In this, the second in a series of How To videos from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Interactive Composition lecturer David Haberfeld demonstrates how to create an acid dance track with the Roland TB-303, which he describes as "the electric guitar of electronic dance music".
Haberfeld has more than two decades of experience as an electronic dance music artist, producer, composer, performer, and DJ. He is best-known for his productions and live performances under the artist moniker Honeysmack.
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Banner image: Acid Pix/Flickr
Erin Helyard is internationally recognised as a leading baroque music specialist, virtuosic soloist and inspired conductor. Here, he discusses his debut solo album featuring the keyboard works of George Frideric Handel, and the instrument on which he performed them.
By Dr Erin Helyard, Senior Lecturer in Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
I recently released my debut solo album, surveying the keyboard works of the baroque composer George Frideric Handel. Drawing on my knowledge of Handel's operas and playing on a unique, recently-restored, instrument from 1773 capable of dynamic shading, I was able to reassess the works of Handel as well as some of his contemporaries.
Performers and composers had very close and fruitful relationships with instrument builders back in the 18th and 19th centuries. CPE Bach and Silbermann, Mozart and Anton Walter, Beethoven and Nannette Streicher, and Liszt and Sebastian Érard are just some of the few that come to mind.
My own close relationship with a builder has been with Carey Beebe, who has been my colleague and friend since I was a teenager first trying out harpsichords. Carey approached me last year to say that he had completed a restoration of a 1773 Kirckman single with a machine stop, and to ask if I would be interested in recording on it. My answer? Well, yes, of course – and that's the instrument on which I recorded this album.
Kirckman was an extremely famous and renowned English builder of harpsichords and, as my PhD research had been based around Muzio Clementi’s exposure to these kinds of instruments in the 1770s in London, my interest was piqued.
Since the historical harpsichord revival in the 1970s, players and builders have unnecessarily ignored the English tradition – partly because it was unfairly assumed that no great composer had written for these instruments. The reality is that these magnificently constructed instruments were highly-prized on the continent as well as in England.
The 1773 Kirckman, for instance, has some of the most beautifully machined jacks I’ve ever seen, as well as some of the most superb joinery. Owners of English harpsichords had a large variety of imported and local repertoire. Of the imports, the most notable favourite was the music of Scarlatti.
The 1773 Kirckman harpsichord is equipped with a particularly English piece of technology, the so-called “machine stop”. This pedal enabled me to make very quick and often nuanced registration changes in order to affect different dynamics and textures.
I have used the device as idiomatically as the music suggests, mostly to enhance implied ritornelli/tutti divisions in fugal movements as well creating more subtle and exciting effects that are rarely heard on recording or on performance. The earliest machine stop dates from the late 1740s, so it is entirely possible that Handel would have heard or experimented with one, even if his playing days were behind him by then.
The work of Handel over the last few decades has engaged me mostly as an opera conductor. Like Handel himself, I have conducted many of his operas from the keyboard, as was often the way in his era. Handel, born in Halle, Germany, in 1685, considered himself an Englishman after emigrating to the UK in 1710. In his new country he encountered and played upon English harpsichords in addition to (mainly Flemish) imports. The work of the founder of the firm, Jacob Kirckman, would have been known to Handel.
Handel was renowned as a virtuoso keyboardist in his day so it is somewhat sad that only a small corpus of music composed by him exists, mainly dating from his early years in London. His operatic career soon intervened and he seems to have left composing for the keyboard aside.
Handel’s music has always been somewhat marginalised by keyboardists as it is often (unfairly) compared with that of Bach and Scarlatti.
After discussions with Toby Chadd, manager of ABC Classics, we decided that, given my unique experience with Handel opera, it would be interesting to focus an album on the many transcriptions of arias from his operas as well as some of the so-called “Great Suites” of Handel himself.
Handel uses a rather skeletal notation in some of these suites, and often ornamentation is left to the performer. This incomplete notation may partly explain the haphazard reception the works have received in the 20th and 21st century. In this recording, I have been inspired by my own research into this improvisatory culture, and have attempted to ornament in the very florid style that I believe Handel and his contemporaries would have recognised.
What is so remarkable about the “Great Suites” are their extraordinarily eclectic and wide-ranging deployment of styles and genres. Besides the traditional dance elements of the Franco-German keyboard suite (allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, and gigues) there are dense fugues, overtures in the French style, Italian sonatas and arias, preludes in both incomplete and highly precise notation, and variation forms.
The suites give us the impression of a performer and composer who was highly sophisticated, well-travelled, open-minded, and cosmopolitan. It reveals a keyboardist who had quite a large hand span and a predilection for the German vollstimmig (or fully-voiced) style and was equally at home with both Italianate virtuosity, German profundity, and French élan.
I also tried to bring out the vocal qualities that I know so well from my engagement with Handel operas, an effect often heightened by the expressive capabilities of the machine stop.
The resulting recording, I hope, pays testament both to Handel and the harpsichord.
Banner image. Erin Helyard, by Robert Catto.
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The University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and Gertrude Contemporary have announced a new international residency partnership based at the VCA’s Norma Redpath Studio in Carlton.
The program will support invited international artists to pursue studio production and curatorial research.
Director of the VCA Professor Jon Cattapan said he was delighted with the partnership and that he envisaged many positive outcomes. “This partnership is a brilliant way for the VCA to forge new international relationships of sustenance and meaning, which will benefit our students,” said Professor Cattapan.
“The artists in the residency will all commit to some activities with VCA Art, for instance, delivering lectures, masterclasses and tutorials with appropriate cohorts and students,” he said. “It will create learning opportunities with leading local and international artists and provide models of how to establish a professional studio art practice.”
Both Professor Cattapan and Gertrude Contemporary’s Artistic Director Mark Feary said the partnership reflected an increasingly strong relationship between the two significant cultural institutions, which have been entwined since Gertrude was founded in 1985.
Mr Feary said: “The Gertrude International Studio Residency has been one of the most coveted and dynamic aspects of Gertrude Contemporary’s engagement since its establishment, enabling visiting artists and curators to be enmeshed within Gertrude and our community.”
“This new partnership with the VCA enables this important component of our studio program to continue and flourish, and further solidifies our engagement with staff and students at Melbourne’s most important art school.”
Australian sculptor Norma Redpath’s house and adjoining studio were generously bequeathed to the University of Melbourne by the artist’s family, with the intention that they be made available to artists and academics. The studio has been managed by the VCA since 2015.
The first participants in the partnership program began their residency last week. Mexican artist Joaquin Segura and San Francisco-based Mexican-Australian curator Ivan Muniz Reed, will hold an exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary in collaboration with Melbourne-based artist Tony Garifalakis.
Banner image: Norma Redpath Studio, by Sanjeeva Vancuylenburg.
Louris van de Geer started her performance writing career as a teenager. Now a Master of Writing for Performance graduate, she talks to Sophie Duran about how the VCA helped her develop as a writer, the challenges of working in the theatre industry, and her greatest achievement to date.
Interested in graduate study in Theatre? Register for our information session on 19 September. This session features a workshop with Master of Writing for Performance lecturer Raimondo Cortese.
I began writing plays in my first year out of high school. I hadn’t applied for university and wasn’t really interested in formal study. I continued writing and was making theatre at St Martins, the Melbourne Fringe Festival, MKA, and Next Wave, and knew I wanted to apply for the Master of Writing for Performance at the VCA so I could learn more about the craft and meet other writers, as well as have a taste of the academic experience.
I think I came to the VCA at exactly the right time. I had been on my own for several years, trying to make a career and step up to the next level, and the VCA came just in time so I could gain a more theoretical understanding of what I was doing.
I enjoyed the structure and the conversation that came with studying at the VCA. Structure and routine is so helpful to the creative process and very hard to implement for yourself – at least it is for me! So it was a really great thing, being forced to read certain things and think about them in certain ways, having to turn up with ten pages of writing by a certain time. I also enjoyed the freedom. There was never an idea that we had to write a certain type of play, or follow certain theories about narrative structure. We were encouraged to take risks.
The VCA gave me space and time and support to test ideas and understand why I make the work I do in the way I do. The people I met at the VCA are some of the best people, and the conversations in and outside of class have been instrumental to my thinking. Being able to meet actors, directors, designers and other writers is the most helpful thing. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, so tapping into and building networks with fellow students is a great way to become more embedded in the community.
My greatest achievement while doing my masters was working on my one-act play, Looking Glass. I really enjoyed the process: writing at home, having one-on-one dramaturgical meetings with a different dramaturg each week, and workshopping sections of script in class. There were so many thoughts and ideas being thrown around and it’s such a luxury to be receiving feedback so consistently. The play turned out to be a great success. It was shortlisted for the Griffin Award and the Rodney Seaborn Award the following year, and finally had its premiere production at fortyfive downstairs in August, directed by Susie Dee.
In the next few years, my goal is to keep writing, keep thinking about what theatre can be and how it can continue to be a space that offers something unique from film or television. I would love to have a show that tours, or at least is remounted again after an initial two-week season.
Theatre is a difficult thing to make. It is incredibly difficult to have a sustainable career. The arts are undervalued by the government and the wider population and this leads to conservative programming and conservative audiences.
To other aspiring writers of live performance, I’d say: don’t give up. Ask questions. Ask to be allowed into rehearsals rooms. Watch and read widely. Know why you’ve decided to do this thing instead of something else.
As told to Sophie Duran
Banner image: Sav Schulman, 2017.
It is with great sadness and shock that we heard the news this week that VCA Film and Television graduate, Cris Jones, had passed away aged 37.
By Nicolette Freeman, Head of Film and Television, Victorian College of the Arts
Cris Jones graduated from the VCA in 2002. I was fortunate enough to teach Cris in his second year (Bachelor of Film and Television), in the skills of 16mm filmmaking. Cris was an inventive, talented, clever, witty and dedicated student, and a nice guy as well. He extended these qualities as much to his colleagues’ film projects as he did to his own – and consequently was a much loved and admired member of his class.
The short films Cris made as a film student were genuinely out of the box (one of them even featured a box in a key role) and they made staff, classmates and assessors sit up and smile at the freshness of his storytelling and cinematic approach. The films Excursion (2002) and The Heisenberg Principal (2000) were enthusiastically invited to screen at many film festivals, locally and abroad. At one point the school struggled to fund enough film prints to send Excursion to all the festivals eager to screen it at the same time.
In 2003, Cris was awarded the Emerging Talent Award by the Australian Film Critics Circle and the Emerging Australian Filmmaker award by the Melbourne International Film Festival – possibly a daunting spotlight for a newly-graduated filmmaker. However, Cris’ humility and genuine curiosity for a world wider than film alone led him on his own authentic path towards his subsequent projects.
It came as no surprise to hear that the Melbourne International Film Festival chose to support Cris’ first feature film, The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, through its competitive MIFF Premier Fund, and in 2016 the film screened at MIFF’s opening night. Although the film was not everyone’s cup of tea, it and Cris’ unique storytelling qualities were quite at home in the film festival context, where brave festival directors, who are absolutely on top of cinema’s current trends and new directions, identify and program films that will shake up local audiences and renew our sense of exhilaration and faith in the potential of new filmmakers.
I bumped into Cris a few times over the last few years whenever he dropped by the school. I will miss his stories, his smile and his warmth. We will all miss the films that he no doubt was dreaming up and planning to produce.
Banner image: Cris Jones with actor Matilda Brown on the set of The Death and Life of Otto Bloom. Photo: Suzy Wood.
Sean Michael Mcdowell is one of four VCA Art students who have curated Proud 2017, an annual exhibition showcasing work by current students. Find out why Sean chose VCA, what he's learned at art school so far, and what to expect in this year's instalment of the annual exhibition at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery.
For more than 15 years, artist Jon Campbell’s Remedy programs have encouraged Victorian College of the Arts students to explore artistic expression beyond their studio practice. He talks to Precinct ahead of this year's events.
Jon, you’ve curated Remedy, two programs of performance by alumni, staff and current students. Can you tell us what they’ll involve and what audiences can expect?
The program will include a series of five-minute performances with short changeovers between acts. A stage will be set up in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, complete with special lighting and a mirror ball. Past Remedy flyers will be enlarged to poster size and displayed throughout the gallery. The audience can expect a lively program that includes group and solo singing, storytelling, costumes, plate-smashing and experimental noise, to name but a few.
Your Remedy programs have been going for more than 15 years. How did they come about and how have they evolved?
When I started teaching in the VCA Painting Department in 1999, I quickly realised a lot of students had an interest in music and performance and thought this interest could be expanded as part of their experience at art school. It wasn't about skill or being a good singer – it was about the desire to perform to an audience, often for the first time. The program has generally been the same format throughout the years. We put out a call for performers, make a flyer, set up the gallery and let the students give it their best shot. I imagine Remedy will go on, year after year, until no one wants to do it anymore.
How has your own artistic practice changed over your career?
I started out making loose, gestural figurative paintings. Now I make hard-edged text-based paintings. I feel the subject matter has generally stayed the same but expanded, and I've become more critical and demanding of my work. The use of text has allowed me to explore other mediums such as neon, flags and banners and lithography.
A couple of years ago I exhibited recent text paintings alongside figurative paintings I made 25 years earlier and I think the subject matter, the vibe and the politics held them together as a group, even though they looked very different pictorially. I continue to use the enamel house-paint that I started using in the mid-80s.
If you weren’t a visual artist, what would you be doing?
When I was a teenager I always wanted to be in a band, tour the world and make hit records. While I do still play music and perform, I see it as part of my expanded art practice. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I'd only concentrated on music.
Can you tell us a little about your current projects?
I've recently finished a book – it’s a world full of cover versions – based on painted text cards I've used in previous performances. It was designed and printed in Christchurch, New Zealand, by artist and musician Aaron Beehre. I'll be travelling to Christchurch later this month to launch the book at the Ilam Campus Gallery, where I'll also be putting on an exhibition.
Otherwise I am busy in the studio planning and making work for a solo presentation with Darren Knight Gallery in Sydney, a mural for the drawing wall at Shepparton Gallery and a solo presentation at the MCA, Sydney, in December. These are exciting and busy times.
Main image: Melbourne band Terry perform at the launch of ART150. Photo: Drew Echberg.
Jenni Little graduated from the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) in 2015. Since then, she has performed in Follies: In Concert, The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Kinky Boots. Here, she talks about how the VCA prepared her for a career on the stage.
I knew on the day of the audition at the VCA was the right place for me. The way our course coordinator Margot Fenley worked with actors on the floor that day was thrilling to me. I wanted to learn from her and was excited that someone who came from such a strong, truthful storytelling perspective was the head of a music theatre course. I still find that exciting!
I don't think any other music theatre program in the country covers such a breadth of learning and still prepares you for working in a commercial theatre environment. I graduated feeling like I had equally strong training in the areas of singing, dancing and acting, and also felt comfortable stepping into a television of film environment.
I loved how immersive the program was. They were long days but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in my passion for three years, surrounded by a wealth of incredible resources, was a dream come true for me. The emphasis on studio-based training meant that we were always up on our feet learning physically and quickly – and learning from our classmates as much as from our own work.
It’s a very inspiring location to study in because you feel like you’re very much a part of the creative community before you’ve graduated. The VCA campus is within walking distance of the theatre district, the museum, the gallery and the CBD. You’re right in the middle of it. The on-campus spaces were a haven for practising in between classes, and for someone like me who loves slightly left-of-centre cast recordings and hard-to-find sheet music, the Lenton Parr Library was an absolute mecca.
The Music Theatre students and teachers are an amazingly tight-knit, small and supportive group. I loved being surrounded by a group of like-minded people who shared my passion.
I had the opportunity to learn from so many visiting artists in a masterclass setting while at the VCA. We were lucky enough to work with and learn from American composers, songwriters and vocal technicians, as well as Australian producers, directors, casting directors, actors and music directors. I will never forget getting the opportunity to work with American composer Adam Guettel when he visited in 2013. That was an absolute life-changer for me.
VCA is a massive supporter and facilitator or new musical theatre works and I was lucky enough to be a part of a number of workshops and creative developments. Being a part of a project’s genesis and helping a creative team to realise their vision was an amazing experience to have as an artist while still studying. Taking part in those projects helped unlock a love of facilitating new pieces that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
When I was in second year I was one of five students in my year chosen to take part in the Global Atelier Project in New York City. We spent ten days taking part in masterclasses with industry professionals and seeing as much theatre as we could jam into our itinerary. It was an absolutely mind-blowing and I took so much away from it. I still refer back to my notes from that time – it was an amazing learning experience.
We discovered that all of the people we worked with in the States shared the same techniques and ideologies that we were being taught at the VCA. To know that we were being taught the same things that performers who go on to perform on Broadway are taught was pretty fantastic!
The most valuable thing VCA offers Music Theatre students is a combination of world-class training and the opportunity to work with and learn from directors and performers who are currently working in the industry. Forging positive working relationships with industry professionals before you’ve graduated is invaluable – and at almost every audition I step into, I know someone on the panel from my time at the VCA. It makes life so much easier.
At the VCA, the message to us was: you are an actor, first and foremost, and every creative problem you'll ever have in rehearsal as a singer or a dancer can be solved through your training as actors. This is always a great comfort to me. When stepping into a professional rehearsal room for the first day where there are often people I've admired on stage since I was little, it is a comfort to know that I can just relax and simply do the work I know how to do because of my training.
As told to Sophie Duran.
Applications for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) close on 28 September. Find out more.
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Banner image: Jenni Little in 42nd Street, presented by Music Theatre Company 2015 at the Victorian College of the Arts. Photo: Drew Echberg
What does it take to make a feature-length comedy about broken dreams, intense sibling rivalry and rethinking your place in the world? That's Not Me's Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher have the answers.
By Paul Dalgarno
Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher are adept at playing several roles concurrently. They’re married to each other. They make films together – most recently their debut feature That’s Not Me, showing in selected Australian cinemas from 7 September. They co-wrote the screenplay. With two other producers, they co-produced the film. Erdstein directed it. Foulcher, who plays identical twins Polly and Amy, stars in it ... twice. They've self-distributed it, designed the posters, and – as release-date approaches – are promoting it with everything they have.
“When you make a film at this level, you almost have to tour it like a musician tours an album,” says Erdstein. He’s lean, in a beanie, entirely focused on the job at hand. “We have to get ourselves out there as the faces of the film, and Alice in particular – she’s actually the two faces of the film.”
“Or three faces now,” says Foulcher, as double-star and promoter. She’s sitting next to Erdstein, all eyes – they smile at each other briefly, get back on point.
“Stopping now would negate everything,” says Erdstein. “Not just all the hard work that's been put in by us, but by everyone who’s put faith in the project at every stage of production.”
That’s Not Me follows the fortunes of Polly, an emerging Australian actor who wants to make it big in Los Angeles. She looks the part and, as she likes to remind her agent, her housemates and anyone else who will listen, can really, really act. But so can her identical twin, Amy, who lands a dream role in a new HBO show starring Jared Leto, with whom she falls into a tabloid-friendly celebrity romance.
Big-name directors duly begin falling over themselves to capitalise on Amy’s cachet and “unique look”, while Polly, with fading parental support and plummeting self-belief, has to choose between giving up entirely or imitating her sister for romantic and professional gain.
The film had its world premiere in February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, its Australian premiere in June at the Sydney Film Festival, and recently played to sell-out audiences at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Foulcher, rightly, has been highly praised for her performance(s). She appears in every scene, walking a tightrope between laugh-out-loud comedy and relatable tragedy. It’s a role rich in hubris, pride, vulnerability and empathy. That Foulcher can communicate all of those while remaining believable – and funny – is testament to her range and talent.
The only downside so far has involved those three hardest words: Australian, indie and comedy.
"People have such a cringe over Australian films," says Foulcher. "The fact that it's indie, they think it's going to be shit. The fact it's a comedy, they think it's going to be that big, broad style Australian comedy, when it's really not. It's a much gentler, quieter film.”
Erdstein nods. “A lot of the reviews have been really positive, but they've sometimes been couched in terms of, ‘It wasn't as shit as I thought’.”
Both laugh but I get the sense that neither is joking. Gallows humour runs as freely through their real-life dialogue as it does through the script of That’s Not Me, which Foulcher describes as a “feelgood film about disappointment”.
“The message of the film is that realigning your goals and dreams might not be such a bad thing,” she says. “I was talking to an actor friend recently who's going through a bit of a hard patch, and I realised I couldn’t just say, ‘Hang in there, you'll make it someday’, because it might not happen. But there's actually something really liberating about getting to that point of saying, ‘Well, if the industry is some kind of deaf machine and it owes you nothing, then there's no kind of expectation on yourself’.”
