In Conversation: Kieran Welch

In Conversation: Kieran Welch

Creating a post-genre approach to music making. 

Kieran Welch
Brisbane, Australia

In Conversation: Kieran Welch

Creating a post-genre approach to music making. 

You're a classically trained violist who has been DJing from a young age. What's the appeal for you personally in working with different musical genres?

Growing up, I was always interested in both classical music, and more "popular" or contemporary kinds of music like electronica and indie rock. But in searching for a way to combine these two musical areas of my life, it seemed like they were surprisingly incompatible. Nearly every combination I could find of the two worlds was more for novelty's sake—composers "uplifting" techno or whatever into a classical composition, but in a way that was patronising and not really understanding the other world at all, or a DJ sampling a classical composition, but in a really unimaginative and obvious way.

However, during my Bachelor of Music, I discovered a bunch of musicians and composers doing just this, but in a really effective and non-hierarchical way—people like Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli, Björk, Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter, or closer to home, composers like Robert Davidson and the Argo crew, Connor D'Netto and Ben Heim. One of the most important was here in Brisbane, when Chris Perren asked me to become a part of a new band he was forming called Nonsemble. Coming from playing in successful math rock band Mr Maps, and organising rock gigs in Brisbane for years, Chris was really interested in combining this background with more classical aspects, particularly the notation and instruments. We've released two albums and an EP, performed everywhere from big music festivals and clubs to galleries such as Tasmania's MONA and more classical concert halls, and of course we will be presenting Chris' third major work for the band at Dots+Loops Recomposed. 

Since then I've been working hard on sharing this "post-genre" approach to music with as many people as possible. Importantly, the combination of genres isn't just about the music itself, but how it's presented and marketed. As an example, at Dots+Loops we use set times more like a rock gig, with roughly half-hour sets, and as much break in between. We also make sure to use spaces that allow for a relaxed, social atmosphere, letting people grab a drink, chat, and digest the music in between and after the live performances.

I think there's so much to be gained for all involved by being aware of and combining aspects of different genres in new and interesting ways, and for me, it's one of the most obvious ways for music drawing from the classical tradition to stay relevant, innovative and connected to today's society.

Some people think traditional classical music has a bit of an attitude problem when it comes to other genres. What would you say to this? Do you agree?

To some extent I would agree. Classical music has an incredibly rich and long history to draw from, and centuries of phenomenal works of art from people who really considered what they were doing, or really pushed the envelope. But in our current postmodern world, filled with so many different musical traditions and genres, I think this lineage can cause some classical musicians to look down upon or trivialise music from other, newer genres. I think this is to everyone's detriment. Just because a genre is newer, has a different approach, or different musical goals to music from the classical tradition, it isn't less artistically "worthy". I think there is so much to be gained by the classical music world in properly understanding and engaging with other worlds of music, and vice-versa.

You've described Dots+Loops as finding the perfect middle ground between a traditional classical concert and a club gig. What is it that lead you to start this genre-bending series?

Finally finding all this great post-genre music I mentioned previously, and realising that there was no-one really sharing it in a big way here in Brisbane. Finding the right style of venue really helped too – we started off in a fantastic warehouse space in a more industrial area of Brisbane, which was a perfect fit for the show. The first show was a real concept concert based around the idea "from the concert hall to the dancefloor". We started in a more classical idiom with a Philip Glass string quartet, then in-between with the premiere of Nonsemble's "Go Seigen vs. Fujisawa Kuranosuke", before finishing with a DJ set of music conceptually following the rest of the concert, but with more of a focus on electronica, techno and IDM. It went so well, and the feedback from audiences and performers was so positive, that this has informed a lot of our shows since. It seems like a nice "full circle", so to speak, that our seventh show two years later will now be seeing the premiere of a new major Nonsemble work.

I'd imagine putting on concerts like this takes a great deal of support, in many areas. Do you receive any funding or grants? What was the process of achieving that like?

It takes a lot of support, but I'm very lucky to have an amazing network of similarly minded people to help out, particularly Nonsemble's Chris Perren, Flora Wong, Sam Andrews, and other friends and mentors such as Brisbane musicians Patricia Pollett, Joe Fallon, Ben Ellerby, and the Argo crew: Connor D'Netto and Ben Heim.

I'm really proud that up to this seventh show, we covered all costs solely using ticket sales, helped out with the support of our local community regarding things like borrowing instruments, and some amazing musicians generously giving us their time and effort. However, the one thing we couldn't do was pay the musicians as much as they deserved for the commitment, enthusiasm and skill they gave us. Hence we were lucky enough to secure a Brisbane City Council Creative Sparks grant for this coming show, and while it still won't allow for a full professional wage, it gives us the means to give everyone involved a financial thanks for their involvement (and gives me security to know I won't be thousands of dollars in debt if the concert did go belly-up!). Increasing this amount to give back to the musicians and composers is one of my primary goals for future concerts, but it's not easy.

Have you found a different kind of audience attends Dots+Loops compared to other more traditional concerts?

Most definitely. Whereas traditional classical concerts see their demographic spike at somewhere between 50-65 years old (at least according to the latest ABS statistics), a huge amount of our audience are young people between 18-35 years old. We still have a number of older people too though; we're all about inclusivity. We also tend to get a larger spread of social groups too – people who identify with a number of different musical worlds.

One of the best things I can hear after our shows is a concert-goer, who may not have been to a more classical concert before, expressing how much they took away from the concert. I am really glad to say this has happened a number of times. But the best thing about our concerts is seeing the same people returning to each new concert, forming a new community based around the shows and music we're presenting.

On a related note, but this time regarding the performers, many of our artists come from the classical music world, and have never played the style of music or in the kind of venue we use before. However, pretty much all of them end up having a fantastic experience, and find they can connect with the audience and music in a completely different, and often more fun way.

This will be your seventh show so far. Is there anything different about this concert than the previous in the series? What are you looking forward to most about it?

It's our biggest so far, and in a slightly different style of venue too at Queensland's Gallery of Modern Art, as the warehouse-style venues we normally use couldn't fit the Vivaldi Recomposed orchestra. However, it's a spectacular new space for the show, and I can't wait to see how the audience and musicians find the experience. More than anything though, I'm so excited to finally be able to perform one of my favourite pieces of music ever, Max Richter's "Vivaldi Recomposed", with such an amazing group of musicians, and to present one of my new favourite pieces of music to the world for the first time, Chris Perren's "Fibreglass Forestry". That might sound like a stock response, but I'm honestly so stoked to be playing both of these pieces!

What can an audience expect from this concert that they won't be able to get anywhere else?

A different way of enjoying different kinds of music. Hopefully, regardless of their musical backgrounds, everyone who comes will find certain aspects of the show familiar, but others quite different to what they're used to, and that's the most exciting part. I think another important aspect is the social one. Though the music is the focus of the show, especially for me, it's never the sole reason people come to a concert, and by giving people time and space to mingle and chat, we also find that they can discuss and appreciate the often quite new and unfamiliar music we present much better. Finally, we work hard to ensure everyone—from the audience, to the performers, to the composers—feel like an equally important aspect of the music-making and enjoying process, and I hope this helps everyone feel more involved and connected to the music.

And finally, one much less professional question: what's the best (worst) viola joke anyone's ever told you? 

I think many of my friends live in fear of a lengthy, passionate rebuttal to any viola jokes directed at my instrument; as such I thankfully haven't heard too many recently! Perhaps a favourite might be "Why are viola jokes so short? So violinists can understand them".

Catch DOTS+LOOPS RECOMPOSED on Saturday 2 July 2016 from 6pm at GOMA. Tickets here