Happy holidays everyone! We’ve been meaning to post an update for a while about what we’ve been up to over the last few months so here it is, just in time for the new year.
After returning to Melbourne after our tour earlier this year we were still buzzing. Learning more about the arts of South-East Asia and having the opportunity to meet so many people and explore heaps of cool places left us wanting more. Arts events and communities across the region seem to have a certain indescribable energy and momentum behind them that we found really refreshing. Throughout the process, we also felt we developed a lot and gained a fresh perspective on our artistic practice that provided a lot of inspiration for our future projects and plans. Therefore, we decided that our best course of action would be to go back, get started with planning some projects and explore the region to its full potential!
So after a bit of planning, we left Melbourne in September and headed to Ho Chi Minh City. Da, who is a performance artist that we met during our tour, had invited us to collaborate with him in a show he was presenting so shortly after our arrival we were performing again. The theme of this performance was ambiguity - ambiguity in the meaning of the gestures, in the role of the performers and in the role of audience - to highlight the crucial element of interpretation in the performing arts. The aim was to give all audience members a different interpretative experience, an aim heightened by the unconventional seating arrangement. Da is a fantastic artist with seemingly infinite ideas and we really enjoyed working with him again as well as two local musicians, Au Bao Ngan and Nam Phan. You can check out a brief sample of the performance below!
After our brief stop in Saigon, we headed north for Hue. It was great to be back in Hue and to reconnect with the people we met there during our tour. We had discussed working on a film project together before our arrival so once we arrived we dived straight into it. The film was set in Ho Thuy Tien, an abandoned water park up a hill just outside Hue, and features poetry and a range performance art pieces inspired by the haunting setting, examining loss of innocence and abandonment. After a few days of an intense filming schedule, the first draft of the editing and soundtrack was finished with just 15 minutes to spare before the film’s premiere screening at Then Cafe! Performing in a film and creating a soundtrack were new experiences for us and it was a great learning curve and fun process. The final editing is still in process and we look forward to sharing the completed product in the future.
After wrapping things up in Vietnam, next on the agenda was a performance in Taiwan for the 2016 Taipei Free Art Fair. We were really excited to have our performance proposal accepted for the fair and to visit Taipei for the first time. But first we made a stop in Thailand to work on our performance concept and gather all the materials we would need. The theme of the fair was the relationship between food and art so we decided to present a performance using kitchen utensils, plates, our saxophone mouthpieces and some hoses, juxtaposed against a constantly ticking kitchen timer that comes in and out of focus. We headed to the hardware store to get everything we needed and had a lot of fun trying the potential of different items in the store.
Shortly after, we headed to Taipei for the fair. The event as a whole was fantastic - there were so many interesting works on display from artists mostly from Taiwan and around Asia. It took place within the Huashan 1914 Creative Park, a large factory complex that has been refurbished and is now a dedicated space for the arts and cultural events. We stayed in Taipei for about a week and every day that we visited the park there were a variety of cool events on - definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in Taipei. We performed twice in the fair and mostly it went really well aside from a small incident in which Matt hit a glass jar a little too enthusiastically causing it to shatter. But maybe that added to the performance? Anyway, it was a really interesting experience for us and we hope to return to the fair in the future! Below is a sample of our performance.
After Taipei, we headed back to Hue for about a month. As you may know, Hue is somewhat notorious for its rainy season but we really underestimated just how much it rains! At one point, it rained for 5 days with no break at all. Then even when the rain let up, it was usually only for an hour or two before it started again. With the constant rain, we spent a lot of time inside working on a film/sound project which we are hoping to finish up soon. It was also great to stay in Hue for a longer amount of time so that we could spend plenty of time hanging out with some of our friends there. Our friends have a new dog, Rom, so that was probably a highlight for us! We’ll be back in Hue soon for sure just to see him.
Now, with a few days left of 2016, we are in Bangkok where thankfully the sun is shining. We’ve got some really exciting plans in the works for 2017 which we look forward to sharing in the coming weeks and months!
Manila was next on our agenda, and we were pumped to be working with Green Papaya, who've been around since 2000. They've got some amazing things planned for the coming years so if you're in Manila and need a hit of contemporary arts, look them up! They work with all art forms, put on exhibitions and concerts, host meetings, have a massive network worldwide and are genuinely awesome people. They'll be wrapping up their activities in 2020 though so you'd better get on it quick!