It’s hard to believe the film, shot in Melbourne and LA, was made on a budget of $60,000. And not because it looks a million dollars – I’d put it closer to six or seven. I'm guessing nobody got paid.
“Really?” says Foulcher, laughing. “You guessed that?”
“Everyone worked on deferred contracts,” says Erdstein, “which means they'll get paid if the film goes into profit. But obviously that doesn't help people who had to work for weeks at a time, like the production designer and the costume designer, so we paid their rent, just trying to make sure they wouldn't be out of pocket.”
Erdstein and Foulcher met while studying a Master of Film and TV (Narrative) in 2008 at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Isabel Lucas, of Home and Away and Transformers fame, who brings understated comic talent to her supporting role in That’s Not Me, met Foulcher while studying in the VCA Drama short course program in 2007. Erdstein met the film’s cinematographer Shelley Farthing-Dawe during a VCA student shoot. The film's co-producers Anna Kojevnikov and Sally Storey are VCA graduates, as is the film’s costume designer Sophie Hayward and executive producer Robert K. Potter.
“In some ways, it’s a VCA feature film,” says Erdstein. “A lot of us had come through the VCA at the same time, which was great. It meant we were all on the same level, we were all hungry.”
Both refer to That’s Not Me as a “favour film”, made with the understanding that favours go both ways. “One of the keys after finishing film school is to keep on making,” says Erdstein. “And if you're not making your own work, you've got to help other people make theirs. I do a lot of work as an assistant director and give up my time to help other people, so when we call on those people for help they’re happy to do it.”
Being nice helps, says Foulcher. “I think you can't overstate the importance of just not being an arsehole,” she says. “Some people behave like their graduating film is some kind of defining expression of them as an artist, and that it gives them a free pass to behave badly. But we’re not saving lives, we're entertaining people. You shouldn't have to step on your mother's neck to get your film made.”
Beyond hard work, patience and, ideally, some luck, there are no silver bullets – a lesson Polly in That’s Not Me would do well to be mindful of.
“She talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk,” says Foulcher. “She’s blindly going through something that she's said she wants to do, become an actor, but she hasn't stopped to ask if she actually enjoys it. Instead of, say, putting on a show with friends and making something happen she’s waiting by the phone for work to come to her.”
Being plucked from obscurity and elevated to stardom, though an appealing idea, rarely happens.
“We wanted to provide a reality check on that whole dream,” says Erdstein. “At the beginning of the year, when we'd just finished That’s Not Me, we saw La La Land. When the lights went up I turned to Alice and said, ‘Oh, I think we've made the anti-La La Land’.” Maybe [La La Land screenwriter] Damien Chazelle, as an Oscar-nominated writer and director, was coming from the perspective of ‘Well of course, everyone makes it'. But for us, as bottom-feeders from Melbourne, we're looking at it differently.”
One message they’re wary of communicating is that films like That’s Not Me can, or should, be made on the smell of an oily rag.
“It’s not a good model,“ says Foulcher.
“Not paying people isn’t great,” says Erdstein.
“No, we can’t keep doing that,” says Foulcher.
The pair work well as a double-act. They co-wrote That’s Not Me in Paris, during an eight-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, though not sitting side by side, says Foulcher. “One of us would write something, we'd talk, we'd go for walks, we'd talk about it a bit more, then pass a scene back and forth.” Which might make it difficult to know who wrote what – especially the really good bits.
Erdstein agrees. “Yesterday I was talking about the great job I did writing a joke, and Alice had to remind me that she'd written it.”
“It was one of the newspaper headlines in the film,” says Foulcher. “Oliver’s Twist of Fate. We were talking about how funny it was and he goes, ‘I know, thank you,’ and I was like, ‘No, actually, I thought of that’.”
“We share the same brain,” says Erdstein. But, as with all brains, there are opposing hemispheres. “You can see the clash of both of our dispositions in real life and our sensibilities as filmmakers in every scene of That’s Not Me,” he says. “Alice is very bright and sunny and optimistic, and I’m ... pragmatic. Alice would say ‘cynical’. There are lots of false starts for Polly in the film, where you see her optimism being cut off at the knees by cynicism and pragmatism and real life and ...”
I wonder what the ideal end-game is for them both, whether, like Polly, a Hollywood career is the ultimate benchmark of success.
“I think we'd actually prefer to keep living in Melbourne,” says Erdstein. “Although, I have a US passport, so there’s a very real possibility we could go over there.”
“I want to see more Australian comedies with female leads,” says Foulcher. “If you think about it, after Muriel's Wedding there's not a huge amount of them.”
As a writer and actor, she acknowledges she has the skills to make a difference and says that the paucity of female stories was a driving force behind the script for That’s Not Me.
“In 2014, when we were writing it, I went to see the Wes Anderson film Grand Budapest Hotel. I remember looking at the poster with all the characters – about 17 of them, I think, and like three chicks. That needs to change. As practitioners, we need to be able to put our money where our mouth is and help make it happen. I mean, our film passes the Bechdel Test three times in the first five minutes.”
The big fear is that people won’t get to see that philosophy in action. The marketing and distribution spend for even the lowliest of Hollywood arthouse films would outstrip the entire filming, production and marketing budget of That’s Not Me many times over. And getting people along to see it on its opening weekend, from 7 September, is critical to its cinematic fortunes.
“That’s what we're up against,” says Erdstein.
“Basically, going to see it on the Monday or Tuesday is leaving it too late,” says Foulcher. “Because they look at the box office figures on the Monday morning after the opening weekend.”
What about hitting up Jared Leto? I suggest. I mean, Amy is actually dating him in the film, is she not, and he has about four million Twitter followers?
“We continue to like his posts on Instagram,” says Foulcher.
“We retweet him every now and again,” says Erdstein. “It's a very flattering portrait of him in the film.”
“Maybe that’s it,” says Foulcher. “We need Jared Leto to help us.”
She taps the table, makes to stand. Erdstein follows suit. There’s a film to promote, more work to do.
For your chance to win a double pass to see That's Not Me, and/or signed promotional posters, email Precinct with your preference (tickets/poster), and the subject line: That's Not Me.
Main Image: Alice Foulcher in a film still from That's Not Me. Supplied.
Win a double pass to the opening night of L'Orfeo on Thursday 7 September. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Orpheus Giveaway" for your chance to win.
In September, a cast of singers and musicians will perform Monteverdi's groundbreaking opera, L'Orfeo, in a landmark production by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in association with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. In this interview, Artistic Director Professor Jane Davidson explains her reasons for staging the work.
By Frederic Kiernan
Jane, why did you choose to stage this opera?
Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo (sometimes called La Favola d’Orfeo, or The Tale of Orpheus) is a remarkably beautiful work, and is technically quite challenging, so I wanted to explore this work’s creative possibilities in a modern production. This year is also the 450th anniversary of the birth of the composer, so we also wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate this Italian master’s wonderful musical legacy. Even though there have been a number of operas based upon the Orpheus myth written over the centuries, Monteverdi’s setting is a standout masterpiece.
What makes Monteverdi’s opera so special?
Monteverdi was very much a musical innovator. He composed music at a time when great shifts were happening in the way people thought about music, and what people wanted music to do – this was all happening towards the end of the 16th century, and during the first decades of the 17th century, in Italy. Italian composers at that time, and especially Monteverdi, were exploring music’s power to express the emotional meaning of texts, whereas previously, more strict rules were in operation about how melodies and harmonies were supposed to behave. Those rules didn’t relate much to the text being sung. When the text became an expressive priority, opera was born. Monteverdi’s work is probably the first “true” opera (although scholars continue to debate this, of course).
Why is The Tale of Orpheus the first “true” opera?
Some scholars argue that the first “true” operas didn’t emerge until the first public opera houses opened up in Venice in the 1630s, and there is merit in this argument. But discussions about opera’s origins still invariably return to Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Other composers had written theatrical productions that were sung through from beginning to end before Monteverdi. Jacopo Peri had written Dafne in 1598, which is now lost, and he also composed an opera based on the Orpheus myth, Euridice, in 1600, which also included music by Giulio Caccini. These were, in a way, early “experiments” in operatic writing.
While they did use new musical styles such as stile rappresentativo, or the “representational style”, where the melody was geared towards expressing the emotional content of the text, these early operas never really achieved the stylistic synthesis that Monteverdi achieved with L’Orfeo. In this opera, we see a vast array of musical styles at work – both old and new, side by side – and they all somehow come together in a remarkably cohesive way. That was a historical turning-point in music history and, in many ways, marked the beginning of what is often called the “baroque” period.
What is your vision for the current production?
In this production, I want to bring historical ideas into the present in a creative way. I’m an opera director, but I’m also a music psychologist, as well as leader of the Performance Program at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, so I want to focus especially on emotions, and how these have been expressed in music historically. The current production explores the significance of historical ideas about music’s relationship to the planets and mood regulation through innovative staging, direction, and other design elements. By doing this, I hope the audience comes away with a greater appreciation not only for Monteverdi’s wonderful opera, but also how it represents an important shift in the way people thought and felt in the past.
The Tale of Orpheus by Claudio Monteverdi will be performed at The Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, on 7 and 8 September, 7.30pm–9pm. Visit Eventbrite for ticketing and show information.
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Main image: The Tale of Orpheus by Claudio Monteverdi. By Sarah Walker.
In this, the first in a series of How To videos from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Senior Lecturer in Voice Leith McPherson explains the pitfalls of trying to imitate an Australian accent ... and how to avoid them. Know someone who would benefit from a bit of professional voice coaching? Pass it on!
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See also: How to program a Roland TB-303
Main image: Dan Zen/Flickr
Joy Heng moved to Australia after some googling led her to the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s Interactive Composition course. Following the release of her first single on iTunes, she shares some insights into what it’s like to be an international student, composer, collaborator and budding singer-songwriter.
I have loved playing the piano since I was 12 years old. In 2012, I decided to study music at Singapore Polytechnic, which allowed me to develop a wide variety of music skills. I began producing my own songs and fell in love with composing music. Finishing a song gave me a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. I was set on pursuing music and found the Interactive Composition course on the MCM website – and it seemed perfect for me.
Joy Heng, Dreams. Filmed and edited by Aldin Ortinez.
When I moved to Melbourne, I wanted to broaden my mind by experiencing a new culture and connecting with more musicians. I remember looking at a video on YouTube which showed [Head of Interactive Composition] Mark Pollard talking about how to audition for the course. I was a bit intimidated but so determined to create a great portfolio for the audition.
Recently, I was able fulfil my dreams to release my very first single on iTunes and Spotify. With the help of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, I was also able to release a professionally-filmed music video. I worked with some students from the Jazz & Improvisation stream who played my track and made it sound really amazing. I used the Grant Street Theatre on campus to film a video and, with the help of some staﬀ and lecturers, I was able to set up all the lights and instruments very smoothly. I really enjoyed this process, especially the collaboration with my fellow students.
I’ve made amazing friends while studying at the MCM, and they’ve made the challenges of university life so much easier. I’m miles away from my family, but the people I’ve met here have made me feel like I am at home. Also, the collaborations between different artistic areas is something that I really enjoy – I feel that it exposes me to greater opportunities. Everyone who studies here is so talented. They’re the future of the music industry, and I hope to be able to work with them as my career progresses.
I have the constant support and help of my lecturers. They guide me in the right direction and are always pushing me to achieve my full potential.
In the next few years, I hope to be able to grow as a singer-songwriter. When I graduate at the end of this year, I would also love to be able to work in the media sector, composing music for animations, films or commercials, or anything else interactive.
If you want to pursue a career in the music industry, you just have to keep working on it, keep practising, and never lose sight of your dreams. In time you’ll get there. I’m not there yet but I’ll keep pressing on. Don’t forget to take the time to explore as many opportunities as you can, and make sure you chill out too. Hang out with your friends, go to gigs, travel. There's so much out there.
As told to Sophie Duran
Applications for the Bachelor of Music close on 28 September. Find out more.
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Main image: Final year Bachelor of Music (Interactive Composition) student Joy Heng. By Sav Schulman.
Luke Fryer began dancing relatively late in life, and is now in his final year at the Victorian College of the Arts. He reflects on his journey so far, and where he hopes to go from here.
I began dancing at 16 in my hometown, Canberra, with QL2 Centre for Youth Dance. Because I had a background in gymnastics, I was interested in continuing to train my body and mind in a fulfilling and ever-evolving way.
Preparing to audition for the VCA was a long process. I had little classical dance training but took weekly classes during my gap year to build the core technical requirements and base knowledge I needed for the VCA audition. When I auditioned for the 2015 intake I was sent a B letter offer – so I was on the waiting list. But having spoken to people in the industry, I knew that the VCA Dance course was producing innovative makers who’d received solid technical training while studying and then used it as a tool to develop their own practice. I was much more drawn to this than to being a technical performer who would fit the mould of a company. Although I’d already been offered a place at WAAPA, I turned it down once I was accepted into the VCA in the second round.
At the VCA, I’m in the heart of a bigger city where diversity is innate. When deciding where to study, I felt more comfortable among diversity and numbers.
My days are full. In third year, technique classes start at 9am – either ballet and contemporary, or double contemporary – or even something like yoga paired with a technique class. There is about an hour's break for lunch, and then the rest of the day is spent in performance rehearsals until six or so. I usually also have rehearsals after hours until 8pm, either for VCA works or other projects outside of school.
I’m inspired by people and their bodies. Everyone is so different but we all find our own ways of communicating to each other via this form of the body in space. How do our bodies function, and how can that be manipulated or crafted to reveal something special in our world we have never thought of before? Dedication, attention, respect and continual investigation of this body is a constant source of inspiration inside and outside the studio, and in all facets of life.
Physical and mental exhaustion are huge challenges. One always affects the other. Continually having to train and relearn how to cope with your body and mind being tired from long hours of work is a never-ending process.
You might be practising and working every day on something in particular and it will be merely time, and persistence, that will allow you to succeed. The amount of time that is required in this course extends beyond our 55 contact hours a week. Your body is your tool and you always have to work and rework with it and find out what it needs.
As a Dance student at the VCA, I get to work on myself as well as be part of an amazing community of inspired and inspiring people. Between the information I get from my own learning and growth, and the information I get from others around me, I could never be bored or stagnant.
Any element of spontaneity in the course it is always a highlight. Even the smallest workshop or guest speaker or change in the timetable is very refreshing.
A big highlight for me was finishing our mid-year season in second year, where I performed in a second-year work as well as a third-year work. It was the end of a semester of long days but the fact I had been able to work and connect with the third-year students and juggle two works at the time seemed like a big deal. It was made even better by hopping on the plane the day after closing night and travelling to France with people in my course to continue learning, but also have fun in a completely different environment.
To relax outside of training, I just get out of the house and away from the campus as much as I can – either with friends or by myself. Catching a train or tram somewhere new, walking with no final destination or attending random events is my way of relaxing. Melbourne is so big that you can literally take mini holidays every weekend if you just make time or go searching for them.
After I graduate, I want to stay in Melbourne and make the most of the connections I have made throughout my time here as well as those connections I have yet to make. Becoming more settled and financially independent next year is also priority. I’d like to test the waters to see if part-time gigs are a sustainable mode of living for a while, as well as maybe try out full time work in parts of the industry to see if I enjoy them. From there, I plan to travel to America and Europe to discover where my training lineage and body fit into the dance industry outside of Australia. I want to continue to research and develop my own practices firstly through studio-based work and perhaps even further study in the future.
As told to Sophie Duran
Main image: Luke Fryer, South Lawn carpark, University of Melbourne's Parkville Campus. By John O’Rourke
Fifty years of La Mama theatre is documented in the University of Melbourne Archives, offering an insight into the emergence of Melbourne’s avant-garde theatre scene in the late 1960s.
By Jane Beattie, University of Melbourne Archives, University of Melbourne.
Inspired by New York’s La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, founder Betty Burstall was confident that Melbourne performers and audiences wanted and needed a place for progressive music, poetry and film too.
La Mama nurtured local talent and rode the international wave of social and cultural change in the late 1960s to provide a platform for alternative voices in the arts. In a company newsletter from October 1969 this vision was expanded: La Mama would be a theatre to make possible “a new audience-actor relationship. It was informal, direct, immediate. It was also a playwrights’ theatre…where you could hear what people now were thinking and feeling.”
Early archival material, such as correspondence and newsletters, reveals the co-operative nature that Burstall was committed to; her policy of developing solely Australian work was financially risky in an arts scene dominated by the mainstream canon of mainly American and English work.
Censorship and controversy
“Revolutionary things are happening in theatre today and I want them here.” Burstall’s ambitions for La Mama were grand, and the revolution began almost immediately, with plays pushing the legal boundaries of decency of the time.
The earliest offender was the 1968 production of Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed. The final line of dialogue “fucking boongs” is delivered by Norm to Ahmed, a Pakistani student. Actor Lindsey Smith was arrested for using obscene language, and the play’s producer Graeme Blundell was charged with aiding and abetting Smith. In 1969, John Romeril’s Whatever Happened to Realism resulted in the arrest of nine actors for using obscene language in a public place.
Boxes of news-cuttings from this era tell the story of La Mama’s ongoing battle against censorship and the restrictions imposed by Australian social and cultural values of the time.
The archives also feature production posters, including lino-cuts crafted by Tim Burstall, Betty’s husband. The few styles repeated in different colours with handwritten production dates and times illustrate trends in grassroots art and design, as well as the collaborative nature of La Mama.
Other established artists such as photographer Peter Lyssiotis created production posters and art work – in Lyssiotis’ case posters and artwork for his playwright daughter Tes. A wild variety of style and quality is demonstrated in some of the earlier posters by anonymous artists whose work is marked with holes left by the staples used to distribute them on street corners.
Supporting other art forms
La Mama encompassed many more facets of the Melbourne avant-garde arts scene. Neo Kyma refers to a movement in Greek music that found popularity in the 1960s and 70s, extending well into the 1980s in Australian Greek communities. For around five years, Christos and Tasos Ioannidis played Greek and ployethnic music at La Mama.
“The 1970s and ‘80s were the golden era of Melbourne’s Greek community. Everything, including the arts, was blooming. Especially La Mama - it was not only for Greeks, it was a place of meeting, getting together, it became a culture” explains Christos. Burstall and Liz Jones, who followed her as artistic director in 1977, had created a space where artists from all backgrounds could practice, improvise and collaborate with their peers
Poetry and spoken word were also promoted from La Mama’s inception in 1967, led by Glen Tomesetti and Kris Hemmensley, and continues today as a regular in La Mama’s program. Each La Mama Poetica event featured multiple acts and showcased work from both emerging and established poets.
Mainstays included Jennifer Strauss, Wendy Poussard and Jennifer Harrison. University of Melbourne academic Kevin Brophy was a regular and a reading by Chris Wallace-Crabbe would have been rousing. Left field inclusions were the works of Indonesian poets performed by Geoff Fox, radical experimental poet and a founding member of Australia’s Poet’s Union. And there was Thalia, a night dedicated to the Perseverance Poets collective, featuring Louise Craig and Whitefeather Light.
Despite earlier confrontations with the law, La Mama continued supporting Australian writers, actors and directors, providing a place where collaboration and experimentation were centre-stage. Stalwarts of the Australian theatre scene like Jack Hibberd, David Williamson and Graeme Blundell were given the chance to practice and develop their craft, as were other performance artists, such as filmmakers Corinne and Arthur Cantrill.
In the decades following the ‘obscenity trials’, La Mama continued pushing audiences, exploring concepts of identity, and elevating voices of the silenced. Playwrights such as Mammad Aidani and Tes Lyssiotis used this platform to chronicle the variety of the migrant experience, whilst plays like Pundulumura: Two Trees Together (1990) by Aboriginal actor comedian Gnarnayarrahe Immurry Waitairie and prolific Melbourne writer and director Ray Mooney explored relationships between black and white Australian cultures.
From the first donation of records in 1977, the University of Melbourne Archive has seen its relationship with La Mama as a valuable one, not only for volunteer projects and exhibitions but in maintaining a comprehensive record of Melbourne’s theatre history. The La Mama Collection complements that of the Union Theatre Repertory Company which evolved into the Melbourne Theatre Company, as well as smaller collections of ephemera from the late 19th century to the 1960s.
