Monday, 28 November 2016

Celebrity Soft Spot Andrew Batt-Rawden

Three years ago a Sydney composer in his twenties purchased Australia's long-established but struggling arts magazine Limelight. The magazine was verging on bankruptcy (again!) but Andrew Batt-Rawden had a vision. Limelight is now a profitable business with a significant presence in the national art scene and Batt-Rawden has become one of Australia's leading arts entrepreneurs. Batt-Rawden has been based in Perth for the past six months as artist-in-residence at Gallop House in Nedlands, and has recently decided to stay permanently in Western Australia.

Andrew Batt-Rawden

What music gets your heart racing?

Bjork - Mutual Core
Saariaho - D’om le Vrai Sens
Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
Meredith - Jet Black Raider (Unicorn)
Stromae - Racine Caree
The Presets - Apocalypso

What calms you down?

Part - Fratres
Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrtjun
Carla Bruni - Comme si de rien n’├ętait
Massive Attack - Collected
Laurie Anderson - Big Science
Pleq & Segue - The Seed
Zoe Keating - Into the Trees

What do you sing along to?

The Irrepressibles - Nude
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Laurie Andersen - From the Air
Royksopp & Robyn - Monument
Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear & This is Acting
The Presets - Pacifica & Apocalypso

What are your first impressions on Perth’s arts scene?

What astounded me when I first got here about Perth’s arts scene was how easy it is to create and experiment here. It is a very open-minded scene, and I felt very welcomed immediately as I just picked up the phone and started speaking to people. From an industry perspective, there’s a lot of people willing to have a go and see what happens.

From an audience perspective, there’s a heap of diversity, both easily accessible and a bit “underground” (where, to even know an event is happening, you need to know the artists already). There’s heaps of pockets of Perth I’m yet to discover, and I love it. The quality of work I’ve seen has been very high.

I also LOVE the Department of Culture and the Arts, and I have to say, the Chamber for Culture and the Arts is a unique industry structure not found in other states; I’m very impressed WA created that infrastructure.

Philanthropy on this side of Australia is a bit different to Sydney and Melbourne; it’s nice to see those differences, and learning so much nuance nationally is delightful.



What have you been working on while artist in residence at Gallop House?

I’m working on building three new big projects at the moment. I’m workshopping with groups and individual artists, and building new skills for new expressions of composition and performance. 

Recently I had a workshop between two life models/dancers who created forms and movements of varying tempi to a narrative I’d written whilst a quartet of harp, piano, violin and flute played a text-based improvisation score I’d prepared and six visual artists created visual interpretations of the experience - “Connect/Disconnect”. The workshop was to nut out some of the technical problems between amalgamating the three art forms… we’ll continue onto a development and a showing, possibly even the premiere next year.

I’m about to go into a workshop period with Strut Dance and the much acclaimed Maxine Doyle from Punchdrunk Theatre (UK) in collaboration with a bunch of very talented local dance and theatre artists in early December. There will be a showing advertised on the Strut website. 

I’m currently in the middle of writing new music for The Song Company, Canberra Symphony/Roger Woodward, as well as a few new songs for me to perform (whenever I get the opportunity) and a number of grant applications!!!

What drew you into composition? Who have been your teachers/influences?

Score for the song Les Mots
I got into music because I heard Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission soundtrack. I was 8 and it put tingles over my entire body - I remember still how powerful that experience was for me, transcendent. 

It moved me so much because I’d been living in a very depressive world as a child - bullied, no friends, suicidal… and this piece; the forlorn sound of the oboe, the message of hope and connection with spirit I got through the music - it expressed to me everything I needed to hear at that moment and changed my life.

At the Sydney Con I learnt the basics. When I graduated I started producing my own events outside a university context, first in France (I was working at Maccas in Cannes whilst producing contemporary electroacoustic string quartet concerts and writing for ensembles in Sydney), then back in Australia I started a company Chronology Arts and wrote heaps of music over the years for heaps of different people/instrumentations, whilst also producing events and writing grants and fostering audiences. 

Composition for me is not just dots on a page, it encompasses an understanding of and engagement in the whole process of creating. Although I’ve been called a “Composer” a lot, I’d say I’m more of the broader term “creator” or “creative artist”.

Mark Applebaum says music should be above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

“Interesting” is an ambiguous term for a good reason; music can be interesting in a variety of ways. Before my residency at Gallop House I was often focussing on an exploration of technique, narrative and technology in my music, but now I’m more interested in allowing my music to express deeply held and protected emotions to offer a space for cathartic experiences for listeners. I aim to express, without filtering, my core (#nofilter ?). I think my most successful work in that paradigm was a song I wrote about meth addiction, which I’ll be recording next year. 

