Warwick Broadhead, 1944-2015. Resting in peace not really his style.
16th March 2015
Since then Warwick and I kept in touch through letters and on the phone, and the odd visit. Over the last three years or so he would give me objects which he loved, but didn't want any more - particularly Japanese tea ceremony pieces - I really got the sense he was editing physical things from his life. He also talked quite openly about feeling that he was in the later stage of his life. I would tell him that he had a long time to go, but he didn't humour me by agreeing. He was very honest about his own death, and wanting to be 'conscious' for it, as he couldn't remember anything of his birth.
Rubbings From a Live Man
Regent Theatre, The Octagon
Monday 16th March, 7pm, koha
REVIEW: Streets and Lures by rotor plus
18th March 2014
This evening I was one of eight people to experience a new work by Dunedin solo sound artist rotor plus. Streets and Lures is part of the 2014 Dunedin Fringe Festival, and in fact eight is its maximum capacity. Intimacy is key in Streets and Lures; the first-come-first-serve group meets at 9pm outside the First Church, just as the darkness sets in on this late summer evening. With very little information we are met by rotor plus and walk a few hundred metres down Stuart Street to the railway station, where a white van is parked. Here rotor plus formally welcomes us, and from inside the van offers us each a cardboard box, roughly the size of a small shoebox. The box has two circular holes cut onto one side of it, and from each hole a speaker is visible. There is an 'on' switch, which after a brief countdown, we are told to hit simultaneously. We are told that we will be walking for the next forty minutes, and to expect sound at various points along the way.
As a brutal description, that is what would happen. But the surprise of Streets and Lures was in the unexpected poignancy that this simple exercise induced, and enveloped us in.
With speakers in hands, we cross over the railway bridge, with a view of the yellow moon, scattered grey cloud and the skate rink below. This bridge becomes an initiation point, and from here we enter a world Glen has carefully devised. As a group we stop speaking. Rotor plus leads us into the industrial district at the bottom of town - mostly deserted at night aside from a few late-night factory shops - and onto the wharves and warehouses. Our first sonic experience with the speakers happens on the corner of two streets: my box makes small, high-pitched croakings, while others' emit sporadic beeps, or ambient noise. It doesn't last long, but it feels magical - our boxes are indeed special. Moving on through the blocks, rotor plus stops our silent march at designated vistas: a window into a lonely looking staffroom, a white brick wall lit profoundly by an amber street lamp. At these points again our boxes react in different ways - sometimes briefly with words ('door', 'key', 'Fifty-seven', 'Three'), but generally with ambient sound.
Ten minutes into the piece, I feel like I have been drugged. Not nauseatingly nor in an insidious or manipulative sense, but more that the awareness I experience for my surroundings is heightened. I become keenly aware of sound, both from my box and from the environment around me. Visually too, everything is drama - the sad nudity of the street lights on the wide, empty roads begins to suggest that our hikoi is part of a dream. I begin to see people dressed in animal suits (specifically native New Zealand birds) taking on a truck driver in the middle of the road.
Most moving was what I later deduced from rotor plus was the heart of the piece, the arrival at the wharf. We are signaled to stand in one line, facing the water and view of the Otago Peninsula in the darkness. Our boxes begin playing a piano melody reminiscent of Max Richter, and, with the cold wind in my face I felt extremely grateful to be in this city, at this moment.
The work achieves some very interesting things.
So accustomed to wandering around with iPods, listening from a box was quite different - it required a deep but natural concentration which in turn led to a state of being that I now can only describe as hyper-aware. Music on headphones I think in fact takes us away from the place we are in - rotor plus' boxed sound took us into our surroundings.
This work could not have taken place anywhere but in Dunedin. Aside from an alarmed fox terrier justifiably confused by eight silent people walking slowly towards it, we were alone for this journey, and I couldn't imagine many places in urban New Zealand that would allow such a solitary, secretive nocturnal experience through its industrial core.
Most significantly, I was asked think differently about the city around me. I do believe that through history, a city grows organs, a soul. What is my city trying to tell me, beneath the cacophony of daily industry? At times I felt it was communicating, and I was a part of that intimate and highly personal dialogue.
Rotor plus is an artist whose profile is very much on the down-low. He isn't concerned with amassing a following or producing conventional recordings or projects. This lack of boundary was felt to great effect in Streets and Lures - we were invited to be in and learn from our city, from the perspective of someone who clearly enjoys a deep engagement with its stone corners, dark waters and elusive moments that happen once and once only.
... ::: *** MATARIKI 2013 *** ::: ...
6th August 2013
…was about connecting with my work, whānau and pals. It was also something less tangible that’s difficult to describe but just as real and powerful a presence as the people in my life during that time. So much so that when the New Year ended, the shows were over and the last whānau member to leave our home had finally gone, I found myself in a catatonic state sitting on the concrete path outside our house wanting to cry. I couldn’t, but it’s only now, a few weeks later, that I can process what it all meant.
As a musician I don’t play live shows all that much. I put so much time into preparing each one that it becomes a project in itself, and often by the end of it all I either feel ecstatic or disillusioned, but always exhausted. So I’ve been thinking over and around this recently, and took the opportunity for Dunedin’s Puaka Matariki Festival (the Puaka refers to an extra star in the Pleiades constellation that appears in the Southern sky) to perform two shows that my music wasn’t a part of.
…is something my pal Cat and I often end emails to each other with – adding ‘z’s can be tacky funz – and is a great pleasure to write because its meaning (before we messed with it) is essentially ‘best wishes’, a phrase that in turn is traditionally said during the Pākehā new year. This Matariki Josh Thomas and I curated a performance art evening at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and NGĀ MIHIZ was the umbrella kaupapa for what we wanted to do: present three original works inspired by Matariki, by an established performance artist – Cat Ruka – as well as an emerging one – Piupiu-Maya Turei – and also something in between – me and my younger sister Jess and brother Edward Benson.
Cat Ruka’s Whiti-kaupeka was a deeply moving and visually arresting performance presented as a sort of dance/duet between her and her soon-to-be-born first child. Her entrance into the McMillan Gallery was a tiptoe on roller-skates, veiled in blue lace and wearing fitting colour-came leggings and top to emphasise her hapu body, and for me was hilarious and awkwardly beautiful. Knowing Cat’s abilities as a dancer, I never felt the threat of teeter that other people found so anxiety inducing. It was Fear Factor in the $2 shop. Cat then gave us a korero about the feelings and thoughts she’s having as a hapu woman, and invited us to help prepare her to dance by oiling and adorning her body in streamers, wigs, and cheap makeup. This nonchalance and sense of humour that I’ve seen in several performances by Cat, is eventually and inevitably flipped. When it did, Whiti-kaupeka then felt like a work in two distinct parts: a direct and inclusive korero, an indirect and insular dance sequence. The physical odds against her made Cat’s dance feel like a singular and significant moment in time to experience. Her enormous belly, the aching piano accompaniment of Satie’s Ogives, and the eel (dead) that Cat so respectfully moved with and honoured by doing so – all made these thirty minutes something that will never happen again.
