Maisie entered her second week of Grade 1 with less enthusiasm than her first. In answer to my question ‘what was the most boring thing today’, her answer was always ‘maths’! And the funniest thing was invariably some educational cartoon they had watched. She also had her first bit of formal homework, which was to make a poster about herself – perfect for grooming the next self-obsessed generation! Another milestone was her first bee sting (I remember mine well!), which occurred when she was just leaving school – it brought staff running, and the school nurse gave us an icepack. It hurt for a couple of hours, but by the next day it had completely disappeared – no swelling or residual pain at all!
Tommy came back from his Tuesday Kinder session excited to tell me about his various unexpected animal encounters. A local pet rabbit had escaped and decided to make the childcare centre’s backyard into his home for the day, and later on, the owner of a new private zoo had randomly popped by with a huge koala on his arm which he let all the kids stroke! On Friday Tommy and I met up with Moko and Liam at Scienceworks and the boys had a great time pushing round wheelbarrows and building glowing towers of perspex blocks. Tommy’s favourite installation was a huge ‘pinball’-type machine in which balls were ferried upwards on a giant screw, and then released in a noisy cascade through various obstacles. He watched it go round and round for hours!
On Tuesday night I went to see ‘Phantom Thread’, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest intense study of unusual personal relationships. Set in a 1950s London fashion house, it was about an eccentric, talented designer and his latest muse, a young Belgian waitress, whose apparently meek nature masks something much darker and more controlling – traits only revealed once her admirer starts to tire of her. It was a strange and atmospheric film – I’m not sure if I liked it, but Daniel Day-Lewis, playing the designer, was very compelling!
On a warm and golden Wednesday evening, Rowena joined me at the Sidney Myer Bowl for the first of the MSO’s series of free summer concerts. The orchestra was led by the lively young Dutch conductor Antony Hermus, who programmed in the first item – a C19th overture by fellow countryman Johan Wagenaar. It was fun, but not particularly memorable. Next up was Bruch’s violin concerto (introduced as ‘the most popular violin concerto in the world’), which I wasn’t familiar with, but I could see the appeal in the lovely melodies of the second movement, and the energetic dance of the finale. The second half of the concert was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. You can’t go wrong with Tchaikovsky – from the electrifying brass chords of the opening, through the restless bumpy strings and lilting, trickling woodwinds of the long first movement (surely an inspiration to Stravinsky), the melancholy, yearning oboe and unison string melodies of the second, the joyful pizzicato of the third and the the building excitement and final kettle-drum-fuelled triumph of the fourth – it was all a joy to listen to!
On Saturday evening I went to a performance put together by my friend Bianca. She has recently become involved in a collaborative project which aims to revive interest in an intriguing Javanese folk instrument called the bundengan. It is a large woven bamboo hood (or small tent), designed originally as a duck-herders sun/rain shelter, but some time back, a bored/ingenious duck-herder decided to modify it so that it could be a musical instrument too. He added several strings (with little bamboo pegs attached that make the reverberations sound like gamelan gongs) and three different-length bamboo ‘tongues’ which are flicked to replicate the sounds of the kendang drum.
In collaboration with bundengan musicians from Wonosobo, Central Java and Javanese Sydney-based puppeteer Jumaadi, Bianca had devised a show to be performed for just 4 people at a time. We were led into a darkened studio and each seated under our own duck-herder’s shelter. Two bundengan players plucked and sang traditional melodies, which were amplified by Bianca’s improvised tuned gamelan-style percussion, all accompanying a wordless shadow-play following a mythological journey from ‘farm to table’ – from the pastoral idyll of ducks in the rice fields, to an exploration of the ‘implications of colonial produce trade’. The (specially made, intricate cardboard-cut) puppets got stranger and more magical as the show went on – people turned into trees, trees into cities, ducks morphed into monstrous ogres etc.
On Sunday it was the St Kilda Festival, when all the local thoroughfares are closed to traffic and instead lined with stages and stalls and flooded with partying people! The weather always tends to the greyer/cooler end of the summer spectrum, and this year was no exception, although it brightened up later in the afternoon.
Our first destination was the kids area, where the musical entertainers included the youthful high-energy day-glo-clad Hi-5, and cute local duo Pevan and Sarah (Pevan is a giant singing tiger – Tommy was in love!). There were also stilt-walking sea-gods blowing bubbles, free cricket-branded hats and fairy wings, and, ever the hit, the cheeky seagulls (who screech and hustle and steal food in a very authentic way!).
We managed to make it to a few of the musical performances, catching the sunny Afro-beat of local band Alarriya, the raucous right-on hip-hop of Perth band POW! Negro, and the impressive jazz-soul vocals of Darwin-based singer Caiti Baker.
We spent quite some time just wandering round, stopping to watch samba dancers, a bout of Capoeira, the Hare Krishna parade (complete with their huge-wagon-wheeled and towering colourful devotional float), some impressive BMX and skateboard tricks, and the extensive costuming procedures of the ‘Team Kraken’ medieval combat troupe (it was proper armour – metal plates, chain-mail, tough studded leather etc.!).
Down on the windy foreshore, we arrived just in time to watch the last two sets of the Victorian Open Beach Volley Ball men’s final. The #3 seeded Aussie team (Tim Dickson & Marcus Ferguson) were playing the #1 seeded Swedish team (Martin Appelgren & Simon Bohman – they are also the Swedish team for the Olympics). It is a fast moving game, and the teams were matching each other point for point. Tommy and Maisie were quite gripped (particularly when the ball sailed out into the watching crowd!). Tommy was cheering for the Aussies, Maisie for the Swedes, until the latter lost the upper hand, at which point she switched allegiance! The home crowd was, of course, thrilled when the Aussies won!
The children were flagging by 4pm, so we headed home. Maisie was so exhausted that she was in bed by 6pm! I headed out to Northcote, to attend another interesting musical event curated by Bianca. It was a ‘listening party’, focussed on the ‘aural archipelago’ blog – a musical archive developed recently by young Java-based ‘DIY ethnomusicologist’ Palmer Keen, who has spent the last few years (in his words) ‘wandering the vast archipelago of Indonesia to find, document, expose and promote little-known traditional musics around the country’.
Palmer presented video highlights from his blog – intricate gong-chime pieces performed by women from the matrilineal Minangkabou ethnic group, furiously fast, loud and complex wedding-band percussion and tuned frame-drum gamelan from Lombok, interlocking frame-drum patterns (with tinny casio keyboard) from Banyuwangi, and curiosities such as the candy-floss seller’s gamelan-tuned dispensing canister (which he both plays music on and serves from) and a poor-man’s busking kendang, made from an old packing case and a few strung inner tubes, which replicated the traditional skin-covered drums surprisingly well. The videos and music were fascinating, as were Palmer’s stories of life in the field!
There were live musical examples too, performed by members of Gamelan DanAnda, and brief talks about other associated projects, including by music conservator Rosie Cook, whose work trying to reconstruct the mouldering ‘bundengan’ in the Monash music archives (collected, in the 1970s, by the ethnomusicologist Margaret Kartomi) gave rise to the Aural Archipelago collaboration and the resulting series of musical events.
The final item was a solo performance of the bundengan – we all (the considerable-sized crowd of us) had to cluster as close to the rustic instrument as possible in order to hear it, as it was only designed to be heard by an audience of one!