Archive for the ‘collaboration’ Tag

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.

Arts partnerships in contemporary education

I’ve been thinking this week about arts partnerships in schools, and the current state/status of this work in Melbourne. It was inspired by my conversations with Arnie Aprill from CAPE [Chicago Arts Partnership in Education) on Sunday and Monday. Arnie has been in town this week, talking ideas and possibilities and being generally inspiring. He held a forum at ArtPlay on Monday night for artists, arts organisations, teachers and school leaders, and a group of about 30 of us gathered to discuss the territory in which we work.

Monday’s discussion began with questions, including:

“How do we talk to people about the work that we do, and communicate its importance, without getting angry and pushing people away when we come up against resistance – because there is often resistance and misunderstanding?”

“How do we communicate in this way internally, within arts organisations, where engagement with education sites and communities is not the main focus of the organisation’s existence?”

“And what is the impact on the artist of working in a resistant, or non-receptive environment?”

“How can I ignite my fellow teachers’ creativity?”

AA: In partnerships, we need to remember that the delivery model (where an individual or organisation comes in to deliver you something – a product or package or experience that they have already determined that you need, that is not necessarily tailored to your specific environment) doesn’t work. CAPE projects are in fact in partnership with teachers. The visiting artist is not just there to liberate the students, they are there to liberate themselves and the teachers and to build respectful relationships with each other.

Arts partnerships in education are not so much about “access to the arts” (which positions the artist or arts organisation as somewhat power-endowed and benevolent in sharing their arts-knowledge-power), as much as they are about Active Democratic Participation through longterm partnerships and relationships.

“How will I know what the kids have learned through the project?”

Arnie talked at length about the importance of documenting projects, of documenting the process and seeing this as an important product or outcome of the project (along with the ‘official’ outcome itself). In other words, rather than thinking about process vs. product, lets re-frame the issue by recognising that process IS product! Interview the children on camera, he suggested. Ask them to tell you what they’ve learned. It is a powerful confirmation of the growth and development that takes place in their minds through a creative, arts-based engagement with a subject, any subject. Continue reading

Opening night of ‘Hunger’

We opened last night to a full house. After such a long creative journey together it is very, very satisfying to finally be able to share the work. The audience last night was a mix of colleagues, friends, family – also reviewers! Today we have a matinee and an evening performance, same again on Wednesday.

Kate, (Rawcus director)  has arranged for the whole company to eat together before the show, so yesterday afternoon around 5pm we all sat down together at long trestle tables and tucked into a delicious lunch of hot food and salads. It’s a tradition that Kate brings with her from her work in theatre in France, she said, and feels like it will be a very affirming way for the Company to bond and experience together the performance season.

Yesterday The Age printed an interview with Kate, Paul (one  of the Rawcus performers) and me. You can read it here.

I’ll post reviews when we get them. If you are reading this and have seen the show – please leave comments!

AYO and Cat Empire concert

At the end of last week the AYO Style Workshop with The Cat Empire culminated in a very inspiring, energised concert. I went along on Thursday night, enjoyed it so much I snuck back to catch the tail-end of the Friday night concert.

These kinds of cross-over collaborations between orchestras and other musical styles have a lot of appeal and interest across audiences, but I think they are hard to do well. In some I have heard, the orchestral instruments can barely be heard above the rock band. They are often tucked off the the side and back of the stage area, playing a wimpy kind of musical role of lush sustained string chords, brassy stabs, or just loads and loads of fast passages that don’t end up being audible in the mix.

The project between AYO and The Cat Empire was not like this at all. Firstly, the orchestrations were superb. They were done mostly by Ross Irwin (musical director of the project) and they had a lot of character and smartness and slickness about them. (After the Thursday night concert a couple of the performers and I raved about the writing, and played around with appropriate words to describe it – dark, gritty, edgy, urban, cheeky, quirky, gravelly…). Also, the concerts were the outcome of a very carefully thought-out process, or learning framework, of introducing the AYO musicians to improvisation, and building their skills and confidence through workshops, rehearsing and discussions. The orchestrations were not fully written out, planned and decided – there was scope for the AYO musicians to have input, and several performed improvised solos in the concerts. Several of the musical interludes between songs were free improvisations, which took the ensemble off into quite intense and colourful musical landscapes, before bridging back into the next song.

The stage was set with the AYO string players on one side of the stage, The Cat Empire on the centre and other side of the stage, and the brass players (from both groups) in a line across the centre back. Where the performances really took off, for me, was when the division between the two groups became blurred, as performers moved about, or performed standing, and became one large, very integrated and inseparable ensemble. The song ‘Darkness’ was my favourite for this, as well as for the awe-inspiring performance by Harry Angus on vocals, and the frenetic and twisted descent into blissful Balkan madness in the string and brass writing. Happily this was one of the numbers I got to hear twice (as it was performed near the end of the set list). I’m curious to hear it on CD, or in a Cat Empire-only concert. It works so well in this collaboration with the orchestra. Maybe it is a totally different song in its other contexts.

A fun, fun night out – I am sure I was not the only person in the audience straining to leave my seat – hard to imagine not dancing at a Cat Empire gig! I’m feeling very pleased to have been involved in the project. My contribution was small in the scope of the whole week’s work, but I got great feedback on it from players, and I’m glad to have played a role in a project like this, that, if post-concert conversations are any indication, has given very positive musical challenges and inspiration to all the musicians involved. (Nice work, AYO, for making it all happen).

what a day…

Today’s rehearsal for Hunger was hard work. There were tears… though they were mine, which is better than them being someone else’s. At least I know I can take care of me!

Rehearsal time is tight. The music is set but still needing further rehearsal. Some of the cues are still being worked out. We have a lot of gear that we move from room to room. We need to be supportive of each other and work as a team, because everyone in this group is juggling a lot of projects and everyone is more fragile than they would like to be.

I know I am worn out. I finished the Language School projects just yesterday. I am neglecting my Masters studies, which worries me. I have a 2-day project next week that I still need to fully plan. And then the week-long puppet extravaganza the following week. A total of just 4 days off (including weekends) for the whole school holidays. (I am an idiot, it must be said, for letting myself get so over-committed).

I don’t mind the work time, – I am more stressed by the large number of projects and plans I need to have in my head. It means I need to find time to make a lot of plans, and because I have so many projects to realise, I need to make the plans really detailed, because there is not enough space in my brain to be beautifully, creatively responsive in the moment, or at least, to rely on that.

I struggle therefore with planning time, and with support time, in which to speak with collaborators, meet with my Orchestra colleagues to sort out various logistic details before the next rehearsal, and just a bit of time for me, to relax and refresh before the next project.

Don’t get me wrong about Hunger though. It is looking and feeling very strong. Every time the two companies come together in rehearsal to put the next scene on the floor, it feels very magical. And tickets are selling well – we are one of the Festival’s best sellers! That’s pretty exciting.

Collaborations are never easy. I feel like we are still discovering (and learning) the best ways for these two companies to work together, how much to set, how much to score, what can be improvised and intuited, where there is space, how best to integrate the unique skills of all the performers… It is an incredibly ambitious and courageous project in this regard, and not without risk. I love being part of the creative team as we try to nut out the solutions to these questions, through the creation of beautiful, memorable, cheeky, anarchic content. But we need everyone in the company now to trust and commit to the show, and what it is, and what it can be.