Sunday 18 December 2016 was a special date indeed! It marked the longest project FLO ever did, culminating in the most interesting artistic collaboration between: 10 classically trained musicians playing 4 different types of flutes based in Zagreb (Zagreb Flute Ensemble), 1 classically trained music composer based in Banja Luka (David Mastikosa), 1 classically trained cellist with a PhD in computer science and a keen interest in improvisation using electronics based in Warsaw (Magdalena Chudy), 1 sound artist based in London (Nela Brown) and 1 film director based in Brussels (Anja Kavić).
The fact we managed to pull it off regardless of being based in 5 different countries is quite an achievement! We never gave up on the idea of performing together in spite of team changes, concept changes, venue changes, date changes, which is just amazing and a true testament to the resilience of the ‘Trio Fantastikus’ featured in the photo below: Renata Penezić (creative director of ZAF), David (composer) and Nela (creative director of FLO).
Ana Batinica (an award-winning flute player from ZAF who was in charge of liaising with all the collaborators involved in Sutra project), also played a huge part in the project’s success, especially during those first team meetings in Zagreb, when it became obvious that some of the parts of David’s score would need to be recorded, processed and played back via speakers (rather than played live). Thank you Ana!
But before we go into thanking everyone who contributed to the project, let’s travel down the memory lane and look at how the project developed from start to finish over nearly 25 months, hundreds of emails, WhatsApp messages, Skype chats, meetings and late night telephone conversations 🙂
THE MAKING OF SUTRA
In November of 2014, 3 months after starting FLO in London, Nela got introduced to Renata (one of ZAF founders) and Dimitris Diavatis (Renata’s partner, musician and audio engineer who wanted to help out with technical part of ZAF + FLO collaboration) through her friend Lidija Ljubicic who played with ZAF at the time. Renata mentioned ZAF was interested in using tools to process their flute sound alongside playing a written score and that she would get in touch with some composers they collaborated with and see if any of them wanted to write a composition to kick-start the ZAF/FLO collaboration.
Over the following months, both ZAF and FLO were busy with various projects and performances, but we kept each other in the loop. David joined the team as a composer, Hrvoje Korbar joined as a director and Neven Radakovic came on board as the ‘sound painter’. These were exciting times! Over the summer Nela, Renata, David, Neven and Ana exchanged some further emails and in September of 2015 Hrvoje shared with us his vision for the project based on the Futurist Manifesto, which we all liked a lot!
Sutra was set to be performed in Lauba gallery in Zagreb so in April of 2016 Nela met with Renata, Ana, Hrvoje and a few other possible collaborators in Lauba cafe to check out the space and discuss what sort of performance could be staged there.
We had a long discussion about what FLO could contribute to the project, following which Nela wrote the production plan and invited Magda, Maria and Ximena (who were all part of FLO at the time) to join the project. The plan was David to compose 15 minutes of musical fragments for 10 flutes so these can be played in a different order using ‘sound painting’ techniques as well as processed by FLO using electronics. As FLO performances generally involve ‘telematics’ we also discussed the feasibility of streaming audio in real-time into Lauba space as well as how the improvisation of FLO members would fit with the score David was about to write.
It was all going swimmingly well until we hit the first hurdle – our sound painter Neven Radakovic was no longer able to work on Sutra project 😦 Talking about ‘throwing the spanner in the works’! With David already working on the composition and ZAF ordering resources to help them learn the art of ‘sound painting’ it was obvious we had to find some other sound painters and fast! Renata (a super resourceful woman indeed) saved the day by getting in touch with Michele, Stefano and Gabriele from Webindra project based in Italy. A short Skype session later and hey presto! we were in business again! Phew!
Maria and Ximena started thinking up ways they could contribute with their art practices (streaming soundwalk/voice from different locations) whilst Nela and David took over managing the project due to Hrvoje being very busy with his other work. We started planning meet-ups in Zagreb (September) and London (October) so we can jointly work on the project and then another spanner got thrown into works! Webindra folks were no longer able to work on the project as the schedule of meetings and rehearsals collided with their other commitments. By this point it become obvious we had to forget about sound painting (for this project at least!), so we decided to focus on Hrvoje’s ideas of immersive theatre (something Nela had a lot of experience with having had previously worked as a sound designer on an award-winning Hotel Medea produced by ZU-UK).
