Do you see yourself as a part of the natural world or separate from it?
When you take a ‘nature’ shot, are you careful to avoid all evidence of human presence in the framing of your photo? A ludicrous notion, considering you are clearly there to take the photo… I confess, I do.
If I can avoid including a power line in a photo of the sunset, I do. If there is a pristine section of the beach, not trammeled by footprints of tourists or covered by human debris washed up by the last tide, then of course, I photograph the ‘wild’ end of the beach. Why? Because somehow if makes me feel in the presence of something far grander and more powerful than myself. I am not in the picture.
Where am I going with this line of thought? Not sure. I seem to be rambling into a wilderness I had not intended to enter when I sprang out of bed with an essay screaming to be written. What I had wanted to explore was how I do believe that I am a part of nature… that we are not separate entities. We are interconnected.
My very life is dependent on my relationship with Nature. ‘Mother Nature’… a term that pretty much sums up the dependent role that we small humans have in the scheme of things. Mother: one who gives birth, nurtures, instructs, loves. And the child? One who is usually quite oblivious to the efforts of those around them to keep them alive, well, happy and equipped with knowledge to eventually become ‘independent’. But are we ever independent?
The continuum of growth, seemingly from ‘dependent’ to ‘independent’, is all actually a part of the interdependent nature of all life… the truth is that we are always ‘interdependent’. And this brings me back to my initial question to you:
Do you see yourself as a part of the natural world or separate from it?
I am currently designing the booklet to accompany my CD with a new trio that goes by the name of Breath. I am designing the whole CD package as a homage to the amazing coast of Western Australia. Why? Because I met my two fellow Breathers in Perth, and that is where we recorded our album. And because I have been enraptured by my fleeting encounters with nature in WA on regular visits over the last 14 years or so. It is impossible to separate this powerful sense of rapture from the things that one expresses. What goes in must come out… So of course, the music one makes when filled with a sense of reverence for the beauty of one’s environment is an expression of that very rapture.
Here is a paragraph I wrote when I started documenting the sequence of events that lead to the making of our CD entitled Ocean Breath:
In January 2012 I stepped off a ship in Fremantle and called my recording engineer friend Lee, asking for a didge player. I had just been performing on a Japanese cruise liner and had a few ideas I wanted to try out. “I know this awesome Didge player from Freo, he’s fantastic, and he’s Japanese!” Lee said. “Great, when can we book the studio?” I soon met the amazing Sanshi, and we recorded our first tentative duos as we got to know each other.
A couple of months later I was back in Perth again and I booked some more time in the studio with Sanshi, and this time we invited Reo to join us, a travelling busker. He is the most remarkable beat-boxer I have ever met. We did an improvised concert at a friend’s café, and well, it just took off. This was not the recording project I had initially had in mind, but it was something quite magical and new. We decided to call ourselves Breath; a trio of didgeridoo, shakuhachi and mouth percussion.
OK. I have totally digressed from where I was headed in this essay, and I can see a few other digressions looming … Let me refocus by asking myself that question again: Do I see myself as a part of the natural world or separate from it?
“I am a part of it!” I shout, amazed I even need to ask such a ludicrous question. So why am I writing this? Because I fear that not all humans would answer in the same way. Or perhaps they do not stop and ask themselves the question in the first place. Why do we have such horrific environmental problems? Why is there such a divide in understanding between the traditional indigenous approach to mother nature and the conquering colonial industrial approach? Why is there alcoholism and substance abuse in so many societies across the globe? Oh dear, I fear I may make an outrageous and simplistic blanket statement at this point which would ruin the whole essay altogether. Let me back up.
OK. Let me ask myself another question here. Why am I writing this? What is the point of this essay? What is the motivating impetus?
Let me get straight to the point. (‘hardly straight’ you sigh… are you still here?) The point is: I am having a slight dilemma in the naming of a particular track on our album Ocean Breath. There, I said it!
Reo and Sanshi have been very generous in allowing me to play a driving role in the naming of many of the tracks and the Album itself. Like me, they are creatures of the sound world. Of course, we are appreciative of the world through our other senses as well, but when we are making music, most musos are pretty much inside a purely sonic world. And all of the pieces on our album just happened in the unpremeditated moment… well, some of them we rerecorded and composed to a degree, but their foundation was in an improvised moment.
Have you ever noticed that when you go to a concert of spontaneous instrumental music, the performers are in their own little worlds, totally focused and attuned to their own sound and that of their fellow performers, (and perhaps to the environmental sounds around them such as the pitch of a cistern, or the screeching of a seagull on the roof). You may notice that the performers have their eyes closed a fair bit of the time. Why? Well, in my case, it helps me to focus on the nature of the sound I am making and the nature of the sounds being offered to me by my fellow artists. Each sound, each phrase becomes a universe unto itself. So, unless you are performing a set piece, with a pre-agreed title or theme, it is simply an unconscious outpouring of sound. It has no conscious meaning attached to it. It is the listeners who then assign meaning. That piece made me feel… it reminded me of that time when I… it made me laugh…
When musos sit down and listen to a track they have recorded, in most cases they will cringe and squirm and criticise the quality of the sounds they made. If they can step out of that response and listen to the interplay with their fellow musos, and listen to the magic of coinciding sounds unfolding, then they can perhaps start to appreciate what an outside audient hears. But they will never be able to truly hear what a non-muso in an audience hears. And usually, musicians come up with pretty hopeless titles for their tracks. Something practical for the sound engineer to type into the file for later retrieval, such as “Seagull” or “Sleepy duo”.
