Interview by Andy Beta (March 2002)For those who might've not spent too much time 'spotting on Australian noise-spazz trios of the early nineties, Phlegm's guitarist, Oren Ambarchi, would have slid through the cracks were he not to have taken his quite-beaten guitar and other matters into his own hands and began exploring and tracing out a more "dreamtime" sort of rough outback with his series of self-released Stacte solo records. Taking his cues from the spacious methodologies of Alvin Lucier and Morton Feldman, the more raw field-stuffs of Folkways recordings, and the electronic abstractions of Voice Crack and various Mego-folk, Oren's music has the peculiar sense of being both grounded and drifting, an amalgam of the visceral and pleasantly disorienting.
Since his initial spate of solo releases, he has expanded into working with international folks like Phill Niblock, Keith Rowe, Stillupsteypa, Fennesz, and Pita, some of whom will be returning the favor with two LPs worth of remixes of his last disc, Suspension. He also continues to work with Australian turntablist Martin Ng as well as his old Phlegm bandmates Robbie Avenaim and Nik Kamvissis in various configurations. We spent two weeks together this last summer, and while the interview does have a conversational feel, it was all conducted by e-mail, which should belie less of an editorial greasing and instead say more about Oren's easy-going and open person.
Q: It's too bad you weren't in New York long enough to check out the Living Colour reunion. They played in Central Park for Summer Stage. It was a time-warp. I mean, they used to be one of my favorite bands back in high school.
You know I would've been there with bells on. What a laugh! They used to be one of my favorites too. I had everything. Even the different versions of Stain, which had crazier Vernon Reid solos on the Aussie version.
Q: I guess America just couldn't handle that. It was weird to finally see them though. I was standing next to some body-builder guy named "Rock". And so he tells me a bit about playing with some of the Living Colour guys, and gives me a flier for his band that says, "There is no other band on the planet like COCKDIESEL featuring drummer Reggie Sylvester."
That's fucked. I guess I told you about Reggie, right? Insane!
Q: No, you hadn't mentioned him before.
When I was studying in Brooklyn as a yeshiva student, I used to go to shows at night and I would bump into this dude at all the same shows, the first one being a Power Tools show with Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs, and Shannon Jackson. Eventually we became good friends and used to hang out, going to all the Black Rock Coalition shows at CBGB's. This would all be around '90/'91. He introduced me to a lot of cool shit. We must have looked like an interesting couple: me, the Chassid from Crown Heights, and him, the brother from Bed Stuy. Eventually we lost contact.
Q: Tell me about your studies when you were in New York. Did you find a connection between your studies and the music you saw?
Well originally I was drawn to studying Judaism through intensive listening of John and Alice Coltrane when I was a teenager. This in turn led to Ayler, Taylor, Shepp, et al. So going to New York to study and check out all of this stuff at night was the perfect combination for a while. I think I saw Cecil Taylor live about 6-7 times at that time. Then I slowly got back into rock and went to a lot of punk gigs, B.R.C. shows... there was a slight crossover from the free jazz world then.
Q: Can I ask about your morning ritual when you stayed with me? I didn't ever observe it, but what was it?
I was putting on Tefillin, which are leather boxes and straps. Both of the boxes have parchment inside them with four specific Biblical passages. We put the Tefillin on one arm with one box adjacent to the heart and the other box on the head over the brain (indicating submission of our intellect and emotions to God). The leather represents something that is physical and lowly and when we put on Tefillin we "elevate" something physical into something spiritual when we use it for this purpose. This relates to the purpose of man, living in a physical/finite world and elevating it into something lofty by doing 'good'/spiritual acts.
Q: Speaking of something lowly performing something spiritual, tell me about that hacked-up guitar of yours...
