The Clifton Hill Community Music Centre: 1976 - 1983
This article first appeared in
magazine. In it, the author discusses the formation of The Clifton Hill
Community Music Centre in Melbourne, and gives a chronological outline
of activities there.
In mid-1975 composer Ron Nagorcka returned to Australia from a sojourn in San
Diego, California. With him came American Warren Burt, to take up a teaching
position with the Music Department of Latrobe University. Both had been
involved in the running of the
, the University of California at San Diego's alternative performance series.
Nagorcka had also witnessed the bitter infighting and factionalism that had
plagued the Melbourne branch of the ISCM (International Society for
Contemporary Music) and the New Music Centre in the early 1970s. From these
experiences he formulated the principles that would govern the Clifton Hill
Community Music Centre over its eight year lifespan. They were such that:
These principles were tested with concert series at La Mama Theatre and then at
the Students' Church, Carlton from August to December 1975. At the beginning of
1976, space became available at the Organ Factory, a community centre in
Clifton Hill housing the New Theatre group, after-school play groups and other
civic action organisations. The first concert series by the Clifton Hill
Community Music Centre at the Organ Factory was held shortly after with
Nagorcka as co-ordinator.
- No money was charged from the audience, thereby eliminating the notion of
possibly not getting one's money's worth (This did alter slightly - see 1981
section). No money was paid to composers or performers. No equipment was
supplied, and advertising was mostly word of mouth or very inexpensively
photocopied posters. The removal of economics from the musical equation was of
supreme importance in setting up a space with a truly alternative set of values.
- Access to the space was completely open and no restrictions were placed on
style or content of performances. All one had to do was phone the co-ordinator
of the Centre and a date for an event would be arranged.
- The centre was run anarchically. A person elected, or was elected, to be
co-ordinator who was then responsible for allocating performance times, opening
and closing the building and allocating the minimal publicity jobs. When that
person tired of the co-ordinator's job, it was passed on to another. In this
way, a sense of continuity and adapting to changing needs was built into the
In early 1977 John Campbell founded the New & Experimental Music Show
(originally titled Amputations) on Community Radio 3CR. This helped to
publicize CHCMC. Campbell, Burt, David Chesworth and John Crawford all
presented programs. In later years most of the CHCMC concerts were taped on
cassette and then played on the program, providing broader exposure for the
Centre and the performers and more than satisfying the station's 50% Australian
content requirement. Eventually, the program moved to 3RRR FM.
There were four areas for performance in the double storey factory. Downstairs
was a large open space interspersed by pillars over a wood floor. This area was
used later for large-scale works, particularly by Graeme Davis and myself,
although Randelli (Robert Randall and Frank Bendinelli) used it for video
installations in 1978. Upstairs was a small room where most of the early
concerts were held, and a small but well equipped theatre with stage, lights
and sloped seating. Next to the theatre was a carpeted foyer area. This foyer
area was the only place equipped with a heater. In winter the rest of the
building, like all good experimental music centres the world over was
. Extra chairs and tables resided in various sections of the building. There
was also a piano, two big hi-fi speaker boxes with cables, a hot-water urn and
mugs, and adequate electric power points.
The Centre's second principle meant that there were probably as many musical
styles as ensembles and performers, but the `no finance' principle did push a
few things to the fore. The first was a healthy and inventive participation in
the low-budget ethic. This occurred in several ways. One was the use of cheap
and low-calibre instruments, and in people trustingly borrowing and lending
each other equipment. In the earliest Tsk Tsk Tsk line-ups both the electric
pianos had some non-functioning keys and the electric guitar was a borrowed
K-Mart special (The equipment of many bands improved in later years and, as
people moved into areas demanding better equipment such as video production and
studio electronics, the production became more sophisticated). It was well
accepted that low-budget equipment helped to `shape' the music, not devalue it;
there was no stigma attached to its use, although some music students claimed
they hated the sounds of out-of-tune toy organs. Mention of toys takes us into
another: when no `real' instruments were available, people used toys, found
objects and invented home-built devices for music making. The use of the
portable cassette recorder as an instrument for real-time electronic
composition and performance was pioneered at the Centre, first by Burt and
Nagorcka as Plastic Platypus and then by Davis and myself. Davis and I both
still use cassette manipulation in our scores and performances. Other
synth-type devices also appeared. Bands such as Laughing Hands, heavily
dependent on electronic amplification and treatment devices, usually had a
contact-miked toy guitar with rubber band strings in there somewhere.