In September of 2016 David, Nela and Hrvoje went to check out Lauba one last time and found out that due to internal staff restructuring (which happened during the summer) the 2 dates Renata agreed with the (previous) Lauba team, were no longer in the calendar. Whaaaaaat???? Whilst the misunderstanding about the dates was easy enough to sort out, finding 2 consecutive dates for the Sutra performance turned out to be impossible, as apart from 1 single date in November (which was way too soon) Lauba was fully booked until February of 2017! A popular place indeed!
So this got us all thinking… The kind of immersive theatre extravaganza Hrvoje had been planning involved a large team of people (dramaturgist, choreographer, lighting designer, visual designer, 10 dancers, 4 actors etc.) and elaborate movement through space by audience and performers (a total of which has climbed to 28), which was only really possible to do in a large space like Lauba. Changing the venue meant scaling down dramatically so we started thinking about perhaps putting on a ‘work in progress’ in a smaller venue in December with a view of doing a more elaborate performance in 2017.
The day after their meeting in Lauba, David, Nela and Hrvoje met with Ana and Hrvoje’s colleague (who was a choreographer) to listen to the score and discuss possible ways of tackling different parts of the score through acting, movement, sound design, sound processing and improvisation.
Having studied the score in great detail, Ana pointed out the parts which would be difficult for ZAF to play whilst moving around the space (with no clear line of sight) so decision was made for these parts to be recorded in a studio.
The day after, Nela had the last meeting with just Hrvoje to discuss how David’s composition could be divided into parts which naturally lend themselves to a ‘break’ that could provide a space for text, voice, visuals, singing, movement through space etc. Hrvoje was just in the process of sorting out the texts that would be used by actors during the performance and the recording of which would provide FLO with some further material to work with (in terms of sound manipulation, spatialisation etc.).
So we hatched up yet another plan of action: a) recording the parts of David’s score that can not be played live + all the actors’ voiceovers; b) organizing a meeting with Hrvoje, David, Nela and Ana in London to work on the project; c) look for a new venue that would able to host the ‘work in progress’ concert in December (where the movement of the performers is restricted to the main stage with a possibility of spatialising sound through 8-channels) and a bigger venue that would be able to host the ‘immersive theatre’ version of the project in 2017. Totally doable right?
Whilst we waited for the texts from Hrvoje and info about the new venue, recording session etc., it became obvious that the plan for audio streaming of Maria’s soundwalk and Ximena’s voice into the (yet unconfirmed) performance space was a risky proposition as we didn’t even know if the new space would have the kind of broadband speed needed for telematics to work in real-time. Also, by this point, the project developed in a direction both Maria and Ximen felt they would not be able to contribute to with their respective arts practices, so they graciously stepped down. Losing half of the FLO team in the final stages of the project was hard, and meant rethinking once again the sort of contribution remaining FLO members were going to make to the project.
With concert being 2 months away, we felt we had enough time to brainstorm this but then yet another (HUGE) spanner was thrown into the works! Hrvoje got overloaded with other work commitments and decided to also step down! With him gone in the middle of the project, we had to say goodbye to the whole concept of futurism, dancing, dramaturgy, texts, acting, opera singing, visuals, lighting, venue etc. Oh, and our costume designer became unavailable too at about the same time! Surely that was the end of the project?
With Hrvoje and his team ‘out of the picture’, the project was ‘back to square one’. The ‘Trio Fantastikus’ (Renata, David & Nela) had to ask themselves the following (make or break) questions, before making the final decision: 1. Are we able to deliver a performance of Sutra in December? 2. What is the new format going to be? 3. Who else would we need to bring on board to make it happen?
David and Nela discussed some ways forward and agreed that the project needed a new concept that would tie everyone’s contributions into one unified whole and that this could be done by telling parts of the story through visuals. David then contacted his colleague Anja Kavić (a film director based in Brussels) and arranged a Skype meeting so that the three of them can discuss ideas. After nearly 3.5 hours, yet another plan was hatched involving David and Vanja Milošević (from the Banja Luka Film School) going to Zagreb to capture footage based on Anja’s script/direction, which Anja would edit into several short video excerpts and Nela would use a starting point for sound design.
