott and I usually send Kyma Timelines and/or Kyma Sounds back and forth after a lengthy email exchange regarding our desires and the practical issues of the project we are working on. Fortunately we’ve performed together a few times now so we know the ins and outs of one another’s musical quirks. We also send sound files of rehearsing with the Sounds. That gives us an aural feedback that words would never be able to fully communicate.
Taking an active role in new instrument development
Alexander Murray [Anne’s flute professor at the University of Illinois] developed a flute that was slightly different from the conventional western flute that most people play today. The flute was more in tune and the fingering system was more logical. I had a flute built for myself and played on it for a few years. A couple of the design features did not suit me, so I had another one built that I used for many years until I moved to The Netherlands and met Eva Kingma. She was developing a quartertone flute in the early 1990’s that interested me. My experimental passions and history with unusual flutes made me a prime suspect to work with her as one of the consultants on the development of the Kingma flute. After playing a couple of prototypes, I ended up with a quartertone flute that has worked wonderfully for me for many years. As to my experimental nature, I think that is simply in my DNA. When someone needs a guinea pig, I’m first in line.
How Anne became an improviser
Both my piano and flute teachers had me invent and improvise exercises and/or tunes as part of my training. I grew up believing that improvising was part of one’s personal practice routine. Much later, I learned that some people made a career doing it!
During college and then directly after I was always part of improvisation ensembles. When I graduated from the University of Illinois and moved to Los Angeles, I became part of a few improv groups that performed regularly. One was with the musicians Ron George and Susan Rawcliffe who built their own instruments. While working with Ron and Susan, I developed a playing style where I didn’t sound at all like a classical western flute in order to fit into the the group sound.
Another extreme milestone was while I was living in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, had no access to a music library and was not willing to put out the money to purchase music. I asked the clarinetist, David Ocker, to play with me on a concert but we didn’t have any composed music to play so we improvised. The duo worked so well that we formed a trio with Vinny Golia and had a fantastic time playing together for some years.
After I moved to The Netherlands I performed regularly with full time professional improvisers. The free jazz scene in Amsterdam was remarkable and has remained so. The musicians in the Corkestra were particularly influential for me. Playing with them brought my improvising and my general artistic growth to another level.
On teaching improvisation to classically trained performers
Most classically trained performers have music that they know well and that they feel is somehow close to their hearts and bodies. When asked to improvise using the pitch, rhythmic and timbre material of that music, they are usually excited to do so. The next step would be to make the separate parameters of that music more available to improvise further. An example of combining parameters and waking up musical fantasy would be if one imagined two or three favorite pieces and combined them in different ways over a period of a few minutes. For example using the “feel” of a Berio Sequenza while playing Country Western that breaks down into the rhythmic structure of a Bartok piece and then ending up in sustained noise. That sounds like fun to me. And potentially our imaginations would be focused on the task of group instant composition and not on our own shortcomings or other personal inhibitions.
Advice for a performer/composers at the start of their careers
Composer/performers are a rare breed. The majority of composer/performers began their musical careers as exceptional instrumentalists or singers. By exceptional, I mean that they, somewhere along the line, developed a somewhat convoluted approach to learning the music put in front of them confounded by a spotty devotion to the conventions of music performance. I would recommend that they follow their noses and move to a place where they can work with like-minded colleagues. Usually this would be a metropolitan area with a vital improvisation and new music scene. Most hopping scenes have institutions where one can study but it is the colleagues who are most important. Collaborations inspire us to learn and develop. And those collaborations are essential in launching our careers as performer/composers.
Her philosophy of teaching, workshops and master classes
…my main focus in all workshops is to inspire people to take musical risks and to help them free their imaginations so that they can play together without obsessing on their own issues and discover ways to focus on making music. That way they can dig deeper into playing their instrument(s), coping with technology and building an ensemble sound and/or behavior.
