As part of the Sydney Spring Festival by Barry Conyngham
2nd Annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address 2007
13 August 2000
Foyer, Sydney Opera House Studio
Introduced by Marshall McGuire, President, NMN
MMcG: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome to Sydney Spring, the New Music Network, and the second Peggy Glanville-Hicks address. My name's Marshall McGuire, I'm the President of the New Music Network. I want to say a particular thank you to Roger Woodward and the Sydney Spring for hosting this event. We inaugurated the PGH address last year, in the opening season of the Studio, to commemorate the life and work of a great Australian composer, who has left of course a great legacy in her house in Paddington which is used by young composers to do what they need to do. Peggy recognised that young composers have a pretty tough time, and wanted to do as much as she could to help. This year, we've invited Barry Conyngham to give the lecture. Barry of course is one of Australia's great contemporary composers, has worked in ballet and opera and chamber music and solo harp music and all sorts of things; one of my early mentors and it's been a privilege to play a lot of his works over the years. Barry's about to go off to Harvard University to be the Chair of Australian Studies, which is a great honour for Barry and I suppose by extension, for Australian music.
Without further ado, please welcome, to give the Peggy Glanville-Hicks address, Barry Conyngham.
BC: Thanks very much, Marshall. Certainly I'd like to join in congratulating Sydney Spring. It's not quite over yet, Roger and Barrie [Woodward and Plews], but certainly the parts I've been able to get to have been wonderful and I look forward to the rest of today's program; and of course, the New Music Forum, for inviting me to talk to you today. Thank you very much.
I've been torn between my habit, which is to speak off the cuff, - and in fact a number of years ago when I first joined the Music Board my dear friend Dick Letts quickly named me The Mouth from the South, because I lived in Melbourne - but on the other hand, I did want to attach the appropriate level of seriousness and consideration. So what I've done is actually both: I've got here a text in my laptop, and I've got some notes, so if I feel I'm getting not good vibes from you from reading from the text I'll quickly go into a slightly looser mode.
But I hope there are some things which will be useful. They are things that in some cases, perhaps even dangerous cases, they will get to the broader community, I hope, and indeed in closing these introductory remarks I'd like to thank the Network for its terrific publicity, in that it seems like the talk itself has excited some media interest, which I guess is perhaps a sense of one of the things I wanted to talk about.
So I'm very pleased and honoured to be asked to present this address.
In a way, the timing is very good, because during my preparation to take up the Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard, I've had to do a bit of homework, and a bit of 'catch-up', because my previous role meant I had to deal with my day job, (as Andy Ford used to call it, my 'day job' as Vice-Chancellor), and any other time I had I did of course continue to write music. So, preparing for the Chair, and also, it is as you know, I've made it fairly clear that I won't be taking any more or I don't INTEND to take any more managerial jobs in the music industry. I guess one's always for sale, but I can assure you the price would be pretty high if I were to be seduced back. Because my intention now is to concentrate on being a musician, and indeed on being a composer.
But I couldn't resist the opportunity to go to Harvard. They're fairly unequivocal about its status, its simply the best university in the world as far as they're concerned; and even if we don't necessarily agree with them, they've got a lot of evidence to suggest it's a pretty good place. I'll be working with some old friends over there, including Bernard Rands, and a new friend in Mario Davidovsky, the two composers there.
So, I've looked I guess at the state of music in Australia, and therefore it's very interesting for me to present this talk today. At the same time, I guess I've had to reflect on the 30-plus years I've been a composer, working with you all in Australian music, and perhaps to share some reflections and some preliminary findings about the state of music in Australia.
But before that, just very quickly before I get to the kind of public reflection, I have a couple of little private reflections.
