AUSTRALIA AD LIB

a Jon Rose project for the ABC in Australia which will run through 2001

The AUSTRALIA AD LIB project will require the intensive research and archiving of the whole tapestry of the aural tradition as practised in contemporary Australia (with a special emphasis to reach country areas).... street musicians, closet archivists, cheap experimentalists, bad copyists, bent RSL, Life Savers & League Club acts, open air speakers with attitude, improvising church organists, environmentally tainted or inspired oddities, computer hackers, gum leaf virtuosos, featurists, Auctioneers, indigenous story tellers, Karaoke star performers, disenfranchised toilet wall philosophers, amateur choirs, 'guitar & organ' shop managers, sound poets, after dinner speakers, etc . Although 'professional' sound artists are not excluded from this project (and I am already aware of many of those), the emphasis will be more on the amateur, the incidental...the obscure sound artist or larikin performer. Past examples would include Alan Lamb's telephone wire recordings; the man in WA who plays spanners stuck in polystyrene boxes; Sarah Hopkin's sonic swimming pool tubes; Lucas's Abela's revolving slabs of concrete; Louis Burdett's 'Incredible Hulk'; Don Mori's washing machine speaker system; Greg Schiemer's Tupper Ware Gamelan; A number of Acts from The former Australian National Rodeo talent contest; The Praxis Chain Saw Quartet; John Whiteoak's 80 year old discovery, Lesley Clark the 'finger music' man; the extraordinary aboriginal women's evangelical choir of the Warburton Arts Project; Bill McCoy's stream of unconscious (and often obscene) sound poetry; The Boomerang Cassette Club of Australia; Ernie Altoff's solar powered music machines; the occasional wonder from Circular Key or the central station underpass in Sydney, etc, etc.

It is envisaged that archive entries could be as short as 5 seconds (eg. a poem) but probably no longer than 10 minutes (eg. environmental recording). There will be no restriction on content and no censorship. Any format will be accepted.... digital sound files to telephone answer machines. The AUSTRALIA AD LIB Archive will contain material recorded primarily in the new millennium, however any material discovered which is of historical interest will be duly documented.

At the The Listening Room will take place the documenting , archiving, and the editing/arranging and re-mastering (to broadcast standard) of the material (with the permission of those involved). The material will then be used in two primary ways:

  1. As an archive resource (probably between 300 and 500 selected entries, also with biographical information) that The Listening Room can use, as, when and how they like.
  2. In a performance from The Eugene Goossens Hall with telephone lines and internet links to the 'artists' and 'authors' in various parts of Australia; with studio performers; accompanied by a string orchestra and interactive Midi 'conducting' controlling samples; and incidental/link music by Jon Rose....in front of a live audience as well as a radio and internet audience. This performance will take place at the end of the residency.
The AUSTRALIA AD LIB project is inspired in part from the seminal book by Melbourne musicologist John Whiteoak, entitled 'Playing Ad Lib' - the history of improvisation in Australia 1830-1975. His premise? Not that there was such a thing called 'improvised music' in the early cultural history of white Australia but that almost all music heard in the theatre, the dance hall, the cinema, the church, the club (i.e. outside of the Symphonic concert), was improvised to a degree....ad libbed, home made, faked up, the larikin performance, and the 'had a go at'. The poet and composer Chris Mann also noted once in one of his pieces... "An Australian is someone who, when asked if they play the piano or not, answers; 'Don't know, never tried.'" My experience of playing in an Italian club band in Sydney in the 1970's was also a paradigm illustrating this kind of notion. With basically an acoustic traditional Italian band (I was the only non 'Italian descent' band member), we backed just about every kind of musical novelty and commercial style imaginable from performances of favourite TV ads, to amateur aria competitions, to topless a go-go nights, to funky soul singers from Los Angeles...all with acoustic violin, mandolin, accordion and drums. Very post modern!

So my basic objectives with AUSTRALIA AD LIB is to find out if such a culture still exists; has it been transformed or does it even thrive within the contemporary framework of Multi Culti Australia? My objectives are questions. Are there unique do-it-yourself artists out there who exist, survive and perform separated from or in parallel to the official cultures? Do the clubs belonging to non Anglo Saxon communities (Lebanese, Serbian, Greek, Vietnamese, etc) witness their own unique or radical performers? Performers who can 'fake up' their own traditional cultures in the 'theme park' culture that is endemic throughout the world. Is the cultural backbone of 'Club Australia' (whether it be RSL, League, Life Savers, Golf, etc) with regard to live music, dying , already dead, or just a former or sleeping parrot? Does the arrival of the Internet and the ubiquitous 'lap top' artist mean that the live performance, with artist and audience in a public space, is also ancient history? Are amateur performers only allowed to do it now in front of the mirror at home? In that case will radio become a growth industry again but this time, as part of the personal digital home entertainment kit? Will the tyranny of distance that made radio so important in this country, make a revival with the new 'distance destroying' mediums? Will the new culture of the computer create more conformity (because so many computer programmes work the same way) or will there be just the same amount of non conformist, do-it-yourself, iconoclasts out there... but doomed to the virtual stage of the internet ? What will constitute entertainment at a social event in a country town of 300 with one golf club? Will the local doctor still stand up (with difficulty), call for the opening piano chord and 'give it a go'? Or will they all go home alone to the perfectly groomed pap of a hollywood movie or their Sony Playstation 2? Is there anything like a vibrant aural tradition of amateur music still alive in Australia outside of the Aboriginal tradition or harmless entertainment for the tourist industry? I believe that the documented content of the AUSTRALIA AD LIB project will provide myself (and others) with a substantial insight into what is going on in unofficial cultural Australia, away from the mainstream. As an artist who creates and uses cultural critique and commentary in all aspects of his work (radiophonic work, live new media performance, books, film and video), AUSTRALIA AD LIB represents a fantastic opportunity to investigate odd ball and alternative cultural practice in this country in the celebration year of Federation. The presentation of AUSTRALIA AD LIB with interactive electronics and an incidental/link string orchestra places the content of the project in the context of the most recent developments of my performance practice.

Since 1991 I have made it a high priority to reintroduce into radio the concept of live, high risk performed 'hšrspiel' in front of an audience (Of course when radio started out, it was all live). It is my view that in the last 40 years, the medium has lost its vitality through too much reliance on safe, clean pre-recorded material. AUSTRALIA AD LIB will be hopefully an exciting if not dangerous experience for performers, studio audience, technicians, and those 30,000 to 50,000 listeners out there in RadioLand and on the internet worldwide.

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