The La Mama collection is open access to all researchers and its finding aids can be located on the UMA online catalogue by using the search term “La Mama”. A selection of records and production posters from the La Mama archive are on display in the Arts West building at the University of Melbourne.
Banner Image: Wikimedia
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The much-anticipated new art museum is opening in the United Arab Emirates later this year; here’s why it should be considered a global art envoy rather than an agent of the West.
By Associate Professor Christopher Marshall, School of Culture and Communication, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open its doors to the public in November 2017 following ten long years of planning. It marks the latest international cultural franchising deal, where big name museums and galleries lend their brand to overseas institutions.This ambitious and controversial project has attracted criticism aimed at everything from employing a migrant construction labour force under harsh conditions, to undermining the dignity of French culture (similar to the Guggenheim franchises being labelled ‘McGuggenheims’).
But perhaps the biggest criticism, led by Professor Andrew McClellan (Tufts University, author of The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao) is one of cultural imperialism; that the new museum will impose Western notions of art, culture and history in the Gulf Region.
After the oil
The Louvre Abu Dhabi forms the centre-piece of a 27 square kilometre man-made island off the coast of Abu Dhabi that has been conceived as a commercial, tourist, and cultural hub for the entire Gulf region; part of the United Arab Emirate’s economic strategy for when the oil runs dry.
When complete, Saadiyat Island will comprise a network of iconic cultural developments. Besides the Louvre Abu Dhabi there will be a new Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry, a museum dedicated to the founding president of the UAE formulated by Norman Foster, a maritime museum by Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, and a performing arts centre designed by the celebrated late Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid.
The island will also contain a series of luxury hotels together with a golf-course, a beach club and shopping malls lined with international luxury outlets.
As the opening flagship attraction for the development, there is clearly much at stake in achieving a smooth launch for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
A new institution in its own right
Writing in The Journal of Curatorial Studies, Professor McClellan questions the curatorial rational of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, arguing that it “appears set to re-inscribe the familiar western story of art” into the Gulf Region and that this will result in the Louvre “essentially reproducing itself in the Persian Gulf while claiming to do something new and different.”
But the new art museum is not simply another Louvre; it is a new institution in itself, which is ‘borrowing’ the Louvre brand for 20 years (to the tune of 1.3 billion USD, or 1.6 billion AUD).
The so-called ‘universal survey’ approach adopted by the Louvre and other museums in the past has undoubtedly resulted in a markedly pro-Western bias within many museum collections. Though founded on the ideal of a supposedly ‘universal survey’ of culture, in practice this has always meant that the vast encyclopaedic museums of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have reinforced a peculiarly Western notion of cultural distinction from Ancient Greece through to the European Renaissance and so on.
This concern may well have been valid during the project’s early years, when much about it was still to be defined. It has become harder to sustain, however, following the publication of Louvre Abu Dhabi: Birth of a Museum, a lavishly illustrated catalogue accompanying an exhibition of the same title held in 2014.
This catalogue outlines the recent acquisitions made for the museum’s permanent collection that are funded from its staggeringly impressive annual accessions budget of USD 56 million (70 million AUD).
Far from following a policy of obvious ‘name brand’ acquisitions, the catalogue demonstrates the extent to which the curators have searched far and wide to locate strikingly distinctive and unusual objects that can be used to offer up fresh and intriguing cross-cultural comparisons between artefacts sharing certain affinities and similarities across time and space.
The earthy materiality of an ancient Bactrian sculpture of a female figure is juxtaposed with the neo-primitivist vigour of Yves Klein’s 1960 Anthropometry, a white canvas imprinted with the blue outlines of the bodies of two models who were contracted by the artist to cover themselves in paint before rolling onto the canvas as a form of ‘living paintbrush’.
The curators have also selected a series of striking, standalone works that powerfully evoke ideas of cross-cultural hybridity within themselves including, for example, an eighteenth century portrait of a European ambassador to the court of Constantinople by the Swiss Rococo artist Jean Étienne Liotard. The painting presents the ambassador clad in extravagant European attire while standing in a meticulously detailed Arab interior. It also demonstrates the artist’s simultaneous interest in introducing into the composition the flattened and surface-oriented emphasis of Islamic art more generally.
So too, a sixteenth century mother of pearl ewer from Gujarat in Western India has been selected for its intriguing afterlife in Baroque Naples. Here the ewer was taken and adapted for a new purpose via the addition of elaborate Neapolitan gold-smith work so that it now appears to hover somewhere between an Indian princely possession and an object of finely worked exotica to be displayed in an Italian Baroque cabinet of curiosity.
Confirmation of the success or otherwise of this novel approach, of course, will not be evident until the new museum opens its doors to the public later this year.
Still, the catalogue offers up the tantalising possibility that the Louvre Abu Dhabi may well be poised on the brink of presenting a new model for the universal survey museum for the twenty-first century.
This new curatorial agenda of cross-cultural exchange and comparison has the potential, in turn, to break down the old polarities existing between Eastern and Western understandings and to replace them with a new more inclusive form of art historical survey museum that is, at last, truly global in scope.
Banner image: Louvre Abu Dhabi
Steve Mackey is a world-renowned guitarist and composer who has written for orchestra, chamber ensembles, soloists, dance and opera. Ahead of two highly-anticipated concerts in Melbourne he talks with the Melbourne Conservatorium's Dr Ken Murray about his music and the role of the electric guitar in his compositional style.
By Dr Ken Murray, Senior Lecturer and Head of Guitar, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
In addition to being a leading American composer, Steve Mackey is a virtuoso electric guitar player who forged a new path for electric guitar in new music in the 1980s and 90s. As an electric guitarist, he performs his own pieces, including two concerti, pieces for electric guitar and string quartet and other chamber and solo pieces. In 2011 he won a Grammy for his piece Lonely Motel, written for the Eighth Blackbird ensemble. This month, Mackey will visit the Melbourne Conservatorium for two concerts, performing with the New Music Studio and MCM Guitar Ensemble to present a program of Australian premieres for massed guitars and mixed ensemble, and a new electric guitar opera, Orpheus Unsung. While at the MCM, Mackey will also be working with staff and students in the composition and performance areas. It's a privilege to be able to welcome Mackey to the MCM, and I very much enjoyed being able to interview him ahead of his arrival.
Steve, you are known as one of America’s leading composers and you manage to keep up a regular schedule of performing – how do you balance those two things?
It can be tricky. If I'm deep into the composition of a piece it's hard for me to switch gears. When I start to practise I often get an idea for the piece I'm working on and drop my guitar to jot it down. For that reason I try to bunch my guitar-playing engagements into certain times of the year so that I will be in tip-top shape only half of the year.
In another way, though, they help each other – when I'm practising I often drift off into free improvisation and sometimes stumble onto something interesting which I record and save for the next time I'm staring at a blank page. Also, sometimes I use the guitar to compose, even during a period when I'm not practising regularly. In such cases I think of the guitar the way most composers think of the piano – as a connection to sound, not a guitar per se. Doing so not only keeps my hands in shape, it expands my sense of the guitar and, over time, has brought me to my current orchestral conception of the guitar.
As a pioneer of the use of the electric guitar in new music, how has your approach to writing for electric guitar changed over the past 20 years?
The biggest difference between then and now is how I approach playing the guitar. Twenty years ago I was a rock guitar-player playing on top of a beat/groove put out by the rhythm section. I’ve had to learn to play inside the beat instead of on top of it. It was quite an eye-opener to rehearse my early works for string quartet and electric guitar. Members of a good string quartet listen to each other, comment on how a phrase is played and tell each other what they need in terms of rhythm, meter, articulation and phrasing. In chamber music everyone makes up the fabric of the rhythm, tying the threads together in an interdependent web.
Also, bowed strings have such a dynamic and timbral range and I had to learn to better control my sound with effects. I compose for, and therefore have to practise, pin-point footwork where effects shift at a precise time. I use a volume pedal to increase the dynamic range of the guitar, which is otherwise very limited. One can’t go overboard with effects, though, when playing with acoustic instruments. What may sound good to me while I'm practising can end up making acoustic instruments sound pale, small and dry, and that ultimately damages the music.
What is an electric guitar opera?
I’m not sure! But it's a concept that helped me to write music in which the guitar tells a dramatic story, sings arias, and spins out orchestral interludes. In the case of Orpheus Unsung [2 September, Melbourne Recital Centre] the story is the Orpheus Myth. The guitar does everything – it sings arias, plays orchestral interludes, etcetera. I could easily supply words and orchestrate Orpheus Unsung and turn it into a chamber opera. But even without words, I think the narrative arc and details are quite palpable as long as the audience knows the Orpheus Myth.
The idea came from a funny piece I did 20 years ago for solo guitarist/narrator called Myrtle and Mint. The premise was that I wanted to write a grand opera but the budget kept getting cut and all that I was left with was a single guitar. There was comedy in how preposterous the premise was, how feeble the substitution was of solo guitar for an orchestra and singers. Orpheus Unsung does the same thing but in a serious way, not highlighting what was missing but making an earnest effort to be an orchestra of sorts.
How has the use of harmonics on the guitar influenced your compositional style?
Harmonics, particularly off-node harmonics, that produce gong-like multi-phonics are something I'm very interested in. The notes produced can be syntactical – part of a functional harmony – or, because they are so colourful, they can be valuable just as a sound, almost like an exotic percussion instrument. I began to incorporate both functions – harmonics that stood both inside and outside the harmony in my guitar music.
That spread to my other music, particularly orchestral music where I would orchestrate the sound of distorted guitar harmonics to use as pure sound objects that contributed to an atmosphere rather than harmony. It's my personal version of spectralism in that the spectra of an electric guitar is often lurking behind orchestral textures that have no guitar.
Banner image: Steve Mackey. Supplied.
Speeches, spades, brass and bonhomie herald the construction of a world-class home for musicians.
By Sophie Duran
On 2 August, the Faculty of VCA & MCM hosted a Turning of the Sod Ceremony for the new, $104.5 million Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Conceived by award-winning John Wardle Architects, and funded by the University of Melbourne, the Victorian Government, the Ian Potter Foundation and generous philanthropic support, the building will offer state-of-the-art teaching facilities on the University of Melbourne's Southbank campus, placing Melbourne Conservatorium students in the heart of the Melbourne Arts Precinct and giving them unprecedented access to a wealth of artistic and creative endeavours.
Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham was joined on the day by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle for an event that included speeches, a brass ensemble fanfare and a symbolic breaking of the earth.
Professor Conyngham said: "Not only was it a very proud moment for the few of us permitted on site, but for the Faculty and the University as a whole, the culmination of a terrific amount of work and determination by a great many people. It was also a moment to reflect on the fact that this project, which will deliver a world-class conservatorium experience for our students and staff, has been made possible with the help of significant, and much-appreciated, philanthropic, University and government support.
"But this is just the beginning," Professor Conyngham added. "If we stay on schedule, the Ian Potter Southbank Centre will be open for business in time for the 2019 academic year, providing a state-of-the-art base for our main business: training and educating the music and arts professionals of the future."
Minister Foley said the Victorian Government was proud to partner with the University – and with its philanthropic supporters – to make the project happen.
“The new Melbourne Conservatorium will be a transformative link in our arts precinct that will boost our cultural and educational offering and attract the best and brightest talent to our creative state," he said. "It will further help build Southbank's Sturt street as the cultural hub of Melbourne."
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre forms part of the ongoing revitalisation of the Faculty of VCA & MCM's Southbank campus, including the $42 million redevelopment of the Dodds Street Stables into a visual arts wing, and the introduction of the Buxton Contemporary Museum.
Banner image: Turning of the Sod Ceremony, l–r, Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham, University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley. By Sav Schulman
It took Annie Murray 30 years to heed her calling as an animator. Now in the final months of her Bachelor of Fine Arts (Animation) degree, she talks about false starts, challenges, hard work, and her many inspirations.
My pathway to the VCA started when I was one year old. That’s when the asthma attacks started. From that time into my early twenties I spent many, many years in and out of hospital, on the benches during PE, and off school when my class went on camps. It was a blessing in disguise, really, as I spent that free time drawing and developing my love of storytelling and appreciation for cartoons from my bed (think Ren & Stimpy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and exploring films. I developed a passion for watching animation and drawing my own panel-strip comics, which usually entailed some kind of warped humour. I think when you're faced with your own mortality from a young age you have no choice but to develop a dark sense of humour.
When I finished high school I was offered a place to study archaeology at university, which I promptly deferred. I would have adored to have applied for something in the arts but I was far too unsure of myself and family pressure to choose something that would ‘make money’ loomed large. I then took a gap year … which lasted ten years. So much for making money – sorry Nana!
I moved to Scotland in my mid-twenties and it was there that I bit the bullet and started illustrating comics for an online company called Popcorn Horror, a small film company that promotes grassroots horror filmmakers. It was the first time my work was shown to the general public and it taught me an invaluable lesson: don't let the fear of rejection hold you back. If you’ve made something, show it to the world and see what comes back.
In my late twenties I decided I couldn’t work another decade in jobs I hated. I desperately wanted to pursue a career in something I had always loved, and it seemed an obvious choice to me – a degree in animation at the VCA. I spent a year researching the establishment, contacting people and asking questions. I packed up my life and moved back to Australia to apply for the 2015 intake of students.
At 30, I threw everything I had into applying for animation courses. I covered all my bases by applying to RMIT and other universities, but for me, VCA was the golden goose and I wanted to study there more than I have ever wanted anything. I submitted my application and hoped for the best but expected the worst. It was an insane feeling being accepted and every day I walk into the Margaret Lawrence building I feel a rush of pride to be among so many talented, inspiring and encouraging contemporaries and advisors. Secretly, I’m waiting for a letter from student admin saying it was all a mistake and that I should please leave now without making a scene, ma’am.
Inspiration comes from everywhere. It could be the whispered words of a stranger on public transport, a voyeuristic experience, smelling something that reminds me of my childhood, the sound of cicadas, or the tiny patterns on the wings of lace-winged moths. I am inspired by so many things on a daily basis that it’s hard to keep up. I would advise anyone looking to build a career in the arts to carry a journal with them at all times. If you see something, hear something or feel something that could be the basis for a story or project, write it down! I have lost so many keepers because I have thought to myself, ‘I’ll remember that later’. I’m constantly inspired by my classmates, and by my advisors, Rob Stephenson and Paul Fletcher. They are amazingly encouraging, personable, charismatic and learned. I wouldn’t be here today without their support and kindness.
Animation is a lot of work. Luckily, I very much enjoy sitting in a darkened room, frowning for hours on end at a computer screen. It's an amalgamation of all things filmic. We need to know in depth how to take an idea from conception to final production and everything in between. When you apply at the VCA they want to see original stories and ideas – and they'll teach you the rest. We learn directing, producing and editing. We must be storyboarder and cameraperson. We are our own lighting and sound mixers, colour graders and composers. We are the marketing, budgeting and promotional department as well as the animator. You really have to love this work. If you don’t, you will find it difficult to stick with. Pacing yourself and getting comfortable with schedules that are reasonable and attainable are skills that take time to learn, but are invaluable. You need enthusiasm and an open mind.
What I love about my study at the VCA is the freedom it gives me to produce work to a level of which I'm proud. I've grown so much in my skill level as an animator and writer. I have been exposed to all manner of filmic techniques and animation styles which I probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. I also enjoy the networking opportunities.
Recently, one of my very shortest films was selected by New York Film Week and received an official selection Laurel. The piece was a 35-second, abstract, stop-motion exercise that I created in my first month at the VCA. I find this hilarious – it just goes to show how subjective art is. That short film is nothing special in my opinion, but someone, somewhere on a judging panel watched it and it meant something to them. It may have helped that I titled it with an emotive name – You Are at First, Frightening – and banged a Nietzsche quote on it: 'All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks, in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity'.
Without the skills and networking opportunities I have been afforded at the VCA, I would never have even got my foot in the door of a studio. The VCA teaches us how to search for work in our fields, shows us avenues we can go down, and teaches us how to impress prospective employers with our work.
My life is better for having been able to develop myself as an artist, business woman and animator. I have made friends that will last a lifetime and think of my class as an extension of my own family.
I’m not sure what the next few years hold for me. I'm considering doing an Honours year. But whatever happens I want to continue developing my skills and hopefully, much like a leech, attach myself to something bigger than myself and work in the creative industry. I’m ready to make some money and look forward to taking my skills into the workforce.
OK, it’s advice time. Be inspired by others but never, ever try and be others. Be the best version of you that you can be. Go hard. Put yourself out there. Take risks – mistakes make great mates.
As told to Sophie Duran
Banner image: Annie Murray in the VCA Animation studios. Photograph by Sav Schulman, animation by Annie Murray.
The relationship between elective facial surgery and feminism in China is at the heart of Su Yang’s short film Beauty, which recently won the Melbourne International Film Festival’s inaugural Powershorts Short Film Competition. Here, she explains why she made it.
I was introduced to feminism for the first time in the US and became very interested in it, having not heard or learned about it properly in China. I was doing my MFA studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo at the time, having graduated from a Bachelor Degree in Design in at the Tsinghua University in China. When I went back to China from the US on vacation, I was confronted by the phenomenon of cosmetic surgery in China. Many people I knew, including a number of my relatives and friends, had undergone facial cosmetic surgery, and I saw advertisements for cosmetic surgeons everywhere: on TV, billboards and posters in our apartment elevators.
It struck me that people had started cloning each other, losing their personal characteristics. And the notion of beauty in China seemed very singular to me, and the procedures for changing your appearance very oppressive.
I decided to start my graduation thesis on notions of beauty and the phenomenon of cosmetic surgery among the female population in China. And after graduating I still wanted to continue my research because I wanted to know more, not only about feminism, but also feminist art and western feminist art theory. I read some Chinese feminist art criticism but it wasn’t progressive feminism – I wouldn’t even call it feminism – so I decided to move to Australia and continue my studies here.
I was accepted as a PhD candidate at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2015, and am continuing my studies along this theme. The current working title of my thesis is Feminist Aesthetics: The Representation of Women in Contemporary Chinese Art.
Recently I co-created a short film Beauty as part of my thesis research with my husband Zhang Xiaoan, who is also studying a Foundations Film course at the VCA. It won the Powershots Short Film Competition and will be shown at an exclusive Melbourne International Film Festival screening this month. It's about one girl’s experience with cosmetic surgery. She goes through the process of choosing a new face from a number of different options presented to her. All of thee faces are actually my face adjusted on a phone app that's very popular in China at the moment.
Beauty (2017). Su Yang and Zhang Xiaoan.
In the past, the trend in China was to look European but recently the aesthetic, I’d say, is not even human. The chin has become very sharp, and the eyes are very long and very round … the facial features don’t fit the face properly. So the character chooses this style of face at the start of the film. As the trends change, so too does her dissatisfaction with her now ‘outdated style’ of face.
There have been many different understandings of feminism for ordinary people in China since it was introduced from the West in the early 20th century. The initial translation of the word in mandarin was 女权主义, which is close to ‘women’s-power-ism’. But in the 1990s, that word was seen to be too ‘man-hating’ and not aligned with Chinese values, which are underpinned by Confucianism – quite a sexist belief system. The core philosophy of Confuscionism is ‘harmony’, and people in China people believed that 女权主义 or ‘women’s-power-ism’ was too oppositional for the men. So the new translation became much softer, and much less feminist, in my opinion: 女性主义, which translates roughly to ‘women’s-feminine-ism’. This translation was supposed to be more in line with Chinese beliefs.
When I go back to China I am still shocked about the state of feminism there. I went to an exhibition by a Chinese woman artist who painted three-inch shoes, from the times of foot-binding in the Tong Dynasty, in a romanticised way. I was so shocked to see these shoes, which are symbols of female oppression, celebrated in the painting. She painted the shoes like flowers, and talked about how Chinese foot-binding was a great part of Chinese culture. I believe this attitude is still able to exist because people haven’t had a chance to learn feminism. They should have access to this knowledge.
I have spoken to young women and girls in China who, because of overseas travel and education opportunities and the internet, are learning a more progressive feminism. But it is not common enough. My current project is to identify and name a lot of these problems in China. For future projects I hope to help educate people in China about Western feminism.
As told to Sarah Hall
Banner image: Screenshot from Beauty (2017). Su Yang and Zhang Xiaoan.
Hannah Samuel graduated in Screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2015 and is now Office Coordinator at Matchbox Pictures. She shares her thoughts on what it’s like to love what you do, and offers some tips to budding screenwriters.