First of all, one thought to share with you is, when I went to university and took my first academic job in 1976 at Melbourne, I instigated, and scrounged and got some money to start the New Audience series. I think there are some of you in this room who took part in that, and certainly remember it. Over the ensuing ten or plus years, I don't know how many composers, but it probably was 60 or 70 composers, Australian composers and the occasional appropriate international composer such as Aaron Copland or Takemitsu or I think Michael Tippett - we put together with the best of the resources that we had, usually chamber music, and I interviewed the composers about their life and works. The point of my story is in fact the thing that I have never shared with anybody, but I can't ever think of the New Audience series without this thought, so I thought I'd share it with you. One day I was hearing one of the young composers who was helping with the administration in the office talking about how we were going to go, and I suddenly realised he was referring to the series as the 'no audience' series.
So I thought I'd just leave that thought with you, that it was ever thus, that we have to struggle to connect with people. Even though I think history will probably paint the New Audience series as being very successful. Indeed, there's quite a nice collection of tapes that some enterprising PhD student or some other researcher might one day excavate out of the Melbourne University, and there could be some quite interesting things come through there.
The second thing I wanted to share with you is a very recent phenomenon. And that's the phenomenon of our good friend and colleague Carl Vine. How about Carl Vine? Carl Vine's discovered the secret of composition and gaining publicity in the music world in Australia. What you do is, you announce you're going to give up composing, and then suddenly you're on everybody's lips, you're interviewed by every radio announcer and every newspaper man, and in fact, even more brilliantly, you seem to get commissions and continue writing. I've had a chat to Carl about this, and he's as fascinated as I am, and indeed we both wondered whether all composers should immediately announce that they're giving up music. The ensuing blitz and blizzard of publicity would elevate Australian composition to new heights. Well, perhaps enough cynicism about the nature of the world we live in; and I'll just share with you a few conclusions that I've come to since looking at the scene, listening to a lot of music, looking at a lot of music, reading about the music that's been made in Australia over the last 20 or 30 years.
First of all, I have no doubt that composition right now is at its most rich and diverse (and I use the word 'fecund') period in its history, as I've known it since the 60s. And that's with all the memories and excitement that came from the 60s and the 70s and 80s and so forth.
I think right now, in the new era of this millennium, I think there is tremendous excitement. We have perhaps what we didn't really know we had before, which is history; with people like Peter Sculthorpe. And I notice that Tristram Cary was celebrating his 75th birthday recently. And we are now starting to lose composers, I mean, they die. You'll remember the jokes from the 60s when we used to say that all composers were dead, it was a definition of being a composer, that you were dead. It's a sad irony that now some of our great composers are reaching the end of their lives. But that in itself we should celebrate, that we have been moving forward in that way.
There's a range of music, and anybody who hasn't taken the trouble to go to the Australian Music Centre (and thanks to John [Davis] for the help he's given me in preparing for my work over in the US) there's a tremendous amount of material - but the range of the material: it's virtually impossible for me to even start singling out names.
If you look at the program that we've had over the last, what is it, eight days or nine days with the Festival, you get a sense [of it]. And I assure you, it's the tip (it's not the tip of an iceberg, because the ratio would be wrong, as rich as this festival is). There's a tremendous range of music being done by young, middle-generation and old-generation composers, and I think that we should not forget that.
And indeed, I suppose the main point that I'd like to make in that, is I think the one thing that I find essential to start considering now, is that I don't think the confidence and the sense of security that we ought to enjoy, as reflected by the content of Australian music and Australian music presentation (and I'm not just talking about composers now, I'm talking about the people who strive and struggle in the presentation of that music) and I've had occasion over the last 12 months with the Sydney Symph and other musicians in other performances, the involvement and the skill is at the highest level that I've ever known it.
And yet somehow, I keep getting the sense, and therefore I'm bouncing this idea off you, my colleagues, that there is some doubt still. Now, whether it's some deep-seated we still have apron strings to Europe or the United States or some other place, or whether we've just got into bad habits of being self-effacing, I don't know. And maybe you disagree. Maybe you haven't experienced this. But there's a couple of things that I'll perhaps return to later that to me are symptoms or symbols, rather, of that.
