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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 was commissioned by the ABC and, in the days before everything went online in a myriad of platforms, was recognised internationally as an important resource and portrait of alternative music practice in the 5th continent. ABC management thought differently 12 years later and trashed the site. After complaints the site was restored on line. Management trashed it again in 2017 deliberately ignoring its own charter and key point of existence. I could go on about this bunch of myopic, destructive, mediocre posers but I won' thing is clear...if you thought the internet is forever, you will be sadly disappointed.

However the Wayback Machine can help the interested recover text but unfortunately not video or audio. Ad Lib generated over 1,000 urls.

1 Search the Wayback Machine with the adlib domain:

2 Alternatively, go straight to the Australia Ad Lib Home Page, you will need to activate Adobe Flash for interactive sounds (nb. double click).

3 From there you can take a sound tour, read the about page, then scroll down the various categories of music making (backyard, improvisation, mimicry, noise, larrikins, environment, etc), play game 2 or 3 of the MIX IT interactive games (game 1 is a bit sticky) that use some of the original site sound files, search by artist or title, etc ... and all the links like vocal, electronic, tree, finger, chops, humour, etc will also function.

4 You can with sadness check out the names of all the Radio National music programs that ABC management also trashed, after getting rid of Ad Lib. The guest book generated a lot of support for the project before it was blocked. You can click through the pages of comments at the bottom of the url, it's quite a ride.

5 Here are some of my favourite audio examples from the Australia Ad Lib Archive with the relevant URL, please mix away:

Ashley Brophy whirls his sonic whips

Roseina Boston, while her dog Minn sings, plays gum leaf

Michael A. Greene and his simultaneous whistling and humming

Mark Scholes delivers the sprechgesang of auctioneering

Rob Ampt improvises counterpoint on organ

Australian Building Workers Union turns on giant vacuum drainage pipe

Carmelite nuns observe vows of poverty, chastity and silence

Basil Tasker, busker and stroke victim, randomises his patch of street with xylophone

Barrier Industrial Union maintains the tradition of the brass band

Edouard Bronson was a refugee who arrived in Australia with a saxophone

Andreas Hadjisavvas, in his corner shop, sings his radical hit song

Ross Bolleter plays ruined pianos; instruments that have been prepared by the Australian climate or neglect

Mavis was a much loved busker at Central Station, Sydney; an ecstatic full body movement singer

Michael Sheridan never became a pop celebrity but remains one of Australia's many talented guitarists

Rik Rue is a sound artist extraordinaire, here he chronicles the speakers at The Sydney Domain

Richard Ratajczak earned his living as a librarian but he was also a great improviser on Double Bass

Lucas Abela has become something of an art star however he first came to notice as a very Noisy DJ

John Drummond sent in a recording from his garage, a rendition of his Spanner Music

Ntaria Aboriginal Women's Choir Hermannsburg is a wonder of cross cultural Choral Music

Janet Shaw is one of the many in Australia who maintains the tradition of Mimicry

Sue Harding is a collector and player of obsolete Dot Matrix Printers

Sydney Harbour and its many ships and ferries are the stars of Alvin Curran's Maritime Rights

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.

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