The New Music Network (NMN) is an energetic collective of Australian ensembles, sound artists and organisations dedicated to the promotion and performance of new music in Australia. Based in Sydney, but with its eyes and ears to Australia and the world, the NMN fosters awareness of contemporary art music, composers and performing artists, and encourages the development of contemporary art music in Australia through public forums, performances and information sharing.
The NMN was formed in February 1995, at the instigation of Marshall McGuire and Daryl Buckley. They formed an association of like-minded artists, ensembles, and organisations to share information and promote new music in New South Wales. McGuire became the first President of the NMN and continued in that role until 2006. Founding members included austraLYSIS, Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA), Synergy Percussion, The Song Company, ELISION Ensemble, The Seymour Group and Sydney Alpha Ensemble.
‘My ensemble austraLYSIS was a founder member of the NMN, espousing its objectives of promotion, collaboration, breadth and openness in new music. The NMN has served brilliantly to bring together musics from composition to improvisation to sound art and electroacoustic work, which otherwise tend to move in separate universes. It has also been a powerful force in promoting awareness of new music, and of the fundamental issues which face its creators and performers, for example, through the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, but also through the strong interface with the ABC.’ – Roger Dean, Artistic Director, austraLYSIS
There are currently 31 full members of the NMN, a collection of ensembles and organisations that represents a range of outstanding Australian sound artists and musicians. They are listed with web links at the end of the article. Amongst the members there are many wonderful instrumentalists, composers and administrators all committed to the cause of new music. It is from this pool of people that the executive committee of the NMN is drawn. The executive committee for 2013 is made up of James Nightingale, Alison Morgan, John Lewis, Madeleine Flynn, Tim Humphrey, Peter Rechniewski, Eugene Ughetti, Vanessa Tomlinson, Joanne Kee and Alex Pozniak. The Manager of the NMN, Philippa Horn, is employed on a part-time basis.
In 1999, the NMN presented the inaugural Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address alongside performances at The Studio, Sydney Opera House. This program was made possible through the assistance of Arts NSW who provided funding for the Address and the position of a part-time Manager from 1999-2002.
From 2003-2013, the commitment of Arts NSW increased significantly, providing Music Program Funding for the establishment of the NMN’s annual concert series in NSW. From 2003-8, the series continued in NSW and the NMN grew, with Halcyon, Ensemble Offspring, Continuum Sax, Electra String Quartet, and Kammer Ensemble, amongst others, becoming involved during this time. Interstate organisations and ensembles soon began to join the NMN, notably About_Aphids Aphids and David Chesworth Ensemble, both based in Victoria. More recently Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, Speak Percussion, Chamber Made Opera, also from Victoria, Topology and Clocked Out from Queensland, Soundstream from South Australia, Decibel from Perth, and Griffyn Ensemble (ACT) have come on board, providing input on a national basis to the NMN.
'NMN has really helped us feel part of a national conversation about new music in Australia. This conversation is impossible to have without the NMN due to the dispersed nature of the practices/practitioners in this large country and structures of funding.' – Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, cross-disciplinary sound artists.
In 2008, the Australia Council also began to support the NMN, firstly through Presentation and Promotion funding and, since 2010, through Music Board Program Funding. The support of the Australia Council enabled the NMN to begin presenting concerts interstate. Needless to say, national expansion has only been possible with the initiative and desire of the growing numbers of members based outside of NSW to present work within the NMN series.
From 2009, the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address has been presented in both Sydney and Melbourne and concerts as part of the New Music Mini Series hosted in Melbourne and Brisbane. By 2011, the series was being presented in five states and territories and in 2012 the NMN series incorporated 38 full and co-presented events nationally, including member collaborations, attracting a total of 6,799 attendees, staging 19 Australian premières and 63 world premières. In 2013, NMN events have taken place in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, in mostly metropolitan venues but also in regional spaces.
The concert series has several important functions. Firstly, for smaller member organisations, presenting work in the same forum as larger organisations (such as Synergy and TaikOz Ltd and The Song Company) is important in building artistic profile. Co-presentation provides administrative and management role models that encourage the professionalisation of the sector. Secondly, the series fosters collaboration between members and enables interstate ventures that are increasingly difficult to fund within the strictures of fragmented and partisan funding bodies. Thirdly, the NMN Concert Series provides a site for the presentation of newly commissioned and created work. Inclusion in the series increases the visibility of world premieres and ensures at least a first performance that may provide documentary recordings and reviews that will assist in bringing the best work into performing arts circles beyond new music.
