Jack Body in China: Interview with NZTrio and Gao Ping

To celebrate and share the works of the late, great New Zealand composer Jack Body, the NZ Consulate-General in Chengdu and long-time friend, composer and pianist Gao Ping 高平 invited the NZTrio to perform at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music this month.

Kiwese attended a press conference (oooh) with Gao Ping and the lovely folk from NZTrio: Ashley Brown (cello), Justine Cormack (violin) and Sarah Watkins (piano), all dear friends and musical comrades of this celebrated Kiwi music maker.

With a YouTube search of the name ‘Jack Body,’ you will find a mixed bag of NZSQ performance recitals and club remixes of the house tune ‘Jack Your Body.’ A truly spectacular name, for a one of a kind, fun-loving and inspired man.

Te Aroha-born composer Jack Body will be remembered for many things. He was an educator, photographer, traveller, editor, facilitator and mobiliser of New Zealand’s musical dialogue with the outside world. Having lectured at the New Zealand School of Music for over thirty years, Jack introduced the Indonesian gamelan to New Zealand, wrote countless numbers of works, invited talent from around the world to perform, write and teach in New Zealand, and even released a photographic series of penises!

Jack attended school and university in Auckland but later called Wellington home, where lived with his life partner Yono Soekarno in Aro Valley. Despite his fascination with the music and cultures of the world, Jack was based in New Zealand his whole life and dedicated himself to bringing the world to NZ and vice versa.

We are forever grateful for his commitment. Rest in peace, Jack.

NZTrio in full flight.

NZTrio in full flight. Image by Kiwese.

Hi NZTrio! This is not your first time in China, is it?

JUSTINE CORMACK: I forget how many times we’ve been here already! Jack established these music links with China. He is the reason we have been able to come so many times.



How did this trip come about ?

ASHLEY BROWN: It was a lovely invitation from Gao Ping and the NZ Consulate. We’ve been to Chengdu twice before to play at the Sichuan Conservatory. We love the food and the people. We are beginning to get further into the local music, too. Gao Ping is currently writing a piece for us, a piano trio with guzheng, which is a very important and exciting project – a way for China and New Zealand to join hands in a cultural way. Hopefully it will be performed on our next visit to Chengdu.



So the piano and guzheng will be brought together?

The piece will be for them and a guzheng, instruments from different directions coming together on the same stage. This program will also include other composers, including several from New Zealand.



Shen Nalin, Gao Weijie, Jack Body and Gao Ping outside Parliament during the Asia Pacific Festival, February 2007. Image from Gao Ping's website.

Shen Nalin, Gao Weijie, Jack Body and Gao Ping outside Parliament during the Asia Pacific Festival, February 2007. Image from www.gaoping.org.

Jack said he enjoyed coming to Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou to find Chinese inspiration. What do you think inspired him? 

GAO: Mr. Body came to the Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan region really early on- the first time was about thirty years ago. He travelled out to really remote villages to sample their music, including ethnic minority areas in Guizhou. He loved folk music – the music that derived from the original ecology. He collected a lot of material – this whole journey was recorded in a documentary called ‘Big Nose,’ which what Chinese people call foreigners.

Fieldwork, data collection, sound recording, all of this had an enormous impact on his later works. He was not only interested in folk music but customs as well, like the backstreet hubbub of hawkers and peddlers of Chengdu at the time. He recorded these voices and well as the chanting of workers, then later added them into his works.


高:我觉得博蒂先生对云贵川这个地区,因为他来的很早,大概三十年前就来过这个地方,而且到农村,去所有的我们中国人叫采风,他去非常偏僻的地方包括贵州少数民族的地区。他喜欢民间音乐 那种我们现在叫的原生态民间音乐。他收集了很多资料,后来也有一部纪录片记录他当时这一段经验,叫做《大鼻子》,因为我们喜欢叫外国人叫大鼻子。


What are the highlights of tomorrow’s performance?

ALL: Everything!

SARAH WATKINS: One special piece in the program is for solo piano with voice recording called ‘The Street Where I Live’ – the voice is Jack describing the street he lived on in Wellington. It is nice to have that voice as part of this conference, even though he is no longer with us. The whole program is a lovely display of Jack’s interest in so many different styles of music.



SARAH: 我觉得一个有钢琴和人声的作品叫做《我所居住的街区》是很特别,作品里的人声是Body先生的本人他的声音。他在描述自己在惠灵顿住的一条街。Body先生已经去世了,但是我们还能够听他的声音 。明天节目表示杰克非常多元化的类型。

NZTrio’s performance in Chengdu.
Featuring excerpts from Fire in the Belly and The Street Where I Live by Jack Body and Four Sketches by Gao Ping.

What kind of connection did Jack have with Chengdu and Sichuan?

GAO: The first time Mr. Body came to Sichuan was in 1986. Although I didn’t see him back then, he forged some great connections with several musicians here at the Conservatory of Music. Later when I moved to the U.S. to study, I invited him to a performance of his works. When I eventually moved to New Zealand, I had a lot do with him. To be honest, we have always been pushing this NZ and China music connection, he came to Sichuan in 2009 with some other Kiwi composers. He is a New Zealand composer who really cares about Chinese music.

His real ideology was based around a musical worldliness. Not a worldliness where everyone is the same, quite the opposite, he hoped that every place could protect what was unique about them, while also being able to mingle with everyone else. This is what he was about. Whether in his own works, events or festivals, he was always promoting this ideology.


高:Body先生第一次来到四川是86年,那个时候我没有见过他,但是他当时跟四川的音乐家有很深入的交流了。后来我去了美国留学的时候 请他去美国,有一个音乐会演奏他的作品。后来我去新西兰跟他非常有关系。其实我们一直在做这种中国音乐和新西兰音乐的交流,他2009年来过四川,和其他的新西兰作曲家在一起。他是对中国音乐特别关注的一个新西兰作曲家。


Dong Fei (Kunqu Opera), composer Jack Body, Wu Na (guqin) and Gao Ping (pianist). Photo: Lynda Chanwai-Earle.

