Interview :: Briana Cowlishaw – The Wires Project

June 5th 2013

Sydney-based jazz musician, Briana Cowlishaw doesn’t sleep. Aside from working a full time job, she spends every waking hour and every extra dollar making musical art, creating the likes of this stunning video:


The Wires Project is the love child of four different artists: Briana with her hypnotic, looped vocals, Gavin Ahearn on the piano, Sydney-based videographer and visual designer Aymeric De Meautis and a Singaporean photographer, Chia Ming Chien.

In a few weeks, the group is taking The Wires Project on tour through South East Asia. Before they head off, The Flog had a chat with Briana about collaborating with artists, live improvisation and the state of experimental music in Australia.

Where did the idea for The Wires come from?

Gavin and I wanted to do a tour of Asia with my band, but we didn’t have any money. There was a grant going with the Australia Council called Partnership with Asia, so we were like, how can we change our project to collaborate with someone in Asia? Then we found this photographer in Singapore called Chia Ming Chien. One of his exhibitions, called The Wires, is all about the electric wires in Singapore, what they mean and how people perceive them. So the whole collaboration with him started from this one exhibition that he had. It has kind of become a symbol for the whole project which is about crossing cultures between Asia and Australia, and how music, visual art, video and photography all interact and react from each other.

As a musician, how have you found the process of working with visual artists?

I think it really depends on the person you’re working with. The reason why this project is so awesome is that we happened to find a photographer who is as experimental, open minded and interested in what art as we are; and that’s a really hard thing to find. All four of us simply want to see what will happen when all the different parts come together rather than say “this is what my photography’s about, this is what my music is about”. Art can just be art, especially when it’s in a conversation with other art.

Is working collaboratively more difficult than working as a solo musician?

This is the first time I’ve ever collaborated with someone else. All my professional work up to this point has been driven solely by me and I have to say that although you have to compromise, it’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done. When you’re in a relationship with someone artistically, you have to be willing to take criticism. Gavin will write back to my email and say ‘I really don’t like that line!’ and I just go “Oh, ok. I’ll try again!”. I say the same thing to him, and Aymeric says it to me, and I say it to Aymeric. In the end it’s just an opinion so they don’t have to take it, but you’re giving them your instinctual comments.

It’s one thing working on a project like this over time, but I imagine it will be quite difficult when you’re doing it live in Asia. What happens if you’re in front of a live audience and you get a creative block?

The fundraiser we’re doing next Saturday is going to be the first time we’ve done it live and the whole concept is that we’re being put in a kind of vulnerable position to create art on the spot. I was doing some live improvisation and free music in Banff in Canada and it was a cross between terrifying and exhilarating. I think that in every performance there’ll be points where you think, “Oh my god. Where is this going? What am I doing? What am I going to do next?”, But you have to embrace those moments and say, “OK we’ve got to get to the other end somehow, so how are we going to make this work?”.

“Nothing’s going to be perfect, but we’re embracing that art is not perfect.”

Aside from Banff, you’ve spent a bit of time in New York. From your experience would you say that experimental projects like the Wires are more embraced in North America or the rest of the world? Where is Australia in comparison?

I think here we definitely have pockets of people pushing the boundaries, but as a whole it’s not an embraced thing to enjoy it like that, as entertainment. I feel like Australians cling more to things that we can be easily entertained by, like sport and easy going things. I think that’s in our nature. So there’s not a lot of experimental stuff that’s embraced and encouraged. It is there, but, for example, in Europe there is just so much stuff which is so out there. It’s crazy music. You listen to it and you’re like, “What is that?!”, but people just go and observe it and the European scene seems to be much more open minded and ahead than Australia. With America; I think just because there are more people there, it is also (ahead), but at the same time it’s in pockets. For instance, New York is much more experimental than a place like Texas.

How do you think The Wires is going to be received in Asia?

We’re going to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Phnom Penh. I’m sure it’s going to be received differently in these different places and I assume it will be more embraced in the more Western places like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but I’m not sure. It’s interesting. This is a two week tour and it’s an initial lead up to what we hope will be a two to three month tour of Asia in June next year, so we’re going to learn a lot about what the response is going to be and what the ties are so that we can actually create a project from it. I mean, the response that we’re getting so far is that the Asian music scene is very open minded, their ideas about music are very open and they’re very interested in entrepreneurial and experimental art, which seems to be more than in Australia. I don’t know the Asian market well enough to know if this is a consistent thing but, this is what we’re going to find out!

So what can we expect from your fundraiser next Saturday night?

It’s going to be a fun night! An eclectic night with a guy I met in Banff who started a band in Melbourne is coming up to do a set. One of Gavin’s friends is coming to do a solo percussion set which will be interesting. We’re doing a set of my original music, a showcase of The Wires, we’ve got prizes, a DJ and dancing. It’s basically a celebration and a showcase of the new art to get people enthusiastic about the project.

WHAT :: The Wires – Exhibition and fundraiser
WHO :: Artists Briana Cowlishaw, Gavin Ahearn, Aymeric De Meautis and Chia Ming Chien
WHERE :: Hibernian House, Elizabeth St, Surry Hills
WHEN :: Saturday 8th June, 6pm
HOW MUCH :: $35 each or two for $60, available here.

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