MJFF APRA Commission – Tilman Tells All

The peeps at Melbourne Jazz Fringe have just announced that applications are open for the 2013 APRA Commission. We talked to last year’s commissioned composer Tilman Robinson about his experience with the commission last year. We wanted to hear about the impact the commission has made, and we also asked him for any thoughts he’d like to share with this year’s applicants!  Read on…

AustralianJazz.net: How did you hear about the commission?

Tilman Robinson: I heard about the commission the same way one hears about anything nowadays, the internet. Actually to be completely honest, it was Facebook! As far as I can remember my colleague in Perth, Mace Francis, drew my attention to it. I do remember that I only had a few days to throw my application together.

AustralianJazz.net: What appealed to you about it? / Why did you apply?

Tilman Robinson: The commission appealed to me for various reasons. Firstly, it was a reason to create new work. I tend to work a lot better with a focus and a deadline than I do left to my own devices so projects like this force me to make the time to actually be creative. Secondly, as a recent arrival to Melbourne in early 2012, the commission gave me the opportunity and impetus to put together a new ensemble in my new hometown. Lastly, there was money involved and let’s face it, getting a paid commission in the jazz world is a rare privilege.

AustralianJazz.net: Did it allow you to do something you would not otherwise have been able to do?

Tilman Robinson: Absolutely. I would not have the ensemble that I have formed without it. It also allowed me to create a 60 minute concert work rather than a collection of shorter pieces. The MJFF allowed me to dream of a fairly large-scale concept and run with it.

AustralianJazz.net: Was there anything about the process of writing the work that really surprised, stretched or challenged you?

Tilman Robinson: There were a lot of unknowns for me in the creation of this work. Firstly, the ensemble that I had put together had never before played together. In fact, there were a few people in the ensemble with whom I had never played. This is always a little bit difficult to me as I like to know the players I am writing for. It gives you a chance to write to their strengths and draw the most out of them. In this situation, I just had to go out and watch all of these people perform in their own practice to get an idea of where there strengths lay. Secondly, I was planning to integrate some live processing and sampling, something I had never done before in a performance context. Thirdly, there was the idea for the piece itself: would it even work? Could I accurately portray this amazing piece of literature in this way? Lastly and more practically, the timeframe within which the commission had to be completed was a challenge. I was quite ambitious with my undertaking and to conceive, plan, sketch, draft and finalise 10 pieces then patch them together into an hour long work in 4 weeks was a bit of a stretch. I was writing up until a few hours before the first rehearsal and rewriting up until a few hours before the first performance. I have rewritten sections since as well. It’s a never ending battle for me to just leave a piece alone: sometimes I feel like a kid picking at a scab (reading back on this you might want to leave that out – bit gross). [Ed’s note: Nah. We want the real Tilman]

AustralianJazz.net: Has there been any flow on benefit for you? This could be tangible (other opportunities to perform, opportunity to record) or intangibles (networks, things you’ve learned)

Tilman Robinson: Yes there have been flow on benefits. The response to the work was overwhelmingly positive, both from audience members and members of the ensemble. As a newcomer in Melbourne, the premiere and subsequent performances have really opened doors for me with musicians, media and audiences, something I would never have achieved so quickly with it. I have just recorded the work at Allan Eatons Studio in St Kilda so there will also be a tangible benefit – my first release as leader of my own ensemble. I’ll be launching the finished album in August. Hopefully, there will be further opportunities to perform the work and write others for this ensemble but as I have learnt recently, all of these processes take a long time.

AustralianJazz.net: What would you say to someone thinking of putting in an application to the MJFF for this year’s commission?

Tilman Robinson: Think big, dream large etc. This is an opportunity for you to stretch yourself creatively. Looking back at previous winners of the commission, we have all tried something very new to us and used the commission to test uncharted waters. The MJFF Commission is no place to play it safe.


Read more about the 2013 MJFF APRA Commission on the MelbourneJazzFringe website

Find Tilman Robinson on the web

More about Tilman Robinson on AustralianJazz.net

Watch and listen

Tilman Robinson Network of Lines – ‘Looks Down in the Gathering Shadow’ (Live at 3RRR)