Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I produce a music program in Sydney, Australia called Surfacing Series. There were three events until Covid put a pause on everything – hopefully more soon. There’s a lot I could say about this series, but it was partly a response to the mass closure of music venues and performance spaces in Sydney. The other motivation is based on something I firmly believe because I’ve experienced it, being that the venues that are available to musicians (or not) will ultimately determine what it is that they create. Unlike art galleries, where the artist can determine how the audience participates in the space, it’s rare to have this opportunity for musicians – to build an atmosphere from scratch. Surfacing was established to allow musicians a space that is entirely their own, with the freedom to perform, collaborate or experiment with something new in an environment that has been tailored to their work and what they want to achieve. In doing so, the program aims to bring together musicians from all corners of the experimental and underground music communities, particularly those that haven’t performed on the same lineup together, in order to cross-pollinate audiences and unify these communities under common aesthetics and themes.
I’ve had conversations with musicians over the years who have commented that they don’t know where they can trial a new musical project or who they could perform it with. Some of these musicians are world-renowned for one thing but struggle to find opportunities for other projects, and it’s been great to be able to provide that platform to them but also to emerging artists.
Pulling the first event together was stressful and difficult, but there was a moment halfway through the first evening (and in each event in the series since) when I sat down and felt extremely fulfilled.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
There’s a particular frame of mind I know I need to be in to work on a piece of music and to get really far with it, particularly lyrically, as I find the music part of it much easier. The hardest part is not having the mental energy or willingness, at times, to get into that place and because of that I’m probably not there enough, though when I am, I feel that I can work endlessly. Almost everyday I think of something I heard someone say about the ups-and-downs of the creative process (sorry, can’t remember who said it but it was at Sydney Writers’ Festival) and it was essentially that something good will only ever happen if you simply sit down and try, and that’s something I really cling to. Whether you’re up against writer’s block or a loss of motivation or if you think you suck (it happens), unless you put yourself in the physical and mental position to create, you won’t.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
The music that makes me happiest isn’t happy music. Sometimes I’ll have to remind myself that how I respond to it isn’t the same as someone else, and that if I’m listening to Chelsea Wolfe and feeling on top of the world, it might not be doing the same for the next person, particularly my partner (sorry, Victoria). Funnily, sometimes my friends have reminded me of this and I really struggle to pick music for people in social contexts.
There’s music that I love that I associate with people and places and times in my life, but I’ve never completely given that music over to those people or places or times. I have friends that can’t listen to some of their favourite music because it’s been ruined by something they associate it with and I guess I’m lucky that I haven’t let that happen.
When I started writing music, I became quite confessional with it without realising or intending to, perhaps because I never intended to play it to anyone. Then before my first show I had an “oh, shit!” moment when I realised I’d have to be honest about myself in front of other people, possibly in ways I hadn’t been before.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
If you’re an artist or work in the arts and you don’t think or question yourself about these things then you’re not listening or your motives are wrong. Not all ideas are original, but if you see not being able to copy or steal as a limitation to your creativity then the issue is really with your lack of it.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
The way that music can cause you to physically feel something – in your stomach, or how it gives you goosebumps – is pretty extraordinary.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
One of the things I’m most proud of in the arts realm is being able to extend to others what working in the arts has given me. Life for Koori Kids is a community program for Indigenous children in Sydney that I’ve volunteered with since I was a teenager, and creating arts experiences or engagement opportunities between the group and the arts organisations I work with feels more important than anything else I do in my job.
What can music express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
As someone who works in art galleries and writers festivals and performing arts centres and so on, I regularly hear people say that their preferred art form does something that no others can, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. I do know that people expect different things from different art forms – sometimes this is good, sometimes it’s problematic – and that some art forms might more easily lead you in certain directions, but I think that ultimately people find meaning wherever they choose to (or not to).