Australia Ad Lib
A Jon Rose project for the ABC 2003
with 80,000 hits in the first five days
The Australia Ad Lib project is now 2 years old and has been completely re-designed and expanded to over 200 hundred entries. Take a sound tour and find out why the Guest book is full of enthusiastic comments from the tens of thousands of Ad Lib visitors, or jump straight into one of the MIX IT games and mix your own Ad Lib big band.
This is what I wrote at the very start of the project:
The Australia Ad lib project is inspired in part from the seminal book by Melbourne musicologist John Whiteoak, entitled "'Playing Ad Lib' - the history of improvisation in Australia 1830-1975". His premise? Not that there was such a thing called 'improvised music' in the early cultural history of white Australia but that almost all music heard in the theatre, the dance hall, the cinema, the church, the club (i.e. outside of the Symphonic concert), was improvised to a degree... ad libbed, home made, faked up, the larikin performance, the 'give it a go'.
The poet and composer Chris Mann also noted once in one of his pieces... "An Australian is someone who, when asked if they play the piano or not, answers; 'Don't know, never tried.'"
My experience of playing in an Italian club band in Sydney in the 1970's was also a paradigm illustrating this kind of notion. With basically an acoustic traditional Italian band (I was the only non 'Italian descent' band member), we backed just about every kind of musical novelty and commercial style imaginable from performances of favourite TV ads, to amateur aria competitions, to topless a go-go nights, to funky soul singers from Los Angeles... all with acoustic violin, mandolin, accordion and drums. Very post modern!
So my basic objectives with Australia Ad Lib is to find out if such a culture still exists; has it been transformed or does it even thrive within the contemporary framework of Multi Culti Australia? My objectives are questions. Are there unique do-it-yourself artists out there who exist, survive and perform separated from or in parallel to the official cultures? Do the clubs belonging to non Anglo Saxon communities (Lebanese, Serbian, Greek, Vietnamese, etc) witness their own unique or radical performers? Performers who can 'fake up' their own traditional cultures in the 'theme park' culture that is endemic throughout the world. Is the cultural backbone of 'Club Australia' (whether it be RSL, League, Life Savers, Golf, etc) with regard to live music, dying, already dead, or just a former or sleeping parrot? Does the arrival of the Internet and the ubiquitous 'lap top' artist mean that the live performance, with artist and audience in a public space, is also ancient history? Are amateur performers only allowed to do it now in front of the mirror at home? In that case will radio become a growth industry again but this time, as part of the personal digital home entertainment kit? Will the tyranny of distance that made radio so important in this country, make a revival with the new 'distance destroying' mediums? Will the new culture of the computer create more conformity (because so many computer programmes work the same way) or will there be just the same amount of non conformist, do-it-yourself, iconoclasts out there... but doomed to the virtual stage of the internet? What will constitute entertainment at a social event in a country town of 300 with one golf club? Will the local doctor still stand up (with difficulty), call for the opening piano chord and 'give it a go'? Or will they all go home alone to the perfectly groomed pap of a hollywood movie or their Sony Playstation 2? Is there anything like a vibrant aural tradition of amateur music still alive in Australia outside of the Aboriginal tradition or in the form of harmless entertainment for the tourist industry?
I believe that the documented content of the Australia Ad Lib project will provide a substantial insight into what is going on in unofficial cultural Australia, hidden away and ignored by the mainstream.
And this is what I added at the end of the project:
I'm not suggesting here that the 200 year old European model of music as gratuitous entertainment is worth keeping. Its time is up. Historically anyway, it has been something of an aberration compared to the more common notion amongst most societies that music be a function of communal activity, ceremony or ritual. Many traditional cultures don't even have a word that we would understand as 'music', instead they have words for activities that use music. Even in Australia, up until 20 years ago, there were restaurants, clubs and bars where a musician might earn a living. Even this function of music has largely disappeared - the food, grog and pokies are still there though. However the Australia Ad Lib site is not a litany of woe, on the contrary, it demonstrates in a positive burst of energy, that the fifth continent is far from being a cultural desert. Australia is actually on the crest of an alternative music wave right now, the place is positively jumping! There is radical uncompromised music being made again in the inner city, as well as in unexpected environments such as sheep stations and ghost towns in the middle of the outback.