Saturday, October 23, 2010


Having just returned from touring around Australia with the Antripodean Collective, the question I've been asked often lately, is "How was tour?" or "Was it fun?" etc. I thought I'd say a few things about my experience being on, and organising this tour.
Playing improvised music with people you admire and like hanging out with is an absolute blast. It seems it's the best way to get the music happening, and both times this group has toured I've felt I've reached heights playing I have almost never been able to reach playing runs of two, three or four gigs locally. There is also something to be said regard the nature of the music of this group; what most people would term playing 'free'. This music is two sided in that it seems it can be difficult to determine whether performances were 'successful', and, if they weren't, what was lacking. However in my experience it is this very 'temporality' (there's not 'head out' or 'coda' to get right) of this music that allows for unexpected and confronting moments of absolute pleasure, at least for me. There were times during some of our performances were I experienced what I can only describe as joy such as I've only felt in the best moments of playing music.
Another aspect of this tour that was enjoyable was meeting various younger musicians who showed a keen interest in what we are developing. Between the university workshop environment, one-to-one lessons and post-gig conversations, I came away from this tour thinking that there are musicians/students (aren't we all students?) who are serious enough about learning to show overt interest in finding out how this music is made. It can't be easy for a student to grasp the idea that a communal language for improvisation is developed through rigorous study of rhythm and harmony (among other things) only to be applied in such a way so as to not resemble its sources. We are dealing with abstract, open concepts that are usually de-centralised in such a way so as to seem mysterious, almost magical.
That said, travelling around a country as geographically large as Australia is difficult, physically and financially.
Needless to say, flying, no matter the distance, is pretty much always a pain. This is one of the few bands I'm in that, due to the absence of a bassist, could physically fit in one car. However the distance we need to travel to just get from one city to another makes this more trouble than it's worth.
More important to my mind, though, is the financial aspect of touring. We recieved a modest amount of funding to support our tour which, in the end, did not cover the costs of flights. That the body that awarded us funding has been dissolved by its more powerful administrator points, at least to my mind, to a continual trend for most, possibly all, funding bodies to disregard contemporary music (maybe even music altogether) as worthy of receiving such support. To put it bluntly, musicians are into this music, not just because it's interesting intellectually but because it's highly engaging, but funding bodies do not. It seems that music, on its own, is receiving less attention. Instead, it is being packaged with something and sold as some sort of 'important' product. Has the role of music in contemporary Australian society become so abstract that it can only generate a livelihood for its creators when packaged (compromised?) with something else?
Perhaps creative musicians must find a way to generate an income from their music independent of funding bodies. Given my point above that music is often compromised in order to appeal to the funding boards, it makes sense to find a way to become more self-sufficient.
We are past the times where physical CD sales help cover costs. Piracy has taken care of that. Various online services make it easier for a musician to be exposed to the world. However if we were to somehow weigh up that increased exposure against the general public's tendency/need to ignore more and more advertising, how much promotion can a niche genre such as improvised music achieve in this way.
These are complex questions in confusing times. To me it seems as if many things are in a state of flux, not in the least of which is how much is given value and consumed in out culture.
Returning to my original point, I am not sure how to judge whether the time I spend organising this tour (two grant applications, 12 gigs, a two-week artist-in-residence program plus all accompanying details) was 'worth it'. It's not really my aim. All I can do at this point is acknowledge the great things as well as the issues, use both areas to continue to develop my outlook on life as a 28 y.o. contemporary improvising musician in Australia