IN THE OUTBACK
by Hollis Taylor
there any kangaroos in the audience?" I askeda
flippant question, admittedly, but an affirmative answer was
not out of the realm of possibility. After all, I was at Wogarno
Outback Sheep Station in Western Australia. Closest city:
Perth, an eight-hour drive away on the Indian Ocean, with
claims to being the world's most isolated capital city. Closest
town: I'll get back to you on that.
was on stage performing when it occurred to me that kangaroos
are nocturnal, and I was still awaiting my first close-up
meeting with these marsupials, reputed to have the most beautiful
eyes. If they showed up, I wanted to know. The stage was a
proper one, although it abutted a sheep shearing shed, and
the ceiling was the star-filled austral sky. The festival,
entitled "Violins in the Outback," included my set
of American fiddle music, a string quartet, a string orchestra,
fence music, and wire music. My informal tally: Audience members,
700; kangaroos, zero. I cannot complain. Most of the audience
had driven hours to be there, and they were starved for live
music, whereas "roos" are commonplace to them. The
musicians' own drive, a day-long bus trip from Perth, had
revealed a subtle landscape with variations on a theme of
harsh beauty: ancient rocks, stunted trees and bushes for
whom every day is a bad-hair day, and red soil parched by
the unrelenting sun. A wedge-tailed eagle refused to budge
from his kangaroo road kill, forcing our bus to swerve. An
occasional emu darted across the road. A four-foot-long striped
lizard sunned himself. As a native of the American West, I
figured any eight hours of driving should reveal at least
a few wonders, and I was at full attention.
last rest stop before Wogarno had been Payne's Find, now evidently
a ghost town, save for the roadhouse. The name hails from
a late-19th-century gold rush, and mining is still the area's
economic mainstay. After we reboarded the bus, someone told
me that the proprietor, whose duties would keep him from the
weekend concerts, had been hoping to hear me play. These
thoughts and visions floated through me as I completed my
performance of bluegrass, western swing, and Texas-style fiddle
tunes. That left the stage set for the evening's multimedia
finale, "The Violin Factory" by Australian violinist
and composer Jon Rose. Rose spent the 1970s constructing extraordinary
hybrid instrumentsviolins with extra necks, violins
joined like Siamese twins, aeolian violins with sails, violins
with FM broadcast systems inside, violins with megaphones
and internal amplification, a microtonal long-neck violin
with 16 strings, and the like (as if anything could actually
be like what he makes and plays).
feed his passion, Rose passed many hours looking through junk
shops in Sydney for the cheapest instruments money could buy.
Violins in bad condition were often given to him. He became
aware that most had been made in China, notably the "Skylark"
models. "I started to imagine the factories where these
instruments were produced," Rose told me, "full
of massed laboring violin makers." Although professional
violinists in the West rejected such instruments as unplayable,
and even unlistenable, he took the opposite view. With their
shrill tone, they sounded to him closer to the er-hu (the
traditional Chinese two-string violin) than to our western
model of beauty and perfection, the Strad. "Because of
their cheap price," Rose said, "I had no qualms
about hacking into them with saw and drill to experiment with
my own mutations."
in the 1990s, by invitation from the International Jazz Festival
Beijing, Rose went to China. In two visits to factories, he
witnessed the bizarre yet impressive process of violin mass
production. "They used a specially designed German steam
press to stamp out ten at a time," he said. "They
had a machine that haired and tightened up the bow in one
go, completing one every five seconds."
awestruck observations inspired "The Violin Factory,"
a wild, surrealist fantasy featuring string orchestra and
conductor, along with various and subtle "industrial
process" rhythms manufactured by three young Perth composers.
Rose served as a second conductor for these "industrials,"
and he performed live orchestral sampling and interactive
accelerometer-driven string samples (all this while conducting
with what he called "Mao's embalmed left arm," which
looked suspiciously like a pink dishwashing glove).