Piupiu-Maya Turei and boyfriend chiptune musician Fauxhound’s hello ! world ! was in its basest form a high-energy quest embarked upon by Piupiu as a video game sprite. The work showed a lot of promise and potential through the simple device of restricting the environment of the performer and audience to the rules and clichés of RPG video games, while adding a depth to that by fighting not only for experience points but also the protection of Papatūānuku.
My Mum Adrianne Frances Benson died when I was 15, my sister Jess was 13 and my brother Edward was 3. Though the grief that surrounds Mum’s death is constantly changing and manifests itself differently for each of us, it will always be a part of our lives – that’s something we share. Matariki is a time to acknowledge and honour the people in our lives who have died. This makes so much sense to me, because even though it’s unbearably painful at times, the memory of that person is something that can guide, assist and give strength in the life you lead. On the contrary, some of the people I know who try to block out the loss of those close to them suffer internally and interminably because of it.
For NGĀ MIHIZ, my brother and sister and I were simultaneously tattooed with Mum’s signature. Last Christmas Edward said he wanted the three of us to have her signature tattooed, and when Matariki and the concept for NGĀ MIHIZ came about, we felt we could share something of our experience with the people in our community, as Honore.
I was deeply satisfied with what NGĀ MIHIZ was for us and (who I spoke to from) our audience, so it was a learning experience to read, assess and get over what I think was a poorly written and at times disrespectful review of NGĀ MIHIZ. I’m used to critical writing of my music, so it’s not as if I’ve got my back up about a negative interpretation of the show. It was the respect that the writer failed to give the performers, and his confusing ignorance of the palpable energy of our mahi and of that night, that stung. Josh and I brooded on it but decided against any kind of response, putting it down to what it was – lame. Later in the week though, Jess took it in her own hands when we saw the writer in town at a drinks thing. Despite our “Don’t even bother!” etc. she (Year of the Ox) bowled up to him, telling him what she thought of the review and asking what the issue was. Needless to say Jess was bemused that Ronald McDonald wouldn’t back up any of the derogatoriness of his review, and even went so far as to explain that he really enjoyed the show. Whaddayaknow! I know your gun might be a plastic water pistol but at least stick to it mete.
Kia ora to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Lynda Cullen, Robyn Notman, Aaron Kreisler and Cam McCracken) and Michael Parekowhai (for allowing us to perform with The Bosom of Abraham in the space).
SPIRIT LOOP (COOK)
The other non-musical performance I was involved in was Waterlines II, a group show at Port Chalmers. Curated by The Anteroom (Charlotte Parallel, Katrina Thomson), twelve artists presented new site-specific work at Back Beach, a secluded bay just around the corner from Port. In its second year, artists could use the boatsheds, shoreline, the sea cadets and the audience that came on the chilly but clear Saturday afternoon to make the work.
I recently read Anne Salmond’s account of James Cook’s three voyages to the Pacific, The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, and loved it. I’m interested in Cook as a symbol of Pākehā colonisation and the 18th century passion for conquest that the British aristocracy were so immersed in. As a boy I remember Cook as a sort of untouchable hero figure, presented reverentially by the New Zealand education system as grandfather angel whose diligence and perseverance was responsible for my own (and in fact everyone including tangata whenua) existence in civilised New Zealand. Not much about Kupe of course.
I also love horror films, and have recently been working with horror lover and Los Angeles/Dunedin-based SFX makeup artist Melissa Pizzamiglio.
My work for Waterlines II was a performance piece called Spirit Loops (Cook). It played out like this…
The audience arrived at Back Beach at around 4.45pm, just as it was beginning to get dark:
They could see a dinghy in the distant water rowed by a sea cadet and carrying two cloaked figures – myself and my companion, a sailor:
We rowed in and disembarked onto the boat ramp as people gathered around it. Slowly my sailor and I removed our cloaks, and walked towards the people:
I announced our arrival by wordlessly yelling. Without speaking and for the next half hour or so my sailor and I would approach an individual and offer them one of three objects - a nail, a ribbon or a glass bead:
People generally accepted the object, often quite formally. Some were genuinely frightened and moved away, and some said things including: “I don’t want a curse”, “Get away from me”. One woman begged her friends not to touch it “or you’ll get the Black Death”.
I was pretty much in the zone of being a non-human so some of the experience hasn’t been recorded properly in my brain. What I remember most vividly though, and am frankly floored by, was the response by a group of tamariki. Many of the children that interacted with what I was doing didn’t hesitate in asking questions or telling me what they were thinking. Just when I’d passively ended the piece by walking off into the darkness down the road, a group of them followed sailor and I, refusing to let us away with what we’d just done and asking us a series of questions. “Who are you? Why won’t you speak to us? Are you going back on your boat?” Sailor and I went back into character but of course didn’t talk or communicate other than through eye contact with them. This meant that they came up with the answers themselves. After a brief hui amongst themselves, the spokesperson of the group asked us: “Why did you give us those things? Do you want something in return?” They then decided that yes, we did want something from them, so they ran off, returning shortly after and, in a very similar manner to how we had offered people the nails, ribbons and beads, the children offered me some stones and leaves. I accepted these.
Determined to resolve what it was we were, these children were attempting to engage with us in ways that I imagine tangata whenua may have engaged with Cook and his men when they first met each other. Without a doubt, the questions they asked were the same. I was left with this to think about, and have thought a lot about it since. Of course, what Aotearoa got in return for the nails, beads and ribbon that Cook gave to iwi, is arguably what we’ve ended up with now. I don’t even know what that really is, but what I find so fascinating and scary is the exchange that took place (and continues to take place) between asserted white dominance and the indigenous response to it.
Kia ora ra to Lacey Renee my sailor, costumiere Sharon Matthews and Melissa Pizzamiglio, makeup artist worthy of the Pleiades.
LIVE WITH HOPEY ONE
I played two shows with Brisbane-based but Poneke-born beatboxer Hopey One: a Saturday night show at Queens with Trick Mammoth opening and Murderbike (whose beats got me right in the chest) closing, and a show the following afternoon at the Dunedin Community Gallery.
Hope and I first collaborated for the 2010 Forest tour, playing the show again for the Nelson Arts Festival in 2011. For this show we focused on higher-energy more beats-based versions of my songs, and played a new song, Muscles, for the first time live.
By the end of Matariki's three weeks I was so into conquering the Forbidden Zone of collaboration, delivery and general brain-sparks, that when it all suddenly subsided I found myself in what I now philosophically think of as my 'concrete path moment'. Family and friends had left, mahi was done, and the fences and cats of suburbia seemed even more menacing than they usually do. It was a pretty bad crash. Needless to say I picked up the pieces over the following week, and in doing so had a period of reflection and gratefulness for Matariki, and all the people it brought me into contact with.
With each year Matariki becomes more widely celebrated and acknowledged by New Zealanders. I’m glad about this, and know that one day it’s recognition will surpass trivia like the Queen or King or Trans (you never know) of England’s birthday, and in fact may offer us as a multi-ethnic society an opportunity to engage with and understand each other in a way that’s possibly less fraught than our (seminal) Waitangi Day. Perhaps that’s comparing kumara with potatoes, but either way I look forward to the Seven Sisters and their wairua being embraced fully by our peoples, and to the benefits that will undoubtedly come from this.
Images & video stills of Whiti-kaupeka by Josh Thomas. Spirit Loop (Cook) image by Melissa Pizzamiglio. Some images of Waterlines II courtesy of The Anteroom.
