Monday, July 2, 2012

The Search - Review of Douglas Lilburn's Two Essays

A Search for Tradition & A Search for Truth
Douglas Lilburn
The Lilburn Residence Trust in association with VUP, 2011

For the first time Douglas Lilburn's legendary talks on music, art and internship have been published in one volume.
Individually, they are interesting enough – the nationalistic post-war pride and new-found identity coming through in his 1946 talk and then the questing and individuality in a 1967 revisit, the re-interpretation of his earlier beliefs.
But it is side by side that these essays really sparkle. As Lilburn points out, he started out learning church-organ music at a conservative New Zealand music school and by the end of his career was creating avant garde electronic compositions. It is not either of these two things on their own that made Lilburn a great artist, although he produced beautiful compositions all through his career, it is the extraordinary transition between them and the constant re-framing of his creative life that made him truly great.
The introductions to each talk, by J. M. Thomson, first written in the mid 1980s, provide a useful insight and background to Lilburn. The Rita Angus sketches and paintings, some published for the first time, are a lovely reminder of Lilburn's company and influence among visual artists and poets, both of which he references heavily in his talks.
I'm not sure I identify with everything Lilburn says, but that's not surprising considering he developed his ideas several generations earlier in a New Zealand I would hardly recognise. But I do identify with the journey, the way he changed and embraced change. And always with one foot firmly rooted in tradition, wherever that may be.
Lilburn reminds me that as an audience member or reader I often forget that art is a process and not a product. And that is who this book is for – anyone interested in the history and, by association, future of culture, music and art in New Zealand.

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