Our schedule was packed with nights out to see local bands, market trips and meetings. Especially interesting was a trip to the musicology department of the University of the Philippines. They have a huge selection of traditional instruments that are available for the students to play and they're encouraged to make use of them. The department is actively preserving and recording sounds from across the Philippines and they have a massive archive of recordings of traditional music. They're also excited to keep the traditions alive and many musicians write contemporary works for the instruments, or incorporate them into more experimental and electronic music. With the sounds being used so widely they're very much a part of the psyche of the sound artists there which was amazing to see.
We were also taken to explore the city and learnt more about the history of Manila and saw the different areas. We ate too much Chinese food, watched creepy videos and checked out some local art.
Obviously food was well and truly on the agenda as well and we tried our best to eat every Filipino treat we could find. We also tested out Manila's colourful public transport network.
In our concert we performed alongside a bunch of local artists and even put together a cool collaboration. We worked with Teresa Barrozo, a local composer and sound artist who made some cool sounds manipulating a radio and Joee Mejias who provided some awesome live visuals for our performance. The whole concert was documented so we'll be sharing more details soon!
We had so much fun that we've already started making plans to go back. The artistic community is so vibrant and welcoming and we're really looking forward to delving deeper into their scene in the future!
After Manila, we had a horrendously early morning flight into Vientiane, Laos. We were only there for one night before getting a bus to Luang Prabang. People promised spectacular views that made the 10-hour drive worth it, but in our case it was a gruelling 12 hours and not worth it! The most fun part was where the bus broke down in a mountain village and we got to go out in the fresh air and take some photos.
Not the worst place to be stranded!
We then arrived in Luang Prabang where we were working with Music for Everyone School again - the same organisation that operates in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We performed for the music students before running a few workshops and lessons.
Music for Everyone school always welcomes travelling musicians to come volunteer to give lessons and workshops, and the kids are mostly very willing to perform their songs for you! It's a fantastic organisation to get behind as all the lessons are provided to students for free.
We then flew into Bangkok, excited as always to be back. We had a bit of a hiccup with our arrival though - our well-meaning AirBnB host dropped Ali's alto on the ground which rendered it unplayable. Luckily we got onto an excellent technician who came to our apartment and fixed it perfectly, and was also happy to have a look at Matt's alto which had been playing up.
All was well by the night of the concert, where we were working with Cho Why, a new arts space in Bangkok's Chinatown. They take applications for people needing a space to perform, and regularly have cool things happening from exhibitions to music to dance, so if you're in Bangkok check them out!
It seemed like we'd only just started the tour when we'd already reached our final destination of Brunei. The wonderful Brunei Music Society hosted us and made sure we were well-fed and looked after. We also actually had time to check out some tourist sites!
The famous water village. You can see both the old houses and the nice new government-built ones - quite a juxtaposition.
For any performance in Brunei, regardless of whether the performers are foreign or local, you need to obtain a permit and then attend a meeting with the "censorship board" where you discuss what the event is, what clothes the performers will wear and various other logistics. However, a few weeks before we arrived in Brunei, the government decided to start cracking down on a long-standing but rarely enforced rule of not allowing any performances by foreigners in Brunei so our permit was rejected! This could have been disastrous but we were extremely fortunate that the Australian High Commissioner of Brunei agreed to host us for an invitation-only performance at his residence!
We had no idea what to expect but the concert turned out to be a huge success! We had a big crowd, there was free-flowing beer and wine (a rare occurrence in dry Brunei!) and we enjoyed chatting with everyone after the performance, from local musicians to high-ranking diplomats from around the world. We're extremely grateful to both the Australian High Commission for their support and the Brunei Music Society who organised everything and made our stay in Brunei really fun and memorable!
It was a great way to end our trip and we're so grateful to everyone who helped! But all good (and at times stressful) things must come to an end eventually.
A visit at the end of our trip to the spectacular six-star Empire Hotel. The photos really don't do it justice!
While it's the end of our tour it's certainly not the end of our projects in South-East Asia! We'll be posting a bit of a wrap-up of our tour soon with some conclusions and some more general information about the logistics in the hopes of providing some useful information for any musicians or artists who may consider pursuing artistic opportunities in the region in the future. In the meantime, we're off to enjoy our last day of warm weather before we head back to wintry Melbourne tomorrow night. Keep posted!
After Vietnam it was time to get the bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the only form of transport is tuk-tuk, no matter how many bags and fragile instruments you have.
For those wondering about the logistics of travelling with two suitcases and four saxophones, the problem is not with the airlines! We had zero trouble taking three of the four horns onto the plane every time, and the fourth horn was always safe under the plane. No, the problem was always the tiny taxis, or in some cases, lack of any taxis...