You have a soft spot for being a still life model, how did this come about?

When I came to Perth, I got off the plane, dumped my stuff at Gallop House and then went to my first life modelling session. I was doing it to prepare for an event in August where I would be life modelling for Wendy Sharpe whilst the Australian Art Quartet premiered one of my quartets (“27”). We sold out the event (3 times) so it was just as well that I had some preparation!

Batt Rawden's string quartet "27" with the composer as life model. Artist Wendy Sharpe

After the event I didn’t stop - I’d lined up a bunch of life modelling gigs and I discovered there was something in it that I really enjoyed - the expression of my body - and I could use my body to express a variety of things in a variety of ways. Nudity creates a space of openness, vulnerability, and when you’re with a receptive audience who are conscious of the nudity (as opposed to objectifying the model as a sex-toy), you’re able to feel safe to explore form, expression, tension, beauty, gender, exhaustion - so many things. I don’t always pose still, I have been working on movement poses and incorporating dance of different speeds with visual art.

I’m using my posing for the research/development of three major shows next year where I’ll be doing some posing, singing, dancing, vocal performance, piano performance. “Connect/Disconnect” is one I’m collaborating on with a bunch of local Perth artists and I’ll definitely let you know when we have a showing early next year.

You had an almost prophetic vision of the role Limelight could play as one of the few remaining sources of print arts journalism in Australia. The magazine has now established a strong and growing digital readership. What are your plans for Limelight in 2017?

In 2017 I am taking a major leap; making a digital financial model available to our readers. We’ll be putting up all articles from each issue, but under a paywall, which can be lifted through a monthly supporter subscription or pay-per read system. I’m increasing digital content through a variety of partnerships around the country, and improving the website/mobile site.

We’re also, for the first time, negotiating contracts with non-performing arts clients that involve experiential marketing; making new composition/performance, touring it and marketing it through Limelight. That’s a dream come true for me, and not one I expected to achieve to be honest!

The print mag has a very loyal audience, and it will continue in 2017. We are developing new plans for marketing it better because the opportunity to market print media has been decreasing over the past years (as newsagents shut down).

As newspapers around the world continue to cut arts journalism leading to a major decline in music criticism what is your vision for how we can continue to champion the arts in Australia?

Arts Illuminated is an arts company that publishes Limelight magazine… sure it happened to be for-profit and I’m the sole director, but my approach is that it is an arts company. I think that arts journalism has to be accepted as part of the arts ecosystem.

In saying that, we need more people stepping up who will take risks, put in crazy hours, accept responsibility, be brave, be smart about it, ask for help… and more people willing to step up and put their money/time where their mouth is when it comes to supporting the arts and arts media.

Where did you learn the skills to be a magazine owner?

Mum and dad are both publishers as well… but they work in the business to business area (they both have corporate events mags). Dad is strong in finance and people management and mum is strong in sales and a different style of people management to dad.

But the real skills were learnt on the job. Limelight is a business to consumer magazine which means it’s totally different revenue model to my parent’s mags and hence different company structures and motivations.

I’d been running businesses for about 8 years before buying Limelight; a production company, a few festivals, admin for various arts companies… so I’d accumulated a lot of skills over time.

The relationship between Clive and I is like one between an Artistic Director and General Manager, and that relationship is one I’ve been on both sides of and, well, it’s the same stuff as all businesses really, just different content.

Are rumours true that a significant new relationship might be one of the major drawcards to you remaining in Perth!?

My personal relationships would exist despite my career but honestly I am staying in Perth because of the art!

Love Spiral by Batt-Rawden. Pianist Jocelyn Ho performs 
to her live heart beat, and fibre optic attire responds.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

North Swanbourne nude beach - love being natural in nature! It's a great place to go replenish/relax, be alone with some music, reconnect with and be comfortable in my own skin.


Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music and the arts?

Music is a way of expressing my soft spots for everything else. Younger emerging artists, victims of child sex abuse, people unable to express themselves, marginalised people, nature that hasn't been transformed by humanity's greed. I have a lot of empathy and a huge heart. I guess the shorter answer to that question for me would be what riles me up - and that'd be greed.


Thank you Andrew Batt-Rawden for taking part in Celebrity Soft Spot. For more details go to Andrew's website. http://www.andrewbattrawden.com.au and check out his soundcloud - www.soundcloud.com/abattrawden

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