Plate at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Composers’ House
The terrace house stands on stolen Gadigal land in the magnificent Sydney harbour area, amongst houses which are constantly being updated and expanded and which sell for outrageous prices – a constant reminder of the colonial capitalist project which sees art-making become siloed from daily life, and which has made venues for live and experimental performance in Sydney almost impossible to find.
Honoured to be entrusted with the gift of this residency in 2021, I’ve been hosting regular concerts and events at the house. From Peggy’s initial act of generosity, the cycles of gift-giving continue. With the use of her home, I’ve been able to invite other artists to use the space, musicians have willingly come to share their incredible work, and audiences their keen attention and cash donations, in an exchange propelled by gratitude and community rather than the economic and bureaucratic models which too often frame our experience of art.
This year, between lockdowns and restrictions, I’ve been running two types of events at Peggy’s house. A workshop series, sharing works in progress followed by conversation, as well as a concert series I’ve called ‘Playtime’ where I’ve invited musicians to spend a day at the house improvising and recording, followed by a concert the next evening. The informality of the house context has brought something unique to these collaborations. When no-one has bought a ticket expecting a particular experience, it seems to liberate the musicians to take risks and share ideas that may still be in formation.
The ‘Playtime’ duo collaborations have been quite fast and raw, but have a lot of potential to result in all kinds of ongoing projects and maybe even a few releases.
Working with Laura Altman one morning still in pyjamas after a late night of talking, we explored melding our set ups together on the floor in a way that enabled our playing to feel much more connected. We were now close enough so that any tone either of us played, or any change in our movements would alter the subtly changing feedback emanating from her portable speakers and cassette players.
The collaboration with Adam Gottlieb represented an opportunity for each of us to try out a new set up for improvising, Adam with a dulcimer and two spinning wheels which act as a kind of pedal powered bow for his guitar and his collection of found percussion; and myself straddling a similarly chaotic aspiration to play with ebows, magnets and speakers inside the piano, while also sounding my various clarinets and tubes in its resonant chamber. A piece with Alexandra Spence, which had taken a turn down an unexpectedly ‘medieval’ sounding route involving multiple recorders, ended up in us giggling. The laughter, which was still running through our effects, creating a perfect ending to a track that really captures the playfulness of these encounters.
The other ‘Workshop’ series has been a space to seek critical feedback from the audience to inform the development of a work in progress. Having just arrived in Sydney in March, I started this series by doing a test of Vibrato Virtual. This was a video score in which the listeners become part of an audience-operated, multi-speaker system, using their bodies to mute and resonate audio tracks playing through the tiny speakers of their mobile phones. The room was filled with incredible minds, the likes of Amanda Stewart, Jim Denley, Chloe Kim, Nick Shimmin and MP Hopkins, but of particular interest to me were the non-practitioners in the audience who brought a range of diverse perspectives, less invested in the cultural trends and fashions of a cultural niche. Opening up the work for discussion inspired hearty debate about agency and control, our relationship and addiction to technology, the cultural implications of the human voice, the sharing of personal sensation and experience. It became apparent that everyone has a lot to say when they are given the opportunity! It was exactly this kind of exchange, and the sense of community created by a reciprocity between artists and audiences, that I wanted to foster at Peggy’s house. That evening I realised what a rare and beneficial process it is to get constructive criticism before a work is finished, before it’s too late for people to confidently share their honest opinions. And again, Peggy’s gift had provided such an opportunity.
After the first event at the house, I was immediately struck by how simple and effective this performance context is. You invite a musician to come and play, you send an email, you get a few snacks and drinks, and before you know it, there is adventurous music being created, new friendships budding, and vibrant conversations…No social media campaigns, no bios and marketing copy, no press shots, no stress about ticket sales, or the need to disclose the titles and durations of the program before you have finished writing the pieces.