Long story. Back in the days when I was a teenager, a few of us had a room where we'd jam. All of our equipment was there. People would leave stuff there all the time. Anyway, that guitar belonged to this guy who was like the "Heavy Metal Guitar God" of the school. One day he transformed into a jazz snob and started playing a George Benson guitar or something. Anyway, he'd left this horrible Washburn guitar at the space and it was there for years. One day I was doing a free jazz related gig and I wanted something electronic that I could 'hit' next to my drum kit/cheap microphone/electronics set up. I spotted the guitar at the space and since then I've used it. It's also been sawed in half, had other pickups added, and other such unmentionables. Since it didn't cost me anything, I wasn't inhibited in my 'approach.'
Actually, one day the original owner came early to a gig I was doing and was excited about seeing his original guitar, his "old love." He actually was talking about re-possessing it. When I popped open the guitar case you should have seen his face! He was screaming and carrying on: "My guitar! My guitar! What have you done!" Eh, but after the gig he told me I could keep it.
Q: What was the start of Phlegm?
I went to the same school as Rob Avenaim, and we'd been involved in different groups. Both of us played drums together in many free jazz projects in the late '80's/early '90's. At the time one group we played in was an Ornette Coleman Prime Time covers band (2 x guitar, 2 x bass, 2 x Drums). For a while it was fun, but after a while there was a rift in the group; half the group were strictly into jazz and the rest were into jazz as well as other things… punk/rock, et cetera. So towards the end, there was a lot of frustration. Around this time I got a hold of a guitar and I spontaneously booked a duo show with Rob under the name Phlegm. I thought it be a one-off gig with a silly name... Rob came to pick me up for the gig and was shocked to see me with a guitar. The gig went well and the highlight was having Nick Kamvissis, whom I'd just met recently, sitting in with us at the end of the show. We were offered another gig, so the name, the guitar and Nick stayed and that's how it all started.
Q: How involved were you with the Japanoize scene back then? Was there an interchange going on, from sheer proximity?
In the early 90's I bought this RRR cassette called Eat Shit Noise Music. It featured early Jap-noise tracks swiped from some rare Hanatarash, Gerogerigegege, White Hospital, and Grim LP's. I absolutely loved this fucking release! It was crude, noisy, dada, punk, concrete, stupid and totally over the top. So I searched out all the original LP's and then a little later people like Masonna appeared, sounding much cruder than he does now, and I was really into that whole scene. Around the time that Phlegm began, the scene was an influence. We toured Japan twice and over the years had Masonna, Solmania, Machine Gun TV, Boredoms, COA, Minga and others play at the What Is Music? Festival. Whenever we went over to Japan or when some of the above artists were in Oz, we would do a lot of live collabs. I still love a lot of that stuff, especially people like Incapacitants.
When the Boredoms first came to Oz they asked Phlegm to support them at this big rock club. They already knew us from some shows in Japan - we'd done some live collaborations on a Phlegm tour. Anyway, before the rock club thing we did this unadvertised Boredoms/Phlegm/ Mu Mesons show as part of What Is Music? which was absolutely insane! The venue was a small cafe where we used to do small improv shows every once in awhile. So the place was absolutely packed with people. And Nik starts off with his extreme upper-register screaming, and you can just see Eye, on the side of the stage, totally bowled over from it. He couldn't believe the shit Nik was doing. The highlight was both Nik and Eye's bodies locked together on the floor in front of the stage with mikes in their mouths, heads between each others' legs, screaming for an eternity. A great show.
A few days later we did the Boredoms support at this big rock club in Sydney and we were booted off the stage after 3 songs. Some of this is documented in Bananafish, in the sidebar to a Lucas Abela story. The people that ran the place didn't really appreciate our music.
Q: You had all those crazy videos with you when you visited. Is that for the upcoming television program you're producing in Australia?
Yeah. About a year ago, a guy named Brendan Walls, who works for a national Australian station named SBS, approached me about doing a five minute feature on Nik and I. As a result of us working together on this, Brendan and I became friends. We bitched and bitched about the state of Oz music television and decided to concoct a proposal to SBS for a series exploring "experimental" music.
