My Story: Pacific Journeying
Venerable Chinese-American composer Chou Wen-chung talks of movement across things, or a drifting flow of time related to artistic practice, especially in relation to Chinese culture and the ancient Wenren figure as a type knowledge carrier, encourager and conveyor. Its resonance with Judeo-Christian ideas from the book of Genesis is paramount in a discussion about creativity; here, spirit moves across waters in a brooding way that gives birth to creativity—life, ideas and spiritual transcendence across time and space. In a sense my story engages with both perspectives—East Asian and Judeo-Christian ideas: it is about the flow of time across waters, cultures and inner imaginative resonances out into an expression of place, that is the Pacific Rim. The chief creative idea that propels my story, is that the flow of the fragility of life is expressed in a way where what is above touches that which are below as fragrant moments resonant of Pacific place in every sense (individual, geographic and spiritual) with transcendent purpose beyond myself.
I am blessed to reside in the harbour city of Sydney; nestled at the foot of the Blue mountains in the outer West, my dwelling in Penrith allows access to the beautiful East coast Australian bush landscape where the undulating rhythms of nature such as curious kangaroos and dovetailing birdsong flourishes surprise me a new every morning on my bush-run. Yet, in under an hour by Mountain train, I can be in the metropolis heart of Sydney with its vibrant interaction and flow—a living demonstration of Australia’s vibrant multicultural approach to life, especially for me, the richness of East Asian cultures and its conversational dialogue with other cultures of the landscape both ancient dwellers and recent immigrations. This vibrant diversity of life flow is stimulating for my musical creativity and is a region I feel naturally at home in.
My initial journey began in the harbour city of Auckland, where I grew up. The sub-tropical richness of climate allowed for flow in an athletic sense where as a teenager I ran and competed regularly in middle distance events, including ranking second in New Zealand for 3,000 metres as a teenager. The mentorship of running guru Arthur Lydiard was fundamental for my life flow; his pioneering spirit which saw New Zealand athletes achieve well in Japan was generously imparted even to the very young such as myself—not so much as running instruction, but rather how to mange the flow of time towards fragile moments of possibility with preparedness for opportunity.
This flow of time eventually led to my sojourn, with my beautiful wife Colleen, to the icy cold York in the United Kingdom—the landscape of my Scottish ancestors who hail from Glasgow, whilst others are Polish immigrants to France and New Zealand. Again, flow in an athletic sense provided for breath moments within a hearty soccer game with locals from a church, outside of which Anglican cleric and Christian theologian John Wesley was said to have preached. However, having that transcendent moment now said, the hardest game we ever played was against the Yorkshire plumbers—a type of ‘bloodied’ Yorkshire landscape. This breath in the landscape became a moment break from the rigors of studying composition with David Blake at York—an ancient seat of learning resonant with Alcuin of York who was an English scholar, clergy, poet and teacher from York. Blake, himself a pupil of Hanns Eisler, proved a formidable and generous teacher with a gift for imparting a sense of robustly shaped musical craftsmanship. Against the often-grey muted-sky, I was involved in rich indoor cultural pursuits of opera and experimental musical discourse that proved eye and ear opening for myself—although not an environment I resonated internally with in a creative sense.
My journey back to Australasia and the Pacific was marked by the radiance of light and vibrancy of the sonorous cultural places of its rim. This legendary rim of fire landscape proved over time to reveal itself as catalyst for my creativity—through its connection with spirit and vibrancy of kinetic action in the mixture of qiyun energies and pioneering spirit. Journeying to Japan as a young composer in 1990, I felt a sense of a formidable yet new territory adventure about to unfold at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo. In this place at Art Park, nestled amongst the mountain regions, I felt the lushness of the greenery and cloud disturbed sky a place that reverberated with what Chou Wen-chung called the ‘ambrosia’ of my New Zealand homeland. Chou, a type of Chinese Wenren spirit figure for Pacific composers, gently introduced a vibrant group of young creators from the Pacific Rim to the riches of this place. Through friendship with Chou, Peter Sculthorpe and Chinary Ung and total immersion in and emersion from Pacific sounds such as time-slab flows of Japanese Gagaku court music, rich Indonesian Balinese gamelan kinetic energy, and the search for Buddhist bells by Sculthorpe opened my heart and mind to another way of creative thinking and being. Reflectively, it proved a catalyst to my drawing on as a composer both my European cultural heritage in vibrant and equal energized debate with East Asian cultures across a multi-artform and spiritual connection to creativity within music.
Pacific Placed Creativity and Connectivity:
My eventual migration to Australia, drawn by the warmth of Peter’s friendship, led to a place of nurture under Australian composer Ross Edwards where I was allowed to be myself—even after a whiskey after the doctoral supervision had finished. The wide-open philosophy of my international collaborators such as London-based taegŭm virtuoso Hyelim Kim working with filmmaker Pedro Velasco, and Seoul-based gayageum master Yi Jiyoung, has continued to encourage an open thinking in the creative sphere of life. I feel blessed and privileged to reside in Sydney as a basis for continual engagement in a wide-eyed and open-eared adventure in music that has taken me through the sonorous places of the Asia-Pacific rim—such as Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and America.
An open-heart attitude has enabled me to engage with the riches of cultural exchange within the Asia-Pacific through friendship to create movement in composition across things—geography, culture, and spirit. The process is mysterious yet achingly familiar; the rim of fire traditions engaging with moving spirit has opened up new ways of creativity that engage with composition and improvisation as sonic stillness broken by frenetic action, and other artform influences from colour sensuality of visual arts, poetic moments, and kinetic dance. I see music as spiritual expression inspired from above and resonant with earth for the enrichment of life.