Lines of Flight (Part 2)
Aramoana is a small seaside settlement fifteen minutes drive 'round a placid inlet from Port Chalmers, "The Port" itself being a further twenty min trip from the city of Dunedin. It's a lovely little spot, idyllic even. A few dozen cribs - holiday bungalows, generally ramshackle and typically painted in weird, end-of-line knock-down-priced pastel tones - are scattered about, yards full of rusting dinghies and clapped out vans. A criss-cross of worn-out streets run between them, markings faint and grass ever-encroaching from the edges. A goat will be seen near an intersection, tethered with a chain and nibbling at these same verges. A long-dry storm water ditch is full of dead leaves and the spidery tops of a nearby hedgerow. On this day, a woman is crawling in the depression; an octogenarian and both hips recently replaced, her head down and her body as flat to the ground as the most drilled of assault-course competitors, she is hauling herself through the debris and across the surface of the earth with both hands. The fire-cracker chatter of small arms fire is heard and rounds periodically zip into the road and the litter around her, occasionally screaming away in ricochet.
"Out of the Blue" is a new movie based on the massacre of November 1990, the day of infamy when David Gray, a resident of the town who flipped his lid and for 30 or so hours stalked the settlement with an armload of semi-automatic weapons, shooting at anything that moved - killing thirteen adults and children in the process - before himself finally being shot by police. Down and straight into the histories as the country's worst mass-murderer he goes. (Not to mention being immortalised by The Chills in their own inimitably-twee way in the song "Strange Case" on their 1992 album "Soft Bomb". "Never trust a man in camouflage gear", indeed.) I saw "Out of the Blue" last week, almost directly after I had penned part one of this report
. The above description is taken straight from the film. Back and forth she went, carrying messages and hope to a mortally wounded man lying in the street near her house, until night well and truly falls on Aramoana.
I only mention all this because the scene reminded me instantly of the public performance art I witnessed on my second day in Dunedin; a man (Auckland artist Mark Harvey) hauling himself and his water bucket along George street using only a pair of toilet plungers. He would periodically moisten the plungers and with a great thwocking
sound, slam them onto the pavement and exhaustedly haul himself nearer his non-apparent destination. "Hmmm" thinks I - as I believe I noted in pt. 1 - "fucking students, eh?" And then in that darkened cinema I'm chilled at the recognition, and disgusted, thinking how performance art really is the most utterly out-of-time nonsense; the last gasping conceit of the academy's elite bourgeoisie; throwing only impenetrable moves; utterly and offensively pointless flummery. And of course I have subsequently wrestled for days with the horrible thought that experimental music is no better than performance art - indeed that it IS performance art - think about it - and what the hell am I doing being part of the problem, sitting typing in my dark room like this, my sole aim to mythologize Lines of Flight, 2006, New Zealand's Pre-Eminent Festival of Experimental Music and Film to a point of near hysteria.
For now I really need to move on, though, as (a) this is so not the appropriate forum to continue such a train, (b) 'nuff angst, 'innit, and (c) anyhow, I myself reckon that experimental music trounces performance art to the point of a fucken down-trou and a stinging lashing of its exposed buttocks precipitating a humiliating involuntary pissing of its own pants; the music wins hands down because I really, sincerely do believe that somehow - and often despite its seemingly deliberate obfuscation - the music connects with the audience in a manner that the perf. art does not, can not and never really could. (Notice how I don't seem to be able to write more than a couple thousand words without bringing pissing and/or shitting into it; I may have to mention this to my doctor; I wonder if there's still a local chapter of Coprophagists Anonymous in operation; etc.)
So. Saturday morning found me up excruciatingly early and braving the unknowns of Dunedin public transport to brunch on superb eggs benedict and delightful pot of tea at Modaks Coffee Shop. In attendance were the same Stump and the same Cat Motel (see end of pt. 1), as well as an Eso Steel. Repaired to Dunedin Farmers Market down at the railway station, from whence a bottle of Johnz Black Cherry Liqueur was procured - said liqueur is well fine and still in gainful employ souping-up dishes of ice-cream at every fortuity - and then to Milford Galleries where new show by local art bad-boy James Robinson was viewed. Comments such as "so angry", "ooooh I don't like this at all" and "I don't have a problem with mental illness, but.. y'know.. does he have to be so in yer face with it" overheard in abundance from 40-something Saturday morning art-gallery squares. Considered fist-fighting the lot of them, but suddenly it was 12.45 and time to git oor asses up the road to Arc Café for quick beers and then mini-buses to Port Chalmers.