The Marriage Amendment Bill & A Christchurch Private Boys' School
20th April 2013
We should all know that being a teenager or young person wasn’t easy, right? There was so much going on with our minds, perspectives and perceptions of other people and how we fit into it all. When I hear a teenager being bitched about I always feel for that person and remind myself that they deserve the benefit of the doubt, because who knows what they’re going through internally? Heaps!
It’s that much harder when you’re thinking you may not be straight. Whether you as a reader are conscious of this or not, New Zealand is a society that for a long time has been set up for straight, white people to thrive – men in particular, and families more than single people or non-breeding couples. Growing up as a teenager with feelings that you are not a part of this particular world presents a major challenge to your confidence, and is something that you need to work through – add to this the realisation that you aren’t hetero, and suddenly you’re in the Krypton Factor, right at the toughest bit.
I felt this way as a teenager. I went to a private boys’ school in Christchurch called Christ’s College. If you’re not familiar, Christ’s College is modelled on the British public schools, with big iron gates, three different uniform variants, and the motto Tradition is Excellence. It was my parents’ dream for me to have a private education because they thought it was better than a public one. Grateful as I am for them seeing through that dream, I don’t share that clear-cut view, and certainly not in regards to how the adults of the school community approached issues around sexuality.
Specifically, the only dialogue around any alternative to hetereosexual lifestyle was through the boys’ use of the words ‘faggot’ and ‘gay’ to verbally abuse and bully each other. Being a cliché drama, debating team choirboy, I got a lot of it. Luckily, it didn’t have much of an effect other than to highlight the muntedness of so many of my peers, but it did have the impact that in this community, being gay is the worst thing you could be.
It’s good to acknowledge that bullies and munters are going through their own dramas, and that’s OK, but I lay blame with the staff and leaders for their total lack of discipline when it came to using gay terminology as abuse. They simply didn’t bother, and therefore condoned it to students. It is the responsibility of boards, principals and staff to guide young people into becoming accepting and understanding members of society, and in this way and at this school, they failed. There were several suicides of students and former students during my time at Christ’s College, and though no reasons were given to us at the time, I’ve since talked with other gay former students and, in hindsight, we think we may know why.
I would like to think that this has changed, or is changing. My younger brother of twelve years recently left this school, and he tells me it has not.
So to me, this is why the Marriage Amendment Bill is so important. Yes, it legally allows me to marry my fiancée, but more exciting to me is that it forces dino-people and societies like Christ’s College and all the other dragging-the-chain educational institutions in our country to acknowledge that our world is changing much faster than they are. It makes it that much less easier for Jono to call Murray a faggot (when Jono is probably the faggot anyway, ha) and less cool for Rob to tell Nick his tracksuit is gay. And why is that so important? Because it avoids any association between being gay, queer – whatever it is that you are – and being made to feel misunderstood, disliked, and alone. No one deserves that, e kare.
Kurashiki, Pt 2
18th December 2012
My time in Kurashiki is now over, and the second half of my residency developed from the first - I became more accustomed to life here and more confident with communication and the language. The schedule also bumped down a gear, so I had some time to chill and think as well as do. Below are images of many of these experiences, as well as more Kurashiki Moments.
Part of this coming down has meant a reflection on the things I love but also feel weird about in Japan. These observations are obviously my own thoughts and mental arguments, not necessarily to be agreed with or taken for anything else. K-Trivia follows...
I have a huge aroha for Japan, and Japanese culture. After three weeks I feel as if I've lived there for three months, mainly due to the number of experiences I've had and learnt from, and the people I've met. Many arigato gozaimasus to all the very cool and lovely people who supported my time in Kurashiki and Japan.
Meeting & interview with Kaori Ito, Mayor of Kurashiki
Performance & interview with koto pop duo Kokohana
Trip to seaside area of Kojima, industrial area Mizushima & Mitsubishi plant
Tenryo Daiko Ensemble taiko drum viewing
Shamisen & koto performance
* It's give-arama! The people we've met are unfailingly generous and hospitable, and this seems to be a trait of wider Japanese culture. Therefore, everywhere we go, we've learnt to take gifts with us, both to say kia ora for the knowledge and experiences we're offered, but also to counter the inevitable presents given to us. In our first few days we were caught giftless on a couple of occasions and felt lame.
* A major supporter of my time in Kurashiki is the Kurashiki Christchurch Association, a group of Kurashiki people who keep alive a cultural connection and exchange with Christchurch, through events and celebrations in both cities. I've become good friends with Mr Miyake, the Association's chairman, whose energy and approach to life remind me strongly of Jacqueline Fahey's - opinion is welcome and affirming, korero relished, and drink a seminal part of it all. Through this relationship I've had conversations with Mr Miyake and many others who have an interest in New Zealand and our people. From these discussions it's been interesting to learn that there is a perception of great harmony in our country between Maori and Pakeha. As well as that, Maori are primarily perceived as piupiu skirt wearing taiaha wielders, very much the noble savage stereotype of centuries past. The cause of this? I would think there are several...
- New Zealand's tourism industry essentially issues rose-tinted propaganda-like imagery of Maori, and Maori-Pakeha relations. A poster of a kaumatua in hongi with a young white girl springs to mind...it's that stuff that gets seen internationally above anything else
- When people from Kurashiki visit Christchurch, they probably have 'traditional Maori experiences', which reinforce these ideas
- There's no education about this. I saw a presentation of life in New Zealand to Kurashiki citizens, given by New Zealand and Japanese presenters. Though lo-fi and only 90 minutes, it was largely about Pakeha history and culture, including typical signifiers like Kate Sheppard, John Britten, Burt Munro, and also cricket and rugby and the haka. Of course, this is all down to the experience of the person giving the presentation, and they may not be educated in te Ao Maori. But it did get me thinking that if there are such people all over the world, giving these presentations about our lives here, I can see why a vaguely dreamy perception of New Zealand and our race relations exist.
* I started to feel worn down by these unrealistic perceptions of New Zealand, particularly the state of our environment, education system, and race relations. I vented this in my scheduled 'farewell concert', a half hour set at a lovely cafe, attended by the people who I'd had cultural experiences with during the residency. I introduced Kiwi as a lament for the loss of the Maori voice as a result of the colonisation of their land. It was a long lament, and easy to channel the frustration I'd been feeling. When asked to give his impressions of Kurashiki and Japan, Josh said that he felt similarities between Maori and Japanese people, particularly in their approach to hosting and in connection with nature. After the show and speeches, people told us that they physically felt the sadness of the Kiwi lament within their bodies, and wanted to talk about Aotearoa from a Maori perspective. I felt a lot better too, for having kept it real.
* Mizushima is the industrial part of Kurashiki. It's situated over a ridge of hills, not in view from the main part of Kurashiki, and is expansive. Here, Kurashiki manufactures three of its most famous products: steel, denim and Mitsubishi cars. I haven't seen anything quite so similarly frightening. The image above in Day 9 best illustrates why, and the thought that numerous cities in Japan and indeed around the world have equivalent vistas compounds that fear.