Gosh this is long-winded…. OK. The track in question is a duo that I am not playing in! So I can be objective in my listening (maybe). It is a duo track by Sanshi and Reo, and I love it. It has a driving energy that is invigorating and fun.
After discussing calling the CD Ocean Breath and tying it to the WA coast, we started thinking about titles. I approached several friends and played them tracks and asked them what titles came to them, and many of the tracks have been labelled in this manner. Some folk are good at that, many are not.
As I was not a part of this particular duo piece, I asked Sanshi what he wanted to call it. He gave me a typical muso response of ‘Well, we were lying under the car on the grass at the Melbourne Didgeridoo festival discussing possible rhythmic ideas for a duo. So the idea for the piece was born there. How about “Under the Camping Car”?’
And so, when we recorded the piece back in Perth, that is the title that Lee typed into the file… to be reconsidered at a later date. Of course, not all the tracks we recorded made it onto the CD, but this duo did. It’s a winner, although it is way too short! But as all the tracks for our album were taking on titles to do with the WA coast, Under the Camping Car stood out as different. The opening track is Tidal Drift, flowed by Through the Mist etc…
So, for one month, while I was trying out ways to order the tracks in the album, and asking friends for help in the naming of tracks, I struggled with how to make this Under the Camping Car fit in. The music fitted in. No problems there. It has a lively energy that is a fabulous compliment to the more gentle tracks in the flow of the album. And then it struck me. OK. Take the ‘camping car’ and place it on a bumpy four-wheel drive track in WA on a camping trip to remote beaches and cliffs. I have had several fabulous adventures with a friend doing exactly that. So now, it had a place in my slow mind in the nature of the great west coast. Let’s face it. How do most travellers in Australia see our vast country and her remote beauties? In some kind of vehicle! The more I listened to this track, the more it sounded like a rhythmic, bumpy trip in a beaten up old van of some sort. So I sent the following to my fellow Breathers:
Camping Car (D didgeridoo, beatbox) Bouncing along corrugated tracks in a beaten up old 4WD; riding a bicycle and camping out; towing a caravan on newly surfaced highways … folk travel the remote regions of Australia connecting in their own way with nature.
There! I had achieved it. But no… Reo then calls in from Milan, Italy, where he is performing and says, ‘Camping Car as a title does not fit in with the nature theme of the album. We should call this track “Flying Fish”’.
Flying bloody fish! I listened to it again. I had now listened to it so many times thinking about it as a fun road trip to a remote location that Flying Fish did not spring to mind.
I have seen flying fish. So the title (not the music) conjured a particular experience I had up on the Dampier peninsula, north of Broome, where I had hitch-hiked after performing in Broome’s Shinju Matsuri (Pearl Festival) in 2006. I’d had a week off before my next gig in Perth, so I left my gear at the home of a friend of a friend and set off hitch-hiking my way to an adventure.
On this particular day, I was a passenger in a small tin fishing boat, chugging along in the waters on the east side of the peninsula. On the prow of the dingy stood an aboriginal fellow with a spear attached to a line, and behind me sat his brother struggling with a fickle engine that sometimes cut out. We were turtle hunting for dinner.
Then, off to the right, I saw a most amazing thing. I held my breath, not able to quite compute what it was I was witnessing. After many many seconds, when it was totally submerged again, I recommenced breathing and looked at the two men, asking whether they had seen it too. They were not all that talkative, and just made some comment about a flying fish of some sort, I don’t remember the name. And then they ignored me as they kept their focus on the pursuit of a turtle lunch we never did catch.
This fish was longer than a metre, and it had wings. And it was flying at a speed way faster than our small motor boat. It had remained above the water for more than 30 metres. I spent the rest of our hunt with my eyes squinting at the horizon, on the look out for another flying fish. No more flying fish, and only one brief glimpse of a very clever turtle.
Has Reo seen a flying fish? No. Has Sanshi? No. So it is an imagined flying fish we are discussing here. Have our listeners seen a flying fish? Probably not as many as have had an adventure in a vehicle of some sort on a quest to connect with the wilder parts of this country…
It is two against one. I may lose on this one. The track may get called Flying Fish. But to my mind, it will be a bumpy ride in a Camping Car.
And my original question, slightly twisted: Do you see your car as a part of the natural world or separate from it?
So, what are the themes explored in this album? The awesome power of the ocean; the beauty of the creatures along the coast; uranium mining and its consequences; fishing and pearl diving; the role the sea plays in bringing us together; the struggles of people within this harsh environment; the eerie formations of this ancient coast…
In other words, it is about humans within nature. Not us and them. Just us. Ocean Breath.
I think its time to stop meandering and get out of my pyjamas…