“I want you to meet someone. She wants to take you to a cave to play music together. What do you think? How is Friday night for you? We need to get a car to get up into the mountains… I just know you two will hit it off.”
I picked up Chris Cooper and his young friend Emily in my hire car from the Uni of Tas at 5pm, and we went shopping for pink and purple sweet potatoes, red capsicum, garlic, onion, smoked tofu, aluminium foil, basil-cashew dip, hommus, olives… and then we picked up tea and a saucepan at Emily’s place to use as a billy and we were on our way.
Emily has her violin case with her and we all have daypacks with water and warm clothes, and torches. My shakuhachi is in my bag, and I am looking forward to hear what will unfold tonight.
I drive slowly along the dark winding dirt road hoping to see animals. We spot only a few wallabies and pademelons. No wombats. No devils. But it is so lovely to be on a quiet road with no other vehicles, with two people who feel comfortable with my super slow driving and meandering to spot the wildlife.
We park and then walk along a vehicle track until we get to a water treatment plant where Chris guesses they add fluoride to the town water supply. Passing that, we take a sharp turn to the left and walk along beside a tall cyclone wire fence. We use torches, as the ground is uneven and we are entering the forest. After a while we get onto a reasonably worn walking track and turn off our lights, adjusting to the moonlight.
The torches come back on again when Emily misses the turn off to the cave. After wandering through the forest for a while she calls out that she has found it, and we are soon off in three different directions scrambling up rock ledges and gathering firewood by moonlight. It is not a full moon, but will be in a couple of nights, so it is bright.
Once we have a large pile of wood at the entrance of the cave – a deep-set rock overhang, we make a fire and settle in. Conversation turns to the state of the world, the environment, capitalism, the need to focus on one issue and pursue it until it is achieved rather than scattering our energies…
Once the fire is well established, we cut the veggies and tofu and wrap them in foil and place them in the coals. Then Emily and I improvise a duo. She is pure magic. Soft woolly colours come from her bow… how does she do that? Her delicate harmonics, her drones and ostinati, and her melodies and textures are all wonderful to play with. My shakuhachi and her violin meld. It is total bliss to impro with this amazing woman. Chris is quietly grinning on the other side of the campfire. Emily and I resolve our first impro and look at each other and laugh with sheer joy.
Chris reads us one of his poems and then another by someone else. Both good pieces. His is about the landscape, the rocks. I can’t recall the other one now, but I liked it.
We talk a bit, then I play Whispered Shadows. I am not happy with my timbre tonight; I think I blew myself out in Launceston… lost the novelty of it in endless repeats due to trucks and motor bikes when we attempted to record it at the Design Centre. But they both enjoy the newness of the combination of shak with simultaneous vocal harmonies and alternating voice with flute.
A little later Emily pulls out a hand written score by a uni friend who has just finished a new solo violin work for her. It is 6 pages, and I am the music stand while Chris shines a torch for her to read by. Sensational playing, and a very sensitive composition. A real treasure to hear this brand new piece.
We poke the coals with sticks and test the food to see if it is cooked and then play another duo. We stay there for hours, eating, laughing, philosophising, making music… Late in the evening Chris joins in using the log he is sitting on as his percussion instrument and ventures to join his voice with ours. We have fun. None of us have brought sleeping bags, but the night is so still and mild, and the fire warm, that we wish we had.
I finally suggest I need to get home for some sleep. We put sand from the cave floor on the fire and enjoy one last look at the moonlit face of Mount Wellington across the valley, through the silhouetted trees of our forest.
Back in the car, I note it is just before 1am. We have been here for almost seven hours! On the slow drive back down the mountain we see a tawny frogmouth, a pademelon and a black brush-tail possum, but there has been a surprising lack of wildlife. At the cave there had been no bird song, no bats, no sounds of scurrying animals in the bush. Why?
It was a beautiful evening. I want to do it again! And next time, I will sleep there and enjoy the dawn from the mouth of the cave. Hopefully then I will hear birdsong.
Friday 1st May 2015. Hobart.
We didn’t take any photos at the cave. Not the place to pull out phones or cameras… in fact I don’t think any of us took them. This is a photo of Emily Sheppard violin-bombing my gig with Izumi Fujikawa a week later in Melbourne. (Thanks to Roger King for the photo). A sheer joy to have an impro-ing classically-trained muso to jam with.
You can jump in on any of my gigs hence forth Emily!!!