I make Australian music ?
I know where my creative expression is gradually beginning to emerge from – the land.
The land is not separate from its people. However, being a genetic newcomer, a descendant of invaders, an uninvited guest to this land, challenges my developing relation.
I can feel the land in my music, in my work. This feeling has not always been there.
This feeling, this equation feels simple. But can I legitimately, publicly claim such a notion?
In the face of ongoing injustice against the land’s original people by my genetic culture, it is not a simple declaration on my part. Public pronouncement aside, the connection, the relation to land feels deep and real.
When an audience member recently asked some questions of me concerning the music they just heard performed, I found myself packaging the sound-making and the processes leading to the performance as constituting Australian music. Although the participating musician’s history both technically and personally draw upon European and American cultures, we have long since moved away from those fundamental influences.
Yes, we are all now citizens of the world and we urban dwellers influence each other more than ever before, but there are differences in the way that we in this place work with our sound-making that sounds distinct to me, and I consider that the land (and all that this infers) is a considerable, powerful and integral component affecting and inseparable from our expressivity. There is no need to name what we or I do as global music, Australian music or give it any other name, but when trying to place the activity in relation to the realm of music and society (which seems to always require categorisation or explanation) I am challenged to consider the origins, history, sources and ramifications of what I am doing.
My grandfather was born in the place where I now have my studio. His father was one of the first white people to participate in running a business in the new settlement. My ancestral link to the place is clear, but only for a blink-of-the-eye, historically speaking, nothing near the 50 - 80,000 years of aboriginal peoples' presence. The details of how he and others navigated, negotiated or forced their way into this country are unknown to me at this stage, but it is entirely possible that disrespect, coercion, violence, certainly ignorance were present in relations. This is troubling and constitutes a work in process for my life in relation to place.
So, in comparison to the dark-skinned race before me, how can I claim with any authority to be the author of Australian music ? Certainly my sound-making bears no resemblance to aboriginal music I have so far heard, nor does my visual work, in relation to what I have so far seen.
I am led to speculate that the best I can hope for is that there might be some kind of vibrational attunement occurring between my spirit and the land (inclusive of its people).
I am open to an accusation that this is just another white-fella’s appropriating advances, in verbally plugging-in to aboriginal culture, just another colonising action. Yet this notion I am discussing feels very personal, delicately emerging in my consciousness and I think within a few others within the circles that I function. In exploring a sense of connection to place, unresolved or unpleasant material is encountered, but this must not interfere with physical and spiritual coming-to-terms, a lifelong process.
The way ahead needs to be trodden with care and attentiveness to the current blunderings and previous outright atrocities applied to our brothers and sisters. In a way, acknowledging and honouring the deep affect that the land has to the open creative spirit, says that one is ready to be humbly taken in, is knocking at the door asking for admission to a “knowledge” that is part and parcel of indigeneity’s fabric of being, the beginning of some profound way for the newcomer, the white-skinned barnacle, to discover a deeper sense of place and so to find an expression of this sense of connectedness (out of recognition and respect, not taken as new).
There will never be assimilation but there will be collaboration, partnership, sharing understanding of place and values and ways of connecting with country, through sounding, for example.
There is no need for me or for any of my colleagues to name what it is we do, but naming seems obligatory in certain communicative situations. It is on these occasions that I might deny the maturity of those European and American forces that shaped my musical growth by attempting to describe the force that now motors my sounding activities as place, as the land. It is the force of the terrain, the ecology in which I live and breathe, the light and the sky under which I think, create and grow, the visual and aural inputs, the haptic and proprioceptive qualities all pertaining to the specific and general location of living. I am honouring the place of place within my tiny creative contribution, under an ongoing acknowledgement of indigenous proprietary rights and injustices, and an ever-refreshing rethink of indigenous and non-indigenous relation. I say the music I make, the creative work I undertake is of the land within which I dwell as my living, loving, suffering and dying take place here.
Perhaps to say I make ‘Australian Music’ is too definitive, declamatory, too territorialising. The name may well point to the context and the influence under which I work but is, in an etymologically sense, as distracting for the one whom experiences the performance as is the cognitive search for meaning amongst the sound.
[Preamble for gigs?]
I acknowledge past and ongoing injustices committed by my kind upon the peoples and the land within which I now live.
I also acknowledge their generous, gracious and forgiving behaviour in the face of continuous violation.
The cut that occurred when this land’s ecology was breached is my heritage also.
My creative energies and actions I have come to imagine as a sapling growing from the cut tree, that my work emerges from the land but will always deal with, contain, address, come-forth through the violence perpetrated.