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23 March 2020

New Waves reborn

Christopher Sainsbury and James Henry during ABC Classic studio session in December - coming up in <em>New Waves</em> in a Ngarra-Burria program halfway through the year. Image: Christopher Sainsbury and James Henry during ABC Classic studio session in December - coming up in New Waves in a Ngarra-Burria program halfway through the year.  

After a journey, ABC Classic's new music program New Waves is back as podcast, and now also on the radio

2019 was a year of time out, reflection and change. The New Waves podcast had been running continuously, putting out 40 to 50 episodes a year since its inception in late 2007.

Back then, the program was simply 'a piece of music in your pocket' - usually a single music track with a short introduction or interview excerpt, produced as an online supplement to the radio program New Music Up Late (2006-2014). This made the frequency of episodes pretty manageable.

But over the years New Waves expanded, becoming a long-form podcast program, featuring whole concerts, 90-minute monster works (and even one 24-hour work), or montage-like audio walk-throughs of site-specific installations and performances, often including multiple artist interviews.

By the middle of 2019, with 530 episodes behind us (the last 150 or so still available in the online New Waves archive), it was time to take a break. To get off the production treadmill for a while and take stock. And rethink how best to bring new Australian music and artists, and the issues that matter, to as many music lovers as possible.

After a period of internal and external consultation (aided by a temporary position created for Elena Phatak while I took long-service leave), I began a process of reshaping the program, with direction, help and feedback from several ABC Classic colleagues. One of the results of this process was the decision to put New Waves on the radio. Podcasts are a wonderful thing, and have grown exponentially in audience numbers over the past decade. But the reality is that far more people still tune in to the radio. With the exception of rare smash hit podcasts (such as, say, Serial), podcast audiences don't come close to the on-air listenership at any time of day (except, perhaps, in the wee hours of the morning). Podcasts rely on active seekers. The more niche the content, the less likely those active seekers will amount to more than a few thousand. It seemed like time to reshape New Waves in a way that would make it an attractive on-air proposition.

The new-look New Waves we came up with is a shorter, tighter, feature-style program - the focus on the talk, with music used to support and illustrate the conversations. The sound is more heavily produced, meaning that there is now more time, and some engineering support, given to the process of polishing the sound of each program. As it's no longer a weekly program, the broadcast slots will be flexible, designed to support the broadcast of ambitious new recordings, and to enrich significant station-wide events such as International Women's Day, NAIDOC Week, Sydney International Piano Competition, and the annual November Aus Music Month on ABC Radio.

We've also given the program its own theme. A captivating slice of Katia Beaugeais's Breath By Breath for soprano saxophone, recorded for New Waves in 2019. (Listen to the work in full and find out more about it here.)

So now New Waves is back. The program kicked off in February 2020 with a deep dive into issues of gender equality in the company of impressive creative women Liza Lim, Katie Noonan and Alice Chance. In this Episode 1, the artists reflect on career paths and gender, and on the possibilities for a more inclusive and diverse musical future. It went to air as part of the first day of ABC Classic's four-day Festival of Female Composers, with a bonus online-only episode featuring shout-outs that each guest gave to artists that are important to them or that they think are people to watch for.

Episode 2 focuses on Cat Hope's one-hour wordless opera Speechless. In keeping with the tighter radio-feature format, the opera is presented in two parts - a 23-minute talk feature incorporating excerpts of the music - and a separate podcast of the recording of the entire work. The first part went to air as rich content to introduce and contextualise the premiere broadcast of the opera in ABC Classic's Sunday Opera on the final night of the Festival of Female Composers.

Across 2020, we're planning more deep dives into pointy issues. There'll also be some thematic surveys of the Australian music scene around threads such as the impact of birdsong on Australian composers and sound artists, recent creative responses to the importance of our pianos, and the diverse nature of contemporary improvising practice. There'll be artist profiles, and programs that home in on a work or initiative. Plus a few surprising guests from across the art-musical spectrum.

Have a listen online. Or better still, subscribe to the New Waves podcast via the ABC listen app or your podcast feed of choice. See the New Waves website for information and links.

Let us know what you think. And spread the word far and wide with curious listeners and anyone who's passionate or just curious about the artists of right here right now.

> ABC Classic: New Waves


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