Richard Hunter, Frans Hoogland, Jaqueline Wright from ABC Open, and I have been working on a project which I’d love to share with you all, it’s about Feeling Country. Many thanks to Jacqui for all the hours of pulling it together and to Gabrielle Norden and Sara Retallick for contributing beautiful sounds from Country. Enjoy!
Category Archives: Sound
I have written before about the work that stories do and their ability to move through country, people(s) and objects as they do this work. In the last few weeks I have come across a story that brings to light (for a broader circle of people) the ways in which stories in country endure.
The first story was told by the Adnyamathanha people whose ancestral estate takes in the northern Flinders Ranges. (Listen to the 2-part radio documentary, Yulu’s Coal, featured on ABC Radio National’s Earshot program, here: Part 1 and Part 2 . It is better if you listen to the Adnyamathanha tell these stories. I will only offer a brief summary here to help tell a bigger story). Adnyamathanha storytellers trace how their ancestral creator beings, Yulu (the Kingfisher Man) and two Arkurra (Giant Rainbow Serpents) formed the landscape as they journeyed through country, including a large deposit of coal near Leigh Creek. These stories belong to Yuramuda (a complex understanding of spiritual existence that is present in the landscape and how to live in harmony with country – akin to the Western notion of cosmology and ontology ‘the Dreaming’) and continue to inform the Adnyamathanha’s existence. Arthur Brady, an Adnyamathanha man, said that:
Without these stories Adnyamathanha people won’t be the people they are today. The thing that makes us who we are is our stories.
Stories are constitutional, they give meaning to people’s presence in, and experience of the country. The knowledge that is held within these stories is held within the people – who in turn belong to these stories. The knowledge contained within Yuramuda stories also highlights the relevance and important of Indigenous knowledges in understanding country. While some anthropologists and people in general may have, or continue to, interpret Yuramuda (or the cosmology/Dreaming of another peoples) as myths about creation, the Adnyamathanha, along with other Indigenous peoples on this continent, in partnership with geologists, are showing people that Yuramuda accounts corroborate with Western scientific stories about country (see another account: Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 years). On Yulu’s way to an initiation ceremony at Ikara (WilpenaPound), he lit a big bushfire near Leigh Creek to tell the mob further south to wait for him. The coals that were left behind in from this fire, form the large coal deposits that are present in that land today. The Adnyamathanha understood that Yulu left coal behind in that place long before geologists and mining companies set their sights on Leigh Creek.
There is a personal link here to a bigger story, one about the way in which people are assembled by stories. My ancestors come from a village in the Macedonian province of northern Greece. The name of the village, which has endured for a long time (not as long as Yulu’s story), means black spring and relates to the vast coal deposits that sit beneath the ground in that valley. The fields and homes, and all the other places where my ancestors dwelt, are soon to be disassembled and an open pit coal mine put in their place. The land will no longer endure as it has for millennia, in relationship with people. Soon, all that my family will have left of this place, as with the Adnyamathanha, are stories about the country, albeit different types of stories to the Adnyamathanha people. The stories endure when the land is gone, they can still live within the people, but there is an emptiness and a deep connection that is lost.
Saturday 31 May 2014 3:05PM
Topophilia: from the Greek topos “place” and -philia, “love of”
When we meet someone new we commonly ask “Where are you from?” It’s a recognition of the affective bond between people and place, which has been a subject of contemplation as far back as Aristotle, but has gained more attention in recent decades with the emergence of the discipline of psycho-geography. It’s also long been a subject of poetry, and there are many poets whom we identify closely with a particular place – either that where they were born and raised, such as Dorothy Hewett in the West Australian wheatbelt, or the place to which they came later in life, like Margaret Scott, who left her native Bristol for Tasmania at the age of twenty-five. In this program a range of Australian poets describe their relationship with the place that has shaped them.
Stooping over, I walk under tree-ferns with bison-like beards which arch over pathways. Their beards are rough and filamentary, but tight and trimmed. Fronds umbrella up and out, framing the grey sky like lacy curtains. Way above me, the canopies of Mountain Ash engage in deep conversation with the wind. Scars on these trees show where limbs have been lost. I feel meek and vulnerable walking under these giants on such a windy day. It is not just the trees that I have come to be with on this day; another has called me (back) into the cool temperate rainforest.
