TAASA Review Issues

June 2023

Vol: 32 Issue: 2
Music and Art
Editor: Josefa Green

Cover Photo
Malathi Nagarajan playing the Veena. Photo: Courtesy Malathi Nagarajan.

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Editorial

The topic for this issue – the intersection between music and art – can be explored in so many ways.

Our opening article from Jackie Menzies looks at the way sound and listening in nature were favourite subjects of scholar painters in China. She discusses the rich historical, literary and musical associations of the qin (or lute) in particular, and how traditional Chinese paintings so often depict the scholar playing the qin, usually in isolated landscape settings, with the viewer’s visual and aural response enhanced by poetic inscription.

In the Arab Islamic context, Samer Akkash argues in his article that the Arabs’ cultural and aesthetic preference for geometrical abstraction in architecture and the visual arts can be explained, not just by early Islam’s prohibition of figurative representation of divinity, but by their aural sensibility grounded in their love of poetry and music.

In a kind of reverse process, Nicholas Ng offers fascinating insight, as an improvising performer and composer, into how a work of art inspired the creation of a collaborative piece of music, the Harvest of Endurance. The artwork in question is a 50-metre scroll, held in the National Museum of Australia, by Chinese-Australian artist Mo Xiangyi. Commissioned in 1988 for the Australian Bicentenary, the scroll depicts in 19 scenes the history of Chinese immigration to Australia in the g?ngbi (calligraphic brush) style. 18 composers were given a scene (often comprising two panels) to set to music, while Nicholas acted as curator, performer and composer for this project.

The use of sound to create immersive and multi-sensory experiences is a feature of the work of Korean artist Haegue Yang, currently on show at the National Gallery of Australia. In her article, curator Beatrice Thompson explains how Yang’s exhibitions often move beyond the visual to incorporate smell, sound, touch and temperature. Her insightful review of the two installations in this exhibition will be of much value to TAASA members visiting the NGA.

Of course music is an art form that is enjoyed through direct performance employing an enormous range of musical instruments, many with ancient origins. Marianne Hulsbosch has interviewed Australian based mother and daughter musicians, Malathi Nagarajan and Indu Balachandran, who perform music in the Carnatic musical tradition on the veena, a lute like stringed instrument. While providing them with direct connection to their Indian heritage, both players emphasise how their musical practice is aimed at introducing this music to new audiences, working with contemporary Australian musicians to facilitate improvisation.

Michael Lea’s informative article covers the small but significant collection of Asian musical instruments currently held by Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, a feature of the museum’s collection for over 100 years. It comprises winds, percussion and plucked, bowed and struck-stringed instruments. Many Asian nations are represented, with most instruments coming from China, Japan and South Korea.

Kate Bowan’s article relates how Rajah Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore, music scholar and leading member of the Bengali elite, gifted over 20 musical instrument collections across the globe in the final decades of the 19th century. The instruments were part of an ambitious cultural project to propagate his vision of Hindu music across the globe and enhance his status and authority at home. Her article draws out the complex implications of Tagore’s gifting and the way in which Western institutions in particular viewed and dealt with these collections.

We can enjoy a first-hand account by Ann Proctor of a ceremony to mark National Cultural Heritage Day in Vietnam which involved a competition to see who could cast a replica Dong Son drum the fastest. This event was held at the Hoang Long Museum in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam and demonstrates the continuing ritual and cultural role that musical instruments can play.

The cultural centrality of music making is explored in Alison Tokita and Joys H. Y. Cheung’s article which discusses how the ‘art song’, a musical genre that emerged in the 19th century out of the European ‘Lieder’ tradition, underpinned the emerging musical modernity of Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Australia. Mainly using vernacular poetry for song texts, its spread enabled new Asian cultural expressions which shared a common web of musical crossings and circulations in the region.

To round off our wide exploration of this topic, Jackie Menzies contributes a review of a publication which accompanies an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco on the theme of dance in the arts of South, Southeast Asia and the Himalayan region.

Table of contents

EDITORIAL: MUSIC AND ART – Josefa Green

PLAYING THE QIN: IMAGING SOUND IN CHINESE PAINTING – Jackie Menzies

MUSIC, ARCHITECTURE AND AURAL GEOMETRY IN THE ARAB-ISLAMIC TRADITION – Samer Akkach

10  SOUNDSCAPES IN HAEGUE YANG: CHANGING FROM FROM TO FROM – Beatrice Thompson

12  THE ART SONG IN EAST ASIA AND AUSTRALIA, 1900 TO 1950: LISTENING TO EACH OTHER’S SONGS – Alison Tokita and Joys H. Y. Cheung

15  HARVEST OF ENDURANCE PROJECT: SONIC CREATIVITY INSPIRED BY VISUAL ART – Nicholas Ng

18  THE POWERHOUSE MUSEUM’S ASIAN MUSICAL INSTRUMENT COLLECTION – Michael Lea

20  SOURINDRO MOHUN TAGORE’S MUSICAL GIFTS TO THE WORLD – Kate Bowan

22  PLAYING THE VEENA, A FAMILY AND COMMUNITY AFFAIR – Marianne Hulsbosch interview with Malathi Nagarajan and Indu Balachandran

24  CASTING THE DONG SON DRUM – Ann Proctor

25  BOOK REVIEW: BEYOND BOLLYWOOD – Jackie Menzies

26  RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES

28  TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: JUNE – AUGUST 2023

29  WHAT’S ON: JUNE – AUGUST 2023

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