Red Guard "factory guide" sat perched above the
orchestra on the sheep chute, saluting the agony and ecstasy
of thousands of violin makers in the People's Republic by
reciting Mao's stern words in Chinese and English. Meanwhile,
two videographers projected onto the shearing shed a riveting
mix of images: violin-factory workers filmed in China, and
the live string players in Wogarno. Counterpoint is obviously
key to Rose, and his compulsion was evident in small details
such as portraits of individual string players, which ran
on rhythmic loops in conversation with the orchestral rhythms.
Rose's hour-long work is first and foremost a memorable piece
of music, and it could be performed without the other elements.
The string writing alternates between lively industrial music,
which manages to impart the factory cliché without
sounding clichéd, and inspired moments of meditation
reminiscent of Messiaen. Rose's chords often seem corrupted
versions of major triads with extra tones fixed to them, like
barnacles to a ship.
if elegance is found in refusal, "The Violin Factory"
is elegant indeed. Rose incorporates both scored and improvised
sectionsand while much of the music is evidently in
loops, since the musicians hardly ever turn a page, the effect
is of a thoroughly composed work. Loops are never placed on
a platter for us to admire a la Minimalism but are instead
disguised, and the result is surprisingly fresh.
second day at Wogarno began with "Fence Music"Rose
applying a bass bow, plus fingers, hands, and the occasional
leg, to amplified fence wires. Two small microphones were
embedded in the natural holes of the wooden posts. Several
hundred people gathered, not new-music fans, particularly,
but locals nonetheless open to the unfamiliar sounds of familiar
objects, open to their landscape being suddenly recast as
the fence music, I fiddled acoustically on Lizard Rock, an
Aboriginal site. Just finding it was an adventure. Situated
five miles from the sheep station up a four-wheel-drive road,
then farther up a rocky hill on foot, the Lizard Rock country
revealed an even more rugged beauty than I had yet seen. Several
hundred people stood in the sun on this enormous red rock
to hear me, and I was touched by their committed curiosity.
brunch back at the homestead, we headed out to another remote
site, where Perth physician and sound artist Alan Lamb had
set up several installations for a performance dubbed "Wire
Music." For his main installation, he stretched two long
lengths of heavy-duty wire over large boulders and up a hill
to collect sounds produced from the wind. We hiked through
torturous and aptly-named needle grass and across gentler
rock outcroppings to hear it for ourselves, then descended
to a landing where flat rocks lay strewn like pieces of an
impossible puzzle. We lingered until sunset, 300 strong. I
felt like a member of a tribe, our communion enhanced by a
stash of champagne on ice in the bed of a pickup, its cool
effervescence seemingly just another natural wonder.
next morning, on the way back to Perth, the bus made another
stop at the Payne's Find Roadhouse, and this time I was ready.
Violin behind my back, I asked the proprietor if he was the
disappointed fan of fiddle music. He nodded, and I launched
into the "Cotton Patch Rag" to his evident shockstrolling
violins are always a bit too close, somehow bigger than life
in an awkward wayand his joy. His wife and customers
seemed to agree that avoid had been filled, none of them having
heard American fiddle tunes except in Hollywood film scores.
Just before we pulled out, a book on Payne's Find history
was passed up into the bus for me, with his thanks.
I departed, I reflected that the harshness and beauty of the
bush country echo the journey of a string player's odyssey
with her instrument. My life map certainly reveals that the
violin demands much but gives much in return. In any case,
I felt at home there, though almost nothing resembled anything
I had seen before. On the final evening several kangaroos
presented themselves at a distance, slouched in a field, grazing
FENCES OF AUSTRALIA
A project from Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor
When Peter Gabriel
recorded the haunting music for the film Rabbit Proof Fence,
the most obvious instrument to use was staring him in the
face--the fence. You can play a five-wire fence with no barbs
and the music will carry a kilometre along the fenceline,
according to experimental string musician Jon Rose, who has
just arrived in Brisbane after a 16,000km journey playing,
documenting, and in some cases digging up dingo, rabbit and
other fences around the country.--Brisbane Courier-Mail.
For the last 20
years, in addition to his work on and about the violin, Jon
Rose has been playing and recording the music of Fences worldwide.