The concert date was moved to Sunday 18 December and Renata confirmed we would be able to do the performance at the ORIS House of Architecture. We conjured up a plan of action with provisional dates for filming and recording part of the score in Zagreb in mid November as well as meeting in Brussels/ London the following week so more work can be done on the project.
We found a lovely studio near Zagreb to record the flute parts, but with all the costs of travelling to do the filming and work on the project in Brussels/ London the budget was too tight to make it happen. David then came up with a genius idea of doing the recording at his university sound studio in Banja Luka, so Ana, Marija Esih and Marijana Bačelić rented a car, drove from Zagreb to Banja Luka and in 1 day recorded 3 different parts of the score – playing all 10 flutes! Amazing or what????
The day after, David and Vanja travelled to Zagreb to record video footage at different locations in Zagreb (featuring Zagreb residents going about their daily routines) as well as interview ZAF and people on the streets asking what their thoughts were about their life in Zagreb/ Croatia, what was it like in the past, what was it like today and what their hope for the future were (yesterday, today, tomorrow – get it?).
With this new material ‘in the bag’, both Anja and Nela had something to work on and Nela was able to update Magda on the new direction of the project. As there was no time to sort out a visa for Anja to travel to London, and we had no studio space to work on the project in Brussels, David had to travel to London for a few days to work with Nela at the University fo Greenwich music studio, whilst Anja continued editing footage and sending them the updates (during which the shockingly slow internet service in Belgium really came into the fore – hard to believe right?).
Cue in days of studio work, meetings, lunches, dinners, souvenir shopping and an occasional trip to town to try a Bösendorfer 200 Beethoven Edition piano worth £89,336!!!
Whilst working in the studio we sent a message to Magda to record some cello improvisations (with/without sound processing) so we can discuss how the cello would fit in with the rest of the composition and if any additional cello parts would need to be composed. We played with sound whilst watching the videos Anja sent and made a provisional plan about the role of sound design and live sound processing. By the end of David’s visit to London, we had a much better idea of the shape of the project, but a lot more still needed to be done in the 5 days leading up to the concert!
December 2016 – Wednesday the 14th
Magda, Nela and David arrived to Zagreb on Wednesday 14 December and within hours met up with ZAF for the first official rehearsal. The ever resourceful Renata, booked us a room at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall (where else?), borrowed a cello from the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra (she has been a part of for the past 25 years) and some audio gear from her colleague from the Academy of Music (Mario Čopor) who kindly helped us set it all up. The first rehearsal had a dual purpose: 1. Everyone got to meet everyone and 2. Everyone got a glimpse of what the performance will be like come Sunday 6pm!
David talked to ZAF and Magda about the parts that would contain some improvisation and we tried this out. Nela tried some provisional sound design ideas and showed David what sort of stuff he could expect to hear from live cello+ flute processing. She also made notes about what else she needed to record by the next rehearsal on Friday. Her plan was to record different soundscapes of Zagreb ie. morning, evening, people on the streets, the sound of traffic, trams and other mechanical sounds found in the environment. Specific parts of these soundscapes (based on the sonic quality/ frequency range/ natural tempo) would then be processed and composed into ‘environmental loops’, that would act as a subtle sonic layer when played back from the speakers (underneath the improvisations played by ZAF and Magda live) at low level, only occasionally the forefront. So yes, that was the plan for Nela, whilst Magda’s plan was to take home the borrowed cello and get acquainted with its capabilities (which amongst other things involved changing strings and ‘fine-tuning’ the bridge!).
December 2016 – Thursday the 15th
Magda, David and Nela visited ORIS House of Architecture to check the size, acoustics, lighting, projection as well as possible performers/audience configurations. Nina Doklestić and Tihomir Branković from ORIS were very helpful and took us through all the possible ways we could set up our audio gear, and also kindly offered to lend us their laptop for the playback of video! (which we desperately needed as David’s laptop broke down a few weeks back and was still being repaired).
