Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

‘Secrets of the Night Air’

During my last few days in Timor, before heading to Australia, I realised I knew what I wanted my ‘theme’ or compositional starting point to be for the Lospalos project. Secrets. What are the things about Lospalos that only people from there would know? What are the stories that get told? Already, the two teenage girls that live with me have talked about magic, the magic of the land… I have heard the olohoto quarter-tone birdsong that everyone there recognises as belonging to the local environment… what are some of the other things about Lospalos, the people, the language, the traditions, that could be classed as secrets that can be shared?

Secrets have a kind of power. They are often shared in dramatic or clandestine ways. They invite emotional attachment.

Children’s secrets will be different to adults’ secrets. I also like the fact that in asking this question of the people who work with me, I am putting them in the position of Expert. There is no way that I already have this knowledge. This is important, because the education system here is one that works with a very teacher-centred model, where teachers do all the talking, and students must write down what they say, memorise, and repeat back. Very little applied learning, collaborative work, problem-solving, constructivist environments. It is a big thing to introduce these sorts of notions to a group for the first time, and I think they will make more sense if the context in which they are explored is one where I – in the role of the teacher – clearly don’t already know the answers.

Our working title for this project is ‘Secrets of the Night Air’. It’s open to the public – Lospalos, 7pm, Saturday 22 January 2011. You can track its development here of course!

Timor plan – part 2 of residency

Monday, day 39

So now I am back. Mana Shona and Maun Craig have returned to Australia, Sarah our UN intern is house-sitting on the other side of the city; thus the house in Comoro where my Timor experience began is no more. Now I am staying a week at a hotel on the Dili beach road, where is there is a balcony that overlooks the sea. I am here with my mother, Mana Sheila.

What are the plans for these days in Dili? I am staying here the week rather than travelling straight to Lospalos because there will be a series of traditional music concerts and workshops in the lead-up to Independence Day celebrations on November 28th. But there is lots to do:

Baucau project

  • There are some further Ministry of Education representatives that I hope to speak with this week (I am hoping they may be present for some of the music festival). These are people that I hope may be able to point me towards instruments that are available for use in Baucau.
  • While in Melbourne I downloaded a large number of documents on human rights, and children’s rights in particular. I need to start reading through these as preliminary research for my project. I need to find an angle from which to launch the music composing with the children.
  • While I was in Lospalos an idea was floated about some possible sources of funding support for this project. I want to follow up some of those ideas this week, see if I can find out who the people to speak to are, and go and speak to them.

Lospalos project

  • There is a possibility that some instruments have been donated to Many Hands that can be used by my music project. There is a chance they may be here already in Dili. I need to suss this out.

Lospalos house

  • There are a few things I would like to buy to take back to the Lospalos house, things I either forgot to buy in Melbourne, or didn’t want to try and pack in my suitcase from Melbourne and hoped to buy here. Things like a new toilet seat – not essential, but if I can find a cheap plastic one I think I’ll enjoy using it for the remaining months I am in the house in Lospalos. A toilet without a seat feels a bit like a toilet in a prison, or a public toilet, I think. And the rest of the house is so lovely!
  • Other things include finding a dispenser for the big gallons of water I bought to use in Lospalos. I have no idea where I will find one of these, so some investigation is definitely needed.

Other Lospalos things

Can I go to some of the rehearsals with the traditional music and dance group next week? I hope so… And can I start some initial meetings with children who will be involved in the music projects? I’d love to start tossing ideas around about possible ‘Lospalos secrets’. ‘Secrets’ is the theme/starting point for my Lospalos project. I am just realising that I haven’t written about that yet. A more detailed post of those ideas will follow.

Getting to know Dili

  • There are lots of things I haven’t yet had the chance to do in Dili. For example, Madre Kitty, the fun and spunky nun in my tetun classes at DIT is based with an order here that runs an early learning centre, and a hostel for young girls here in Dili. She has invited me to visit and see their work. I’d really like to do this.
  • There is a Truth and Reconciliation Museum that I have heard wonderful things about. I would like to visit this.
  • The best markets in town are apparently at Hali Laran. That is on my list of things to check out.
  • I haven’t been to ANY Dili beaches! This is a dreadful state of affairs. People rave about ‘Jesus’s backside beach’ for example (the back beach below the statue of Jesus that lives out on the promontory, known here as Christo Rei).