Day-to-day of VCA life was pretty great. Nearly every single day of my degree, I’d saunter down from Flinders Street Station listening to Let it Go, as it was the only song that I’d worked out how to put on my iPhone, and head into the campus cafeteria to hang out with fellow screenies before class. Then we’d all saunter in to class, watch some scenes and discuss them, learn about structure, learn about each other, do some writing exercises – anything you could imagine. I'd then head back to Flinders listening to Let it Go, feeling excited by the thought of heading back to uni the next day.
Originally I thought I’d study law, but my English teacher at school suggested the VCA to me. I went along to the Open Day and sat in on a session about Screenwriting. Until then I didn’t know such a course existed – it was everything I loved wrapped into one university degree. Who knew a reality existed where you could do what you love and love what you do? The VCA – those three letters became a magic spell for me, my own little Hogwarts that I’d give anything to attend.
Studying screenwriting comes with its challenges. It’s a time-consuming degree, the hours are long and you need to spend hours on top of that, outside uni, writing, reading and watching. But can cramming in the last 50 years of cinema into your weekend really be considered homework?
I loved my cohort and the teachers. We watched movies and dissected them on a Thursday morning. We had tutorials made up of four people, where we shared our scripts and became so invested in each other’s work that these alternate worlds became part of my university experience. We learned from each other and grew together – and I can’t wait to work with those people in the future. We were instilled with a drive and work ethic that made us believe we could actually make a career out of our passions.
My highlight was when I broke the table in the cafeteria in my first week and everyone lost their lunches, all because I thought it would be easier to climb over the table, rather than get up and walk around. But really, the highlight of my degree would be producing my graduate film WOOF! which was written and directed by fellow Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) student Nina Buxton. The process taught me so much and watching it surrounded by family and friends on the big screen at ACMI was definitely the highlight of my three years.
I’d like to continue working at Matchbox Pictures and, in the coming years, work as a script coordinator on one of their shows. Eventually I’d like to work my way up to script editor until eventually I get the dream gig of realising my first script. In the meantime I’m going to continue writing my own stuff. I’d also like to collaborate more with my screenwriting buddies.
The VCA taught me to make the most of opportunities, to work hard, and that networking is one of the most important skills to have. It also taught me to be prepared. Things often don’t work out so you have to keep at it and be in it for the long-run.
To budding screenwriters, I’d say feedback is everything and you need to learn how to take it and give it. Write as much as you can and listen to the feedback of your peers and teachers. Email writers you like and ask them to meet up for coffee, pick the brains of those around you. Make the most of the support you’re given and create creative partnerships for the future.
As told to Sophie Duran
Main image: Hannah Samuel at Matchbox Pictures. By Sav Schulman.
Gillian Armstrong's debut My Brilliant Career was the first Australian feature to be directed by a woman in nearly half a century and set the path for an outstanding international career. As she looks forward to a festival screening not just of her own films but daughter Billie Pleffer's graduating film from the Victorian College of the Arts, she explains why she's become a vocal advocate for more women in the industry.
By Sarah Hall
When director Gillian Armstrong was studying film in 1968 there was no Australian film industry. A series of smart moves, lucky turns and an abundance of creative talent landed her in the front seat of the industry just as it was taking off again.
Her debut feature, My Brilliant Career (1979), was the first feature-length Australian drama to be directed by a woman in 46 years (the previous being Two Minute Silence by the McDonagh Sisters in 1933, before the local industry crashed).
I was lucky enough to speak with her in the lead-up to the screening of two of her films – Starstruck (1982) and High Tide (1987) – in their original 35mm format at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
I began the interview feeling a little woozy from a late night re-watching of Armstrong's 1994 film Little Women, me and my sister's childhood favourite, and opened with a question relating to her documentary series Love, Lust and Lies, which began in 1976, following the lives of three lively Adelaide girls, who have been revisited on film four times since.
If you were a star in your own documentary series, Love, Lust and Lies, what parts of your life would be shown on the trailer?
Well, we try to have very sensitive trailers, not sensational ones. So it depends if it's an ABC trailer or …
No, it’s a sensational Hollywood trailer that gives everything away.
Oh, right, well ... I don’t think I’ve actually had a sensational Hollywood life. If they wanted a sensational Hollywood thing, they’d probably make a trailer similar to the one that was made for me for the Cannes Lions Advertising Awards this year. They said to me, “We just put the bits of your films in that had famous actors because that makes you look more important”. So if they were cutting a trailer for my life it’d probably be me with handsome young Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Diane Keaton and Ralph Fiennes.
And of course all the Little Women ...
Oh yeah, and Winona and Susan Sarandon. They certainly wouldn’t be interested in the reality of a director’s life – in a parka, a baseball cap and gumboots trudging through mud at dawn shooting in a freezing English countryside …
Before deciding to study at Swinburne did you know that filmmaking was what you wanted to do?
Well, let me just give a little context. Before I studied at Swinburne, Australia had no film industry at all. I don’t think too many people ever thought about having a career in film. If you were interested in a career in drama there were two options: Crawfords for [the long-running police procedural TV show] Homicide, or the ABC for drama.
I had an interest in theatre, literature and art in in high school and it just so happened that my brother went to Swinburne to study business and accounting and he told me, 'There’s this amazing art school at Swinburne, you should come and have a look at it'. So I did. At that point, Swinburne had set up a filmmaking school as part of the art school and it was the first one in Australia. It had really only been going for three years. Both Ian Baker and Jill Bilcock were above me in the cohort, and so was Michael Leunig.
When I went there on Open Day and saw all of these amazing arty handheld student films with cute boys with long hair running around, I thought, 'I want to do that'. So I applied and got in to the full-time diploma.
Did you know much about film before that?
I think I wrote down at the start of my time in film school that my favourite film was The Graduate. The person next to me was writing down Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman. I really had no idea. I’d never seen a foreign film. I grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, in Mitcham, and my family had nothing to do with film.
Gilliam Armstrong's 1971 graduating short film The Roof Needs Mowing, from the VCA Film and Television Film Archive.
Had you not become a filmmaker, what would you have done?
Pretty much all the girls in my year in high school became teachers, secretaries or nurses. Because I was quite academic, I probably would have gone to uni and done teaching.
How did it go from Australia not having any film industry to you making My Brilliant Career?
Well, timing was really key. Just as I was graduating, the government was setting up the Australian Film Commission [established in 1975] to restart the Australian film industry. Two years later people like Fred Schepisi, who was always an incredible role model for us at Swinburne, was directing his first feature film. So were people like Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford. Fred also gave big breaks to people like Ian Baker and Jill Bilcock.
After waitressing for about six months I managed to get a job in the commercial industry. Despite all of our teachers at Swinburne sending us the message that women could only get jobs in continuity, someone gave me the advice, 'Don’t get into continuity or you’ll never move anywhere. Get a job as an editor'.
I moved to Sydney, despite having no contacts there and, after a year working as an editor in the commercial industry, I saw the ad for first year of the National Film School. I was really driven at that time, really motivated. It was there I realised I had wasted so many opportunities at Swinburne, just having a really great time. I was very lucky, timing-wise, to get into that pilot training scheme at the film school at the same time Australian directors and Australian films had really started taking off.
Then my ambition became getting a grant. Then, after making a number of short films, I realised you couldn't make a living from short films as the director’s entire wage goes into the film, so my ambition became making a feature film. I lived on the dole then … all of us did. We thank the Australian government for their support of the arts. You know I went on the dole for a year to make The Singer and Dancer (1977). But I think I’ve paid it back in tax by now.
And in your contribution to Australia culture …
Yes ... But I just grew up and learned things step by step. Now I say all I want is creative freedom! I don’t want pressure from investors or exhibitors or distributors. In the end I’m back to where I began at Swinburne; I’d rather do something small and creative and call myself a filmmaker.
Do you make films with a particular social impact in mind?
Not consciously. The stories I’ve chosen over the years have all been things I’ve had a gut reaction to, stories that reflect your beliefs and ethics, and mine are of a humanist, and yes, feminist, nature of course, as well as those with themes like justice and fairness. When I first started making films The Sydney Women’s Film Group was very active, and you know they looked down on my films – like my AFTRS graduation film, One Hundred a Day (1973). They said it wasn’t proper propaganda for women, because it showed women who weren’t being really nice to each other. I’ve never wanted to be a propaganda filmmaker. I’m a storyteller.
Will you be sitting through your own movies, Starstruck and High Tide, at MIFF this year?
I will sit through High Tide, because I haven’t seen it on the big screen for more than 30 years. It’s the 35mm print so I’m really interested to see it. I always watch the end of Starstruck because I love the final scene, and I've actually seen it a lot recently as I was involved in regrading the NFSA restoration with the producer David Elphick and cinematographer Russel Boyd. But generally I find it very hard to sit through my own films. I spend a lot of time thinking how I could have made it better.
Unfortunately High Tide clashes with my daughter Billie Pleffer’s VCA graduating film Fysh which is screening as part of Australian Shorts.
Did it come as a surprise that your daughter decided to study film?
A complete surprise! She actually secretly enrolled, having already done a double degree in fine art. We did everything possible to discourage her from going into this incredibly brutal film industry.
Is there a part of you that’s secretly happy that she's a part of it?
Well, I’m very proud she’s done this whole thing on her own. She’s a writer/director which is something I never was. She’s won numerous awards for her short film Bino (2011). She won a national award last year. I’m very proud and in a practical sense think it’s much better to be a writer/director because you can write your own material.
Bino (2011). Dir. Billie Pleffer.
Would you like to work with her?
Oh no! I don’t ever want another director on set! I mean, I do kind of envy all of those brother director pairs, like the Coens. It’s such a lonely thing being a director, it’s hard, you have to make a lot of decisions. You obviously do make all of these decisions with your team. But having someone on your side with whom you have a complete shared vision and taste and shorthand, and the ability to sort of protect each other … that could be good.
But no, Billie and I have kind of different tastes in filmmaking. Her style is not only different – it's unique and it's wonderful.
When you made My Brilliant Career in 1978, you were the first woman to direct a feature length drama in Australia for 46 years. Now, has the situation changed much for women? Do you still feel like an outsider in the industry? Is this frustrating?
When I made my first feature film, being a woman was all anyone ever asked me about. It really, really annoyed me and I found it quite sexist in the end. I thought, 'You know what – I’m just me and this is a Gillian Armstrong film'. Not all women are going to do the same films and the same stories, and I was really put in this box, because it was a feminist story in a lot of ways, they thought that’s all I ever wanted to talk about. So yes, initially it was frustrating to talk about.
But 40 years later, when the figures of women directors worldwide are still so appalling, I am speaking up a lot about the reality – that it’s not a level playing field and there is an unconscious bias, and this bias needs to be readdressed. We need diversity and it’s time for real action.
These talented young women are coming out of film school, where they’re represented 50/50, but they aren’t getting the breaks and the boys are. The reality is only 17% of feature films in Australia are directed by women and for commercials, only 9%.
I went to the Australian Director’s Guild when I heard these figures and said, 'You know what, we should really do something about this'. The guild formed a working committee of which I’m just a very small part. The whole Gender Matters movement comes from this guild.
We’re thrilled that we really have had an effect and money has been put towards developing female writers as well as directors. There have always been women producers, but why aren’t there more women artists? There should have been a million more Jane Campions.
Is there much doubt involved in making a film, with what script you choose to work with and the process of the filmmaking?
The process of working on a script has many ups and downs. Sometimes the development of a screenplay takes so long you can start to look at it and think, 'I don’t know if I’ve really got the passion for this anymore', because actually making a film takes two years.
When it comes to making the film I always tell young filmmakers that there's never enough time and enough money for a director – whatever the budget is, your ambitions are bigger.
Of all of your films and documentaries, which one stays with you the most – which one makes you think – if I were to die tomorrow I’d be happy because I made that?
Probably my personal baby, my Adelaide series, Love, Lust and Lies. I’m stopping short of saying it’s over because maybe there’s a possibility it'll return in a few years. It’s really captured Australia and Australian lives. Just after we did the second meet, when they were 18 (in the first they were 14), I happened to be in Canberra. I ran into some politicians, Susan Ryan and Bill Hayden, who had seen it, and they said to me, 'Oh, what’s happened to the little blonde girl driving that car with the bumper bar nearly falling off?' They were talking about Josie.
I felt really proud to have made something that had reached the people who could make our country a better place. At least that’s how we used to feel about politicians. I was proud they had a chance to look into the life of someone as brave and wonderful as Josie, where otherwise she just would have been a figure and a number – 'unmarried teen mother'.
It’s an incredible document of 30 years of people's lives. In the first episode the girls all said, “The man’s the breadwinner and I’ll be looking after the babies'. Just to see how that changed over the installations was fascinating.
It’s not as if I went out with that intentional social consciousness, but I have felt very proud when my films have affected people in a good way.
What's your advice to budding filmmakers?
Just do it, don’t talk about it. Try to be different and original but not in a fake way. Push the boundaries, get out there and make it. The more you make the more you learn. Be free and be brave.
Gillian Armstrong's films are showing at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival: Starstruck on 11 August and High Tide on 13 August. More details.
VCA Dance students are recreating a seminal work from the founder of Australia’s first modern dance company, nearly 90 years after it was first performed in London.
Early modern dance is associated with floating scarves and light leaps and bounds. However, after the First World War those innocent reveries were only one form of dancerly expression.
The impact of modern industrialisation and political revolutions in 20th century Europe highlighted the conflict between man and machine, and for many the machine symbolised the engine of a new moral and social order.
In Dancing Sculpture at the National Gallery of Victoria, Victorian College of the Arts dance students are recreating Gertrud Bodenweiser’s The Demon Machine, first created in Vienna in 1924. The work has a rich history and transformed modern dance; it uses female dancers to compose a dance in which lyrical pastoral gestures slowly shift into the rhythmic workings of a machine.
It arrived in London in 1929, the unusual abstraction and plasticity of the bodies attracted attention in the local press and signalled that, far from mere pleasure, “the art of dance brings to our notice facts of the greatest ethical value,” according to Ms Bodenweiser.
By 1936, the Austrian choreographer was very aware of the rising threat of Nazism in neighbouring Germany, and of its impact on many of her Jewish artistic friends.
Accompanied by the strident music of Lisa Maria Mayer, Ms Bodenweiser recreated The Demon Machine to depict the resplendent Demon rising above the machinery of human bodies, with some dancers appearing shining and tranquil, and others perhaps kicking or turning in horror.
The strong diagonal lines, in both the electricity symbol on the Demon’s helmet and the extended limbs, suggest the clash of forces, inner and outer, that drive the machine.
With the annexation of Austria in 1938, Bodenweiser, herself Jewish, and her company of dancers set sail for South America, taking with them into exile many years of choreographic knowledge and artistic experimentation.
The famous Australian theatrical entrepreneur, J.C Williamson, hired a small troupe of Bodenweiser dancers to perform The Demon Machine in a revue touring outback Australia in 1939. The dancers performed crowd pleasers such as Viennese Waltzes, and other playful dances, but The Demon Machine remained a feature of the program intended to appeal to male audiences, perhaps because of the bare midriffs and the show of legs, but also because of its subject matter.
Well in advance of other dance repertoire of this period, the dancers were highly trained in modern dance techniques that gave them strong rhythmic propulsion while retaining an inner quality of expressive intensity.
By 1947 Bodenweiser had established herself with a dance company and school in Sydney and was creating new work for local audiences, including Cain and Abel (1940) and Abandoned to Rhythm (1942). The Demon Machineremained an important part of her repertoire.
On tour in New Zealand in 1948, a newspaper review observed that the music accompanying the dance added to the “maddening crescendo of mechanical movement as the machines assert their power over the human puppets… (and was) sombre when the dance was sombre, joyous at time of revelry”.
For The Demon Machine’s latest version, the Victorian College of the Arts dancers have been using this history to recreate the work, under the guidance of the Head of the VCA Dance program, Professor Jenny Kinder, herself also trained in the modern dance lineage, alongside the New Zealand choreographer, Carol Brown.
Ms Brown has researched the fascinating history of the Bodenweiser legacy and has also produced her own original solo performance called Acts of Becoming. Originally created in 1995 as an homage to the great Bodenweiser, the solo incorporates words and gestures from the archives of former Bodenwieser Tanzgruppe dancers.
In a recent Archibald prize painting, 102-year-old Eileen Kramer, a member of the original Bodenweiser company in Sydney, expressed an ‘inner stillness’ and her ongoing love of expressive dance. She is a living example of the inner spirit of modern dance in Australia with its extraordinary history and impact on future generations of artists.
Carol Brown, a student of the Bodenweiser dancer Shona Dunlop-McTavish, has recreated The Demon Machine for the Leap into the Modern symposium (12 August) curated by Professor Rachel Fensham (University of Melbourne) that accompanies the Brave New World: 1930s Australia exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. She is speaking at the symposium alongside other contemporary dance artists, such as Meryl Tankard and Shelley Lasica.
Banner image: The Demon Machine Benda D’Ora, 1936. Picture: National Library of Australia
Graduating from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music to become captain of the Geelong Women's Football Team isn't an obvious career progression, but Bec Goring is kicking goals on several fronts.
By Sarah Hall
Given the gender disparities in jazz and Australian Rules Football, to name just a couple of areas, women and gender-nonconforming people are used to playing with at least one hand tied behind their backs. Naturally, this can be frustrating.
But according to Bec Goring, who graduated from the Melbourne Conservatorium last year, the situation can change – and she should know.
She was one of only two woman guitar players in her year studying Jazz and Improvisation, and has since become skipper of Geelong in the Victorian Women's Football League.
“We have the opportunity to change the culture for women in footy and music for the better,” she says.
I'm meeting her today at the student cafeteria at the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, after stumbling across an article about her in the Geelong Advertiser. I'm keen to find out more about her journey from graduating from the MCM to becoming captain of the Cats.
When I walk in, I see her sitting on a couch. She springs up to greet me, and then insists on buying my coffee. She says hi to a few people she recognises in the cafe, talking briefly with them about upcoming gigs.
We take a seat away from the speakers, and I ask her what the atmosphere is like in women’s footy since the introduction of the Professional Women’s AFL, earlier this year.
“We have a really short window to sculpt football culture in a really interesting, inclusive and different way, free from all the baggage of the men’s league,” she says, clearly enthused.
By baggage, I assume Goring's referring to the sexism, racism and macho-ism prevalent in the AFL Men’s culture, but the fact that she doesn't spell that out suggests she's more interested in focusing on the opportunities of the women’s league than the problems in the men’s.
“The two cultures [women’s and men’s football] are very different,” she says.
I assume Goring has encountered similar "baggage" in her career as a musician, and she admits to having been made to feel “good at playing guitar ... for a girl”.
“The teachers try really hard to encourage more women to apply for the [Jazz and Improvisation] course,” she says, but whether for cultural factors or other reasons, it remains an uphill battle – and not just in the classroom.
“There have definitely been occasions when I have questioned my involvement in certain musical projects," she says. “Have I just been included so there’s a woman on stage?”
She thinks quotas may be a good way to begin achieving a more even balance of genders enrolling in music courses. “We may need to manufacture that sort of involvement for a while, in my opinion. That way we have role models for younger women, and gradually over time we’ll be able to solidify pathways for women into the music industry."
For Goring, this is more than lip service. She's the director of a Geelong-based girls music group called the Sweethearts Junior Academy (sister band to the 30-piece all female soul music group The Sweethearts, with whom she used to play), in which she leads girls aged from nine to 15 in musical rehearsal and performance.
“You know these kids are going to be shredding at gigs by the time they’re 18,” she says. “Usually it takes until you’re in your mid-twenties to get to that stage.”
While life sees Goring juggling her time between the Geelong Cats and, em, jazz cats, there are some handy cross-overs.
“Sometimes I’ll arrive at footy training after writing music at home, and I’ll spend the warm-up running in complete silence trying to think up some more lyrics," she says.
And then there are those times when she trains in Geelong on the weekend and “fangs it down the highway to play a gig at the Old Bar or the Tote, to get on stage still smelling like grass and sweat.”
"It's lucky those gigs are with a garage band and not an intimate jazz band – otherwise people might start to notice the smell."
She joined the University of Melbourne Football team, without being too noisy about it, while she was studying at the MCM. “At the time I was pretty quiet about it because the music teachers pretty much all discourage contact sports, because of the risk of injury to your hands, which affects your playing," she says.
“I did get a couple of jarred fingers but that was fine, I just pulled sickies after those and no-one noticed.”
