Qin and sheoaks. Timelessness and place

Last weekend my friend Al and I were dancing with timelessness and place. He had come to Darwin to record sounds from here and to improvise with these sounds to create electronic music. Al wanted to let the places we spent time in wash over him, find a home in him so that the music he created would hold an essence of him being in this place.

We found ourselves on the beach at East Point listening to the lapping of the small waves, against the background hum of ships leaving the harbor. A beach stone curlew was calling out as we approached the cliffs, keeping an eye on its young which was intent on exploring the waterline, regardless of our presence. The rocks that surfaced through the sand and water and trailed up into cliffs in this place look like they’d been painted in swirling patters. Pink, yellow, white and orange colors danced on rock-face. They left us staring at these impossible designs, a constant tug at our attention. In the face of the low cliff was a cave, it looked and felt like a women’s place. Why hadn’t I been here before? Two long rocks lay submerged in the water. They looked like crocs and slowly reveled themselves as rock as the tide pulled out further and further. Was there an underlying trepidation in the recordings Al made here, something that said, this place is beautiful but beware of what lurks in the water?

Later that afternoon, standing on the bridge over Rapid Creek, we listened to the gentle sound of the wind playing with the needles of the sheaoks. It reminded Al of the qin, an ancient Chinese stringed instrument. A musician he knew had once held his qin to the wind to let the wind play it. Wind, trees, birds, people’s voices and splashing, bike riders on the bridge, tide rushing over rocks, planes overhead… this place was saturated in sound.

On our way to Litchfield the following day, Al told me about an experience he’d had in creating a piece of music over an extended period of time. He said that he felt as though he could perceive the piece as a whole and experienced a sense of timelessness with his music. Music existing in timelessness… I tried to comprehend how this could be. Usually when I think of music one of the guiding elements is time. Al seemed to be beautifully preoccupied with this idea of timelessness in his music making. What my mind kept coming back to was place. Where the music was being made? The places in which the sounds were being recorded was what mattered most to me. For the rest of the day our conversations wove together our thoughts and feelings on timelessness and place. I kept thinking about stories shared by Richard on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail from Bugarregarra (the Dreaming) and then his words, ‘Bugarregarra is everything, it’s a way of life.’ Would he use the words timelessness and place to describe Bugarregarra?

Late last Saturday night after we returned home from our roamings I used one of my Al’s electronic instruments to create an improvisation in sound using a recording of qin and piano. The result was Beautiful ash and ruins. To me this improvisation sounds industrial, devoid of beauty, anxious, grey and confused. At one point I feel like I am being cranked up to the pinnacle of a roller-coaster ride, but the roller coaster never releases and goes down. I’m curious about what attracted me to making such an anxious sound. How far up did I think I could go? Despite these uncomfortable sounds, the essence of the music is beautifully melodic qin and percussive piano. The process of improvising on Al’s electronic instrument was completely new to me. For some reason I abandoned the aim of creating something that sounded beautiful and wanted to explore all the shades within the sound, especially the darker ones.

My sense of place is saturated in sounds, smells, visual and something else, a feeling that is hard to describe. I used to assume that the sounds, smells and visuals made the other feeling, but I’m not so sure about that anymore. Just like there is a texture to the sound of the qin, or wind through sheoak needles, there feels to me to be an essence in each place, a texture that is tricky to put into words… but can it be translated and articulated through sound? Is the piece I improvised an articulation of place, one that is confronting – beautiful but full of turmoil? Did the industrial hum of the ships leaving the harbor want to escape into the music?

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