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31 July 2007

Perspectives on Postmodernism: David Chisholm

David Chisholm Image: David Chisholm  

Postmodernism – possibly the most used and least understood term in art discourses in the last few decades. Yet while the worlds of literature, architecture, visual arts, philosophy and popular culture have questioned authoritative and patriarchal canonic systems – enabling new forms of critical discourse to emerge, art music has been slow to embrace discussion about postmodernism. This seems odd given that many characteristics of Australian art music since the early ‘80s are typically ‘postmodern’ in nature (e.g. pastiche, quotation, disunity, dismantling of the authentic art/popular culture hierarchy). How do today’s composers, performers and reviewers now understand the term, its history, and its connotations in other fields of culture?

The following interview with David Chisholm is a sample from David Bennett’s forthcoming book Perspectives on Postmodernism: Sampling Australian Composers to be published by the Australian Music Centre. As part of a three-year study of postmodernism in Australian art music (supported by the Australian Research Council and conducted jointly with Linda Kouvaras), Bennett has edited and introduced written responses from 28 Australian composers and sound artists, canvassing their understandings of and attitudes toward modernist and postmodernist music aesthetics, their musical education and development, and the critical reception of their own work.

Promising to be a valuable archive of information about contemporary Australian composers and sound artists, the book will be the first sustained investigation of how ideas about postmodernist and modernist music aesthetics are impacting the new music community.

1.Can you recall when and where you first encountered the term, postmodernism? What associations did it have for you then? What kinds of aesthetic or cultural tendencies did you assume it described?

I was attempting to destabilise the throttle grip of modernist aesthetics through trying to understand the fracture point...David Chisholm: My first encounter with the term postmodernism was in 1988 during the first week of my undergraduate degree at the University of Wollongong. The School of Creative Arts (as it was then named) met as a whole for one compulsory subject, History of Arts, which was a lecture and tutorial subject run by Professor Sue Rowley. Having until that point experienced a fractured, rural New South Wales education, I had no associations with the term postmodernism at all. I had absolutely no idea what it described and did not begin to fully grasp the term until the final year of my degree in 1990.

2. Did the tendencies identified with this concept conflict with how you had been encouraged to think about the aesthetics of composition as a music student? Would you say that you were schooled/trained in ‘modernist’ musical values? If so, how would you define those values?

DC: I had no idea what it described, and the term did not become operational for me until the final year of my degree. I was very open to it from the outset and continue to find the dogmatic reiteration of modernist values annoyingly regressive. I bonded fairly quickly to the genealogical writings of [Michel] Foucault and very much sought to find ways I could mobilise his politico-historical reappraisal strategies into compositional practice. I see now that, following graduation in 1991, I was investigating the idea of genre without fully knowing I was doing it. I can say now that I was attempting to destabilise the throttle grip of modernist aesthetics (which I detested at that point) through trying to understand the fracture point of modernism (which I situated around the 1920s). As I was not trained in modernist values per se, not actively at least, I discovered much of the twentieth-century modernist repertoire through the critical goggles of postmodernity. Values I took up instantly were the performativity of identity that I found in Judith Butler, the rejection of centralised and fixed meanings, which I gleaned from Barthes, Eco and Derrida, and the ‘truth-effects’ of discursive power from Foucault. I approached music writing without the restraints of ‘school’ or the need to have a specific or paradigmatic voice – I had a polystylistic appetite and wished my own creations to reflect this.

3. How about now: has your understanding or usage of the term postmodernism changed over the last ten or so years? If so, in what ways? Do you feel that reviewers or critics in Australia, or elsewhere, now use it differently, that its connotations have changed – for better or worse – over the past decade or so?

DC: My anxiety around it has gone. I very much inhabit the spaces of paradox and contradiction it opened up for me, and I wield them with confidence. I find greater scope now in postcolonial rhetoric – in positioning my investigations into genre – than in the broader expansiveness of the term postmodern. Given that the conditions for new music presentation and employment for composers have so radically diminished in the last ten years, and owing to the invisibility of vocational composition within virtually all presenter organisations outside academia, I feel critical debate and informed discussion around practice has diminished in parallel.