* In a related sense, it's very clear that for many people in Japan, shopping is a primary leisure time activity. Shopping is fun - it's the thing to do on the weekend, or in the evenings. The malls are incredibly stimulating/mesmerising, and the shops are full of such interesting things. Most of what you can buy is not at all what you need (a large plastic strawberry on the end of a white rod AKA shoulder tapper is memorable), and this further suggests that shopping isn't about gathering necessities so much as the joy of getting stuff. At times I found myself a part of this energy, but particularly after visiting Mizushima, I felt a looming sense of guilt and a tension with how much I was playing along with such a voraciously consumerist way of life. This all being said, it doesn't seem fair to blame people simply for being greedy or oblivious. I would think that it's a far wider issue of long, strenuous work hours and ethics, very small homes, and a lack of access to nature that allows shopping to become such a pastime.
Japanese Food Diary
17th December 2012
A selection of the kai I experienced in Japan. Apologies in advance to non-meat or fish eaters.
Ramen bar, Tokyo
Sashimi, tempura, prawn & seasnail. Kojima, Kurashiki
Zen breakfast, Entsuji Temple, Kurashiki
Soba noodles, Tokyo
Bento-style lunch, Kurashiki
Pork katsu and red miso, Kurashiki
Sushi and white miso, Okayama
Step-by-step okonomiyaki, Hiroshima
Bento of amazingness, Kojima, Kurashiki
Post-show salmon, chicken and riceballs, Tokyo
Korean-style plate, Kurashiki
Sushi train, Tokyo
Naki-yuki, Soja, Kurashiki
Matcha & soy shake
Vending machines, which are everywhere (like everywhere)
Treats & Snacks
Swiss-roll inspired sponge
Vanilla-custard cinammon cream puff, Kyoto
My favourite ice-cream and chocolate dessert
Persimmons, popular in Kurashiki
Pizza-flavour chips, cheese crackers and puffed beans
Family Mart boil-up
Kurashiki, Pt 1
3rd December 2012
The contrast between Tokyo and Kurashiki is immense. Where Tokyo was a bustle of energy and output, Kurashiki is more reserved and considered. The city is much smaller (pop. 474,000) and quieter, and I have to admit after the extremities of Tokyo, it took me a day or two to adjust. As I have though, my post-ramen, post-cigaretted body has totally recovered, and I’ve been able to experience several unique musical traditions, and some unforgettable meetings and cultural rituals.
My fortnight in Kurashiki represents the second major purpose of my time in Japan. Through the Kurashiki International Association and Asia New Zealand foundation I have two weeks here to learn about traditional Japanese instruments and culture. This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time – I’m fascinated by the sense of space in a lot of Japanese music, both traditional and contemporary, with no sacrifice to drama. I’d like to bring this into my own work more, because though I know at times my music may sound sparse, I think I could be even more economical (gross word but hey I’m in Starbucks Kurashiki Station right now) with the balance between sound and silence.
Josh has documented the first week of these experiences through the photographs below. My K-Trivia follows.
Koto lesson & observation with Sensei Sugimoto, Sakuyo University
Kikkuchi sake distillery tour & sake tasting with Mr Kikkuchi, who plays Mozart to his sake
Welcome Party at Mr Miyake’s
Performance of flute made from fish paste, Momotaro Museum (lo-fi illusions palace)
Japanese archery practice, Seishin High School
Japanese language lesson
Zen meditation & tea ceremony, Entsu-ji Temple, 5.45am
Visit to Mrs Sachiko’s house for post-bombing Hiroshima stories
Performance & interview with shamisen artist Sho Asano
* It turns out that it’s not only in Tokyo that everything beeps, and my one-year old Pakeha-Japanese niece – the chime generation? – loves it. We’ve stayed a few nights with my brother and his whanau in their economically spacious apartment, and have been spoken to by the shower on several occasions. The bath announces when it is ready and at the ideal temperature. The car is also very amiable to conversation, but I tend to think a bit of a practical joker because there seems to be a lot of mid-journey sat-nav fact-checking. A lot of the jingles are very beautiful and suggest careers for graduate composition students. Overall, the everyday relationship between people and technology seems to be much closer than what I’m used to, and I wonder about how this affects a person’s general practicality and their ability to get by in times when the technology isn’t working or available.
* Conflab/pecha kucha/hui is a big thing. Whenever plans are changed or information needs correcting, you know about it because there’s inevitably a good korero first. Josh and I are not usually a part of these discussions – our role is to wait for the outcome. Not understanding the language means that I try to gauge the essence of these conversations by who is talking, their very earnest facial expressions, and the often heavy emphasis on the original piece of paper on which the plans had been laid. I don’t begin to try to understand the dynamics of these ritual hui, but I’m sure they are there and deeper than what they seem.
* There are definitely some serious issues with the lack of recycling and over-use of plastics and packaging. I realise how sound our own recycling system and attitude in New Zealand is now. Despite that, there’s a far better ethic to vehicle choice – at least in Kurashiki. After five days I don’t know if I’ve seen an SUV. For the most part, people drive compact little hatchbacks that whizz around breaking the rules and parking beautifully in small spaces. Their fuel consumption and general approach is obviously so much more progressive than the obsession with the lion-hunting safari tours that take place en masse on the steppes of Merivale Lane and Ponsonby Road. Smaller is better, people.
* The food in this part of Japan is fresh and outstandingly good. I feel healthy, eating a lot but never overly full. We’ve kept a dedicated food album and will be posting this here at some point.
* It’s cold. Which is so great because we can really enjoy the omni-present vending machines that put out hot drinks! The sickly sweet coffee is tempting but I love the hot lemon and honeys.
* I’m often asked to sing. At lessons or meetings or cultural rituals it’s almost inevitable, and I’ve loved being able to share Hirini’s waiata in this more casual way. To be able to choose a waiata on the spot – whatever feels right – and to improvise with it for however long it needs to be, is wonderful. I usually give a brief background to the waiata with someone interpreting, and people seem to relate to the themes in Hirini’s songs – Pipi Manu E and the bond between parents and children, Pipiwharauroa and the change of seasons, Tui and the beauty of nature. I won’t forget singing Pipiwharauroa to monks after a zen breakfast and tea ceremony, and the happiness the senior monk showed in listening to it. Kia ora, e Hirini.
25th November 2012
I’m on the shinkansen (bullet train) and have just spilt Yakult everywhere. The tour is finished, and I’ve learnt and experienced so much that it’s hard to know where to begin my first journal entry, so rather than a timeline Dear Diary I had sashimi for breakfast then went shopping I’ll crunch it into sections that describe aspects of my experience that I find interesting. Josh is cleaning up the Yakult and not too many people saw it, so maybe only a light orange on the travel drama scale.
I’m in Japan to perform three shows for my recently engaged J-fans, although once we arrived it was explained to my manager/boyfriend Josh and I that in fact it’s two official + one secret show, announced on the day. Oops - I’d already splurged on my website so it wasn’t so secret. All such knowledge and coordination comes from the lovely and ever-suffering Takafumi ‘Ogi’ Ogihara. Ogi is the A & R man at HEADZ and, as far as I can tell, pretty much runs the show. We’ve spent a lot of time with him – he meets us at our hotel every day to accompany us to interviews or shows, never-failingly ten minutes early (vs. our five minutes late), with five bursting tote bags of files and CDs, and his Macbook with an oversized plug-in keyboard because the original isn’t working. He usually starts his day at around 10am, but works like a madman until 4am – I keep telling him to have a holiday – on very little pay. I think Ogi does this because above all, music is deeply important to him.
