I started out as a visual artist. Or was that simply being a child?
I grew up in a remote, wonderfully isolated valley, without streetlights or tar-seal, or television. The endless wonders of a blank page were akin to the endless aural spaces one could interact with: to sing-talk with the birds or the ocean, to build huts and stories in the bush, or to draw boundless imaginings in colour, on the kitchen floor or table. Long intimate conversations unfolded between me and perhaps, pure potential. It was thanks to kind and creative teachers that dance, song and art were valued in the curriculum. The focus sharpened when I met Mr Harris at Tikipunga High School and embarked on a painting, sculpture and photography odyssey, and never looked back… not until I reached Elam Art School that is, where I found myself longing for happenings. I wanted to see things in motion! If there had been a Performance Art Department there at the time, I might have stayed, but the roads called me out of school – into the world of fire-dancing, street-performance, theatre and ultimately, song.
These days I hardly put a pencil to the page, save for designing concert posters or occasional album artwork… but the SOUNDS I get to make are colours, and the words that come conjure images… and then there are the opportunities to collaborate:
When I met Shannon Aroha on Takaka Hill, at Luminate Festival 2017, we found ourselves brainstorming a collaboration just a few sentences into the conversation. Let’s do something! A few months later, equipped with a zero budget and a common love for improvisation, we found ourselves filming in the limpid lights of the Raglan area, where she is based.
The theme of clear water kind of hurts these days, given that intensive dairy farming in New Zealand has polluted so many of our rivers… (time to turn that around!!) And so, potently, a song about clear water – as a reality and a metaphor – is the one to start with. RiUWAKA (Riwaka) is a sacred place at the foot of Takaka Hill, that many visit for it’s healing waters – waters distilled by the crystal mountain labyrinth through which they pass, before springing back up at the resurgence. Raglan, where we actually filmed, is on the other island. A journey from Te Wai Pounamu to Te Ika a Maui is but a small hop, given the international fabric of this project:
The instrumentation is inspired by my love affair with Bulgarian Folklore rhythms, intricately irregular, but played on my Little Martin guitar, like a harp. The story is one of reaching beyond the feeling of fracture in intimacy, through into the inevitable wholeness of surrender. The vocal lines, though steeped in the ornaments of Bulgarian songs, are delivered like a delicate prayer. My parts, on voice and guitar, were recorded in an old silk-worm incubator: a beautiful stone-floored, high-ceiling, luminous music studio, in the Cevennes mountains, in the south of France. (How I found that place and the magical engineer, Patrick Jauneaud, within it, is another story for another time). Add to that a serendipitous meeting with Australian percussionist Tunji Beier, on a festival stage. Tunji here plays the Kanjira, a South Indian frame drum, with both subtlety and spirit.
With Shannon’s eye, and Andy’s flying captures, the visual flair this time is not mine. Shannon’s musical sensitivity translated seamlessly and it was a joy to let her lead. Somehow, playing a character in the moving image was an experience between dance and meditation: attuning to the light, the bush, the water, to the dreams that turn our eyes into windows, where imaginings can impart tranquility, and somehow bridge our mortal separations.
I hope you will enjoy the viewing as much as we have the process!
Please share/embed the video freely, and do leave your impressions in the youtube comments + touch that thumbs up thing – it all helps to gather kin energy and to celebrate this piece of quiet, in a loud world.