Solo Series - Aviva Endean

This year, the Australian Art Orchestra celebrates its 25th anniversary! To mark the occasion, we're presenting the Solo Series: a monthly video release that puts the spotlight on twelve selected members from our pool of incredible AAO collaborators. Artistic Director Peter Knight speaks about the occasion and the project.

This year the Australian Art Orchestra celebrates its 25th anniversary. I remember when the group was formed and the impact it had on me as an aspiring jazz musician - the first show I heard at The Continental in Prahran in Melbourne, with 20 of the most talented musicians on the scene. Bristling energy, barely tamed. It was exciting, and it reconfigured the idea I had for what a jazz musician could aspire to. There followed collaborations with musicians from Indonesia, Arnhem Land, and India, and performances of music written by the most challenging contemporary western composers. It was a long way from what I had experienced as a music student, and opened in my mind a world of possibility that was expansive and exciting and that was directly connected to the here and now.

The Australian Art Orchestra changed things for me, and I think it changed things for a lot of musicians and listeners. The vision of its founding artistic director, Paul Grabowsky, recognised that we live in a place of abundance and as ‘jazz’ musicians and artists that we need to respond to what’s around us rather than look primarily to America and Europe for inspiration. A quarter of a century on, I believe that vision is perhaps more relevant than ever.

In 2013 I was appointed the Orchestra’s second artistic director and have since tried to carry on this vision in my own way. The group certainly sounds very different now, and there are new faces, but I believe there is a thread we have woven through each of our projects that traces back to those first performances of Ringing the Bell Backwards in Melbourne in 1994.

This history is important. Understanding where we have come from as a group is crucial to building a vibrant future. As we celebrate 25 years we want to look forward while at the same time reaffirming our commitment to a set of core values that are centred on deep music practice and community building, and that also give space for the kind of individual creativity that made the first performance of the Orchestra I heard at The Continental in 1994 so exciting.

This individuality and anarchic spirit is somewhat at odds with a more traditional idea of an Orchestra, which is generally associated with blend and seamless integration. But this is a contradiction that the Australian Art Orchestra has always embraced, and it’s one of the things that sets this strange and wonderful organism apart from other musical groups. It’s also the defining aspect that I have focussed on to celebrate this 25th anniversary.

Each of the musicians we work with is an improviser, but more than that each has a highly refined, idiosyncratic, and personal language on their instrument. When we come together as a group, these voices are the starting point for our sound. The composers we commission listen to recordings made by our musicians to inform their compositional processes, and when we rehearse we spend time improvising together and workshopping ideas towards the creation of a collective language.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of this ‘orchestra of individuals’ we have chosen 12 musicians from our large pool of players to record solo improvisations that will form a portrait of the Australian Art Orchestra in 2019. Each of these recordings will also be captured on in high resolution video by innovative Melbourne company, Digital Pill. These videos will be released monthly with an accompanying photographic portrait by Sarah Walker, and a written response to the music.

I’m very proud to introduce our first solo recording made by exceptional clarinettist, Aviva Endean, who is also the Australian Art Orchestra’s inaugural Associate Artist appointed as part of our Pathfinders Music Leadership program. Over the coming months I’m also very much looking forward to watching and listening to the recordings that follow by outstanding artists including Sunny Kim (voice), Martin Ng (turntables) and Mindy Meng Wang (guzheng). It’s going to be an amazing 25th anniversary year for the Australian Art Orchestra.

Peter Knight, Artistic Director

Aviva Endean

Aviva Endean - clarinet and miniature loudspeaker (watch video here)

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It is said that art of the highest order should engage both the mind and body – that it should express both the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The music that Aviva Endean creates does exactly that. It makes you think, and it asks questions of the listener, but it also creates spaces for pure sensual listening.

Aviva’s recently released solo album, cinder: ember: ashes, showcases her inventiveness as an artist. She is a virtuoso clarinettist but she also completely transcends the instrument employing a range of extended techniques, preparations, and textural approaches that far from being ‘novelties’ seem utterly essential, perhaps even inevitable, within the modes of expression she has developed.

In the solo recorded for this series Aviva focuses, for the first half, on conventional approaches to the instrument played with exquisite control and subtlety. The repeated figure with which she begins her solo moves through harmonic shifts, holding a steady pulse and trailing gossamer overtones that are produced with just the breath, fingers, and mouth, but which are so otherworldly that it is hard to believe there is no electronic processing involved. In my conversations with Aviva she refers to the incredible range of possibilities offered by the instrument but says, “I often find it more interesting to focus on a smaller field of possibilities and the subtle and minute ways that I can explore an idea within that limited frame.”

In the second half of her solo recording Aviva uses a contact microphone and a miniature loudspeaker to dip into a contrasting world of breath tones and AM radio-like frequencies that are manipulated with the simple physical movement of lifting the handheld speaker from her leg.

I particularly love that the processes involved in this work are utterly transparent. Gesture and aural outcome are linked in every moment and yet we remain transfixed by some other mysterious process. The mind of the artist. Creativity. Thoughts rendered as sound. Inhalations and exhalations suddenly sculpted into meaning bearing forms.

I asked Aviva what inspires her and what currently drives her relentless inventiveness and creativity: “I have become very interested in the relationship that is set up between the player and the audience. On the surface, solo playing could seem to be the most egocentric form of music making, yet something of the intimacy, soul-bearing and vulnerability that can occur within the solo form can also make it incredibly generous and inclusive.”

Solo Series #1
Performance: Aviva Endean
Audio and video producer: Leo Dale
Photography: Sarah Walker
Text: Peter Knight, Artistic Director