Erik Griswold's Water Pushes Sand performed by the Australian Art Orchestra
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Erik Griswold's Water Pushes Sand performed by the Australian Art Orchestra

Water Pushes Sand. The Australian Art Orchestra. Ainslie Arts Centre Main Hall, Braddon. Wednesday, August 23, 7.30pm. Tickets $45/$40. eventbrite.com.au/e/water-pushes-sand-tickets-36329768315

"Water pushes sand is the name of a rhythm in Sichuan percussion music," composer Erik Griswold says.

A performance of Water Pushes Sand.

A performance of Water Pushes Sand.

He has taken that evocative phrase as one of the rhythms of his show as well as its title, "a suite of compositions that showcase all the interesting sounds of Chinese traditional instruments along with contemporary jazz".

It's an intercultural collaboration between the Australian Art Orchestra and musicians from the Sichuan Conservatory of Music combining winds, piano and percussion in a fusion of Sichuan folk melodies and rhythms with modern jazz improvisation. There will also be video projections that evoke the colour and landscape of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.

Griswold says, "It's a very colourful show ... I was not only trying to show the interesting styles but give a response to my experiences of being in Sichuan."

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He and his Australian wife, percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson, met the composer, Zou Xiangping, in 1997 in San Diego and were invited to visit him in Sichuan in 2000. It was the beginning of a long association with the music and culture of the province. Their collaborations with musicians from Sichuan produced three large-scale shows. Chengdu Streetsongs, Sichuan Fantasy and The Wide Alley that toured in China, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

"We were really interested in collaborating and doing a hands-on collaboration with the musicians we met there," says Griswold, who is now based in Brisbane.

Water Pushes Sand premiered at the OzAsia Festival in Adelaide in 2015 and has also been performed at the Melbourne Festival and in Brisbane, among other Australian cities. It's also been performed in Chengdu. This is its Canberra premiere.

"Water Pushes Sand is a celebration of cultures coming together," Griswold says. "I'm treating Sichuan music as a living tradition, and trying to capture not just the music, but also the feeling in the streets and the personality of the people."

Griswold is no stranger to Canberra. He did a dream percussion workshop at the National Film and Sound Archive in about 2000 and in 2015 was involved with singer-songwriter Paddy Mann, Knight and the Australian Art Orchestra in Daughter's Fever at The Street Theatre.

In addition to Griswold on piano and percussionist Tomlinson, three of the musicians in the orchestra are from China and Singapore. The rest are members of the Australian Art Orchestra whose artistic director is Peter Knight.

He says: "The AAO is doing something pretty unique in Australian music. We are collaborating with musicians from around the world, putting on numerous concerts and winning accolades. We are working in the spaces where cultures, genres and disciplines collide. We are breaking down barriers and blurring lines. Creating friendships and dialogue.

"Water Pushes Sand epitomises this, creating something distinctive and completely relevant to Australia in 2017. This is part of a bigger picture that is pretty unusual in Australian music."