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Asian influences in Australian Music
Debussy found in Balinese gamelan a polyphony as rich as Palestrina’s; Puccini used a Chinese tune in Turandot. With more serious research by Colin McPhee and US West Coast composers in the mid-20th century, Asian music revealed itself as a huge source of colour and material, and for Australians, a way of defining our geography in music. Percy Grainger told an eight-year-old Peter Sculthorpe to ‘look to the islands’, and it was advice that Sculthorpe took to heart.
During the 1960s, composers mined the music of Bali, Java and Japan for melody, rhythm and sonority, explored the formal implications of theatrical performance styles, and absorbed aspects of those countries’ literary, spiritual and philosophical traditions. Different composers over successive generations produced music varying from simple replication of Asian sources through to sophisticated hybrids of Asian and Western avant-garde materials. Much of the Asian-inspired music of the 1960s and 1970s is open to the charge of ‘orientalism’, and all of the composers were ethnically European. This has changed with Australia’s demographics; several composers of the middle and younger generations are Asian-Australians, with a necessarily changed relationship to non-European cultures. Australia now boasts Asian-instrument virtuosos like Riley Lee (shakuhachi) and Satsuki Odamura (kōto), for whom Australian composers have written extensively.
||String quartet no. 8 (1969) by Peter Sculthorpe||contains two contrasting idioms derived from Balinese music.|
||Angklung (1974) by Anne Boyd||delicately evokes that instrument using only four pitches across the compass of the piano.|
||Clouds now and then (1969) by Richard Meale||an orchestral work that dreamily meditates on a haiku by Matsuo Bashō.|
|Hsiang-wen (1990) by Julian Yu||is an iridescent Sino-Australian orchestral score.|
||Passing (1998) by Barry Conyngham||evokes a Shinto ritual to mourn the death of Tōru Takemitsu.|
||The alchemical wedding (1996) by Liza Lim||is a fusion of late-modernist intricacy and Asian poise.|