INTERVIEW: 7 Questions with James Hullick for Tura’s Scattered Experiments


Tura New Music is bringing Scattered Experiments, the second program of 2016 in Scale Variable, their ongoing chamber music series, to the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre on Saturday, August 27 for one night of innovative music. The second in the series of 2016 is a double bill that features the music of Kate Moore, Cat Hope and James Hullick, performed by percussionist Louise Devenish, and a performance in the second half by Hullick called Scatterman. James, pianist, composer and founder of JOLT, gives us a background on his pieces and his philosophies as an artist.

Tell us first a little bit more about the intriguingly titled This Instrument for the Galactic Interior. What is this piece about?

This Instrument for the Galactic Interior is a work that is for a percussionist playing a double bass and an animated score. Both audience and the performer can see the animated score during the performance. Much of the animated score looks a lot like stars and galactic celestial forms. These celestial animations have been programmed by VJ artist ZZAA. Because we hear the work through the percussionist (who is responding to the animated score), the score itself can feel like it is a projection of the performer’s mind — a mind that is full of celestial forms. So this is the underlying premise of the piece.

The multimedia aspect of this project reflects the type of audiovisual work that JOLT Arts has presented in Japan. I am the director of JOLT, so I have been a part of the community of artists making this sort of work. And I have been endlessly inspired by that community.

Louise Devenish, percussionist
Louise Devenish, percussionist

Where did you and percussionist Louise Devenish first meet, and how did you begin collaborating?

Louise first approached me a couple of years ago about playing another work of mine titled K(L)ING, also for one percussionist and also with a real time score. I knew of Louise’s work from her performances with Speak Percussion. Through that first contact we struck up a friendship and have been looking at ways in which we can collaborate further — which led to This Instrument for the Galactic Interior. I’m looking forward to where this all might lead. I find working with Louise very inspiring: Louise is a master of her craft, and a great innovator.

Are you able to describe in words your process for composing? Do you you have any special rituals, or particular steps you go through to get a new work started?

Composing is the by-product of being creatively engaged with my communities — with real people and real ideas. As such, for me there is no beginning or end to it – except as framed by my birth and by my death. Working with people at the Footscray Community Arts Centre taught me that. Many believe that Picasso painted Guernica, but all of Europe and European history made Picasso. So who really made Guernica?

Where did the idea for Scatterman come from? Is it in any way autobiographical?

No, it’s a fairy tale: If you behave like a dickhead, then you’ll turn into a pumpkin at midnight. But, no, not autobiographical. I listened to my own father who taught me that healthy long-term love requires constant awareness. It’s also inspired by my daughters too, who are very young — 5 and 7 years old. I wanted to make something that would help them understand human — and specifically male — fallibility when they reach adulthood. So they might listen back to this piece when they are grown ups and be reminded that people have always been challenged by their own imperfections — and maybe that is perfection.

Is this non-narrative theatrical approach something you have used in previous works?

Yes. Bruchlandung — a chamber opera leaps to mind first as the most similar to Scatterman. But my entire practice is non-narrative in some way. For me reality is non-narrative. The ‘narrative’ paradigm society submits as lingua franca is the illusion. I accept there are many people who will disagree with me. And so they suffer: Better to accept the non-narrative core of existence and not suffer the illusion.

James Hullick
James Hullick

You’ve traveled around the world with various music projects – do you find yourself more at home, in terms of your artistic practice, in any particular cities or countries?

I’ve never really felt at home artistically in Australia, sorry to say. I feel at home here as a family guy – I love living here socially — but there are many prejudices against artists and the creative process in Australia that violate human rights. One day artist employers will be charged in law courts.

Many Australians are terrified of great art — of the art itself. I don’t know why and I have stopped concerning myself with it.

The whole point of art for me is that it intuitively takes us out of our constructs and asks us to consider what lies beyond our perceptual habits. For some reason it seems to infuriate many Australians — and including many of those who work in the arts — that an artist can chose to challenge social and work-life mores, and the very nature of perception itself. On some arcane level the inherent possibility of the liberation from suffering just doesn’t compute for such people. You can be free of your woes. It is true and achievable — but you have to earnestly trust that it is possible for it to arise. Without earnest trust, there can be no liberation.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working in Tokyo. Artists – whilst still noticeably underpaid — don’t have to keep philosophically justifying their worth to the unbelievers in Japan, because enough of the population accept the premise of being an artist as a life choice. They accepted it hundreds of years ago.

Yes there is the plastic fizz and tat of bizarre TV game shows in Japan, but there is also an inherent cultural understanding that there must be people within the community who creatively and deeply articulate and challenge that community. This is why underground culture from Japan has become a worldwide phenomenon: because enough of the local Japanese community believe in it and actively attend it.

One thing I have learnt in Australia and in my travels is that cutting edge art is like the Never Ending Story – if the community doesn’t believe in it, then it dies, and leaves you with the Nothing. I spent my informative years confronted by the Nothing. I know it well.

How does your artistic practice intersect with social issues – do you have particular areas of concern that provide jumping-off points for your music? Would you describe this intersection more as a reaction to issues, or as a pathway to raise consciousness in others?

You need to raise your own consciousness first. Let others decide if they need to raise their consciousness. I challenge myself to raise my consciousness by confronting myself with social issues expressed through the communities I live and work within. Enlighten yourself and grace will follow. In this agenda music is but the mode of processing my learning. If collaborators, communities and audiences gain benefit from listening to this process, then so be it. But as I get older, I make no special claims of insight or understanding or knowing. My only claim is my earnest devotion to raising my own fragile awareness.

What is the mind? What is perception?


Some points to ponder, indeed. To book tickets to see Louise Devenish and James Hullick perform on August 27th, visit the Tura New Music website here.