So I think the challenge we have to confront in terms of Australian composition and presentation is what I call the confidence issue. I think we need to have a more authoritative and strong assertion of what we do, and the value of what we do. And I guess in order to pull that off it's better if I tell people how fantastic Roger Woodward is, and Roger Woodward tells people how fantastic I am, rather than me saying how fantastic I am and Roger saying how fantastic he is. But nevertheless, we need to celebrate each other and build that sort of confidence, because I really do believe that in that confidence will come confidence in the other partners in this relationship. Not the least of which [are] funding authorities and government, but also critics, and of course the most important people of all: the people who actually listen and experience our music.
If WE aren't confident about, if WE aren't assertive about the value of what we do, then why should we ask anyone else to be? I think this needs to be done with knowledge, and it needs to be done with a kind of intellectual rigour at the same time. It needs to be realistic, and I think it also needs to take advantage of the tremendous intelligence that I've always found in my colleagues who make new music. In other words, we can use our hearts and our souls to make the music, but we can use our brains to sell it, and to make sure that people approach it with the right frame of mind.
I must say I think that other arts appear to be doing better. In theatre, there is a national profile for theatre in this country. There is a national profile for the novel. I say 'even', and I'm sure some of my friends who are poets might question this, but even poetry: the Prime Minister goes to a poet to deal with a political situation. I think that's great for poetry. It means that there are people who know that there are poets of standing and importance.
Finally I wonder whether there might be some need to remind ourselves that what we do is art. It is not entertainment. It might be entertaining; and maybe we can see over the last week or so it's terrifically entertaining. But what we're doing is not transient; it is not pithy; it is not something that is to be consumed and thrown away. We are trying to reflect upon the state of our being and our lives, and dare I say our spirit. And others we hope in the future will experience and gain from that, as we gained from the previous artists of other eras. And I think sometimes there is a tendency for us to feel a bit self-conscious, dare I say it, an Australian tendency to not be too assertive in this area.
So I guess my first message without labouring it too much (and I could) is that we must help each other to confidently put forward and practise our art. And I think that I'll come back to a couple of symptoms of this if I may, a little later on.
I'd like to move, though, to a more pragmatic issue, in relation to another challenge. That's the challenge of creating a situation where we can sustain real professional activity in the new music presentation; concert music, art music presentation.
While I hope Carl will forgive me for citing him in a slightly frivolous way, Carl's issues are real, and one of them is the notion of whether we in this country can sustain professional composition. And, to some extent, and maybe totally, professional performance and management of new music.
I think that the first area in terms of composition is the simple assertion I'd make that composers commissions are too small. The other income surrounding the creation of new music is not sustained. The other area in terms of performers, it seems the thing I constantly hear, is that there is not enough resourcing for appropriate rehearsals. I mean, here's a bunch of people who want to work more! But they want to at least get a reasonable reward for that work. And indeed, sometimes when the rehearsal time is sufficient, the payment is inadequate. In other words, you either get a little for a lot, or a bit more for not enough time. And I think this needs to be constantly reiterated to those people (and it's not just funding authorities) but the people who make the budgets, make the hard decisions, about putting on concerts, that they take the decision to go for sufficient time to make the performances of a standard where they will connect with the audiences.
I have time for one more specific example, and both Carl and Marshall I've heard them say this in the last few weeks, is that one of the problems with our new music is that it's in fact too new. Or, more precisely, it's only new. I'm sure some of you if not all of you have heard Carl's comment that one of the reasons that he needed a break and finally threw up his hands and said "I'm not going to do this any more", (hopefully, 'any more for a while'), was that he was composing premieres one after the other.
The simple question needs to be asked: is there really a difference for the mass of the audience out there, between Carl Vine's Symphony No 7 or 8 or whatever he'd have to create, and No 1 or No 2? And of course the reason that Carl has to take a commission to create Symphony No 7 is because no one will pay him very much for the re-performance of Symphony No 1.
