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31 March 2017

AMPlify ICI workshop: 'Looking forward to seeing where this music goes'

AMPlify ICI workshop: 'Looking forward to seeing where this music goes'

The first workshop of the AMPlify Indigenous Composer Initiative took place at Eora College, Sydney, in March 2017, with participants having a chance to hear their works-in-progress realised live by musicians from Ensemble Offspring. Works by Elizabeth Sheppard, Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, and Rhyan Clapham incorporate elements of language and landscape, with differing narratives driving the musical thinking. In contrast, Tim Gray's piece depicts scenes from an imaginary horror movie, very effectively rendered. Ensemble Offspring provided the participants with great feedback, offering their extensive knowledge and experience in fine collaborative spirit. One of the workshop's two facilitators, Chris Sainsbury, reports.

There was a mixture of both anticipation and measured reserve expressed by the participants in the first Indigenous Composer Initiative workshop with Ensemble Offspring. It was, after all, an extension of something they are wholly engaged with already as Aboriginal musicians - the articulation of their culture. Having noted that, it must also be stated that each and every artist was inspired by the end of the day, by the ensemble's encouragement, as well as input by workshop participants, by guest Aboriginal speakers - and, of course, from hearing their works played.

AMPlify ICI participants (from the left in front): Kevin Hunt, Elizabeth Sheppard,
Tim Gray, Rhyan Clapham, Fred Copperwaite, Brenda Gifford, Clint Bracknell,
Chris Sainsbury. Back row: Troy Russell (left) and John Davis.
Click for a larger view.

I feel that none of the participants were trying to be something they are not through their music. For instance, nobody strove for originality for its own sake, or to be different. Rather, it felt like something authentic was unfolding with each composer, in a natural way. Maybe this was due to the cultural context of the ICI, or the knowing belonging these artists feel within their respective communities. Maybe it was due to blackfella honesty - which is surefooted and uncomplicated. It could have been due to many things, I suppose.

A highlight was hearing Troy Russell's Nucoorilma (Apple Tree), and the story informing the rhythmic conception and melodic lines of this piece - a journey his great-grandmother took by foot through her country, to do with marriage yet with the old practices inherent. This was early twentieth century NSW, which places such cultural practice, and the extension of that in living memory into the arena of listeners.

Another highlight was hearing two Aboriginal artists elaborate upon their thoughts of working in the performing arts as Aboriginal people. Fred Copperwaite of Moogahlin Performing Arts Redfern (Australia's foremost avant-garde Aboriginal performing arts company) and Dr Clint Bracknell (Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology/Contemporary Music at Sydney University, and composer) gave both advice and a renewed sense of cultural obligation to the participants. It was a most welcome offering that effectively underpins all that we are engaged in (each and everyone, from the participants to the ensemble members) throughout this project.

It was great to also meet at Eora College for the workshop. The College community are valued partners in the Indigenous Composer Initiative, placing the whole project in an Aboriginal community context, centred around Redfern. I am thankful to John Davis and the Australian Music Centre, to APRA, to Eora College, to my co-facilitator Kevin Hunt, to Clint Bracknell, to Moogahlin Performing Arts (Lily Shearer, Ally Murphy-Oates, Lizamare Syron and Fred Copperwaite), to the ANU, to Ensemble Offspring and most of all to the participants.

Ensemble Offspring and AMPlify ICI participants workshopping at Eora college, Sydney.
Click for a larger view.

[Updated 3 April - more participants' comments added.]

When it was my turn, I was so enraptured by the performers' skills (including Rhyan's expert drumming), that I took a while to focus objectively on tempi, technique, dynamics and ensemble balance. Shepherded over this hurdle by encouraging comments, my confidence in contributing to the creative exchange of workshopping grew. Yoora Tattoo is full of layered thematic development that illustrates the clash of colonial and Indigenous cultures. I learned about clarifying solo themes against a percussive background, adding interest with rhythmic and dynamic contrast and silences, and shaping musical tension. (Elizabeth Sheppard, participating artist)

I found the day inspiring, to be in a room with other blackfella composers was great. To have my work played to me by Ensemble Offspring was a highlight, they are such great musicians. Their ideas and feedback gave me a lot to think about. It was great to get a chance to hear other people's compositions. Having Chris and Kevin to guide us through was wonderful. I hope to develop my idea of a South Coast songline, next stop, winter. (Brenda Gifford, participating artist)

The Indigenous Composers Initiative is a fantastic chance to add some vital voices to the conversation, and I'm so thankful I have this opportunity to improve myself as a musician. Hearing Ensemble Offspring play my piece in its early stages was inspiring, and plenty motivation for me to hand them my best work! (Rhyan Clapham, participating artist)

The players are very professional and proficient and they are very good to work with [...]I am interested in and looking forward to the recording process and I am also looking forward to seeing where this music goes and how far I can take composing music. It wouldn't be possible without Kevin, Chris and John, so thanks for doing that. If we can collaborate in the future on projects like this, that'd be great. (Troy Russell, participating artist)

What a great privilege and pleasure to attend and witness this workshop day, hear these works, and, more importantly, hear the stories that inspired them. We're all greatly looking forward to the next phase of the project later in the year: the recording of the works at ANU in Canberra, and the public performance in Sydney. (John Davis, AMC)

Further links

AMPlify Indigenous Composer Initiative - information about the program and participating artists

'AMPlify Indigenous Composer Initiative in full swing' - an article on Resonate (13 December 2016)


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