Sometimes the wind plays the fence in its natural state, but
most times the fences are played with violin bows. A wide
range of atmospheric music can be coaxed from these ubiquitous
The project GREAT
FENCES OF AUSTRALIA maps the vast spaces of the fifth continent.
Over 2002/4, violinists Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor are playing
and recording the unique sounds of hundreds of fences in every
state and territory of Australia including the well-known
'dog fence' and 'rabbit proof fences.' Along with this audio
material, the lives and histories of the people who build,
look after, or use the fences are also being documented. The
sounds of their voices and a selection of the digital photos
are incorporated in the various outcomes of this project.
The first manifestation
of Great Fences was hosted by The Melbourne Festival under
the title BOWING FENCES. Jon and Hollis performed over 60
times on the stringy bark and piano wire fence installed in
the Victorian Arts Centre Gallery. THE WINTON FENCE, a specially
designed structure based on the principles of Just Intonation
and the Fibonacci series, is designed by Jon to be powered
(Aeolian style) by strong winds as well as bowed. An installation
and series of fence performances supported by a major grant
from the Australia Council for the Arts is planned for January
2004. There will be a radiophonic version and a web site commissioned
by the ABC and a CD with full colour booklet produced in Australia
by Dynamo House (www.dynamoh.com.au)
and by ReR (London).
The fence represents
all kinds of manmade endeavours and disasters. Fences arrived
with the end of the hunter-gatherer way of life and the introduction
of agriculture. The invention of steel cable in the nineteenth
century gave the fence its present distance-warping characteristics.
Fences can be seen as analogies for the old battle between
our species and nature, for the desire of exploration, control,
and exploitation of resources; they indicate a frontier history
of extreme hardship. They also mark the close physical association
of man with his environment, the notion of belonging, the
boundaries of cultures and political systems, a sense of the
private and public, a statement that says "I exist."
The fence today is even used to protect the natural world
from our own excesses.
In Australia, fences
are a very new addition to the environment. Certainly they
were being erected within months of white settlement. While
flying over the most isolated parts of the Australian interior,
one notices the existence of fences often with their service
tracks beside them. Why on earth are they there? Who put them
there? How long did it take? Some fences seem so old that
they often take on a mantel of defensive invincibility. But
all fences are in fact transitory, finite. Even the longest
fence in the world, the so-called dingo fence of Australia,
will eventually succumb to nature despite the efforts of those
who painstakingly and regularly repair it. The geography will
survive the history.
Whatever your view
of fences, they seem unstoppable, they are everywhere. Like
all good mammals marking out their territory, western man
defines his world with fences. Some land owners, however,
still prefer the watering hole to the fence as a leash on
their wandering cattle. And of course fence construction clearly
interfered with, if not helped destroy, the Indigenous Australian's
nomadic way of life.
Dr. John Pickard,
Australia's leading fence-ologist, has estimated that by 1892
there were over 2.7 million kilometers of fences in New South
Wales alone, which used up 20 million cut down trees with
a worth of $5.6 billion in today's money. He is still working
on an estimation of total fencing kilometers for the entire
country at the beginning of the new millennium. The numbers
will be serious. Fences are by far the most visible artifacts
that we have made on this continent. The Dingo fence is the
longest man made thing on the planet, twice as long as the
Great Wall of China.
Many people look
at fences and see not much; Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor look
and see giant musical string instruments covering a continent.
The strings are so long that they become the resonators as
well as the triggers for the sound. On straight stretches
of a simple five-wire fence, the sound travels down the wires
for hundreds of meters. The music is ethereal and elemental,
incorporating an extended harmonic series (the structure of
all sound); the longer the wire, the more harmonics become
available. The rhythms of violin bows and drum sticks uncover
a fundamental sonic world. The fence music encapsulates the
vastness of the place. Music of distance, boundaries and borders.
This, however, is not the songlines, or even the white fella's
ironic version of it, but the unexpected and elegiac music
of the Australian landscape 'sounding' its recent history.