I think music presenters and commissioners therefore need to be looked at in a number of ways.
So, just to take stock of where I've got to: there are two major challenges that I would isolate, having thought about and looked at the issue.
One is our attitudes (and it's the attitudes of the musicians, performers, composers themselves, and the presenters, and I include those people who indulge themselves in the non-musical support of our cause), that we need to some how change our attitude, and change the attitude of others to what we do.
Secondly, we need to improve and change the mechanisms that lie behind the creation of new music.
I want to try and at least be specific now with a few suggestions how we might go about doing that.
To the musicians who train and develop themselves with great dedication and effect, and then apply that to skill and art with wonderful results; to the musicians that work so hard in preparing music I suggest that you make judgement on that music before anybody else does. I believe often musicians and I've seen it happen, will wait to see what the audience thinks, will wait to see what the critics think, will wait to see what the funding authorities think.
How about making a judgement about the pieces you're performing? I suspect most of the time you can't really perform a piece appropriately and with great effect if you don't actually commit to it. Why not convey as well as the music, that commitment? Once again, some performers in this room are not in that group, and they have been great advocates. But there are, in my experience, a lot of terrific performers, particularly some of the younger ones, who need to be given a sense of authority to do that. To go out and say 'this is worthwhile, what I'm doing is worthwhile, it isn't some kind of a token; it isn't some kind of a musical form of social support' - this is what they're there for, and this is what they love, and this is what they're going to celebrate.
If you act like you believe in this kind of music, Mr Musician, I believe there's a good chance the listeners will be in a better shape to join you in that. I think they'll receive the music in a much better way.
I'd also say to the musicians that they should help each other, and support each other. Try to put aside the inherently competitive nature that exists in our music world. I often find it very sad that often the after-performance discussion, with a bunch of musicians who've just delivered a wonderful experience, is about how someone's getting work and someone isn't getting work and somebody's screwed the system and so forth. I really think that while that may be true, it doesn't help. Each time you make a critical comment about your colleagues, you're also hurting the whole body of music.
So, a positive attitude.
To the professional critics I say, Remember to acknowledge and even celebrate the act of creating. The courage, the loneliness of trying to make an artistic object. The hard work and artistry in presenting a new work, unfamiliar to the audience. By all means, Mr Critic and Madam Critic, evaluate the work in your own capabilities. But in the context of this being an important and meaningful activity. And indeed, the most damaging criticisms (and I'm sure all of you who have been subject to this would agree), the worst crit, is the trivialising crit, where you get half a sentence or one sentence. I would go so far as in some ways, I'd like to encourage critics to believe in my theory, which I exercise, I assure you, with great rigour: a bad crit goes straight in the garbage bin. It's no use to me. Absolutely no use. A good crit: I'll make that critic famous! That critic will be used in all my publicity. I have seen it [happen], but very rarely do performers and composers publish the bad crits. The only way you could publish a bad crit is if it was really interesting, and went to the depth of the music. And unfortunately that doesn't seem to happen very often.
I don't believe anyone changes music by dismissing it. I think you just leave it alone. If you don't like the piece, talk about something else. I don't know if my fellow musicians would go as far as I would in saying that to some extent I'd rather not have a crit, if it's not much use, than have one that's negative.
I don't notice any critics here, but if they were here and end up reading this or hear this: I know that sometimes newspaper critics don't have control over their material, and I don't know how many times critics have called me up and said 'Look there was a really good paragraph, but the sub cut it out, and it's not my fault'. And of course they're not responsible for the headlines, which are often written by people who seem to be very fond of something else, other than music.
To the audience, I say, first of all, Come! Don't give up on music of the kind we're talking about today, if you have a bad experience. You've got to have faith that the next time you come to a new music concert, you're going to have a good experience. I think the audiences we need to attract are ones that are interested, and even prepared for experiment and risk-taking. The excitement of that can be quite phenomenal. I may even be willing to go so far as saying to see someone fail, doing something interesting, is a far more interesting experience to me than seeing someone succeed in doing something easy.
