Josten Myburgh on Josten Myburgh

The Perth composer reveals his story



Telling your own musical story can be challenging. At once, you’re presenting yourself to yourself, and yourself to others. And just which version of you are you presenting? Josten Myburgh goes out of his way to share with us a sincere and what is probably a common experience for many of us surrounding what it is to make ourselves as musicians.


I started music pretty late, but the first bands I listened to seriously were The Velvet Underground, Pixies and My Bloody Valentine – all bands that are notorious for making other people start bands. So as a teenager I just tried stuff, having absolutely no idea what I was doing at any point. I was just driven by trying to do something no one else was doing and had no interest in excelling or fitting in in a particular music culture, which mostly ended in some kind of awkward jazz music and electronic music that sounded a bit like an ironic Gold Panda. I knew who John Cage and Morton Feldman were at this point, but I never really ‘got’ what they were doing at all.

My first lecture at university on the history of electronic music at university fairly simply explained some basic ideas behind experimental music, which made total sense to me and was enough to hook me on trying to explore sound from the ground up. From there, I felt like I was allowed to do pretty much anything, and the lack of restraint on compositional freedom that Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts offers (something that sets it apart from so many other institutions) made it very nourishing, letting me just try out pretty much everything (even though what I did throughout university was mostly in fairly institutionalised genres anyway).

Around my Honours year, some pretty bad things happened to me and I started to wonder why I was doing pretty much anything at all, let alone doing music. I felt a bit distanced from the musical cultures I was interested in, and felt like I didn’t really have a musical culture of my own; in my mind, I was just a kid who found music a bit too late and had spent his life trying to catch up on everyone else without really having the essence of what they had growing up, with a classical or jazz training, or just a musically-engaged family.

So I started looking for what I really wanted to be doing, mostly by ignoring responsibilities and just asking myself exactly what I wanted to create in the moment. At the time, given my emotional state, I felt like this was all I could do if I wanted to keep making anything at all.

The results of this were really bizarre; from pretty loud and self-effacing experimental hip-hop, solo improvisations where I danced badly more than I played any sounds, performances where I did basically nothing or played quieter than the audience, and compositions with a lot of long silences dotted by quiet minor-key melodies and chords, or tiny noises. I’m pretty mentally together now, but this playful attitude that I generated during this time is still pervasive through what I do and I think my music totally fails if it’s not present.

I’m very motivated by love and friendship, and anything that starts becoming too serious, formal or professional very quickly becomes meaningless and hard to care about. So I still got more joy doing embarrassing poses whilst holding a saxophone on stage in front of my grandparents at my graduation recital than I did having my piece for orchestra played by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, grateful as I am for that opportunity.

Before, I think I was concerned with trying to become a real composer. But now, I think I’m trying hard not to do that. And through this, all the things I was interested in as a kid seem to be manifesting more clearly in my music; as though tiny windows are appearing, and by catching a glimpse through them I can understand how I might better engage with my favourite musical cultures and ideas in a way that’s relevant to me personally and also within my cultural context.

I still struggle with this a lot, and a lot of my music is held back by me questioning what I’m really doing or whether I know enough about something to be able to really do it. But this is the direction I’m going in now, and it seems to be having nice results. Let’s see what happens…

Support Josten’s music when you see him perform this month. He’ll present concerts in outdoor spaces every Sunday in October. He also has a recital with his ensemble Breaking Waves and soprano Monica Brierley-Hay, which will feature his compositions written on a recent Europe trip. It will also include pieces by Laura Steenberge and Michael Pisaro – read more.

Josten will perform a duo with Jameson Feakes in Darlington, 6.30pm October 15 as part of the Slight Studio series, and with Tone List Collective at Outlines, Bar 459 at 7pm on October 16. 

About Josten

Perth composer Josten Myburgh writes music for instruments and electronics, performs improvised music with saxophone or laptop, runs workshops on free improvisation, curates concerts of experimental music for Tura New Music, makes beat-based music that approaches territories of musique concrete and noise, and occasionally dances. Myburgh has performed Krakow Audio Art Festival, Festival Cable#8 in Nantes, The International Computer Music Conference, Perth’s Totally Huge New Music Festival, and participated in the WASO Composer’s Project and the Speak Percussion Emerging Artists Project. In 2015, he completed a Honours degree in Composition & Music Technology at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.



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