Behind the Conversation with Lisa Cheney

Making Conversation co-founder

BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE/MAKING WAVES

 

Have you had a listen to the Making Conversation podcast? On this day in August, the series co-founder Lisa Cheney settled in for a chat with composer Joseph Twist. This episode is part of Making Waves, showcasing composers through new audio features about the inner-workings of their careers, music, and lives.

In Behind the Conversation, CutCommon ventures into the process of the music journalists who have crafted these podcasts.

Melbourne composer Lisa Cheney holds a Bachelor of Music in Composition (2008) and Master of Music (2013) from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Her research into the early career experiences of female composers in Australia was supervised by Brydie-Leigh Bartleet. She is completing a PhD in Music at the University of Melbourne.

Lisa’s passion for championing new music can be seen in her role as co-director and curator of Making Waves. As a composer herself working across acoustic and acousmatic music, Lisa has received grants from the Australia-Korea Foundation, 2017 Art Music Fund and the Silver Harris and Jeff Peck Composition Prize. Her music has been commissioned and performed by the Southern Cross Soloists, The Australian Voices, Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra, Plexus, Syzygy, Sydney Antiphony, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Australian Ballet amongst others. She is currently working on a new opera for children based on Edward Lear’s nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussycat.

 

What is your musical background?

My earliest musical memories involve glitter sticks, handbells and ribbons in pre-instrument music classes. I wish life was that fabulous now! I was lucky to have parents with the foresight to enrol a toddler in an activity that would imprint a foundation of love and instinct for music and self-expression. My first formal lessons were on keyboard and then piano with a beautiful teacher by the name of Kathryn Bartlett. In primary school, there were a couple of short lived years learning the clarinet and that, ironically, is how I learnt ‘asthma’ was the reason I couldn’t hold a note as long as my friends could. I continued piano with the same teacher all the way through to my eighth-grade exam and enjoyed singing in many choirs.

I began to dabble in composition in my early teens. I was incredibly fortunate to be in a school environment that encouraged me to have works performed at local and in house composers’ competitions (not something you would always expect growing up on Gold Coast in Queensland) and I slowly fell in love with it. After high school, I went on to complete a Bachelor and Master of Music in composition from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music with Gerard Brophy and Gerardo Dirie. I’m currently two-thirds of the way through a PhD at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music with Elliott Gyger and Katy Abbott-Kvasnica.

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

I wouldn’t say that there has been one defining moment. Rather, this interest has grown organically out of a love for connecting with other creatives and telling their stories for the benefit of those navigating this a tricky musical career. On a more general note, I really enjoy diversity in my work tasks. I’m not someone who can methodically compose for eight hours every day and keep my sanity. Music journalism is an area that I’m still exploring and enjoying, particularly in the podcast and listening spheres.

How and why did you start Making Waves?

Making Waves is a project that I co-direct and curate with composer, Peggy Polias. We’ve been voluntarily curating playlists of Australian music for over two years now and love being so intimately across the talent and music that exists today. The Making Conversation podcast was a natural progression of our direction. It also supports our larger core value, supporting and promoting the music of contemporary Australian composers.

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Young, Joseph Twist and Samantha Wolf. It was a fantastic experience, each offering me a chance to learn something new about the process! The three composers are very different and equally fascinating individuals who make unique and engaging work.­

I first came to learn of Lisa Young when I sung one of her rhythmic-jazz infused works with the Australian Voices. I was excited to meet Lisa for the first time and I did my research before arriving. Lisa’s no stranger to interviews and as such she made me feel at home straight away, knew when to cut off her answers to make editing easier for me (bless!) and offered great advice from her own life experiences as a musician and composer. As a result, this was probably my favourite interview to conduct and flowed seamlessly in to the end product.

Joe Twist, on the other hand, was the first interview I conducted in the series and I was lucky to visit him at the end of a personal trip to Los Angeles in 2016. I remember feeling quite nervous; not to mention my computer and questions froze about two minutes into the interview – go figure! Therefore, that interview really turned into us gas-bagging about music and the film scene like a couple of giggly girlfriends for two hours. I learnt some important lessons after spending days editing that chat down to a respectable 40 minutes! However, despite the challenge of editing, there is something special about the chat nevertheless. I think it captures the essence of Joe’s personality and outlook on life.