With Goring at its helm, the Geelong Women’s VFL has just finished its bid for an AFL team in 2019. The announcement will be made later this month, and Goring is confident about their prospects. She's excited by the prospect of a professional career in football and doesn't see it as an impediment to her career as a musician. As with much in her life, it’s all about balance.
“I think part of the reason why I am captain is because I can see the bigger picture of football,” she said, “It’s not all about wins and losses, it’s about the community.”
“Irrespective of your gender, sexuality or ethnicity, we want to send the message out there that you can play footy at any level,” she said, “and there’s no reason why someone who doesn’t fit the black and white of gender binary can’t play the game at the same level.”
We begin packing up our things. "You know, I really didn’t expect we’d spend so much time talking about gender,” she says.
Though the focus of her leadership of the Cats, as for the Sweethearts Junior Academy, may not and should not be gender, there does seem to be a certain inevitability to this being a part of the role, while music and sporting cultures, as with society at large, have not yet reached a point of gender, or genderless, equality.
“I suppose I have started to think more broadly about what it means to be a female footballer,” she says.
The importance of tearing down roadblocks for musicians and sportsplayers alike means that people like Bec Goring, who are talented, zealous and gender-conscious, are invaluable spokespeople.
“I’ve got an awesome family and support network,” she says. “I’ve had a very privileged life so I may as well make the most of it.”
Banner image: Bec Goring at the MCG. Image by Sav Schulman.
Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2007, Alethea Jones has won numerous festival awards for her short films. Ahead of the release of her debut Hollywood feature, Fun Mom Dinner, she explains where she’s at and what’s coming next.
By Paul Dalgarno
Hi Alethea, what’s your life like at the moment, ahead of the release of Fun Mom Dinner?
This week especially has been pretty hectic because I’ve been directing an episode of a TV show called American Woman that stars Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari and some other really brilliant actors. And they just had me come back for reshoots on other episodes that needed a little bit of help. I’ve also just started on a new feature film and I’m in the office tomorrow on that, and doing press all week for Fun Mom Dinner. It’s been very exciting.
What’s your elevator pitch for Fun Mom Dinner?
It’s a broad R-rated ensemble comedy about four mothers who assume the only thing they have in common is the fact their children go to pre-school together. They embark on a night-out with varying expectations of the evening, from not wanting to be there to perhaps wanting to be there a little bit too much. They find out there’s a lot more to each other than the roles of motherhood, and they just cut loose.
As an Australian filmmaker, did you notice the differences in sensibility working on an American script? Did you bring any Australian humour to it or did you just work off the script and shoot it as it was?
The script always tells you what it wants to be and how it wants to be expressed, and I nearly passed on this one. I rang my manager and said, ‘I don’t think I should be considered for this film, it’s not me, I’m not a mother, and it’s very broad and I make very specific kooky comedies'. He explained they were looking for someone to bring something unique to the film and that they wanted a first-time female director. He said, ‘Alethea you can wait forever for your first feature to come along or you can rip off the Band-Aid and prove to people that you can do it. These are really special people to work with, and they’re probably going to get a great cast.’ And so I did it, and I had the time of my life.
Where’s your heart – in TV or feature films?
I’m more drawn to features. I haven’t consciously gone for television, because I was really nervous about it. I think my style of filmmaking is gentle, and I wasn’t sure I was robust enough for television. But I’ve done a few TV things here in America, it’s been the most delightful experience – the crews here are a joy. So I’m actually very open to doing more television as it comes up, but I also have a few features on the back-burner that seem to be stacking up quite nicely.
And you’re Hollywood-based now?
Yeah, I live in Los Angeles, even though I never meant to pursue a career here. I never thought I was good enough. My short-film Lemonade Stand won Tropfest in 2012 and part of the prize was a trip to LA, all-expenses-paid, and the opportunity to meet with industry people. I didn’t feel ready but I went, and from that point on I got an agent over here. I visited for two years, back and forth, while I was directing commercials in Australia and teaching film at Swinburne and the VCA. Eventually my agent said, ‘You’re making great progress here, but we lose it all every time you go home for three months.’ I made the move with my two dogs and, as soon as I did, booked my first episode of television with Amazon Studios. That’s when it all started happening.
When you found out you’d won Tropfest did you have a sense of that being a real career-starter?
I was incredibly naïve and overwhelmed. But I think I was most excited when my first short When the Wind Changes got into the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Accelerator Program in 2010. I cried because no-one had wanted to produce or even edit that short. We had to beg the crew to take part, and we'd entered the film in MIFF by writing on the DVD with a marker pen. And then I got a letter saying, “You’re in Accelerator,” and I lost my shit. That was the game-changer for me.
What’s your next film?
I don’t know if I can say, but I think I can say I’ve just signed a development deal with Sony Pictures Studios and am developing one of their projects with them. If it’s greenlit I will direct it.
For Fun Mom Dinner, you mentioned they were looking for a woman director, the film stars four women, and the screenplay was written by a woman, Julie Rudd. Do you think there’s finally a sense of the tide turning, where we’re actually going to see more women’s stories told by women?
Yep, the tide is absolutely turning. I could sense it starting to happen about two years ago, but in this industry, like others, it takes time. A couple of years ago, when lots of articles were coming out about this issue, people were saying it was all hot air and that nothing was actually happening to really change things. But it takes a long time to get films green-lit. I’m so glad that I moved here two years ago. Back in Australia, when my shorts were winning awards and I was like, ‘I wanna work in TV,’ someone literally said to me, ‘It’s not your turn, you have to get in line’. And I thought, ‘Well, if I have to get in line, I may as well do that in America.’ I’m glad about that, because I’ve taken hundreds of meetings and many of those are coming to fruition now that I’ve proven I can do it.
I read somewhere that you’re interested in doing a musical at some point. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s right, and in fact this studio deal with Sony has bunch of musical numbers in it. My ultimate musical would be a sort of old-school film like the Pajama Game. And I’m actually doing one like that next year in America, which is really exciting – it’s technicolour with a really kooky bent to it. I’m also developing a musical with Aquarius Pictures, with Polly Staniford, who I went to VCA with, and Angie Fielder.
As a director, is it the finished product that gets you noticed within the industry, or does that come from the process of actually making the film?
It’s 100% process. People just want to know that you can do it, that you’ve made a profit for the financiers, that you can work with big stars and not be phased by them, and that you can get good performances out of your actors. Fun Mom Dinner was shot in 19 days and the budget was extremely low. You can’t tell an audience that, but the producers and studios here in LA know what the numbers are and they all talk to each other to vet you. I booked an episode of Santa Clarita Diet starring Drew Barrymore. When I went in for my interview the show-runner said, ‘Drew’s looking forward to working with you,” and I’m like, ‘What? How?’. He goes, ‘Oh, she rang Toni Collette. We wouldn’t even be talking to you if you didn’t check out with Toni’. I was like, 'Wow, Jesus'.
Even if technical directing skills can be learned on the job, I’m guessing a director’s interpersonal skills have to be there at the outset?
Yeah, that’s right, and I’m really conflicted about that in relation to film school because we weren’t taught that. You’re trying to learn every part of the craft but there’s no room given for leadership and interpersonal skills – even learning how to send a succinct email that just gets to the point to busy people who get hundreds of emails every day. I would love to go back to the VCA and talk with students about that some time. But then I think about how much I just needed to focus on the technical side of film-making and I understand why we didn’t get to that part of things. Like most industries, if you’re starting out and you’re a jerk, you probably won’t get recommended for your next job.
Why did you choose to study at the VCA?
I went there for two reasons. I saw that Robert Luketic, who directed Legally Blonde, went there, and I loved that film. And I saw that Emma Freeman, who directed Lamb, went there too. Emma came in and spoke to us one time and she told us that she was the worst student in her class. I knew I was the worst person in my class, too, so that gave me hope that I would improve one day. The more mistakes you can make at film school, the better. I felt the same with Fun Mom Dinner. Watching it, I still cringe, from what we missed or shots that I wish were wider. It was an extraordinarily fast film to make and I had to compromise every step of the way. But now that I’m looking at doing a studio film I know exactly what mistakes I don’t want to make and how determined I am to avoid that nauseous feeling again. And that’s exactly how it was at the VCA – I made really bad shorts but was able to course-correct with the three short-films that I made out of film school.
You’ve mentioned you’d like to direct science fiction movies in the future?
Oh yes, I want to really muscle-up and direct tent-poles. I’d love to do science-fiction or a superhero movie. I saw Wonder Woman three times and bought the soundtrack – I loved it. And I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming – it was just so joy-filled and well-crafted. I love Guardians of the Galaxy, too. The people at Marvel are really special and I’d love to play in that universe. But, you know, one of my all-time favourite films is Contact. And I’d love to make something like that too – a grounded and human science-fiction with a big feel.
Would you like to shoot films in Australia?
Absolutely. I was poised to come back and do a film at the end of last year. We had the money but it just wasn’t the right cast. I’m dying to come back and make something really special and punchy. I’d like to bring a big film with American money to Australia. I know it might sound strange to Australians but I love making big commercial stuff because I like the entertainment factor – that’s what spoke to me as a little girl, that’s what made me happy. If I could bring one of those films back to Australia I’d be thrilled. Everyone would get paid well and I think it would be a treat to work with my Aussie friends again.
Fun Mom Dinner is at the Melbourne International Film Festival on 11 and 13 August. Full details.
Banner image: Alethea Jones. By Alex Vaughan.
Despite an initially unsuccessful application to the Victorian College of the Arts, Gabriel Hutchings persevered. Now a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) student, he shares some of the joys and challenges of his filmmaking journey so far.
I knew the VCA was the right place for me when I came across the 2013 graduate screening trailer. It was set to this lovely melodic music and there were a bunch of images that jumped out at me, like a man sitting on a white horse in someone’s bedroom. In the last ten seconds the trailer takes a really dark turn and the music becomes abrasively distorted industrial percussion. I remember thinking, 'Any course that cuts their promotional material like that is for me'. Film should make you feel something. It should be compelling, not just pretty images.
The first year I applied for the course I didn’t get in. I’d spent a year travelling after high school and then started a film course in Perth, but I realised pretty soon that it wasn’t what I was looking for. I decided to move to Melbourne with the hope of getting into the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) at VCA, but when I didn’t get in I ended up doing the VCA Foundations course instead. That year turned out to be super valuable: I met a lot of people that I still work with, did as much crewing as I could, and got some great on-set experience. I got into the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) the second time.
Filmmaking is a challenge in almost every way. It takes a lot of people, time and resources to make a film and it’s a very personal and exposing process. But it’s also an incredibly collaborative and rewarding art form. All of the challenges along the way are what you learn from and how you develop.
One of the most rewarding parts of the course is seeing the films screened to an audience. You know the work and effort that has gone into all of them and often you are involved in many of the projects in various crew roles. It’s great to see what you and your classmates are capable of up on a screen in front of an audience.
I’m influenced a lot by music and images. The mood and textures of photographs can be great references for a visual medium like film. Inspiration comes from everywhere. For me it’s more about filtering it down and trying to distill my own style. It’s about discovering what will help me to tell the stories I’m interested in.
Over the past few years my focus has shifted from directing to cinematography. I’ll finish my degree at the end of this year, and moving into the industry I want to continue developing my knowledge shooting as much as I can. My goal is to be making a living shooting stories I’m passionate about with good people.
To anybody out there who wants to be a filmmaker I’d say: hustle and keep producing work. It can be frustrating seeing the divide between the work you like and what you’re able to create yourself but the more you do it the more that divide gradually closes. If you want to be a director, direct as much as you can on any level. If you want to be a cinematographer, shoot as much as you can. Along the way you learn a lot from the theory and study that feeds into your work, but the best way to get better at making film is by making films. Go out and do it.
As told to Sophie Duran
Lead image: Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television) student Gabriel Hutchings in the VCA Film and Television studios. Image by Sav Schulman.
Professor Felicity Baker is co-director the National Music Therapy Research Unit at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. This week she received word that her world-first study into the use of music therapy for people with dementia has been awarded a substantial government grant. Here, she explains what she hopes to achieve.
By Paul Dalgarno
Congratulations, Felicity. You’ve just secured what looks like a massive amount of money for a research project – $1,014,430.20 to be precise. What's the project?
The grant is from the National Health and Medical Research Council, or the NHMRC, and it was part of a special call for dementia-specific projects. The government has identified this as being an important area for our future. Music therapy has been practised in aged-care in Australia for a very long time – since I was a student, in fact. But there hasn’t been this kind of large-scale, systematic study of its use in dementia care anywhere in the world.
It's a three-year project – what will it cover?
It'll be a really major randomised control trial involving 500 participants from across the country. We'll get people living with dementia to participate in small group musical experiences, singing songs, talking about what they mean, that kind of thing. And then we'll compare it with participants taking part in choral singing, because that's something a community musician, as opposed to a therapist, could lead. We want to see if there's really any difference between those two approaches.
The people we’ll be working with will no longer be able to be look after themselves – they’ll be in aged-care facilities 24-hours a day, either because they're too unwell to stay home and look after themselves or their family carers are unable to look after them properly because the level of care they require is too great for the resources they have at hand. It'll be one of the biggest music therapy studies in history – and certainly in dementia. It'll be a game-changer, not just for us in Australia but globally.
What’s your gut-feeling on choir-singing versus music therapy in that context?
We have a bit of a hypothesis, because we’re looking at mid- to later-staged dementia. We suspect the choir approach will suit those who are higher-functioning and less progressed in their disease. They'll be able to independently have a conversation with the person sitting next to them about the song they’re singing. Whereas those who are more progressed in their disease will require much more focused, skilled support from a music therapist who knows how to connect with them, because that’s what they’re trained to do.
So, three years down the line, when you’ve done all the work for this, what value will it have?
From a political perspective it’ll be really important for us to show that having an intervention delivered by a trained music therapist is more effective in addressing the wellbeing of people with dementia. We’re also examining changes in the level of burden experienced by caregivers. Nurses can get very stressed when there are lots of people with dementia calling out, getting agitated, etcetera. It's a very stressful context. We're expecting that our intervention will help to calm those people with dementia down a bit and that this in turn will lead to reduced stress in staff. We'll be looking at the carers' wellbeing, number of days of sick-leave, the degree of work stress experienced, and more.
As a general approach, how does the relationship normally start up between a music therapist and someone with dementia?
Usually we start with music. One thing we know from previous research is that older people tend to remember, and have the most connection with, music from their late teens and early 20s, usually when they're dating and going out dancing, or in other important life events where music was present. We try to work out what their musical preferences were at that time and use those as a starting point. Often these are people who are losing their language abilities and may be struggling to communicate but, after hearing those pieces of music, they might start talking, saying, "Oh, I remember when I played that to my son," or whatever. The music stimulates those memories and with those memories comes language. If they’re in early-stage dementia, and more cognitively able, we might start with dialogue around their life and connection with music.
Do they then make their own music?
Yeah, they can. And in fact my special interest area is in using songwriting as a tool. One project I've been working on in a dementia daycare centre involves people with early-stage dementia creating songs. It was fascinating to hear the centre staff saying they'd never seen those people so animated. Groups of people would be having little arguments about whether someone was using the right word, or which words rhymed, in a way that was collaborative and clearly stimulating them intellectually. The other interesting thing is that these are people who are supposedly unable to learn and who are losing their memory would remember the lyrics of newly-created music from week to week. That was something new – we didn't expect that. It demonstrates that people living with dementia can learn. And that's because music has a unique ability to facilitate learning, even in people with declining cognitive function.
You’ve come through a career in which music therapy has gone from being a pioneering area ... I mean, it still is now, but it's developing pretty quickly into something more mainstream.
Yeah, and I would hope that one of the reasons we got the NHMRC grant is that someone is looking at music therapy and thinking there’s something there. It’s already got an emerging evidence base, and so I’m hoping it will become mainstream rather than kind of fringe. That would be ideal.
This new grant comes on the back of some other good news for you. Last month you won a World Federation of Music Therapy Award. What was that for?
It's awarded to a person who has made a significant contribution to the development of the discipline, and, in my case I think, that I've really brought songwriting to the forefront of music therapy practice and explored it in ways that haven't been tried before. I was chuffed to get it. They only started giving out these awards three years ago and they only happen every three years. I’m the second recipient, so I feel pretty special to have been nominated and then awarded it.
Take a punt. Five or ten years down the line, where would you put your own research and music therapy?
That’s a hard question. When I finished my training and became a music therapist back in 1992, I thought we’d be a lot further ahead than we actually are currently. But I think at the moment, at least with our team here, we have a lot of momentum. I really think research is going to be the key to our future expansion. The government wants to save money, not spend it, so we have to show we’re worth spending money on. In our discipline there's also debate over whether we should be going for the sort of medical model, evidence-based research or developing theory and focusing on individuals’ unique responses. In my view, we need both. Hopefully at some point those two sides will come together and then we can really move ahead. When I arrived at the MCM from Queensland four and a half years ago, we had just five people in our department, and now it's 11. The more people we have on our team the more work we can do to be better understand the role and impact music therapy can have on people's lives.
Professor Felicity Baker will be joined on her project team by Professor Christian Gold (Norway), Professor Hanne Mette Ridder (Denmark), Dr Jeanette Tamplin and Dr Imogen Clark, both from the MCM.
Main image: Hartwig HKD/Flickr
See also: Clearing the fog of dementia with song
Fresh from celebrating its 20th consecutive year in Fort Worth, Texas, the Mimir Chamber Music Festival returns to its second home at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from 28 August. The festival's founder and executive director, violinist Curt Thompson, reflects on Mimir's success and a life lived in music.
By Paul Dalgarno
Curt, Mimir is 20 years old this year. What were your ambitions for the festival when it started?
I had just turned 27 when we began preparations for the first Mimir. A classmate, pianist Johan Fröst, and I originally planned to start it in Sweden. But when I was offered a position at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas, we decided to launch it there.
I don’t think the concept of 20 years of anything was comprehensible to me back then. We knew early on that Mimir was special, and the concerts were always first-rate, but knowing how to actually run a festival took many years. I had always hoped it would have an international footing, but I never imagined it would span two hemispheres.
How has it evolved?
For the first two years, Mimir Texas lasted only one week, but it expanded to two during its third season. We’ve tried to maintain our core personnel over the years, which has been a huge advantage for us when it comes to putting repertoire together quickly while maintaining a very high standard.
From the professional musicians’ perspective, it’s probably the most challenging, and rewarding, two weeks of their year. With rapid-fire concerts – five different programs in 12 days – and intense coaching responsibilities, the Mimir crew has developed an extremely efficient rehearsal schedule. It’s exhilarating to be in the thick of that.
The festival's educational component has probably seen the most notable changes. Until five years ago, we selected 18 individual students for participation from across the US, Europe and Asia. Each was placed in two groups that received daily coaching.
Now we invite three pre-formed groups and present them in ticketed concerts. Each group is up and running the moment they land at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. So far, four Melbourne Conservatorium groups have gone to Texas, and each has had a wonderful and formative experience.
How does the Melbourne iteration of Mimir differ from the Texas version?
Mimir Texas takes place in the hot summertime, when most other music organisations are on holiday, so one noticeable difference in Melbourne, in addition to the winter temperature, is the amazing amount of activity going on in the city while the festival is running.
Melbourne has such a wonderful audience for chamber music, and we really love presenting performances for them. We have enjoyed an incredible reception from the Melbourne public and look forward to growing our audience each year.
The fact Mimir takes place during Melbourne's academic year also enables us to reach many more students there than we do in Texas. Six student quartets enrolled in the MCM's String Ensemble subject receive a number of intensive coaching sessions with guest artists.
The entire string cohort, the Chamber Music and Honours Performance Class subjects, and several secondary-school students from across Melbourne, also take part in the performances, masterclasses and demonstrations we present during the week.
Is some knowledge of chamber music necessary to enjoy the festival?
To be honest, some of our most enthusiastic supporters include those who had no prior familiarity with chamber music, and it's a rare privilege to expose them to this art form. Over the years, they have learned to trust us to present standards by Beethoven and Brahms alongside cutting-edge new works by vibrant young composers.
I like to say that chamber music is "Classical" music’s equivalent to jazz. While the notes are prescribed in the score, the inflection, nuance, pace and swells can be quite improvised. If one player curves a line in a particular way, for example, the next player has to immediately react, carrying on the conversation, so to speak, as we go. It’s one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences one can have in music.