The second important feature was a strong leaning towards works embodying
multi-arts disciplines. This resulted from confidence in the freedom to invent
and explore musical forms without feeling a need to gratify the audience. Even
the most conventional ensembles surprised audiences with music-theatre pieces
every now and then. Tableau, drama, mime and dance were incorporated
inventively into concerts, and much work was done in the Super-8 film and video
fields. Indeed, the Super-8 film people saw the ethics of CHCMC aptly befitting
their medium. Film and/or video concerts, either combined with music or
performance or just shown straight, were featured in all the years of the
Centre's operation. Colour slides were also used. Installations activated by
audience or performers were constructed. If a performer wanted movement in a
piece but couldn't find a dancer or actor willing to perform without payment,
they worked out their own set of steps and
the dancer. Most people took on these challenges of new roles in a serious,
purposeful and consequently successful manner.
Performers were genuinely interested in the musical directions of other
performers although the `music student' performers looked upon the radical
musical adventurousness of the non-academic with perhaps just a tinge of envy.
People questioned and commented freely. Performance arrangements and
commitments stayed flexible, and concerts by one-off hybrids made up of members
from various different bands often provided a new and challenging outlet for
musical ideas. The Dave and Phil Duo and Music 4 both had a longer life, Tsk
Tsk Tsk had a large and varied workforce for their many projects, and I
collaborated with Burt, Chris Mann and Tsk Tsk Tsk for valuable learning
Burt took over as co-ordinator from June 1976 to December 1977 and Chesworth
took up the job in January 1978. Very little of the extremely rough and ready
documentation remains from these first two years (neither Nagorcka nor Burt
kept accessible files) but Nagorcka tried hard to nurture the `community'
aspect of the Centre, with even a Greek music ensemble and dancers performing
at one concert. However these bodies drifted away, probably because of the
non-profit concept. This left those composers and performers who really needed
a space to get their music played. Given the music climate in the rest of
Melbourne, it is not surprising the Centre became a focus for experimental
Documentation of events at the Centre during the period from May to December
1977 can be found in the three slim issues of
The new music newspaper
, edited by Burt and Les Gilbert to call attention to "the enormous amount of
new music in Melbourne". Their first editorial also mentions the attitudes of
the mass media to "the broad mass of fine, strong work being done in isolation"
as being condescending, non-comprehending or completely ignoring it
. Issue No 1 contains an article by Nagorcka expressing his views on the
Centre, and an article by Burt entitled
Out and About
- a personal concert diary in which eight CHCMC concerts are briefly
described. The back pages of the first two issues feature lists of concert
dates, 25 of which were CHCMC events. Burt and/or Nagorcka did six, Robin Teese
and Bill Fontana (these days world-renowned for his large-scale electronic
cityscape installations) both did two, and the others included events by
Gilbert, Dom de Clario, the Australian Percussion Ensemble, Barry Conyngham's
Music Now and Tsk Tsk Tsk. Issue No 3 contains detailed reviews of three CHCMC
events: Robin Teese's
Songs Without Foundation
, Ros Bandt's
- a `hands on' installation for an exploring audience, and Nagorcka's epic
opera in three parts:
Son of Atom Bomb
Atom Bomb Meets Godzilla
Chesworth co-ordinated four concert series with a total of 29 concerts. Tsk Tsk
Tsk were responsible for eight, Nagorcka and/or Burt for five, people from
tertiary music courses (mostly Latrobe, but also some from Melbourne University
and from Melbourne State College) for seven, Randelli for three live/video
performance concerts, two were `mixed nights' of many different pieces, and
four events were by Davis, David Tolley and The Fab Four (a one-off ensemble
featuring Philip Brophy, Chesworth and Jane and John Crawford). Descriptions of
some of these early events can be found in
. The attitude of the then Music Board of the Australia Council to CHCMC was
such that some antiquated recording equipment (remnants from New Music Centre
days) stored in a back room at the Organ Factory was requested to be returned.
