Meet James Howard, Jaadwa Musician and PhD Candidate

Jaadwa musician and PhD candidate James Howard. Supplied.
Jaadwa musician and PhD candidate James Howard. Supplied.

Dr Danny Butt, Associate Director (Research) VCA and Creative Producer Claire Bredenoord raise the profile of graduate researchers at the Victorian College of the Arts through beautiful interviews and documentation of their creative and scholarly works. In this interview with Jaadwa composer and current PhD Candidate James Howard, Danny and Claire give James the opportunity to reflect on the themes of his research in music and soundscape.

James: "I'm a Jaadwa composer and songman. I'm doing a PhD through the Wilin Centre, looking at ways in which I can reconnect to my Indigenous heritage through my arts practice, which is primarily musical and soundscape work, such as long-form, improvised, ambient pieces of music, as well as writing. I feel like the ambient soundscapes speak more to connection to Country and place, while the songwriting is more about this process of reconnection, being raised in a white Australian setting and coming to terms with what it means to be passing as white and Indigenous at the same time.

"Being a musician and a sound technician, my understanding and life really revolves around sound. So that was the motivation for looking at identity and place through a sound lens, because I felt that was more of a personal statement on how these reconnections can be made. The thinking about identity and place informs the practice, which then informs the thinking again, and it just keeps on developing.

"The same can be said about the songwriting. In the last month, I've written three songs that directly deal with personal identity. I've never dealt with my cultural identity before in 10-15 years of songwriting, because I've probably never been brave enough or comfortable enough to do that. And I don't think I would have been able to do it, had it not been for this nearly three-year research process of thinking and connecting with other mob on their own personal journeys of identity.

"Conversations with the other artists at the University and the people I've met through fieldwork have really given me the strength and the motivation to write about some of these themes a little more in song. And now it's just a process of trying to figure out how to write about the songwriting in the thesis.

"Ultimately, I don't want the research to be suggesting that sound is ‘the key’ to reconciling themes of disconnected identity. More that it was something that works for me because it's something that I already knew. Other artists may be looking to walk this same path. They might have different practices, but they’re exploring through their practices and what they already know."

This interview was conducted by Danny Butt and Claire Bredenoord and originally appeared on @VCA_Research (Instagram).