I think the theatrical aspect of chamber music, as if it were an on-stage musical discussion at the dinner table, translates to our audience.
Which performers and performances are you excited about in this year’s program?
Each concert offers a unique musical experience, so it’s difficult to pick out my favourite. I suppose highlights for me would be the Beethoven Op. 59, No. 1 string quartet in Concert One, the Vaughan Williams quintet featuring double bass in Concert Two, and Credo, a new work by Kevin Puts, in Concert Three. Each of the programs is carefully balanced to have a huge impact on audiences.
As for the performers, I love them all. I think one would be hard-pressed to find a better collection of performing artists in all of Melbourne during that week.
Mentorship is part of the Mimir program. Can you tell us a little about that?
From the outset in 1998, mentorship has been a central focus of Mimir. The process of training to become a professional musician includes hours upon hours of work with teachers, in the practice room and in ensembles. Mimir offers a unique experience in which, in a quartet setting, MCM students and others from around the city are engaged in intensive instruction that opens their ears and minds to the possibilities in this genre.
The equal emphasis on our public performances and the training of young musicians really sets Mimir apart from other festivals. The guest artists understand what mentors have done to help them achieve some of the most coveted positions in the world, and I think Mimir offers a means of paying that back for future generations.
Can you describe how you feel playing a great piece of music, and how you feel watching someone else performing at an elite level?
In general, I approach great music with a true sense of humility. The fact that some of these works were written so long ago and can still elicit strong responses in an audience is amazing to me. To engage with other performers in such an intimate and exciting way is really indescribable.
In the case of Mimir, some of my favourite moments are the rare opportunities to sit in the audience when I’m not playing in a particular piece, and to hear what this incredible group of musicians can create. Knowing I had a small part in putting them together to share this experience with a hall full of people is truly a privilege.
What advice would you give someone just starting out on their journey towards a life in music or music research?
A life in music is an incredibly enriching, challenging and endless pursuit. One must have dedication, devotion, discipline, determination and, perhaps most of all, humility. Equipped with these qualities, a life in music can be the most enriching experience.
What advice has held you in good stead throughout your career?
I learned early on that no matter how jagged or incongruent my life in music seemed to be at a given moment, with time and perspective I was able to look back on what then seemed to be a (nearly) perfectly straight line. My advice to anyone would be to listen to your instincts, take chances, never accept complacency in yourself, and just when you think it’s time to give up, commit to working harder.
How do you keep your passion for performance and teaching alive?
The chance to share this incredible art form and the traditions that were passed down to us over so many centuries and generations is something I hold to dearly. The fact that I can travel anywhere in the world to recreate masterpieces by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven is a treasure that drives me every day of my life, and is something I owe to the nearly 500 years of violinists, luthiers, and composers who have gone before me.
What’s to gain from living a musical life?
Those who choose a life in music – and pathways can be as varied as one’s imagination will allow – must be prepared for both unparalleled challenges and rewards. Plato, Aristotle and countless other great minds from antiquity realised the importance of music to individual development and to civilisation. We who dedicate our lives to music inherit the wealth of our forebears while carrying the torch for future generations.
Dr Curt Thompson is Associate Professor of Music (Violin) and Head of Strings at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Banner image: Curt Thompson. By Albert Comper.
The Mimir Chamber Music Festival is at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from 28 August–3 September 2017. Full details.
Serkis continues to revolutionise screen performance using a motion captured avatar, conveying extraordinary emotional depth in the role. His success, often attributed to the mastery of animators and technicians, is testament to the rise of an entirely new approach to acting animals in an age of CGI, animation and motion capture.
Performance Capture (the total recording of a performance using a motion capture system) was first used in 2004. It is inherently theatrical, since a performance is filmed in its entirety - without multiple takes of a single scene. Actors wear suits with markers to help computers track their movements during the scene.
To perform as apes, Serkis and others are drawing on the techniques of method acting to emotionally connect with their simian characters. For Serkis, and Planet of the Apes movement choreographer and actor Terry Notary, this has meant going to extraordinary lengths to feel their way into their roles.
Serkis was led by Notary on all fours for hikes in the Canadian woods. They would spend two-hour stints not talking, only communicating as apes. The aim, says Notary, was to allow “the human conditioning to fall away”.
A brief history of monkey business on film
1968 was a big year for apes on film. Primates appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, first aired. In Space Odyssey, actors such as John Ashley donned monkey suits and set about charting the early history of tool use in the celebrated opening sequence known as The Dawn of Man.
In Planet of the Apes, actors such as Maurice Evans and Roddy McDowall relied on monkey masks with furry hands and feet to convey their simian characters. Their bodies were clothed in remarkably human-looking outfits.
Fully costumed performances of primates in films continued until 1995, when Misty Rosas as Amy the Gorilla in Congo performed alongside “enhanced gorillas” running through the jungle at an extraordinary pace, complete with appendages to extend their front limbs.
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a resurgence of cinematic apes, with a full reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, a couple of King Kongs, and more than one Tarzan. But the monkey suit has shifted from a furry outer layer to the modern motion capture suit as actors such as Ace Ruele in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) and Notary (alongside Serkis and others) in War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) transform how they perform - and we consume - monkeys on the screen.
Feeling like an Apeman (or woman)
With these new technologies, comes a revitalised interpretation of “The Method”. Primate actors are now exploring their performance by inhabiting and feeling “Ape”, and have developed their own “system” to perform as primates.
This system is built around the aspirations of Stanislavski - the father of method acting. It includes embodying the emotional state of the primate via practising regimented gait and walk cycles and using specific breathing techniques and even numbered approaches to gaze and smell. So, for instance, the scent of another primate in the distance would be given a number and a correlating pose, which ape actors would be instructed to adopt.
The Ape method includes a bespoke, non-verbal language used by actors to communicate with each other during filming. Aspiring actors can even take masterclasses with the likes of Notary, as seen in this video.
Serkis calls Notary (who also starred in Kong: Skull Island) “the greatest unsung hero of this entire [Planet of the Apes] franchise”.
Notary talks of “de-conditioning” to play an ape and finding each ape character’s “first position foundation” (a neutral non-human, pose). He says,
most of the actors that do play apes have told me that it’s been one of the most profound things they’ve done, because you have to be so honest with yourself.
He describes his own ape character, Rocket, as “that open, vulnerable, grounded, connected, feeling creature that I aspire to be all the time”.
As humans, our development of tools was made possible by our eventual rising to two feet, releasing our hands from the earth, Freed from holding objects (such as bones and babies) our hands and mouths could then perform other functions.
Our hands and minds now grasp vastly complicated objects, like virtual studios and motion capture systems, and use these to perfect the art of pretending to be monkeys. It’s a strange full circle – an origin story returning.
Banner image: Andy Serkis as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes. Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment.
Construction of the $104.5 million Ian Potter Southbank Centre will begin with an official “breaking ground” event on Wednesday 2 August.
Attended by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley, and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, the event will include speeches, a brass ensemble fanfare and photo opportunities for media.
Professor Glyn Davis said the new building was one of the largest enhancements in the Faculty’s history and would confirm the Faculty internationally as a pre-eminent school of art and music.
“The realisation of this project is the culmination of years of collaboration with our project partners, and the exceeding generosity of our donors,” Professor Davis said.
Professor Barry Conyngham said the project was a once-in-a century event that would produce Australia’s next generation of musicians and bring together the VCA and MCM.
“The University of Melbourne was one of the first Australian universities to offer formal studies in music, and the new headquarters for the Conservatorium will see that legacy continued and amplified alongside all arts disciplines on our Southbank campus,” Professor Conyngham said.
Minister Foley said the Victorian Government was proud to partner with the University – and with its philanthropic supporters – to make the project happen.
“The new Melbourne Conservatorium will be a transformative link in our arts precinct that will boost our cultural and educational offering and attract the best and brightest talent to our creative state. It will further help build Southbank's Sturt street as the cultural hub of Melbourne.”
Cr Doyle said Melbourne’s vibrant arts community had been a drawcard for the world’s most-liveable city.
“The introduction of the new Conservatorium further confirms Melbourne’s reputation as a hub for the arts,” Cr Doyle said.
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre joins the current $42 million redevelopment of the Dodds Street Stables into a visual arts wing, and the introduction of the Buxton Contemporary Museum.
Banner image: Artist’s impression of the new Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Image courtesy of John Wardle Architects.
Would you drink from a cup made from blood once infected with HIV? The inaugural exhibition from Science Gallery Melbourne challenges our deeply held beliefs about blood.
By Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne
Human blood can be made into bio-plastic. It is dried, powdered, moulded into a shape, heated to 200 degrees Celsius and put under 10 tonnes of pressure. It might become an ornament or a bowl or a drinking cup.
But what if a person with the HIV virus had donated the blood in the bio-plastic? Would you touch it, eat from it, drink from it?
Science says you shouldn’t be at all bothered. The bio-plastic will be completely sterilised once heated to 120 degrees. But would you hesitate?
Plastic objects made out of HIV and Hepatitis B infected blood are the creation of German artist Basse Stittgen and are just one of the many intriguing, confronting and beautiful artworks on display in Science Gallery Melbourne’s inaugural exhibition, Blood: Repel and Attract. Here science and art meet in a way guaranteed to disturb and enlighten.
At the exhibition you will be able to not only feel blood, but also smell it and even taste it. You will be able to detect blood with light, have your blood type determined, and add the pulse in your finger to a fugue of pulses sounding through the gallery.
For Professor Sharon Lewin, a University of Melbourne infectious diseases physician and director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, who helped to select the artwork, Blood is a unique opportunity for art and science to confront the mysteries and fears that surround blood, and inform us along the way.
“I think if you asked people in the community whether they are at risk of catching HIV from sharing a cup they would say they are, and many others will feel slightly uncomfortable at the prospect. But there is no risk at all,” says Professor Lewin.
She says misconceptions, stoked by emotion and fear, drive the stigmas that are so often attached to people living with infections such as HIV.
“To lose that emotional reaction you have to understand and trust the evidence,” she says. “That is why science literacy is so important in understanding how it is we come to conclusions on what is safe or unsafe, and then trust the science. But I think in science we still have a long way to go in better communicating these messages.”
She notes that in healthcare it has been recognised that exposure to blood puts people at risk of many potential blood-borne diseases, not just HIV. The adoption of universal precautions means all blood is treated the same when it comes to safety. The approach has also been adopted in sport where, under the blood rule, players bleeding from an injury must immediately seek treatment off the field.
“To a healthcare worker it should make no difference if a person is HIV positive or not because we treat all blood as infectious and take the necessary precautions,” Professor Lewin explains.
The risk of contracting HIV is limited to infection through unprotected sex and or by blood exposure such as sharing needles or having a blood transfusion. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, the risk of HIV infection from a needle stick penetrating the skin is just 23 out of every 10,000 people, or 0.23 per cent.
Blood is the inaugural exhibition of the University of Melbourne’s Science Gallery Melbourne – part of the world-wide Science Gallery Internationalnetwork of university-linked galleries that are dedicated to promoting public engagement with art and science. Blood, which has been curated by creative director Dr Ryan Jefferies, was inspired by the 2015 exhibition of the same name hosted by Science Gallery Dublin at Trinity College. Science Gallery London at King’s College is hosting its own Blood program this year.
One of Professor Lewin’s favourite works in the Science Gallery’s exhibition is One drop of blood by Queensland artist Daniel Elborne, who has made 20,000 porcelain white blood cells the size of pebbles. That is the approximate number of infection-fighting white blood cells in a single drop of blood in someone with a high-ranging white blood cell count. Viewers of the work are invited to take away the white pebbles in a symbolic representation of the falling white blood-cell count that cancer patients suffer when they undergo chemotherapy.
The work was inspired by Mr Elborne’s own mother’s fight with cancer, and the pebbles can only be taken in exchange for a donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“It is a beautiful and haunting representation of what happens to people during chemotherapy,” says Professor Lewin.
But just as science is uncovering the mystery and truth about blood, artist Robert Walton says that in many ways art had already anticipated the science. Ritualistic ideas around sharing blood, such as in the idea of blood brothers or the Christian ritual to symbolically share Christ’s blood, have in a sense been realised in the form of blood transfusions and blood donations.
“Through thousands of years of cultural practice and art we have always known how important blood is,” says Mr Walton, who lectures at the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatory of Music at the University of Melbourne and was also on the selection panel for Blood.
“The mystery of blood prefigures the scientific discoveries, and those mysteries have proven to be in many ways true.
“Blood is something that we share with others, it is something that can give life to others, and it does tell us about who we are in that that it holds our genetic inheritance,” says Mr Walton, whose own core art practice is as a director of experimental theatre and live art.
He says our reaction to blood is fascinating because it both repulses us and connects us. He suggests that the sight of blood disturbs us partly because we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as separate and sealed off from the world and others. But when we bleed we are graphically reminded of our own bodies and our vulnerability.
“Our cultures sometimes make us forget that we are part of the animal kingdom, and make us think that we are detached from our bodies. But when blood spurts out of a wound it becomes the liquid that connects us to the outside world, and it is horrifying. We imagine our life trickling away,” he says.
But blood is also a vehicle for building empathy and awareness. The empathetic powers of blood, he says, have been famously explored by such performance artists such as Franko B, Ron Athey, Kira O’Reilly, and Marina Abramović who have purposely made themselves bleed in front of a close-up audience.
“When we see someone bleeding it creates a huge amount of empathy when we realise that like us, blood courses through another being’s veins. The reality of inhabiting a fragile, bloody body, connects us,” he says. “And then that awareness can prompt us further to think of the bigger picture, and how all creatures are connected.”
Walton says one of blood’s most enduring powers is the way it has come to symbolise our common humanity in the face of cultural prejudices towards stigmatised groups.
Perhaps one of the most well know examples in English are the lines of Shylock the Jew in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
“A lot of performance artists with blood borne diseases like HIV use blood to remind us again and again that we all share an experience of existing as a living, breathing, bleeding body,” says Mr Walton.
“We all feel pain, and we all need love and warmth. It is the human condition.”
The Doherty Institute is a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Science Gallery’s Blood: Attract and Repel exhibition opens 2 August and runs through to 22 September at the Frank Tate Building at the University of Melbourne, Parkville.
Banner image: You Beaut, Hotham Street Ladies, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist
In this new occasional series, we hear from VCA & MCM students on what makes them tick, where they've been and where they're going. First up it's CJ Welsh, who recently graduated from the VCA's Master of Producing program.
My pathway to studying at the VCA was somewhat serendipitous. I finished an undergraduate degree in New Media at the ANU in 2009 and somehow found myself working in a completely unrelated industry, travel and sales, for six years. I was lost and wondering why I never did anything with my film degree, when I quite literally stumbled across the University of Melbourne Open Day in 2015. [VCA Master of Producing lecturer] Gus Howard gave a talk about the course and a chat afterwards convinced me to apply for the course. The kind of filmmaker produced at the VCA is the kind I want to be.
I’m inspired by the tenacity of my fellow creatives. Watching their hard work come to fruition, and watching them push themselves to succeed makes me push myself. I read a lot of science-fiction and that inspires me too – seeing the positivity, faith and creativity that goes into imagining a future for the human race. That kind of imagination makes me feel like anything is possible.
Set-backs, workload, rejections, creative blocks, negativity from others – it all adds up. When I started studying at the VCA, the biggest challenge for me was my friends and family questioning why I would quit a "stable" career in the travel industry to go into an industry fuelled by uncertainty and risk. It can be hard to explain to people who don’t feel the creative urge, but being surrounded by like-minds make it easier.
2016 was a huge year for me. As part of the Masters of Producing course, I produced three short films: The Last Man, Ruby Tuesday and Creating a Monster. The amount of effort required to pull this off was gargantuan; I had never pushed myself so hard before. It was exhilarating and terrifying, but in the end, absolutely worth it. I received the VCA's 2016 Producer of the Year award and all three films were selected for the St Kilda Film Festival in 2017.
In the next few years, my major goal is to establish myself in the industry as reliable and hard-working. I have several projects I’m developing myself including two web series and a feature film, for which I hope to receive development funding.
If you want to pursue a career in film producing, it’s good to keep things in perspective. The pressure to succeed can seem overwhelming at times, but the relationships you form with your fellow creatives will not only help but also make it a load of fun. Don’t be afraid to lean on your colleagues and remember to be there when they need to lean on you.
As told to Sophie Duran.
Image: Master of Producing student CJ Welsh at the Film and Television studios at the Victorian College of the Arts. By Sav Schulman.
Born from marginalised communities as a force of self-expression, hip-hop gets an unfairly bad rap for its confronting lyrics, but its power to promote mental and social health is going mainstream.
Last year New York’s then police commissioner Willam Bratton was quick to blame rap music and the culture around it for a fatal backstage shooting at a hip-hop concert. Ignoring wider issues of simple gun control, Commisioner Bratton instead pointed at “the crazy world of these so-called rap artists (that) basically celebrates the violence.”
Hip-hop culture and rap (a method of vocal delivery popularised through hip-hop music) has for more than four decades been bundled with a range of negative connotations, leading many like Commissioner Bratton to equate hip-hop culture only with profanity, misogyny, violence and crime. Prosecutors in the US have labelled rap lyrics a criminal threat, and numerous studies have been undertaken on the harmful influence of hip-hop on kids. The impacts of this perception remain palpable.
Melbourne-based hip-hop artist Mantra (above) works extensively in schools and the community to empower youth. Picture: courtesy of Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
There’s no denying that the lyrical content of hip-hop music is confronting, and in many instances includes the glorification of violence, substance use, and gender discrimination. But while many people struggle to look past the profanity, materialism and high-risk messages often celebrated within mainstream rap music, hip-hop culture at its core, is built on values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, community, and having fun. And it is because of these core values that hip-hop is increasingly being used as a therapeutic tool when working with young people.
The perfect music therapy
School counsellors, psychologists, and social workers have helped to normalise the option of integrating hip-hop within mental health strategies. In fact, it has become central to the work of one group of psychiatrists at Cambridge University, who under the banner of “Hip-hop Pysch”, use hip-hop as a tool in promoting mental health. Some have even called rap “the perfect form for music therapy.” So what is going on?
Hip-hop culture, while born in New York City, is now a worldwide phenomenon. You would be hard-pressed to find any country that doesn’t have some kind of hip-hop scene. This new reality is driven by two factors. One is the commercialisation of the culture as a commodity, which has made it one of the most influential industries in the world with its own Forbes list, and pushed it to any place within the reach of record labels or the Internet.
US hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill. Picture: David Gallard/Flickr
But, the second factor is that hip-hop remains accessible and grassroots. At its simplest, you can make a beat with your mouth – beatboxing – or on a school desk, and create or recite lyrics about anything without singing. The proliferation of cost-friendly music creating software and hardware puts more involved participation in reach, and allows flexibility in creativity and even pathways to entrepreneurship.
Marginalised communities the world over resonate with the ethos of resisting exclusion or discrimination and fighting for equity and justice. Others just love the beats and lyrical flow. Beyond beats and rhymes, there’s also something for everyone, B-Girls and B-Boys dance, DJ’s scratch and mix, and Graffiti artists draw and write. Combined with emceeing, or rapping, these are the four basic elements of hip-hop, with the fifth element being Knowledge of Self: the drive for self-awareness and social-consciousness.
It is this accessibility and inclusivity that makes hip-hop such an effective therapeutic tool for working with young people. It’s a style most young people feel comfortable with and it provides a way to build rapport and initiate a client-therapist relationship. The reflective nature of the lyrical content is a vehicle for building self reflection, learning, and growth. Whether analysing existing songs, or creating new content, the vast array of themes found in hip-hop lyrics provide therapists access to many topics that are otherwise hard to talk about.
Finally, the repetitive and predictable nature of hip-hop beats are said to provide a sense of safety, particularly during song writing, and lyrical and musical improvisation. Therapists suggest this provides a sense of dependability for those with little regularity or safety in their everyday lives; something supported by research linking music engagement and self-regulation.
US hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar (above) is an active advocate for social justice, with lyrics that tackle racism, violence and police brutality. Picture: courtesy of Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
In his US-based research, Dr Travis has shown that, despite publicised negative associations, many who listen to hip-hop find it a strong source of both self and community empowerment. More specifically, the important benefits to individual mental health in areas of coping, emotions, identity and personal growth, can help promote resilience in communities.