Takafumi 'Ogi' Ogihara
Ogi has been in the music industry since he left university with a degree in business twenty years ago, and has worked for major and indie labels. When HEADZ was founded about ten years ago, its founder Atsushi Sasaki headhunted Ogi, and since then they’ve established a reputable boutique label that releases mainly Japanese but also some western artists, on a shoestring with a tiny staff and some unfailing aroha.
For all that’s face value about Ogi, Atsushi Sasaki is the opposite – the dark to the light that is the HEADZ brain. Sasaki is a renaissance man in every respect: now 47 years old, he was a well-known film and music critic in the 90s, writing books on film history and filmmakers, before setting up HEADZ. These days Sasaki lectures in film and pop culture at a couple of institutions in Tokyo, continues to write and DJ, and generally feeds the cult that seems to have amassed around him. I met him at my Tokyo show, and knowing all this was surprised (why?) that he was dressed ultra-casz in an old black hoodie and beanie, with long hair and a general rough n ready aura. We exchanged about thirty arigato gozaimasu – his English isn’t strong and my Japanese even worse – and I gave him records by Coco Solid and Rotor Plus.
The Music Press
With Shino Okamura
Before I played any shows, I had several interviews with music press, and they were interesting for many reasons – the formalities and manner in which they’re conducted and the style of questions are all quite different to what I’m accustomed to from New Zealand press.
The best example of this was my interview with music journalist and DJ Shino Okamura. Shino is a player and tastemaker when it comes to writing on foreign music in Japan. As a big supporter of my music on her radio shows, she was asked by HEADZ to write the liner notes for the Japanese editions of my albums. As well as being so totally sharp as an interviewer and perceiver, she is also incredibly spunky, signature combo: broad-shouldered black leather bomber over a long white cotton shirt-dress with complimenting black navy beret and bob haircut. F-ing styley and in the moment.
My interview with Shino was in a low-lit coffee house in Jimbocho, a central district of Tokyo where our hotel, and the music magazine Shino writes for, are based. We sat around a low table, and as has often been the case, it was an entourage affair: Shino, myself, an interpreter, the magazine editor, Ogi, and Josh – maybe one day I’ll be used to this but for now it’s a novelty.
The room was smoky as all hell. I’m the first to admit I’m precious when it comes to lung-care and especially at a time when I’m playing shows, so Josh gave me a subtle eye-brow raise when we arrived, as in ‘OK, this is for the next hour so I know it’s a bit gross but please just deal’. The album booklets, lyric sheets and written promo material are all laid out on the table, and become visual aids during the interview (as well as triggers for me – I made The Awakening nearly five years ago and my memory is notoriously corrupt). That was the setting, and by the end of the hour it turned out to be a cool hui on politics within our respective countries.
Initially though, Shino’s questions were about establishing a strong visual on my childhood – what my parents did, who encouraged my creativity, what music I listened to at certain times in my childhood. We talked about The Awakening, but much more about Forest and how it came about. Shino – and other interviewers – were fascinated by the cultural dynamics going on with that record. Why are you concerned with Maori culture when you are not Maori? What did Maori people think of the album?
So a big part of the korero then became about me giving my perspective on what ethnic diversity in Aotearoa is like. I felt some responsibility at the time, because trying to explain the history of colonisation and its effects in Aotearoa isn’t something you can really get through in such a short time, let alone with the barriers of language and cultural differences between Shino and I, but ultimately I tried to make it clear that Maori do not represent one voice, but like any people of any place, have a range of views and perspectives. Therefore, I couldn’t say what Maori people thought of Forest. This might be obvious to most New Zealanders, but I think the international projection of Maori people and culture are heavily influenced by stereotypical images and rituals such as piu-piu skirts and haka, and that Maori may be in some way a homogenous group frozen in time. Shino and her crew were surprised when I told them that the Maori economy is the fastest growing one in the country, and that the distinct whakapapa separations of Maori and Pakeha are in some ways becoming less rigid as we continue to get it on in the melting pot.
Which led to an interesting question: As a white male, is it shame that you feel? I think the question is more interesting than my answer. Shino meant it with absolute sincerity and without any implication, saying that when she interviewed Antony and Rufus Wainwright, they had both expressed a shame or guilt associated with their race. Perhaps she thought that the Forest album was made from such a place…and maybe in a very small, subconscious way, she could be right. Either way, the discussion became very honest, and once we finished the formal interview, politics 101 was on the agenda.
According to our Japanese pals, there is an increase in the income gap between the rich and poor. Environmental issues are not being given anywhere near enough attention, specifically the nuclear power reliance, which since last year’s tsunami and Fukushima disaster, people have been protesting heavily against. And the prime minister is refusing to listen to dissenting voices. Déjà vous anybody?
I made no qualms in making it clear that Aotearoa is in many ways socially dire and politically fucked right now. I talked about the fight that Maori face in gaining tino rangatiratanga, and the total lack of concern our government shows for the poverty so many of our children are born into. Though our friends were surprised, they weren’t shocked, and for the next half hour or so we talked through our respective patri-baggage. So much in common, and so much wanting serious evolution and revolution.
I played three shows: the first and biggest in Tokyo, the second a ‘secret show’ at a record store in the nearby suburban-city-within-Tokyo Saitama, and the last at a café in Kyoto.
The Tokyo venue is in the live show part of town, Shibuya, and in terms of atmos and shab-factor it could be compared to Lyttelton’s Wunderbar, but double the size and with a bit of formality thrown in. HEADZ had arranged it as a seated show, and as The Awakening has sold more in Japan than Forest, they asked if I would play some songs on the grand piano, thinking that the audience might be more receptive to that presentation of my music. I’m so not in a grand piano sort of place right now, but wanted to oblige, so I planned to pull On the Shoulders of the Earth, Willow and Audrey H. from my electronic set and play those acoustically. I asked Shuta Hasunuma, another artist on the label who plays pretty much every instrument and releases albums as gorgeous 4CD sets, to perform those three with me, and he said he would add some subtle modulator synth which I hoped would work nicely to bridge the electronic and piano sets.
I had no idea what the audience reaction to the show would be. I’ve heard that Japanese audiences can be reserved, and the fact that the show was somewhat formally seated made me slightly nervous about the energy transition between my quite physical performance and the potentially rigid arrangement of the floor. The New Zealand electronic shows so far have allowed the audience to move should they want to, and many people have. In Tokyo and indeed the other Japanese shows, no such luck, so I kind of had to shift my mental delivery of the show to satisfy an aurally attentive and still audience.
Tokyo show crew
As it turned out, those in seats were very happy to be there, and those who decided to gently stir their limbs hung at the back. Tokyo was a wonderful show. I got so much intensity from the people, and I could pretty much just relax about the mathematics of the show and get lost in delivering the songs – a rarity for me. I could see peoples’ faces clearly – they would either stare fixedly, or bliss out with eyes closed. Their attention was total, and I knew very early on in the show that we were all on the same page. The piano songs worked well, and Shuta made some moments that were dark and beautiful, particularly in Shoulders. They dug the heavier and weirder stuff – songs like Tirairaka and Ruru – and wanted an encore. I played the electronic version of Shoulders with the Kiwi vocoder ending and yeah, then went and semi-collapsed with relief in the dressing room. The show hadn’t ended though – I was getting out of my coveralls when Ogi came in happy but also like What are you doing?, wondering why I wasn’t ready to be at the bar immediately after playing, to sign albums. This would then be the kosher progression for the next two shows.
