Wednesday, 28 November 2012

25 years of new music

For the past 25 years Tura New Music have been making it their business to turn WA into a hotbed of new music activity. This weekend they celebrate with a series of concerts featuring among others Perth artist Kynan Tan. Tan was born a year after Tura began in 1987 (as Evos music) and is part of the new generation of artists who with the support of Tura are exposing WA audiences to new possibilities in music and sound.
Kynan Tan, photo courtesy Brad Serls.

On Saturday night Tan will perform his laptop piece Multiplicity in a concert alongside Melbourne computer wizard Robin Fox. Tan is a music technology graduate (the new lingo for composer) from the WA Academy of Performing Arts where he was introduced to the interdisciplinary potential of music and visuals. Tan’s decision to focus his practice in this area was cemented by his recent participation in the Australia Council’s JUMP mentorship program with Fox.

“I’ve always been interested in the visual element,” Tan explains. “It’s a natural step with computer technology to change audio signals to visual signals and vice versa. Audiences at concerts are always searching for visual stimulus and this provides a truly immersive effect.”

Tan first saw Fox perform at Tura’s 2007 Totally Huge New Music Festival and was inspired by the way Fox controlled a shimmering green beam of light with the same electrical impulses that were producing the sound. The concert was one of the first Tura events Tan had attended. Three years later Tan was the recipient of the Tura commissioning award and says the organisation has had a huge influence on his development as an artist.

“Receiving the Tura commissioning award forced me to continue to create music after I’d left the university environment. Having someone tell me I was heading in the right direction gave me a huge confidence boost. Tura is a great support, they bring in influential artists like Robin and they provide events where I can showcase what I’m doing.”

Tan is just one of Tura’s success stories in a legacy of music advocacy that has involved countless residencies, tours, festivals and concert series reaching from inner-city Perth to remote regional communities. The networking and stability Tura has provided WA artists as an umbrella organisation has been the envy of the nation.

John Davis, CEO of the Australian Music Centre, shakes his head in bewilderment at how Tura has stayed afloat over the decades. “I don’t know how they do it,” he often says.

 Tura’s celebration concerts continue next week with Decibel ensemble on Monday night, Queensland’s Clocked Out Duo on Wednesday and a jam session on Tuesday at the long-running Club Zho with performances by grassroots artists alongside new music faithfuls Cathie Travers, Lindsay Vickery, Cat Hope and Jonathon Mustard.

Tura Director Tos Mahoney has been cementing the future of Tura with the recent appointment of Annalisa Oxenburgh as general manager and an associate director joining the team in 2014. It’s intriguing to wonder who will be the emerging artists in 25 years and what their music will sound like. No doubt Kynan Tan will still be making music – Tura will make it their business.

See: for more 25th year celebration details

 This article copyright The West Australian 2012.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Happy 80th Birthday Betty Beath!

When I grow up I want to be as stylish and adventurous as Betty Beath.

Earlier this year I met Betty at the Perth airport and couldnt believe how fresh and funky she looked after a seven hour flight from Brisbane. And those fancy buckled shoes! Betty and her husband David were visiting for the launch of Women of Note, where Betty peformed one of her renowned song cycles with images by David.
(Betty playing piano)

They also came for dinner with Ann Carr-Boyd and had great fun meeting Matthew.


Our previous meeting had been several years earlier at Bettys home in Highgate Hill. Her home, like her music, reflects a life sensitised to sound and landscape. The rooms were filled with ornate Indonesian furniture; doors and windows opened wide into the jungle-like garden.

Betty's interest in the natural can be traced to a childhood playing in the bush around the family cane farm in Bundaberg, northern Queensland. When Betty was three her mother decided she should have music lessons and so the piano also became a formative influence.
Actually it seems to me now that my role in music was perhaps a little predetermined by my mother, Betty told me with a smile. I had passed my first exam before I was four and could read music before starting school.

She continued piano through to university level, studying with Frank Hutchens in Sydney and completing her degree at the Queensland Conservatorium. Her first compositions were for piano and voice. I began to feel that I was writing well for the voice and that I had confidence in writing for the piano. Then gradually I had opportunities. Richard Mills had a song cycle Id written, River Songs, and he said to me, Betty, why dont you orchestrate that? I thought, I will, Ill have a go at that. That might have been among the first of my orchestral works for voice and after that I was invited to do some more, and so it went on.

