Tenth Piece: Bianca Gannon
IMC returns with a second season of Piece By PIece, a unique musical ‘chain letter’ of online improvisation, with eight exciting new artists from Ireland creating new work in sequence.
Awarded the 2019 Pythia Prize for Composition by Rubiks Collective, Bianca Gannon is an Australian-based musician-composer from Galway. Artist-in-Residence with the City of Greater Dandenong, her work has been presented internationally by such ensembles such as International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Australian Art Orchestra, Ensemble Offspring, Irish National Concert Hall Gamelan, Gamelan DanAnda and Nimbus Trio.
Bianca has lived, studied and collaborated across Indonesia including on the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship. She performs simultaneous piano and gamelan and creates multi-sensory immersive concert-experiences. In the act of breaking down barriers, in presenting art which is complex yet accessible, Bianca is motivated by that which connects us. We asked her to share her experiences as an artist during this strange pandemic year of 2020.
Q 1. What does improvisation mean to you?
It means to be vulnerable, to let go of ego and perfectionism, and to truly embrace the now. Improvised music has an unrivalled authenticity - what could be more engaging?!
Q 2. How do you think about engaging with material or ideas from another artist when improvising?
I don't usually think too hard. The magic happens when it comes from an intuitive space. But I suppose some go to moves on the job, in real time, can be to provide accompaniment and harmony, to leave space, to be the 'a' to the 'q' in a dialogue, to provide contrast, abstraction and polyphony.
In Piece By Piece I am responding retrospectively to Aengus Hackett's performance. Firstly I was struck by a deep sense of nostalgia - the last time I saw Aengus was at a party on my Leaving Cert results night as I was saying goodbye to Galway and starting a new chapter at College in Wales. This mirrors my current frame of mind - I'm saying goodbye to Melbourne, my home of 6 years and starting a new chapter in Far North Queensland. At that party, Aengus shared some electronic music that, if memory serves, was similar in style to his Piece By Piece performance - sounds that remind me profoundly of Galway.
The streets of Galway, featured in Aengus' video, perhaps ordinarily mundane, have been given a new weight due to the pandemic. For me personally, this is due to the indefinite travel-ban which prevents me, until likely 2022, from leaving Australia to return to those beautiful memory-filled streets where I grew up. Secondly, I was drawn to explore Aengus' use of pulsating delay (which I mainly referenced through the gamelan's difference tones) and to embrace his brief but gorgeous sus4 drop 2 motif. I've peppered fragmented references and abstracted responses throughout my improvised performance.
Q 3. How do you think the world of music is changing or will change as result of the COVID-19 crisis?
Personally, so far it has negatively affected my practice as a musician - though I'm hoping that will change. While I do embrace processing trauma through my work, it needs to come from some sort of basis of safety. I find it destructive to try to create art when my basic survival needs are under threat. That was the case when covid first hit and I lost 75% of my income as a musician, and closed my music school. Grieving the loss of an entire industry, I was in no shape to "pivot"and "reimagine" an industry. Venues shut down for good. Full-time orchestras stopped paying their musicians. Musical Theatre companies went into liquidation.
In Australia the government conveyed several messages of contempt towards music and the arts. Most professional musicians couldn't meet the government's covid support payment requirements. Universities did not receive any covid-funding and lost many of their International students who are still not permitted to return to Australia. Music degree fees were then more than doubled, rendering them inaccessible for most students, and unsustainable to continue to run. Music departments were disbanded overnight and any music staff that survived had to take on the work of an extra 2-3 people without compensation.
Surely all of this will affect the future of musicians and of music? To add insult to injury, most of us had to push harder than ever with submitting grant applications to survive (on top of lengthy supermarket job applications, and many retraining in unrelated fields). To quote William McBride - "this is a scandalous misuse of artists’ cumulative time, skills and unpaid labour (wage theft)...In [most industries] this would be considered a massive productivity drain." There's talk among colleagues of a Universal Basic Income. One can dream...
While I did have some covid-grant successes (but mostly rejections along with literally thousands of others who applied), they neither covered the weeks spent on the application, my bills, the time to make the art, nor was I particularly proud of what I could achieve and present during that traumatic period. Not my best work. Currently there has been a respite with covid-restrictions easing in Melbourne after one of the world's longest lockdowns. I'm both drained and excited to make art now.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this chain of Irish improvised music, bringing me closer to home while in exile. Huge thanks to IMC for the opportunity and generous support. Like others, realising that there is currently no longer much to stay for in Melbourne after the music industry was decimated, I decided to move 3000km away to a regional area, to embrace year round sunny nature and a lower cost of living. Due to the covid-crisis, my priorities have shifted away from the rat race of Melbourne's music scene, but in doing so I hope that this will help me to be in a better place to share music from. Until I can safely tour again, I guess this sharing will be mostly online. As we consume more art and music than ever, especially during lockdowns, it is my hope that we will value what we consume and that which brings us solace, connection and meaning. Ban spotify. Purchase music ethically from Bandcamp. Maybe become a Patreon patron. Maybe commission a new work. And when it is safe to do so - buy those live concert tickets. You won't regret it.
Pandemics, governments and gatekeepers can cause so much destruction to music but collectively, audiences (even digitally) still bring so much transformative energy, connection and support that musicians are valuing now more than ever.
Watch Bianca's performance HERE from 8pm on Friday 4th December