Erik Griswold in conversation with Peter Knight
From Issue 5 of extempore (get your copy here)
Composer/pianist Erik Griswold moved to Australia just over 10 years ago from the US with his life partner and long-time musical collaborator, percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson. Initially based in Melbourne before relocating to Brisbane, Erik has had a strong impact on the Australian music scene through a range of projects, the best known of which is probably Clocked Out Duo, which he formed with Vanessa Tomlinson more than a decade ago.
Clocked Out also constitutes the core of a number of larger-scale projects, including: Wide Alley, a cross-cultural collaboration with musicians from Sichuan, China; Dream Percussion, a collaboration with Melbourne’s Speak Percussion and a number of sculptors; Sounding Wivenhoe Dam, a site-specific musical performance responding to the natural environment; and Condamine Bells, which takes the tradition of the Condamine bell as its starting point.
An excerpt from the interview…
Erik: Yeah, I mean, obviously the down side of that is that if people don’t go to the effort to actually investigate and understand the history, that can be limiting as well. But there’s a balance somewhere in the middle that can be quite fruitful.
Peter: Having grown up in the USA, and now having lived in Australia for more than 10 years, what—given that perspective—do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian jazz-slash-creative-music scene?
Erik: Before I get to the actual music, the most obvious difference is that there are simply more opportunities for funding for the arts in Australia. To what extent that money gets into jazz versus other mediums might be another topic. But there is certainly more funding in Australia, which one can access to do larger-scale projects. I think this is a really significant difference. You don’t need heaps of money to do a jazz combo. But to do something special—to do a Big Band or to do something with unusual instruments—you need some resources. I feel there are more people in Australia who have the opportunity to reach for something more special. There are more opportunities here. I also think that the connection to various Asian countries in Australia is something really unique—such as the AsiaLink Foundation and various funding agencies through the federal and state governments. While government funding models can often be flawed, I actually think that AsiaLink’s really got it right, and that that’s had a serious impact on Australian jazz.
Peter: With projects like your Wide Alley project (a Chinese/Australian collaboration)…
Erik: And like Simon Barker’s Daorum (a Korean/Australian collaboration) and various projects of the Art Orchestra, which have splintered into secondary things… like Way Out West (Peter Knight’s Vietnamese/Australian group). You’re all culturally coming from Melbourne, but nevertheless this communication or interaction with Asian cultures has paved the way for something like Way Out West. It’s opened the way to take that as far as you want to take it.
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Eclectic trumpeter/composer Peter Knight has developed a wide-ranging practice traversing richly expressive jazz, cross-cultural collaboration, and avant improvisation. In the past year he has toured widely both nationally and internationally, was nominated for an APRA Award, and won the Bell Award (with Way out West) for Australian Jazz Ensemble of the Year. Peter has also written articles and stories for publications including Music Forum, The Age, The West Australian, Overland Express, and Going Down Swinging. Earlier this year he contributed a chapter to Autoethnographies: Making Autoethnography Sing/Making Music Personal published by Australian Academic Press.