Yoo hoo! Cockatoo Calling!

Joanne Kee may be a name that’s familiar to you; if you’ve been to a Sound Travellers gig of sound art,

Java Quartet on Cockatoo Island

contemporary classical or jazz in the last three years, you’ve benefited from Joanne’s energy and commitment. Here at extempore, we’ve been very excited to hear that last year’s pilot program of Cockatoo Calling at Cockatoo Island was successful enough to encourage Joanne to run a larger program this year. She’s busy – all the time – but kindly found time to answer a few email questions for us and whet our appetites for Cockatoo Calling 2011 – with some photos too!

Miriam: Can you tell me a little about the previous series, held at the end of last year?

Joanne: Cockatoo Calling is actually a project run through a not for profit organisation places + spaces. I am Director of that company and over the past 3 years have been putting on gigs with artists such as The Necks, Band of 5 Names, Sandy Evans with Bobby Singh, Judy Bailey Big Band, Taikoz, Compass Quartet with Julian Curwin and Marcello Miao, Misinterprotato etc.

My original rationale for putting on these gigs was because there were limited spaces and gig opportunities with pianos available for artists. That has changed with the advent of a new grand at SIMA [The Sydney Improvised Music Association venue in Sydney – The Sound Lounge] and the opening of new venues such as 505, which also has a piano and is open six nights a week. With that in mind I had decided to pull back on the places + spaces series, but to stick with the core goals of the organisation: promoting the arts and working on infrastructure.

An opportunity arose on Cockatoo Island and I decided to take the plunge with a really strong focus on reaching new audiences.

I wanted to test my theory that there was an audience for a program at Cockatoo Island, both in terms of location and music (being an island, there are of course the logistics issues of getting there). The programming has been inspired by music from the Sound Travellers project I have been running over the past three years and includes jazz, sound art and contemporary classical music.

While at first I thought audiences might just be coming for the social occasion, I actually found that some people were coming because they liked the program.

With that in mind I put together a pilot of four free performances last November, under the same banner Cockatoo Calling. It was successful beyond my wildest dreams, with up to 500 people turning up for the last two gigs. I did all the marketing and publicity myself on a shoestring, so was thrilled that people heard about it and actually came. While at first I thought audiences might just be coming for the social occasion, I actually found that some people were coming because they liked the program.

My Goodness McGuinness
My Goodness McGuinness

It was a tiny bit makeshift in that it was the first time I have ever run an outdoor event, so there was a rather steep learning curve. I am really grateful that I had such a wonderful bunch of musicians–I did warn them! I still have no sound equipment or even seating so I am working on that one now and some people have kindly offered me loans.

Artists in the pilot program were The Java Quartet with Bobby Singh, Kristin Berardi and James Sherlock, The Scrapes (sound art/contemporary classical), The Vampires with Shannon Barnett, Hinterlandt (multi instrumental sound artists) and My Goodness McGuiness

Miriam: What’s planned for the upcoming series?

Joanne: Technically there isn’t another series, what I have coming up is the launch of a creative development space on the island from March 2011. We also hope to encourage artists to put on a performance, workshop, talk or showing of work in progress as part of this process.


However, we are hoping to put on a monthly music series to sit alongside the creative development. I am very excited as some fantastic artists have said they are interested in being involved. If we can pull this off it will be curated by myself and Lucian McGuiness.

Miriam: Why cockatoo island? What is it about the venue that got you started on the idea?

Joanne: For those of you who haven’t been there, Cockatoo Island is an industrial island, formerly owned by the Federal Government and handed back to the people. It is in Sydney harbour, a 20 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, but much closer to Balmain and Woolwich, where you can see the island. It is incredibly inspiring and atmospheric. There are tunnels, old warehouses, shipyards, convict spaces, cranes and more, plus there is the incredible view of Sydney and the water all around.

I had been before to catch the Biennale of Sydney over the past four years and have personally found the island inspiring and evocative. There are lots of incredible spaces, that just lend themselves to creativity.

Through Sound Travellers I was working on a sound art project from which I got an introduction to Tania Quax who looks after cultural and other events on the island. I have had a bee in my bonnet for some time that independent musicians need more infrastructure opportunities and I thought this just might be the right place at the right time.

Miriam: What are your long-term plans for Cockatoo Calling?

Joanne: My dream is to create a significant, music-focussed, arts cultural hub focussing on independent artists and smaller ensembles and Australian music. A place for creativity, performance, connectivity and an opportunity for people to discover. The pilot is just for one year. There are no guarantees for the future, but it’s good to dream and have a vision. In fact I have had this desire to create such a space for a long time and am very excited that I have made it this far. As for the future I will keep my head down and just keep on working on it. I hope I can inspire enough people to join me and make this dream a long term reality.

Here’s where to find out more: