John Hurrell – 11 March, 2014
With the bush track performances, no electric amplification was involved, the performers were invisible as much as not, and a high percentage of sounds were delicately percussive. The presence of the musicians seemed surprising unthreatening to the feathered locals. In fact their endeavours clearly excited or encouraged avian sonic contributions, not dampen them. Instead of fleeing, creatures like stitchbirds, fantails, robins or bellbirds were attracted.
25-30 musicians and rare NZ wildlife
Sounding Tiritiri Matangi
Curated by Phil Dadson
8 March, 2014
This was an event organised to promote interest in the remarkable wildlife sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi, and the vitally important work of the volunteer Supporters of that Gulf island. It was held last Saturday, 25 years after the island was initially cleared of introduced predators and the process started of having various native species gradually brought back in.
Getting Phil Dadson involved to organise this fundraising event was a brilliant idea. He devised two types of concert: obviously not stadium affairs but very intimate, as if with family. Not much more than a hundred people total.
One concert was between 2.00 and 4.45 pm, with approximately thirty musicians spread out in small pockets, dotting three tracks within and around the native bush at the island’s southern end. The other was a more conventional (birdfree) concert (6.00 - 8.15 pm) on the lawn at the base of the nearby lighthouse (and Diaphonic Foghorn) overlooking Chinamans Bay. The weather and bush/sea vistas were stunning.
With the bush track performances, no electric amplification was involved, the performers were invisible as much as not, and a high percentage of sounds were delicately percussive. The presence of the musicians seemed surprisingly unthreatening to the feathered locals. In fact their endeavours clearly excited or encouraged avian sonic contributions, not dampen them. Instead of fleeing, creatures like stitchbirds, fantails, robins or bellbirds were attracted. That there was the occasional honeywater feeder in the vicinity helped encourage their interest.
Amongst the amazing musicians performing in the clearings and trees, one could spot and/or hear (ex-From Scratch) Don McGlashan on his euphonium, Tom Rodwell on stunningly intricate slide guitar, Nigel Gavin on a bamboo-piped Chinese ‘harmonica’, Rui Inaba on his thunderous tape-repaired double bass, and Adrian Croucher on a ‘Tubophone’ of bike parts.
With over two dozen exemplary musicians performing it was impossible to hear all of them in three hours, even if you sprinted. You could get only a taste as the paths were long and windy, and of course with the music being so good you’d want to loiter anyway. Therefore the second concert at the lighthouse gave you a better overall picture of the various talents at hand. Some of the contributors I can remember from Christchurch jazz clubs in the seventies (Jim Langabeer), or travelling Split Ends and Split Enz concerts (Tim Finn) - plus there were stalwarts of the current Auckland improv scheme like Jeff Henderson and Dadson himself.
What surprised was the range of musical styles being presented: the generosity of Dadson’s interests and those of his colleagues. In the two hours before they informally marched (New Orleans style) down the low hill to inspire a contribution from the adjacent foghorn, the various musicians presented a vibrant mix of tunes from Gershwin (Summertime), Monk (Epistrophy), Newman (Burn On), Finn (Dirty Creature), McGlashan (C2006P1 [Make yourself at home]) and much, much more. My favourite was a tune that started as a discordant, lurching, freeform cacophony that gradually got taken over - away from the guitar and rhythm section - by two simultaneous saxophone solos by Jeff Henderson and JY Lee. They then built up to an exhilarating ear-splitting climax only to fall back and be superseded by a raspily honking (and just as compelling) trombone solo by Ross Hurley.
The music program was fantastic, but I was also thrilled with the ornithological contributions to the day. I ended up seeing lots of stitchbirds (didn’t even know about them), bellbirds (never seen one so close before) plus I saw a saddleback, robin and morepork all for the first time. Next time I come I’m going to search for the crystalline notes of the kokako, and see if I can see discover some skinks and geckos.
This event was a great success as an appealing synthesis between culture and nature, where the human musical presence was discreet and unobtrusive. A wonderful day for those lucky enough to attend.