In memoriam Jack Body (1944-2015) (cont'd)
Jack Body was not only a composer, but also an ethnomusicologist, photographer, university teacher and arts producer. Many people in the field of Asian music knew him because of his lifelong fascination with the music and cultures of South and East Asia, particularly Indonesia, but also China, and his tireless activities as a promoter of both avant-garde and traditional music in a wide range of countries along the Pacific. His own compositions were audibly influenced and inspired by this interest in Asian sounds and instruments.
Jack will be remembered, by most of those who knew him, as a remarkable artist, but what shone through in his music, and what captivated so many who had the pleasure to meet him in person, was his warm and generous personality, his extraordinary charm, his sense of humour, his endearing wisdom, which existed alongside a strong sense of commitment – to life, to art, and to his fellow human beings.
As an organizer, Jack had a significant impact on the promotion of Asian music in New Zealand, and on the promotion of New Zealand music both at home and abroad. As an ethnomusicologist, he published a number of CDs of traditional Asian music, including South of the Clouds, a 4-CD set released on Ode Records, documented rare field recordings of Chinese ethnomusicologist Zhang Xingrong.
Among his finest achievements as a composer was undoubtedly his opera Alley, based on the life of Rewi Alley, a well-known New Zealand-born writer and political activist who spent much of his life in China. The opera was premiered to wide acclaim at the 1998 NZ International Festival of the Arts. It featured two hua'er (regional folk song) singers from Gansu, as well as Beijing's Huaxia Chamber Ensemble and a small orchestra of New Zealand musicians. Anyone familiar with Jack Body's music would be able to list other outstanding pieces as fine samples of his art, not least the famous Three Transcriptions for string quartet which he wrote for the Kronos Quartet in 1988. They were based on transcriptions of Chinese minority songs. Many of Jack's works incorporated such references to Asian music, or directly employed Asian instruments, from gamelan to sheng and gangsa. Field recordings of traditional music often served as source material for his electronic works, or as an inspiration for the sound and shape of his compositions. In some instances, his idea was to transcribe the essence of a non-western musical source in such a way that it would become playable for western musicians.
Several of Jack's works explicitly engaged with his socio-political views and ideas on personal freedom, a recurring theme in his work being that of homosexuality. The Indonesian linguist Yono Soekarno was his partner for life.
Body was also active as a university teacher, and as an art photographer whose work was shown in New Zealand galleries. He received many awards and honours. In the spring of 2015, shortly before his death, he was named a New Zealand Icon, the highest award given by the New Zealand Arts Foundation, in recognition for all he had done and given for New Zealand. He was the first composer to be so honoured. He lived to his 70th birthday and was able to see the completion of a wonderful book called Jack! Celebrating Jack Body, composer, which was meant as a tribute to a wholly loveable man. It's a book full of stories and reminiscenses and many wonderful photographs, that will help to keep his memory alive for future generations. And then there is also his official website, where friends and colleagues can now pay him tributes (www.jackbody.com/pages/tributes.htm) There's a 70th year birthday greeting on video from composer Tan Dun, and a moving written tribute from his student Chris Bourke.