A day in the life…
Depending how late I stayed up the night before, I get up and have tea while my husband David has coffee. We go into the yard and feed our pet bunnies Syd and Ginger and then we go to our desks. I turn on my computer and check my email just to see if there are any world catastrophes to solve and then I work creatively for a while. At some point in the day I practice the flute for a couple of hours. Then I have rehearsals, or meetings or concerts. My schedule is not regular seeing that I tour regularly. I practice the flute wherever I go. I also keep thinking or working on new work. Either in my head or with my gear.
Humor in new music
Frank Bowen [Anne’s flute professor at the University of New Mexico] was an incredibly talented musician and a warm hearted and devoted teacher. He was also extremely shy socially. He encouraged his students, including me, to develop a personal style of playing that would be immediately recognized as unique. He wanted us all to be who we were and even more. One comical memory that I have is when I brought in the Berio Sequenza to a lesson and during the second lesson he asked me what I was playing as the fourth event. It seemed wrong. As it turned out, my score had an ink mark on it that wasn’t part of the notation and I was just playing a smudge! A serious and ambitious flutist interpreting a glob of lost ink. Ridiculous? How would I have known? I’ll never forget how hard we laughed.
Current work in progress — A Lovely Gesture (world premiere scheduled for 28 September at KISS2014 in Lübeck Germany)
A Lovely Gesture is a 12-minute work for acoustic performer(s) with live Kyma processing and a Max patch communicating with the Kyma. The Kyma will have Sounds that process the musicians. We [Anne and collaborator Scott Miller] would like to give the performers and the computer the responsibility to progress through presets in the sounds. Therefore the players will be given pedals to press when they would like to move to a new preset. At least three players will need to vote to move on before the Max patch will consider sending the request to the Kyma. The Kyma and the Max patch will choose the next sound randomly each time. This system of moving to a new musical section randomly guides the players into all sorts of unexpected musical opportunities, especially as they strategize in real time from section to section including all the transitions between sections. The Kyma VCS will be visible on iPads located where the performers can see them. It is essential that the performers see what sections and presets we are in and that their votes are coming in loud and clear.
Basic description of Anne’s performance setup
1x acoustic microphone for flute – Neumann 184
RME ff400 firewire audio device: I use the RME as an onstage mixer. I use the pre amp for the flute and send the signal to a Mackie Blackjack that is the audio device for the Kyma. The Blackjack then returns the Kyma stereo audio to the RME so I can mix it into a stereo signal with audio coming from my computer that is usually generated by Max but sometimes Ableton Live.
I communicate with the MacBook Pro running Max and the Kyma software via a set of pedals sending data via an Arduino. The pedals are used to cue sounds on the Kyma Timeline and to control volume and parameters that I have clumped into one continuous controller. I try to keep the number of pedals to a minimum and use the audio from the flute as the main controller and musical voice.
I use the Kyma to process the flute in live performances. This summer I am working on using it to play sounds as part of compositions. Until now I have used Max to play audio samples in my compositions and used the Kyma to process the instruments. I am making a work now were the Kyma processes and plays samples or synthesized sounds in addition to processing the live performer.
On the Kyma community and KISS
The Kyma users I have met are for the most part exceptionally imaginative and intelligent people who have a penchant for creating music that is very much their own. People who love sound and through tinkering with hardware and software are convinced they will come up with yet another musical moment that feels fresh and exciting.
[At KISS] I was pleasantly surprised to meet up with people who I knew from years past. The level of invention and funky use of all kinds of hardware was also a high point for me. I …was delighted to see and hear work that gave me ideas for my own work.
I hear from musicians that I run into at gigs, festivals or just hanging around that the Kyma is a fantastic instrument but many of them have never actually gotten their hands on one to try it out. I think that these people who are curious…would be a great group to encourage to come to KISS.
Origins and the future!
My father is a scientist and a choral conductor. My mother is a violinist who has always been faithful at caring for people. Both parents are 85 and still active in their chosen paths. I have inherited a perpetual curiosity and penchant for invention from my father. I have been gifted with a fine musical ear, physical endurance and a preference for time-present focus from my mother. If I have to live a life that is nearly as long and rewarding as they both are continuing to do, I have years of challenges in front of me!