2014 Cairns Creative Music Intensive wrap-up

by Jeremy on October 21, 2014

Cairns Creative Music Intensive 1

Music is often said to be the universal language. This phrase has been used so often, but is it entirely true? Unlocking common ground between musicians from different backgrounds can be challenging when their musical languages are rigidly defined. This week we were faced with such challenges in a meeting of cultures, musical styles and experiences, and reaffirmed that rhythm can be a true meeting point for musicians to springboard new ideas and extend their own musical traditions.

These past 10 days I particiIMG_0662pated in a residency as part of the Australian Art Orchestra’s Creative Music Intensive set amongst the tranquil rainforest and Botanical Gardens of the Tanks Arts Centre in Cairns, North Queensland. 15 participants from around Australia and 4 musicians from Korea were part of the inaugural creative music workshop. The artistic faculty consisted of bassist Christopher Hale, trumpeter/composer Peter Knight (AAO artistic director), and the Australian/Korean ensemble ‘Chiri’ – drummer Simon Barker, trumpeter Scott Tinkler and P’ansori singer Bae Il Dong. In case you haven’t seen the Emma Franz documentary Intangible Asset #82 featuring Simon’s incredible experiences in Korea, watch this trailer to bring you up to speed with the significance of Bae Il Dong.

The Creative Music Intensive template was loosely based on the successful Banff Jazz and Creative Music Workshop in Canada, of which I attended in 2009 and 2011 with my co-led band The Vampires. The Cairns CMI had a lot in common with Banff – both were set in awe-inspiring settings, one in the Rocky Mountains in Canada the other in rainforest adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. Both had masterful faculty and were focused on the creative experience of developing new music and sharing ideas. However with quite a large handful of  musicians coming from a distinctly non-jazz background, the Cairns workshop forced us to move beyond the stylistic boundaries of music and look at improvisation as a practice and art form in itself to unlock common ground.IMG_0703

One of the challenges was get beyond what we called the “world music drone”. After learning several songs from Korea, Ghana, the Balkan countries, Klezmer and Australian backgrounds, the music would drift off into a monotonous informal jam that would quickly becomes monotonous harmonically (and often rhythmically). Using Greg Sheehan’s number diamonds as a starting point for our ensembles allowed the music to quickly shift from too much of the same to long chains of rhythms that the musicians could develop and interact with in real time. After the participants had all got a handle (“grip”) on several diamonds, the music would often weave and flow between them. This was a revelation for many of the musicians, for example Kofi, a Ghana drummer from Melbourne who could see the wide applications of these to his music.

The mornings consisted of a two-hour masterclass led by one of the faculty members. The afternoons were spent with the participants split into ensembles in which faculty members would circulate and feed the group ideas to work on. The opportunity to spend time with the faculty members in a relaxed environment, talking about music all day (and often long into the night with some beers and soju) was all part of the rich experience.

IMG_0766One of the themes to emerge during the 10 days was the potentiality of performance. During Bae Il Dong’s masterclass, we witnessed how he harnesses his body to channel his life force into his voice. He used several analogies including lateral and longitudinal energy, thinking of his body as having a north and south directional flow of energy and thinking of his body like a syringe in which his core strength is similar to the plunger in the syringe. For those that do not know this artists background, he is one of the world’s leading exponents of Korean traditional opera music, and trained for years in a waterfall! He is a true inspiration to be around, and his charismatic and genuine willingness to share his wisdom is contagious.

Simon Barker’s masterclass similarly used analogies that could have come from an Asian master. He used the term ‘grip’ (first coined by saxophonist Tony Malaby) to describe a motif, rhythmic cell, or any device that could be played in various contexts. We also had a lot of fun clapping rhythmic puzzles with Simon, including a quintuplet study, grouped in 7s. Scott Tinkler’s masterclass workshoped ideas developed from Greg Sheehan’s number diamonds, a concept that I have utilised in both Iron in the Blood suite and my new piece for Ensemble Offspring Border Control. More to come on this in my PhD thesis.

Christopher Hale was able to draw parallels of tension and release in rhythmic cycles between Flamenco music and Korean music. Peter Knight covered his musical vocabulary in using extended techniques on the trumpet and live electronic processes, as well as an excellent composition masterclass with Erik Griswold.

Extra curricular activities included a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and a day in the Daintree Rainforest and Port Douglas. You could also go jogging around Cairns, egged on by Simon Barker’s incredible barefoot running feats. He clocked up 120km throughout the week and didn’t even look tired! You can read more about his running (and drumming) on his blog here (http://runanddrum.wordpress.com/). Most of the evenings were spent at peoples’ accommodation, sharing ideas about what we had worked on throughout the day, cooking for each other, and of course beer and soju. The Australians prepared an Aussie barbeque with grilled salmon and snags (sausages), the Koreans made a selection of their delicious cuisine, and some friends prepared a Ghana fish special.

IMG_0687The highlight of the week was the final concert by the Korean musicians; Min Young Woo (Janggu), Joohee Yoon (Haegum), JooAh Joon (Piri), Jeong Hwa Son (Gayaguem) with bassist Christopher Hale. The Korean musicians performed new music that built upon the ideas from the week, coupled with traditional forms representing a breakthrough for the musicians and the receptive Cairns audience and participants. The second half of the concert featured Scott Tinkler’s new work The Return of Spring, featuring members of the Australian Art Orchestra with the three core members of Scott, Simon and Il Dong. What and amazing week I can’t recommend this enough to anyone from around Australia or overseas. Check out the Australian Art Orchestra’s website and mailing list for updates on next year’s planned Creative Music Intensive.

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