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Live Reviews

June-July 2004

By Published: June 22, 2004
Apart from his work locally, Barker has strong links with South Korea and in 2000 received AsiaLink funding for a three month residency in Seoul. He was initially introduced to North Asia when he toured with Mark Isaacs in 1994. "We were on our way to Siberia," he says, "which I suppose you could say is 'North, North Asia'." At that time, he found Seoul exciting, even though on that first trip he barely scratched the surface of the place. He was fascinated by the city and its rhythms - right down to the way people lived and ate. Since that first contact he's been back a few times - for the residency and he's also been asked to go back with other Australian bands to fill in for gigs, and has additionally found himself teaming up with Korean musicians in local bands.

An example of an artistic alliance that Barker enjoys is the one he has formed with Won Il, a Korean musician who plays traditional instruments and is well known in his own country for the scores he has written for many Korean films. When in Korea, whether playing with Won Il or with other local musicians, the genre-of-choice is jazz. "It's a shared language," he says, while acknowledging that the tradition of improvisation in Korea is has different origins than the jazz improvisation tradition. "Improvisation in the Korean context is most successful where it draws on the Korean musical improvisation that is thousands of years old and deeply rooted in the shamanistic religious tradition. Traditional improvising musicians are everywhere, if you know where to look," says Barker. On trips to Korea, he researches thoroughly and travels to the home villages of practitioners whose music he wants to learn from. "I go to where they are and I hope that I find the music I'm after," he says. "I take my chances that I'll get to hear them play somewhere local."

Sofa Shrike Delulian

Something else that comes out of the deeply seated spiritual context of Korean drumming is the techniques that the best musicians develop to play powerfully and yet remain relaxed. In this way at least, Barker says that drumming is like a martial art. He also says he has learned much of what he knows about power and relaxation by studying with drumming masters in Korea. "It was something I had to be taught," he says, "but I didn't study with a great jazz drummer, which would have been one way to approach it." He feels fortunate to have access to a culture where he can learn these skills from masters who dedicate a lifetime to perfecting them. It's one of the great things, according to Barker, about living in this region and about being active in the local scene at this point in the history of Australian jazz. "Musicians here, like Scott Tinkler, are unique. Maybe what they do can only happen here." The way Barker sees it, it's early days for the development of an Australian jazz idiom — because it's only in the last thirty years that we've really been able to engage in this region. "I believe in the idea of developing a sound that truly examines the musician's experience. You can't do that without drawing on your environment - whether it's urban or rural, the narrow Australian context or the wider context of the countries that surround us."

Only in his early thirties, Barker hardly seems old enough to be able to talk about a gap between what's available to new drummers in their teens and early twenties, compared to the opportunities he had 'as a young man'. Yet, he says, the exposure that our local musicians have in Australia to the music played by great artists from around the world is constantly improving. With the advent of television, videos and DVDs of concerts, a musician can hear and see players that they would only have had access to by travelling or if they were fortunate enough to have tickets to concerts here when musicians were on a tour down south to Australia, New Zealand and cities throughout Asia. "These younger guys, like Felix Bloxsom and others his age, are amazing," he says, "and the exposure they've had to great musicians is ten times better than it could have been ten years ago. That's just going to keep improving as information gets easier to come by."

And meanwhile, the phone keeps ringing at Barker's place.

Band of Five Names website -

Scott Tinkler's website -

Paul Grabowsky's website-

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