Our concert in Phnom Penh was with Bophana, an audio-visual resource centre that has a huge catalogue of films and music by local artists. After the concert we had a nice relaxed reception where we chatted with the audience, many of whom were musicians themselves.
With only a day to sound-check, rehearse and perform, we were in a bit of a rush and glad to move on to the small relaxed town of Siem Reap...although it wasn't nearly as small as when we were there last time!
For our Siem Reap concert we were performing as part of a twice-yearly festival run by Music for Everyone School, which is a fantastic organisation offering free music lessons to disadvantaged local children. If you are ever in Siem Reap, they are always looking for travelling musicians to volunteer a bit of their time to teach the kids so check it out! The head of the school is a really nice guy who is very passionate about contributing to his local community and we also met an American who was volunteering there for a while. The performance started with some local kids doing traditional Khmer dance which was really cool to see. By the time it got dark, the noise had attracted kids from the whole area and people were almost spilling onto the street trying to listen. A lot of the audience had never heard the kind of music we play before but it seemed as though they appreciated the chance to hear something new!
Next up was a brief and busy 24-hour stop on Bangkok whilst we waited for a connecting flight to Yangon. We were really excited to be on the way to Myanmar, which was one of the few countries in the region we hadn't been to.
We went to Myanmar with no expectations and didn't really look anything up prior to arriving, so we had no idea what we were in for. But Yangon was amazing! The old colonial architecture has been completely left to the weather, so there were little English cottages hidden in rainforest on the way to the city, and the city itself was a mix of glorious restored old buildings and more dilapidated but brightly coloured ones. The food was fantastic and the whole city had a really cool vibe - quite unlike anywhere else in SE Asia.
Most streets were so busy (and the traffic so crazy) that we couldn't really get our own photos, but here's a few courtesy of the internet.
Definitely a highlight was a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda. It's thought to be the oldest Buddhist temple in the world, and is an impressive 99m high. The whole thing is covered in gold, has almost 8,000 diamonds and rubies on it and has a 76 carat diamond at the top. It's well known that there is a crazy amount of gold in this thing (between 9 and 60 tonnes depending on what you read) but it's hard to measure as gold is being constantly added - you can even buy a gold leaf outside the temple to donate to the cause.
Stunning pagoda, by day and night.
Our concert was at River Gallery, which showcases beautiful local art. It was a great place to perform and it seemed like the music was particularly well-received!
Then we were off to Jakarta to join the faculty for the Yayasan International Summer Music Festival. The Yayasan school is very active in classical music in the region and organises a wide range of events. The faculty for this festival were all foreign artists, mostly from Australia, which allowed for a very interesting learning experience for the students.
We mostly taught chamber groups and large ensembles, and gave them an introduction to contemporary techniques, graphic notation and improvising. They were particularly interested in looking at some of our scores! We also gave a seminar where we performed for the students and discussed the music we play in detail.
And if at the end of the day you still had some energy, you could climb aboard this weird party tuk-tuk that was doing laps of our hotel at night for the whole time we were in Jakarta.
At the end of the festival, there was a final gala concert, a massive event starting at 3pm and ending at around 9pm, to showcase what all of the students had worked on throughout the festival as well as the staff.
We knew the tour had been running a bit too smoothly, so it was about time that disaster struck. We had been preparing for the gala concert performance but the day before we were asked if we could present something that was only 2 minutes in length, or not play at all as they realised that a six hour concert might be a little long for most people! Since we didn't have anything that short, we declined to play, but it was a bit of a shame! By the time we woke up on the day of the gala however, we saw an email saying that the performance was actually over an hour away and that the bus from the school had already left. As the location of the gala concert had not been communicated in advance, we couldn't get there and had to miss out. It would have been nice to hear the end product of all the work the student's had been doing over the week but we enjoyed introducing them to new ways of making music nonetheless.
And with that, the tour was half over! At this point it feels like a lifestyle rather than a trip away from home!
This post is a little later than expected as we've been struggling through several places with slow internet which makes uploading pictures a little difficult. But here is an update about the first few places we visited - more to come soon!
So in late May we arrived in Malaysia pumped to be on tour and back in Asia, and did all the shopping and eating that Kuala Lumpur demands.
On our way to the concert our very excitable taxi driver gave us a run-down on Malaysian pop music and radio stations, kept asking us if our concert was in a stadium and wanted to buy our non-existent CD. Even though it was obviously a misunderstanding, it was funny to be treated like a celebrity, even if the driver was clearly hoping we could introduce her to other celebrities.