Finally after a year a debating and red tape, they got back to us and approved of a pilot to be made. We have just commenced work on it. The pilot won't go to air, but will determine whether we get the series or not.
It's still in the planning stages but it looks like the content for the pilot will be opening titles and music by hiaz of farmers manual plus features on Sun Ra, including footage of 'The Magic Sun,' kindly donated from the composer/ filmmaker Phill Niblock, Christian Marclay, with live footage plus two of his conceptual films, Masonna, Martin Klapper featuring footage of the Czech artists hand painted films, plus his live improvisational work with toys and home-electronics, Sue Harding, an eccentric, local artist who lives in the middle of nowhere makes music and art from old dot matrix printers, and the Mulatta label, with footage of the Thai Elephant Orchestra plus other Mulatta label artists. This content would be some sort of reflection of what we would do if we had a regular series: historical footage of 'important' innovators such as Harry Partch, Iannis Xenakis, Cornelius Cardew, some local Australian content, and focus on a particular label. It's an exciting project and we're hoping it takes off.
Q: And there's a University gig as well?
Yes, teaching two classes: contemporary arts and improvisation.
Q: How did that come about?
Following a performance I did at the University of Western Sydney as a member of Phill Niblock's ensemble, I was asked by Julian Knowles (member of Social Interiors) to take his place teaching free improvisation to second year music students. This year will be my second year doing this. The students usually come from a rock or classical background, which means loads of guitar shredders. Basically I introduce them to different approaches to playing/listening. We listen to loads of recordings and do a great deal of playing. I try and force them to break habits and to listen.
Q: I liked (Alan) Licht's suggestion that all improvising musicians watch the John Cassavetes' movie Opening Night.
That's a great idea! I might screen it. Besides, I'd love to see it again!
Q: What sorts of things are you playing for them?
Here's a few. Cage - Prepared Piano pieces and Indeterminacy. I usually start with these pieces at the beginning of the course to give examples of an artist extending the musical language/instrument (radical historical works are good to give an overview). Other pieces I play include Lucier's works, selections from AMM's Laminal (mainly because it is a good example of how they've changed through the years) plus The London Concert on disc 2 rocks! Demitrio Stratos's various Cramps titles, for the vocalists, plus I play other assorted vocal releases. A Cor Fuhler disc, I forget which, but a great piano release. Jim Denley - Tiboboora - awesome flautist and there's always flute players in the class. Voice Crack, to encourage building homemade instruments and an example of how 'music' can be beautiful even if it isn't on a 'traditional' instrument. I've also screened the Voice Crack movie Kick That Habit, which was very inspiring for them. It really made them LISTEN to ALL sounds as music. Francisco Lopez spoke and performed to the class and this really turned a lot of students around, as Mr. Lopez is highly articulate and his work is incredibly powerful, kinetic in a way that is very immediate for people.
I have played the guitar heads people like Fred Frith, Hans Reichel, Henry Kaiser. Usually these are the artists to start off with, as they are immediately impressive and then move onto people like Mr. Rowe. The duo CD's with Gunter Muller and Jim O'Rourke playing together are really great; I have played those to the class a number of times. All Christian Marclay releases are aired, as I touch on cut-up stuff, as well as introduce them to musique concrete from the '50's/'60's. From there, I then move onto Merzbow, early Hanatarash, early noise and into the present with digital works from the Mego crew, Stilluppsteypa.
Q: What do they usually like the most?
They usually like the flashy stuff like Fred Frith. I'm playing them stuff like Voice Crack and they're kinda confused about it. Maybe it's a good thing?
Q: Just as long as it's not the New York school of "Just play as much as possible..."
Fuck no. I'm trying to get the kids to break routine habits and listen, expand/extend what they do, take risks.
Q: Are there certain things you want them to discern from the recordings? For something so intuitive, how do you analyze it in a productive manner?
