Behind the Conversation with David John Lang

Making Conversation



Have you had a listen to the new Making Conversation podcast? Music journalist David John Lang settles in for a chat with composer Jakub Jankowski. The episode is part of the Making Waves series, which showcases composers through new audio features about the inner-workings of their careers, music, and lives.

In Behind the Conversation, CutCommon shares the stories of the music journalists who have crafted these podcasts.

David John Lang lives in Adelaide and writes music for orchestras, choirs, singers and instrumentalists. His music often reflects his love of storytelling, whimsical sense of humour and instinct for drama. David has received commissions and awards, has been on three Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camps and one Atlantic Music Festival, and he attended the Composing in the Wilderness course in Alaska in 2016. You can check out this stunning photoblog he produced with fellow composer Cassie To documenting his time in Alaska. His teachers have included Graeme Koehne, David Harris, John Polglase and Charles Bodman Rae. David is also a conductor, trumpet player and writer of concert program notes.


What is your musical background?

I’m a composer, mostly. I also write about music, mostly in the form of concert program notes, and I conduct a bit as well as play trumpet and piano. But composing has, so far, been my primary calling. I’ve lived in Adelaide my whole life, and I’m currently doing a PhD in music composition here at the Elder Conservatorium of Music.

When did you decide you wanted to become involved in music journalism?

I was playing trumpet in the Adelaide Youth Orchestra in 2007, and I can’t remember why, but someone thought to ask me to write the program notes for our next concert. And I had so much fun doing it – in fact, I found it even more enjoyable than playing trumpet! I just got so excited about being able to use words to share my love of music with an audience, and that continues to motivate my various words-about-music activities. My introduction to the wider world of music journalism then came through the Words About Music course at the Australian Youth Orchestra”s National Music Camp in 2010. I learnt so much from that, and from the subsequent fellowship I was awarded.

How and why did you get on board with Making Waves?

Nice pun. My career was treading water, but the tide turned one day while I was surfing the net and I washed up at this website with all this ripping Aussie music, and I thought, ‘water-n opportunity, I shore want to catch this wave’. (You may now groan.) Actually, the real answer is that I’m a longtime fan of Making Waves and I’d met Lisa and Peggy previously, through AYO, so I spontaneously sent them an email saying I wanted to be involved.

Who were you responsible for interviewing, and what was the process like for you?

I interviewed Rachel Bruerville, Dan Thorpe, Anne Cawrse and Jakub Jankowski. The interviews themselves were simple and enjoyable – it really was just like ‘making conversation’. The challenging part of the process was the editing, which I’d not had much experience with. But I found the process of piecing together a podcast quite similar to the process of composing music: it takes a long time, and lots is left on the cutting room floor, but it’s very satisfying when it all comes together as a completed whole.

What are some of the things you’ve learnt and challenges you’ve overcome when taking part in this project?

I learnt that there’s a certain red button on my recording device that it’s a good idea to check. My interview with Anne was going wonderfully until, after nearly 10 minutes, I realised that I’d forgotten to press record. I was too embarrassed to admit it, so I pretended that it looked like the batteries were about to go flat. I replaced the perfectly fine batteries with some other perfectly fine batteries and gently suggested it might be best to start from the beginning again, just in case we’d missed anything. Lesson learnt: double-check everything.

And what have you learnt about new Australian music and composers?

That’s a massive question. I learn something new about Australian composers and music every time I listen to Making Waves. Specifically from my own interviews, I probably learnt the most from Dan Thorpe, who I didn’t know heaps well and whose music I had found difficult to ‘get’. But now I have a key, because Dan talked a lot about his background and life experiences, and then explained the process of how he translates these things – his self, essentially – into music. I always find it fascinating how many different ways there are to listen to music. Often when you don’t like something, it’s because you’re not sure how to listen to it. Getting to know the composer as a person is a great place to start.

What did you most enjoy about your involvement?

I loved letting these composers open up and talk about the things that are important to them. I enjoyed finding the questions – different for each of them – that provoked deep and thoughtful responses.

What was one of the special moments in your interviews with these composers that really stood out for you?

I interviewed Anne and Jakub in their homes and I loved all the little reminders that these were personal creative spaces, where music was being written that I wouldn’t get to hear until several months later. Both had handwritten works-in-progress lying nearby, which I could tell they were simultaneously glad to get away from and itching to get back to. Hearing these completed works much later was a wonderful experience.

What do you hope listeners can gain from your Making Conversation podcast?

As well as finding more good music to listen to, I hope that people can pick up some new ways of listening to and appreciating music, like I did. Also, I hope people enjoy the chance to get to know some composers simply as people. As Dan said: ‘What’s interesting about people’s work is that they’ve made it…because they’re a person, and you want to hear what they have to say, and that’s cool’.

Where to next for you?

Geographically, I’m just staying in Adelaide for now, as I’m into the last 12 months of my composition PhD. Once I finish that, I have no idea what I’ll be doing, except that I hope it always includes composing and words-about-musicing.


Listen to David John Lang interview Jakub Jankowski in this episode of Making Conversation!


Music in this episode:

Rejoice by Jakub Jankowski
For the Elder Conservatorium Wind Orchestra, the Band of the South Australian Police and Robert Hower
Ritual by Jakub Jankowski
Performed by Janis Laurs, Ewen Bramble, Elder Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra
Les Commandements du Catéchisme du Conservatoire by Jakub Jankowski
Performed by Mekhla Kumar

The music you heard in the opening and closing credits is:
I/O (2014), by Eli Simic-Prosic
For diskclavier, recorded by the composer.
Used with permission.

Support Eli Simic-Prosic:

Eli Simic-Prosic - publicity photo (1)

I/O. Eli Simic-Prosic. Recording of electroacoustic piece involving a disklavier. From the composer: “I/O explores multiple approaches to the sounds possible on the piano via electronic manipulation. Nothing is external; every element of the work originates in the analogue sounds made on the disklavier, a sort of modern, digitally-enabled version of the player piano”.

Making Conversation production credits:

The Making Conversation: Australian Composers’ Podcast is brought to you by Making Waves.
This episode was recorded and produced by: David John Lang
Audio consultant: Daniel Thorpe
Mixing and Mastering: Thomas Green
Executive Producers: Lisa Cheney and Peggy Polias Making Waves


Images supplied.

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