The heatwave powered on through the last four days of November, and I made the most of it before December crashed in with gloomy skies, chilly teen temperatures and terribly prolonged showers, some of which got the weather forecasters very excited!
On Tuesday I went on a solo trip down to lovely Rickett’s Point (see photos throughout the blog). Although it was too warm for the carpet sea-stars, plenty of other wildlife was in evidence, including a couple of inquisitive spotted doves and a delightful pair of rainbow lorikeets, fossicking for ants in a hole in a tree. There were flocks of terns perched on the outer edges of the rocky tidal shelves, and a flotilla of black swans admiring their sea-azure reflections. The rock-pools were alive with thousands of tiny creeping sea-snails, the sudden scuttles of crabs and minute crayfish darting for cover.
In the clear clean light every colour zinged – the bobbles and fronds of green/gold/pink seaweed swirling in the shallows, fragments of pearlescent abalone shell, red/gold sandy cliffs and cerise flowering succulents. The low coastal shrub cover was darting with (rarely visible) tiny trilling birds, and everything was covered with tiny flowers (mainly white and mauve) and glowing red berries. Looking down from the cliff-top path, the sea shimmered in every shade of blue. I was having such a lovely time I only just made it back in time for Maisie’s school pick-up!
On Wednesday I joined Michele and a couple of her friends for the last 11km of her Movember marathon (bringing her total distance to 400km – mostly walked/some cycled over the course of a month!). It was another gloriously hot sunny day and we power-walked down to the Brighton beach huts for a picturesque finale, stopping off afterwards for celebratory freshly-pressed juices at the Brighton sea-baths cafe. We had plenty of time for leisurely conversations as we strolled – it made me miss the good old (child-free) days of the Time Out country walks!
On Thursday night I met up with Neil’s Swedish colleague Anna-Lena who is over here working and travelling for a few weeks, and keen to see some live shows. We went to see this year’s NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) graduate performance, a presentation entitled ‘Please Hold’, which had been choreographed by the esteemed Australian dance director Kate Champion. It was a visually striking show, with some interesting soundscapes blending interviews with students and members of the public about aspirations/perceptions of circus, that also functioned as backing tracks to some of the acts.
The performers were very strong and skilled. An opening section where they all demonstrated different extended handstands, whilst being (live) interviewed was fascinating, and this was followed by some beautiful hula-hooping – both imaginatively structured, and immaculately lit (the hula hoops were in subtle metallic shades, spotlit so they sparkled like ghostly Christmas baubles when they spun). The next sequence, comprising 4 cyr wheel performers and a couple of unicyclists, was also unusual and impressive (all 4 of the large heavy metal hoops were loping around the stage at once!). One of the female cyr wheel performers’ did the splits for the whole of her routine (something I’ve not seen done before).
Later on the show lost its way a bit. The stage was crowded and hectic with running, and attempts at more contemporary dance-style moves didn’t suit the performers so well. The most successful scene symbolised the students’ leap into the real world. A low trapeze swing circled wildly around and across the stage, acrobats ducking away or leaping for it and flying above everyones heads before being dragged down to earth again. Their teamwork here was impressive, amongst all the chaotic movement, a variety of stunts were performed.
Friday saw the start of this year’s ‘Mapping Melbourne’ Festival, an annual 2-week event curated by Multicultural Arts Victoria which celebrates Asian/Australian collaborative/community arts (generally, the more experimental the better!). A number of my gamelan friends were involved in different performances, and the festival was one of the sponsors for our Gamelan DanAnda ‘I Said Neon’ new music gig that took place on Sunday night (keep reading for more on this!).
On Friday night I went down to the Testing Grounds – a square of gravel situated between the back of the Arts Centre and the entrance to a busy road tunnel bypass, which is fitted out with four temporary studio sheds, a few sun/rain shades and a bar. It is used by creators and performers to try out new stuff at their regular evening ‘art parties’. A couple of the sheds had been taken over by new ‘Mapping Melbourne’ collaborations, one of which was a performance by visual artist En En See (who did live clay paintings) and my friend Bianca, who created some beautiful live improvised soundscapes using a selection of bowed and struck gamelan instruments and prepared piano.
One of the other sheds housed a much odder collaboration! The Japanese artist Yumi Umiumare had set up a ‘pop-up tea-room’, and invited visitors to join her for a meditative cup of tea, whilst sitting in a circle of (what appeared to be) bones (they were in fact branches of cotton-wool-felted ‘coral’). I’d never taken part in a tea ceremony before so it was a treat to observe all the highly-choreographed actions close at hand (although the bright green frothy tea tasted like boiled cabbage!).
Slightly unnervingly though, just beyond the bone circle, lurked an anonymous man in a white full-body-stocking who sat very still and seemed to be observing us. It turned out that he was part of the show. Once we had finished drinking tea, we were invited to step out of the coral circle and grab a tea-cup full of runny paint which we had to chuck at him or on to a large white canvas at his feet! As we left the pavilion we were presented with a random word card. The installation was entitled ‘Con-TemporariTEA’, and all the words on the cards followed the same pattern (‘MoraliTEA, FamiliariTEA). Mine was ‘AnimosiTEA’!!
The other two pavilions were busy with unrelated projects, outside one a couple of artists were busy expressing themselves in wildly-sparking welding and exuberant clay construction, another was set up as a tiny music venue with a bar and a few chairs and a pocket-sized stage. I caught a very loud 10 minutes of a solo side-drum set – the drum had been rigged up with all sorts of trigger/touch pads which set off various synth pads and effects that quickly conjured up a banging synth-techno odyssey. The drummer was excellent and it was fantastic to begin with, but it got a bit samey after a while.
