Friday, December 17, 2010

Composition prize and Composer-in-Residence

Just received a "Highly Commended" in the Jean Bogan Prize for Piano Composition from the University of Newcastle. Also heard today I have the position of Composer-in-Residence at North Sydney Girls High School. Impressive music program at this school. The students will be studying my works for their matriculation exams. It will be exciting helping them look at them and nurturing their own compositional forays.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Top 5

You can read what I wrote for extempore about my favourite musical experiences of 2010 .

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Aurora liner notes

You’re now holding in your hands two recordings by the Resurgence Band.

In 2009 we released the live CD Tell It Like It Is recorded at a concert in Sydney. That show was filmed for video and we have included it here as a Bonus DVD, effectively re-releasing the album with the pictures. Then in 2010 we went into the studio to record this latest project Aurora. You can compare if you like the natures of the quite different beasts that are studio and live recordings. With the Aurora release I have also rekindled my own label Gracemusic.

I’m often asked “Why ‘Resurgence’?”. In the simplest terms, it goes back to a 2006 recording I made in Los Angeles with guitarist James Muller and a collection of American heavyweights including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. The song Resurgence from that CD became the album’s title track and soon it became the name of the all-Australian band I formed in the wake of its release – with James Muller again a key player - for touring in Australia and Asia. But words mean quite specific things. Beyond the prosaic explanation of its genesis as the band name, “resurgence” resonates in another way for me that goes right to the nub of this work and the changing role of music in general in our society over the last 30-40 years.

I consider myself lucky that my years as an adolescent completely passionate about being a musician, and then as an emerging professional artist in my late teens and early 20s were all during the 1970s. It was a period when stunning new instrumental music captured the imagination of young people who were looking for something else in contemporary music other than the “popular song” vocal format (whether truly “pop” or “alternative”). Bands like Mahavishnu, Return to Forever, Weather Report and the ‘Belonging’ band as well as progressive rock artists like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes in which vocals were not necessarily the main game made brilliant, virtuosic and challenging – yet accessible – music. Melody was still king and in one way or another the music was “romantic” rather than overwhelmingly cerebral or looking over its shoulder at the confines of one particular genre for its credibility.

The word fusion was coined, and it remains quite a usable one. Jazz fused with rock, classical fused with rock, classical fused with jazz, “world music” fused with all of them and simultaneously an ambient and minimalist instrumental style took root as a place for all to go. It was instrumental music that was challenging without being arcane, melodic without being about nothing else, virtuosic while still lyrical and it employed traditional as well as the newer instruments and recording technologies. All this was started by the artists themselves and their audiences rather than a record company marketing exercise, and was driven from the ground up by a generation that simply wanted to engage with it.

Then came the 1980s and the multinational record companies managed to sideline what had been a truly free exercise of individual musical choice by a deluge of marketing and manufactured celebrity. The blinds of a window through which the sun had briefly shone seemed to be drawn and this music ended up trapped in the shadows. New alternative popular song forms arose but were corporatized and warehoused quickly. Instrumental music (apart from the blandest pop instrumentals) didn’t get much of a look in since there was now no template passed down by those who had once felt the flame for instrumental music as a way to make sense of it all.

So, I strive with others toward a resurgence of this lost legacy as a broadly social – rather than fringe - activity. I’m encouraged in this endeavour by seeing the number of music lovers across all generations who are showing up at our performances.

And as even the niche record labels – being mostly distributed by the multinational corporations - cast off artists in droves and feel unable to sign new ones, with Gracemusic I join those musicians who are harnessing new media in bypassing those corridors to engage directly with you.

I will let the actual music speak for itself. I’ll just say that if you are willing to listen (or watch) your way right through the disks without interruption – a way of approaching an album that is becoming less common - there will be aspects of their construction and flow that can only be appreciated thus.

I’d like to once again thank James, Matt, Brett and Tim for their truly awesome playing and for being such great company on the road, in rehearsal and in the studio. Thanks to all the production team but especially star engineer Richard Lush who back in the day recorded Sgt. Peppers with The Beatles and who suffered a crippling health blow recently that saw him record and mix Aurora in a wheelchair, just out of rehab and smiling all the time (here’s to your full recovery mate). I’d like to thank Roen Davis for undertaking the filming and editing of the DVD, he is one of those who still remembers clearly. Pianist and composer Tim Stevens has been the one esteemed musical colleague who has befriended me in such a way that we share our thoughts about music and life on an almost daily basis and I thank him for that blessing. And last - and obviously not least - I am grateful beyond words to my adorable wife Jewel whose beautiful painting graces the cover, just as she herself graces everything I do that is truly worthwhile.

Mark Isaacs
Sydney, November 2010



You can watch some of the videos of the Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band from the DVD Tell It Like It Is (a bonus DVD with new CD Aurora) here.