The Centre produced four concert series of 30 concerts: Tsk Tsk Tsk did seven,
Nagorcka and/or Burt did three, Chesworth did six (two solo, two with Brophy as
the Dave and Phil Duo, and two with Robert Goodge - the first emergence of
Essendon Airport), tertiary music people did three, Davis and I participated in
five (the debut of I.D.A. with Davis and Nagorcka and myself occurred in
October), plus work by Crawford, Chris Wyatt, Rainer Linz, Ad Hoc (an early
ensemble with Chris Knowles and James Clayden), Jim Gott and Paul Turner. By
the middle of the year, as audience sizes had increased, quite a few concerts
were held in the theatre area.
A summer season of seven improvisation evenings in January and February started
the year off, and proved how diverse the definitions of improvisation could be.
1980 was also the year of
magazine, co-ordinated by Brophy and Chesworth for a total of five issues
. A process of concert review by volunteer, and subsequent interview between
reviewer and performer/s filled the pages of four of these magazines with
various writing styles, levels of articulation and typewriter fonts.
Unfortunately, it was in one instance also the vehicle for an article
containing the worst abuse of the freedom implied by the second of the Centre's
original principles, and by the editorial statement in each issue
. This led to the first organised meeting the Centre ever staged in December
1980 to discuss the differences of opinion which had arisen.
Concert action stepped up grandly: Series One had eight concerts, Series Two
had nine, Series Three had ten and Series Four had 16 concerts running Mondays
and Wednesdays through November and December. These included Burt's
Epic Monumental Project
over five evenings, and Tsk Tsk Tsk, Laughing Hands and Chesworth in various
guises with four each. I.D.A. and Wyatt both did three. Ensembles from Latrobe
University did four and a vast array of performers did the rest, ranging from
the punk-styled Lunatic Fringe through to the jazzed-styled Barry Veith and
Judy Jacques, with nearly everything in between, including the Carrington Group
string orchestra. In addition to CHCMC concerts, two benefit concerts were held
at Melbourne University's Guild Theatre to help fund the magazine, and a 13
event series over an eight day period was run by Chesworth at Latrobe Union
Gallery to help pay the rent at the Organ Factory.
1981 was another year of intense activity for the Centre, with 41 concerts held
over the four series. One series with two concerts per week was commonplace in
the years 1980-1982. The `stalwarts': Tsk Tsk Tsk, Chesworth solo or with band,
Laughing Hands, I.D.A., The Connotations and Peter Simondson's various bands,
all presented between four and six events. There were also eight people who had
performed in previous years, and eight total newcomers. Two LP records
magazines were released, and a final benefit concert to help pay for the
printing of the last issue was held at the beginning of the year to a
thoroughly packed house. It was amusing how audiences would swell in size the
moment an admission price was charged!
April saw the Centre's second meeting: the building's committee had increased
the rent from $100 to over $300 per year. It was decided unanimously to adhere
to the original unwritten principles of the Centre, but a voluntary donations
jar was positioned in the foyer which worked well. Concerts were free until mid
1982 when a $1 donation was requested, and two benefit concerts were held to
pay the rent: one in August 1982 and the other in October 1983.