Of course if was great to be working with Toccata Studios again. Their space is perfect for contemporary music and they run so many amazing programs. If you're ever in Kuala Lumpur, definitely check them out! Our concert went off without a hitch, and afterwards, like last time we performed there, we got a chance to meet some local saxophone students which is always a pleasure.
After that we had a short stop in Da Nang in central Vietnam. Sorry to rub it in Australia, but it was HOT.
After Da Nang it was off to Hue. Even though we've explored Vietnam a reasonable amount we'd never made it to Hue before and were keen to get stuck into the Hue specialty food which is popular throughout the country.
Almost as soon as we arrived, we made a trip into the old city to check out Then Cafe, the art space/cafe we would be working with. In Vietnam, it's not possible to register an arts space as a business (because reasons?) so all the creative spaces need to double as other businesses - usually cafes.
The first stop with our new artist friends was to gorge on seafood which is obviously a universally popular pastime. This involved riding on the back of motorbikes which we hadn't done in Vietnam before due to fear of certain death but we got used to it pretty quickly.
We went to this big lagoon a bit out of the city where you can get a small fishing boat out to a number of precarious-looking fishing shacks that double as restaurants. Whilst at first we were a little worried about falling through the floor of the shack, the food was fantastic and it was really nice to relax there for a while!
Our lunch spot for the day.
Next up was the citadel in the old city, an old palace which is gradually being restored. Our friends got around the expensive entrance fee by saying they were delivering some art works to their friend who has a shop inside, which was hilarious. The citadel is a huge expanse of old buildings surrounded by hundreds of delicious fruit trees, which we obviously raided.
It's okay, he's an artist. This is a performance installation...
Next up was the abandoned water park up in the mountains. All the water slides and canals have been consumed by the jungle and left to rot. But that just meant there were no rules and we could do whatever we wanted. It was really fun messing around with the echo in the slides!
Impromptu performances on the slides ensued. The tourists were amused.
Couldn't tell you exactly where it is, but if you're in Hue and find a local who knows about it, definitely go!
Finally it was the night of the concert! What started as a passing comment soon led to a fun collaborative performance with our new friends. Check it out below!
Next stop - Hanoi! It had been a year since we lived in Vietnam and it was fun being back somewhere familiar. There we were working with Manzi, a fantastic contemporary art space. They told us about a huge city-wide set of installations they did with an interactive app that alerted users to the art's location. Like everything they do, a very cool initiative that really engages the public! Definitely consider dropping in to check out their latest projects if you're ever in Hanoi!
Again, the end of our concert included a collaboration, this time with local electronic sound artist Nhung Nguyen who also goes by the stage name of The Sound Awakener. Lots of fun! During our performance we also noticed a quite professional-looking set of people filming the concert but didn't think too much of it. Later we learned that it was to be broadcast on TV, which was pretty cool! Check out the video below!
We then went south to Ho Chi Minh City. We were only supposed to be there for a day but extended our stay because our new friends hooked us up with a concert there. Our longer stay also meant we had time to go to the most Melbourne-looking cafe in Saigon to sample some top-notch coffee and one of our friends had his family prepare us yet another delicious meal. For our concert, we were playing in Yoko Bar which, aside from having seriously delicious food, hosts a wide variety of local and international music. The owners of Yoko are committed to bringing a wide variety of music and sounds to local audiences (everything from pop to experimental music) which is cool. Here's a little sample of some new sounds we tried out!
About a third of the way through the tour, we left Vietnam tired but exhilarated with all the fun we had and the new friends we made. So much so that we've already booked flights to come back! Our next stop was Cambodia which we will talk about in our next post.
One day until we leave for tour! As our trip approaches, a lot of people have been asking us why we want to tour South-East Asia so we’re hoping this blog post will help give you a rough idea. But first some news!
Since our last post, we’ve had an intense few weeks preparing for our tour launch in Melbourne which was last Thursday. For future reference, three weeks is maybe not an adequate amount of time to prepare 90 minutes of new music unless you want to have a heart attack. That being said, we got through it and overall the tour launch went quite well! We were pretty happy with the turn-out and the performance had a very friendly and supportive vibe which was really nice. We are still waiting on one of the scores so we’ll premiere that one on tour and will therefore have another new work to share with everyone when we get back! After the tour launch, we also had the chance to perform live on 3MBS FM’s Australian Sounds program and have a bit of a chat about our tour which was fun. The recording will be available online for the next few days and can be accessed here.
