Sunday, May 26, 2013

VIVID Blade Runner concert

Opera House - reptilian eyeSince I last wrote about Sydney’s VIVID festival four years ago, the winter event has increased its scope and audience numbers. The area around Circular Quay is choked with a mass of people taking in the kinetic light sculptures and audio-visual displays projected onto office blocks and the sails (or orange peelings) of the Opera House.
Circular Quay VIVID - from Opera House
This evening we’re off to see a special concert,  the Heritage Orchestra performing Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner at the Sydney Opera House. I’ve had a small obsession with the music since I saw the film in its original release 30 years ago, and through two subsequent re-cut cinema releases; the last of which was in 2007 just before I left the UK. If I’d lingered a while longer in London, I’d have certainly been at the original Heritage Orchestra performance, not imagining any more would follow. Munson was at my first recorded home performance of the love theme, which left me feeling more exposed than my one and only Opera House exhibition.VIVID Customs House
Gustav and I bussed to the city, slowed at the end of the journey by an amazing amount of traffic generated by people who thought they could just drive into the heart of one of the busiest places on the continent to watch a free open air spectacle. The first display was a projection into the front of Customs House on the quay, cleverly customised to the architecture of the facade, so that windows seemed to pop out and shift into new positions.

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Some displays were human-scaled, allowing direct interaction, yet back-dropped by arcade-game like projections onto skyscrapers. The big draw was the west face of the Opera House, the subject of a kaleidoscopic variety of images, textures and animations fired onto its concert surface from across the Quay.
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House of GustavsHouse of mirrors (2)Gustav and Michael
A walk-in “cube of mirrors” stationed beside the Opera House drew our attention for a while, but you  couldn’t help but turn your gaze back to the building itself, especially when we standing on one of its outdoor viewing points before the concert.
The concert itself was a marvellous hour and a half opportunity to focus on the film’s music away from the dialogue, with just the memories of plot and action to place the score’s themes. The only annoyance was someone sitting near the front with a cell-phone on, generating feedback to the stage monitors. As the audience filed out, I heard someone comment with a trace of sarcasm that Vangelis was very prescient in anticipating these sounds in his 1982 score.Heritage Orchestra and vocal soloists
Gustav is assimilated - the eyes are the first to go close-up

Sunday, May 19, 2013

HUNTER VALLEY Horses to hors d’oeuvres

After lunch, Pierre supplied driving directions to Prof Paul McGreevy’s horse- and dog-filled property. It was through Paul that I got to know Pierre and many of the other people I would be seeing this weekend. I hadn’t seen him since around the time of the launch of his book A Modern Dog’s Life.
P1130432  today's silly dog will be...
roadside roo
Our outdoor excursions were a lot of fun, but some of the reunions in the evening really capped the day for me. I hadn’t seen Lynn (below, admiring Munson) since I moved to Seattle fifteen years ago, and was thrilled to pick up with her as if it had been but a week gone by. Pierre’s Swedish neighbours also dropped by to reassure Gustav that he wasn’t alone in the bush.
Lynn and Munson
  Munson guards Paul's cheesekitchen life



For day two of our country outing, we were taken out of the comfortably spacious “back yard” for a ninety minute walk around some of the much larger property, almost all undeveloped bushland, yet bearing some traces of habitation from colonial times. As the Irish immigrants on my mother’s side poured into the country through the early part of the nineteenth century, many of them moved north of Sydney, occupying the Hunter Valley and then sweeping through the northwest of modern-day NSW.

A few hundred million years before that, the weather and landscape of this area was considerably different. Everywhere we walk now there are hundreds of leaf fossils exposed in weathered sedimentary rocks.
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With their trained eyes, Scott and Pierre were able to point out some of the variety of trees on this land. One might be forgiven for thinking there was one of each of the hundreds of eucalypt species along out path. More distinctive still are the grass trees, seen here towering over Gustav.

While I grew up in rural NSW, mostly in small farming communities, there wasn’t much exposure to native flora outside of the rare science-class excursion or orienteering sports day. Since the latter favoured speed over observation, one saw the bush as more a blur of grey-green than a fascinating environment.
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Munson’s favourite experience was almost certainly the shallow pond that he nearly drained as he lapped at different corners.
more fossils
Once more, lunch under the trellis.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

HUNTER VALLEY Give me a home among the gum trees

P1130341My friend Pierre hails from Pau in the southwest of France, about 100 minutes’ drive from our Gascon farm. While I sojourned in France, he made a home in the Hunter Valley, also about 100 minutes’ drive from my Sydney home. He’s invited us up for a rural weekend, where we’ll meet his partner Scott, and a bunch of friends I haven’t seen in years.
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P1130330The house and grounds are nestled on a rural subdivision south of Cessnock, off a  just-accessible road for a regular sedan. We’re late for lunch due to an interminable slow down on the highway because of a broken down truck blocking a lane only a few kilometres from our exit. No matter, the scenery quotient goes up as we wind through the back roads, and ultimately find ourselves at a table beneath a leafy trellis.
The grounds are divided up into a variety of garden themes and colours, with a small parade of peacocks and peahens grabbing Munson’s attention. He’s interested in watching them closer, but a few years of free range farm chickens have muted the urge to chase.
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Today we’re quite content to explore within the fenced areas, with so much exotic flora for Gustav to sample, and a world of non-quarantine scents for Munson to digest. The house is run “off grid” with all solar power and various ingenious systems for conserving and recycling resources.
IMG_4533  Pierre and Munson are re-acquainted

Friday, May 17, 2013

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder


I feel a hot wind on my shoulder.