With an increase in the exposure of the Centre's participants in other areas,
concert audiences grew more varied and increased in size again. Both Brophy and
Chesworth's bands had attracted a punk/new wave audience from hotel and club
circuits, and more bands started getting work in these venues. Probably the
first major acceptance by the visual arts world of the Centre was through Tsk
Tsk Tsk's July 1980
- what is this thing called Disco?
installation at the George Paton Gallery at Melbourne University
. In 1981 large contingents of CHCMC performers worked in art galleries in
Melbourne, regional centres and interstate
. This resulted in an influx of visual artists, filmmakers, critics, gallery
administrators and arts bureaucrats to the Centre. Some, like the new wave
sector, understood and were at ease with the Centre's modus operandi while
others, again like the new wave sector, misunderstood the Centre's pluralism
and were disappointed and annoyed to enjoy their `favourite new act' one week
and to witness something that was often totally incomprehensible to them the
Perhaps as a result of the attention from the visual arts world, derivations of
French-based arts theory and criticism began to infiltrate some aspects of the
activities at CHCMC. A strange manifestation, it attracted much ardent defense
and as much equally ardent abuse from the informed and the ignorant on both
sides of the fence. Semiotic labels such as `first degree, second degree, third
degree...' were bandied about with great passion and great irresponsibility.
Strangely inaccurate stories about the Centre's `militantly rigid ideological
thrust' began to filter back to CHCMC from other capitals. It should be
emphasized here that
of these events in any way altered the working structure of the Centre.
In August the Centre hosted one of the evening concerts of the
1981 Music and Technology Conference
, much to the chagrin of sections of Melbourne's music academia, who otherwise
avoided CHCMC totally. Several of the overseas delegates praised the Centre,
comparing it favourably with New York's The Kitchen, not only in politics and
architecture but also in lack of heating!
After four and a half years as co-ordinator, Chesworth handed the position over
to Andrew Preston. Between them they opened the doors to 40 concerts for the
year. Both Burt and I gave five concerts each, Preston, The Connotations and
Chesworth did three each and Simondson, Tsk Tsk Tsk, Knowles and Di Emery did
two each. Statistically this was another successful year for the Centre but, on
another level, things had begun to change. Audience sizes diminished and, for
the first time since 1976, the co-ordinator had to ring performers and suggest
they do something in order to fill a series. Regulars started forming little
one-off bands with each other, sometimes producing innovative results. New
people were still appearing: Sue Blakey, Paul Taylor, the tapes of Anti-Music
and Sydney musician Louis Burdett were some. In the fourth series, Preston
planned four Music Forum events: Brophy, Burt, Adrian Martin and Nagorcka all
had an evening each to espouse their musical philosophies, fantasies or foibles
and to discuss the ensuing comments, questions and criticisms of the audience.
These had mixed results, ranging from voices raised in heated debate to yawning
and leaving early, but everything was possible and permissible.
To start the year's activities, CHCMC played host to a series of nine afternoon
and evening events for the first
Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival
in February and March. It featured a mixture of regulars and new Fringe
performers and filmmakers. From 30 March to 15 June, Preston organized and
mostly cajoled material for ten concerts. Preston, Davis, Burt, Goodge and I
(tried and true names) kept the events coming. Even Nagorcka performed again
after an eighteen month absence from the CHCMC stage. Most notable amongst the
few newcomers were New Zealanders Gary Fox and David Watson, in Australia for
Festival in Tasmania. They made special trips to the mainland for the express
purpose of performing at CHCMC. However, Preston found it harder and harder to
fill series and audiences were still dwindling. The altered social and economic
climates of the mid-80s, compared to those of the late 70s and even early 80s,
led to a marked change in people's responses to experimentation in
artform. This was distinctly noticeable in the increasingly conservative
attitudes of tertiary arts faculties and their students.
Disaster struck the Centre in early June when work began on extensive
renovations to the building. The last concert was moved to the Living Room in
Richmond, and for the next four months the only sounds from the building were
those of construction equipment.
