What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker

(continued)

Shoemaker: Each of you has traveled extensively to perform and to create new collaborations, sometimes residing in a different country for considerable lengths of time in the process. When thought of as a practice, travel seems to be at the core of improvised music's evolution over the past few decades. It facilitates access to different communities and cultures, but usually with schedule conditions that will allow you only a few days or a week, and seldom more, in a given locale. Beyond the general broadening of horizons, how has travel shaped your aesthetic and methods?

Denley: Until the last 2 years I assumed that travel was necessary and desirable for the development of my music and my career. And within the accepted paradigm of what an Aussie sound artist is meant to do, and with the dearth of opportunities here in Australia to practice one's art, I was probably correct. Although over the last 2 years I've traveled less. (I must say it's been great to see the seasons unfold in one place for once!)

I think what we saw in the late C20th and early this century with the availability of cheap intercontinental air travel for the elite western citizens of Planet Earth, and the speeding up of communications technology was the development of true internationalist culture. Improvised music has been at the forefront of this.

But there are deep problems with it (one being the problem of aviation fuel on Global Warming). If we are to be truly internationalist then where are the Peruvians, Papua New Guineans or Vietnamese at our Experimental Music Festivals? It seems wrong that reading the Wire, or the myriad of online magazines analogues a G8 conference.

We the artists need to be proactive about this. I believe in the project. If Attali is to be believed, then our job as new music makers is to show how it can be done. The world human community needs models of how we can all get along and create powerful world culture that is not imperialist or destructive to the planet.

One huge question mark about this is that Music has always been informed and rooted in local geography. How do we create powerful music that is global? I guess the answer to that is that we make the whole planet our local, but is this possible? Well in a sense that's what allot of our community have been doing.

Allot of 'World Music' gives us an example of how to water down and impoverish traditions by decontextualizing them from the local and juxtaposing them with another unrelated tradition. In that sense Don Cherry was one model. But essentially his fusions still juxtaposed the American Jazz tradition with Balinese Gamelan, or North African traditions, it's a better version of Menuhin and Shankar, but still has the same problems.

When I played last year with Ami Yoshida, we were both playing the same tradition. Sure there are local differences, but the systematic organization of the music is now global. With very many brilliant players in the world all contributing, the culture is changing all the time - very quickly.

To be involved, one perhaps needs to some extent to keep up, hence travel and/or keeping in touch is essential. But there is something beautiful here. The tool that musicians need to develop most is the most useful thing: One needs to listen.

Pateras: Travel has been great just to see what’s been going on elsewhere. Often in Australia we tend to have a bit of an inferiority complex – most commercial radio and TV is predominantly American and European content. “High Culture” such as theatre and dance is very much the same story – and of course opera companies here barely perform anything written in the last 100 years, if at all. And forget about it being Australian. So, growing up as an artist here you tend to get this impression that all of the “good stuff” happens elsewhere, even in the experimental arena.

What travel has done for me has re-affirmed, for me at least, that in experimental music Australians are doing vital work. This gave me a lot of confidence in what I do, that the community here is a strong one, and it was musically relevant to grow up both aesthetically and methodologically among these people. I would’ve never have felt like that if I didn’t get to tour quite early on – to debunk the myths and get on with it.

But I do want to travel less traveled paths, because I agree with Jim’s notion that although experimental music or contemporary improvisation or whatever you want to call it is an international art form, it is still based in a very privileged western art music community. It is rare to see or play with people from the Middle East, central Asia, South America or South-East Asian cultures in the circles we travel in. There are exceptions of course - thanks to people like the Ex and the Ethipoiques label a lot more is now known about pockets of African improvisation and jazz, for example.

But on the other hand, I often find the music from these cultures so much better and powerful than ours, that it could be their choice not to play in such a specific scene...I’m in awe of a lot of Brazilian musicians, traditional musics from places like Armenia, Siberia, Cambodia, Indonesia - when I hear that stuff it is just so pure in intent and execution. Really humbling. Makes me rethink my approach. To experience it first hand would probably make me quit music!

Buck: For me I guess the thing about spending time playing in different places outside Australia has meant I have had the opportunity to play and hear a vast variety of musicians and music. As I mentioned earlier, I think different places do inspire different responses and different sensibilities when it comes to the music I feel like expressing, so it has contributed to an expansion of the musical vocabulary I have to draw upon, I guess.

I feel it has also help me feel more confident with the things I am doing as I have had the chance work in different contexts and to feel like I have had something valid to contribute. Sometimes I feel it is hard, if one stays in one’s own country, to get that kind of perspective. I have been lucky to have had the chance to work with some extraordinary musicians that it would have been impossible to manage without having traveled and spent time away from home. So, that's all good, I guess.

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