My final interview was a different experience altogether. It took place in my apartment with one of my best friends, Samantha Wolf. It’s no secret that I’m Sam’s number one fan. However, I worked hard to keep the interview focused on her telling her story, rather than me gushing over her and her work the entire time. Because we’re close, it was easy to touch on some of the more sensitive topics close to her heart such as gender and mental health. Because of this, the interview environment felt the most relaxed and intimate.

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

I’ve learnt quite a lot during this process, with the most significant mentioned above. I’ve picked up a few quirks in my recording techniques and mannerisms. I also really enjoyed our period of peer-reviewing each other’s episodes as a team!

From a technical point of view, I recorded the three interviews on my trusty ZoomH4N. However, if I were to do it again, I would certainly invest in some decent external microphones. Finally, I would have to say that I’ve learnt a great deal about project management. It was exhilarating and challenging as Peggy and I coordinated a team of 10 interviews, 30 composers-interviewees, two audio wizards, and two fantastic interns – on top of producing our own episodes, in addition running Making Waves, my PhD and other composition commitments.

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

There is always new music to fall in love with and an inspiring composer waiting for you to discover! Just because someone isn’t in the ‘spotlight’, so to speak, does not mean that they’re not doing groundbreaking, special work that deserves support. So, I guess I would have to say that my takeaway is that Australian music is plentiful, vibrant, diverse, exciting and worth fighting for.

What did you most enjoy about your music journalism involvement?

Connecting with these three human beings and artists on meaningful levels. I can’t wait to share these episodes and the whole series with the public!

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

It’s hard to pinpoint only one moment, but I would say that I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that all three composers allowed themselves to be so real and vulnerable with me. From the moment that Lisa Young admitted that at times she has to remind herself that she is a legitimate a composer, to Joseph Twist talking openly about the complexities of getting momentum in Los Angeles and straddling both concert hall and film music worlds. Lastly, to my very good friend Samantha Wolf who is so incredibly eloquent and aware of her larger social-activism potential as a composer, yet so humble and open about the mental challenges we all face. The most touching moments for me were the ones where the composers weren’t afraid to share their humanity, cares and self-doubts.

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

First and foremost, awareness. Awareness of a vibrant, stylistically diverse Australian arts scene. To those who feel lacking in role models, or wonder if a composer has ever felt the way they have, I really hope that this podcast becomes a resource they can turn to for comfort, learning and inspiration; not to mention: living role models are important for so many!

I hope listeners get a feeling for who each composer is as a person, and how this might add new layers of depth to the music they write. Lastly, I hope they will discover someone new: to fall in love with their practice and to take steps to support them on their journey. I’ll always remember that Vincent Plush once said: ‘Every composer needs a champion!’. There are so many ways to be a champion to an artist and I hope listeners will take advantage of the fact that these are very active, often young, composers who they can email, call or tweet you back after a nice comment or enquiry! I hope they get connected and join the conversation.

Where to next for you?

It’s quite a busy year! Long term, I’m focused on completing my PhD. I’m also only accepting projects that make me excited and have the potential to make a meaningful impact. Making Waves will continue to receive lots of energy and love; as will work on producing special podcast episodes for the ABC Classic FM’s New Waves Podcast with my Making Waves colleagues. I would love to gain more experience in this broadcasting realm long-term. Short term I’m [getting] started on my first opera for an audience of young children. The opera will be based on Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat. It’s going to quite a learning curve but I’m really excited to get started. Finally, I hope to learn how to stop over-committing myself…eventually! (But maybe I secretly love it?! Oh no!)

 

Listen to Lisa Cheney interview Joseph Twist in this episode of Making Conversation!

 

Music in this episode:
Le Tombeau de Monk by Joseph Twist
Performed by Collusion Ensemble: B Greaves (violin), D Bentley (cello), D Tolmie (clarinet), B Cutting (piano)
Great Minds by Joseph Twist
Performed by Southern Cross Soloists and Teddy Tahu Rhodes (voice).

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: Lisa Cheney
Audio consultant: Daniel Thorpe
Mixing and Mastering: Thomas Green
Executive Producers: Lisa Cheney and Peggy Polias Making Waves

 


Images supplied.

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