Deconsecrated buildings are always special places for music, and it would seem that the Masonic Lodge in Port Chalmers is no exception. Ancient and wooden, with groaning floorboards and a menagerie of musty furniture, its single window is paned with blue glass and with the house lights extinguished, the place is flooded with the most serene azure glow. It is a remarkable venue to hold the type of activity for which we were there - not to mention practicing secret handshakes and silly walks - and the entire afternoon's proceedings were automatically imbued with a palpable austerity.
Zoë Drayton's isyd project opened proceedings in perfectly reverent style, her ephemeral electronic tones raised in gentle opposition to the gathering gloom of a shitty afternoon rainstorm. Floated, they did, those tones, right up into the little mezzanine balcony where I was sitting and floating and watching and wondering why my mind was even bothering to resist the soporific beauty of it all. Hangovers actually do rule, sometimes. Eve Gordon was on the light-show again, this time dangling fuzzy, out-of-focus and sometimes-sectionalised quadrilaterals of pure light about the wall behind Drayton in the most enchantingly appropriate manner. Lovely Midget (Rachel Shearer) followed with her trademark gorgeous laptop drones, with by partner Guy Treadgold on barely-there percussion and their daughter on generally running around, crying "Mummy mummy mummy" a lot, and trying her damndest to join in. (Give her twenty years and no doubt she'll be rocking LOF 2226.) Lovely Midget's set was unfortunately plagued by technical woes, but it's a testament to her greatness as a musician that she was able to persist and eventually triumph over them. Shearer's accompanying films – heart-stoppingly slowed handicam and archival film footage - were also very, very pretty and we should all hope and pray there will be a DVD release of some sort to take home and relive those special moments with.
Eye is a veritable super-group of locals, ex-pats and ex-ex-pats, and includes Peter Stapleton (fer godssake: Victor Dimisich Band, Pin Group, Scorched Earth Policy, Dadamah, Terminals, Handful of Dust, Rain, Sleep, Flies Inside the Sun and so on), Nathan Thompson (Sandoz Lab Techs, Sleep), Peter Porteous (Empirical, amongst others) and Ryan Cockburn (SPIT). They closed the Port Chalmers afternoon session with their free-improv-rock in the staunchly trad Dunedin style, but with very up-to-the-minute instrumentation - guitar and drums, sure, but also featuring samples, laptop, and turntables. From their film was taken the image at the top of pt. 1 of this feature - an ominous long shot of Paris filmed from the Eiffel Tower shows a security camera in the close foreground, panning about endlessly. They were able to brilliantly support this with their shambolic instrumental storytelling, punctuated on occasion by Peter Stapleton's roaring, thunderous drum rolls. The second of these was so loud, so prolonged, and so fucking powerful that I had to stumble out, ears aflame, into the street. From there I could hear the rest of the band pick up once again and play awhile longer; how they were able to do so - after what was to me the aural equivalent of having both legs sliced off with a chainsaw while still standing - I believe I will never know; I applaud them heartily for it.
Most New Zealanders can never visit Aramoana without shivering. An almost unbearable sense of weighty awe and dread settles over you as you round the final bend and drive into the town, slowing to the regulation tourist-crawl. A small group of us visited following the afternoon's session, and I know I tried to put history out of my mind, but I simply could not. It had started to pelt with rain as we approached the town, and I watched the thick grey clouds for lightening claps, my head still roaring with Peter Stapleton's stupefying tattoo. We cruised the streets awhile, in relative silence, imagining that we were passing the vacant section where Garry Holden's home once was - Holden was David Gray's first victim, and Gray set the house alight after shooting him, burning alive Holden's daughter and her friend - and the adjacent property where the shootist's crib stood and following the massacre was burnt to the ground by the surviving residents. We visited Aramoana spit proper, and braved the rain and the whipping wind awhile; the rain eased and we climbed a dune and looked over the township and across to the Heads. Then we turned and with dark hearts headed back to Dunedin, for beers and dinner. The evening session - once again at the Art Gallery - loomed near in our futures.
Richard Francis put on his Eso Steel suit to open the second Art Gallery show. Eso Steel is to me all about the minutae of processed sounds; crackles and hums; tics and blooms of noise; an esoteric repackaging of industrial noise, if you will. Francis stood during his set and perversely faced the screen on which his film - another longform single-shot marathon, totally suited to the sound and vice versa - was projected; a nice move by a thoughtful musician. Alistair Galbraith followed, playing with Maxine Funke and Dino Karlis. Galbraith and Funke laid down Dream Syndicate-style stringed drones using violin and viola, while - to be frank - Karlis fussed around on the drums far too much and appeared to be mostly lost for what to do. I was reminded of another time in another band when I was very close to confiscating my drummer's tambourine, shakers, cowbell, brushes, bamboo-sticks and mallets until he started listening to the rest of group, and stopped trying to be John McEntire out of Tortoise.