Fence construction has inadvertently given us a means of expressing
musically, with a direct physical connection, the whole range
of intense emotion tied up with the ownership of the land,
from the outback to the backyard.
Visually, Great Fences of Australia provides complex, critical,
and humorous indicators of a culture which is often courageous,
sometimes fearful, politically myopic, occasionally missing
the plot, but strung together with cockeyed optimism.
Consider the ubiquitous
corrugated iron fence in its various chronological shades
of rust; the primary-coloured fences of the newly rich suburbs
which possess all the subtlety of a Legoland layout; the brilliant
white salt lakes which devour their fences within a few decades
(significantly hard wood posts last much longer than steel
wires); and the recently made desert fences of once optimistic
pastoralists which often hang in mid-air after the top soil
to which they were attached has been blown away.
A whole lexicon
of signs are attached to fences, from the inevitable 'keep
out' and 'danger' to the entrepreneurial 'pony poo, $2 a bag.'
There are fences that clearly don't work so well, hence the
tons of deadly 1080 poison liberally spread down the km 5,309
of the 'Dingo Barrier Fence. On the other hand, fences designed
to stop enthusiastic tourists falling over the cliffs at The
Great Australian Bight appear to have worked well--so far,
anyway. Top secret military bases tell you to 'turn around
NOW!' before you even reach their perimeter fences; signs
across the Nullarbor warn of the dangerous 'unfenced road';
nothing short of an archaeological dig will let you uncover
the remains of the Number 1 Rabbit Proof Fence at its termination
point on the northern coast of Western Australia. People like
to leave things on fences, like lamb skulls, beer bottles,
shopping bags, flags, hub caps, flowers, ribbons, underpants,
billy cans, etc. Some fences get to be multi-functional; they
begin by trying to keep the bunnies out (always too late),
then it's the dingoes, then it's the emus, then it's the 4WD
There are now plastic
temporary fences, there are flexi-fences, fences you can see
through, fences you can't see until it's too late. Graveyard
fences are heavy, they keep the living from the dead or, depending
on your point of view, the dead from the living. Railway lines,
telegraph lines, pipelines and butterflies often travel down
the same route as fences. Some fences just fall over and that's
that. Sometimes they get a plaque on a wall if they were famous.
There have been murders, suicides by fences. Early boundary
riders working in extremely rough conditions on the Rabbit
Proof fence were told initially to do it on a push bike! There's
the story of an aeroplane flying right through a fence. It's
true--people don't notice fences; but some people object to
them; most Aboriginal people are opposed to them; asylum seekers
agree. Barbed wire fences never go out of fashion.
There is a painting
of a fence on a wall. Fence posts without any wire look lonely.
It's difficult to imagine horses running around a race course
without a fence. Like guitars, there are electric fences;
one finds chain fences, rope fences, rubber tube fences, fences
made out of sacking, fences made from hub caps and tyres.
In Alice Springs there is a fence theme park. All swimming
pools must have a fence by law. 'Beware of the dog' behind
the fence. Is there anything more existentialist than an empty
plastic bag caught up by the wind and left fluttering hopelessly
on a barbed wire fence?
There are a whole
range of user-friendly plants that grow over fences; there
are fences that go through termite mounds, a tree even; fences
that actually pass through other fences; watch out for the
fence with scare crow; don't miss the scary gothic fence;
fences with fungi; new trees planted for civic pride get a
fence around them for protection against the menacing public;
the socially side-lined like to write on fences--sometimes
it becomes official art; birds, like politicians, are comfortable
sitting on the fence; camels like to rub their necks on fences;
snails cannot keep away from fences; spiders find them great
places to build webs; unrelieved men, if they cannot find
a bush, will use a fence; AND where exactly does the Dingo
Fence end in Queensland? We haven't found two locals who will
agree on that.