The singers are hidden amongst the long, fallen ribbons of bark, they are somewhere down in the gullies beckoning me forth. I cross over deep muddy puddles, past flowing creeks and decomposing fallen trees. Everything in the forest is saturated with water and deep iridescent green. Pulled deeper in as the sun hangs low in the winter sky, I know there is not long before I must retreat to places of light and warmth. Up a rise and the earth dries out. The track twists to somewhere unknown and I sense to halt. A dark grey rock nearby summons me. I sit atop this cool, smooth form and close my eyes. A singer repeats his calls across the track from me and another somewhere behind. Like a creator of all other beings, from its song emerges the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Eastern Whipbird, Laughing Kookaburra, Eastern Rosella and its own songs. From oneness comes many. This bird holds songs and dances, it is an invoker and a weaver of creation.
When I stand from the rock, something has deepened. It is time to descend from this hill and retrace my steps below the swaying canopy. But an invitation to encounter holds me a few moments longer… a male lyrebird jumps onto a tree branch, his brilliant tail festooned below him. Hypnotized by sound, he repeats again and again the songs of the other forest beings and I wish for a feather. Why do I want for this material form? Is the song not enough to make me feel this reality? Turning to walk back I am stopped by something small, fluffy and grey on the track. So unimaginably wispy, it is almost not there. I delicately pick up this grey flank feather and hold it between two fingers. The wind quickly finds it and I watch it dance and swirl before me. Each feathery filament animated and stating its aliveness.
Source: Pizzey and Knight, The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, 9th Ed, Harper Collins Australia, 2012
A friend sent me a link to a podcast titled Climate change and the psyche from ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind program. British climate scientist Mike Hulme and anthropologist Jonathan Marshall speak about the enduring myths and symbols that give us meaning and set templates for living. They talk about the way in which mythic frameworks underlie scientific viewpoints and are foundational to our beliefs about the world and in particular, the changing climate. One pertinent question which they pose is, how do we animate material realities? Rather than seeing the world around us and the changing climate as mechanistic, what are the stories we have created to make meaning of these changing realities?
I took a screen grab of a comment that was made by ‘Wendy’ in response to listening to the interview [see below].
I like that Wendy identifies discourse and narrative as fertile ground for debate, after all, these stories are a reflection of the truths that we live by and use to construct our reality. The statement that I like most in Wendy’s post is:
‘… we need to be prepared to engage in relationships in different ways…’
We need to engage in new ways of being… in my view this was the central thread that wove through the statements being made by Hulme and Marshall. Our society’s approach to a changing climate is inextricably tied to the way in which we conceptualize and perform our relationships with other species, the biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere.
Last week I went to a screening of Warwick Thorton’s new film The Darkside. This film is an assemblage of true stories from people who have encountered spirits. Each story is a performance of a transcript that was generated through an interview between Thornton and the storyteller. Some stories are performed by actors, others by the storytellers themselves. The Darkside forms part of a bigger storytelling project The Otherside, and is open to contributions from the public. Whilst scanning the stories I came across Whale Dreaming by Jenny Symonds. Jenny’s story holds resonance for me as she too is an Australian woman of Western heritage and has had encounters with spirits in place. In her words, “It was almost like the land was revealing a little bit here and there…”
Her story about Whale Dreaming reminds me of the Rainbow Serpent in the sky story I shared a while back (speaking of which I have been doing some poking around into other blogs and found this post about a Rainbow Feather Cloud – that’s what it looked like… except snakier).
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?
ABC Radio National, Saturday 2nd March, 6PM
Four years in the making, the animated Lurujarri Dreaming documents the Western Australian song-cycle from Broome up through the Dampier Peninsula.
This particular song-cycle is part of the annual nine day Lurujarri Heritage Trail which was established in 1987 by Goolarabooloo elder Paddy Roe.
Though since 2008 plans for a land based liquefied natural gas development have loomed over the Kimberley coast, in particular James Price Point (Walmadan), located approximately fifty kilometres north of Broome – this area making up part of the Lurujarri Heritage Trail.
I have not the heart to write for long about the incredibly flawed EPA process and the collusion that exists at all levels with the W.A. State Government re: proposed development at Walmadany/James Price Point. The concept of one-person boards/committees still intrigues me. To anyone reading this, please listen to the ABC Kimberley Radio interviews with W.A. Environment Minister Bill Marmion, Paleontologist Dr Steve Salsbury and Ecologist Louise Beams via the link below: