Residencies in the far north-west

I would be the first to say I have an enviable life in music. I work with new ideas in every workshop, alongside some fabulous musicians and inspiring first-timers, and spend lots of my days immersed in the buzz and intensity of creating new compositions. Occasionally I’m invited to lead this work in some pretty extraordinary parts of the world, a privilege I am always both thrilled and humbled to accept.

Camels heading home, Broome June 2013So please don’t hate me too much when I confess that I am writing this post to the hum of a ceiling fan, with an accompaniment of crickets, in a beautifully-appointed room in the Cable Beach Club Resort in Broome, in the far north-west of Australia. Earlier this evening I watched the sun set over beautiful Cable Beach, while a train of camels made its way up the road from the beach to wherever they bunk down for the night. Broome is almost the diagonal opposite point on the Australian continent from Melbourne, a world away in climate, environment, ambience and culture. I’m getting ready for workshops as part of Tura New Music’s 2013 Remote Residency project.

We kicked off today at St Mary’s College in Broome. I’m up here with Tony Hicks, versatile musician extraordinaire (Tony is regular collaborator – we’ve worked together on projects for the Australian Art Orchestra and also in Timor-Leste. He is my life partner so we tend to look out for opportunities to work together). I’ll write about this one-day workshop in more detail in my next post. We worked with the primary school choir, writing a song together. In the afternoon the year 10 rock band joined us and by the end of the day we’d created a new composition that the choir and band can perform together for Naidoc festivities in a few weeks time.

On Thursday (tomorrow) we head a bit further north and west to the Dampier Peninsula, where we will visit two remote communities and schools. The communities are a couple of hours away from Broome (and 30-60 minutes away from each other), along an unsealed road that was closed last week because of many days of unseasonal heavy rain. It’s been dry the last few days, and is expected to be fine for Thursday. We’ll spend a week in each community.

Gillian and Tony at ABC Kimberley, June 2013Yesterday was a day of media calls – I did a phone interview with a local commercial radio breakfast show, and then Tony and I did an interview and short live performance for local ABC radio (a clarinet and soprano saxophone improvisation). We emphasised the open-ended nature of these residencies. “It’s a collaboration”, I said in each interview. “We’re going to make the work together. Tony and I will guide it, and set a process in place that encourages forth the young people’s ideas and contributions, but we don’t know any more than that about what the final outcome will be, or sound like”.

I like the element of risk and possibility that is inherent in this way of working. In an authentic collaboration, it has to be this way, I think. How can you pre-determine things if you don’t even know the people you are going to be working with? How can you know it will be a good fit? I’ve never been to this part of the world before. I don’t want to make assumptions about people, I want us to meet and find our common ground, so that the music grows from that, without being contained or restricted by any pre-determined outcomes. I like to be taken by surprise.

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4 comments so far

  1. helen champion on

    no hate, just some envy. what a fantastic opportunity. when are you back in Melbourne – I’m hoping that we can catch-up and talk about schools and artist partnerships.

    soak up the vitamin D – very grey in Melbourne today

    • Gillian Howell on

      Hi Helen,
      No problem getting vitamin D here, truth be told. The sun is up around 5.30… and we are up and about not long after that. School starts 8am and knocks off at 2.15, so there are lots of chances for gamma rays. Yes, let’s meet up when I’m back. Anytime after 2nd week of July will be good for me.

  2. janet613 on

    Hi Gillian, I will be in Melbourne for a couple of days 1st August to 4th August, I’d love to meet you and have a chat…. will you be around?


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