4. Do you agree with Chris Latham, who [formerly represented] Faber and other European publishers in Australia, when he identifies a ‘new generation of artists who are shaking off the hangover of modernism, which left audiences bemused and a little scared of modern music’?

I don‘t think the relationship between composer and audience has ever been the problem. I think it lies in the control that institutions have in the programming of new music...DC: I think Latham’s comment rather simplifies the ecology of composition in Australia, and we must remember that he speaks with the voice of a publishing house, an entity itself very much rooted in modernism (if not in its aesthetics, then at least the economic incentives of musical commodification and market delivery). In the age of self-publishing such institutions themselves are struggling to exist, let alone command or comment on the direction of practice.

There will always be a ‘new generation’ of composers, and I question whether audiences were bemused or scared by modern music. If anything they were angry and disaffected, arguably like so many of the composers themselves. Boulez mentions, in a conversation with Foucault about the cultural insularity of contemporary music, that every ‘circuit’ has its code. There were audiences for modern music when it was ‘new’ and there remain audiences for modern music now that it is solidified into sub-genre. Not exclusively, there are audiences for ‘new’ music regardless of when it is deemed ‘new’. And in all of this I don’t think the relationship between composer and audience has ever been the problem. I think it lies in the control that institutions have in the programming of new music and the mechanics and priority of its presentation.

5. Do you consider ‘postmodern’ a fair description of (any of) your own musical values? If so, in what ways? If not, are there other descriptive terms you would be more inclined to ‘own’?

DC: I wouldn’t shy away from the term, but I really am not sure it fully encompasses my work, but rather influences, informs and positions it. Queer and postcolonial would be terms I am more comfortable with.

6. While there is no shortage of new books with the ‘p-word’ in their title still rolling off the academic presses today, some cultural gatekeepers regard postmodernism as a passé concept, naming a debate whose heyday was in the Eighties, and they insist that the important issues in cultural practice and interpretation go by other names today. Do you agree?

DC: I think that many of the key authors were given license in the ‘80s to platform their ideas and they continue to explore ideas that have their heritage in that period. However, I could not call the term postmodern passé. Certainly, artists and observers will continue to move beyond the strictures and the coinage of that discourse from that period, if for no other reason than to wear the skin of the vanguard (an inherently modern characteristic, let us not forget). Certainly, all cultural theories are developed post facto. However, the term itself sought to delimit culture and was mobilised to dismantle hegemonic control of aesthetics. It is arguably still a work in progress. I do often question whether or not those who, from the outset, never truly sought to align themselves with its principles have most actively dismissed the term. Also, it has equally been misused by practitioners seeking to retroactively assert values in musical composition that are decidedly pre-modern (I’m reminded here of Andreas Huyssen in After the Great Divide: ‘to what extent do such revolts becomes reactionary’). Between resistant modernists and the enthusiasm of the revisionists, there are a handful of practitioners who have been brave enough to reflect on what such a theory might offer as a way forward, rather than how it might be coopted to deliver their personal agenda.

7. From your own perspective as a practitioner, what would you say have been the main trends in music culture, whether nationally and/or internationally, that have influenced your sense of the possibilities and value of art music (and its relation to popular music) during the past ten years or so? Are there specific trends that you regret and resist, and are there others that you welcome and promote?

DC: I really can’t say that I have been that aware, or sought to be aware of trends in music culture, other than to observe, through continued assault, how resistant the institutions that house music are to localised knowledges. There operates still a culture of pedigree (Sculthorpe begat Vine begat etc.) that seems to cloud people’s abilities to acknowledge truly exploratory and inventive work. I love Peter Sculthorpe, he is a truly magical person, but I don’t like all of his music and I don’t want to feel obliged to, simply because he wrote it. I must clarify further that by inventive I don’t mean work that ‘performs’ its inventiveness, for that, too, is half the pedigree certificate, but rather work that ‘belongs’ to itself, work that by the terms established by a specific piece of music, unfolds and explains itself without the need of annotation or license. More so, I am drawn to, and drawn to write, the work that possesses dexterity and stylistic mutability, qualities in transmission that are reflected more frequently in disciplines such as film, painting and literature: works that are the very antithesis of ‘voice’ in composition, propelled as they are by ideas and theories of genre.

