04: May 2014

30 years ago, Linsey Pollak founded the Perth Ethnic Music Centre in the little town hall in North Perth. It was imitated, with variations, in other states: Brisbane Ethnic Music and Arts Centre, Café Carnivale, The Boite, Multicultural Arts Victoria, Nexus. Some years ago, the Perth organisation was renamed Kulcha and moved to Freo.

To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, the WA government has totally cancelled its funding and Kulcha has closed.

WA has also cut funding to education with the result that the Instrumental Music School has had to reduce the number of schools in which it gives lessons. Since in order to get its services, schools have to have a classroom music program, we can expect that the number of schools with classroom music also will drop.

How is it that the WA government could afford to support these programs before the current giant mining boom, and now cannot or will not? How is it that the mining companies get vastly richer, and the state gets poorer?

Are WA voters asking these questions?

The last time a government tried to cut back (as in seriously hack, not just slowly strangle) ABC Classic FM radio was when Richard Alston was Minister for Communications about ten years ago. Alston proposed that Classic FM could just broadcast commercial discs for $2 million a year, instead of doing all that other stuff for an extra $6 million. That other stuff is broadcasting and recording live music concerts, usually with Australian performers, often with Australian compositions.

Now it is rumoured that the game is on again with the Abbott government’s efficiency review of the ABC. No-one knows what the review will recommend – fertile ground for paranoia – but there could be a re-run.

The first problem with this bean-counter plan is that the ABC is one way or another responsible for the production of many of the discs that it broadcasts. So if it isn’t making the recordings, the supply will decline and it will have to broadcast more and more foreign discs. What policy objective does that serve?

The other is that its Charter says clearly that the ABC is responsible for supporting Australian culture. In the classical and jazz music world, a lot of the work of Australian performers only reaches a public via ABC broadcast of live performances. It is not commercially viable to market recordings of many of these performances.

Uh-huh, say the bean-counters. Just what we thought.

No no no. Commercial profit is not the only measure of success. The ABC has not failed if it does not produce profitable recordings. It it did compete with the commercial sector in this way, the bean-counters would find this another cause for complaint. It is there to produce things of cultural value that cost more than “the market” will pay.

ABC Classic FM is probably the main, perhaps only, Australian source of skill and experience in recording symphony orchestras. It can record them not only for broadcast but also for commercial release. Given that governments already pump $70m into orchestral subsidies, the small amount of additional funds to get them to a national audience would seem to be worthwhile, even through bean-counter eyes.

At TedX Sydney (the largest TedX event in the world, we were told), singer-songwriter Megan Washington came out. In a talk before she performed, Megan came out as a stutterer.

She stuttered to an audience of 2,300 for ten minutes. That surely is a very courageous thing for a public performer to do.

We heard about some of the special perils in the stutterer’s world. Apparently, “st” is particularly difficult. The piano player in Megan’s band is named Steve. She used to introduce the band members, as one does, and there would be a special moment of dread when Steve’s name approached: sss-sssssss-sssssssteve. They agreed to slip past it; she calls him “Sseve”.

Her singing is totally unaffected. When singing, Megan is completely in charge. In fact, she can speak without stuttering by using a sort of melodic speech. It sounded fine to us – rather nice in fact, but she feels that it’s a bit inauthentic and prefers to go with the stutter.

Reminiscent of a similar phenomenon with stroke victims.

The Black Arm Band led off the TedX program. The organisation “interrogates and promotes contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture” through a variety of productions. This one, called dirtsong, is performed by a band of seven.

What an interesting group. The performance was led by two indigenous woman singers, Emma Donovan and Deline Briscoe, both of them splendid, skilled, passionate. We recognised on stage genius drummer Greg Sheehan, international virtuoso recorder player Genevieve Lacey, composer Iain Grandage on cello and piano, and Nigel Maclean on electric violin. The musicians were named neither in the program nor on the Arm Band website, which seems a discourtesy. Maybe TedX didn’t really know what it had there and Arm Band is just being modest.

Tjupurru was playing his own invention, a “didgeribone”, a sort of a combination of didg and trombone, with a pedal effects board and a contact mike in his mouth! Genevieve played a tall black instrument that looked a bit like a chimney with buttons; it’s called a Paetzold contrabass recorder, a modern German reinvention of a renaissance instrument.

We are getting hold of the recordings.

Also on at TedX, singer Lior and composer/conductor Nigel Westlake. Lior sang a song unaccompanied and they both spoke about their collaboration in writing and performing the wonderful set of songs with orchestral accompaniment, called Compassion.

Then we saw and heard a video of the Sydney Symphony performing that song, which was from Compassion, recorded in the very hall of the Opera House in which we were sitting.

The recording sounded nothing like the live performance. It was totally inferior.

Why, in this day and age in that space, could we not hear a high fidelity reproduction of the live performance? Instead, bass like World War 3, swamping everything else.

Our guess is that it has to do with the sound engineers for the event. So much now depends on the people in charge of recording and amplification and too many of them seem to be musically clueless.

Something ought to be done! Yes!!!

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