Meet the Masters - Senior lecturer Dr Toby Wren

Online (Aus)

14 Sep 2020

Toby Wren website



Meet the Masters - Senior lecturer Dr Toby Wren

14 Sep 2020

Introducing our Meet the Masters series! Meet the Masters will profile the staff, students and alumni of the SAE Postgraduate programs. First up is musician and senior lecturer Dr Toby Wren. 


Toby is a composer, improviser and artistic researcher. His work is diverse and exemplifies the intersection of practice and theory, incorporating both practice-based and practice-led methodologies. Recent highlights include a journal article, Krithi: Cows at the beach (Wren & Vaidyanathan, 2020) and a co-edited a book with Vanessa Tomlinson on Artistic Practice, Here and Now (2018), including a chapter authored by him. Toby's creative output is mostly in album format: he writes sets of compositions for specific ensembles to perform and record. He has released six albums of his original music including the recent, Black Mountain, which was critically acclaimed in national print media.

As a composer, his premieres include works written for the Southern Cross Soloists, Trevor Hart Quartet, West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Queensland Orchestra, where he was a resident composer in 2003. In 2018, he was one of a group of Brisbane composers commissioned to write a piece for the project Trading Fours, which plumbed archival material on the history of jazz in Queensland to examine the through-lines into contemporary jazz practice. 

Toby completed a Doctor of Philosophy in 2015 through the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. His research deals with the ethics of interculturalism, cultural appropriation and musical hybridity and examines how meaning is negotiated in intercultural contexts through improvisation. The research stems from his involvement and collaboration with South Indian (Carnatic) musicians in India and Australia over a number of years. This research includes traditional research outputs (conference papers, articles and chapters) and practice-based outputs: the CDs The Carnatic Jazz Experiment (2011) and Rich and Famous (2012).

Research Areas: Ethnomusicology, Musicology, Hybridity, Cultural Difference, Practice-based Research, Research Methods, Composition, Performance, Indian Classical Music, Jazz Studies.


What do you most enjoy about teaching within the MCI program?

People and ideas! It is so inspiring to hear about what drives our students and help them produce the ideas that excite them. I particularly love working with students on their final projects where they bring it all together - all their research and learning, and the intellectual and creative skills they have been honing in the program, to produce something that they are really proud of and that will have a real impact. 

What are some of the benefits you have seen students gain by studying the MCI?

I see confidence as the main thing. And the understanding that creativity and intellectual rigour can go hand-in-hand. For me producing good work requires the same energy and focus, whether it is academic or creative work. It can be hard to open your creative ideas to critique, but for my students I think going through that process and seeing the kind of depth and attention that others are prepared to invest in their ideas comes to be affirming.

What are some standout, or surprising projects you have seen being produced within the MCI?

I am constantly surprised by my students. Marcus Endicott spent a lot of time talking to me about Virtual Humans, and the experiments he was conducting to build a digital version of himself using off-the-shelf technologies. Later, I realised that while he was doing that, and just because he could, he had also collated the largest digital repository of literature on that topic in the world. I was also lucky to work with Daniel Phill, who was motivated by the memory loss of his grandmother, to create a VR environment that would help slow memory loss for dementia sufferers. I consider myself lucky for always being involved in beautiful and surprising projects in the MCI.

What drew you to the creative industries?

What drew me to the creative industries was creative industry itself, rather than the economies that have grown out of them. I continue in creative pursuits, because despite the low value that we place on them economically and politically, the emotional, spiritual and social payoff is worth it. It is a privilege to be involved in that most human pursuit of intellectual and creative labour, and being involved in the intellectual and creative labour of others is a privilege.

Where do you see the future of the creative industries?

I think we are reaching a point with AI where we will start to ask what is valuable as a creative action. I think this might draw more attention to creative making as opposed to creative products, and increasingly a broader understanding of the difference between art and commerce.

Can you speak to the intersection and impact of technology to the creative industries?

Media are technologies that enable us to share our ideas. Language is a medium, so is a pencil, so is a DAW with all the latest plugins. Technology can be exciting, but what is useful in creative industry still comes down to the power of the idea. A technology used for its own sake is ultimately hollow. 


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