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Orchestra collaborates with Top End musicians -

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Orchestra collaborates with Top End musicians

Reporter: Murray McLaughlin

KERRY O'BRIEN: Efforts to promote reconciliation with Aboriginal Australia have taken many and
varied forms. None quite so unusual, though, as a trip to Arnhem Land by the Australian Art
Orchestra, a 20-piece band formed more than a decade ago by the pianist and composer Paul
Grabowski. Grabowski's group has been widely recognised for its collaboration with music cultures
of other countries. Now it's trying to mix with traditional Aboriginal music at a remote Top End
community, ultimately to produce a collaborative work. Murray McLaughlin reports from Arnhem Land.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Visitors to the Arnhem Land township of Ngukurr have never been so obvious.
These men are jazz players from down south and their musical strength is improvisation. Tonight on
the dance floor at Ngukurr, they were also going with the flow.

PAUL GRABOWSKI, AUSTRALIAN ART ORCHESTRA: We did that with seriousness of purpose, albeit total
ineptitude, but I was talking to one of the elders this morning and he said it was enormously
significant that we did that last night. It was a sign to them that we were willing to go wherever,
do whatever, be whatever.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Paul Grabowski, composer and conductor, founded the 20-member Australian Art
Orchestra in 1994. It began as a large jazz ensemble that Grabowski has since taken into more
adventurous worlds of cross cultural collaboration. The orchestra has worked and toured with
musicians from Bali and South India. Now Grabowski wants to explore Australian Indigenous music.

PAUL GRABOWSKI: We found that the traditional musicians have been very keen to sit down with us and
start teaching us about what they do. What I'm hoping is that we'll together be able to create a
work over time in which we are equals, which is a reflection and a record of the specific
situation.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: The Australian Art Orchestra has come to Ngukurr with Aboriginal performer
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter. Paul Grabowski has worked with the couple to produce a show called
Ruby's Story, a tale in song and music of Ruby Hunter's life as a Stolen Generation child.
Grabowski's latest venture into traditional music has caught Archie Roach's imagination.

ARCHIE ROACH, SINGER/SONGWRITER: I'm really, really excited. It nearly made me cry one time because
actually professional musicians are actually playing the music from the people, rather than
musicians arranging music for didge or clapstick.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Till their visit to Ngukurr, the Art Orchestra musicians had only remote
experience of Aboriginal music.

TONY HICKS, BASS CLARINET: It's a different language, so put yourself anywhere on the planet with a
language you don't understand and I think you get some kind of idea about how we were. These guys
have a different understanding of time.

JAMES GREENING, TROMBONE: It's hard to understand from a Western point of view. Their differences
in subtle variations and developments. It's not really overt. It's a language, you know and, it's
like, so to learn it takes years and years and years.

JULIEN WILSON, SAXOPHONE: Yeah, there's so many different things going on at once that I'm not
accustomed to, that it's trying to work out what to remember first when we're learning pieces, so
there's a lot of steps.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: What's it been like having the orchestra here learning those songs?

BENJAMIN WOOLFORD: Fantastic, we've been working with them. That's good, fantastic.

EDDIE CHISOLM: These boys, they got an ear for music, you know, same like this orchestra. They're
able to pick up singing and playing different rhythms quite easily. They're working off each other
really good.

BENJAMIN WOOLFORD: Yeah, good one. Really fantastic. So we might do that one tonight.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: After two days at Ngukurr, the visitors have surprised themselves. They've been
able to get their heads and their instruments around a couple of traditional songs, enough for Paul
Grabowski to risk a new opening act to the performance of Ruby's Story.

PAUL GRABOWSKI: I didn't know how far we were going to get, but I didn't think we'd have something
to perform. I mean, I was hoping that, you know, there might be some tentative kind of noises being
made, but, no.

JOHN O'DONNELL, SOUND ENGINEER: It's extraordinary. It's kind of like with this band, it's just an
extraordinary group of people that musically don't seem to have any kind of fear or notions that
they can't do something. They sit down there and they go, "That's a challenging piece of music to
improvise to," yet somehow they create beautiful music.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Nice to see there are always new frontiers in music.