Ray Off is the project of United Fairy Moons' guy James Currin and his shifting collective of musicians. They played the most theatrical performance - in a chiefly avante-garde sense, really - of the entire weekend; this combined supernaturally well with Kim Pieter's accompanying film and I was literally overwhelmed with emotion during their set. Of course, I was overloading everything with my own interpretations of the sorrowful music and the ominous juxtaposition of light and dark imagery in the film - and this I confirmed by quizzing the filmmaker and musicians and other audience members following - but nonetheless it was a stunningly moving show and one of my personal highlights.
A Handful of Dust eschewed the film connection. Bruce Russell, in his advancing years, claimed poor eyesight and he and Alistair Galbraith instead played with tasteful and strategic spots lighting them. I'm not entirely sure that Mr. Russell wasn't actually playing some disingenuous game, but that could just be wishful thinking. Either way they pulled off one of the greatest and most coherent H.o.D. sets I ever dang heard. Galbraith fussed with amplified wine glasses and a violin bow while Russell fooled around with an arcane electronic organ which I convinced myself was an ondes martenot but learned later was not; I cannot for the life of me remember what it actually was, but think Messiaen anyway, think playful, think birds, think powerfully complex arrhythmic interplay between the two gents. A quick changeover enabled Russell to whip out the ironing-board guitar and another enthralling duo ensued. Very, very classy. Indeed, so classy that I later had to do my best to lower the tone; first I encouraged Mr. Russell to brand my right nipple with his cheroot (he started it, mind, and wouldn't follow-through, the unashamed tease) and was then compelled to find a bar (actually Arc Café, since you asked) and drink a Champagne Portfolio, which is a simultaneous combination of two cocktails of mine own invention and involves mixing unequal amounts of cheap, dry, white sparkling wine (the cheaper, and the dryer, the better) with Stone's Green Ginger Wine and tequila.
Later, after once more finding myself up later than everyone else - and leaving James Currin and his troupe to the cruel and unusual punishment they were inflicting on passer-by in the form of karaoke - I decided a visit to the late-nite Chinese restaurant in Rattray Street was just the ticket. Upon entering I took fright at the other patrons and almost fled, but steeled myself, set down and ordered. The cashier was a dried-up husk of a woman of indiscernible ethnicity, with a colossal dyed-jet-black beehive hairdo. A hen's-night party, a group of drunken young women accompanied by an even more cut mother-figure, larged it up in the front window. A bevy of behemoth hairdressers sat, gorging themselves on huge platters of - and I shit you not - deep-fried chips all bedecked about with fried eggs. Taxi drivers gobbled on plates of implausibly large sausages. I thought momentarily I had begun hallucinating something along the lines of the hotel-lobby scene in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"; I collected my order, virtually ran out into the street to the taxi rank and shipped myself back to the Noone's. I located Smudge (remember Smudge?); we shared the food, then I made sure the little bastard was shut in the living room and I fairly slept the sleep of the intoxicated.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and I was able to spend several blissful hours with Kate and Clayton and Smudge and Orbit the dog, eating toast and watching Star Trek reruns, returning to Arc the early afternoon for the last session of the festival. Omit opened and Omit was just majestic. Ensconced behind his piles of homemade equipment, he threw down primitive rhythms made from clicks and bumps and then pummelled them with synth noise. A flying window shuffled around the screen behind him and periodically slewed itself all over him as well. I fell in love again with Omit. Adam Willetts put together a fantastic sequence of live electronics using all manner of interesting equipment, including but not limited to a PlayStation control unit, walkie-talkies, a wee battered Casio keyboard, and a laptop itself - the radiation of which he played with some kind of an EMF-pickup device - and which he used to structure an enthralling aural improvisation in several movements. Compelling and tactile stuff; Adam's releases are also worth looking out for. Audible 3 closed; their group improv book-ended the entire weekend nicely (c.f. Rory Storm and the Invaders, start of pt. 1) but brought that approach crashing into the new century with an amazing extended interplay between a bass, an old drum machine, and a man performing real-time sound manipulation on the output of both. Part way through I had truly had enough, though; exhaustion hit and it was all I could do to load our gear into the van for the journey to Dunedin airport and the trip home - a trip which lasted several hours longer than it needed to thanks to a storm seemingly out of nowhere and featuring driving rain and 100km/hr shear-winds.
I slept all day Monday and I think I'm still catching up on my sleep; in my dreams I’m there in my "spot", immersed in a reverie of flickering lights, the jumble of colour, and a hypnotic, drifting medley of sound. And despite repeated washing in the intervening weeks, I'm sure I can smell Smudge-shit on my sock.
-- Young Savage (30 October, 2006)