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In Conversation with Forest Collective’s Nikki Edgar

We chat with composer, cellist and Forest Collective member Nikki Edgar about the upcoming show, the premiere of her new piece, and the importance of experimentation in music.

Forest Collective invite audiences to experience music in new and expanded ways at Skin Deep, a unique performance exploring unconventional notation. The performance will take place at the Convent on Sunday 19 August 2018.

We chat with composer, cellist and Forest Collective member Nikki Edgar about the upcoming show, the premiere of her new piece, and the importance of experimentation in music. 

Forest Collective will perform their show Skin Deep at Abbotsford Convent on Sunday 19 August 2018. What can audiences expect from this show, and in what way is it a continuation of, or a divergence from, Forest Collective’s broader work?

The night will present four new works, each with their own personalities and scoring methods, guiding the performers through a collective improvisation and performative experience. The audience can expect familiar and unfamiliar instruments exploring familiar and unfamiliar sounds. Each performer will have the chance to express themselves individually through their reaction to the scores of each work.

Though I’ve only been a member of Forest Collective since the beginning of this year, I can already see that this concert ties in well with Forest’s overall focus — presenting and hosting events of varying genres that allow each performer to express their own personal style. I see Forest Collective as an organisation that encourages creativity and collaboration.

The show features four world premiere pieces. Can you describe what it’s like performing a piece to an audience for the very first time? Do pieces ever change as a result of their premiere?

For myself, I enjoy improvising the most in my own practice, so performing something the audience (and myself) haven’t heard before is something I’m super excited about. I feel this is an important factor that ties into my own practice; creating something that can only be experienced at that moment and experienced only by the people who were there. For works like these, something – if not everything – about the piece will be different with multiple playings. The intent is to evoke a reaction from the performer and audience, for my work at least, to give someone a little nudge to experiment.

Forest Collective has performed many shows at the Convent over the last five years. Why do you feel the Convent’s spaces connect well with Forest Collective’s work?

The Convent is a huge site and has so many different spaces that fit so well with Forest’s exploratory theme of their performances. The Convent is also a widely recognised venue that I believe people are not only comfortable with going to, but also enjoy the environment; it creates the perfect setting for experiencing any kind of art.

Your newly commissioned composition Skin Deep features colourful graphic scores. How will the visual elements reflect or inform the music? How do the two art forms interact to elicit an emotional response from the audience?

I personally think about music in a more visual way, so I’ve found the best way to portray sounds I’m wanting to hear is through lines and colours. Graphic scores support more long durational works since conventional notation is very pointillistic. For my work Skin Deep, it will follow both a strict interpretation of the score and an open interpretation. This will inform the audience of different ways you can perceive the work. There is no one right way to view something.

Speaking to Forest Collective Artistic Director Evan Lawson on Forest Collective’s podcast, you mention that your composition aims to change how people perceive music and invites them to learn to listen in different ways. In what ways will the piece challenge the audience to experience music in new and expanded ways?

Graphic scoring, whilst not new, is still not a widely recognised style of composing, so to begin with, this performance will encourage the audience to connect visuals to sound and show how anything can be translated into another art form.

For people who haven’t been exposed to graphic scores and contemporary improvisation, it can sound intimidating and unfamiliar at first, but I want to show people that anyone can take part in these works, be it performing or just being there to experience how others translate it. I personally respond better to visuals, but others respond better sonically. There is no one way to view something; everyone’s opinion is valid, so long as it’s sincere.

In this same interview, you described the performance as almost being a form of structured improvisation for the musicians. Can you expand on what you mean by that?

For myself, I see most scores as being coherent graphics that can be used as a guide to translate the information into something else. It can either be strict (like most conventional notation) or broad. For my own works, I hear them sounding a certain way which is always consistent if I perform them with my preferred interpretation. But I can also see how they can be made either more complex or simpler. There are patterns that can be connected to specific techniques or sounds or can be simply a mood that the performer can use as stimulus for improvising.

The main intention of the works is to allow everyone to view them in different ways, and to see another view as just as valid as their own.

In addition to your composition, the night will also feature new work from Chris Rechner, Julie Herndon and Lily Tait. Can you tell us a little bit about these works and how they complement the themes within your work?

All the works featured on the night will explore a similar concept of performer agency and unconventional notation, but each with their own personal style. I’m really excited to be able to perform these works as each composer has a unique style. Chris’ work Rosina has a more game-like style, in the form of a text-based score. In this work the performers have instructions or suggestions that they can follow to create a sort of discourse between them. There should be a large focus on communication, and the audience can experience how the performers react to each other in real time.

Julie’s piece 7 Words similarly explores communication between the performers as they interpret her multiple scores, each with their own mood, performance style or technique. It will be quite open to interpretation but requires the performers to really watch and listen to each other. I’m very intrigued by Julie’s compositions; she perfectly presents music and art that is interesting and accessible.

Lily Tait then has a work for trio which will be a nice change of pace from the large ensemble works. Lily’s piece will focus on vocal and instrumental sounds, exploring the limits of our instruments.

What do you hope audiences will take away from their experience at the performance?

It’s cliché and daggy but above all else I want the audience to have an enjoyable experience. I want them to feel connected and involved in the works. Even though the audience won’t be directly involved, they are the reason we are performing. They are just as important to the creation of new works as the performers and composers. I want them to take away that anything can be music or art or performance; there is no one way of viewing something.

What’s next for you as a composer and performer? 

Shortly after Skin Deep, on 27 August, I will be performing Perceive in La Mama Musica, with Lily Tait, Bec Scully and Mirren Strahan. This work will take elements of Skin Deep and put it in a different setting and experience. This will be an expansion of my overall practice. I will also be presenting an interactive large-scale work at Fringe Furniture 32 at the Abbotsford Convent, from 13 – 30 September 2018. 

Forest Collective will perform Skin Deep at Abbotsford Convent on Sunday 19 August 2018.

Skin Deep is proudly part of the Abbotsford Convent Foundation’s Convent Live program.