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8 October 2015

Australian Art Orchestra: Creative Music Intensive

Karlin Love, Holly Conner & Leah Blankendaal perform 'Music at a Wall' - an improvised work at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Image: Karlin Love, Holly Conner & Leah Blankendaal perform 'Music at a Wall' - an improvised work at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).  

Composer Leah Blankendaal reports from the Australian Art Orchestra's Creative Music Intensive workshops in Tasmania.

The Australian Art Orchestra's (AAO) second annual Creative Music Intensive (CMI) took place against the backdrop of Tasmania's breathtaking Central Highlands. Over ten days, 19 musicians from around Australia gathered to learn from a faculty of Australian and Indian musicians, led by Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani and Basavaraju Venkata Balasail, and supported by dancer Rajeswari Sainath.

The days were split into three components: rhythm classes in the morning with Mani, followed by workshops with staff and rehearsals in the afternoon, culminating in performances at both the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and at Tarraleah Hall. The sessions focused both on the specifics of Carnatic rhythm, as well as how to apply these concepts in our own practices.

At the heart of this discussion was the possibility of engaging with cross-cultural collaboration in a meaningful way. Participants heard from Sandy Evans as she discussed her doctoral studies in cross-collaboration with Carnatic music and jazz, Adrian Sherriff and his career studying with Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani, Simon Barker and his work applying Korean rhythm concepts to jazz drumming, and Brian Ritchie who offered insight into shakuhachi playing.

Artistic Director of the AAO Peter Knight says the purpose of running such an event is to support professional Australian musicians seeking further development. 'I think that there was a gap in Australian improvised music culture for something like this', he explains. 'We need to have opportunities to further learning and create new friendships from around the country.'

Of the cross-cultural collaboration facilitated by the CMI, Knight says, 'Cross-cultural collaboration is something that [Australians] do really well. It's something that we're doing at a very sophisticated level. I think there is the possibility for new sounds that integrate different instruments that really embed ways of thinking about music.'

What made the CMI such an invaluable experience for participants was the openness and willingness of both the students and faculty to engage in new practices. Each musician on the course came with their own need for professional learning and development, to take back to their respective musical careers. What this formed was a group of engaged artists willing to take risks and apply new concepts to their pre-existing knowledge sets.

The integrity of the participants and the faculty is at the core of the CMI's success. 'I've been astonished by the level of musicianship, the level of creativity, the level of engagement, the work ethic, both this year and last year', says Knight. 'I expect that this will be the well-spring of talent that we draw from and work with in years to come.'

Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani reiterated this point in his final address to the staff and students of the course. 'I thought I was coming to teach students, instead I have spent the last ten days working with artists.'

Further links

Leah Blankendaal - homepage

Subjects discussed by this article:

Leah Blankendaal completed a Bachelor of Music (Honours) at the University of Western Australia, followed by a Master's degree  in Communication Studies (Sound Design), during which she submitted her dissertation as a large-­scale sound installation artwork A Thousand Facets in collaboration with photographer Darren Smith. In addition to flute, Leah also performs regularly on piano accordion in a contemporary setting. In 2012 she was awarded first runner up for the RTRFM Music Award at the Perth International Fringe Festival, for her piece L’Histoire Du Tango. She currently produces Music in Melbourne on 3MBS Fine Music Radio and tours with Middle Eastern ensemble Kaisha.


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