After hours spent in ORIS, it was time to ‘refuel’ (apparently only ‘meat’ would do the trick!) and grab a few audio cables from a local music shop to connect Magda’s audio interface to the mixing desk (btw these were really cheap – so if you are doing a gig in Zagreb and need to stock up on cables, leave some spare room in your suitcase!).
After lunch, Nela stayed behind to do some soundscape recordings (which she later edited with a bit of help from Santa), whilst David and Magda went back to our lovely apartment in Maksimir, to put together Mario’s equipment (we took with us after last night’s rehearsal) and test the set-up for processing of cello.
Having finished the composition (and being literally computerless!) David was given not 1 but 2 new jobs! First job: looking after live cello and flutes processing (this involved learning from Magda how the Bitwig Studio set-up worked on her laptop, monitoring signal from the audio interface and keeping feedback under control during the performance. Second job: operating playback of videos (the final versions of which were on their way from Brussels through the wonderful WeTransfer). Needless to say, he excelled at doing both jobs (making it easier for Nela and Magda to concentrate on what they had to do!).
December 2016 – Friday the 16th
After testing the set-up with Mario’s equipment, it became obvious we needed a bigger mixing desk and much bigger speakers (able to produce a range of frequencies contained in the sound design Nela was slowly putting together). Once again, Renata came up trumps by sorting us out with a nice 16-Channel Mackie (from Dimitris) and a nice pair of EV’s with stands and 10m cables (from Lisinski resident tech guru Nenad – also known as Nenči). During our second rehearsal with ZAF, we could only test the new mixing desk with a large keyboard amplifier (Renata could get her hands on that afternoon) but everything sounded much MUCH better already! We realised how important it was for ZAF to be able to hear the sound design they were playing alongside with as well as experience what processing cello and flutes live would add to the overall sound. As we played through different parts and tried things out through the speakers everyone started loosening, which resulted in the most beautiful improvised interplay between flutes and cello! Finally, we were all on the same page! Huraaaaah!!!
December 2016 – Saturday the 17th
By the 3rd rehearsal, everyone already knew what to expect, so it was just a matter of fine-tuning things in the way the score/improvisation was done by ZAF and Magda and making final decisions about where different environmental loops and other sound design bits and pieces (Nela was working on in the past few days) would be played. Anja sent us drafts of some newly edited videos and we played those to test where the best place for each of them would be. Ivo Robic soundtrack at the end got some folk chuckling (which is exactly what we expected to happen!). Magda and Ana discussed some finer points about the role of cello and the fact that we have to allow some space within the performance for flutes to do their thing as well as some space for cello to do its thing. This kind of stuff only becomes obvious once the rehearsals are under way, which is why rehearsing is sooooooo important! As there was no score written for cello, a new idea for a section involving just cello+electronics came about. More homework for Nela + more homework for Magda! But not before an overdue visit to the Zagreb Advent!
December 2016 – Sunday the 18th – PERFORMANCE DAY!
After another late night session (3am bedtime seem to have become ‘de rigueur’ for Nela) we had a hectic Sunday start! Magda went to Lisinski to practice her solo cello part alongside new loops Nela created the night before. David went to borrow all the equipment from Nenči and took it to ORIS by Uber (fyi – Uber in Croatia? The best thing ever!), whilst Nela stayed at the apartment to do the final mix and tweak the videos (over WhatsApp) with Anja.
