20 Feb 2024

Multiple futures, multiple flutes

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 20 February 2024
Flutist and composer Tessa Brinckman

Tessa Brinckman Photo: Jacquelyn Tierney

Orwell wrote something about the past and the future and how whoever controls them is likely to have a big say over the present.

The New Zealand-born musician Tessa Brinckman may not be able to control history or destiny, but believes her interest in the two is helping to give her agency in the 'right-now'.

Currently based in New York, the flutist and composer is back in the country for a holiday, and she has a new album with her: Take Wing, Roll Back.

Speaking with RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Brinckman describes her latest body of recorded work as taking inspiration from art and poetry both new and old, while "offering a warm kind of futurism".

Brinckman's futurism isn't necessarily one so bright she has to wear shades contemplating it.

Rather, it's the deliberate act of contemplating various paths out of our present – and some of the present-day messes we're in.

Flutist and composer Tessa Brinckman

Tessa Brinckman Photo: © 2016 Jacquelyn Tierney

Brinckman says in the face of so much change, it's tempting to think the average human can't make a difference.

She imagines futures where the human body and the biology of other living things is at the centre of what we do, rather than focusing on the "body of business or technology or war".

"I want to see people really having an imagination about the future, what it could be, rather than thinking they have to be beholden to corporations and just giving over, giving away."

As well as being a woman contemplating many futures, Brinckman is also a woman of many flutes: piccolo, standard, baroque, alto, bass and contrabass.

Having many flutes opens up more performing possibilities.

"I focus mostly on contemporary music, but I do like play all the centuries... especially French Baroque music... There's all kinds of lovely things that each style offers, so I like bringing that all into where we are now."

But it's hard work looking after all those flutes, and the larger the flute "the more of a baby they are to take care of, they're quite temperamental."

Flutist Tessa Brinckman playing the contrabass flute

The contrabass flute Photo: Supplied

For example, the contrabass flute is shaped like a number four and the musician has to stand up to play it. And despite it's size, it's very quiet.

"You really have to take care of it, it's not a hardy instrument, and it's not loud either so it's usually played with amplification, but it's very rewarding...especially when you're doing percussive techniques on it. It's basically just a glorified plumbing tube with lots of keys, so you can do amazing things on it."

Flutist and composer Tess Brinckman

Tessa Brinckman with one of her more standard sized flutes. Photo: Supplied

Brinckman decided to leave all her flutes – even her piccolo – in New York for her current trip to Aotearoa.

But while she's giving her lungs a rest her ears are still busy soaking up New Zealand sounds, including the sounds she heard during a dolphin-spotting boat tour in the Bay of Plenty.

"Five pods of dolphins swam by, just so many, and all assembling around the boat and blowing simultaneously. It was an amazing sound."

"That's going to get into a piece, isn't it, surely?" suggests Crump.

"Well, probably. It was very flutelike."