8. Do you regard your musical practices (composing/performing/reviewing etc.) as having a calculated ideological or political dimension?

DC: Absolutely. My work is queer and postcolonial, quite consciously.

9. Do you think there is a feminine and a masculine sensibility in composing? Are there other ways in which sexuality significantly influences composition and/or reception of music?

...composition in Australia largely operates under a historically dominant paradigm that is white, male, hetero-normative...DC: I think composition in Australia largely operates under a historically dominant paradigm that is white, male, hetero-normative. I don’t think it is masculine or feminine. It is composition. And it is more craft than art to my mind. The art is the reception of ideas brought about by the mechanics of composition and the muscle of presentation.

10. How would you characterise your relationship with European and American musical traditions and how important to your own musical practices or interests would you say Indigenous Australian and/or ‘regional’ Pacific cultural influences have been?

DC: One of the features of high modernism was the transformation of the nineteenth-century cult figure of the composer into the position of seer or prophet. My ongoing dialogue with French music and French musical figures is a reaction to my schooling in Australia, dominated very much by Anglo and German music. I really only discovered French music in my twenties and was struck by my affinity with its technical and gestural approaches to colour. Selecting an adoptive colonial site such as France has been how I coalesce the influence of postcolonialism and queer. I am faux-French. I don’t really care at all for USA schools and sensibilities. The work I have undertaken in collaboration with Koorie artists has always sought to bring forward my personal postcolonial ideas rather than presume to speak for or through Indigenous voices. To do so would be to continue the colonial project. But, again, I have worked with Koorie actors, dancers, historians, sound artists, but not musicians or composers.

11. In this era of globalisation, is it important for you to reflect or assert a sense of ‘Australianness’ in your work, or do you feel that cultural nationalism is passé or irrelevant to your work?

DC: I hate the parochialism of nationalism. One need only look to Second World War Europe to see how grandly the nineteenth-century nationalist project failed. It feels particularly irrelevant in Australia: a colonial fantasia built between a terranullius Indigenous Australia and an assimilation/folkloric prism/prison for all incoming cultures. National identity produces cultural schizophrenia. Australianness is a flagrant political mask and it triggers in me a violent reaction to those who use it.

12. Caitlin Rowley, reporting on her interviews with five young Australian composers, observed that they were ambivalent about the idea of an ‘Australian sound’ and also that:

Some composers were strongly in favour of a change of terminology, from pop versus classical styles, to pop versus classical contexts or situations. Whatever the reference, there still seems to be an overall distinction between pop music and pop-influenced classical music, albeit with a grey area between the two. (2MBS-FM: Stereo FM Radio 102.5 , January 2000.)

What would you say are the different values and expectations associated with these different contexts or situations? Are they, for example, associated with different kinds of listening? Is there (as the late American composer and musicologist, Jonathan Kramer, argued) a ‘postmodern’ mode of listening?

DC: I think that is an excellent way to describe current practice in terms of modes of listening and contexts or situations. I think that, concurrently, one must look to the proliferation of contexts for popular sub-genres: the multitude of environments that support dance music in all its forms and styles. We must recognise that pop itself is a fractured, splintered beast: pluralist in a way unimaginable even thirty years ago.

15. Have you experienced any epiphanic moments in your musical career that led you to radically re-think your sound world or your compositional approach?

DC: Several. At around 29, when I cut up Stravinsky in a digital domain and finally understood how he had stitched his work together: that was when I broke through on form. Again at 31, when I immersed myself in Messiaen, I nailed modality and gesture. And I would say at 34 I truly mastered my orchestration skills when I worked with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) through the Australian Composers Orchestral Forum. With the TSO, I truly balanced them as a band, which is tricky because their strings are proportionally smaller than the balance of the sections. So I wrote out from the strings and coloured as I needed to. I showed off a lot how far I’d come with form by pioneering the orchestral miniatures that I have noticed several peers go on to explore, themselves. But my signature with the muster-book of the dynamical systems collective was that the form of the work was regardless of the order of the miniatures. I created a set of five movements that successfully function in all of the 120 permutations of performance. Accomplishing that degree of dexterity in form has had terrific ripple-on effects in my work. I hope for a few more epiphanies, as my forms grow larger and larger. I’m almost 36 so I must be due for one soon.

