Postcard from Australia

Hey, check out this awesome koala I found!
Hey, check out this awesome koala I found!


So it’s been about eight months since I’ve moved to Australia, and now that I’m not feeling particularly rushed to make up for lost time with my dissertation, I’ve had the opportunity to really start to engage in the new music community in Sydney.  Since most of the people who’ll see this post are from the States, I figured that they’d like to get a few samples of Australian new music.

The first thing I have to say about Australia (from the point of view of a foreigner, specifically from the US) is that although we may think of Australia as a culturally uniform place, it has very distinctive cultures from region to region.  Being based out of Sydney, I’m not really in such a great place to talk about the other regions, as the east coast (specifically, Sydney and Melbourne) tends to overshadow the cultural profiles of the rest of the country.  Sadly, my examples are all Sydney/Melbourne composers…so there you go.

First up, Carl Vine.


Carl is a composer who is something of an elder statesman in the Australian scene.  I work for the guy, and he’s really nice (and by, “I work for the guy,” I mean that he and I have desks on the opposite sides of a big, big room).  I honestly wish that we could sit down and talk music, but we haven’t gotten the opportunity.  The piece here, his Percussion Symphony, is colorful, inviting, and seems like a fun piece to play (which is saying something in an “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you!” scene like new music.

What blows my mind about this (and all the other music on this post) is that it has the feeling of being composed outside the influence of minimalism.  I know, that sounds wicked obvious, but think about it, ‘Muricans: minimalism is a big, looming figure in American new music.  You can’t avoid engaging it at some point: you are either part of it, or are reacting to it.  One way or another, you are aware of it, and it influences you.  You don’t feel that same pull down here.

Okay, enough talk, more music.  Next up is Mary Finsterer:


Finsterer is the only Australian composer, living in Australia, whose music I’d heard before coming into the country (shoutouts to Australian diaspora composers Melissa Dunphy, Natalie Williams, and Leah Kardos, all wonderful in their own right, just that they left!). I’d heard her New Wave Fanfare on Pandora months before I moved, and loved it so much that I emailed her when I found out I was coming to Australia.  I wasn’t able to make that work because she teaches in Melbourne, and Sydney is too damn far for me to commute!  Which is heartbreaking, because Finsterer is a master of gesture and texture, and I’ve always been attracted to study with composers with drastically different voices than mine, so that something of theirs can rub off on mine!  She is, far and away, my favorite composer I’ve heard so far!

Next up is Paul Stanhope:


Paul is vaguely connected with where I work, but I’ve never met the guy.  I’ve met his wife, though, and she’s pretty awesome.  So, good on ya, Paul!  I haven’t heard much of his music, but what little I’ve heard makes me wanna hear more, and that’s never a bad thing.

Last up is Damien Ricketson:


I met Damien one day when I wandered into the Sydney Conservatorium where he works, and he was nice to me (and didn’t ask me to install a SSD on his computer, like another composer on faculty did).  I’ve seen him the most out of the composers here, active in his group Ensemble Offspring, who seem to have their finger in every new music pie in town.  Of the composers here, his M. O. strikes me as the most “American”: he’s playing new music in a band, that does shows, to the t-shirt and jeans crowd.  It’s a little taste of home.

Anyway, that’s a little taste of what I’ve been hearing down here in Australia.  I hope to keep hearing more, and as I do, I’ll keep writing these musical postcards from Oz.