I try to encourage them to play in ad hoc groupings as much as possible. After a piece the whole class discusses what they liked/disliked about it and the players themselves talk about it as well: what they thought worked, what went wrong, how things sounded, etc. This seems to make them more sensitive about what they play and how they respond during a piece. But of course, there are loads of people that don't give a fuck about what's going on around them and it's almost impossible to make them listen to anyone other than themselves. As mentioned it's really effective when I bring in guests such as Martin Ng, who performs solo and then improvises with the class. This keeps them on their toes - it's not as easy for them to bullshit when they are playing with a "professional." A lot of the material I play the class is the more sensitive, horizontal improv of groups such as AMM. They seem to respond to these works by being a little more cautious in their playing, aware of all small details in the sound and hopefully more selective about what they play. We'll see...
Q: Do you ever play your own music for them? I always felt weird when I had to read the poems my English teacher wrote in class...
No - in the past I have improvised with them in class, which has been great, and a few of them have come to live shows as well, but that is the extent of it.
Q: How would you compare that sort of classroom playing with the Afternoon Tea disc that you did with Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, Pimmon, and Peter Rehberg?
Most of the students have had no experience improvising in a totally unstructured setting, so some of them are really uptight about it. It takes a while for the kids to loosen up and just let things happen naturally. Afternoon Tea was an ultra-relaxed session. It was a lovely day, the sunshine was streaming into the room where we recorded, and everyone was chilled, happy just to get together and play. Nothing was spoken about beforehand and we just played for a few hours while the tapes rolled. Unfortunately, a lot of improvised studio sessions can be rushed and don't have this relaxed atmosphere. It was very 'Australia'!
Q: And what is it with Australians and Austrians? The coming together of the two camps has been nothing less than proficient. From the large body of Mego-related works being realized and subsequently released while there, to the collaborations taking place between the two parties, I was just wondering if you had any comments or particular insight into this fruitful phenomenon.
Most of this has been a result of the What Is Music? Festival. Some of the Mego crew came here in 2000. We all had a lot of fun hanging out, eating, drinking - everyone had a great time together. This resulted in friendship, collaboration and exchange, plus some great shows, which fortunately were recorded. Since then some of these impromptu collabs have resulted in releases and become certified "projects." Gcttcatt is a prime example. Australia is definately a nice, relaxing place to visit and the people here are warm. The Austrians dug it. Christian Fennesz told me that Endless Summer was inspired from the time he spent over here.
Q: When you began the What is Music? Festival, was it more of an exploration of Australian music, or a chance to perhaps swing some of your favorite artists over who would otherwise never come?
In 1994, a guy that ran a club in Sydney asked us to organise 2 nights of experimental music. There were so many people we wanted to play that it ended up becoming a 5 night "festival." Originally all the content was local and diverse; "high brow" acoustic improv, weird-ass "rock" groups, and so forth. The common link amongst all the acts was that most of them rarely had an opportunity to perform in Sydney and that we thought they were doing interesting stuff. Somehow it became a festival which has now taken place on a yearly basis in both Sydney and Melbourne, and in the past 4 years we've had many international guests.
In the early years, we had artists such as Machine For Making Sense, Mu Mesons, Ear Rational Music, Greg Kingston, Mike Cooper, Satsuki Odamura, John Murphy, Loop Orchestra, Rik Rue, Phoebe Jeebee, Louie Burdett, Jon Rose, Roger Dean, Chris Townend, Social Interiors, Antediluvian Rocking Horse, Bill McCoy, Lucas Abela, Rizili, Wake Up & Listen, Tony Buck, and Chris Abrahams, to name but a few.
