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Platform Paper 35
Jon Rose has approached these and many other related issues with honesty, imagination, wit, intelligence and compassion… All thinking minds can benefit from these thoughts, and we should all listen to his voice—it is a cry of freedom and sanity that a world gone MAD sorely needs. John Zorn, New York City
‘How do we maintain live music in a culture that does not value it?’ asks Jon Rose, violinist and instrument maker, improviser, producer of the global ‘Fence Project’ and winner in 2012 of the prestigious Don Banks Award for his outstanding contribution to Australian music.
‘The practice of music has lost its key functions and roles in society’, he writes. The proof of this lies in ‘the steep decline in the commercial value of both the practitioner and their work... This is not a uniquely Australian phenomenon, nor is it confined to music practised on the fringes; it is a problem common to all music forms.’
How can this be remedied? He describes how music was once central to Australian society, repudiates the simple blaming of rock music and digital downloads, delves deeper and proposes a way to change the culture itself. After celebrating the successes and damning the failures in Australian music history, he points to performers, the environment and music education as among the agencies to liberate a new music in this country.
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Unless we investigate and value our own extraordinary musical culture, the dreaded cultural cringe will continue to define what constitutes the practice of music on this continent. I want to describe a story of our music, sometimes positive, often wayward, always significant, a story of how we got to where we are. It is my strong belief that unless we engage with history we cannot plan wisely for the future
Dr Alan Cadell is a violinist and live music activist based at the Queensland Conservatorium where he completed his PhD in modern violin performance practices.
The Music of Place proposes a profoundly inspiring task for the twenty-first century Australian musician, that of 'reclaiming a practice', as Rose so eloquently puts it in his subtitle. The idea that Australia had the chance to make a truly ethnic musical practice all her own- much like America or Jamaica or other post-colonial nations-but, to put it in the vernacular, cocked it up, is truly compelling. Rose's proposition brings to mind the work of other radical violinists such as Tony Conrad and Henry Flynt, both of whom have also written deep tracts, sometimes laced with intense vitriol, about the path that European and American music took. What if Europeans chose Biber over Bach? What if Americans got infected with Bo Diddley fever instead of Beatle fever?
The history of Western music is full of these unfulfilled possibilities and Australia is clearly no different to the rest. Australian indigenous music history is appallingly overlooked, much like the poverty and desperation of some indigenous communities. Likewise our colonial and convict music history is still festering in an open wound that's unfortunately infected with the gangrene of nationalist morons giving it that racist undertone that other cultures have managed to push through and get past. In order to radicalise and transform a tradition, we have to face it and kick it in the teeth first. Like so much in Australian history, there is a shuddering sense of injustice pervading it all. Those of us who are descendants of nineteenth-century British migrants feel all too keenly the pain of our forefathers' mistakes and misdeeds, and what a way to heal them! Reclaiming a practice sounds to me like it could also help reclaim kinship-between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians-a shared history that is painful but shared nonetheless. That is, if it's done properly. Like other post-colonial nations we should be wary of repeating mistakes (and Rose does make poignant mention of the jindyworobakism for which many of our so-called great artists are responsible) and search for a cohesively mutual, diverse and heterogeneous culture that is free of the exploitation inherent, most particularly, in the history of post-war Western popular music. Keith Richards probably bought his first yacht while Chuck Berry rotted in jail, penniless.
As a musician who is, for better or worse, Australian, I feel charged with a desire to do something to help create the sort of utopia Rose proposes. I see The Music of Place as a Coo-ee to all musicians to reclaim the importance of music in our lives and, through this, to ultimately assist in making a better world. Like all utopias it is likely to fail, but it's definitely worth trying. We must reclaim the rightful place of musical practice-that is, an intense meaningful expression of a people intensely involved in the praxis of their own culture, thus bringing the necessary meaning and healing to whatever place it is they inhabit. We all have blood on our hands, and perhaps with Rose's music of place we could finally wash some of it off.