Ahead of tomorrow night’s Art Music Awards in Sydney, where achievements in the composition, performance, education and presentation of art music are recognised, industry luminary John Davis has penned an op-ed on what the sector means to the music industry.

As CEO of the Australian Music Centre, John Davis is the best person to explain what ‘art music’ is and the state of art music in Australia.

Read John Davis’ op-ed in full below, written especially for TIO readers.

One of the first things some people ask when hearing about the work of the Australian Music Centre (AMC) is “what is art music?” Well, we’ve been operating since 1974, supporting artists working in the art music sector, promoting artists, their creative work, the products, events, and other materials that document this important form of cultural expression.

The terminology of “art music” is complicated, necessarily, because whilst it covers the contemporary classical and experimental scene, these terms alone cannot embrace the diversity of creativity that exists across the sector. Our work on behalf of creators in this field covers an enormous range of styles and approaches, from notated music for concert performance, in the concert hall or alternative venues; to contemporary original jazz and improvisatory forms; to the broad range of experimentalism across computer and acousmatic music, installation and sound art, noise, and more.

Of course all these forms of creative practice are not separated by clearly delineated boundaries, although there are still composers who solely write notated music for specific contexts, such as orchestras, chamber ensembles, and solo instrumentalists. As there are artists who work solely in contemporary jazz, or sound art. But, like much art-making in the 21st Century, boundaries are increasingly blurred, artists might work in one specific area on one project, then be involved in something quite different in the next.

AMC’s AMPlify artist development framework goes some way to address this genre-blurring, with recent projects matching art music composer Piotr Nowotnik with Trance artist MaRLo to create new works in AMPlify TRANCE; a current project pairing art music composer Julian Day with German jazz pianist Julia Kadel; and a group of 5 Indigenous composers active in other music fields writing works for Ensemble Offspring, our first edition of the Indigenous Composer Initiative, in partnership with Moogahlin Performing Arts, the ANU School of Music, and Eora College. These projects have been supported by APRA AMCOS, either through the Song Hubs program, or through an APRA AMCOS Music Grant.

A quick look at the finalists for this year’s Art Music Awards presented by APRA AMCOS and the AMC, demonstrates this. People, works, and activity are represented in the list of finalists, a small taste of the breadth and depth across the sector, in metropolitan and regional areas, in education and community contexts, and in professional practice. These Awards celebrate this, and shine a light onto activity that forms such an important part of Australian culture. Acknowledging our sector’s champions, and those who champion our champions.

Similarly, looking through the recipients of the 2017 APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund (also the 2016 recipients) shows a range of projects that also reflect this diversity, with works utilising electronics, ice instruments, sound spacialisation, a children’s opera, and even a video/sound work using cameras inside a singer’s body.

APRA AMCOS investment in this area is significant on many levels – recognising the range of activities in this sector as important, and providing support for their APRA members working in these fields. The new works created with the support of the Art Music Fund have to have multiple performance outcomes, through live performances in Australia and overseas, and through recordings, broadcast and digital dissemination.

What can be said about practitioners in the art music world? Well, like all musicians, there is a strive to excel, a desire to imagine the unimaginable, and to reflect what it means to be a human being at this time, in this place, and express how we view the world. And we are blessed with so many amazing artists making exceptional art, connecting with diverse audiences, and finding ways to sustain their practice.

John Davis
CEO Australian Music Centre

:: View the full list of 2017 Art Music Awards finalists here.