Interview with Aditya Bhat


In the lead up to our first Soundbite, Collective Music, we speak with 3rd year musician, currator and percussionist of this performance, Aditya Bhat (VIC), about the program, curating music during the climate crisis and extravagant desserts.

Aditya Bhat, photo by Pia Johnson.

Tell us about the program in the upcoming Soundbite, Collective Music?

This programme showcases the music of three compelling creative musical thinkers: Anthony Braxton, Nicole Mitchell, and Brenda Gifford. All of the pieces conceive of music-making as a collective process: no individual musician or composer has an authoritative role in the performance, but rather each contributes to a whole that transcends the sum of its parts. Braxton’s Creative Orchestra Music is the centrepiece of the concert: it will bring together seventeen ANAM musicians, two conductors, and (at least) three of Braxton’s compositions into one continuous set of about half an hour. Braxton’s compositions combine traditional Western notation, graphics, colour, images, and text, and provide a point of departure for creative improvisation based on different categories of sound, or ‘language’ types. It’s sure to be a unique offering, full of surprises!

L-R Anthony Braxton, Brenda Gifford and Nicole Mitchell.

How did you come up with these concepts?

I’ve been somewhat aware of Braxton for a while – mainly through his contribution to Dave Holland’s classic 1972 record, Conference of the Birds. But my mind was really opened to the extraordinary nature of Braxton’s work when I got the chance to work directly with him at the Darmstadt Summer Course last year. There’s been a bit of an efflorescence in the performance of Braxton’s music after what has since proved to be the composer’s historic appearance at the festival. Essentially, I’m trying – in a small way, and with what limited knowledge I’ve gleaned – to recreate something like the ensemble I was involved in at Darmstadt Summer Music Course. Nicole Mitchell is another “Braxton-adjacent” composer-performer, who is also connected with Chicago’s radical Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Her cultivation of an inclusive, transcultural practice is really inspiring, as is her fearless advocacy of Afro-diasporic cultures.

Brenda Gifford has recently been in residence at ANAM. Tell us about what it has been like working with Brenda in this 'listening week' and about her piece 'Bardju,' which we will head in the Soundbite?

Brenda’s perspectives made a really refreshing start to the year. Her warmth and humour gave her an instantly endearing presence; at the same time, the unflinching way in which she addressed colonisation and its continuing effects on First Nations people focussed our attention to these important matters all Australians need to think about. Personally speaking, Brenda’s firm characterisation of music as something inextricably linked to Country has stuck with me the most. The idea of a musical piece being ‘grounded’ in Country is a compelling one: after all, music can’t be made without a context, and a particular place and our connection to it always forms part of that context.

Bardju is quite a groovy piece that reveals Brenda’s jazz background - something she shares with the other composers in this programme. We had a wonderful session working on it with Brenda during her residency.

In the promotional information for the performance, it is mentioned how important it is to present music that is making a comment on the climate crisis. What is the role of art in how we manage and mitigate the climate crisis? How can art effect change in times of great stress and challenge? 

In this context with Brenda’s music I think there are many valuable things to be learnt from her Indigenous point-of-view. Brenda talked about how her music is an expression of her culture, which is in turn inseparable from her Country - Yuin Country on the south coast of NSW. For 60000 years, Indigenous peoples on this continent maintained the most remarkable reciprocal relationship with the land. The ecological crises we are experiencing today stem from the destruction - through colonisation - of these relationships in favour of more extractive ones. So, Brenda’s music, drawing as it does from a long tradition of Indigenous knowledge, represents a kind of countercurrent that we can all listen to more. As musicians, by creating awareness of this kind of work - like the piece Bardju, which entreats us to ‘tread lightly on mother Earth’ - we can help change the way people think about their relationship to our environment, in turn affecting their material choices and political conscience. 

You have moved into your 3rd year at ANAM, tell us about some of your highlights of your time at ANAM so far? What are you looking forward to this year, aside from this first wonderful Soundbite?

Two years thus far at ANAM have been full of adventures! One of the most challenging but rewarding experiences was the Soundbite I organised in 2022, with four Buddhist-infused works by contemporary east Asian composers. An oft-retold story of the leadup to that concert is how when Reuben broke his wrist less than a week out from the gig, the amazing Peter de Jager was able to take on a fiendishly difficult work by Chinary Ung in a matter of days! And of course, I can’t not mention last year’s ‘Decade of Rhythm Series: an exhilarating melange of polystyrene, yodelling, and various other bells and whistles.

As for the rest of 2024, I’m really looking forward to playing the magnificent percussion sextet of Gerard Grisey - Le Noir de l'étoile, this August - and to working on the ‘ANAM Set’ composition that Victor Arul is writing for me.

In your bio you tell us that you like spending time making exotic desserts - what has been the most recent exotic creation?

Definitely the amaranth/pistachio/carrot/orange cake I made for my mum’s birthday last month. I know it sounds like a lot going on, but the flavour combination just really worked, with the amaranth flour imparting a subtle bitterness to balance out the sweet and sour. Would recommend as a high-protein gluten-free flour alternative!


Be sure to experience Aditya's programming and ideas in action in the upcoming Soundbite Collective Music, 20 March 11am at Rosina Auditorium.


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