Musical magpies

The main reason I returned to Melbourne in November was to lead the last two Jams at Federation Square for the year. Both were well-attended (around 50-70 in each, I’d say) – I’ve been gratified this year to see our numbers of teenage and adult instrumentalist participants increasing. When they are in large number, they balance out the under-5s that are also enthusiastic attendees, and so the musical outcome is much stronger for all involved.

I’m a bit of a ‘music collector’, I’ve realised. I love uncovering new musical ideas, and finding ways to apply them to the musical environments that I inhabit. This is a strong motivation for collecting original and unusual pieces of musical material from around the world. Unlike an ethnomusicologist, who is fascinated by what the music reveals about the community that performs it, and thus tries to keep that music as pure and unsullied as possible, I am more of a magpie. I collect musical ideas – melodies, songs, rhythms, riffs – and find ways to apply them to my own world. They change straight away, the moment I take them and try them out on my clarinet.

The Jam I led for the MSO this month contained two musical ideas I have ‘collected’ this year. One was a riff that I heard Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopian vibes player and his band) play in his Melbourne International Jazz Festival gig this year. I took the 5-note Lydian mode that formed the backbone of the piece, adapted a riff from it, shifted the key up so that it would be playable by young players, and made this the starting point for the Jam.

Halfway through, I introduced the Fataluku work chant that I learned just a few weeks ago in Lospalos – the corn-kernelling chant with the words cele cuku cele cuku lao ta ta te. We used the rhythm of this chant as an initial idea, but then all the Jam participants invented their own ‘work chant’. I asked them to think of a task or job they ften have to do, and invent a word riff that they could say to make this task less onerous, less boring. One of the ideas that emerged was:

Wash the dishes

Dry the Dishes

Turn the dishes


We invented word chants, isolated and memorised the rhythms formed by the syllables, then set these rhythms to music using the 5-note Lydian scale.

By the end of the Jam everyone had at least three original riffs to play, and could change from one to the next quite freely. The next step on from this would be to improvise on the 5-note mode, creating solos; from there things could get even freer in terms of pitches and harmony.

I felt happy too, to be sharing something I had learned so very recently with all the participants. It’s great to have a forum in which to explore something that is a completely new idea even for you.

Jams will be different in 2011. I am only leading one set of Jams at Federation Square; there will also be Family Jams AND Under-5s Jams at the Melbourne Town Hall as part of the MSO’s Beethoven Festival.

Nine days in Melbourne

I’m writing this in Darwin Airport, awaiting my flight back to Dili. I’ve had a whirlwind few days in Melbourne. Here are some of the things I’ve done:

  • Planned and created parts for a Jam with MSO
  • Led two of these MSO Jams, incorporating some ideas from Ethiopian Mulatu Astatke blended with the Fataluku work chant I learned in Lospalos
  • Finished article for the International Journal of Community Music, and sent off a description of my community music practice with young new arrivals for a forthcoming book publication;
  • Met with the directors of my Australian/Timorese host organisation Many Hands International to talk through my experiences so far, and to flesh out the project outcome ideas in more detail;
  • Several dinners with friends – this was a week of over-eating I’m afraid
  • Attended an excellent one-day conference on Ethical Issues in Research with Refugees and Asylum Seekers
  • Uploaded the final pieces of text and recordings to my new website, and launched it (as of yesterday – hurrah!;
  • Stocked up on Timor essentials – DEET-flavoured insect repellent supplies, tuna in freshwater, spices like fenugreek seeds, etc.
  • Attended Tony’s house recital where he performed alongside his chief collaborators for this year. Extraordinary music, excellent company.

It’s been non-stop. It is in fact a relief to get on the plane. I’m looking forward to my return to Timor. I had a slight sense of distraction that I carried around in my head the whole time I was in Melbourne and I think this was a subconscious attempt not to separate myself to strongly from Timor just yet.

The rest of the visa extension saga

Monday (day 36) was Immigration Department day. I had to collect my passport which would hopefully by now be supplied with a sparkly new visa that would last for the duration of my stay.

Seidauk,” the helpful gentleman smiled at me when I handed him my passport collection form. (‘Sidauk’ means ‘not yet’). “Seidauk? Why seidauk?” I asked him. “You told me I could come on Friday last week.”

