You might know Callum G’Froerer for his work around Perth as a jazz trumpeter, or as a member of Berlin’s Kammerakademie Potsdam or as part of the Melbourne three-piece Drum. In October this incredibly versatile musician is back in Perth performing at the Totally Huge New Music Festival with his double-bell trumpet, the first time Australian audiences will have witnessed the new phenomenon.
What music gets your heart racing?
My listening recently has broadened in some unexpected ways thanks to Spotify. I listen to music with real joy again. To deal with the grey days in Berlin, I listen to Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ – that level of brashness has become a real source of strength for me. Apart from that, I go to Clifford Brown for some trumpet inspiration like no other.
What calms you down?
Water – whether it’s being home in South Fremantle, or finding lakes or rivers in Germany, there is something about just looking at water that works for me.
What do you sing along to?
I don’t think I’m ashamed to say this, but my girlfriend and I have a real soft spot for Luther Vandross, a legendary and beautiful man with that smooth tenor voice – recently we went to karaoke and destroyed our vocal chords thanks to him.
The 13 th Totally Huge New Music Festival is in full swing with ten days of classical, improvised and electronic music, sound installations and all the hybrids and in-betweens of experimental music. What is your involvement with the Festival?
I’m presenting a solo concert entitled ‘Phenomena‘ on Saturday 28th October at 7pm at the Perth Town Hall. It’s a recital that features electro-acoustic works utilising the double-bell trumpet, an instrument I’ve been working with a lot in the last 18 months, and has possibly never been seen on Australian stages. The centrepiece of the recital is a recent collaboration with the Irish composer Ann Cleare, a work for double-bell trumpet, 6-channel electronics (with 4 small speakers embedded in trombone bells). I also will present a new piece by Cat Hope that involves picking up the sounds of the friction of a rubber ball on the second bell, and a subwoofer. And I will perform a piece I’ve developed for 4 small microphones picking up air sounds sent to 4 speakers. I use this spatialisation to send the sounds around the performance space, really putting the audience inside the instrument. I will also perform a beautiful solo Flugelhorn piece written for me by Liza Lim, and a piece for trumpet, tape, and video by Berlin composer Martin Hiendl.
G’Froerer performing Liza Lim’s ‘The Window’ for Flugelhorn:
How are you preparing for your gig?
Practising! Some of the demands these pieces are new for my face, but it’s a joy to see them develop. This show is more ambitious, tech-wise, than anything I’ve ever done, so dealing with checking that every connection between every device is going to happen without a hitch takes SO much time. But it gets easier (I hope).
When we first chatted you were an 18 year old WAAPA student drawing inspiration from Miles Davis’ 1964 album The Complete Concert. Over the past decade your career as a jazz trumpeter has since broadened into orchestral and contemporary repertoire. What first attracted you to contemporary classical repertoire?
That album STILL gets my heart racing, by the way. I think I enjoyed working with a different kind of discipline to playing jazz, and seeing there was a world of music-making I could be a part of, that also presented a new set of challenges. I was also very inspired by the Australian trumpeter, Tristram Williams, who I was able to learn a lot from. He supported me hugely when I was first getting into this area of music. Seeing the process of working with composers enabled a very different type of collaboration that I’ve found very interesting. The way in which one can ‘design’ performances is actually more addictive than I expected.
I confess I have never heard of the double trumpet but it appears to be a world-wide (mini) cult! Tell us a little about the double-bell trumpet you had made for you.
There are I’m guessing roughly 10 or so (with this design) in the world?…Mine was made by a brass workshop in Potsdam, and the workmanship is really fantastic. It has a second bell built onto it, and you switch to that bell using a lever with your left thumb. This allows you to prepare two different sound colours which you can quickly switch or slowly transition between, so there is a real opportunity to explore colour. At times, it resembles a second voice, and composers as well as myself have found new layers of expression with this instrument.
Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?
I think evoking feeling in a listener is quite important – and when those feelings are indescribable, perhaps between identifiable emotions, this is what I like. Not being able to rationalise music that’s had an effect on you is sometimes a good sign.
You have a soft spot for Stockhausen. What is the appeal of his trumpet music?
It can be difficult to find composers with such an incredible level of care and detail in their trumpet writing. He defined virtuosity in such different terms to past traditions, and there is something very transformative about learning his music. I’ve attended the Stockhausen Course 3 times since 2011, which is a high dose of Stockhausen, but I always leave feeling I have a new passion for music.
What kind of music is getting you excited at the moment?
I absolutely love playing semi-structured improvisation with my Melbourne-based trio DRUM with Andy Butler (piano harmonium), and Jon Helibron (bass).
What took you to Berlin in 2015? What is the scene like there?
I had visited a couple of times in 2011 and 2012, and it was always at the back of my mind that I’d spend a decent amount of time there. In terms of living in Europe, I think it’s still the best possible option – relatively cheap, a gigantic music community, so many venues, so many movements, and people determined to have a good time in the most liberated way possible. The music scene is made up of very committed musicians who really put their head down and work hard. Hierarchies don’t work quite the same as Australia – I would say everything is a little more spread out, which is possibly just an effect of there being so many musicians, and not a whole lot of money around.
Where did you learn the skills to be a freelance international trumpet player?
I think I learnt a lot of it in the practice room and through listening to lots of music at a young age, but I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing without the support of so many people over the years – teachers, colleagues, audiences. Hundreds of small opportunities over the years from people that believed in me accumulate into a type of self-belief that helps me get through some of the harder times. I always try not to take anything for granted – your position is never 100% secure within a community.
G’Freorer plays “charcoal vi” for double-bell trumpet and 4 channel sound projection:
What is your favourite place in Perth?
South Beach in South Fremantle without a doubt.
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?
I often don’t have much time for anything else, but I do love travelling, which is a big advantage of living in Europe. I was able to spend some time in Italy last year and Portugal this year, and those are places I will definitely spend more time in the next few years.
For more information on the double bell trumpet check out this video by Dutch trumpeter Marco Blaauw.