It's a bit like high platform diving (although I'm not sure I can quite stomach people failing in a spectacular way from the high dive). But nevertheless, when they pull it off, they pull it off in the context of difficulty. Humans seem to respond to that.
And when you get there, audience, can you remember my dear friend Takemitsu's plea, which is to come with your cleanest ears; your freshest ears. Your ears unpolluted with all the music you've been barraged with before. Because listening with expectation is often the worst way to experience a new piece of work.
Finally, go and talk to the performers afterwards. I think one of the saddest things about Australian audiences is that they don't go backstage and slap a few backs and shake a few hands. While some performers will behave very coyly and say they don't like it, I suspect that is a tiny little personal reward we can all give. Even if you're in a kind of Fort Knox institution like this where you have to know how to get in to the artists, I think that if you celebrate with the performers - often they are exhausted, I've seen Roger and many of you in this room almost incapable of standing up, literally; certainly I've seen Lyndon Terracini in that state after he's done Bony Anderson - and yet the smile on his face when people come in and say 'that was terrific' makes it worthwhile.
Confidence breeds confidence. Positiveness breeds positiveness.
There's a lot more I could say.
Let me talk now a little bit about the mechanisms, how we might sustain professional groups, particularly first of all in composers.
I've already said that commissions are not appropriate for the kind of economic structures that the rest of the world seems to be involved in. They're not structured in an economical way, in my view. And some of these ideas once again are perhaps ones you might challenge.
First of all, 10 or 12 thousand dollars for an orchestral work - and some younger composers might raise their eyebrows at that and say 'well I only get six', or whatever - but nevertheless, if you are a senior composer in this country you would normally try to get somewhere in that vicinity and maybe even more. And let me say, if you're asking overseas commissioners, you double it, if not treble it. But in this country, 10 or 12 thousand, and maybe six or eight thousand for a chamber work.
Once again, those are sort of general, ballpark figures.
Now if you think of a composer, even a very prolific composer, producing somewhere between four, six, I mean, the thought of seven works a year is a lot. It also presupposes they're not doing anything else. Even if it were six works, that is for a person who's been doing it for 25 or 30 years, who in theory is contributing to our culture, is not anything more than a lecturer at a university, or a school teacher would get. There's nothing wrong with those professions; but that's if they do that many works. I don't know that many composers can do that many works. The other irony is, if you did that many works you'd be actually flooding the market, in terms of how many works could be performed even once, let alone multiple times.
I also think that there hasn't been enough consideration given to the commissioning process reflecting the circumstances of composition. It is something that takes time. And finally, I think there is a very strange way of calculating commissioning fees, that somehow says that if you write on lots of staves, you get more money than if you write on a few. And I don't know how at the moment one deals with electronic composers and improvising composers and conceptual composers, that's always a struggle.
It seems to me that it would be much easier if there was a kind of flagfall for a musical creative endeavour. In other words, that most of the commission is in that area (and I would even say 40 or 50 percent of it). Whether you were writing a half-hour orchestral piece or a five-minute piano piece, I think at least half the commission should be the same. Some people would dispute that, but I think the actual creative activity is such a difficult thing to wrestle with. I know that some pieces I've written which have been for small forces and for small durations, have been far more difficult, and far more time consuming, than writing a 20 minute orchestral piece, or, moreover, an hour long ballet. But these are just some ideas.
A few more specific suggestions.
I believe that sources of the funds should be and can be extended. I applaud the recent efforts by certain presenters (and I have to say they tend to be the large presenters, ABC, Musica Viva etc) who are going for private sponsorship. All of you who would know about my new string quartet, it was funded by a prominent Melbourne lawyer - THE prominent Melbourne lawyer. And we had dinner afterwards and Julian Burnside claimed he had great satisfaction. And we know the tradition in Europe and the United States is that there ARE people [like this].
