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15 November 2017

10 years of New Waves

Machine for Making Sense - West Head, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. Image: Machine for Making Sense - West Head, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.  

ABC Classic FM's New Waves podcast celebrates its tenth anniversary this month. Ten years ago, ABC podcasts were largely talk programs, but New Waves was always going to be a bit different. The very first podcasts were six commissioned studio works exploring the idea of opera and the Orpheus myth. Some years later, at the end of 2014, when major changes across the ABC led to loss of staff and programs at ABC Classic FM, including Julian Day's New Music Up Late, the podcast proved invaluable as an on-going dedicated space for Australian experimental works, sound art and Australian contemporary classical music at the ABC.

Stephen Adams of ABC Classic FM's Australian Music Unit has been instrumental in the success of New Waves from the start. This blog article is an extract of a longer one he has written on the Australian music blog in the ABC Classic FM website. All the links point to relevant episodes of the podcast.

In 2007, podcasts were already a happening thing. But they were the domain of talk. Music was limited to short excerpts. The first indication that composers might be keen for their music to be podcast came in an exploratory conversation with composer David Young, then artistic director of Melbourne's contemporary cross-arts production company Aphids. When I asked him whether he'd be interested in having his work offered for download by the ABC, his surprising response was 'Yes, but only if it's available indefinitely'. More conversations followed with a number of other artists, convincing me that there was enough support for the idea from both composers and performers to establish a regular free podcast of Australian new music.

After a few test runs, the podcast launched in November 2007 with the unveiling of the Orpheus Remix Awards. The first series of podcasts featured six newly commissioned studio works (Damian Barbeler's Tuning Orfeo, Dave Noyze and Sarah Last Montevedudley,Gail Priest's Coffee this morning, Amanda Stewart's Eurydice's Sigh, Constantine Koukias's Vox Orpheus, and Anthony Pateras and Robin Fox's Distorpheus) responding to the idea of 'opera' and the Orpheus myth at the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi's ground-breaking opera l'Orfeo. The music was introduced by then New Music Up Late host Julian Day.

From the first Julian Day and I were keen to embrace a wide gamut of what could be called 'art' music - from the work of contemporary classical ensembles to improvisers to studio and backyard experimenters. The initial formula of a short presenter introduction expanded to include artist interviews, with the scale and nature of the musical recordings also changing in response to the diverse musical ideas and performance contexts.

Outdoor and unusual venues and more extended, immersive projects presented interesting recording and program-making challenges. Sound art installations - mobile improvisations - multispeaker electroacoustic concerts. How to distill these experiences, and the diversity of artists involved into a stereo recording of limited duration heard in the space between two headphones?

One of my crazier early memories of this kind of challenge was spending most of the night from dusk till dawn wandering around the Edge and environs at Federation Square with two mics on a stick and a portable recorder capturing the music, ambience and multiple perspectives of the 500+ participants in a Melbourne Musicircus organised by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey. And then turning the many hours of recordings into a 30-minute montage!

Other memorable immersive experiences include recording the Machine for Making Sense and Ensemble Offspring's joint improv performance across Middle Head, Sydney; Alice Hui-Sheng Chang's choral sounding of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, ELISION's 20-channel electro-acoustic chamber gig in the ABC's Iwaki Auditorium, and Julian Day's hallucinatory 24-hour piece for the Hobart Town Hall organ.

Having no hard and fast program duration has provided the opportunity to present longer-form works that don't often make it onto the radio. The New Waves back-catalogue also includes a fascinating collection of new chamber operas, including the recent Permission to Speak by Kate Neal & Tamara Saulwick (Chamber Made Opera) and Mary Finsterer's Biographica part 1 and part 2 (Sydney Chamber Opera). And over the past 18 months, the podcast has included performances, of Australian works, by several of Australia's symphony orchestras, including Brett Dean's Pastoral Symphony (SSO); Lisa Illean's Land's End (SSO); Lachlan Skipworth's Clarinet Concerto (WASO); Andrew Aronowicz's Strange Alchemy (MSO); Cathy Milliken's Earth Plays 2,3,4) (ASO) and the Necks' Elemental (ASO).

Projects such as the Song Company's biennial MODART (a biennial composer forum supported by the AMC and ABC Classic FM), the Australian String Quartet's National Composers' Forum, Totally Huge's biennial 'Breaking Out' concerts, and the more recent Soundstream Emerging Composer Forum, Ensemble Offspring Hatched Academy, and Glen Johnston Composition Award events have provided opportunities to get to know new emerging composers and to introduce them and their music to our listeners.

Over the years I've had the pleasure of seeing some of the emerging artists appearing in these events burgeon into significant voices in the new musical landscape. For example, in these MODART interviews you can hear early works and thoughts of composers such as Kate Moore, Lachlan Skipworth, Melody Eotvos, James Rushford, Tristan Coehlo, Leah Barclay, and Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh.

NOW now festival recordings have presented similar opportunities to record emerging improvisers and collaborations. I can still remember the excitement of hearing the very first performance of improvising trio Great Waitress (Laura Altmann, clarinet, Monica Brooks, piano accordion, Magda Mayas, prepared piano) at the Wentworth Falls School of Arts, and an early large-scale gig by the Splinter Orchestra, containing many of today's outstanding improvisers, the vapour-like sounds of the more than 40 players at times obscured by the flickering sounds of Lousie Curham's multiple film projectors in the huge retro function room at the top of the Newtown RSL in 2005.

New ensembles appear, some blossoming for a brief season - Melbourne's Quiver springs to mind - others such as Perth's electro-acoustic chamber ensemble Decibel, developing into mainstays of the national musical culture. Right now, in 2017, it's a particularly exciting time in new Australian music as new ensembles and concert series appear in all kinds of locations around the country.

The diverse music-makers, the audiences, the informal networks and the organisations that support them, the program makers who capture their works and ideas in venues around the country, together form a growing creative community that gives me enormous hope for the future of creative music-making in Australia. I'm proud of the New Waves podcast, and the part it plays in contributing to this complex ecosystem. My only disappointment right now is all the amazing artists whose work I haven't managed to fit into this crazy attempt to sum up the first decade of New Waves. Groups like the wonderful Australian Art Orchestra, Speak Percussion, Clocked Out, Topology, Bolt Ensemble, Plexus, Zephyr Quartet, Syzygy, Kupka's Piano, and any number of other important ensembles and individual musicians who make Australia's new music so rich.

And so the journey continues - waves of sound, waves of thought, of new ensembles, collaborations, presentations, emerging only to disappear again, or to grow into future communities and musics we are yet to imagine.

Further links

New Waves podcast (ABC Classic FM) - main page

AMPlify Indigenous Composer Initiative on New Waves - podcast of the final concert in August, with composer interviews

'ABC Classic FM's Australian music month 2017' - a blog article on Resonate (31 October)


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