16. In your opinion, to what aspects of your music do reviewers seem to react most strongly? Do you believe that reviewers ‘understand’ your work?

DC: Ironically, I think that I’m at a point where my work is starting to be understood by my peers, while critical response has always been good to my work. I think that the reviewers of my work have invariably understood the position and delivery of my work, which, with limited collegial support until as recently as the last two to three years, has been pivotal in my decision to further pursue my ideas.

17. In your opinion, are there any distinctively ‘postmodernist’ ways in which the roles and interrelationships of the composer, the performer and the listener might have been changing in recent concert music?

DC: I certainly sought to do that with the Melbourne Festival/Chamber Music Australia gig I curated at Federation Square in 2005. I cut through a lot of empty habits simply by placing the composer before an audience as an active listener. I broke a few basic presentation principles, such as black clothing and the audience-must-clap protocols, which to me had no real purpose other than outmoded window-dressing. I think the visibility of the composer at the site of presentation is key to humanising the experience – not the composer’s face as marketing tool, but rather the invitation their presence offers an audience.

19. [American composer/musican] John Zorn has said: ‘My musical world is like a little prism. You look through it and it goes off in a million different directions. Since every genre is the same, all musicians should be equally respected. It doesn't matter if it's jazz, blues, or classical. They're all the same.’ (www.omnology.com/zorn01.htm) Does this correspond with your own view of music, or do you still perceive significant differences, even hierarchies, among genres?

...the visibility of the composer at the site of presentation is key to humanising the experience...DC: I think Zorn speaks well on this, but genre is all about hierarchy/ies in so far as each one is, as Chomsky would say, ‘rule-governed’. They are the same, perhaps, in that they all operate through an ‘appropriate-ness’ principle – here I’m thinking of Anne Freadman, or Gregory Bateson’s ‘frames’ – but the minutiae of the hierarchy within each frame are vastly different from one to the next. Genres are innately hierarchic; rarely is permission given to float freely from one to the next. The gatekeepers of genre greet such artists with the same suspicion that gypsies, as signifiers of the ‘Other’, unfailingly receive.

22. Would you say there is anything distinctively ‘postmodernist’ about the ways that technologies – of sound-production, synthesis, recording, amplification, distortion, broadcasting etc. – are being used in contemporary music?

DC: Only in so far as the proliferation, capacities and affordability of the tools of sound or music production have radically given access to unprecedented numbers of people. The present flood of self-generated music – the consequence of participation in the action of composition such access provides – has the potential for more qualitatively informed listening habits and a potential for a scale of pluralism in music hitherto unheard. We must remember, though, that music has always been linked to technology in this way, an extension of expression through technology, and here I obviously paraphrase [philosopher and educator, Marshall] McLuhan.

24. Are there distinctively ‘postmodernist’ strategies for marketing concert music?

DC: I have seen attempts to engage with some of the tactics of ‘guerrilla’ or ‘ambient’ marketing by independent presenters, but I have never seen anything other than poor attempts on the part of the majors to try and make ‘Classical = Cool’. It isn’t cool: you can’t drink, you can’t smoke and you can’t shoot up at the symphony. That’s part of the code (although I have had cookies at the ballet and can highly recommend it). Marketing as a domain or practice is rooted in late capitalist commodity fetishism, and concert music is largely the continuation of nineteenth-century presentation practice, as is the majority of its repertoire. Putting a violinist on a skateboard diminishes both instruments and deflates the efficacy of the message. The success of a brand or a campaign lies in its conveyance. The failure of new music has been to sell the face of a composer, as if they were an actor, rather than the idea or the name of one. With few exceptions, every composer webpage is a testament to the failure of composers to adapt to the medium, in which music is better served through the distillation of brand rather than a mug-shot of a composer vacantly ignorant of the purpose of their being photographed.

