Tos Mahoney, director of the dynamic Perth new music organisation, on the state of new music in WA today.
Happy 25th birthday, Tos. What does it feel like to be 25 years old?
When you founded TURA New Music 25 years ago, what was your main goal? Have you achieved it?
We founded what is now TURA New Music as Evos Music. The goal was to create a support structure for a broad range of new music practice in WA, and we certainly have achieved that. To a degree, we achieved that in the first five to ten years. I guess what’s been achieved in the ensuing 15 years is that it’s been sustained and grown. In the first 15 years, we were city based, but our regional reach has grown immeasurably in the last ten years. We’ve also managed not to get stuck on a particular definition of what new music is, which is an achievement in itself. New music keeps growing and evolving, and we’ve made sure that the support we provide also continues to evolve to keep up with it.
What have been your personal highlights of this year’s TURA program?
There was the concert at PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts) in September, where Perth-based new music Decibel Performed an especially commissioned piece by experimental composer, British-Australian Jon Rose in honour of his 60th birthday. Then there’s our biggest project so far, the Reef project, a collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and within that, the open-air concert in Broome. Then at the other end of the spectrum, there was our six-week residency in at the Waringarri Arts Centre in Kununurra with sound artist Philip Samartzis.
You’ve already mentioned Jon Rose. He seems to be quite an important source of inspiration for TURA. How crucial are artists like Jon, who constantly challenge assumptions on the nature of music, to the vitality of music-making in this country?
Absolutely essential. When you look at Jon’s outrageous volume of output, often in very
different areas of practice, you see that, not only is he breaking traditional musical barriers, but social ones as well. He often involves even non-musicians to create works that are very powerful and contemporary. He creates sound environments for others to participate in. And it’s a bit of a worry that we don’t seem to be encouraging the production of young Jon Roses nowadays at all.
There are certain ensembles that have quite a close working relationship with TURA. Perth-based new music ensemble Decibel seems to be one of them. How do such collaborations enrich TURA, do you think?
Well hopefully it’s a two-way enrichment. We provide the structure and performance platforms to help get these ensembles off the ground. Rather than enriching TURA, I would say they enrich the WA music scene and that of the whole world. Ongoing ensembles like Decibel that are dedicated to presenting local composers are few and far between, so they really are an essential part of the Australian music landscape. It’s been a great privilege and pleasure to help Decibel establish themselves.
How is new music seen in WA? Has its role in WA society evolved in 25 years?
25 years ago, it would have been seen as high art practice. It was clearly seen as an experimental mode of music making, whereas now, because of the immediacy of the technological commodities provided by the information age, people are exposed to all sorts of things. So much of what was new music practice 25 years ago has jumped across into the mainstream. The borders are very blurred and people don’t see things quite so discretely anymore. You see elements of new music popping up everywhere, even in blockbuster movies. If only people knew!
The TURA 25th anniversary celebrations begin tonight with a fundraiser, and continue with concerts featuring Ensemble Offspring, Kynan Tan, Robin Fox and Decibel and Clocked Out Duo. Is there any event in particular you’re looking forward to?
The fundraiser! (laughs) I’ll feel a lot better after that! Seriously, though, one of the events is Club Zho 100. I’m looking forward to that because a lot of the people that presented during the Club Zho series will be there.
Thank you, Tos, and best of luck for the next 25 years.