This past festival (2001), artists included: Pimmon, Hecker, Minit, Dworzec, David Haines, Sue Harding, Scott Horscroft, Cor Fuhler, Max Nagl/Josef Novotny, Farmers Manual, Makigami Koichi, Pansonic, cd_slopper, Nasenbluten, Dion Workman, Jim Denley/Greg Kingston, GCTTCATT, Phillip Samartzis/Ramsus B Lunding, Calypso Brothers, Curse ov dialect, Ernie Althoff, Chris Smith and loads more.
In the old days the festival ran for a few nights, this past one went for 17!
Q: You were a drummer first, right?
I started drumming when I was 10 or 11. This girl used to babysit my sister and me. Sometimes we'd stay at her place, and her brother, whose name was Mouse, had a Gibson Les Paul. He also had a pair of drumsticks. This was in the '70's and he was way into punk. He would plug the guitar in, turn it up and go nuts. I would bash on pots and pans. We named our 'group' The Razorblades From Hell. This was my first drumming experience.
After that, I begged my father to buy me a drumkit. He refused, but I persisted. Eventually, he made a deal with me; if I had classical piano lessons for one year, he'd buy me a secondhand kit. I started learning all this classical stuff whilst my father secretly hoped I'd forget about the drums and pursue a career in piano. Exactly a year to the day of starting the lessons, I told my teacher and my father that I was stopping as I was going to play drums. He was disappointed but kept his promise and bought me this strange old kit. I was so happy!
I was obsessed with Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, and later, Kiss. Played along to the records all day. My grandfather had this weird secondhand store out in the suburbs. Junkies would sell all kinds of records, instruments, and miscellany to score. I would go in on Saturdays and he'd let me take home anything I wanted. Lots of important discoveries took place in his store. Once I picked up a copy of Yoko Ono's Fly LP, as I spotted the Apple logo and thought it was a Beatle record I didn't have. At first, all of it was whacky to me. Later I loved it all. I think when you're really young, you're quite open, and once I'd heard the record a number of times, I dug all of it equally. Another time I found an Iron Maiden record cover that had Miles Davis' Live Evil inside the sleeve! These were some early records that turned my head around.
My grandfather also gave me a bunch of cheap effect pedals and equipment that I fooled around with all the time. I had a double tape recorder that I used like a 4 track. I would record day and night! I worked out how to flange by playing 2 of the same recordings simultaneously and bouncing them to another player, I'd record shortwave radio stuff, cut up existing music. Yeah, his store really helped developing my interest in these areas.
From there I guess I was a drummer, primarily playing free jazz and shit. Then I kinda stopped as I switched to guitar. Right now I play drums when I do weddings. Lots of schmaltz, jazz standards, bossa nova, Barry Manilow, the regular. However, I have a new song-based album out this week called SUN, made with my friend Chris Townsend, who runs Big Jesus Burger studios. I play drums on that plus guitar, keyboards, some singing. Plus I play in the Menstruation Sisters.
Q: The Sisters seemed to be the most endearing project you had when you lived here.
The Sisters come from a place where there is no language and no technique. One-string, Minnie Ripperton, a footprint, intuitive chants, and two tree trunks.
Q: Let's get some Nik the Greek stories.
I met Nik Kamvissis aka Rizili aka Da Riz in 1991. I was in a few groups and I'd bump into him at our gigs. We spoke about the PSF label and Haino Keiji when I'd first met him and I was amazed he knew about this stuff. I mean, I'd only just come back from New York and was blown away by the various Haino shows I'd witnessed there. No one in Sydney was into this stuff in like, '91. We became close friends quick. He was a postal worker who was really enthused with weird-ass sounds but wasn't actually a 'music practitioner'. We both began mail ordering all these underground Jap releases from this place in Osaka on an almost weekly basis. It became this fucked up obsession. One day he left a cassette at my place of him fooling around on someone's 4-track and it was absolutely devastating! The most demented, inspiring shit I'd heard in ages. From that point on he was encouraged to 'perform.' A highly talented, one-of-a-kind artist.
Q: And Thurston (Moore) is writing liner notes for that record?