25. One of the ways in which postmodernism in fields such as literature, architecture, philosophy and the visual arts has been understood is as a movement to dismantle – for better or worse – certain oppositions that were fundamental to ‘modern’ thought and art. Would you say this is also true in music in relation to such oppositions as music/noise, melody & harmony/texture and/or rhythm, tonality/atonality, design/chance/‘intuition’, composer/audience?

DC: I believe that cultural theory is, by and large, resisted by a body of practitioners in composition who have a tough time thinking beyond technique. The conservatoires are masked technical colleges and a musicologist engaged beyond modernist practise and ethno-musicological framing is a rare and precious find. I think the collapse of these dialectics is happening at the coalface, but often unconsciously, with many composers following the train of successful grant applications rather than vigorously pursuing ‘dismantling’ as a commencement point for their art.

26. What do you understand to be the main precepts of musical modernism and do you regard them as central or marginal to either compositional practice or music education today?

DC: The deployment of scientific discourse in the service of verifying one mode of practice at the expense of other marginalised idiolects. I don’t consider these modernist precepts central at all, not to my work. But I see that they still very much hold the balance of power in compositional practice and music education.

27. It is an orthodoxy of modernist criticism that ‘high art’ provides some kind of critical reflection – if only an implicit one – on mass culture. Does this correspond, in any degree, to your sense of the differences between concert and popular music?

DC: I am not at all interested in such distinctions as high, low, niche or popular. As Pierre Boulez said: ‘But by God, play! Play! Play! Without that, what infinite secretions of boredom’.

28. In a 1988 New York Times article entitled ‘Hip-Deep in Post-modernism’, Todd Gitlin summarised Fredric Jameson’s influential argument concerning the stylistic eclecticism and pastiche typical of postmodernism thus:

High-consumption capitalism requires a ceaseless transformation in style, a connoisseurship of surface, an emphasis on packaging and reproducibility: post-modernist art echoes the truth that the arts have become auxiliary to sales. In order to adapt, consumers are pried away from traditions, their selves become ‘decentered’… Even ‘life styles’ become commodities to be marketed. In effect, post-modernism expresses the spiritless spirit of a global class linked via borderless mass media with mass culture, omnivorous consumption and easy travel. Their experience denies the continuity of history; they live in a perpetual present garnished by nostalgia binges. … In the global shopping center… local traditions have been swamped by the workings of the market; anything can be bought, and to speak of intrinsic value is mere sentimentality… (Gitlin 1988, p.1 )

Gitlin describes this argument as at once ‘impressive’ and ‘too sweeping’ since ‘it glides over actual artists and the relation between specific experience and artistic choices’. Do you have any responses to offer to Jameson’s generalisations about postmodernism as what he famously termed ‘the cultural logic of late capitalism’?

DC: Only that it largely predates queer’s drive to diminish the discourse of oppression through identity politics. His view of the deployment of ‘nostalgia’ could also be viewed as the first steps in mapping a new role for composition, in the delivery of works that use historical ‘information’ or genre ‘splices’ or quotation to speak a new language. It may be that Jameson, in speaking his anxiety, is seeking to locate the ‘new’ as defined by modernism. Perhaps, then, his analysis itself is nostalgic, unable to see the emergent for what it is, but rather for what it is no longer.


Gitlin, T. 1988, ‘Hip-deep in post-modernism’, New York Times, 6 November, section 7.

Further Links

New Music Uplate with Julian Day - Off the Record: Interview with David Chisholm (www.abc.net.au/classic/newmusic/)

Subjects discussed by this article:

David Bennett has published widely on modernist and postmodernist cultural theory and practice and is the editor of Multicultural States: Rethinking Difference and Identity (1998), Cultural Studies: Pluralism and Theory (1993) and Rhetorics of History: Modernity and Postmodernity (1990). He was the founding Director of the Cultural Studies Program at Melbourne University, where he teaches literary and cultural studies.


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Queer, postcolonial and hetero-normative

If David Chisolm is able to respond to this query, perhaps he could more fully describe the qualities of "queer", "postcolonial" and "hetero-normative" music. I didn't quite pick it up from the article.

