Mid-2007 I left Melbourne for a road trip that was to take me along the east coast of Australia. The idea was to hook up with my old pals, hang out, jam, do some recording. Nice. I’d stumbled upon former members of Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk and No More Bandicoots, even managed to track down former Private Lives bass player, Phil Munroe, over a few emails and phone messages, and ran into former Mi-Sex keyboard player, Murray Burns, in a Japanese restaurant in Byron Bay. I had ideas of encouraging all these folk from my past to co-produce individual pieces and perhaps help me join a few more musical dots along the way.
After my dear friends Mad Mark and Beth loaned, and eventually sold me a car, I drove out of Melbourne leaving my former life behind and got as far as Mongarlow, just south of Braidwood. At Currajuggle, a property friends purchased in the early 1980’s, I settled into a tin shed and got to work on my guitar. Some lovely tunes emerged and generous fire-side jams were had out in the bush. I got healthy splitting timber for the fireplace and rummaging around the forest clearing debri and generally spending more time on my legs than my bum. A couple of months went by and I was ready to roll out, but not further up the coast – I found myself on a plane to Brazil!
I would never return in quite the same way to any where in Australia, but I would meet more musicians, hear far more music and wear out a few pairs of shoes. I wound up in Rio, then Santiago, KwaZulu-Natal, Johannesburg and Cape Town, Sarawak, Graz and Vienna, Holland, Istanbul, Kenya, Osaka and Tokyo, Kruger National Park, Suduwala Caves, Inacha Island and Maputo.
In all these places I was exposed to music I’d not experienced before. Istanbul and Cape Town stand out, but I had astounding insights every where. My palate grew and so to my desire to collaborate with many of the people I’d met… and whenever it was possible, I did what I could, performing with Benguela in Cape Town, recording for At Nel’s recent album in Johannesburg and bellowing heavily processed vocals alongside noise artist, Kelly Churko in Oichia. But how would I get everyone together? I’d no intention to create an internet experience, or rather, a networked autonomous zone. I wanted something a little more traditional, assisted by internet, but not of it.
It would take four years and a two year residency at Clifton Pugh’s Dunmoochin before I’d worked out how to make this happen, what I was driven to do and with whom I would work. A collaboration for the stuff of stars, for us, by us.
What is it?
The Collab draws its inspiration from the commons – that which we have lost, must regain access to and repair. The project draws into a single conduit over 30 years of travelling, writing, performance, production and advocacy. It reflects on the environment, the species that it supports, the people, cultures and practices that know these spaces and our need to revive our deeper associations with that which nurtures and nourishes.
In spite of all that challenges and harms us, the human spirit endures. At the heart of this collaboration is a story of people and the commons; from what the road has taught I return to it, to re-connect the dots, along with the many others who reach through the malaise to breathe hope into the Petri dish – stories of broken and liberated folk and songs for the stuff of stars.
Does it have a name?
I’ve called the project many things over the years, but these days I concern myself less about the name that what it is, what it does and how we go about doing it. Here’s a couple:
- Broken Folk for Perfect People
- Ein Augenblik (German for a moment)
How does it work?
I’ve written a bunch of tunes on guitar. First I practice the parts, improve on them and get the playing as good as I can get it. Some pieces I’ve played with friends, jamming through variations on arrangements, keys and tempo. I write up the parts as tabs for both guitar and bass, melodies and inversions for other instruments if need be.
The idea is to write up these parts in such a way that a musician of any calibre can play them. So long as they have what it takes to express themselves meaningfully, all they need do is interpret what I’ve provided as ingredients into their own approach. These are seeds, not fixed arrangements.
Eventually the song, or the composition finds it’s own pace and when it does the recording begins. Firstly, my guitar parts and if the piece has lyrics, a guide vocal. I add a cue track and mix it out as an MP3.
We use DropBox to file share amongst us all.
Those who have signed up download the DropBox software. Any files I’ve sent through will automatically be updated on everyone’s computers when they go online. These musicians will in turn upload their ideas, sometimes mixed down parts as MP3s. If these are starting to work, we’ll agree to upload higher resolution files to a separate folder so that only I will receive this material, not everyone else.
We use email to communicate with each other.
The methodology is pretty simple really.
Who’s in it?
The team so far:
- Kate Adam / Percussionist, marimba and flutes, composer / Panton Hill, Victoria, Australia
- Roy MacGregor / guitarist, song-writer, cinematographer / Cape Town, South Africa
- Adrian Symes / saxophonist, keyboards, artist, video producer / Bathurst, NSW, Australia
- Karen Higgs / Singer, song-writer, internet activist / Montevideo, Uruguay
- Tor Fredhiem / Guitarist, singer / Hobart, Tasmania
- Chip Wardale / Bass guitarist, percussionist, artist / Coburg, Melbourne, Australia
- Nyck Jeanes / Guitarist, singer, song-writer, hope machine / Costa Rica
- David Nerlich / Composer, guitarist, singer, writer, director / Sydney, Australia
- Steve Law / Keyboards, synthesis, composer / Melbourne, Australia
Many more have been invited… I expect this list to expand as the project deepens.
What are they doing?
At the time of writing not everyone’s using DropBox. For instance, I’ve been rehearsing, performing and recording individually with Kate, Tor and Chip. Steve’s on holidays, Nyck’s on the road, Karen’s working on several internet rights campaigns and David’s waiting for me to send him a brief.
Roy’s sent through some gorgeous, meandering guitar on Cape Congo, a piece I’d started writing in Cape Town. Cape Congo merges Congalese soukous guitar harmonies with a light South African rhythms and a gamelan scale that in fact weaves through all the works in the project.
Where will you find it?
Here’s a sample from a very basic mix of Breath In Mine, a song about a person who falls in love with a radio announcer during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
BREATH IN MINE (mixes) by Andrew Garton
How long will this take?
Well, I’m eager to complete the road trip, but in a way, I’m still on it. I just won’t be too far from Melbourne for at least a couple of years. But frankly, this could take the rest of my life… and in fact, I don’t mind if it does. In the meantime, as pieces are completed they’ll be released online and as the collection grows, more durable and tangible forms will be produced. I still like to give folks CDs and some don’t even mind buying them.