OF GREAT FENCES OF AUSTRALIA
JON ROSE &
Great Fences of Australia CD
Jon Rose is an Australian violinist with a disrespectful
love for his instrument and its musical habitats,
fond of appending it with electronics, power tools
and the like. Here, with fellow violinist Hollis
Taylor, he abandons the instrument entirely (but
keeps the bow) in order to engage in a little
long string music. Composers from Alvin Lucier
to Ellen Fullman have investigated the complex
resonance and overtone series that long strings
give off, and, of course, the longer the string,
the richer its sonic properties. So in attacking
Australia's 5309 km Dingo Fence with violin bows,
cello bows and drum sticks, Rose and Taylor are
dealing with a serious resource. The work has
a sort of precedent in Alan Lamb's late 80s/early
90s recordings of contact miked outback telegraph
wires, and in the work of Australian enviornmental
sound artists Bill Fontana and Ros Bandt.
Visiting every state in Australia to play and
record various of the country's millions of kilometres
of fencing, Rose's project is as rich in metaphor
as it is in sonic complexity. The violinist writes
that the 19th century division of wilderness into
enclosed zones helped destroy the nomadic, indigenous
Australian way of life, and in appropriating fences
for inappropriate artistic use, Rose and Taylor
are obviously oeprating in a metaphorically rich
boundary area of cultural difference, history
and environmentalism. But they also articulate
a certain Australian nationalism through their
sincerely eccentric celebration of the country.
And, despite its absurdity, Rose denies any "white
fella's irony" in the project. This is, he
writes, "Australian landscape sounding its
Each of the 25 tracks reveals the sonic properties
of different fences and locations. Some sound
spectral, some earthy, but best of all is the
presumably risky performance on the electric fence
at Lake Grace, which feeds back a loop of glitches
and clicks. Those who like a little tetanus with
their music will be pleased to learn the CD pack
comes with a section of authentic, rusty barbed
Don't Fence Me In
How to make music with
John L Walters
Friday June 6, 2003
The London Guardian
Father's Day provides shopkeepers with an
excuse to market various gift packages: cufflinks
and socks with a golfing theme; matching ties
and handkerchiefs. Now, for the adventurous Dad
who has everything, a Melbourne record company
has devised the world's first CD and barbed wire
pack, a shrink-wrapped box called Great Fences
of Australia (Dynamo House).
This is a recording of Jon Rose and Hollis
Taylor making wild and occasionally wonderful
noises on long wire fences, which they play with
cello bows. The barbed wire is, er, a piece of
rusty barbed wire about 120mm long - with one
barb. Rose is a restlessly creative violinist
and composer whose previous recordings have made
entertaining avant-garde music based on Chinese
violin factories, supermarket shopping, ping-pong
and Percy Grainger. Great Fences exploits the
sonic possibilities of extremely long vibrating
wires, previously investigated by Pauline Oliveros,
Alvin Lucier and others. A handy map of the continent
shows the locations of the fences: No 1 Rabbit
Proof Fence in Starvation Bay, a dog fence in
Nullabor, a picket fence in a quiet Brisbane street
and the Dingo Fence, claimed to be the longest
man-made artefact on the planet.
Some of the work is closer to sound art than
music, recalling the metal constructions of Chas
Smith or Jean Tinguely; other tracks have the
thrills, spills and flaws of free improvisation.
There's a piece called Trumpet Fence that does
sound a bit like a free jazz trumpeter playing
to three men and a dog in a north London pub.
Ring Modulator Fence almost generates a groove.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
THE SUNDAY TIMES/LONDON
SUN 08 JUN 2003
Jon Rose & Hollis Taylor;On Record;Music;Pop
JON ROSE & HOLLIS TAYLOR. Great Fences
of Australia. Dynamo House ***
The Australian violinist Jon Rose has fiddled
with fences for some years now. The Fence (1998)
saw him bowing fences dividing disputed territories
in Belfast, Golan Heights, Bosnia and Berlin,
with surprisingly affecting results. Here, he
and Hollis Taylor travel their native land banging
and scraping various fences, long and short, famous
and unknown. In Cunerdin, they coax celestial
tones from Rabbit Proof Fence No 2; in Nullarbor,
the Dog Fence, built to stem the migration of
dingoes, rattles and hums; at the close, a fence
specially built at the Melbourne Festival throbs
and drones for nine disorientating minutes, before
an aeolian splutter of the Dog Fence's last grid,
in Tambo, echoes the vastness of the delineated
continent. This luxuriously packaged item comes
with a free piece of barbed wire. Visit www.jonroseweb.com
TAYLOR: SOLO, DUO, QUARTETTO
Used to be violinist Hollis Taylor's goal was "to demolish the distinction
between high art and folk art." So thoroughly has her work extended the
range of the violin that Taylor doesn't need to break down barriers
anymore--she has already accomplished it.--Lynn Darroch, The Oregonian.