Audrey H. is my flagship song here, more than any other. It was the song that Atsushi Sasaki heard on the radio before offering to release the albums, and it’s the only song I’ve been asked to make certain I play. Incidentally, when I was 21 and had just written that song, I played it to my composition tutor at the University of Canterbury, who flatly told me when I’d finished playing it, that if I ever sent that song to a record company they wouldn’t think anything of it. Lol!
The Saitama show at More Records was intimate, but also lovely and with an intensely warm energy. Spunks, signing and pecha kucha afterwards.
More Records, Saitama
Kyoto was a different buzz – far more casual in terms of the PA and general tech setup – but obviously I had to roll with it. The keyboard seemed to freak out 30 minutes before the show (B flat playing twice as loud as anything else) and poor Ogi was mortified at the ramifications. This was a difference I noticed between us, perhaps as New Zealanders and Japanese: if there was an unexpected challenge, it could become quite the mountain. It took us to suggest that a solution might be to call friends of HEADZ in Kyoto to see who might have a synth.
The show went ahead with a new working keyboard but in my view, not the best sound. I suppose like many artists I get so frustrated with compromised sound, but for this show particularly, there’s so much detail in the production that I hate to think an audience is only getting 40% of what I’ve wanted them to experience. It was harder work for me to get through the Kyoto performance because I projected that the audience wasn’t into it – I ended up cutting the set list back as I played, and when I eventually went off my first thoughts were ‘Fuck! That was terrible!’ and I felt like I’d ripped off people who I knew had come from other parts of Japan to be there. That familiar group clap happened straight away though and the audience wanted an encore. It was such a shock, but I went back and cranked out a pretty hot Tirairaka which they clapped along with (something that I was told afterwards very rarely happens), and we all ended the night as friends with the usual signings and very sincere thoughts about the show. So though tough for me, Kyoto was great for the audience, and I’m at peace…
The people who have come to the shows are so lovely and earnest in their appreciation of my albums and the show. They aren’t at all phased by te reo, the freakier parts of the performance, and they love my dancing. I’ve also been humbled by their readiness to tell me what their experience of my music is, and how it relates to them. It’s a very cool synergy that has gone down here, and I feel it rejuvenating me as an artist ready to get into some new mahi.
* We’ve experienced several earthquakes during the five days we’ve been here; most small quivers at night but one significant shake before the record store show in Saitama – Josh and I were in a tiny bathroom getting ready (strange enough as it was) when it happened, throwing us well and truly into a realm of ‘OK this is so weird’ and ‘Should we like dive for cover?’ but failing to do anything but buzz out.
* Walking through a subway station we saw a sizable poster for The Hobbit film. A conversation ensued in which Ogi san explained that the films were huge in Japan, but he wasn’t so sure about The Hobbit. I told him the series was made by a New Zealand director and shot in New Zealand – he had no idea. Moment #34 in the $95 million spent on the NZ 100% Pure Middle Earth campaign is a totally fucking crazy idea series.
* Oddly enough, the city itself is a playground for large, coal black crows. They swoop between the trees just above your head and make the most insidious calls. There is something very incongruous about their presence within the intense commercial environment, and mmm really reminds me of Resident Evil 4, ergh.
* Everything in Tokyo has an associated 16-bit jingle. Rubbish bins chime, announcements on trains open with sentimental Disney b-sides, and in the subway many stations play sampled bird chirping.
* It’s kosher to smoke in bars. I’ve never had to play in smokey environments before, and I found it physically nauseating at one point during a sound check. We tried to ask for a window to be opened but that was almost too much of a big deal so…when in Rome. The general social consciousness around smoking seems to be behind New Zealand’s in the sense that the smokers I’ve met aren’t too considerate of the lungs of non-smokers.
* OK so I looooove the packaging of everything Japanese, but where does it all go?
Te Kaupapa & What I'm Taking To Japan
19th November 2012
On the Japanophile factor, I suppose I’m currently clocking at about an 8. As a teenager I was obsessed with a Japanese video game called Final Fantasy VII, spending a major portion of my teenage angst as Cloud, stealing elixirs and casting the Shiva summon. As well as that, my older brother James has lived nearly half of his life in Japan, and I remember his returns to Christchurch with boxes of outrageously packaged snacks and confectionary (strawberry crème koalas were a personal fav). More recently I’ve grown to respect customs in relating to one another, the civilised perspective Japanese society has toward peace, and the contemporary art and music worlds, though I’ve never had the opportunity to actually visit Japan.
Which is all great, because tomorrow I leave Aotearoa to play shows in Tokyo and Kyoto, then spend two weeks in Kurashiki City, Okayama as artist in residence. The shows are sussed by HEADZ, the record label that released my albums in Japan earlier this year, and the Kurashiki project came about because its sister city is Christchurch – where I grew up and sometimes sing about – and because, as dot connector, my brother now works for the International Affairs Section of City Hall. A grateful ka-ching! With the support of City Hall and the Asia New Zealand Foundation, I’ll stay in the historic town of 473,000, having adventures and studying traditional Japanese music and customs with artists and practitioners.
During the residency I’ll be keeping this journal. Here I’ll vividly share my experiences through lively writing and revealing photographs taken by Josh Thomas (who managed to sidle his way in on this thing).
My kaupapa for the coming weeks all very much swirls around the idea of different cultures meshing to make something new. As a Pakeha musician who performs taonga Maori, I think about this idea quite a bit (cue pained voice: What does it really mean? How could I do it better? etc), and now the swirl gets bigger and faster as the audience I’m sharing Hirini Melbourne’s waiata with is Japanese. For me, part of the global citizen contract I’m entering into is about bringing not just music, but other expressions of Aotearoa with me to Japan. So, below are some of the special things I’m taking with me, which (aside from the vocal effects unit) are made by cool New Zealand people - tumeke! Also, Japan is intensely stylish so yeah. [Disclaimer: Groans have been publicly emitted in the past that imply I’m more about associating with clothing labels than making music – kia ora Vicki Anderson of Christchurch’s The Press – but I defend the power that wearing the right clothes gives me to deliver and enhance my performance, just as any journalist can choose a fancy pen if it helps them crank out a worthy review. That being said, advance apologies for any nuances reminiscent of the Shopping Channel.]
Coveralls by Matt Nash
I’ve been working with Auckland designer Matt Nash since 2008, when he made the shirts with choirboy ruff collars for my church tour that year. Perhaps most infamous for his one-off, custom made bag repertoire, I’ve also performed in his big grey woollen blanket-cape, an Ernest Shackleton-inspired parka, and recently an ombre tea-stained shirt which was a response to the kakahu exhibition at Te Papa. Fast forward to now, Nash’s current industrial uniform-influenced designs are represented in these coveralls. I’m really into them because not only are they beautiful, but also they contribute to a constantly evolving conversation I have with myself: As a working artist, what is my uniform?
