Improvising and Music Therapy

Music Therapist and musician Jack Tickner talks about the longest running improvised musical project he’s been involved in (‘Wollongong’ the band) and how many of the skills picked up during this project, he uses in his everyday work as a Registered Music Therapist at WollCon.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN – Let’s Call ourselves Wollongong and Improvise!

“I met bassist Michael Manzini at Wollongong Tafe in 2011. We both wanted to form a project where we could play completely improvised music. We recruited two local Wollongong musicians, David Burt and Joel McLean and had our first full band recording session on an evening of torrential rain in February 2012, and ‘Wollongong’ the band was born.” Said Jack.

Wollongong Band

Why the name Wollongong? Lead singer Joel had said that he would only join the band if it was called Wollongong. and Jack really liked the “Ungoogleable band name.”

The foundations of the band were a little shaky at the start as most members didn’t really have any background or formal training in improvisation, with the exception of bass player Michael who had studied Jazz at WollCon. As a result much of the early material was unstructured free form music. 

“As time went on, we found ourselves wanting to create tighter, more coherent themed albums, so we began having conversations around how we would like to approach each session before we started recording. Things like if we would give ourselves a concept or a narrative or a constraint for an album.”

Jack Tickner

Musician and Music Therapist, WollCon

Wollongong the band

The themed approach seemed to work well, giving the musicians an opportunity to focus their thoughts and ideas on the chosen theme for the album.

“As of May 2024 we have 108 albums online at and around 40 or so online on streaming services. It is the longest running musical project I have been involved in, which also supports my everyday work as a Therapist, by making it easier to improvise tunes and songs.” Jack Tickner.


The 8-track album Fire Mage is themed around “really corny metal music we used to listen to when we were teenagers. Lots of cheesy metal riffs and improvised lyrics about things that we thought were super cool as teenagers.”

This album is based on giving everyone in the band ‘click tracks’ to listen to while recording. The click tracks had individual instructions for each performer, for example: “Play a Bb Minor single note melody in 7:8” or “on a count of 4 pick any random note and play it in the following pattern..”. The click tracks would speed up and slow down independently moving the performers through different polyrhythms.

“This one is our 2nd secret agent themed album, it’s a completely improvised narrative about a secret agent. I forget what happens but I do remember laughing a lot.”

Jack’s favourite ‘live’ album would be 30 dirty which was a live gig at a birthday party for a friend. “It felt like we were on a roll that day and the audience was extremely warm and receptive.”

2022 UCI Road World Championships
In September 2022 for their 96th album they released a tongue in cheek UCI inspired album. Each song was themed around the cycling event, with songs like Road Closure, False Start, Maximum Acceleration, Time Trial and Carbon Fiber. “That whole cycling album was recorded in about one hour and that included us having conversations in between like ‘how about road closures’.”

Their 100th recorded album (Wollongong) is Jack’s other favourite because “…it is so nice to hear everyone’s songwriting in the band after a decade of improvising together.”

Their latest album ‘Unavailable Dave’ is album 108 (and counting!), and was based on how their drummer couldn’t make a recording session because he was unavailable. “We decided to just make every lyric ‘Unavailable Dave’ as a starting point. It ended up evolving into something quite fleshed out and interesting by the end.”

“I do tend to like our newer albums more but the older material is fun to revisit now and then. We had a recording session a week ago and recorded 3 new albums, one instrumental, one of them a concept album about a picture of a band we found from 1972 and what they might have sounded like, and one extremely soft and gentle album with nonsense lyrics.” Said Jack.


Jack doesn’t know the future of ‘Wollongong’ or how (or if) the band will end. They continue to do what they love, enjoy the moment and take opportunities as they arise.

They recently had their music featured in a Friendly Jordies YouTube video about Wollongong which resulted in a surge in listenership, but the band are a self-sustaining entity and are very content doing their own thing without needing too many eyes and ears. 

“In my experience there is nothing more fulfilling than making songs with your friends and then listening back and enjoying them together.”

 Jack feels fortunate to be able to make music with friends as the band ‘Wollongong’ and encourages anyone with any musical interest to connect with friends and give it a try.

Photos: Gavin Parkinson