At this he frowned. “Friday last week I told you? Hmmm,” he replied, and he took the passport collection form back from me for another look.

“I fly to Australia on Wednesday,” I told him helpfully.

“On Wednesday? You fly on Wednesday?”

“Yes… so I need my passport.” There was a pause while we both contemplated this particular information. Then I asked him, very politely, “Where is my passport now?”

He was still frowning, so I added, “I think you need to find it today!” Luckily the person I was dealing with was the one member of staff there who can speak English and is relatively good-natured with his work. I think he is generally amused by his many dealings with malae.

He got up out of his seat, and said, “Wait here”. Then he disappeared out a door behind the counter. I sat down with Mana Er and waited, and he didn’t reappear for the next hour or so. They’ve lost my passport! I realised, with a fatalistic sense of horror and comedy. They don’t know where it is.

Mana Er also got in on the drama and I learned lots about getting powerful people to help you in Timor as I watched her speak with various officials. She was always quiet and respectful, speaking in a low voice so that others couldn’t hear, but she also told them things about what an important person I was, that I had a meeting with the Ambassador the following day (true, but not necessarily because I am such an important or famous person), that I was flying to Australia this week, that it was all very important and urgent.

Finally, the smiling, good-natured official reappeared, looking somewhat harried and hassled now. He called me over. “Write your phone number here,” he said, handing me a notebook and pen. As I wrote in his book, I asked for an update.

“We-e-e-ll, the director is sick and in hospital. The deputy director is in a meeting. We need someone to sign your form.”

I tried to be helpful. I offered to take the forms to the hospital and to track the director down myself (this was me being more bloody-minded and frustrated than helpful, I confess), but he waved that suggestion away.

“I will try to finish your visa for you. I will call you when it is ready”.

“Do you know when that will be?” I asked.

“Maybe about 4…,” he said vaguely, and so that was where we had to leave it.

As we left the building, we discovered that Dili was being pelted by one of those sudden intense tropical rainstorms that can hit it in the afternoons, so we ran along the driveway and across the road, leaping puddles as best we could, and dashed into Mana Er’s husband’s car – I was amazed to learn he had been waiting for us all this time.

We waited at Mana Er’s house for the phone call, and sure enough, at about 4.15pm I got a call from a man telling me that I could collect my passport from Immigration whenever I was ready. I raced back there, knocked on the door, was relieved when they opened it, and they checked my name, and handed me my passport. No money required! All done! A visa for the full length of my stay. Phew.

Two days later – day 38 – I left Dili and flew back to Melbourne to do a workshop for the MSO and follow up a few other project developments.

Finishing up the first Timor stint

Days 33-38 passed by incredibly quickly. Saturday morning (day 34) I was supposed to be travelling by bus to Baucau but the driver came down with an eye infection and couldn’t drive, so Mana Er booked me on another bus for Sunday morning. I spent this bonus day in Lospalos going to the big Saturday market with Ona. We bought various vegies (way more than we needed, it turned out) and I fell in love with some little dishes made in the brittle local pottery style. “You don’t need them,” Ona reminded me, but I bought two and back home used them to store things like onions and garlic cloves and turmeric root in the drawers of the big kitchen dresser.

I also bought a woven basket to carry everything home in, but Ona wouldn’t let me carry it – wouldn’t even let me have a turn! Here she is with it on her forehead:

Sunday, day 35, I was up and all set to depart at 7am. Shame that the bus arrived to collect me at 6.20am! No breakfast for me. I sat next to Maun Elvis who chatted away in between various sneezes and coughs, and unsurprisingly I came down with a cold a few days after that bus trip.

They dropped me at Mana Lorensa’s in Baucau. There, I had a quick meeting with the Women’s Group and we recorded their song again. They also sang another song for me, one in their local language (Makassae) that is from Indonesian times and was the song of defiance and strength that the local people sang after an attack by Indonesian forces. We decided that they would continue to rehearse this song, the song they wrote with me, and a third, well-known children’s song in Tetun, and that they could prepare for a performance as part of the Human Right’s Day concert that I am organising with Marqy from Arte Moris Afalyca.

Sunday afternoon, day 35, Lorensa and I drove to Dili. It’s a beautiful drive, but it is also quite slow going at times. We arrived around 6pm, I think. That night I caught up with Sarah (the young UN intern from the house in Comoro) and we went to dinner and had a swim in the pool at her new place of residence.

