Phil Slater in conversation with Michael Webb

Phil Slater in conversation with Michael Webb

Issue 3 excerpt:  Interview

Phil Slater in conversation with Michael Webb

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Michael Webb is a Lecturer in Music Education at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney and holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, Connecticut, USA.  Michael finds the diversity and originality of contemporary Australian jazz inspirational and is committed to encouraging its study and practices in Australian music education.  Michael won the 2007 National Jazz Writing Competition.

Trumpet player Phil Slater is one of Australia’s premier musicians and winner of the most prestigious music awards in this country.  The range of contexts in which his signature sound can be heard is broad: live theatre and pop/rock music, on film soundtracks, and as a member of a range of other leading innovative bands and ensembles.  He travels widely to play in Australia and overseas and teaches in the jazz program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.  Phil is known for being widely literate culturally, and deeply reflective, and in conversation with Michael Webb the lens constantly shifted focus, zooming in on this or that detail of his music-making or musical thinking, and zooming out to touch on the economics of jazz in public cultural life in Australia.


Michael: In many areas of music, to which you’ve already alluded, you’ve got this bleed-through of avant gardism and then hip hop comes in contact with
technology and invents a whole set of new techniques and so on and so on,and it’s not just, anymore, classical or jazz or popular music.

Phil: I think that’s the hardest thing for everybody to grasp about the music scene in Australia. The music scene in Sydney, which I’m involved in, is this thing that you’re talking about. It’s even very difficult for arts administrators to get their heads around this. It’s like what [Brian] Eno talks about—the scenius as opposed to a genius, we’re in the middle of this huge scene; and the scene is really interesting. Cherry-pick a couple of acts or a project—to me that’s really missing the point. I often have trouble talking to arts administrators about what I do, because it’s a very natural thing but it’s a network—it’s a complicated network of things—and the arts funders sometimes don’t understand intra-genral collaboration.

Michael: So there are implications for education, broadly speaking, for institutions to break out of those older ways of thinking about genres and about kinds of careers, and we’re not willingly acknowledging or embracing that?

Phil: Well, at the moment genre is dead. It’s multigenre—that’s [what’s] new… for emerging artists who are growing up with iPods and this incredible amount of information at their fingertips. To then bunker down into one genre is harder to do than to accept all genres as being equal. By emerging artists I’m talking about thirteen-year-olds in their bedrooms and garages playing music. That’s the future, that’s the most interesting stuff that’s going to be happening, not what’s happening in universities. It’s really those people who are just picking up instruments or computers or turntables or whatever and they’re just full of that hunger to make music. And the way that they’re consuming music now, the multi-streamed iPod-iTunes genre-shuffling method

Michael: Like Kutiman’s ThruYou project on YouTube…

Phil: Right. And this element is not a new element. The speed of it, the hypertextual element of it is new, but it’s John Cage, it’s…

Michael: Shortwave radio scanning…

Phil: It’s Charles Ives, the Unanswered Question, it’s all of those elements that speak to the pan-genral, ‘outside of the box’—there’s the frame and then there’s thing that happens outside of the frame being incorporated into the picture. And it’s an evolving thing, an organically changing thing that sometimes gets trademarked as a ‘work of art’. It’s an ecosystem, it’s like the weather. And works of art are like photographs of a storm. But the thing just keeps going on and on. It’s a snapshot.