This is what we are hearing

Silence. There was nothing to hear, I recall someone telling me, after the Black Saturday Bushfires. All those sounds we take for granted were gone. Insects. Birds. Animals, sounds of wind in leaves. Sounds of human movement. Nothing. I felt this as I was in Marysville in those early days. The soundscape had changed, and it was unnerving.

Naturally that will change. The first fly, mosquito, normally annoying, will be welcome. Birds will be back, then it will be the sounds of contractors, bulldozers, rubble being cleared.  Then there will be distant sounds, punctuated by nail guns, or power saws. And there will be the sounds of people getting together. The sound of human contact and connection.

We’ve also heard the trolls under the bridge, the furious unpunctuated, capitalised clacking of keyboards. Its an ugly sound. You have to switch off. On early morning walks with slow arthritic Archie, I took to sometimes walk mindfully. I listen to and catalogued the sounds of the suburb. The various birds, the roar of a distant highway, a train horn, a snatched conversation. What you think is a peaceful morning, is quite a cacophony, once you start to hearing it. No wonder the eerie silence of post disaster is disconcerting.

Other times, I’ll listen to music. As people know, music is important to me. I don’t really play an instrument (well major chords on a guitar, badly, and that much misaligned instrument, the clarinet, the instrument of every loser kid cos it was cheap and plentiful), I don’t understand the theory of it, but  I just listen a lot to music, and use it for many purposes. Mostly it is to calm, to get lost in. Sometimes its to “fire up”. Or to have a bit of a boogie. Sometimes it is to concentrate. Nik Bartsch has this ritual funk music that I use to focus, to write quickly, and develop complex pieces of thought. The latest piece of advice to our Bushfire Funds Panel was written to his Module 4.

I’ve written previously about my obsession with disaster songs. This little known area of disaster research is a fascination for me. How we represent disasters culturally is interesting, whether through newspaper songs (as Paul Kelly calls them) or protest songs (listen to Chuck D tear holes in the Katrina response). There’s a whole bunch of them here on Spotify, if you are interested.

I read with interest yesterday of a bushfire album that is being curated by Julia Stone, and featuring some of my favourite artists. Some cracking artists and cracking songs. I do wonder if Streets of your town was a deliberate pick, given its theme of domestic violence, and of course, noting the prevalence of domestic violence in the aftermath of disaster. I look forward to this album.

Through this summer, I’ve listened to a lot of different music. Most of it has been more contemplative, as I, like us all, have confronted altered realities. I’ve leaned heavily on Max Richter, Hania Rani, Philip Glass, The Necks. Repetition and rhythm has been important, and comforting. A playlist my good mate Francis did for me has been so helpful, its eclectic mix surprising me and nourishing me. Another good mate, Stevie gave me Archie Roach’s latest on vinyl, with the express purpose of “caring for the carers”. Now, if there was ever a definition of resilience, it is Archie Roach. What he has been through, and is able to conjure such uplifting music, is just phenomenal. I have also seen some extraordinarily uplifting music live, Of Monsters and Men, David Byrne, the Friends of David McComb. Music to fill up your heart and burst it.

Finally, importantly,  Paul Kelly has written a lament, a call to action about climate change. One of his famous newspapers songs. As we have seen with this blackest of summers, the future is here. This is the song of the summer for me. Time to wake up.

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