During this period, Preston handed the position of co-ordinator over to Goodge,
who ran a series of eight concerts in October and November, beginning with a
well attended rent-paying benefit concert. The accompanying flyer mentioned
that the renovations were nearly complete, and that people should put their
names on a mailing list for the following year. It also carried the news that
the Organ Factory Committee had applied for funding from the Victorian Ministry
for the Arts, as well as the standard invitation for performers to present in
the usual manner. The last concert for the year was held on 30 November with
bands formed by Goodge and Martin, films by Ralph Traviato and Paul Fletcher
(of Tsk Tsk Tsk and Essendon Airport respectively) and a solo performance by
Only four people: Goodge, Preston, Linz and myself, turned up to the Centre's
third meeting on 21 March. Many of the Centre's regular performers were still
overseas as a result of their participation in the
1983 Paris Autumn Festival
. Goodge announced that the application for funding had been successful, but
that because of his present commitments, he should resign as co-ordinator. I
was offered the position but declined, stating that I saw the present
co-ordinator's job as "begging non-existent performers for non-existent
material for non-existent concerts for non-existent audiences", and not really
in keeping with the Centre's original principles. I said it would be better to
disband the Centre at this stage. This was agreed upon by the others and the
grant was returned to the Ministry. It is ironic that the only time the Centre
received funding assistance was at the point when it was disbanding for other
reasons. Later that week, I told Nagorcka of the decision and Nagorcka answered
"Yeah, I think you probably did the right thing!"
Sadly, this was `the end of an era' for the Centre's regular performers. As can
be seen, Nagorcka's original principles of establishment of the Centre were
upheld until the end. In a way, the 30 posters for concert series from 1978 -
83 tell it all. I would like to see them all reprinted in a future publication,
along with lists of the 90 solo performers and ensembles and the 30 or more
video and filmmakers who presented at CHCMC in those years. Of course, in the
six years that have elapsed since the Centre closed, everyone has moved on. In
Art, nothing remains static for long.
was founded in October 1974 with Australian Sue Thurgate as co-ordinator up to
June 1975, assisted by Burt and Nagorcka. It has occurred intermittently to
The new music newspaper
No. 1, August/September 1977 and
The new music newspaper
No. 2, October/November 1977, both published by the La Trobe University Union
Activities Committee, 1977; and
The new music newspaper
No. 3, December 1977/January 1978, University of Melbourne Faculty of Music,
3. A section of Nagorcka's
, NMA Publications, Melbourne, 1983.
New Music 1978 - 1979
, ed Brophy, P and Chesworth, D, Melbourne, 1980.
5. ibid and
New Music Nos 1 - 4
, ed Brophy, P and Chesworth, D, Melbourne, 1980 - 81.
New Music No 3
, pp.4 & 27 and
New Music No 4
, pp.3 - 4, Melbourne, 1980 - 81.
New Music 1978 - 1979
(NON 007) and
New Music 1980
(NON 008), Innocent Records, Melbourne, 1981.
8. A complete account of Tsk Tsk Tsk's performance activities is contained in
Made by Tsk Tsk Tsk 1977 - 1982
, published in Melbourne by the band in 1983. It should be mentioned here that
the band's name was really a symbol constructed from three arrows, but
electronic typesetting procedures necessitate the use of the standard alphabet
9. For examples, see
Noise and Muzak
catalogue, George Paton Gallery, Melbourne University, July 1981 and
New Musical Performance - music by Australians
catalogue, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, September 1981.
"An Interview with Ron Nagorcka"
No 2, Australian International Press and Publications P/L, Melbourne, 1979.
Brophy, P and Martin, A.
"Texts and Gestures"
No 6, Sydney, 1982. pp.28-32.
"Seven Composers in Three Parts"
No 6, Sydney, 1982. pp.36-38.
"An Interview with Ron Nagorcka"
, NMA Publications, Melbourne, 1983. pp.4-6.
22 Contemporary Australian Composers,
NMA Publications, Melbourne, 1988. Chapters on
"Electronic Music in Australia"
No 340, 14 May 1981. pp.26-28.
© 2001 NMA Publications and Ernie Althoff.
Composer and performer
was active at the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre both as a solo performer
and as a member of groups such as IDA (institute for dronal anarchy, with Ron
Nagorcka and Graeme Davis).
His more recent work includes a range of
sound machines and gallery installations, as well as performances in the
duo 2work@once with Eamon Sprod. See also the
to NMA magazine index.