Well it was supposed to be a press release and we recorded the thing and sent to the record label over two years ago now and we haven't heard from the guy. We know it's been pressed up, because he sent us some LP copies, but it's not officially 'out.' So there's no press release or release at this stage! Thurston likes the Sisters. He got us a show in New York a few years ago and we've played with Sonic Youth when they come to Oz.
Q: So when you came over to Europe and New York last summer, that was your first time out solo, right?
I've played solo in Australia before, but yeah it was my first time doing it overseas.
Q: How did your approach to playing change as you went along? Were you mainly working on that piece that I saw, or were there other things you were honing as well?
It really developed from gig to gig. My first few shows were in the UK and the solo set was approximately 20 minutes. By the end of my tour the set was about 50 minutes, so I discovered different areas as I played more shows. Somehow it all mutated into this long piece which I was exploring. The show I did in Nijmegen, Holland, will be coming out as Triste through the Idea label. The more I played it, the more risks I took and it led me into newer realms which I would try and refine from gig to gig. Sometimes there would be equipment fuck-ups, which would also throw me into a different place. Creating these wormholes that would result in a new 'section' in my performance that I could revisit during the next performance was very beneficial for honing that particular space of the music. It was a wonderful experience to be able to play so often.
I was also fortunate to do some collaborations whilst in Europe and the U.S. I did five trio shows with Keith Rowe and Rob Avenaim in France. Keith Rowe is the man: a beautiful, radical, tasty player, and a total gentleman to boot. One night, Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide joined us, which was lovely. At the end of it, all Keith could say about the experience was that it was "like a gas!"
In Holland, I recorded with Heimir from Stilluppstepya, Jeff Carey of 87 Central and Gert-Jan Prins, who is a great homemade electronics artist in the Metamkine/Voice Crack school. This might come out someday. The highlight of New York was a duo with percussionist Tim Barnes - we hit it off from the get-go!
Q: Oh right, where there was that really muscular folk singer afterwards. Did you get a copy of that?
It wasn't recorded which is a shame.
Q: Can you talk abit about your duo with Martin Ng, the turntablist?
Our first record came out last year, called Reconnaissance. All of the sounds are manipulated from the turntables and/or guitar. Most of it is created from a feedback loop. We turn the volume up and then a tone emits from the speakers, is picked up through the stylus, then goes back into the mixer, and then emits from the speakers etc.. We found we could subtly change the pitch of the feedback by pressing our weight onto the turntable. So there are controlled feedback tones from the guitar and from the turntable mixed together, creating other tones altogether.
Q: And Martin himself...
Martin's an amazing guy who is a cardiologist during the day, and turntablist at night. He made a great improv-ish duo release with winds player Jim Denley, of Machine for Making Sense. He also has a project with Hiaz Gmachl of Farmers Manual, called ggattctcattc, or something like that (actually gcttcatt- ed.). They've also recorded some stuff that's out on Mego now. The odd name stems from a very rare DNA strain associated with his heart research.
Q: Does he ever pull out some choice cardiovascular pics for you?
Nah, he just looks like a sushi chef when he's on the wheels of steel.
Q: Talk about the genesis of the "Stacte" series. What frustrations led to it, or what inspiration made you buckle down to work on it?
