Sound art is political: the Truman Doctrine at Gertrude St
... Ant Pateras is a genius in many respects, but we don't agree on all things. eg, he cleaves to a notion that sound, "least plastic of the arts" (by his estimation) has a limited relationship to what some of us might recognise as the "real world". & which is fine; everyone is entitled to hold their differing opinion.
I'm fairly sure that at least some, and possibly most, of the other artists in the 21:00:00 exhibition (Gertrude Street Galleries thru Oct/Nov, in association with the Melbourne International Arts Festival), would agree with him on this. OK.
The context of exhibition & performance, however, is always political; it involves compromise and negotiation with inescapable material realities: where is the money coming from/who is making the decisions/which agendas are being supported or suppressed???
(and hence, what I figure to be the elementary inconsistency of Ant's line: composing and recording are likewise subject to these imperatives)
21:00:00 is/was great, and surveys a solid selection of artists/musicians. But the roster of nations they represent looks like Harry S Truman's vision of the globe - a strange way to be be approaching the world in the 21st century...
The principal member-states of the NATO alliance are represented. Finland, Austria and Switzerland have all been oriented Western/capitalist in their recent history. Japan, and the member nations of the ANZUS alliance, are what strategic planners refer to as "out-of-area" Western nations.
And that is it for the world! Africa & South and Central America have been disappeared from this planet, as has Eastern Europe and Russia. (I mean: what kind of contemporary international focus omits the culture of all the BRIC nations?)
So this is/was an exhibition proceeding from the assumptions of the previous century (and the most conservative assumptions, at that): progressive culture is the exclusive province of white capitalists and the Japanese. Historically, this kind of thinking has been a license for the oppression & exploitation of subject peoples (and its the essential reasoning behind the stolen generation, here in Australia).
I can anticipate some of the defences for the omission. I suspect it simply reflects international marketing dynamics (very little of culture, of any description, makes it thru the WestBloc embargo). The widely toured & travelled Lucas Abela reckons experimental music will be found any place there's a prosperous middle-class... And to the extent that sound art involves formal experiment with advanced technology, access may well be limited in poorer nations.
All of which is, hmmm, 'illuminating' in terms of the assumptions it reveals about experimental music & sound art...
Australian culture has a funny relationship to tradition: we adopt them from the distant geographic centres of western culture. The vast bulk of Australian government funding for music proceeds directly to the state & national opera companies and symphony orchestras. Their repertoire is, literally, 'repertory': canonical works of long-dead Germano-Austrian and Italian composers, mostly. So there's a danger of also framing local experimental music as a displaced and introduced phenomenon - which is among the things that Jon Rose warned of in this year's Peggy Glanville-Hicks memorial lecture.
And in the historical context of Australia - an immigrant nation, with a heritage of colonial dominion - and given claims towards anticipating the trends of the new century - 21:00:00 starts looking like a no-brainer (even if it doesn't necessarily sound like one). The curators' adoption of a quote from John Cage fairly summarises things: a tradition of individual genius/heroes in the romantic mould, what my [RIP] friend, Nick Zurbrugg used to refer to as the post-modern avant-garde. But are those assumptions of white & western bourgeois privilege sufficient to address a changing world?
And is this the future for creative music in Australia? Maybe.
But, I gotta say - it looks an awful lot like the past.