Dong Fei (Kunqu Opera), Jack Body, Wu Na (guqin) and Gao Ping. Photo: Lynda Chanwai-Earle. Image from RNZ.

KIWESE: You mentioned that the NZ environment influenced you to compose Bright Light Cloud Shadows (2007). To what extent does your environment influence you work?

GAO: Certainly an artist’s environment has a very deep influence on his art, but it is not always clear. When you write you are emerged in the process, but the air, the light, everything, is what you are in – it does something to you, but it is impossible to separate what that is. That particular piece Bright Light Cloud Shadows was written in Christchurch, that is my NZ piece, although the title comes from the painter Bada Shanren. If I was to write such a piece now it would be very different, because I live in Beijing where there is no light and no clouds…



Jack Body and Joko Sutrisno, about 1988. Image from Te Ara.

Jack Body and Joko Sutrisno, about 1988. Image from Te Ara.

KIWESE: In addition to having such a close working relationship with Jack, what was he like as a person? Any personal anecdotes you’d like to share?

JUSTINE: He had a really wonderful sense of humour, as well being generous and loving, he really took care of people. There always seems to be a sense of humour in Jack’s music, my lasting memory of him is that wry chuckle. The first piece we will play at the concert is called Pain In The Arse, where have to scream out things like ‘pain in the BUTT BUTT BUTT!’ He would be chuckling at us!

ASHLEY: My memories are sincerity. What he taught us is that collaboration shouldn’t be superficial, where two groups simply share a stage, but to find ways for cultures to intermingle. Eating the food, meeting the people and actually existing together, having an understanding of each other. Having a laugh, telling jokes and a glass of wine with the people you are going to be performing with is really important. Jack certainly showed us how to share a few wines!

SARAH: Certainly one of our first memories with Jack was when we were travelling in Indonesia and our van broke down. So we had to pass a few hours in the middle of nowhere. Jack wasn’t prepared to just sit and wait in the van for a few hours, he wandered off and came back a while later saying ‘come, come!’ He had walked down a dusty road and found some houses at the end, where he met some families who invited us back for a cup of tea. That sense of exploration is what I will remember about him.


JUSTINE: 他真的很幽默,深情款款的一个人,很关心大家。他的音乐也有一种幽默,我永远不会忘记他的讽刺意味的笑。我们在演奏中第一首要演的作品叫做《腚疼》,我们要喊很奇怪的东西比如:“疼!腚!腚!腚!” 我以为他会对我们笑死了。我们一起有很多美好时光。

ASHLEY: 我记得他的诚意。他给我们教合作不应该是很浅薄,两个群体在同台而已,但要把不同的文化交融,一起吃饭,认识,存在,了解。他说跟你要合作的人一起玩儿喝酒是文化交融很重要的一部分。他真是示范如何分享几杯酒!

SARAH: 我们跟杰克最早的记忆之一是我们在印度尼西亚旅游的时候,然后汽车中途抛锚了,所以我们在一个很偏僻的地方要等几个小时。杰克是一个完全不会坐在车里面等的人,所以他随便走散找到了一些当地房子和家人,他们请我们来喝茶。我永远会记得杰克的一种探索感觉。

You recently ran a Douglas Lilburn tertiary composition competition. Even here at this event we can see a lot of NZ university promotion, and you will have seen the increase in Chinese students in Auckland. Is there much of a Chinese base in the performance or composition departments?

JUSTINE: Definitely in performance, composition not so many. It seems to me that music is valued by Asian people in New Zealand, that really comes through in their commitment and energy to learning about music. Great discipline, which is often lacking in others (laughs).

SARAH: We encountered some Chinese students over the years, I’m thinking Jeff Lin, and there were a few in the competition.

GAO: Concerts like this are important in increasing China’s awareness of NZ music. I think NZ is known for its milk here, a little wine, but I try to tell them there are great artists and composers!

你们最近办一个Douglas Lilburn大学生作曲比赛。在成都这个领事馆活动也推动新西兰的大学,而你们看过在奥克兰中国留学生也越来越多。在新西兰大学的演奏系和作曲系中国学生多不多?

JUSTINE: 演奏系有很多中国留学生,但作曲系没有那么多。我以为亚洲人在新西兰很重视音乐,他们对学习有一种很认真的态度。他们经常比其他学生有更厉害的纪律。

SARAH: 我们在这几年认识一些中国学生,比如Jeff Lin,还有一些在我们的作曲比赛。


Any stand out young NZ composers in your eyes at the moment?

JUSTINE: There are so many. Isaac Shatford – he’s a first year composition student. We’ve even brought along some of his music. In the Lilburn competition he wrote a piece for piano trio, which Lilburn himself never wrote.

很多。Isaac Shatford是一个大一作曲学生,而我们也把他写的作品带过来。他在比赛编了一首钢琴三重奏的作品。Lilburn先生没编这种作品。

SARAH: Salina Fisher, she’s a fantastic composer, violinist and a pianist!

Salina Fisher,她是一名精彩的作曲家,小提琴家和钢琴家。

ALL: Claire Cowan, whose work we played at the dinner reception. She also belongs to the Blackbird Ensemble.

Claire Cowan,我们昨天演过她的作品。她是Blackbird Ensemble的成员。

Good stuff, thanks guys!

Many thanks to the NZ Consulate-General in Chengdu for inviting Kiwese to this event!

Find out more about NZTrio and more about Gao Ping.

In memory of Jack Body (1944 – 2015)