This creative bootcamp is “totally driven by the participants and what they want to create”


How long do you think it’d take you to write, rehearse, perform, and professionally record a new piece of music?

As you mull over the idea, you might start to formulate a time frame ranging from weeks to months. After all, there’s a lot to get ready. But what if you were told you could do it in less than a week?

Wait, don’t run for the hills! It’s not such a wild idea. The team of artists behind the Brisbane Creative Bootcamp knows you’re capable, and they’re going to help you achieve it.

This five-day program from Topology Creative Academy offers a small number of musicians the chance to take part in intensive workshops and one-on-one tutorials with leading Australian industry talent such as cellist Louise King and violinist-educator Christa Powell.

John Babbage is the co-artistic director of the bootcamp. He understands what it’ll take to get your project underway, from that first self-conscious note that stems from improvisation, right through to a final recorded product bursting with confidence and creativity.

John — a composer, saxophonist, educator, and founding member of Topology — has more than three decades of industry experience. And he’s bringing it to his bootcamp sessions about improvisation, harmony, rehearsing and composing.

Naturally, we thought he’d be a great person to ask about the bootcamp, so you can get ready to challenge yourself to build something polished, professional, and all yours.

Hi John, it’s great to connect with you about Topology’s Brisbane Creative Bootcamp! It’s an intensive for a range of early career artists — “musicians, composers and songwriters”. What do you love about sharing your knowledge with next-gen talent?

I strongly believe that in music, there’s no point in keeping secret what you have learnt over the years.

I remember being excited when being shown something new at university or through my peers, so I think it is important to pass this knowledge onto the next gen. Sometimes it can mean getting up in front of a class and teaching, or sometimes it can mean sitting down next to another musician and showing them what you know about chord progression.

How do you feel Topology’s Brisbane Creative Bootcamp differs from other educational intensives in Australia?

Topology’s music education is all about creating new work. We believe musical creativity is the best way to progress musically. This Bootcamp is totally driven by the participants and what they want to create. By taking on limited numbers, the ratio of participants to tutors is very high so the students have constant access to the tutors.

Also, creating an original work in four days is quite intense, rather than being given music and learning it.

So, you’re starting the first day with an Improvisation Warm Up to “get those creative juices flowing”, as the program says. For participants, I feel like making something up on the spot — with people you don’t know, and industry experts you respect and admire — is a pretty demanding activity for 9.30 in the morning.

It’s all about breaking down barriers and letting go of ego. We find that playing games — putting everyone on an equal standing — is a great way to build confidence. Trying to eliminate ‘I hope this sounds good’, ‘I hope they like it’, is an important step to being creative.

Through the following days, participants will meet a bunch of Australian arts leaders from Topology. Each day is filled with a huge schedule that explores so many different parts of the process — from coming up with ideas to producing the finished product. How does this reflect music industry practices?

Each tutor has a different creative approach to their practice, so hearing a diverse range of ideas might spark a different approach that participants might not have thought of before. Because of this, each session is very different and helps ‘open the ears’ of the participants.

The bootcamp is also designed around maximising the time participants can spend with our tutors. These are musicians who are masters in the own right. Whether it’s percussion or piano, they are leaders in the fields. Having access to that level of knowledge all at once is rare. 

I feel like this offers a way for artists to fast-track their musical ideas; it’s a pretty remarkable opportunity to have a new piece of music recorded with a professional sound engineer and videographer. Participants will get a finished product that they can use however they like. Does this elevate the bootcamp from a series of workshops into a career-changing experience for early career artists?

Being ‘time-poor’ forces the participants to obviously work hard, stay focused, and deliver a result by the last day of the camp. This can often be reflective of real-world practice. Having a professional product by the end is a great way to show the participants that they are capable of producing something in a limited time.

How would you describe the journey of participants from beginning to end? That is, what will they be achieving at the end of day 5 — beyond the recording itself? 

Throughout the bootcamp, we encourage all participants to think outside of their comfort zone, try new things, and hopefully take with them the knowledge that ‘yes, I can do that’ — not being afraid to ask questions. And asking for help is all part of any musician’s journey.

Out of all the Brisbane Creative Bootcamp activities, what are you most looking forward to?

Watching and hearing the process from beginning to end.

From first turning up, the participants are rightly so apprehensive and nervous, not knowing what they will end up creating. Watching that unfold, and it is different every time, is the most exciting and rewarding part of the bootcamp.

Any final words to those thinking about signing up?

Leave your ego at home, work hard, make use of the fantastic musicians that are around you, have fun, and ‘play’ with music. 

Topology’s Brisbane Creative Bootcamp takes place from 29 September-3 October in St Peters Lutheran College Performing Arts Centre. To learn more or make a booking, visit the Topology website.

We collaborated with Topology to bring you this interview with Australian composer John Babbage. Stay tuned for more stories from the Australian arts industry!

Images supplied.

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