Usually this would be a reference to Munson standing by the bed, breathing quietly but regularly to alert me to the danger of fire or flood (from aforesaid malamute’s bladder). Today however I’m talking of the opening line to Mexican Radio ( lyrics, video) , biggest hit song of the band Wall of Voodoo when their frontman was Stan Ridgway.

I didn’t think any more of this music until years later when I encountered Stan’s solo album Anatomy in Seattle. I’d started developing a taste for some of the darker Americana roots music through Seattle band The Walkabouts, Chris Isaak and Texan vocalist Cassell Webb, and Stan’s idiosyncratic noir-ish story-songs really caught hold with me. More recently I introduced Gustav to the now-defunct Norwegian band Midnight Choir who mined the same territory, with production assistance from Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts.  Reflecting more on the musical path that led me to exploring Stan Ridgway’s later work, I must also nominate This Mortal Coil’s reworkings of psychedelia-tinged Americana from Tim Buckley, Alex Chilton et al. Goth country anyone? Or are we just talking Nick Cave and the resurgence of pirate ballads?

Tonight Stan and his touring band are appearing at the Factory Theatre, only a short walk from where we live. I’d booked tickets for the concert even before I’d left France. Gustav and I fronted up at the Factory a few minutes before the 7:30 start time and milled around for an age at the outdoor bar. There would be a support act, but for now they were just billed as “and friends”, meaning they hadn’t been decided at the time the concert series was booked.

We didn’t discover who they were until a few songs into their act. They were a local Americana-ish act, who I thought were called Chowder Whores, but this was later clarified as Charlie Horse. They didn’t start well but I grew into them over the course of their set.
Stan started delivering from the beginning. With a repertoire stretching back over three decades I was not sure if he was going to present any of my favourites. It would almost be inevitable that Mexican Radio got trotted out late in the show along with his great cover version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire but I was most happy when he performed Mission Bell, the first track of Anatomy. He also improvised a few songs or engaged in dreamy monologues over his wife Pietra Wexstun’s keyboards, his distinct vocal delivery riding over the chords of a Satie Gymnopedie. I must say his live sound is eerily close to his recordings, although considerably embellished by his hilarious asides to the audience between songs and instrumental covers of Ennio Morricone.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shirt and tie

I started a new job yesterday.

Half way through the day in fact.  Since last week I’ve thrice had coffee or lunch with the guy who runs an office in my street who I’ve known for fifteen years. He’s been courting me to come work for him, doesn’t care that I have no formal industry experience, just believes in me. After today’s lunch at a nice cafe around the corner, where I negotiated a starting salary, we walked back to the office. I was introduced to the team and started immediately.

Today I’m in shirt and tie for work for the first time in about twenty years. While most of my clothing drifts slowly across the ocean in my furniture I’ve got three passable shirts and a single tie in my luggage which will at least get me started. Last night I borrowed an iron and ironing board from my friend Phil up the street and did more ironing in one session than at any other time this millennium.

It’s all a bit of a shock to the system, but I can’t complain about the commute. It’s about the same distance as walking to the pond by the house on the French farm.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Travels in space and time

Yes yes, we've all been travelling with a mad man

A Doctor Who pop-up store has been operating in Newtown since Thursday. The long lines outside the store indicated that, rather disappointingly, it was not bigger on the inside. It wasn’t until this afternoon that I saw an opportunity to look inside and see anything but thirty people trying to squeeze around the items on display.

How do Daleks serve tea?Munson hung around outside with Gustav, under the watchful view of a Dalek and the Doctor’s erstwhile companion K-9. Munson already knows what it’s like to follow someone around through space and time for years, so he rapidly got bored of the whole thing.

I feel like I’ve walked around most of space and time this week. On Thursday I lost my wallet and spent Friday morning cancelling and replacing cards. I was very impressed by being able to replace my driver’s license within fifteen minutes of walking into a motor registry, waiting and photo-time included.

Last night I had a call from IKEA to say that it had been handed-in (I figured I’d dropped it in their carpark) and so I walked to the store to collect it this morning. It’s just over three kilometres away and a brisk walk got me there in twenty-five minutes. Everything was there but the cash I’d just withdrawn. Most importantly I retrieved a couple of Bondi’s claws that I’ve carried around for the last few years.

While I mention that IKEA is less than a half-hour’s walk away, thus putting salt lakrits within Gustav’s grasp, I’ve been trying to work out what lies within the 700 metres of my house that would correspond to walking to the letter box on the farm in France. Aside from having one of the best coffee roasters I’ve ever encountered within 200m, there are two Thai restaurants, a pizzeria (as yet untested), a new indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool, theatre, weekend markets and a major comedy/music performance venue. On the downside, there’s a lot more noise, less personal space at home, no mountain views or pond full of frogs, and no children to ask me how my day has been.

Le Bake - Just like France, without le pain