A recent article in the Huffington Post talked of a project by Japanese artist, Koshi Kawachi. Tracing an outline of the world around him and punctuating the pinnacles and troughs along it with strategic dots, Kawachi transposed what was laid out before him into music, the pitch rising and falling with the undulating level of the marked points. And from this representation of the skyline emerged a very simple yet unique tune: a topographical tune, the outline of an area of Japan mapped musically in a way not too far removed from a songline.
This caught my attention for a multitude of reasons. Our own continent is woven by an invisible network of songlines, after all, which continue to exist extremely effectively as communication and navigational highways and which did so long before google maps tried to conquer cartography and squash the arguably potential romance in ever getting lost. But Kawachi was not trying to communicate anything deeper than a musical translation of the mountains and cityscape of Sapporo, as he saw it laid out before him. And rather than being a song cycle carrying thousands of miles and shared between clans, his was the work of one person, starting and ending there.
More than anything, it was the beauty in the simplicity of Kawachi’s idea which inspired me and got me to thinking… a dangerous thing, late on a Thursday afternoon when there’s nothing in the house for dinner.
From the urban landscapes of our cities and townships to the wilds of the promontories and coastlines; the green rolling hills, mountains and wide open expanses in between, we each occupy very different spaces with which to identify and call home. And dotted across all these regions are singing groups telling stories through song, weaving communities together and creating a network, via which to communicate.
So as Thursday wore on, my imagination became fired until I arrived at the point of suggesting we borrow Kawachi’s idea of mapping in music, the variety and diversity of what our respective regions represent to us, physically and emotionally. The outline of a favourite view, a place of deep personal meaning, or just the familiar, and combining this with the idea of a song carried across the land with each community reached, owning a part of it.
If singing groups spanning the length and bredth of Victoria were to write a simple song with a tune defined by the rise and fall of local chimney pots, lone gums, sharp bends, dense forests, gullies, or whatever affects and appeals to us from the uniqueness of our surroundings and connects us to our little piece of earth, then perhaps we can devise a song cycle of our own.
Shared across the statewide singing community, we could create a cycle stretching from Mallacoota to Mildura, from Wodonga to Warracknabeal and everywhere else around and about, in any old geographical way. Sitting here in a chilly house by myself, I dream of this taking shape and of a massed sing of all our skylines, and it warms my heart. Would we be able to identify the region from which a song came? How varied would the resulting songs sound? Does this idea, in fact, sound bonkers? We won’t know until we try, so come on, how about it? Let’s get Victoria singing Victoria!*
*If you feel inspired to take up this idea in your singing group and have time to make it happen, please send us your song, we’d love to hear it! (firstname.lastname@example.org) We’ll share any songs we receive on the CMVic blog, and see what unfolds.
Article by Deb Carveth, Online editor for Community Music Victoria