May 6, 2011

I am about to embark on a fortnight’s total immersion in music.  Sounds like acoustic water-boarding, but it’s a matter of choice.  The Canberra International Music Festival runs between May 11th and 22nd, and I’ve splurged on a gold pass, which means I can attend all 34 concerts, should I so choose.

I find that the ‘jet-lag’ caused by embarking on the long-distance haul triggers connections in my brain that otherwise lie dormant.  That’s once I get past the lurking feelings of inadequacy that great music always creates.  Sometimes I feel that poetry is music’s poor relation, being tied too much to meaning. But then another vodka kicks me past this, and the synapses stimulated (or created) by the baptism in sound can be put to good use, emphasising the noise that words make, and twisting meanings into improvised forms.

Here’s a little poem about the feeling that others (or Others Unseen) are somehow more perfectly creative.  (Interestingly, I searched Bigstock for an illustration combining music and snails to go with the poem, and found the image above.  It’s comforting, in a way, to know that someone else’s mind has been where mine has!):

Even snails

Peg loves looseness, envies river of sheet,
flowing down from plastic clench of beak.
Milk would carve itself into solidity, escape
sloppy white seascape into certainties of cheese.
Poet would be musician, shed sad bad husks of words,
sprout into airier art, so eary and so letterless.
Sliming through house-heavy dirt,
even snails may dream of wings.

P.S. Cottier

Update 11th May

Just returned from sitting in an exposed position  on concrete on a wet piece of rubber listening to William Barton and an organist play some interesting music. (Barton’s own composition and some Philip Glass.) But I really couldn’t concentrate or enjoy the experience, as it was just too cold.  There’s no way that concerts should be staged in Canberra at 7am at the end of Autumn.  There’s a real martyrdom for music attitude amongst some of the attendees at the Canberra International Music Festival.  I simply had to leave early as I felt I might get hypothermia.  I obviously don’t have the right attitude.  And the event was very difficult to locate for those of us who got there early, which added to my general festive spirit.

Unbelievable comment from one fellow attendee when I commented that I hoped the performance was not cancelled due to possible rain damage to the instruments: ‘Oh no, it’s only a didjeridu’. 40,000 years of culture belittled.  Hats off to you, Sir.  (Although there’s no way I would have removed my hat due to possible frost-bite.)

Previously I saw William Barton as one of the musicians in a concert at the Fitters’ Workshop featuring Sculthorpe’s Requiem, another requiem by Tomas Luis de Victoria and a setting of ee cumming’s ‘I thank you God for most this amazing day’ by Eric Whitacre.  I wasn’t too keen on the last one, perhaps because that poem is so near perfect that the music seemed, for once, to detract from its beauty.

The event was co-sponsored by the Spanish Embassy.  A Spaniard (I think she was, anyway) pointed out that there were several red-backs nestling at the edge of the concrete of this old industrial building, including one enormous one.  I agreed that it was better to leave them alone, rather than stir them up into possible vengeance (a pun about red-backs and bulls was stifled on my tongue).  I found myself explaining how the really big ones are female.  I hadn’t expected to become a junior David Attenborough at the concert, I must admit.  No doubt she’ll have a story to tell back in Spain: (‘..and they have horrible spiders, even at musical venues…’)

There was a lot of talk at the concert about how this venue is the best acoustically in Canberra, if not Australia, and how it should be preserved for music.  The ACT Government has decided to move the Megalo print-works there instead.  This is, according to one speaker, a tragedy or a disaster (I know he said one of these, but I can’t recall which one.  It may even have been catastrophe.)*  No, what has happened in Japan or NZ or Queensland is a tragedy or a disaster.  A print-works getting the building is not a tragedy.  It just means that another art-form has won out in this case.  I hate the misuse of words in this way; it really cheapens the points being made.  We all do it in casual conversation, but this was a prepared statement.  I am not, admittedly, qualified to speak about the acoustics, but I was alienated by the tone of the comments.  There’s a bit of a campaign on, I see, to keep the venue for music, and some of the letters in The Canberra Times are rather snide (although I haven’t noticed the word ‘tragedy’ or ‘disaster’ yet).

I wonder how the spiders processed the music, or if they even register it at all? Probably it vibrates through their bodies, particularly the drums, organ and the didjeridu.  I wonder if they’ll miss the noise, when the venue becomes a printery?  Just tragic, really.


*Update 13th May

The word used by the speaker, Don Aitkin, was disaster.  I checked in a written copy of the speech which was made available at a concert last night.  The story has migrated to the front of The Canberra Times, although the article also deals fairly with the needs of the Megalo print-works.  A point I have not seen made by anyone is how the building is flooded by light through enormous glass windows: as important an element to the visual arts, I would think, as acoustical quality is to music.


Update 2nd June

Looking back on the festival, I would not buy another ‘gold pass’ for nearly $500, despite some of the music being memorable.  There was just too much talk before the concerts, much of it repetitive.  And, after investing what was, for me, a considerable sum, I didn’t appreciate the frequent appeals for generosity in the form of sponsoring a performance.

Next year I’ll just attend one or two concerts that seem particularly interesting, and hope that that number of speeches proves (almost) tolerable.

Thoughts? Carrots? Sticks? Comments? Go ahead!

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