Music idea – olohoto

This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago, and I have only just realised it never got posted. It’s just a little story, but describes one of my first ideas for the Lospalos music performance. Now, at time of writing (23 November) there are many more ideas. But this one was one of the first.

Thursday, day 32 (4 November 2010)

There is a bird that I keep hearing here in Lospalos. Its song is beguiling – it sings a row of eight (sometimes seven) descending tones – sme quarter-tones, some semi-tones. I’ve asked a few people about the bird and have learned it is called an olohoto in the local language (Fataluku). It doesn’t have a name in Tetun, apart from manu fuik, which according to my little dictionary just means ‘wild bird’, as opposed to manu, which means chicken.

Mana Er told me this morning that there is also a song about this bird. I’m going to get her to teach it to me later this afternoon.

In my daily playing I’ve started to play around with quarter-tones, imitating this little olohoto. I am still hoping to create a site-specific performance piece with the local children and musicians at the end of January, in the old Evergreen Gymnasium, and I have a feeling the olohoto birdsong will feature. Maybe we can surround the audience with whistling musicians and children, overlapping multiple versions of this quarter-tone scale. I might experiment with this idea in GarageBand this afternoon.

Lospalos projects

Wednesday, day 31

We have just had 2 days of ‘Loron Boot’ – (literally ‘big days’) that are holy days when most things are closed and everyone spends time at the cemetery and at church, honouring and remembering the dead of their family. Therefore, today has been my first day in Lospalos when I’ve been able to meet with government and NGO people who are relevant to my residency.

Mana Er and I spent an active morning meeting up with these people today. We started at the Ministry of Education and Culture, where we had a very positive and productive conversation with the senior man there. I talked about the composing work that I do with children, and he asked lots of questions about numbers of participants, age groups, and so on. One of the things I have been concerned about is the practicality of making projects happen in the school holidays – essentially my time in Lospalos coincides exactly with school holidays! But today I learned that Sr Abilio was quite relieved that I wasn’t trying to do something in November or February, as those months were already choc-a-block full of activities. I told him about my idea for creating an event of some kind at the end of January, and seeing if we could invite people from Dili to travel to Lospalos in order to attend (and at the same time enjoy a weekend in this beautiful part of the country), and he was quite excited about this.

For me, I was thrilled to learn that Sr Abilio runs a traditional music and dance ensemble. I explained that I was particularly interested in learning to play traditional instruments, and he seemed very open to me joining in with their rehearsals – they meet three afternoons a week.

Thus I am starting to see a schedule of some kind present itself, where I can spend my mornings working with groups, on projects that run for up to five days in a row, and some afternoons with Sr Abilio’s group, and others on my own at home, developing work and ideas further.

We met with two other local NGOs as well, and I am starting to see it could all get very busy, very quickly!

At this stage though, I am only in Lospalos for a few more days. On Saturday I go back to Baucau, then on Sunday afternoon I am back in Dili. I am getting back a couple of days before my scheduled flight back to Melbourne as I am still to collect my visa extension and passport from the Immigration office – it seemed prudent to allow extra time to ensure that I get this well before heading to the airport!

Settling in

Wednesday, day 31

The house I live in is owned by a family with four children; the are helped also by the younger sister of the mother, a girl who is the same age as Valda, who helps in my house.

The younger children are curious and chatty, and are quite entertained by my presence, a lot of the time. The other day we went for a walk into town with the two older children, and each time I heard one of them mention the ‘malae’ I would ask playfully, “who’s that malae you’re referring to?” They’d laugh and point to me.**

But there are nicer ways of referring to someone when you speak about them than just as ‘the foreigner’, and later on that day I was highly amused to hear the younger girl seriously going through my photo album with another person, explaining who each person in the photos was (according to what she remembered I had told her earlier):

And this one is Mana Osmina’s mother, and this one is Mana Osmina’s father. This is her grandfather, and this here is Mana Osmina’s sister, and her sister’s husband.

“Mana Osmina? Why does she call me Mana Osmina?” I asked Valda. “Oh, she doesn’t remember your name,” came the reply, “so she has just made one up.”

I feel quite touched to have graduated from being malae to having a name bestowed upon me by my young neighbour!

