Play On: Percussionist Thea Rossen On Collaborating With Sleep D And Fighting Climate Change

Percussionist Thea Rossen joins us on Close-up Culture to help preview her upcoming performance at Play On, a ground-breaking concert that showcases Australia’s most acclaimed young classical musicians alongside the country’s best electronic artists.

For ticket info

Q: You have praised Play On’s work in the past. How excited are you to be involved in series six?

A: The programs at Play On concerts are always fresh and exciting. Lydia and her team have an amazing way of reaching out to new audiences, so this is a special opportunity to bring what we do to a new community.

I am particularly thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Ben Opie (oboist) on this project as he has co-curated the concert with me. Together with Hamish Upton, Jesse Deane and Zela Papageorgiou (guest) from the Ad Lib Collective, we are excited to have the chance to bring works that we love to a new audience in such an awesome venue.

Q:You will be joining forces with Sleep D for an improvised collaboration. Can you tell us your thoughts on Sleep D and how this came together?

A: This project is a first for Play On (who have so far presented classical and electronic music acts side by side), what is really exciting about our concert is that all five of us will be collaborating on an improvisation with Sleep D during their set. The audience will get to see the two worlds collide and hopefully create something pretty awesome!

We did not know Sleep D before this project, but are so grateful that Play On has brought us together. Maryos and Corey are thoughtful and sensitive in their approach to music making and have created works across such a depth of their genre. It has been a really interesting process finding a common language between our two worlds as we develop material for this collaboration, and I hope that it won’t be the last!


Q: If you could collaborate with any musician – past or present – who would it be?

A: I think it would be amazing to collaborate with Kate Miller-Heidke. She is classically trained but not defined by that, her incredible voice defies genre and she has a flair for inspired absurdity.

I remember the first time I heard one of her songs, I was 17 years old visiting Melbourne and was in a little shop on Brunswick Street when her cover of Toxic. I’ve have been in love with her work ever since. I reckon our two worlds could collide and create something amazing. Though I’m not sure what, and she will be too busy winning Eurovision this year anyway!

Q: What else should Play On audiences be expecting from your performance?

A: Before the shared set with Sleep D, I will be presenting a program of works that Ben Opie, Ad Lib and I have curated. An ancient work for solo oboe by Hildegard von Bignen features Ben Opie, next a beautiful duo for flowerpots with guest artist Zela Papageorgiou. The set also features steel pan, saxophone and marimba as well as Ming Qi an arresting work by Australian composer Liza Lim for oboe and percussion.

This program is bound together with excerpts from Postludes for vibraphone a work which has been described as ‘both haunting and profoundly lyrical’.

Q: Can you tell us about your work as director of the Ad Lib Collective and what you stand for?

A: The Ad Lib Collective is interested in presenting music to the community in new, exciting and accessible ways. The members of the ensemble Jesse Deane (co-founder, saxophone and my fiancé!), Hamish Upton (percussion), Jared Yapp (viola/composer) have all been long time collaborators of mine and it is a joy to work on projects with them. Some of our recent work include Music for Our Changing Climate, developed by Jared and I at the Banff Centre in Canada and presented at the Metropolis Festival in 2018.

We have also presented a series of educational workshops for students in regional Victoria and built Drip Drop Play a new children’s show at Art Play, which was recently presented by the Peninsula Festival.

As the director of this ensemble, I believe that music can stand alone and have a strong impact, but that it also has a role to play in the wider community. Through my work with Ad Lib I strive to harness the power of a performance experience to inspire and unite our audiences.

Q: As you say, climate change is a topic you are passionate about and have addressed in your work. Why is music an effective way to address and think about such issues?

A: Music is one of the most abstract art forms and yet is able to elicit an emotional response. No matter what genre, everyone has a significant experience of music in their lives. I feel it is possible to harness that power to convey important social messages.

Looking back at wartime protest songs and the centre of any activism campaign, it is clear that this is not a new idea. Whether it is through the lyrics, or the physical experience of the piece, music is able to take people out of their own world for a brief moment and present new ideas, feelings, and experiences that may help to shape the way that our audiences see the world in the future.

The climate change work started for me when I read about our reefs dying. I wanted to find a way to communicate the urgency of the situation to people. Not through another graph or report but with the actual sound of the temperature rising and the reef dying.

Q: Courtney Barnet’s song ‘Kim’s Caravan’ sticks out as another Australian cautionary song about climate change. Do you feel Australian artists are particularly energised on this issues as they are close witnesses of the deteriorating state of the Great Barrier Reef?

A: We certainly are very lucky in Australia to be surrounded by natural beauty everywhere, particularly on the Great Barrier Reef, but also in our national parks, marine reserves and local wildlife. All of which is under threat from dramatically shifting weather patterns as a result of manmade climate change.

I think that the world is coming to realise that this is not something that can be ignored any longer and I believe that as artists we have a role to play in bringing change, inspiring hope and communication around the huge task ahead.

Q: What are your hopes and goals for the future as an artist?

A: I dream of creating large works that reach huge audiences with experiences that are immersive and inspiring. I hope that my work is able to play a role in uniting communities through music making and the experience of performance.

Collingwood Underground Car Park, 44 Harmsworth Street, Collingwood
Friday 8 March
Kyla Matsuura-Miller (Violin) / Babicka (DJ set) Doors 7:30pm
Friday 15 March
Thea Rossen (Percussion) / Sleep D (LIVE) Doors 7:30pm
Friday 22 March
Mindy Meng Wang (Guzheng) / Adriana (DJ set) Doors 7:30pm


Leave a Reply