The final sound design consisted of 3 different parts of the score recorded in the sound studio in Banja Luka with 2 microphones (positioned as ‘centre’ and ‘side’). The tracks were first edited (as the ‘click-track’ Ana and Marija were using during the recording session spilt out of their headphones and was captured by the mics), before being mixed and spatialised to mimic the ‘crescent’ formation ZAF usually stands in when performing. A subtle amount of reverb was then applied to avoid them sounding too ‘dry’ and a copy of this basic mix was put aside so it can be used for testing in the performance space if needed. The tracks were then processed using a number of audio plug-ins, pan and volume automation and bounced to save the CPU overload. Some of the parts were also looped, layered and processed edited further, so they can be used as a background to flute and cello improvisations. It was difficult to predict what the tracks would sound like in a space like ORIS, which had a lot of reverberation, but as they also contained a degree of reverberation they ‘melted’ into the space just perfectly! The audio from the 2 different sets of interviews (people on the streets of Zagreb and ZAF) was extracted from the videos and ‘cleaned up’ before being edited, processed, spatialised and composed into long layers of ‘sonic murmuring’ that could be used under different parts of the score, bubbling steadily underneath flutes at low level and coming to the foreground during a pause in the score, driving the ‘movement’ forward. Parts of the interviews with the ZAF were chosen based on the ‘storytelling’ and composed into a ‘solo voices’ fragment. This was spatialised and mixed in a different way, to allow the audience to engage with the stories they were able to ‘pick out’ (unlike ‘sonic murmuring’ which was deliberately mixed to unintelligible). Recordings of Zagreb soundscape David and Vanja captured alongside the video footage, were taken as a guide to new soundscape recordings that had to be done in the 5 days leading up to the concert and these consisted of early morning in Zagreb, trams and traffic passing by and various mechanical sounds found in the environment. The main challenge of making soundscape recordings in the city (besides occasional level spikes leading to distortion) is the sound bouncing back and forth between the buildings (especially is the streets are narrow) creating reverberation that is impossible to remove in the post-production. Large open spaces (like squares with trees etc.) are less reverberant, though isolating specific sound events to record is difficult, as all sort of (unwanted) sounds are coming from everywhere! Despite these challenges, walking around town with a sound recorder and a pair of headphones, listening for interesting sounds to record, remains one of the activities sound peeps enjoy the most! That and mixing until 3am of course! The soundscapes Nela recorded around the city were edited, looped, processed, automated and turned into long textures of sound underpinning the main score and cello improvisations in combination with other sound elements. The whole of the sound design was pre-mixed in DP and separated with ‘markers’ so different parts could be played on ‘cue’ communicated between Nela and David.
Further to this, we also had 2 channels of sound being processed in real-time. Magda’s cello output was captured via her pick-up and ZAF output was captured via a microphone, before they were both processed through Bitwig Studio plug-ins’. All of this had to be tested ‘in situ’ so we can better understand how the acoustic properties of ORIS were going to influence the direct output of instruments (flutes and cello) as well as the sound design and the processed instrument output coming via the speakers.
Nina and Tihomir from ORIS kindly helped us set-up the equipment, so we were able to do all the necessary testing of audio and video as well as do one final ‘run through’ to fine-tune the performance.
We shortened the 5 videos (see the opening screenshots and titles below) we were using in the performance and asked Anja to remove the audio from 2 of them, so we can use them as a ‘backdrop’ to sound design and improvisation parts.With all the video and audio tested, looking & sounding ‘SWEEEEEET’, we were pretty much ‘ready to go’ (after a quick refuel at the Zagreb Advent of course!).
And so the time came to do the first ever performance of Sutra and show our distinguished guests, critics, friends and family what we have been up to (and why they haven’t seen much of us in the past 5 days!). Renata’s last sentence “ajmo se zabaviti” really expressed the sentiment of what were about to do (after we assumed our positions on the stage and behind laptops respectively) we were about to HAVE FUN!!! She introduced the project and all its collaborators. We played, they clapped, we bowed! GOOD JOB EVERYONE!!!
It was all ‘sonically’ captured by Snježana Miklaušić-Ćeran from Hrvatska Radio-Televizija (who played an excerpt from the concert on her radio show ‘7 Dana Glazbe’, which was broadcast on Hrvatski Radio-III program on Christmas Day, Sunday 25 December) and by our lovely photographer Tomislav Veić (you can also check how it all sounded on the day, by listening to a stereo recording or watching a video!).After the concert, we returned the cello and the audio equipment back to Dimitris, Mario and Nenči (after checking out Nenči’s equipment room full of wonderful audio gear, we promised we will think of him next time we are in town 🙂
Renata, Ana and Marija then kindly invited the ‘out-of-towners’ David, Magda & Nela for a celebratory dinner at Batak Grill, where we enjoyed yet more amazing meat and an interesting account with a gentleman from the Ukranian embassy, who wanted to dance the waltz with the ladies and buy us all a few shots of rakija! Dancing was a no (as all the ladies around the table were already ‘taken’), but after the gentleman left, we needed a few shots of rakija, which arrived with huge apologies from Batak Grill staff!