from violinist/composer/arranger Jon Rose:
The relationship between the violin and jazz has rarely been
either interesting or musically compelling. Joe Venuti showed
that technique mattered and Stuff Smith demonstrated how to
dig the bow in till it hurt. Both offered some melodic invention.
There are other examples but you can count them on one hand.
Then in 1958 along came Harry Lookofsky with the definitive
violin bebop album. It was called 'Stringsville' and it set
the bar very high for anybody trying to follow. That album
gave me many sleepless nights when I first heard it in the
1970's--how could anybody play the violin that good on jazz
I discovered that, although the music went at full tilt, sounded
loose, and swung like crazy, all the violin lines were written.
Harry was a classical violinist (actually leader of the NBC
orchestra), loved jazz, and wanted to bring his abilities
to that music.
the clock forward a decade and we find another classically-trained
violinist with a superb technique setting herself the challenge
of bringing her musicality and skills (not to mention perfect
pitch) to the service of American vernacular music--or non-classical
vioin music. Hollis Taylor has spent much of the last 25 years
researching, arranging, and writing about the various fiddle
traditions which are so rich and dynamic throughout the States.
Part of her work has dealt with the problems of how to play
jazz on the violin. Let's be more succinct. How to play lines
that move across the beat, how to put 'time' into the bow
stroke, how NOT to use the incontinent vibrato of the standard
Juilliard training (but use it as decoration similar to the
baroque aesthetic), how to phrase a bop line and be hard and
precise (the opposite of a Grappelli phrase, for example).
of Ms. Taylor's investigation into the practice (then the
theory please) of 'bowed jazz' has made her a sought-after
teacher for both amateur and professional violinists wishing
to explore the 'other' music. When I was informed that she
planned to put a string quartet together of classical players
playing jazz as repertoire, I jumped at the chance of arranging
some 'classic' jazz standards for the project.
from Hollis Taylor:
Leibniz, Bach's contemporary, formulated a definition of music
that seems appropriate for this concert: "Music is the
hidden arithmetical exercise of a soul unconscious that it
is calculating." Our program of contemporary string music
celebrates rhythm and counterpoint--the rhythmic palettes
of jazz (including various Caribbean beats) and folk dance
music (such as the complex meters which surprised Bartok and
Kodaly when they were collecting in the previous century)
and counterpoint which reached its height in the Baroque era.
My solo violin arrangements of jazz standards echo Bach's
lavish use of multiple stopping to sustain a complete polyphonic
texture and his exploitation of polyphonic melody, in which
a single line is made to suggest a fuller texture by constantly
shifting between voices: the melody, the harmony, and the
bass line, for example. The solo works are the opposite from
my previous CD Box Set, for now I have jazz set in a Baroque
are from my CD Unsquare Dances and based on European folk
dance music in compound meters such as 11/8, 5/4, and 7/8.
I collected tunes in 1993-94 during travels throughout Europe
and Morocco, then gave them a generous twist in 1995 while
living in Budapest. While some pieces may not have originated
on violin, this kind of alchemy finds the violin a perfect
meeting point, the folk crucible par excellence and expressive
medium for such music. Having been re-constituted, they no
longer seek nor will they accept the ethnomusicologist's stamp
of authenticity. Originally scored for two violins, I re-arranged
some favorites as violin/viola duos, even trios and quartets.
quartet compositions and arrangements (and those of Jon Rose)
rely on through-composition but with a bit of improvisation.
Counterpoint figures highly into the mix. You might think
of some of this music as the jazz that never was.