The Music of Place: Reclaiming a practice

Jon Rose
Books, Cultural Policy
Sydney: Currency House, May 2013, Platform Papers No 35
ISBN 978 0 987211446
Reviewed by , April 1st, 2014

This book is part of the Currency House’s Platform Papers, an ‘informed quarterly essay series seeking new directions’ in performance and media arts and associated arts industry practices.

Jon Rose (b. 1951) is a composer, sound artist, improviser, violinist and instrument maker working in the experimental music tradition. He has recently been recognised with the Australia Council’s highest honour in the field of music, the Don Banks Award (2012).

Rose’s platform paper is summed up in his opening sentence: ‘The practice of music…has lost its key functions and roles in society.’ His opinions and arguments are framed within an historical perspective of Australian music and sound, including indigenous traditions, colonial practices, technological milestones, and the unique Australian accent. Rose introduces case studies of a broad range of local musicians who have engaged creatively with Australian culture including Aboriginal gum leaf player (Roseina Boston), stroke-victim xylophone busker (Basil Tasker), biomusicologist (Hollis Taylor), misguided polymath (Rolf Harris) and piano virtuoso (Michael Kieran Harvey).

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Rose is extremely critical of the funding regime for music in Australia which is skewed dramatically to the conservation of European traditions such as opera and symphonic music. Having outlined the disproportionate funding levels of these elite music outfits, he offers some suggestions as to how the vast sums of money involved could be better distributed to stimulate a genuine creative music tradition in Australia.

At the heart of his complaint is the fact that creative music (rather than preservative music) at all levels of society and in all cultural contexts gets a raw deal. Australian society in general is not exempt from his attack. In Rose’s view, Australia has relinquished its tradition of making things in favour of providing ‘services’. He quotes legendary violin maker Harry Vatiliotis as describing Australia as ‘a giant whorehouse with everyone servicing everyone else’.

Rose is outraged, for example, that the cost of mounting a concert at the Sydney Conservatorium is prohibitive (even if you are a student or a staff member wanting to perform in an event not tied into the curriculum). Instead he suggests that musicians who have something creative to present to the world should look for alternative venues that are sympathetic to new music composition and performance.

Although the Currency House Platform Papers offer the chance for the contributors to promote their own work, Rose shows considerable restraint in this regard, opting instead to press his case for the promotion of the vast range of musical practices in Australia that are not given a look-in because of the prevailing legislative/financial framework for music. However he does mention a few of his amazing projects in passing such as bowing fences throughout the nation, busking illegally in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, and attempting to put together a bicycle-powered orchestra.

Jon Rose is very serious in promoting his cause, but he uses a very humorous and intellectually engaging approach to get his message across.

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