Ruru brooch by John Z. Robinson
I met the Dunedin-based jeweller and painter John Z Robinson earlier this year. Introduced by a mutual friend, we had a coffee in his sunny third-storey studio and workroom on Moray Place. I’d seen images of John’s colourful and energetic paintings before – mostly male nudes but also a series on Amy Bock, historical Southland’s most notorious cross-dresser – but never his jewellery. I was wowed by John’s bird brooches, and felt if I could wear one on stage it would be like Erica touching her earring and turning into Jem. So I think of this brooch as the superhero morepork that I sing about in the song Ruru, and having a physical representation of him with me feels like it was always meant to be done this way.
John Z. Robinson
Jacket, pants & shirt by ClothesIveMade
Richie Boyens has started something that I think is going to influence fashion in Dunedin, Aotearoa and wherever he wants to go in the coming years. I found out about his label ClothesIveMade very recently through friends that share the studio Above Ground, also on Moray Place. Richie makes one-off pieces of clothing for boys (that non-boys want too) but has thrown out conventional notions of size and colour in his approach, while maintaining practicality and wearability. I asked him to think about ‘Tokyo the metropolis’ when we talked about an outfit for me to wear, and he went surgically nuts with pink velvet, paisley and red faux snakeskin to make the above killing.
VoiceLive Touch by TC Helicon
So this is pretty hot. Never have I been the kind of musician that understands the equipment I play with. Frankly, it all freaks me out – from the cables to the DI boxes (I still don’t know what a DI box actually is) to the multibox adaptor – I’m in perpetual denial. For a show I did earlier in the year at Te Papa, though, I had to chill out about this, because I wanted to work with something that I could use to manipulate my vocals with in a live setting, without a) having a meltdown or b) shoving my face in a laptop. A clever friend recommended this noo invention called the VoiceLive Touch. It’s a small boxy unit which attaches to the mic stand, and with the microphone signal running through it you can add all sorts of subtle or out-there effects that colour or tone whatever you sing into the mic. What especially suits me about it is the fact that it’s a touch screen, and therefore very fast and intuitive during a show. I’ve always been good at pointing at things and saying they could be better, so this is like…perfect. The show I’m playing in Japan is about texture and rhythm within a largely electronic palette, so being able to go wild with my vocals has been a breakthrough for what I feel is possible with organic + techno. Thank you to Amber Technology in Tamaki Makaurau.
Appliqué oven gloves et al by Florence Dennison
If you’ve visited Japan you may know that gift giving is a seminal part of the guest/host dynamic. In the same way that shoes are always to be taken off when entering a house and business cards should be accepted with two hands, presents are positive karma currency. Because I’m meeting so many people who are offering their matauranga, almost half of my luggage is gift haul. Luckily a certain Southland craft artist makes fabric appliqué pieces that show off Aotearoa birds in the form of oven gloves and slightly ambiguous rectangular mats. Florence Dennison supplies the Tuatapere craft store with her wares, and it was through visiting there that her artwork of the Forest album came about. Every time I pass through I pick up a couple of her latest releases – sometimes a piwakawaka sitting on a fern, other times a spaced-out pukeko stomping on a rainbow – but always fundamentally Florence D.
Country Corner Crafts, Tuatapere-Orepuki Highway, Tuatapere
Ka kite e hoa. Next entry from the other side of the Pacific...
My Mulled Wine Recipe
22nd June 2012
There are two things I do to keep warm in the Dunedin winter - one is my rediscovery of the long, daytime bath - and the other is mulled wine. Though occasion is by no means necessary to drink it, Matariki seems a damn good time to enjoy a hot, heady, spicy wine. Excuse enough? Ka pai.
This recipe is based on one I worked on last winter, and takes into account critique and advice from friends. Ultra-straightforward! It's ready to drink right away, but will be even better if you leave it for a day or two for the flavours to...mull. Feel free to adjust things according to your taste and instinct.
1. 1 cup white or raw sugar (or 1/2 cup per bottle of wine)
2. honey to taste
3. peel & juice of 2 oranges, 1 lemon, 1 lime
4. 2 bottles red wine (whatever is around/on special = totally)
5. 2 cinnamon sticks (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
6. 2 star anise
7. handful of raisins
8. 8 cloves (or 1 teaspoon ground cloves)
9. 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1. Peel the oranges, lemon & lime; put peel into a pot
2. Squeeze the juice and add to the pot
3. Add sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
4. Bring to boil on a low-medium heat, stirring constantly
5. After 5-10 minutes, the mixture should be thick & syrupy. If too liquid, add a tablespoon or so more sugar. Slowly add until you have a syrup
6. Reduce the heat and add wine, raisins & star anise
7. Leave the pot with lid on over a very low heat. Don't let it come to the boil or you will burn off the alcohol. Leave at least 15 minutes
8. At this point it's a good idea to taste the mulled wine. Depending on what kind of wine you've used, the taste will vary. If it needs sweetening, add honey. If it needs more tang, add more citrus juice and peel
9. When you're happy with the taste and the wine is piping hot, strain it through a muslin or tea-towel, into a jug. Ready to serve!
[Update: More recently I've been adding 1/4 cup of coffee, at the same time as the wine. It adds another subtle layer of depth to the taste.]
Nga mihi nui mo a Matariki! x
Artwork of Nigel Brown
15th June 2012
For the past year, Josh and I have been archiving, cataloguing and photographing the paintings and prints of Southland-based artist Nigel Brown. Nigel is Josh's step-dad and therefore my step-father-in-law, and as whanau we've worked together on a few things now: the painted backdrop on my 2010 tour, and the artwork of my 2011 live album. It's been a long process, and one through which I've learnt a lot about Nigel, and his views of New Zealand politics and society over the last four decades.
Our process has culminated in NigelBrown.co.nz - an evolving online archive of his work. The video below is really choice - Living Here Aotearoa was made by Josh's brother Myles Thomas in 1992 for a learning resource for the Ministry of Education. I think it's interesting because it shows the process of Nigel building up a painting, and comes from the perspective of someone in his family, in their early 20s.
Our Government Likes To Keep Us Stupid
3rd June 2012
Since mid-last year, my brother-in-law Myles has spearheaded the campaign to halt the choking of TVNZ7. The government's argument to pull the only non-subscriber commercial-free TV channel is that it doesn't make a financial return. The view that nothing is worthwhile unless it pimps out easy cash is a mantra of the National government. Never mind that amidst the smorgasbord of airwave yuckiness, only 7 and Maori offer programmes that help us better understand each other and our world. Meh!
The only conclusion I can come to is that properly educating New Zealanders is exactly what the government wants to avoid - perhaps because they're afraid that if people are clued up, they might not vote to keep them in power.
Meanwhile, my father-in-law Nigel is taking a different angle...
12th May 2012
Last night two friends came over for dinner, and we drew each others' faces in that style where you're not allowed to look at or take the pen off the paper, until the drawing is finished. Apparently it's called contour drawing, and I really love how instant and hilarious it is, but also beautiful.
Mad Men in Love
12th April 2012
Video-remix by Elisa Kreisinger, aka Pop Culture Pirate.