In this era of the dot.com millionaires, I can't see why we can't find some people who would gain a great life experience in commissioning a new piece of music and I would applaud trying to push that particular envelope.
The other thing is this notion of other sources: I frankly think that the avowed principle of APRA, where they return the income of the copyright owners (as they put it) to them, without any what I would call 'cultural tax', is inappropriate for this country. In Scandinavia they take the maximum allowed, internationally agreed amount of about ten percent. Now, in Australia I understand that APRA collection is about $100 million a year. At the moment they give $250,000 a year in various things, such as helping organisations like AMC, and there are other things, even including I think commissioning works or aiding in the performance of works.
If that $250,000 was immediately $10 million, I think we could spend that in a very productive way. It seems to me that that needs to be debated within APRA. As I said, they have a logical position, which is they feel their job is to give [it] back. My position is that most modern societies feel that they have some form of taxation or adjustment for cultural or social or other reasons; and if it can be done in some countries throughout the world, why not in Australia?
With regard to repeat performance, it's obviously a very difficult issue. But I don't see why the gap between commissioning, and repeat performance, can't be adjusted, so that composers get a lot more for a repeat performance, even with the possibility of getting a little bit less for a commission.
I think the idea of a reasonable performance fee, and here I'm likely to alienate a little bit the performers, but most of the time the performers do get some reward for their participation in new music performance. Often a composer won't, if it's a piece that's been performed before. Even the hire fees, when you do actually manage to get them, are really not significant in terms of income generation. It might be $100 or even less.
And of course, composers are always faced with the dilemma of 'do I charge my friends the performers or the presenters two or three or four hundred dollars, which is what the performers would generally regard as a minimum, and risk not getting performed?' There needs to be a bit of solidarity between composers on this, I'm afraid, there's a lot of cut-pricing going on, and the performance is often worth more than money to some composers.
So maybe we can't leave it up to composers to do that themselves, because they're in a disadvantaged situation. They want the performance, they'll have it for nothing. There might be a way of saying 'well, sorry, composer, you have to be paid'. You go and try and work in this place [the opera house] and not get paid, and there'll be some action taken. Everyone will stop work, or you'll be kicked out, or whatever. We don't allow people in the work situation to work for nothing, and yet we allow composers to do that.
I do ask the question what happened to -I'm not sure if this was my idea, or Dick's idea or someone else's idea - but in the mid-80s we did actually have a bounty system for a repeat performance, but that seems to have disappeared sometime between then and now. I'm not sure if that was a conscious disappearance or whether it was found not to be effective, but certainly that was one attempt to say that the performance of existing music can be often as important as the creation of new music.
Just very briefly, a few other words.
A lot of people in this room, a lot of people who hear this will no doubt be doing this, but I think we need to look at the new technologies, and the e-commerce possibilities in new music. There's no doubt that there may be creative ways to increase the return to composers in a kind of net-gain, win/win situation, and there may even be ways that's there a return to those who also perform and present that sort of music.
By the way, I believe that CDs, appropriately labelled, of live music, shouldn't be regarded as somehow inadequate or inappropriate for public distribution. A lot of musicians seem to have got into the habit of unless they can get a pristine, beautiful studio presentation of a work, somehow their reputation might be diminished. I think if it's clearly labelled as a concert performance, and therefore there will be some wrong entries, wrong notes, God knows what else, but if the composer is happy to use it (because, let's face it, often the composer has nothing else left to work with), then I'd like to encourage the performers to relax that notion of what can be put out by way of sampling.
So, we need to change our attitudes, and we need to change and create new mechanisms for supporting the creation and presentation of new music.
I want to finish with another kind of personal story. It's one that introduces perhaps some new notions, but one that I didn't want to fail to mention.
My time as a member of the Music Board, and as the last Chairman of the Music Board of the Australia Council, because they did away with the Music Board (maybe it was my fault!); I look back on that time as exciting and challenging, and our attempts to deal with some of the large issues (not the least of which was the Australian Opera) made for very interesting times.
