Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Scotland and grew up In Australia. I studied design in Perth and moved to Melbourne after I graduated. This is where I started playing in bands and also started travelling a lot, (north Africa, Mexico, Guatemala and Spain where I have family).
It was during this period of travel that I started becoming fascinated by the musical connections between various cultures e.g. Morocco and Spain and also by the level of material improvisation taking place in parts of the world where fixing things and finding different uses for materials instead of throwing them away was a financial imperative.
In Scotland when I was growing up I lived in an isolated cottage in the local park grounds. Behind the house was the local rubbish tip. This became one of my playgrounds and I was always been fascinated with the things that people threw away. This is another reason I like to work with waste /recycled materials.
What is your interest in countries within the Asian region? Why come here and not Europe?
There are a few reasons but the most important one is that this is the part of the world that I live in and I’m interested in developing long term reciprocal relationships with my neighbours, in particular Indonesia and India.
Other factors would include a deep love and fascination with the various musical cultures of Asia as well as the different approaches to concepts of time, public space, and material improvisation that you find in Asia. These are all important facets of my practice so it’s a very inspiring environment for me to develop in. I find it hard to adjust to certain aspects of being an artist in Australia whenever I return from doing projects.
I was also born in Europe so its not an exotic location for me (Scotland) and I have performed there but given the choice I find working and performing in Asia a much more exciting and conducive to the type of work I conduct. I find walking down the street in Indonesia much more inspirational than walking through an art gallery in Melbourne.
I think there has been a notable shift in Melbourne between Berlin and London always being the first point of departure for artists and musicians looking for a new world to work in with more and more of a dialogue between places like Melbourne and Yogya coming to the fore. It makes a lot of sense as this is our part of the world and its also a vary exciting part of the world, especially for people involved in the arts and being able to experience the developing art scenes of India, Indonesia or China etc.
What are the differences that you have observed when engaging with an ‘eastern’ audience as opposed to a ‘western’ audience. Are there any differences?
I think the biggest difference is the variation of context I can play with when I engage with an eastern audience whether that be workshops with Buddhist monks in the forests of Chiang Mai or collaborating with school kids on the streets of Jakarta. I have a feeling that Western audiences would react in a very similar way but there is a lot more control over public space and what you are allowed to do within that definition.
The street culture of Asia is one of the largest attractions to creating work in Asia, there’s a lot more freedom to engage with a non arts based audience and there’s a lot more freedom to explore different creative options that wouldn’t exist or be allowed in Australia.
I’m also very influenced by the practice of durational performance in a lot of Asian cultures where the band plays the role of something closer to furniture music as an accompaniment to eating or talking or general socialising rather than as a focused performer on a pedestal.
Again I find more opportunities in Asia where I can create the type of context where I can create a piece of music that will play or can be played for hours or days. In Australia this usually takes place within the confines of a gallery, which is a very nice rarefied controllable atmosphere but ultimately pales in comparison to the types of encounters you can create outside of a gallery context.
You mentioned in your artist talk for The Instrument Builders Project that you are now much more interested in audience participation and that it was very important to you. Can you elaborate on this idea?
I’ve become very interested in creating music with people or creating instruments or environments for people to create music with. I still perform music with my bands and as a solo performer but I’m more interested in creating a collaborative, improvised, participatory environment when I’m creating installations overseas.
My work is very site specific in that I try and source all available materials, performance spaces etc within a localised context so it makes sense to base the audience and audience participation from the people living within the area I am working in.
This is their home and I’m just visiting from overseas so it seems rude not make an effort to engage. Whether I like it or not I am operating from a privileged position and by creating works where I remove myself from the role as the artist on the stage and hand over some of the authorship and tools of creation to the audience there is a deeper engagement.
I’m also very interested in working outside of the gallery context and demystifying the creative process. Making music can be a very simple and enjoyable process and one that crosses linguistic barriers. In the best case scenario it can teach you how to listen to other people and how to operate autonomously within a group, or it can become a chaotic free for all which also has its merits.
There was a pivotal moment during one of my previous projects in Jogja when a couple of local kids, my children had made friends with starting improvising on a musical sound system bike I’d created. There was such a joy in the act of creating this wild punky improvised music that I realised I was out of a job and that this is what I should be looking at.
What were the highlights for you during this process of collaboration?
One thing I really liked was that there was no real divide between Eastern and Western practitioners; everyone was cannibalizing different aspects of global music and utilizing similar technologies, which is a very healthy thing.
I’ve never met a musician who was offended by the fact that I was interested and influenced by aspects of their music, on the contrary they where excited that their music was part of an evolving dialogue which is exactly why I loved this project so much.
The idea of cultural imperialism is obviously something you have to consider but the idea that it is ok for an Indonesian musician to be influenced by metal but not ok for a western musician to be influenced by gamelan is in itself an offensive concept. Of course working with Wukir is something I’ve wanted to do for years and something I hope will continue in the future.
The music of Senyawa, (Wukir and Rullys’ band) was the type of music I had imagined for years before I actually played with them at Rodfest—so it really was an incredible experience. Then witnessing them at the Townhall for the Melbourne Jazz Festival was one of my all time favourite performances, so delicate and brutal, the audience was silenced and spellbound.
You have been to Indonesia many times. What is it about Indonesia that keeps bringing you back?
There are many things I love about Indonesia but the main reason that I have returned to Indonesia so frequently is because of Yogyakarta and the culture and energy that it generates. A lot of the artists and musicians here share a lot of traits that I fell a real affinity to, they have a very punky DIY attitude that is very globalized and still specifically Indonesian. Of course I’m not Indonesian but I don’t really feel like an Australian or a Scot or a Spaniard. Different parts of me feel at home in different parts of the world and Indonesia is one of these places. There is a basic attitude and temperament which is hard to explain and I hate to generalize but it reminds me of Spain where my father is from. There is a reserve and formality, balanced by generosity, fatalistic humor and duende.