Of course one could criticise the house concert as a kind of exclusive space, in that it’s not really public (though what concert hall is?). I’ve always made a point of saying in the email “please pass this invitation along to anyone who may be interested” and over the year have seen the email list and the audiences grow to include all kinds of people, including listeners who are not musicians or artists or who have never been to an experimental music gig before. In fact, I suspect that for people who are not regularly attending adventurous music events, the house context is in many ways more appealing and less intimidating than a more traditional or formalised music venue. An audience member who is testing out new stylistic territories, may be more inclined to be open-minded when experiencing an event that feels like a gift, rather than a transaction.
When you step into someone’s home, you’re always walking into a slightly unknown cultural space, there is a sense of being cared for by your host and you generally enter with an openness, curiosity and a respectfulness- qualities which are no doubt beneficial for any audience member. Peggy’s house is an interesting venue in that sense, part way between a public institution as well as a private domestic space with a revolving cast of composers. Perhaps this helps it feel both important and inviting, allowing strangers to become guests and feel welcome there, despite the intimate scale.
I’m far from being the first resident to use this space to host events. I speak to Jim Denley about his memories of playing concerts here during the residencies of Jon Rose, Cat Hope, Thomas Meadowcroft, Natasha Anderson & Anthony Pateras, each hosted with their own character- political, conversational, professionally recorded by ABC radio…stories of libations poured on the floor in memory of Peggy, and audiences crammed into every corner of the house. When I rifle through the papers in the piano stool I find a hand drawn invitation going back to a ‘Salon’ here in 2005, which makes me recall that events like these are part of a long standing tradition of music in the home. Despite being small and informal, they may also be sites of great cultural significance.
The People’s Republic of Camperdown is another impressive home/venue making use of Nick Shimmin’s beautiful converted warehouse space. The story goes that his friend John Rose convinced him to let him hold an event there 12 years ago, inviting 30 of his closest friends, who of course included the majority of the Sydney experimental music scene. Everyone loved being there and more gigs followed, and 12 years on Nick has an extensive mailing list and regularly hosts concerts there to sold out crowds of over 100 people. Audiences seem to trust his curation and come for the experience, and to listen, even if they don’t know the artists. They come bringing generous cash donations, and by now The People’s Republic has developed a reputation amongst musicians as one of the best paid gigs in Sydney despite the fact that attendance is technically free. As I speak to Nick about his drive to keep running these concerts, it’s clear that he gets an enormous amount of satisfaction from hosting, and that he views these events not just as concerts, but as a small blip of radical action. Simply handing over the space to artists with no expectation of making money, momentarily liberates us all from the nexus between economics and real estate. The exercise instead trades on generosity and ideas, and in doing so creates a space where conversation seamlessly traverses generations and stylistic boundaries, and where memorable performances and lifelong friendships have been made.
In a year when I have organised and unorganised countless projects, and planned my life around tours, only to have to leave the bags packed at home, it has been incredibly reassuring to know that at its core, music performance can be created so effortlessly! Music can spring out of the most fleeting encounters and audiences will come to listen, if they feel welcome and valued.
Maybe it’s through the humble yet radical act of opening up private space for public use, that the future of Australian music will thrive.
Aviva Endean is an artist dedicated to fostering a deep engagement with sound and music, with the hope that attentive listening can connect people with each other and their environment. She works as a composer, clarinettist, improviser, and performance-maker, and creates unusual, spatially engaged, and participatory contexts for listening.
Her debut solo album cinder : ember : ashes was released in 2018 to critical acclaim, with reviews speaking to Aviva’s innovation and virtuosity, and describing the work as ‘captivating, ‘sophisticated’, ‘miraculous’ & ‘trance-inducing’.
Aviva has been awarded a Greenroom Award for sound design for Token Armies (Chunky Move), the Freedman Classical Fellowship, The APRA/AMCOS Art Music Fund, and was a finalist for the Melbourne Prize 2019. She was the inaugural recipient of the Australian Art Orchestra’s Pathfinders Associate Artist position, and is in residence at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks composer’s house in 2021.