Also, as a suggestion to the AMC, perhaps in interviews like this presented on the web, it would be good to include some streaming audio of the composer's work so we can hear examples of the music being described. This would seem to be an advantage of the web-based delivery.

audio samples

audio samples are on their way! We are currently negotiating licenses and will be able to add these gradually over the next month or so - stay tuned!

psycho-palliative sedition (heterolinguistic)

Just finished a hetero-normative tune for my band. Bit worried that it might have a postcolonial edge to it. Might need some work. Its defiantly postmodern however. Flatout.

Going to plant some tomatoes now.

Beam me up.

responsive tomatoes

I have fallen in love with Mundo Jedi. Thank you for your post. I concur with your sentiments heartily, but what's a boy to do when asked questions that require a formal response. Just trying to keep myself within my cultural frame. No apologies here for using apposite terminology. The great thing about language is that much of it is not vernacular. Good to get some of those lesser known terms out of the closet for an airing.

And to Dr Hindson, I promise my response is underway, and thanks too for your post. Just closing a big show here today in Melbourne and will get right back to you by mid-week.

lots of love



Post past the post modernism

A French academic on hearing a piece of new music was heard to say, ‘That’s all very well in practice, but will it work in theory?’

Dear David,

Calling in the French or even the faux French to support your attack on the hierarchical nature of music probably doesn’t help your cause. New music in France has suffered under the baton, dictates and centralised hegemony of Boulez for decades – just ask any French composer who is not in his clique.

One orthodoxy of the last 30 years seems to be the way in which academics struggle to find new postmodern labels – to identify their bit of turf. As for Modernism – wasn’t that re-branded as ‘The New Complexity’ some years ago?

“pastiche, quotation, disunity, dismantling of the authentic art” these techniques have been used by improvising musicians since time immemorial, and by most composers of the western canon too.

Where would an Aboriginal gum leaf player like Roseina Boston fit into your picture of contemporary music? She does all of that Post Modern thing.

Terms like postmodernism don’t really describe what’s going on in the practice of music - “shopping’ might be a more useful term for our late capitalist culture.

… I enjoyed the rave – thanks for taking the time to write it.

for Matthew H

Hello to Matthew Hindson in Sydney from David Chisholm in Melbourne.

Sorry for my delay in responding to your request. While your sought descriptive qualities for queer post-colonial and hetero-normative music, I am afraid my response is bound to disappoint you as I must from the outset state that I deploy the terms queer and post-colonial as frames that support and inform my practise, not necessarily as descriptive terms for the music that is generated by my practise. I had hoped this distinction was clear in my interview, but such are the trappings of language, and such are the reasons why engaging language to describe music at all proves such a dissatisfactory medium.

Speaking of music at all in words must be acknowledged as a sort of translation, certainly at the very least as the creation of a secondary source. When invited to comment on my practise as being possessed of an ideological or political dimension then, I felt compelled to speak of it as queer and post-colonial ( I say felt since in the last year I have fallen under the lustre of anthropologists Marc Augé’s term supermodernity and it’s speculations and premises – while the vestiges of these prior terms remain at the core of my practice).

But I digress.

To shed some light on post-colonialism, I mean that the philosophical investigations into the cultural dilemmas of developing a national identity in the wake of colonialism. In practical terms (meaning in practice) this includes the creation of certain parameters that determining subject matter – in several of my works I imagine displaced colonial heritages. My interest in French music and the many homage works I have written over the past few years are an attempt to create a simulacra canon of works, under the whimsical notion of what might have musically happened to Australia were it a French not English Colony. My choice to go down this. granted, peculiar path has nonetheless provided me a with a rich treasure trove of musical literature which was often thought of as lesser than Anglo, Italian and German music in many of the Australian conservatoria. This adoptive antecedence in my practise though has lead me to write a lot for Harp to give but one example. Irony is a key tenet of postmodernism of course, but my preference is to go further than cheap tricks. Much of French Modernism was deeply engaged with mythological reassertion, often played out as occidental fantasia on the canvas of the South-Pacific region. The speaking-back to colonial centre (albeit a displaced colonial centre) is a key strain in the writings of authors like Giyatri Spivak and Edward Said – particularly in his Orientalism – and I find similar resonances in Jean Baudrillard’s writings on alterity – that is on “the other”. Australians in London are still sociologically second rate, but Australians in Paris have an exoticism which frankly I find a lot more interesting to engage with. I would much prefer to be an exotic, an “other” than a lesser. And this may have something to do with how I have been socialised a gay man, which is why I use the term queer.