Betty's first contact with Asian cultures came in the fifties, long before the Peter Sculthorpe school was established. Her first husbands occupation took them to a remote Papua New Guinean island in 1953 and the experience left a vivid impression on the young composer.
It opened my eyes to particular colours and sounds, and the experience of being able to live in a remote area. For at least six months I was the only white woman on the island of Abau. I set up my first home there. No piano, but I wrote to my mother: Please send me up my violin!”’

In 1975, after rearing two children, Betty travelled with her second husband, writer and illustrator David Cox, to Indonesia as recipients of a three month South-East Asian Fellowship from the Australia Council.
That completely changed my life. The images that I still retain vividly in my mind are of the dance and the music that I heard it was so enlightening to me.

Betty had not studied composition formally during her degree but in Bali she studied with the renowned musician Tjokorde Agung Mas and it gave a confidence and impetus that has never left.

The gentle Nawang Wulan Guardian of the Earth and Rice (1980) for flute and piano derives its harmony and melody from an Indonesian five-note scale.


 I like [my music] to have a certain impact and drama, but I like it to communicate a feeling, to have warmth, joy or sadness; all those things are important. And simplicity.

Lament for Kosovo (1999) is one of Betty's most popular works and has been performed around the world (in arrangements for string orchestra and mandolin prchestra) including at the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna (2008) to honour the Declaration of Human Rights.

This and many of her other works have been recorded on over forty CDs, mostly on the Jade and Wirripang labels.

 I think that we write from our own time, Betty said. We show just as a painter does whats happening now. We are responding to influences, things that we feel deeply about. Im not working from a completely intellectual level at all I dont care about that but I do care about my work being as professional as I can possibly get it and as good as I can.

Betty continues to compose large-scale works, is an active grandmother and examines for the AMEB.

Im still writing for my time but Im also writing for my age. Im aware that I want to communicate more. I want people to feel more, to experience more from the music; I think music is very healing, I think it has a fundamental value in our lives that is often unrecognised and undervalued.
Bless you Betty!
You can find more information on Betty Beath and other women composers in Australia in Women of Note or


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Perth International Arts Festival - at a glance

The 2013 Perth International Arts Festival program has just been released and we are spoilt this year! Fine music program manager Chris van Tuinen has really landed a hot program. My pick of the classical gigs below:

Top of the list: the world premiere of Philip Glass's Complete Piano Etudes .
Pretty cool that Phillip Glass is coming to present this monumental piece AND that it includes three totally new works commissioned by our festival. It's not often such a big name composer is in town let alone premiering his music. I've only spotted him from a distance, I'm hoping to get a chance to interview him this time :-)
Aussie pianist Sally Whitwell is going to be performing some of the Etudes. Sally is a bit of a young hot thing who has become an overnight star since the runaway success of her 2011 CD of Glass's piano music.
Laurie Anderson also ticks all my boxes - woman composer, edgy contemporary music that crosses into pop and radio. Think Cathie Travers crossed with Gail Priest. Laurie is collaborating (for the first time) with the Kronos string quartet in a new piece of their own devising, what a huge gig.
And of course Threepenny Opera by Berliner Ensemble is going to be hard to beat. Another festival opera (following Elektra earlier this year), what a treat! I didn't get to see the Berliner Ensemble when I was in Europe so I am hoping bubs comes early so I'm able to get out to see them in February!
The theme of darkness and light will be explored in a performance by the St George's Cathedral Consort. They will sing Gesualdo's a capella Tenebrae Responsoria with a special light installation by visual artist Benjamin Bergery.  This gig will sell out for sure, audiences can't get enough of the ethereal acappella and candles thing! And the Consort are singing at an amazing standard at the moment.
I love that lots of these concerts are featuring fresh music by people still alive and writing for our time. It makes the program unrepeatable and precious - we may never get another chance to meet Laurie or Phillip or experience Gesualdo's Tenebrae performed in this way. There is no substitute!
More deets and the rest of the program go to