I remember that one of my first meetings with the then arts minister, Barry Cohen, was really quite memorable. To paraphrase what he said, he said "Barry ,when I became minister for the arts, I was really very enthusiastic and very excited about being Minister for the Arts. There was going to be all this wonderful sense of artistic endeavour and achievement. And what I've discovered, having held the job for six or 12 months, was that you really should rename this, and it should be called the Minister for Money, or the Minister for Handouts."
In other words, the image he had of us, was a bunch like those birds you see on nature programs, waiting for the mother bird to come back from a long flight and it struck me that from his perspective, this may not be an unreasonable view of what the arts community looks like. Maybe I'll just leave that as a thought. Can I say that as a Vice-Chancellor I had often that same sort of feeling, that people only came to see me, either when they were in trouble or needed money. Often the ones that got my attention were the ones that came with two things: one, a demand or a request for money; and also some good news. So maybe the way we should treat our government is that we make sure we tell them what we're doing, tell them the good news, to kind of at least break up this sense that the only time the arts community deals with governments is when asking for more resources.
That's not to say of course that we don't both deserve and need more resources. So I guess I'd say, (perhaps on a Sunday it's not smart to say), that the Federal Government helps those who help themselves - particularly this Federal Government. I think we need to go to the Federal Government with examples of how we've helped ourselves.
Also because it's Sunday, perhaps somewhat dangerously, I'd like you all to lift your heads now, and join me in a salutation to Peggy.
Peggy, those who knew you and loved you and your music and your energy and your contribution as a composer, and as an artist, and as a woman, and as a supporter of young composers, and as an independent, confident creative spirit, we've gathered here in your name. We salute you, and believe in what you stood for. I hope all of us leave this place today totally committed to creating the future of Australian music. And that we believe in what we do, and what we're trying to achieve, and its joy, and its community. Thank you. I won't say Amen, but thank you very much indeed.
MMcG: Thank you, Barry. I almost feel like I should read something myself now, a lesson?
[Questions from the floor]
Q [Could be Robert Davidson?]: I'm just wondering if you have any proposals for how composers would be able to receive more for performances; and how, perhaps, concert music would be able to be separated from popular music?
BC: I gather you're referring to the APRA situation. I'm really saying two things, and I'm not sure whether either of them are possible. If it was, that all Australian music of all kinds, if we held in the country for whatever purpose the full maximum allowed under the international agreements, which is 10 percent, that would at least be better according to my calculations. It wouldn't be as good as if all 10 percent went to our kind of music. So there is an issue there and I think that's a good point. I think though that we would be permitted to perhaps argue that the kinds of issues that face the professionalisation (if I can use that terrible word) of new music in this country aren't quite the same in terms of popular commercial music.
I mean, by definition, commercial music generates its income, and the way of trying to assess the value of commercial music is easier by definition. That's why I think we need to remind people that we are NOT indulging in commercial music. That opens up a whole discussion about what is art, and what's its function in a modern society etc. But while we might debate what art is, we would hate the debate to stop the creation of it, or stuff that hopes to be art. So I think you might be able to differentiate. And also our fellow popular commercial musicians might be at least disposed to have the debate - but let's get the money first and then have the debate! And we can take it from there.
Is that the sort of thing you were getting at? Yeah...in terms of the other ways...if you do a kind of back of the envelope notion, to get a relatively developing composer, (it's hard to put an age on it, but let's say someone who's been writing music for five or ten years) and say well look, they should at least earn the minimum wage, or even the dole. The dole's a reasonable amount of money these days...actually earn it...you could sort of calculate by that how many commissions and how many performances would be reasonable by that. It gives you a sense of how far we are away from a professional structure, in composition. By the time you get to people who are over 50, maybe that sum gets up towards 50 or 60 thousand dollars. Indeed, the Australia Council's fellowship scheme does imply that at least for some, for a few, that's a reasonable...but it's not a constant.
