Australian violinist, composer, instrument builder, improviser, educator and cultural icon Jon Rose is a restless and innovative spirit. One moment he’ improvising madly in a live performance at the Now Now Festival, the next he’ delivering a lecture on the ABC lamenting Rolf Harris’ failure to constructively utilise his not inconsiderable gifts as proof for the non existence of God.
Forget what you think you know about new music and improvisation. Forget the leanings towards Europe and cultural cringe, because Rose is very keen to use extended techniques to explore (or create) a distinctly Australian tradition. He’ quoted on the ABC website as saying, â€œConcert halls are sweet but they kinda tend to be boring. Stuff happens when you’re outside.â€
And he puts his money where his mouth is, his practice demonstrating a desire to connect to people and objects that would never come into contact with a concert hall or experimental music. His recently completed tour of regional NSW is a case in point, taking his “Sound Circus’ of some of Australia’ weirdest experimental and improvised musicians to bemused locals from Broken Hill to Milparinka Graveyard.
Rosin celebrates Rose’ 60th year on the planet, attempting to compile some of his more groundbreaking work, much of which hasn’ seen the light of day in Australia. It’s an impressive 3cd, plus one data disc (with QuickTime videos) box set, jam packed with a truly diverse range of sounds and techniques, with not only some really extensive liner notes, but also even some hair from one of his bows.
A central theme of Rose’ work is the recontextualisation of everyday non-musical items, drawing them into his work and redefining them as music making objects of art. This offers a way in for people not familiar with art music, though also provides a broader social comment about the utilitarian nature of objects – particularly when dealing with culturally significant objects like an AFL football from his Ball Project, which is fitted with pressure sensors and accelerometers, utilising their movement to stream audio and visual content. It appears here as ‘Sphere’ on track 3, a 26 minute radiophonic broadcast that pits the unpredictability of the ball against violin, cello and choir. Of the project Rose notes â€œthe ball is released into a chaotic self disorganizing situation. No one is sure of the results either acoustically, sonically or legally.â€
Since 1983 he’ been bowing outback fences, though also fences worldwide from Israel to the US/ Mexican border, coaxing geopolitical celestial tones from an object designed to restrict freedom, an object of confinement. He’ even created mobile fences and composed a piece for the Kronos Quartet to play live. In fact he created 4 fences, which he tested in his garage, which appear on this collection. Titled ‘Garage Fence’, it’s amazing how resonant these fences are, with Rose playing in a much more percussive manner than you’d expect initially. There’ also some video footage of him playing a barbwire fence and outback fences in WA.
His art is social, political, challenging and often times just a little bit cheeky. Yet through the humour there’ often a more sobering message of traditions being lost as progress beckons.
The Pannikin Project, created for the Melbourne Festival a few years back, offers improvising performances with a singing dingo, virtuosic whip techniques, department store pianists, a simultaneous hum and whistler, an auctioneer, a chainsaw orchestra and a bowed saw orchestra. In short Rose sought out these bizarre sound and music makers, celebrating their individuality and unique talents, largely ignored by not just mainstream media, but pretty much everyone aside from Rose. The first disc mostly consists of these vibrant, at times confusing, frequently hilarious performances. Though later there’ a 16-minute extract of a Deutschland Radio piece from 2007 Syd and George, about the 20-year relationship between National Pak Ranger Syd and George the lyrebird from Lamington National Park, with Rose playing the string parts. It’s a fascinating tale, with the piece giving equal focus to all three participants. It’s these kind of idiosyncratic sonic tales that continue to intrigue Rose.
It’s when you get to the QuickTime videos and suddenly we have a visual element that it all starts to make sense. The footage of Robin Fox and co riding bikes fitted with everything from guitars to record players and literally the kitchen sink in Pursuit says it all. It’s sonically interesting, visually head scratching, freakishly creative and utterly stupid. Then there’ the violocycle that Rose rides in a velodrome, creating this amazing elongated moan. It’s truly a beautiful sound. He plays fences, somewhat hyperactively on the Wogarno Fence, creating almost electronic textures via his extended technique, that he approaches with the rigour of a concert hall performance. But that seems to be Rose in a nutshell, whether he’ duetting with flies by scraping his violin across a window, using a kobelco front end hoe excavator with a minimum 250 kilo loading, a midi controller bow, a quadraphonic k bow, a violin record player, or a 19 string cello, he does so with boundless creativity, curiosity and focus.
Rosin collects some of Rose’ unique musical obsessions over the years. It demonstrates a unique personal vision alongside an endless curiosity about tradition, social convention, and cultural icons. He’ not just using music to make sense of the world, but constructing pieces of music offering equal parts humour, absurdity and insight, that ask us to reconsider our own relationship to sound. A true musical icon.
Bob Baker Fish