In Australian school settings, Dr Crooke has found hip-hop a positive way for students of diverse backgrounds to engage with their wider community, learning tasks, and schools more generally. In a recent (yet to be published) study, Dr Crooke also explored the benefits of a short-term intensive hip-hop and beat making program for young people labelled oppositional, seriously disengaged or at-risk of exclusion. Results showed students were not only highly engaged in learning through the program, but exhibited positive self-expression, built significant rapport with facilitators, and strengthened social connection amongst each other.
Hip-hop as a force for social justice
Hip-hop culture emerged as a reaction to the gang culture and violence of the South Bronx in the 1970s, and daily experiences of poverty, racism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect. It necessarily embodies and values resilience, understanding, community and social justice. Without these, hip-hop culture would never have been, and it is because these values remain at its core that hip-hop is such a powerful agent of positive social change around the world.
Australian hip-hop artist L-FRESH The LION. Picture: courtesy Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
Yet, the hip-hop project is not yet free from these difficult circumstances. Many communities around the world still battle the deleterious effects of discrimination, segregation, and injustice. Hip-hop is often a potent voice to these lived experiences. This remains one reason why the lyrical content still contains these themes. One of the primary strengths of hip-hop when it first emerged was that it allowed young, creative Black and Latino youth to create art which reflected the reality of their lives, of the neighbourhoods around them, and of the wider social circumstances in which they found themselves. In the words of US hip-hop Group N.W.A. they were making the most out their basic human right to “Express Yourself.”
We may be several decades on, but there are plenty of young people that still need to do the same.
Hip-hop is neither a panacea nor a cure all. It is not perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. And it should not be appropriated without acknowledging, respecting and addressing these, because it is precisely these origins that make is such an important element in our society.
Hip-hop dancers at the RMIT Link Bust A Groove Dance Competition. Picture: courtesy Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
It is because of these roots that contemporary culture is infused with so many new young voices emboldened to promote resilience, positivity, tolerance, and justice. And, it is its complicated history that enables us to critically reflect on our society, and force us to face issues of race, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation.
Given the urgency of our need for equity, justice, tolerance and critical civic engagement in today’s society, we need to challenge our preconceptions about hip-hop culture, and what is perhaps one of the most important and generous movements in our world today.
Dr Crooke is part of a team running a short course at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music on how to use hip-hop in music therapy.
Main image: Rzom_/ Flickr
Faculty staff and alumni were well-represented among the winners at the 2017 Helpmann Awards.
By Sarah Hall
Seven staff and alumni from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music won Helpmann Awards on Monday evening, in the fields of theatre, dance, music and production.
The VCA’s recently-announced 2017 Keith & Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellow Leticia Cáceres won the Helpmann for Best Direction of a Play for Belvoir Theatre’s The Drover's Wife, for which alumnus Mark Coles Smith also won in the category of Best Male Actor. The Drover’s Wife additionally took the awards for Best Play and Best New Work (Leah Purcell).
“I’m really so happy this has happened, it’s amazing,” said Ms Cáceres on her win for The Drover's Wife, a reimagining of Henry Lawson's story of the same name. She described the Helpmanns, which recognise distinguished artistic achievement and excellence in the arts in the live performance sector, as Australia’s equivalent to the Tony or Olivier awards.
“We never lost sight of why we wanted to tell this story the way we wanted to tell it,” she said. “To have had this recognition means not only that were we able to talk critically about the issues that were important to us, but that we did so in a way that was satisfying for audiences and critics alike. For me that is a massive achievement.”
Alumnus Barrie Kosky's Opera Saul scooped several awards, one of which went to Kosky for Best Direction of an Opera, and another of which went to the MCM’s Senior Lecturer in Early Music Dr Erin Helyard for Best Music Direction. Saul was financed by the South Australian government as the centrepiece to this year’s Adelaide Festival, following rave reviews from the UK’s Glyndebourne festival.
Alumna and Lecturer in Design at the VCA Anna Cordingley won Best Scenic Design for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Jasper Jones; alumna Anna O’Byrne won Best Female Actor in a Musical for My Fair Lady, produced by Opera Australia and John Frost; and alumna Lilian Steiner took home the award for Best Female Dancer in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production for the Lucy Guerin Inc and Arts House’s production Split.
Head of VCA Theatre Associate Professor Matthew Delbridge said he was delighted with the continued success of staff and alumni from across the Faculty.
“Having representation from alumni across all areas of the performing arts is further proof of the ongoing legacy of our programs, the sustained excellence of our graduates, and our rightful position as the pre-eminent training institution in the country," he said.
Banner image: The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Jasper Jones, for which VCA lecturer Anna Cordingley won a Helpmann Award for Best Scenic Design. Photo: Anisha Senaratne (LPA).
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Is Jenny Watson Australia’s equivalent to Tracey Emin? Watson is about a decade older; she is less concerned with listing everyone that she has ever slept with and more obsessed with horses, but shares Emin’s interest in punk and street culture, feminism, the conceptual dimension of art and the use of unconventional materials. Both artists are also fine draughtsmen in the conventional sense of the word, but choose to break the rules and cultivate an intense, awkward line.
These reflections on the art of Watson have been provoked by a substantial retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is her largest show to date, with over 100 pieces spanning over 40 years and accompanied by an excellent catalogue largely written by the curator of the exhibition, Anna Davis.
Watson was born and trained in Melbourne, initially at the National Gallery School (subsequently known as the Victorian College of the Arts) and then spent a number of years travelling and living abroad, mainly in London, Paris and New York. She is quoted in the catalogue as saying, "I turned from the observation of the outside world to recording an inner space … I wanted to shatter the techniques I had learnt … to let a random uncontrollableness take hold of the work."
Jenny Watson, White horse with Telescope 2012, synthetic polymer paint on rabbit skin glue primed cotton. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery ©the artist.
Developing an interest in combining text and image; embracing techniques of collage and bricolage, and engaging with feminism and punk culture certainly gave her art of the 1980s and 1990s a sophistication and internationalism that was uncharacteristic for Australian art at the time and made it highly attractive to curators who wished to work on the international scene.
In Watson’s CV there is one entry that stands out from the rest: “1993 Jenny Watson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale”. To represent Australia at the Venice Biennale is the highlight of any artist’s career and Watson had that opportunity thrust upon her at the age of 42. The circumstances for her selection may not be relevant for us today, but she felt at the time, and has told me on a number of occasions, that it would have been better if this had occurred a bit later in her life. However, the chance was not to be missed.
Her exhibition at Venice, Paintings with Veils and False Tails, was quirky, unusual and controversial. Most of the oil paintings were of horses or girls with ribbons and false horsetails on red velvet and accompanied by inscriptions. One reads, “She realised she was in love with him after he visited the other girl for afternoon tea”, while another, “I feel like when Mum caught us smoking as kids”.
The combination of childish innocence, autobiography intertwined with fiction, adolescence and obsessions with horses, the “fab four” and pop culture of the 1960s, Twiggy and movie stars were part of the fabric that prepared the way for this significant exhibition.
Watson likes to think of herself as a rebel for whom a prohibition and a declaration that something cannot be done is sufficient incentive to try to do it – she is a compulsive rule breaker. Her major preoccupation in Venice was, in her words, “My decision to filter the life of a suburban girl through a conceptual lens [which] was a slow developing but key moment”. This remains a preoccupation throughout her art.
The other challenge that she has taken upon herself is not simply to succeed as an Australian artist, but as an artist on the world stage, who was born in Australia. The Venice Biennale gave her a brilliant platform from which to be picked up by international galleries.
Two of them did precisely that and Watson showed with some success and to some acclaim in Europe, America and Japan. Things generally came undone with the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/08 when sales largely evaporated and Australia and Australians once again became her primary market and audience.
Jenny Watson, I’ve got a dirty pig on my mind 2013 oil paint on cotton, grounded with rabbit skin glue frame.
Image courtesy the artist, Galerie Transit, Mechelen and Verlag für zeitgenössische Kunst und Theorie ©the artist Photograph: Bert de Leenheer.
Jenny Watson is, in some ways, a maverick artist in the Australian art scene. Although she is sometimes associated with Tracey Emin and Jenny Holzer through her extensive use of text, her strange and unconventional creations on cloth are immediately recognisable as uniquely her work.
Her love of the horses that surround her on her property in Samford, some 21 kilometres north west of Brisbane, keep her grounded, while her imagination still explores reality through the eyes of the little girl in the backblocks of Melbourne who sees and questions the structures of the physical world and its intersection with the world of the imagination.
Jenny Watson: The fabric of fantasy is at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney until 2 October.
Banner image: Detail from Jenny Watson’s The Pretty Face of Domesticity, 2014, oil and synthetic polymer paint on velvet striped shantung. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Transit, Mechelen ©the artist.
Julius Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald Prize finalists in recent years. If he wins, he'll be the youngest ever artist to take the prize.
By Sarah Hall
When third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Julius Killerby asked the former Essendon Football Club Chairman Paul Little to sit for a portrait, he did not expect to become a finalist in Australia’s most popular portraiture competition, the Archibald Prize. But, as was announced today, that's exactly what's happened.
“I sort of used the Archibald as an excuse to approach Little so I could paint his portrait,” said Killerby, who is currently working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the VCA. “I'm pretty surprised to find out it has made it into the finals – even though, of course, I was secretly hoping it would get picked.”
Killerby’s work will be judged alongside 43 finalists, including VCA Art alumnae Prudence Flint, Yvette Coppersmith, Sophia Hewson and Kate Beynon, former VCA Art staff Jon Campbell and current staff member Richard Lewer. At 22, Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald finalists in recent years. Should he win, he will be the youngest ever artist to take the prize (as it stands Nora Heysen is the youngest ever winner– who was 27 when she took the prize in 1938). The winner, to be announced on 28 July, will receive $100,000 and significant media recognition.
Killerby’s oil painting casts Little in shadows against a black background – indicative, possibly, of the dark times Little led the Essendon Football Club through in recent years.
Killerby described making it to the finals of the competition as a validating experience, and said his art was in tune with the style of the Archibald. “I don’t think I was compromising my work at all by entering it for consideration.”
Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw said she was delighted by Killerby’s inclusion in the prestigious competition.
“Julius has been diligently working on this portrait of Paul Little for a number of weeks,” she said. “He is such a generous and hardworking student, and has committed to making some serious gains in his work this year.”
Killerby’s art practice involves spending six to eight hours in the studio every day. “You can’t be an artist casually,” he told Precinct, likening the creation of a painting to a "slow battle".
Already an admirer of the work Little has done as a philanthropist and businessman, Killerby said it was important for him to get to know him on a more personal level before painting his portrait. They met in May this year and became acquainted before Killerby spent approximately 100 hours working on the oil painting in his studio at the VCA.
“I was just exceedingly happy to paint Little’s portrait regardless of the prize itself and really enjoyed the process,” he told Precinct.
“Becoming a finalist was just the cherry on the cake.”
Banner image: Olga Filonenko/ Flickr
The Archibald Prize is held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales You can see the work of the 2017 finalists on the Gallery of New South Wales’ website.
Esther Marie Hayes sheds some light on the inspirations behind her costume design for Macbeth at Melbourne Theatre Company.
Costume designer Esther Marie Hayes didn’t study Shakespeare at school. However, throughout her early years as a costume designer, she has undergone a thorough education of the world’s most famous playwright. Macbeth marks Esther’s third Shakespearean play for Melbourne Theatre Company, working alongside the same creative team under the direction of Simon Phillips for both Richard III in 2010 and Hamlet in 2011.
Simon appointed Esther as a fresh-faced VCA graduate to design costumes for Joanna Murray-Smith’s 2009 play Rockabye. From there, the two developed a strong theatrical language and aesthetic that would inform their creative collaborations.
Esther’s costume design concept for Macbeth began with an analysis of how they contemporised their last Shakespearean works together. ‘All three are modern adaptations. Richard III was political, Hamlet was political and militaristic, and Macbeth is militaristic,’ Esther says. All three shows involve a considerable amount of blood, which for a costume designer, is bound to present logistical problems.
With a cast of 13 and numerous cast members playing multiple characters, Esther’s biggest concern was designing costumes that could accommodate all the necessary quick changes required to tell this multifaceted story.
Having grown up between Spokane and Melbourne in a multi-generational ‘military family,’ Esther was told stories about her Grandfather serving for his country from a young age. She then watched two uncles and three cousins move around the world as members of the United States Navy and Army. This family history helped to inspire the design of various soldier’s costumes, many of which have been repurposed from the military uniforms used in Esther’s costume design for Hamlet. ‘The soldier costumes are special to me, they feel close to home.’
Esther’s research started with her own family history, but delved into much deeper territory when she broke down the role of each character; modernising the narrative to bring it into the 21st century.
‘The set design was already completed, so I was responding to that initially, before looking at each individual character.’ She began researching the uniforms of various authorities in different parts of the world – the police force in Mexico and swat teams in France; army generals in the Middle East; humanitarian aid workers in war zones and first responders at terrorist attacks; as well as foot soldiers in small nations of Europe. She looked at the dress codes of French horse-riding teams, and the formal dinner garments of the King of Jordan and his wife. Regulation Army pyjamas in the United States and the balaclavas and bandanas on the heads of hate-crime groups and gangsters were also pinned to the inspiration costume board. Esther looked at crime dramas The Night Manager and Orphan Black for additional research.
When it came to the witches, high-end fashion was the focus. ‘We wanted them to look similar, but with individuality as well. We were looking at blacks, and layering to create those silhouettes. And we looked at how fashion has been interpreted by military dress, as well as that kilt look with the heavy boots,’ which Esther says only ties the play back to its Scottish roots. ‘It’s hard when we’ve created a world that’s very modern, to then also create that unearthly, spiritual image, which the witches represent.’
The inauguration clothes of American presidents and first ladies also made their way onto the board, along with Oscar worthy ball gowns. Alexander McQueen’s sheer, figure-hugging lines and surplus of sequins was the first port of call when it came to designing Lady Macbeth’s ceremonial gown.
Next to North by Northwest, Macbeth is the most labour intensive job Esther has designed. Her favourite part of the whole process, she says, is the ‘breaking down’ of the soldiers’ costumes, where the garments are dyed, sanded and washed in various rinses to make them look worn. ‘My favourite part is seeing this transformation. It’s hard work but it looks like magic.’
Other than watching unworn, hand-tailored uniforms turn into tattered ones, Esther loves collaborating with her peers in the creative process. ‘There are so many different people that you work with doing a production of this scale and every part counts.’
Macbeth plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 June. Book now.
This article was originally published by MTC Backstage. View the original article.
Banner image: Lady Macbeth costume designs by Esther Marie Hayes. Image courtesy of Melbourne Theatre Company.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowships, worth $75,000, were awarded last night to four University of Melbourne graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM).
Awarded biennially to theatre, music and visual arts graduates, the Fellowships were established in 1994 by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE to enable young artists to travel and study overseas in the early stages of their careers.
Dame Murdoch’s granddaughter, Julie Kantor, presented the awards last night at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery on behalf of her grandmother, saying the Fellowships were created to help students become “artists of the world”.
“It seems to me, and certainly to my grandmother, that an essential feature of the artist at any stage in their career, is to find compelling means of creating a bridge between the private world of feeling and insight, and a public world that has an enormous need for inspiration and understanding,” Ms Kantor said.
“To understand this need and to refine one’s feeling and insight, my grandmother and grandfather believed that young artists need to be able to experience the world beyond the place of their study and residence.”
Dean of the VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, said providing young artists with international travel opportunities was of benefit to Australian culture more broadly.
“Travel can provide emerging artists, musicians and performers with inspiration and connections that last well beyond the initial moment, and indeed continue to inform their creative development throughout their careers. As consumers of culture, we all stand to benefit from that,” he said.
The main $25,000 Prize for Visual Art, judged on the day by a panel comprising Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan and Director of Gertrude Contemporary Mark Feary, went to Trent Crawford, who graduated from the VCA in 2016, for his video installation work Liquidity.
Crawford’s work, along with the other shortlisted works for the visual art fellowship, will be on display at the 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship Exhibition in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (40 Dodds St, Southbank) until 5 August 2017.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship recipients are:
Trent Crawford, B. Fine Arts (Visual Art). Born 1995, Crawford lives and works in Melbourne. Interested in dissecting images and technology to explore them in a passive state, Crawford’s work focuses on entering the in-between moments in time where the subject or material exists in a state of lapse; often with its function usurped or absent. By disassembling, restructuring and repurposing new media, he calls to question how the framing devices of screens and filters are active in the construction, fragmentation and degeneration of the image. Award of $25,000.
Theatre (two recipients)
Leticia Cáceres, M.Dramatic Art (Direction). Cáceres has been lauded as one of the most exciting directing talents in the country. She was Associate Director at MTC from 2013 to 2015. She has also directed for Belvoir, La Mama, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, La Boîte Theatre/Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Arts Centre, and Brisbane Powerhouse. She is the co-founder of nationally-acclaimed RealTV. Award of $15,000
Eugyeene Teh, M. Production (Design). Teh has worked with mainstage companies, earning him Green Room Award nominations for both his debut works; Endgame at MTC and Meme Girls at Malthouse. Last year, he worked on Straight White Men (MTC), In Between Two (Sydney Festival with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah), Lady Eats Apple (Back to Back Theatre) and Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse). Award of $15,000.
Troy Rogan, B. Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) (Hons). Rogan is a Melbourne-based composer, orchestrator and cellist, who brings his passion for making meaningful, engaging music to each project. He draws his inspiration from the art of storytelling, with a fascination of the parallel that various musical languages can impart. Award of $20,000.
Banner image: Trent Crawford with his video installation work Liquidity. Photo: Sav Schulman.
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room is a one-day symposium featuring an impressive line-up of speakers and thinkers, chaired by the Victorian College of the Arts’ Dr Sean Lowry and the University of Adelaide’s Professor Jenny McMahon. We asked a handful of the participants to enlighten us on their philosophy on art.
By Sarah Hall.
Q: What would the world be like without art?
Answered by Rowan McNaught, MFA candidate, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Without art our physiologies would adapt to have gigantic eyes. They let too much light in. We can’t go near others because of the risk that they will elaborate an impossible darkness. But all the stuff that people have in their houses is really much more beautiful. Esperanto is a success but was not invented, and June Huh cannot prove the Rota conjecture despite his best efforts. There is the same number of wars. In our dreams we can see figures from history but only as they rush by, wearing the clothes of today, made of technical materials."
Q: What role does art have beyond aesthetics?
Answered by Sophie Takách, Monash Art, Design and Architecture.
“Art has the potential to exceed; to exceed appearances, exceed expectations, exceed habitual responses. It can (and should) affect our way of thinking about possibilities and reality, make us feel the world.
“Art can bring us closer to the world, to materials and forces. It is possible that this affect is reached through aesthetic appeal, and I believe there is no reason that art should distance itself from aesthetics in pursuit of meaningfulness. On one hand, if it is only about looking, and not feeling or thinking, art can be too easily consumed and assimilated, lessening its power. On the other hand, if there is nothing in art to invoke sensation, how does it reach beyond the narrow confines of an already interested audience?
“The power of art to effect change in the world is through an intensification of sensation, by commanding attention, by engaging with people. I believe that the role art has in the world is to break established habits of consumption and action, and by doing away with established notions of beauty in the pursuit of the new it is possible to define a new aesthetics. So art does not leave aesthetics behind by going beyond them, instead it pushes aesthetics before itself as a cresting wave.”
Q: How does studying art help or hinder our understanding of it?
Answered by Dr Sean Lowry, Conference convenor, Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies in Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
“Art education can radically extend expectations for ‘understanding’ art.”
Q: Does an artwork still exist if nobody is there to appreciate it? Why?
Answered by Dr Kate Just, Graduate Coursework Coordinator, VCA Art, Victorian College of the Arts.
"My work's engagement with people is central to its purpose. However, a work of art can also exist or emerge as a gesture of love and devotion. An act of love does not need to be seen or reciprocated in order to exist. It can just emanate."
Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room takes place on 11 July, 2017, 9.30am–5pm, at Federation Hall, Southbank, Melbourne. Free event, but booking is essential. More details.
Main image: 03 Immanuel Kant 03, by Willie Sturges. Flickr.
NOTE: This event has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled at a later date to be announced.
Next week, the Melbourne Conservatorium’s Dr Erin Helyard will give a public presentation, and short recital, on extreme emotional responses to music, with a focus on the 18th-century composer FD Philidor’s opera Tom Jones. Here, he explains why feeling hyper-sensitive to novels and music was, at that time, the order of the day.