I remember reading with great enthusiasm that was it Sibelius? Someone in the first part of the last century was put on a pension, as a reward for being a good composer. I think he shortly thereafter stopped writing music, so maybe that's not a good story. But it seems to me that it is...There's a whole lot of reasons, I'm sure, why Carl Vine stopped writing music, or stopped writing some music or whatever he's done; but it is a tragedy if someone like Carl Vine doesn't write music, in my opinion. And that he should even contemplate it should be something we should protest about.
Because if Carl Vine hasn't proved his musical value to our community, then a lot of other people have less evidence of doing it. Whatever you think in your own personal judgement of his music, there's no doubt he's done it. He's done it for 10 or 15 years.
Maybe one more question?
Q [English accent]: I accept totally what you said about music journalism...I'd like to ask you more about the academic or theoretical discourse about Australian music? Do our academics make enough effort in that area, do you think?
BC: I think that's a fair question and I could have at least made a passing reference to that.
First of all, going back to the beginning of my talk. My perception is that there's a lot more going on - certainly there was nothing going on in the 60s, so it's easier for it to be better. There's quite a lot of activity going on. I get people ringing me up who are doing Honours dissertations or Masters and so forth, and I know of things happening. There is the kind of coincidental crisis in music education in this country, which is not helping, and a lot of our music departments and schools are struggling just to stay afloat. But I think I agree with you that there probably needs to be more thought, more creativity given to encouraging that sort of activity.
The most obvious thing that would be useful, and I haven't mentioned this and I should have, here am I, going off to Harvard; I made a preliminary visit a few months back, and I was overjoyed to find that there are virtually no constraints on materials. If there are I haven't found them yet. So I can get Harvard's library to order lots of stuff. And indeed John [Davis of the AMC] and his colleagues have helped me do that. But there's not a lot of stuff to order. OK, the CDs are starting to come very nicely - but books? And articles of intellectual content?
So you're absolutely right. There must be somewhere within the Australia Council sources of at least engagement there to try to cause commissioning. I had an interesting time last week. The music person of Currency Press is a composer. And he's looking for material for schools all the time -
[Side one of tape finished, so gap until ]
Q: [Unclear, reference to Sibelius and pensions]
BC: Who cares? My honest answer is that not only with the present government, but with the potential government, I would imagine there'd be a whole lot of reasons, because there's a whole lot of other people in our society who would probably make similar arguments. What would be interesting is to find out how Finland (and whoever else does it) actually got themselves into the situation where they could do it!
So maybe that's the first bit of research, is to find out what happened to cause that to be an acceptable area.
My understanding of Finland is that it's a fairly socialised country, and the amount of GDP that they spend on similar activities is probably very much higher than ours. Maybe a straight-out kind of pension for artists might be going too far. I suspect that with the present government, we need to get pro bono work from the best tax lawyers, the best accountants and the best company structural creators, (you know, these people who are really good at making the system work for them, or for others who pay them large sums of money) and ask them how we might present an argument to the federal government about some kind of taxation process.
It seems more fashionable to do it that way than to actually have it as a pension. It's not that far fetched, is it, to say that even to give the dole may give a little bit of comfort to people who are really willing to live in a fairly frugal way. The benchmark is not very high.
As I said, I'm not sure you could use the word 'pension', but it might be worthwhile talking to people who know about tax law, who know about the social security system, and see if there might be some way to make a proposal that first of all would be somehow quarantinable, to the federal government. It would have to be presumably in relation to all the arts.
Are you all aware of the Ralph battle that's just been fought and won? If you aren't, we can talk about that later; but that's an interesting case where the arts lobby did get a rational outcome in relation to the new tax situation. In a way I thought it was rather nice, we all became equivalent to farmers! The real farmers had a concession and they gave it to artists. I think that's rather nice that we became sort of agrarian in our activities, it's a good metaphor.
Can I once again thank all those involved. Thanks very much indeed.