I was sitting around at home with my guitar, some effects and a shitty cassette player. I had been listening to Alan Licht's Sink the Aging Process LP and loads of older minimalist recordings, like Alvin Lucier, La Monte Young…I hadn't really recorded any solo material at that time and I was inspired to do something. So I plugged in, pressed 'record' and laid down the first side immediately without any thought or preparation; it was a live improvisation direct to tape. Once the first piece was recorded, I flipped the tape over and recorded the second side, reacting to what I'd just played. When I finished, I listened to what I'd recorded and then went straight to the post office and sent off the cassette to a pressing plant in the USA with a deposit. The next morning I started worrying; "What have I done", "am I crazy...the music sucked", etc, etc.. I didn't even have a copy of the cassette to listen to, to see if it was any good. Actually the pressing plant, which has since gone bust, kept the masters to the first 2 volumes of the Stacte series, so I doubt they'll be coming about anytime soon. I'm not exactly sure why I pressed up that release, but I'm glad I did as it led me into exploring and re-thinking my playing. I hadn't released any solo stuff at that point in time and it spurred me on to doing more work. Also, because it was a real limited release, I wasn't worried about 'perfection' or too precious about fucking up. The other subsequent Stacte releases continued on in the tradition of the original release; just recording a side-long exploration without much thought or preparation beforehand. I love the vinyl format and a side-long piece really gives the artist and the listener a chance to sink their teeth into something. Pieces on my recent CD releases are definitely coming from a similar area though.
Q: How did you get involved with Touch?
I'd recorded some guitar tracks and sent them a cd-r through the mail. A few weeks later they contacted me saying they wanted to release it. It came out a few months later as Insulation. Such a label releasing Australian music is kinda fortunate. Not too long ago, people were self-releasing their records here, but they'd end up only selling a few locally and then it would fizzle. It was difficult for independent labels to get decent distribution overseas so people would end up with loads of self-released CD's and records under their beds and no-one overseas knowing these releases existed. This prompted a lot of people to send their works to international labels, and subsequently there are some Australian artists works being released overseas now.
Q: What differentiates your Stacte work from the CD releases?
The Stacte series was a raw, spontaneous and minimal approach. I wasn't really concerned with the result being polished, I just wanted to capture a moment and explore it for a lengthy period. Insulation was a more varied work which featured different moods and textures. It was made during a period when I was wanting to see how much I could do with the guitar, so there are different examples of experiments I was doing at the time. The latest Touch CD, Suspension, in some ways is more closer to the Stacte releases; pieces that hold a moment or mood for an extended duration. With Stacte.3, especially the 2nd side, I hit on something that has been developed in subsequent releases such as Persona and Suspension.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about Australia in general? Partially how its isolation, both geographically and through immigration laws, affects influx or export of ideas and people, and how you or others compensate. Is it helpful, or is the final effect homogenous and staid?
I think it can work both ways. It affects everyone differently, and it all depends on the individual. I've always been really investigative, and somehow I've managed to get ahold of stuff I've heard about if I really wanted to. For me it's always been important be open and to listen to as much music as possible, so I'm always trying to track down releases, soak them up.
A lot of interesting stuff happening here is really obscured - you'll only find out about a show if you make a huge effort for example. None of this stuff is in your face. It's definitely helped traveling overseas as there's so much more out there. But in the last few years it's been a little easier to get all kinds of obscure international releases here and we've been fortunate to have some visiting international artists.
It is frustrating as far as playing live; I might do a up to ten or so shows a year which is pretty depressing. On the other hand, since I've had some time on my hands I've been able to develop on my own without too many distractions. When there is a live show, it's usually really "special" as it doesn't happen every day. Even some of the international artists who played at the What Is Music? festival told me that they have never played to such large crowds before.
Unfortunately, there isn't that much support or interest here for artists. Sport is No.1. So most shows are organized by the artists themselves. Everything from hiring a place to play, to flyer-ing and advertising, sound, et al.
All in all, it's real expensive to leave this place and travel. Plus the flights are so fucking long! Many artists living here have never traveled, and don't really know what's 'happening' musically in the outside world, yet they are creating these beautiful, individual works. Maybe this is a result of their isolation? Not sure, and I don't know if this is important anyway. Like any other place, there's loads of horrible shit being produced here as well. I enjoy living here though. It's really beautiful, the weather's great, and let me tell you, the food is incredible! However, I'd go crazy if it wasn't possible for me to travel overseas, meet and collaborate with people from different cultures, play shows in different countries. Yep, I'd go nuts!
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