Brian Ritchie talks summer at MONA

By Stephanie Eslake

If you think Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art is just about digestion machines and walls plastered with female genitalia, you’re missing out.

The museum’s growing contribution to Tasmanian culture does not stop at its provocative art displays. Similarly, its music scene is not restricted to the celebrations of MONA FOMA.

JAM (jazz at MONA) and MoFOLK gigs bring live music to the iconic venue, and come summer time, there’ll be a performance every day.

MONA music curator Brian Ritchie, who glides seamlessly between playing bass for the Violent Femmes and mastering the traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute, says he did not originally plan to feature jazz at MONA. But since 2011, JAM has evolved into regular Sunday jazz sessions at the museum’s Void Bar.

“I just wanted to do it spontaneously,” says Brian.

“David Walsh said, ‘it’s a sunny day, people are drinking and I want some music.’ And I said, ‘ok, I want to do jazz,’ and he realised it’s the right kind of music for that ambience.

“We’ve had hardcore improvised Indian music in JAM, because although Indian music predates jazz by thousands of years, they still have this kind of fiery improvised thing in common.

“We would put any kind of folk music in MoFOLK and we would put any kind of improvised music in JAM.”

From Indian classical musicians Ty Burhoe and Steve Hoda to mad saxophonist Danny Healy – and local singer songwriters in between – Sunday’s JAM and Saturday’s MoFOLK sessions provide countless weekends of world class entertainment to locals and tourists alike.

Although MONA is widely popular for its confronting contemporary art displays, Brian says that traditional folk music at MoFolk provides the contrast between old and new on which the museum thrives.

“We’re all about juxtapositions at MONA,” says Brian.

“Having a hillbilly style performer surrounded by ultra contemporary art might be a little odd, but that makes it more bold.

“We shy away from the commercial sounds. The more abstract they are and the more creative they want to be, the more likely they’ll get a booking with us.”

Starting boxing day, MONA plans to offer live music every day until the end of January. Drawing on artists from the local music scene and festivals like the Cygnet Folk Festival and MOFO, Brian says “it’ll be like a jazz festival every day for five weeks.”

“We’ll have food specials on the lawn throughout the summer months to compliment the listening experience.”

A muso at heart, Brian doesn’t deny the emotional impact of being constantly surrounded by MONA’s vibrant arts scene.

“I’ve got a very rich musical life as a result of moving here, and that was very unexpected,” says Brian.

“It’s not very often that you have the opportunity to really change or transform a place like we have done, so to be part of something like that once in your life is pretty good.”

Brian is confident that MONA will not lose its momentum, and that Tasmania will continue to grow its reputation as a world class venue for music and arts.

“In terms of creativity and art we can assume things are going to continue.

“The laws of inertia say that what’s in motion stays in motion, so its going to be pretty hard to stop it now.”




This article was featured in Warp Magazine September 2013

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