Queer is a term widely used in the critique of identity, which I’m sure you’re aware is a branch of theory in its own right. One of the attractive directives of Queer is that it refuses to consolidate or stabilize itself, opting rather to maintain a position of perpetual investigation into the nature, position, violence and power at the centre of Identity Politics. Its refusal to take a specific position - read “voice” within a compositional context - is adjunct to, and informed by the characteristics of post-structuralism.

As a Queer Australian composer, my practise cannot help but be framed by such terms. They predicate much of whom I choose to work with, what I write about, and how I present my work. A key aspect of intertextuality (I’m thinking here of Julia Kristeva) is in the transfer of structures and systems across discipline and practise. I can no more say my music is one thing or another, but I am certain that the frames that I build and borrow certainly support its claim to be thus read. The music itself, is inevitably contextualised within these frames, even though I fundamentally believe that music is (to paraphrase Baudrillard) is an impossible exchange. It is music, and I said, to speak of it, to write of it, is to enter a mode of translation and distortion.

To finally address your question regarding heteronormative, I was responding to a question that asked me whether composition was innately masculine or feminine. And then as to whether sexuality significantly influences composition and/or reception of music.

A very good queer theory question in fact, since one of its principle positions it to reject biological and gender essentialism, but my answer does require some clarification, I see now that I have conflated the two questions rather than addressing hen separately or consecutively.

In recent article by Ann Boyd in Intercultural Music: Creation and Interpretation she describes her own journey through a male-dominated sector, one can see clearly how women composers were viewed by most of their male peers as lesser until very recently - and I don’t for a moment believe this situation at all solved. This “otherness” is still being played out, if not overtly, then implicitly, which is far more sinister. I hang out with the girls a lot, and I know that they have a much tougher time than the boys – although lets face it, financially, it’s tough all over. While I know there are several prominent composers who are gay or lesbian, they don’t necessarily present their sexuality as a frame to view their music, because they quite rightly fear that their music be forced to “perform” itself in the way that any composer who happens to be a woman or black or whatever need insert their gender or ethnicity as both suffix and trope to the term composer. Why do we see the term “women” composers? Or why are certain composers subtly coerced into performing their ethnicity within Australian compositional practise? Because to be a composer sadly still implies a certain gender, race institutional gender that requires a suffix in order to clarify itself. Queer Theorist Michael Turner coined the term Heteronormativity in the early 90’s to my memory, as a way of describing practises that normalise privilege and prejudice based on gender or sexuality.

My use of this term then was not to describe the music itself but again, the frames that support and inform practise and reception.

I hope this lends some insight into the use of my terms. I do apologise for my delay in responding. My epic song cycle The Beginning and the End of the Snow closed here at the weekend and I have been recording and editing that all week.

I have two installation projects at the Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington from August 23 with Berlin/Melbourne Visual Artists Natashca Stellmach and Boris Eldagsen. I will be in Sydney for several days around that time and if you are at all interested and available I would be more than happy to meet up and discuss this further. I daresay much of what I have written may not be directly relevant to your inquiry but I do hope it demonstrates my willingness to take such questions seriously and my eagerness for forums like resonate to work in precisely this sort of way.

Best wishes


a rose by every other name

Thanks Jon for your post,

My experience with many French composers cearly supports your comments on what I call the long shadow of Boulez.

In my response to Mathhew Hindson's questions I have also mentioned part of why I have gone down the french path. I am interested in simulacra.

I'm certainly no disciple of any particular school. As my dear friend choreographer Phillip Adams says of dance "it's just steps". So too for me, it's just notes.

But i dearly love to discuss what it all might be. Not that I think there can be a definitive answer. Music is best best when it is music. But people will ask one questions.

Again thanks for you post, I'm happy to say I'm a big fan of your work



the parrallel universe

Jesus H. Christ.

Now David, if you could just solve the little problem of cancer we would all be so grateful.

Run along now. Thats a good boy.

Beam me up.



may the force be with you