Another bit of news, since our last post we were stoked to receive the news that our application for funding from Creative Victoria was successful! We greatly appreciate their support as well as that of the trustees of the Jim Marks Postgraduate Scholarship who also sent some moolah our way. This will definitely make things easier for us and it will also mean that we can add a few extra concerts and cities into the mix. We’re now in talks with a few people and organisations that have been on hold whilst we waited on funding outcomes so stay posted and hopefully we’ll have a few more concert dates going up soon!
As for why South-East Asia, those of you who have had a chat with us about this before probably know we could ramble about it for hours so we’ll try to keep it short and sweet. We’ve had a strong interest in the music and, more generally, contemporary arts of the South-East Asian region for quite a while now and it was this interest (as well as a love for Vietnamese food) that led us to spend about a year living in Hanoi in 2014/15. Whilst the artistic activity of this region is a little more unknown than the well publicised and documented artistic culture of popular European destinations, we think it is every bit as fascinating. Over the years, we’ve discovered some truly fantastic artists and organisations in the region who are pushing boundaries and doing some really amazing stuff. So if you’re ever in South-East Asia, check out some concerts and galleries and hit us up for some suggestions!
We also think that, being Australian, it is important to engage in the artistic culture of some of our nearest geographic neighbours to expand upon opportunities for regular artistic exchange and collaboration. We also think it’s important to show support for artists in a region where funding and support for the arts is often limited. While Australia has relatively strong diplomatic relations with many South-East Asian nations, we feel that artistic relations could be stronger. Our hope is that through doing this tour, we can play a small role in helping Australian artists to discover the huge wealth of diverse, high-quality artistic activity in the region as well as perhaps sparking some interest in Australian arts with the artists and arts workers we meet in South-East Asia.
If you’re interested to learn more about exactly what we’ll be doing, keep an eye on the blog as we’ll post regular updates throughout our trip. We’ll provide plenty of information for those who are interested in learning more about the arts in SE-Asia, information about what we’re up to and who we’re working with and we’re sure there will be a bunch of hilarious stories and mishaps to share as well. As always, feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions. For now, we’d better get packing!
We're just under three weeks out from our tour, and two from our tour launch concert. And how are we feeling?
We (ambitiously) set out to go to 10 countries, do at least as many concerts, and commission 10 composers. So far we have seven concerts, one festival, six pieces, one draft, and at least nine heart attacks. But it feels good to be busy because we're crazy like that, and it's exciting that more things are happening than we necessarily expected.
Our lives are temporarily all emails, note-crunching and coffee as we get ready to go and, aside from the occasional (or perhaps regular) freak-outs, we're really excited! Whilst we aren't exactly strangers to having a lot on our plates, this project is by far the biggest we've ever taken on. It has really pushed us to maximise our efficiency as we attempt to juggle personal practice time, rehearsals, administration as well as our work and study commitments. In our attempts to increase the amount of time available for preparations, we've even cutback on Netflix (although we're yet to accept the fact we may need to consider cutting it out entirely) and have had meals delivered to our door more times than we would care to admit. We're constantly paranoid that we're going to forget something but so far we've managed to avoid any major disasters. Our flights are booked and our passports have been renewed (but only after a somewhat frantic trip to the post office last week after we realised we didn't have enough space left in our old ones) so, regardless of what happens between now and our departure, we're definitely going!
The new pieces have been rolling in steadily over the last few weeks and it's been really fun seeing what each composer has come up with. It's looking like the program will feature a wide variety of ideas and styles and should offer a great snapshot of contemporary Australian music.
As to be expected, there has been the occasional setback. To give you an idea, we had a concert cancelled out of the blue well after the dates and flights were confirmed because the venue has decided to shut their doors and another also cancelled because the venue has decided to renovate. We've also dropped the ball a few times too - a while ago we realised that we hadn't made contact with an organisation we're working with in nearly six months. Luckily in this case the performance is still going ahead! And while it would be easy to get frustrated when something like this happens, we find a quick faceswap can be all you need to lift your spirits enough to keep on keeping on.
All this being said however, overall we're really pleased with how everything seems to be turning out. It's been a hugely rewarding process so far seeing everything take shape and we're extremely grateful to all of the composers, venues, arts workers and organisations who have all played a massive role in this project. For now, it's back to the practice room but thanks for listening and, if you're in Melbourne, we hope to see you our tour launch concert on the 19th of May!