After dinner, we were gonna go back to our apartment, but then David exclaimed “tonight we are not mixing!”, so we decided to go to town for a nightcap instead. We walked all the way from Batak Grill to the main square. The Zagreb Advent had already closed, the streets of Zagreb were pretty much empty but that did not stop us wondering around enjoying the beautiful lights! As it was getting cold and foggy we made a pit-stop at Verdi in Gundulićeva (which was luckily still open!). Over a few glasses of mulled wine, we discussed the way globalisation, technology, internet and social media are enabling artists to collaborate ‘across the borders’ and what the experience of working on Sutra meant to the three of us personally. A few hours later we were back at out apartment, packing our stuff and getting ready for bed (so we can have a good rest before starting our next adventure!)
A BIG THANK YOU to the following peeps who made the performance of Sutra happen:
- Zagreb Flute Ensemble: Renata Penezić, Tamara Coha-Mandić, Jelena Geček, Katarina Horvat, Marija Esih, Ivana Vukojević, Ana Batinica, Danijela Klarić Mimica, Dijana Bistrović and Marijana Bačelić – amazing musicians, patient, courageous and not afraid to try new things!
- David Mastikosa from The Academy of Arts, University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina – funny, determined and when not glued to his smartphone (we already ‘had words’ about that), capable of composing compelling pieces of music!
- Anja Kavić – a film director full of creative ideas and lighting fast editing chops
- Vanja Milošević from The Academy of Arts, University of Banja Luka – a creative camera operator, getting the best footage in the worst weather conditions!
- Mario Čopor from The Academy of Music, University of Zagreb, Nikola and Nenči from the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall and Dimitris Diavatis for being incredibly kind to trust us with their expensive audio gear!
- Nina and Tihomir from the ORIS House of Architecture – endlessly patient and helpful (even if that meant being late for Sunday lunch!)
A BIG THANK you to the following peeps and organisations who supported the Sutra project in various ways:
- Krie Design – who made us all ‘look good’ in their latest collection
- Tomislav Veić – a photographer who did a wonderful job of capturing the team in action
- Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Croatia – who kindly allowed us to have our rehearsals there (and not to mention an awesome lunch for 25kuna!)
- University of Greenwich, London, UK – who have awesome sound studios and awesome tech peeps (Geoff, Alex, Daniel and Matthew – thank you!)
- The Academy of Arts, University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina – who kindly lent us their audio-visual equipment (to capture the footage in Zagreb) and sound studio (to record the necessary flute parts)
- Bitwig Studio and Audio-Technica for supplying FLO with software and hardware
A SPECIAL THANKS goes to our wonderful landlord (Mr Đurić), who picked us up from the airport on the day of our arrival, drove us to the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall for our first rehearsal with ZAF, as well as dropped us back to the airport on the day of our departure! Unfortunately, he couldn’t come to this concert, but he promised to come to the next one (so we better get this organised!).
A VERY SPECIAL THANKS also goes to Renata, who besides being an amazing musician, a super patient and understanding collaborator and a wonderful host, has shown great strength and integrity throughout the project (in spite of all the set-backs, disappointments and difficulties thrown her way). Her enthusiasm for ZAF+FLO collaboration shone through from the very first meeting Nela had with her back in 2014, until we said goodbye after dinner in Batak Grill. Her thoughtfulness underpinned every email, every text message and every encounter we had with her whilst working on Sutra, and really came to fore when she bought us a little ‘thank you’ present full of lovely souvenirs to remind us of the collaboration and our trip to Zagreb. THANK YOU Renata for being YOU!
Last but not least, a very special thanks to EVERYONE who came to see the concert. We very much appreciate your sense of adventure and openness to new ways of artistic expression and look forward to seeing you again soon!
Wishing you all a happy holiday season!