Saturday, May 2, 2009

Shirley Avenue on Swanston Street

I know you all know this, but I'll say it anyway, because it struck me again tonight just how much our appreciation of music is influenced by how we listen. What place do we listen from? What are we thinking? Where are our head and hearts?

Tonight at Melbourne Town Hall, Paul Grabowsky played his piece Shirley Avenue, commissioned by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and played with an interesting band... Niko Schauble (drums), Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Genevieve Lacey (recorders).

It was a Friday night concert and Friday night is always interesting from a listening point of view because the working week has drained me. I'm always tired on a Friday night... and tonight was no exception so I closed my eyes from time to time in order to listen better, though I was fascinated by the grand organ and could not resist craning to see it from time to time.

And I should mention here that as a punter I really appreciated Paul's wry "You've been very patient," comment as he started the concert. We'd just been treated by some breathless speechettes by three lispy whispy girls associated in various ways with the jazz festival and a speech by a City of Melbourne councillor whose enthusiasm outweighed her ability to read or pronounce. Clap clap clap. Now let's hear some music.

Shirley Avenue is a tribute to the street in suburban Glen Waverley that Paul Grabowsky used to live on. We started with the organ. Notes so high they would have made my cat's ears flatten back and her eyes go all starey (she's asleep near the fan on my computer as I write this so she pops into mind... I can't help it!)

A few minutes in I recognised this as music I wanted to be in. I wanted it in headphones or to lie between two speakers on my loungeroom floor, surrounded by the sounds.

This was dark prose; the round woodwind sounds of the recorder rendered a dark forest. Scott, Niko and Paul play so wonderfully together and Genevieve's sounds added a layer of beauty that fit beautifully (from where I sat) with the piece. It was fascinating to hear the difference between Paul's touch on the organ and that of Chris Abrahams when I heard The Necks at that wonderful The Necks Unplugged concert in the same venue a couple of years ago. I was intrigued by now and decided to travel out to Shirley Avenue sometime soon. If it as this music decribes, it is a street in a dark forest, a road to where the wild things are.

Scott's trumpet, which he played for a little while in water, evoked summer... further enhanced by what else was going on including a recording of [tune forgotten] over the trumpet. Somewhere in there was a shift from light and happy backyard swimming pools and sprinklers of youth to something darker but still wet. Nursery rhymes and the happy shouts of children at play... but the darkness never far away.

I told you I was tired.

Driving home, much later and I had heard a great deal of music in the intervening hours but Shirley Avenue had stuck with me. I want to hear it again. Up close, in headphones. If nothing else because I could hear in it my own childhood. Even the choice of a recorder--which may have been a purely musical decision--rocketed me back to 1969 when I started school, picked up and played a recorder for the first time and started my philatelic collection (now long gone) with an enormous commemorative stamp of man's first walk on the moon.

Like I said, we bring ourselves to what we hear, I guess. And I still want to hear it again.

1 comment:

tonybrown said...

I began listening begrudgingly. I didn't come to see and
hear Grabowsky but to hear some great and delicate jazz
two legends (Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell with Ethan
Iverson in Trio). It was a premiere of his piece Shirley
after his childhood suburban home. It was full of
streetscape and clever eloquence, Rolf Harris like broad
strokes and autobiographical notes on growing out of
innocence. But I was annoyed. I recognised and drew on
Lux Aeterna from 2001 A Space Odyssey and Philip Glass's
Koyaanisqatsi and just kept thinking "support act, grumble
grumble". So I stopped listening and then sort of thought
"well I'll just sit with this, I've sat with worse" (I
a CAT scan guided biopsy tomorrow and they have to go
through my liver. they've done it before and it's going
Then I could feel it starting. He came into the first of
the dark passages. Really dark. I could feel a tingle
welling up inside of me and it rose to my face. I flushed
and tears started to well up. I was completely at sea,
lost in this strange music and unable, unwilling to think,
only that this had been coming. (I haven't really let out
much since I realised that I have some years of
uncertainty ahead of me between 3 monthly visits to the
oncologist) So I stayed with it, just being in the hall
with the music. I could feel the music shift and warp, I
looked across to the recorders and trumpet, the drums woke
me from time to time but I kept being drawn back to the
organ, that behemoth and Grabowsky. I heard TV crackles
and sputnik, wars and the loss of innocence and just found
myself in my ability to recognise metaphors and with that
over intellectualisation I could feel emotion slipping
from me. But it wasn't done, with each new passage into
darkness the sadness came stronger and stronger until I
crying and wondering "what is this, what key is this that
opens me up so easily when I can't do it for myself". And
he collapsed into a deep and discordant heap, and the
music stopped and I was pulled up short and shocked. And
it really came. I couldn't speak. I couldn't leave my
seat but I wanted to get out. But I wanted more music,
of IT. To hear it again. To hear more of it. To tell
I did get out and found friends but shrank back against
the wall, still a mess, still crying. I found a basin an
wash, I got a drink, I got my gentle jazz and found warmth
in its sweetness but I'm unsettled.

Now I'm asking for a road in. There's something
here I don't understand except that I know now that
something else in music that can unlock me. I'd like to
know how to find it again.