Celebrating Satan at Easter
6th April 2012
Earlier this year Josh and I found our best bargain in ages at Invercargill's Habitat For Humanity - a gigantic charity store which we visit every time we pass through Invercargill on our way south to stay with whanau at Cosy Nook. The bargain was a projection screen, a 1960s Vistaview unused and in its original box. We did that 'Oh my god act normal' thing and got it for $10, very scoffable. That was in January, so it's been under the bed a while waiting for the right moment and of course the right film. Well, the stars aligned and on the eve of Good Friday we had friends over to watch one of my favourite films, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. Josh's Mum laughed when I told her that was the film we were screening, and I think that might represent a misconception about Rosemary among the uninitiated - that it is simply a horror from the 60s, typical of a genre that's about delivering moments of scariness with a smatter of kitsch. I'm not into films like that generally, and am passionate about Rosemary partly because I think it's a work that has transcended easy pigeon-holing.
Six reasons to see and love Rosemary's Baby:
Mia Farrow is Rosemary Wooodhouse. This is a performance of a lifetime. I don't really know how talented an actress Mia Farrow is beyond this role, but either Polanski or Farrow herself has managed to tap into her fallibilities as a performer to embody a naive and manipulable (but adorable) reforming Catholic who is forced to tap into a strength in the face of an unspeakable series of events.
The art direction is outstanding. I think even in 1968, Rosemary was a statement. I love the colour, costumes, hair and the interior design of the apartment (and how - like Repulsion, the first of Polanski's Apartment Trilogy - this living space is so connected with the motives and experience of the characters).
The dream scenes are among the most actually dream-like I have ever seen in film. Polanski understands how sounds and voices heard in sleep influence the dream as much as what is on our subconscious. It's mesmerising and unsettling.
The memorable moments are just so memorable. Oh Guy, please let's take it; Let's make love; Name a place, I've been there; Tannis root, anyone?; Don't read books, and don't talk to your friends; It's Vidal Sassoon; The Year One; Possibly most insidious, the Scrabble board scene.
It's what you don't see that is most horrific. Polanski knew that it is what is imaginable within each of us that is ultimately the most frightening.
Farrow's husband at the time, Frank Sinatra, issued her divorce papers on the set of the film. Mmm-hmm. Jealous and envious man.
The Coolest Street Corner in Dunedin
2nd April 2012
Announcing the Finalists...
27th March 2012
A couple of weeks ago I published the above image on my Facebook page. I made it for the programme of Hine, a dance protest/performance by my friend Cat Ruka and her collaborator Tru Paraha. Cat asked me to contribute something, of any nature, and I had approached her offer with the idea to write something about her work, but then Waitangi weekend happened, and a rather senile journalist-ish man called Paul Holmes wrote a bizarre and hateful column for an online newspaper. It made me really angry, and I wanted to put his face on a WANTED poster. I think racism like his is criminal - far more so than stealing because you're poor and can't fathom another direction in your life, for example. I understand that discrimination is most often born of ignorance - a lack of education, understanding or experience - but could it be that some people are prejudiced just because they are nasty arseholes? I think so. And there are too many arseholes who have media platforms in Aotearoa, and it's at a dangerous level.
I channeled that anger and those thoughts into the poster above, and popped in Michael Laws, Paul Henry and John Banks for good measure. I wasn't planning on writing anything about the image, or offering an explanation for it in any way because in many cases I think explanations can take away from personal interpretation and impact. But some people on Facebook reacted to it in ways I didn't expect.
Aside from the obvious 'Where's Hone?'s (I acknowledge that Harawira is explosive, but if your people had been ignored for 170 years, you'd probably want to try a more direct approach too), I was really surprised to read Jaimee Young's comment:
Why do they have to be portrayed in a homoerotic sense? Is that because it is oh so horrible to be gay? Racists they are but homophobes this makes you look.
So interesting that as the instigator of that image, I could be seen as homophobic. Ae, I'm having a laugh at the fact that those men would probably shudder to think that they could be perceived as gay (although I do wonder about a couple of them), but that is an attitude worth laughing at. The main reason they are portrayed homoerotically is totally to do with the fact that the Next Top Model tradition is all about that. The women in it are sexually objectified in photographs of a very similar style to this one, and that's why it seems totally fair in this context to replace those women - all competing to become the alpha of the group - with men. Just as the Next Top Model world is about apparently out-modelling your competitors, so too I think that these men have used the media in New Zealand to out-shock, out-offend and out-hate each other. [Banks is guilty to a lesser extent because he isn't a media personality so much as a politician (*retch*), but I wanted to put him in there because of comments he made leading up to the 2011 election. He uses the same tactics to get where he is, and is no better than Laws, Holmes or Henry.]
I don't know whether Jaimee knows that I identify as gay or not, though even if she did, goodness knows as Mike Puru recently reminded us, homophobic homos do exist. Either way, I found Jaimee's perception surprising, but so did many other people.
Finally, Philip Wills made a really interesting comment which I wanted to share:
For me Racism = prejudice + power. It's about being able to enforce the stereotypes you have about people. Thus on average Maori get put in prison for longer for the same crime, are given less intellectual attention by teachers, have laws made that specifically take away our rights to land and leave private owners with theirs... When Maori are prejudiced against Pakeha there's not so much we can do with it except say something mean...While it would be great if we all worked on our prejudices, Racism = hurting my feelings is pretty unhelpful if you ask me. It covers up the politics of the whole thing; who gets what resources, who can do what to who and get away with it, etc, etc!
I think Philip's comment is choice because it reminds me that though discrimination can have a palpable emotional affect on people, it also has a very heavy cost in the way that we make our country work for each other. It's obvious when I think about it, but it is so good to be reminded that while I suffer anger from time to time thanks to people like Holmes, there is a whole level of suffering ingrained and normalised within the everyday system for many indigenous people.
HBO's Game Change is Wicked
25th March 2012
This week's most satisfying viewing was HBO's TV film Game Change, an uncomfortably riveting account of the 2008 Republican Presidential campaign with Liability personified Sarah Palin - and the aftershocks of her vice presidential nomination - as its focus. I remember being so fascinated/nauseated by Palin during this time, so I was excited to discover Game Change.
The film is brilliantly cast: Julianne Moore's vivid and mesmerising Palin was so on (although at times almost to the point of distraction), and Ed Harris as John McCain and Woody Harrelson as campaign manager Steve Schmidt both provided a concrete, non-cheesy realism of having to deal with the hot potato Palin debarcle that they found themselves in, and which ultimately helped to kill - and revitalise - their campaign.
The dialogue was atrociously good too, and as the viewer it was riveting to be let it on 'campaign secrets' and nightmare scenarios - the depth of Palin's stubborn ignorance when it came to the world outside the US, the campaign managers' desperation in giving her a history of the world in four days, Palin's frightening states of catatonia, and her now-notorious outbursts and dismissals of colleagues.
My only criticism would be that despite seeing Palin's grapple with her own limitations, I was left feeling cold to her. But maybe that's not so unusual. I don't know if this is because Moore's portrayal was somehow a bit mannequin-like, or because I need to check-in with my desire to better understand that bizarre person. Either way, Game Change felt almost mischievous to watch, and I loved it. Sarah says she hasn't watched it.