The meteorological office issued warnings of biblical rainfalls this weekend, which never really eventuated, but the incessant heavy drizzle was still impressive and led to the cancellation/rescheduling/moving of all sorts of local outdoor events and shook everything up a bit! The annual Christmas party organised by The Avenue (Tommy’s childcare) was relocated from a park to the nursery building, which made it a very noisy and cramped affair. Tommy was too overwhelmed by the crowds to leave my side for a minute so I didn’t manage to catch up with anyone (I had hoped to meet the parents of all his new buddies, but that wasn’t to be!).
Neil nobly took on the task of keeping the kids occupied indoors for the afternoon, and I headed into town, to the Big Design Market at the Royal Exhibition Building. It’s always nice to go to an event in the loftily late C19th Ally-Pally-style halls, and it turned out that the monied hipster middle classes had not been put off by the weather at all, and were out in full force to invest in cutesy Japanese ceramics, delicately-worked silver/garish sparkly perspex jewellery, boldly printed/oddly cut haberdashery/garments, organic/handmade cosmetics, beeswax foodwrap and worthy wooden/impossibly expensive children’s toys. It was all too expensive for me, but very lovely!
In the late afternoon I caught a Japanese film at ACMI. Entitled ‘Flower and Sword’, it was a lively and unusual C16th-set drama about a shy and eccentric young monk with an astonishing talent for ikebana (flower arranging). Loved by his fellow monks and the local community for his childlike joy and compassion and virtuosity with flowers, the time comes when he has to utilise these skills on behalf of the terrified townspeople to placate a local feudal lord whose grief and hunger for power have turned him into a brutal despot.
As the rain continued to fall, I headed to a basement screening room at RMIT, where the evening’s planned ‘Mapping Melbourne’ open-air showing of a new Indonesian film had been relocated to. Amazingly, the weather/venue change hadn’t deterred anyone and a big crowd had gathered. There was plenty of food and socialising and speeches before the film began, so it felt like an authentically Indonesian experience! I was particularly happy, that, on the way in (to the free showing) I was handed a free slice of chocolate martabak (pancake) – it was definitely my type of film screening!!
The film turned out to be a work in progress, a half-hour documentary on ‘Jaranan’, a type of folk trance-dance practised in East Java. Participants dance with woven wicker horses before falling into trance and behaving wildly, channelling differently-natured spirits with shamanic powers. The (young Australian) film-maker had found an interesting character in the director of the trance troupe, a middle-aged former gangster who had been called to the tradition late in life, and was convinced that the practice of this ritual in no way clashed with his Muslim beliefs (although in Indonesia it is not always perceived that way). The footage was lively and atmospheric, and the film lightly raised interesting questions about tradition/belief, religion/politics, social class, the effect of the ‘touristic’ presentation etc. which the film-makers expanded on in the Q&A following the screening. We had watched an edit they had completed that morning, and they were hoping to make it into a longer film, which I hope they get the chance to do!
Sunday was the day of our gamelan gig at the Meat Market. Neil, Maisie, Tommy and I went along in the afternoon to join in the pre-gig workshops. The venue was stunning – the old market halls are well-preserved in their vaulted glory, the black felt curtains and white-painted tracery of the iron columns a wonderful backdrop for the intricate gold carvings of the gamelan instruments.
Pak Yande (who had managed to catch the first flight out of Bali, following the volcano-caused hiatus) led a kecak (vocal monkey chant) workshop, and Maisie and Tommy did their best to join in (although Tommy was more keen to loudly shout his own instructions to me!). Maisie concentrated very hard and even mastered the swaying arm and hand movements.
After a brief bash on the gangsa Neil took the kids home and I stayed on for a session led by local multi-instrumentalist/composer Adam Simmons, who guided the participants (on kebyar instruments, gender wayang and piano) through the basic tenets of ‘Conduction’, a group improvisation technique devised in the 1970s by jazz musician Butch Morris. He showed us a dozen hand gestures, for triggering sustained/short/loud/high/low notes, repeated motifs and expansions and recapitulations, and ‘mexican wave’-type patterns circling round the ensemble. Even with a group of novices, the technique was remarkably effective, leading to the creation of some lovely, and often surprising textures. Later, in the concert, the same group of us got together and performed another live improvisation for an audience, and they were very appreciative!
Our evening concert showcased a number of brand new compositions by members of the group – some referencing traditional kebyar/other gamelan repertoire, some focussing on the sonic dissonances between western/Balinese scales, some reproducing Balinese rhythms and sounds on Western percussion. It was a fascinating programme and full of variety.
I could write enthusiastically about every piece, but that might get boring! Highlights were Jeremy’s ‘Saturation’, for 8 kebyar gangsa and 8 gender wayang, which gently explored all the sparkling harmonics of the paired ombak and clashing scales, Adam King’s ‘Phase Rotation’ a beautiful kit drum solo (with added Balinese gongs and cymbals) which explored Balinese and Indian rhythmic cycles, Jonathan Griffiths tightly focussed Reong quartet which produced some electrifying moments of shimmering brilliance, and Bianca’s powerful Piano/Voice-Gong/Trumpet trio ‘I said no’, which set an increasingly distressed expressive vocal (“I said no!”) over anxious/brash trumpet calls, rumbling gongs and dissonant grinding piano chords. Kitty Xiao affectionately referenced Debussy in her piece ‘Where we meet’ composed for alto flute, bass clarinet, piano, gong and two gangsa. After the gig, Pak Yande was asked what he thought – he said ‘It looks like gamelan. It doesn’t sound like gamelan. It isn’t gamelan’!