Last night I decided to treat myself in the evening to a DVD. While in Dili I bought myself Mad Men series 3. I made myself comfortable on the verandah with my laptop and got the DVD started. Before long, Aji, the boy, and the oldest in the family (aged 5), had joined me. I explained to him that the program was called Mad Men, and translated ‘mad’ as meaning crazy or angry. I could see him taken with the idea of crazy rather than angry and dug myself a little deeper into my hole by trying to say that the mad men of the title weren’t necessarily crazy in the Timorese sense of crazy.

Hmmm. Aji wasn’t interested, but amused himself for the next little while asking, each time Don Draper came on the screen, “Is that the crazy man?” and, “ Look, now the crazy man is talking to the woman/with the pretty little girl/driving the car”. It was quite a surreal experience, actually, especially given that no-one I know perceives Don Draper as particularly crazy.

** The funny thing about the ‘malae’ question, and who that refers to, is that they have named their pig Malae! I laughed so hard when I first heard this (they didn’t tell me, I heard them referring to the pig in this way. “Why do you call the pig Malae?” I asked two of the younger children. Their older sister emerged from the kitchen laughing and said it was because their pig’s pale skin was the same colour as malae skin, that’s why. So the answer to my question, “Who’s this ‘malae’ you keep talking about, was in fact, “the pig”.

Work plans in Lospalos

Monday, day 29

The little I’ve heard about the local music traditions has made me even more determined to learn what I can of the songs, instruments and traditions. The other night on local TV (I was in a restaurant and saw it there) there was a televised concert of traditional music and dance groups from all the different Timorese districts. One of the groups from this district played a very interesting suspended log drum. The playing of it was vigorous, and almost like a dance. The instrument seemed to provoke lots of commentary on the TV program, as the host went over to it and examined for the camera after the performance, and the camera kept returning to shots of it during later discussions and commentary. I’d love to find out more about it, and learn to play it.

Also there are many, many traditional songs. Some of these are work songs. Deb sang one to me the other day, a chant that is sung while people are removing the kernels from the corn. The work songs and chants might be sung throughout the work, and give the people energy to continue. Fataluku language seems very percussive – at least from the few words I’ve learned. For example, the word for ‘head’ in Tetun is ‘ulun’, but in Fataluku it is ‘chautapun’ (I’m writing phonetically). ‘Shoulders’ is another cool word – ‘chichika’. These words came up because I was translating ‘Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes’ into Tetun and then Fataluku. The Fataluku version will probably need a completely new melody as each of the words has so many syllables.

Here are my two favourite Fataluku words so far:

Aniamichanana = sole (of the foot)

Tanamichanana = palm (of the hand)

And here is “heads, Shoulders, knees and toes’ in Fataluku:

Chautapun, chichika

Ania-imire, lafukar

Ina narun, valikassar

O, miini.

In the town centre there is an old gymnasium – the Evergreen Gymnasium. The building is from Portuguese times. It doesn’t have any doors or windows, so essentially just a shell of a building. But it has walls and a floor and a stage, a balcony reached by a spiral stairway, and a foyer, and extra room off to the side. As a performance space it has heaps of potential. I’ve started to think about it as a site of an installation performance, where the audience could gather in the middle, and the performers appear in different parts of the space, gradually moving closer to the audience. Singing? The acoustic would be great for voices. However, that means that any noise from the audience would be similarly amplified.

As we drove out to Tutuala and Jaco Island yesterday, we drove through a number of small villages and one of these had a community centre. It caught our attention because it had a large painting on its side of a crocodile smiling and sitting on the beach in front of a sea and an island, which seemed a little ominous for us, on our way to the beach and the island. But I digress… I asked if many of the villages had community centres like this, and apparently many have them. The process for visiting and doing a workshop or project with the local children is not necessarily an easy thing to arrange – you certainly can’t just show up! Lots of consultation is required with the chief of the village and other senior people.

Seeing the community centre, I started thinking that an interesting thing to do would be to take a workshop project to different villages during the children’s school holidays in December. We could make instruments and play some music, taking ideas from the Ping! website. But the process for setting up these relationships is not a quick one – it requires great patience and plenty of time. Apparently foreigners don’t always know to allow enough time for these conversations, and this can cause a lot of confusion about the project and frustration for local people. Following their conventions and processes is about respect, and being ready to listen.