This post is in the Musical Practice category

"Flight" from "The Tempest", Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre. © S. Woods 2009

"Flight" from "The Tempest", Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre. © S. Woods 2009

I currently work in a higher education environment teaching audio and sound production, music technology, sound design and composition. I moved into education in 2004, having spent the previous twenty years in the music industry producing both my own music and others in largely studio-based environments.

In addition to working on both independent and record company releases, I have composed and produced a large volume of music for various media and interdisciplinary purposes, including production music libraries, film, radio and television, theatre and dance, including a number of internationally awarded productions. While the vast majority of the actual composition and production is based in technology, which is often a solitary process, the music itself is created as part of collaborative works, where effective communication and flow of ideas is essential.

I began my love of the studio in 1985, having won a local competition to write a song for the UN International Year of Youth celebrations in Toowoomba, where I was studying Trombone at what is now the University of Southern Queensland. The prize was to record the piece in a local studio, and I was immediately taken by the studio process of working on a small section at a time, getting it right, manipulating the sound, adding detail and meaning. This time was also the beginning of the MIDI revolution and I left my music course to explore this new world of creative control in studios. Armed with a 16 track recorder, a digital reverb, a sampler, a hardware sequencer and a small armoury of MIDI synthesisers I set out to make music over which I had control of notes, timbre, envelope and spacialisation of every sound. It took a while, but eventually I found myself working as house engineer and producer creating music for various Production Music libraries and for niche market popular artists.

I have long nurtured an interest in the power of music in multimedia contexts, particularly in theatre and dance, but also in screen contexts. This interest drove me to seek contacts in theatre, touring with a small company as musical and technical director and eventually establishing a relationship with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in Brisbane. My involvement with Zen Zen Zo now extends over fifteen years and nearly as many productions as composer and sound designer. The company practices a form that they describe as “total theatre … forged partly from the ancient Asian dance-theatre traditions, in which spirituality is at the fore, and partly in contemporary pop culture, where sound, light, movement and spectacle communicate meaning and “experience is god.” (Zen Zen Zo, 2005). The layered meaning-making I encountered in their process has been of great inspiration to me on both musical and personal levels and seems to “fit” both my own working methods and my desire for explicit meaning.

My creative practice has frequently placed my process and output directly in a contextual and collaborative relationship with musicians and artists from other disciplines. Examples of this include composition for theatre and dance (e.g. Zen Zen Zo, Queensland Theatre Company), film and television (e.g. ABC TV, SBS TV, Becker Entertainment), song-writing, record production and audio engineering, and the teaching and facilitation of these skills at tertiary level. This type of collaboration is not unusual in contemporary practice and the skills required to function effectively in collaborative environments are of increasing importance in a society that consumes multi-media content at an increasing rate. In my masters thesis (Webber, 2005) I noted that the “points of collaboration” within my own creative endeavours were the most critical, and potentially most vulnerable elements of the process. These points can be defined as episodes of communication and agreement upon a course of creative action. This occurred in a number of ways, but was typically face-to-face, involving speech and body activity (gesture, facial expression and other nonverbal communication). Where there was subsequent breakdown in the creative process, it appeared to be traceable to such an episode where the parties came away with a different perception, a challenge that was not recognised in the course of the communication itself.

I consider the process of teaching also to be essentially creative and collaborative. Communication of ideas and information is two-way, students are sources of new insight as much as recipients of knowledge, however I am conscious that my teaching is mediated by a persona, a deliberately adopted style that I use to define the role and, in a sense, hide behind. I began teaching at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 2004, initially teaching software, ProTools and Cubase, before being given more creative and academically challenging subject areas. I learned to let my guard down somewhat as I felt a little more confident but that persona is still there. As I began to investigate the traits associated with my diagnosis of Asperger’s, I began to allow certain students and staff to see more of the “me” I was discovering, but that has itself been fraught with challenges. In 2008, I left the Conservatorium as a sessional teacher to take up a full-time position as head of department at a private college, the JMC Academy of Creative Technologies. It has really been there that I have allowed the learnings about teaching, music and my cognitive life to combine.

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