“In the 18th century there was a phenomenon known as sensibilité, which basically described a very heightened emotional response to novels or music. At the opera, people would weep aloud or shout enthusiastically, and this sort of behaviour was enculturated and encouraged; it was seen to be a mark of an emotionally-superior human being.
“More recent equivalents might be something like Beatlemania, when crowds went absolutely nuts for The Beatles, or Lisztomania when people went crazy for the Hungarian composer Liszt in the 1840s.
"But sensibilité, as it was called in French, was somewhat different in that it was inextricably linked with the quality of a person’s character.
“To a large extent, we’ve lost this arguably refined level of emotional connection with the things we read and watch these days. We don’t respond in such an openly empathetic way, both because we are somewhat desensitised, and encouraged not to.
“The novel was a new invention in the early 18th century. English novelists in particular were understood to be master manipulators of the emotions.
"There are accounts of people weeping and throwing books in the corner, so moved were they by intricately-rendered accounts of human behaviour. Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones was hugely popular and lead to composer F.D Philidor using it as the setting for an opera.
“Of course, people do have extreme emotional responses to many types of music these days, but not so much at the opera. Rave culture might be the closest contemporary equivalent to 18th-century audience behaviour.
“For my talk, I’ll be discussing these cultural ideas of sensibilité as well as discussing Philidor’s achievement in the operatic sphere, and I’ll be joined by our very talented BMus student Dorcas Lim, who’ll be singing one of the arias from Philidor’s opera.”
-- As told to Sarah Hall
A presentation/recital by Dr Erin Helyard: “Philidor, sensibilité and Fielding’s Tom Jones” takes place on 12 July 2017 at the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne. Booking and event details.
Main image: Ralph Arvesen/Flickr.
The electric guitar symbolises rebellion, freedom, excess and youth, and we need those qualities now as much as ever.
By Dr Ken Murray, Senior Lecturer in Guitar, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne.
The electric guitar symbolises rebellion, freedom, excess and youth. But with the classic rock period well behind us, is it in danger of becoming a faded relic? The Washington Post recently reported on declining sales in the American electric guitar industry, with some manufacturers expressing concerns about its future. One reason for this was said to be a lack of current guitar heroes.
Is this true? I’d argue we still have plenty, with artists such as Jack White and St Vincent leading the pack. At the same time, the electric guitar is evolving as an instrument. Increasingly, it features in contemporary art music ensembles. But what makes a guitar hero? Let’s consider some of the maestros first.
The guitar legends
One of the first and most enduring of these was the late Chuck Berry, with his unique fusion of rhythm and blues and country music. The Beatles and Rolling Stones covered his songs. Many artists emulated his showmanship and attitude.
The rock guitar solo further developed in the 1960s and 70s as players such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck pioneered a blues-based style of virtuosic soloing. The electric guitar played a key role in the panoply of rock guitar styles that developed in the 1970s. However, it has been many decades since the airwaves were ruled by the sounds of guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Angus Young or Eddie Van Halen.
1980s pop music embraced synthesizers, keyboards and new technology such as the Fairlight computer. Rather than limiting the use of the electric guitar, this shift led to a broadening of the sonic palette with innovative guitarists adding textural depth and a new range of colours. Influential exponents of this playing style include Johnny Marr of the Smiths, U2s The Edge and Andy Summers of The Police. Their subtle musicianship ushered in a new type of guitar hero.
In the 1990s, the dominant sound of grunge bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam was an electric guitar, often distorted. Grunge musicians valued the instrument more for texture, volume, energy and tonal roughness than virtuosic solos.
Meanwhile, the English band Radiohead was releasing guitar dominated albums such as Pablo Honey (1993), The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997). Guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien supplied muscular riffs, ambient textures, and blistering solos to these three albums, at times reminiscent of progressive musicians such as Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, while also drawing on the textural style of the 1980s.
On later Radiohead songs, such as Optimistic, the guitar work is characterized by a rhythmic yet rough and relatively “unschooled” style of strumming. Greenwood and O’Brien’s role in the band expanded to include additional instruments, composition and arrangement.
The new electric virtuosos
The early 2000s was characterised by a return to the roots of popular music forms, whether the blues, country music, rock and roll, funk or Motown. There are many wonderful exponents of blues-based electric guitar playing active now - a short list would include Gary Clark Junior, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks. Still, 21st century pop, in general, is not bursting with shredding electric guitar virtuosi, but rather songwriters and mavericks who use the instrument to create a personal style.
Jack White, who sums up this approach, might be our century’s most prominent electric guitar hero. White combines a love of blues and country music with a return to simplicity in both recording and live performance, He also wrote one of the most famous guitar riffs of the 2000s, Seven Nation Army.
Another strong contender for the role is Annie Clark, aka St Vincent. A phenomenally gifted singer, lyricist, electric guitarist and performer, St Vincent is an adventurous and trailblazing musician, embracing electronic music, alternative sounds and elements of progressive rock.
Like White, St Vincent embraces imperfections, energy and spontaneity in her playing, which is a highlight of live performances. Like many pioneering progressive rock artists (the Moody Blues, King Crimson, Frank Zappa), she draws on aspects of contemporary classical music and has written chamber music for the American ensemble yMusic.
While sales of the electric guitar may have stagnated, in the past 20 years, the instrument has become increasingly influential in contemporary art music. One pioneer here is the American guitarist and composer Steven Mackey. Prominent new music ensembles such as Bang on a Can, the International Contemporary Ensemble and Australia’s Elision Ensemble have embraced the electric guitar. In fact, it has changed aspects of how these groups operate, due partly to amplification and balance issues and the opportunity to use electronic effects across all the instruments in an ensemble.
There are many wonderful works for the electric guitar, including music by Australian composers George Lenz and Andrew Ford, which were first performed by the Sydney-based new music specialist Zane Banks. And in early June, two electric guitar symphonies written by New York composer Glenn Branca had their Australian premiere. His use of drones, alternative tunings and mass electric guitars has influenced both classical and rock musicians. In my own work with the MCM ensemble Three (trumpet, trombone and guitar) I have found the electric guitar a perfect foil to the brass instruments.
Guitar women and shredders
There have been some great female electric guitar soloists, from the pioneering gospel blues of Sister Rosetta Tharpe to performers Nancy Wilson (Heart), Joan Jett (The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney). On the local front, Adalita Srsen (Magic Dirt) has been a leading guitarist for years and Courtney Barnett has achieved international fame with her understated electric guitar accompaniment style.
A more soloistic rock style is represented in the work of Danielle Haim (Haim) and Donna Grantis from Prince’s band 3rdeye Girl. These are all guitar heroes to inspire a new generation of performers.
Compared to the music of the 70s, guitar solos are on the wane in mainstream rock and pop. But in the genres of heavy metal and progressive rock, shredding (rapid, high energy, virtuosic playing) is still a valued form of expression. Many of these “progressive” guitarists work with guitar makers and effects designers to come up with new products (such as the seven-string electric - now used by many metal guitarists - designed for playing low, heavy riffs).
Virtuoso guitarists Dave Mustaine (Megadeath), Kirt Hammet (Metallica) and John Petrucci (Dream Theatre) have been influencing young shredders for decades. Psychedelic rock, meanwhile, is undergoing something of a renaissance in Australia with Melbourne band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard leading the way.
In short, the electric guitar is evolving. A new breed of guitarists are plucking, strumming, shredding, riffing, experimenting and amplifying their way into the future.
Steve Mackey will be visiting the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in late August/early September this year. He will perform at the Melbourne Recital Centre on September 2.
Main image: Claus Rebler/Flickr
On July 6, 2017, Richard Frankland, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the University of Melbourne, will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre with The Letter String Quartet. Ahead of the show, Richard was interviewed for, and performed songs on, Radio National's Books and Arts program.
In the words of Michael Cathcart, the host: "He's worked as a soldier, a fisherman, a field officer during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These days we know him as an author and playwright and filmmaker, an activist, an academic, a musician ..." The list goes on. You can listen to the full audio of Richard's interview below.
Image: Richard Frankland performs at Wilin Week, 2016. By Jorge de Araujo.
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Melbourne Conservatorium of Music staff members Joel Brennan, Don Immel and Ken Murray, who perform as the ensemble Three, were this week presented with the 2017 Melbourne Recital Centre’s Contemporary Masters Award for their world premiere performance of James Ledger's Voodoo Sonnets in February. The award, which is open to all artists who perform at Melbourne Recital Centre throughout the year, recognises the "finest performances of repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries”.
Three, a performance-led-research team featuring Brennan on trumpet/flugelhorn, Immel on trombone and Murray on guitar, strives to establish new, cutting-edge chamber music with a special focus on presenting performances that resonate with current-day audiences.
Melbourne Recital Centre’s Director of Artistic Planning Marshall McGuire said Three's February performance at the MRC’s Salon "captured the imagination and attention of the audience in a most original and compelling way," and that the ensemble performed with "confidence, authority, virtuosity and a great sense of ensemble”.
Don Immel said it was great to receive recognition for the work the ensemble has been doing commissioning composers and bringing new works to life. "These collaborations have been immensely satisfying for us and it’s been wonderful to introduce them to a wider audience." he added. "This award is great encouragement for us to continue our work developing an exciting repertoire for our unique ensemble."
Voodoo Sonnets will be included on Three's forthcoming album, due out later this year. The ensemble's debut album, Midnight Songs (2016), received numerous favourable reviews and was described as an "inspiring example of forward-thinking classical music culture in Australia" by the independently-run classical and new music magazine CutCommon.
Image: Three, from left to right, Don Immel, Joel Brennan, Ken Murray.
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Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2006 Ari Wegner has worked on dozens of commercials, short films, TV series and feature-length films, before landing the gig as cinematographer for Lady Macbeth, which hits cinemas on 29 June.
Interview by Sarah Hall.
Ari, how did you get into cinematography?
I’ve been interested in photography since high school, or even before, and I’ve always liked writing. I guess at film school (Bachelor of Film and Television, VCA, 2006), I realised that cinematography encapsulated both of those interests.
How did you get from your Bachelor of Film and Television at the VCA to Lady Macbeth?
After the VCA, I did really small stuff, then moved on to bigger projects – making commercials, TV shows, feature films and short films, including Night Shift (2012), which did really well. I also shot Ruin (2013) in Cambodia, which was received really well and won a prize at the 2013 Venice Film Festival (Special Orizzonti Jury Prize).
On the back of Ruin I signed with an agent in the UK and we were both really excited about Lady Macbeth. The director [William Oldroyd] and I hit it off right away, and agreed on how it might look and how we wanted to work together.
How do cinematographers and directors tend to work together?
Ideally, in collaboration. Some directors are really loose and free-form; some work best when everything is planned out meticulously. Some have a very clear idea of what they want, and others prefer to have a cinematographer lead the visuals a lot more. Every project and director is so different, which is a huge part of what I love about this job.
Of course, there are so many other people involved too: the production designer, the editor, the cast, wardrobe people, location, sound – it’s such a team effort, and really needs to be for the whole thing to look great.
What was it like to work on Lady Macbeth with star-in-the-making, Florence Pugh?
Florence is fantastic. I don’t think we realised until much later how uncomfortable that shoot must have been for her – she was wearing very tight corsets the whole time and some of the dresses she had to be sewn into … Plus, the dresses were all period pieces, so she had to be super-careful not to damage them.
Can you talk us through some of your cinematographic decisions for the film?
Both myself and the director William Oldroyd wanted to establish quite formal cinematographic rules, not least because the lead character Katherine has very strict rules in her life. Our idea was to shoot Katherine in these locked frames in parts of the film where she doesn’t have any freedom or agency. At other times there’s a more freehand style of filming. We didn’t pan or tilt or move the camera at all until those moments.
What attributes best serve you as a cinematographer?
I guess I’m quite a calm person naturally, and I can see that kind of energy really trickle down. I sometimes feel a bit like the MC – trying to set the tone and make sure we’re moving at the right pace, listening to anyone who’s having a hard time or needs some extra attention.
What other projects have you been working on?
I shot a film called Stray last year with the first-time-feature director Dustin Feneley, who I met at the VCA. It’s in post-production now and, given we’ve been talking about making it for 10 years, it’s so great to have finally done it.
What advice would you give emerging filmmakers?
Trust your gut. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects that really aren’t for you. As much as that might feel weird it’s actually more respectful to everyone involved – and it frees the job up for someone who really wants it.
Lady Macbeth opens in Australia on Friday 29 June 2017.
Banner Image: The filming of Lady Macbeth; Ari Wegner holding the camera. Image by Myron Jonson.
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What does it take to concentrate several seemingly-competing careers into one? Best ask concert pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar.
On 8 May 2017, as part of the University of Melbourne's Dean's Lecture Series, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham appeared in conversation with pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar, to discuss Dr Dunbar's journey from concert pianist to theatre practitioner and academic.
Dr Dunbar reflected on the pros and cons of an interdisciplinary career, and particularly how music provides unique insights into actors, training, and the challenges of rehearsing and performing. The conversation was interspersed with a piano performance of works by the 19th-century romantic composer Franz Liszt, music that dramatises love’s conflicted interests – or possibly the realities of an interdisciplinary career.
Image: Paul Hoi/Flickr
Such is the ubiquity of the guitar that its popularity can be taken for granted, its history overlooked. The period between the 1890s and 1940s was crucial to the instrument's evolution.
By Dr Ken Murray, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
The guitar may be the most widely-played instrument in the world, an active component in musical styles from all corners of the globe. It's well known that the guitar played a key role in the music of the post-second-world-war era but what is less well documented is the trajectory of the guitar during the period from the 1890s to the 1940s.
The current Instrument of Change exhibition (until 31 August) at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne takes a fascinating approach to those overlooked years of the guitar and illustrates how the instrument was played and enjoyed by both amateur and professional musicians during that period.
It also includes photographs, musical scores and artworks by iconic Australian artists such as Tom Roberts and Russell Drysdale.
In the 19th century the guitar played an important role in instrumental groups such as the Spanish Estudiantina, where it accompanied steel strung bandurrias and lauds. These Spanish groups had great success touring the world in the 1880s and 1890s, helping to disseminate the Spanish guitar internationally. The exhibition features a beautiful early flamenco instrument, notable for dimensions similar to a 19th-century parlor guitar.
The formation of banjo, mandolin and guitar clubs and societies (known as the BMG movement) saw the guitar competing with a new range of instruments that were mass-produced and promoted through magazines and mail-order catalogues. In this context, the guitar was prized for its historical associations and sophisticated repertoire.
Instrument of Change also focuses on Percy Grainger’s intersections with the guitar.
Grainger, linked mainly in the public imagination to his piano performances and compositions, engaged with the guitar as both performer and composer over many decades, from his first works in the early 1900s, to experiments with the instrument in London in the 1910s, to performances with the American experimental composer Henry Cowell in the 1940s. Grainger appreciated and embraced amateur guitar and mandolin ensembles and included guitars in numerous pieces and arrangements.
Through the use of open tunings and plectrum-style strumming, Grainger was an early advocate of massed guitars in the concert hall. The Instrument of Change exhibition features scores, instruments and photos from the Grainger Museum archives.
The guitar surpassed the popularity of other instruments in this period through ingenious evolutionary changes of shape, design and function. With the arrival of new instruments, such as the Gibson harp guitar and early arch-top instruments, design features derived from both the mandolin and banjo were successfully adapted in a quest for greater volume and relevance.
A range of other related instruments are featured in the exhibition, such as ukuleles and the Hawaiian steel guitar, which added new waves of interest to this scene in the 1920s.
While many of the trends influencing the guitar were global, Australian performers and makers were involved in these developments and their contribution is recognised in the exhibition.
Italian makers the Cera brothers emigrated to Australia in the 1920s and continued making their amazing harp guitars and mandolins into the 1970s. The burgeoning classical guitar scene of the 1930s and 40s found an advocate in Len Williams (father of classical guitarist John Williams) who helped to build a classical guitar community in Melbourne.
The exhibition ends with the Maton guitar company, one of the most recognisable and enduring Australian musical brands, established in 1946. The founder, Bill May, played double bass and guitar in dance bands and Hawaiian groups and made his first guitar as a teenager in 1932. He began with flat-top acoustic guitars and later diversified with archtop instruments and an extensive range of electric guitars.
May was keenly aware of the diversity of guitar activities. In an advertisement from the early 1950s he stated that there were Maton models to cover a range of styles including “radio, orchestra, solo, hillbilly and Hawaiian”.
While American instruments were his examples, May was committed to making an Australian product that could compete with the best in the world. His vision of an Australian guitar with international impact was formed during the seminal period of 1920–1946 when the guitar became a truly global instrument.
Instrument of Change: Visions of the Guitar in the Early 20th Century is at the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne, until 31 August 2017. The exhibition was curated by Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Associate Professor Michael Christoforidis and Dr Ken Murray.
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On 15 June 2017, on the eve of the opening of the Victorian College of the Arts' landmark 9 X 5 NOW exhibition, Curator Dr Elizabeth Gower and participating 9 X 5 NOW artist Tai Snaith spoke with RRR Smartarts presenter Richard Watts about the show.
More than 300 visual artists have contributed original works for the exhibition, which runs from 16–25 June at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank, Melbourne. Proceeds from the sale of the works, most of which will be sold for between $500 and $1,500, will go to establishing the new ART150 Fellowship to support emerging artists.
Image: David Rosetsky's 9 X 5 NOW work. LYV (partial version). C-type photo collage.
The Music Therapy team at the University of Melbourne was invited to collaborate with the National Gallery of Victoria to provide an experiential music activity for high-school students in response to the NGV’s Van Gogh exhibition. Here's what happened.
By Dr Lucy Bolger and Dr Grace Thompson, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
It's a Friday lunchtime. The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, is filled with visitors coming to see the spectacular works of Van Gogh. The exhibition Van Gogh and the Seasons: The Art of Emotions has been extraordinarily successful and people have travelled and queued for the chance to see the collection. In the Grand Hall, two beautiful, contrasting pieces of Van Gogh’s artwork are projected onto the walls. One is a sparse, muted winter scene, with a dark figure and his dog walking a solitary path through the snow. The second is a lush, vibrant painting of a woodland grove in the spring, dotted with flowers.
Recently, the Music Therapy team at the University of Melbourne was invited to collaborate with the NGV to provide an experiential music activity in response to the NGV’s winter masterpiece exhibition of the work of Van Gogh. The program was intended to support high-school students engage creatively with the exhibition. As music therapists, we recognise that music is a powerful tool for exploring emotions, particularly in adolescence, and we leapt at this opportunity to explore the theme of the exhibition – “the art of emotion” – through music.
Scattered around the Great Hall are small groups of students, buzzing quietly with conversation, surrounded by paper, pens and musical instruments. From around the room we hear sporadic clangs and chimes; an occasional burst of laughter; brief musical phrases that swell and subside. Every now and then, the groups look up at the artwork with a new flurry of activity or a questioning eye.
Two or three music therapy masters students sit among each small group of high-school students, asking questions and giving suggestions, gently drawing out ideas and sounds from the young people. As a group, they draw together a musical response to the artwork they see on the walls.
This project was also an engagement opportunity for our Melbourne University Masters students, a chance for them to apply their developing skills in facilitation, songwriting and improvisation. In pairs, each student facilitated one of three different activities designed to explore Van Gogh’s work through music and narrative.
Two groups used song-writing, allowing the structure of familiar songs to scaffold an exploratory process of lyric writing. Two groups developed a radio-play based on the work, using music and sound to give voice to the emotions of their story based on the artwork. And two groups created a soundscape, allowing freely improvised music and a visual score to directly represent their responses to the art.
The high-school students responded impressively to the tasks at hand, offering creative ideas and exploring various ways to represent emotion through music. Their teachers expressed amazement at their students’ engagement and enthusiasm in response to such "new" tasks, and commented on how much was achieved in such a short period of time.
Suddenly there is an increase in intensity and activity. Groups start to arrange themselves and the sounds become more organised. The students are practising. After only an hour, the groups come together and form an audience for each other, sharing their music and creative responses to the cheers and applause of their teachers and peers.
They have produced diverse music – creative, thoughtful, funny, reserved – exploring Van Gogh from many angles, placing themselves inside of the paintings and using music and sound to express the emotions of the art.
See also: Van Gogh’s ear for music: a playlist.
Find out more about Music Therapy at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
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Main image: The Music Therapy team assembles at the NGV. Photo: Sav Schulman