New music is newly conceived or recently composed, contemporary art-music across a range of musical genres that is not conventionally commercial in character. Some musical genres are new by definition, such as improvisational and experimental genres, while others have a rich history that grows as people create new work (these include but are not limited to styles such as jazz and classical). The members of the NMN consistently challenge musical boundaries and conceive their work as artistic in purpose. Many ensembles include composers amongst their artistic personnel and improvising and experimental musicians are prominent. There has always been new music in Australia and it is the NMN’s job to raise its visibility and encourage its performance.
‘Imagine the night in Paris when people first heard Le Sacre — if at all they managed to hear it! History tells us that the booing, catcalling and general mayhem was such that Nijinski had to shout and stomp from the wings in order to keep the dancers in time. This single 100 year old event (the poor composer didn't bother to hear it out!) is etched in our minds as the quintessential clash between daring, dissonant stridency and middle class expectation of order and harmony, that moment of musical adventure that leaves everyone behind and in doing so changes the course of the world! Not even the premiere of John Cage's 4'33" would match this. For one, 4 minutes is nowhere near long enough to cause this scandal of scale (though some might argue they are the longest four minutes in the repertoire). And the absence of 'music' makes it an almost impossible target of criticism. So these days we have concerts or events of new music, mainly for those perfectly prepared to be surprised, or for those who still yearn to be shocked or secretly wish to be antagonised. Across the world 'new music' plays for small circles of cognoscenti, often people directly involved with the creation of new work and organised through networks that give these activities greater relevance or connect them across borders such as ISCM.’ – Roland Peelman, Artistic Director, The Song Company
The NMN recognises that the value of artistic excellence is regular reassessment and sourcing of new ideas and fresh creative minds. The NMN’s New Music Mini Series is a performer development initiative that ensures vibrant new perspectives are recognised within the sector. Each year two members of the NMN curate the series following a national call for applications. Many participants in the Mini-Series have since become full members of the NMN. The Mini-Series can be seen as a pathway to the next level of ongoing musical creativity and the development of a sustainable artistic practice.
'I have really enjoyed being involved with the New Music Mini Series because it provides an opportunity for emerging artists and ideas to get more involved in the new music scene. The Mini-Series has seen many successful partnerships formed, and given many new groups (here I am thinking of Kupkas Piano) the confidence to go forward. It also provides a platform for individuals that are not non-for-profits (here I am thinking of Adam Simmons or Brigid Burke) to present work on a national platform. The other important initiative from the NMN are the biennial CDs which provide a great overview and documentation of the practice of new music in Australia.' – Vanessa Tomlinson, Artistic Director, Clocked Out.
The partnerships formed by the NMN outside of the network have been important in assisting to present new work. These include ABC Classic FM and its Australian Music Unit, Big Ideas ABC2, ABC Radio National, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Federation Square, Melbourne Recital Centre, and the Australian Music Centre. The NMN will endeavor to build on these relationships and continue to forge new ones in the spirit of fostering audiences for new music in this vibrantly creative field.
The NMN is a quiet organization that does a lot with very little. The mandate from our membership has been to advocate for new music through presentation, letting the music speak for itself. In forming its annual program, the NMN is reliant on the input of the members, who put a great deal of their own time and energy into creating and/or co-presenting the concerts and events. Much of the work that goes into NMN and its events is donated by members — including the commissioning of new work: every new piece presented by the NMN has resulted from fundraising outside of the NMN or created in time donated by the artists.
An important tool for building audiences and fundraising has been the biennial compilation CD of work from the membership. The latest NMN double CD was released in July 2013 and is given away freely to those interested in finding out more of the activities of our members. The NMN is listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations and has Tax-deductible Gift Recipient status, enabling donors to receive a tax deduction for their donations.
The direction of the NMN is driven by its members. Each year a strategic planning day is held to which all members are invited to attend. The future of the NMN will evolve to meet the wishes of its membership and continue to reflect the vibrancy and creativity of Australia’s new music creators.
Thanks to members of the NMN who contributed comments and photographs to this article and to the executive committee for proofreading and suggestions.
James Nightingale. Entered on Knowledge Base 5 March 2014.