Woven Words: What a night!

Chanel Cole, Nishi Gallery (Photo: Katherine Griffiths)

Chanel Cole, Nishi Gallery (Photo: Katherine Griffiths)

As we were driving home from Woven Words, the most recent event associated with The invisible thread anthology, it occurred to me that the evening, which blended words with music, was rather like a three movement musical composition. It went a bit like this:

  1. Sara Dowse‘s bright and slightly quirky allegro
  2. Alex Miller‘s intense adagio
  3. Alan Gould‘s cheeky scherzo.

The event took place in an intimate venue in Canberra’s newest inner city precinct, New Acton, which, I understand, is positioning itself as an arts hub. Even before a fire in mid-2011 set the area back, there had been some lovely musical evenings in Flint, one of the precinct’s restaurants. The Nishi Gallery, though, is a very recent player on the block, so recent that I’m not quite sure what its long-term plans are. Last night, however, it became a delightful space in which a gathering of, guessing here, about 100 people heard three great authors read from their works, bookended by music (mostly) chosen by them and performed by local professional musicians. It was, in a word, a blast.

Sara Dowse text

Sara Dowse (Courtesy: NewActon.Com)

After some pre-show piano music performed by Adam Cook, Allegro started with the gorgeous Chanel Cole singing Kurt Weil’s “Speak Low” accompanied by Cook. Sara Dowse chose this because it was the theme song of Ava Gardner‘s film, One Touch of Venus, which is the title of Dowse’s piece in The invisible thread. In it she describes a weekend she spent with Ava Gardner when she was 7 and Gardner about 24. An unusual choice perhaps for a Canberra anthology, but the anthology isn’t solely about Canberra. Dowse’s piece is about those moments in your life in which you learn something precious and lasting. Her time with Gardner provided one of those moments for her. Her movement finished with another jazz piece performed by Cole and Cook, “Old Devil Moon”.

At question time I asked her how someone with such strong creative drive – she sings, writes and paints – ended up working in bureaucracy. She was, for those who don’t know, the first head of the Office of Women’s Affairs which was established by our new reformist Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in 1972. Her answer was perfect: They were very creative times, she said.  Can’t argue with that. They were.

Alex Miller

Alex Miller (Courtesy: NewActon.com)

After a short break, it was time for Adagio, my least favourite movement when I was a young music-lover. I was impatient, wanted something faster, with more beat. Now, though, I’ve learnt to enjoy and love the slow and the opportunity it provides to dwell. Tonight’s Adagio provided exactly that … It was bookended by Adam Cook playing the “City of Carcosa” by Larry Sitsky and the CSO (Canberra Symphony Orchestra) String Quartet playing Samuel Barber’s elegaic “Adagio”. Alex Miller has a love-hate relationship with Canberra, mostly the latter it seems! He earned a polite but forgiving (I think) hiss from the audience when he said that no-one chooses to live in Canberra. Wrong! However, he also said that he felt privileged to be involved in the event.

Miller suggested that writers would like to write music, that music manages to express something that writers never quite achieve. Now that’s something for us to ponder. Has it to do with music being the universal language I wonder? Would all writers agree? He talked about writing – about the importance of voice, about the imagination and the act of “imagining something into being”. How to write his novel, The sitters, from which he read, came while he was sleeping on a plane flight between Los Angeles and Sydney. It is about a portrait artist, and explores the nature of “art” and the relationship between artist and subject. The reading ended on:

It’s a story not an explanation.

I like that … it sounds simple but packs a lot.

Alan Gould

Alan Gould (Courtesy: NewActon.com)

The final movement, Scherzo, belonged to poet-novelist Alan Gould. It started with CSO String Quartet performing Percy Grainger’s “Molly on the Shore”. I noticed Gould’s head, up front, bopping away just like mine. Gould read several poems starting with “The Roof Tilers” which I mentioned in a recent Monday Musings. I love that poem. Gould was an engaging reader, introducing each poem with some background. He read his most recent poem “A Rhapsody for Kenneth Slessor” and “Sea Ballad“. And concluded with two flamenco inspired poems, first describing the challenge of replicating in poetry a flamenco rhythm. He read “Flamenco Rehearsal” and “Flamenco Pair”, at times toe-tapping the rhythm as he went. Appropriately, Gould’s movement ended with guitarist Campbell Diamond performing two Spanish pieces, “Junto al Generalife” by Joaquín Rodrigo and (appropriately) “Finale” by Antonio José.

When asked, at the end, whether a sense of dislocation was important to being an artist, Gould, also a model shipmaker, said that for him it was more a sense of being “oceanic” which he described as “being at home in the unstable element”. That may be why I’m a reader not a writer!

The evening was beautifully em-ceed by ABC 666 Radio announcer, Genevieve Jacobs. She was a charming presenter who engaged well with each writer. And she managed her high heels on the tiny stage with great courage!

The evening had a few little challenges. The microphones did not properly work for the singer who opened the evening, the seats were a little hard after three hours, and the venue has just one all-purpose toilet. These were minor. Far more important was the wine! As an Anything-But-Reisling girl, I do hope a choice of white wine is offered next time …

Seriously though, it was a delightful evening. The writers were generous, the musicians superb. Irma Gold, editor of The invisible thread, is doing a stunning job of exploring and exposing the invisible threads that connect the anthology to other arts, to readers, to Canberra. It’s exciting to be part of it.

POSTSCRIPT: With thanks to Dave, of NewActon.Com, for the images.

18 thoughts on “Woven Words: What a night!

  1. What a fantastic night. I tend to disagree with Alex Miller that music manages to express something that writers never achieve . For me music goes straight to my emotional feelings, whereas writing takes longer to register such emotional feelings in me. Neither am I sure that all writers want to be composers. However, I do love Alex Miller’s novels.

    • Thanks Meg for engaging with the post … I hope Miller reads it and sees what you say. I think it says a lot about what Miller is trying to achieve … Something fundamental, it sounds like, that comes from the self, deeper than language. I’m glad we have both art forms. Too much of one would be draining after a while!

  2. I wondered if you were there! What a priviledge it was. I particularly loved that Sara Dowse shared with us a part of her work that was left on the cutting room floor. Having just read The Sitters, it was wonderful to hear the author read it himself. It is such a lovely, dream-like book and Miller read it beautifully. And I also love The Roof Tilers – what a wonderfully observed piece of suburban magic it is.

  3. What an evening! Sounds brilliant. Not sure that all writers like to ‘be at home in the unstable element’, but that could mean so many things! And yet, thinking about it, I’ve always liked to be on the edge with a foot in the door.. and at the same time crave a most empty and constricting space of time in front of me. Not making sense perhaps?

  4. What a marvelous evening! I don’t agree with Miller about writers wanting to really write music. That to me implies that writing is nothing but an attempt at imitating music. The two arts are completely different and while writing can be musical, it and music take different routes in achieving their goals. I appreciate and am often moved by music but I don’t “consume” music like I do books.

    • Thanks Stefanie. A love it when people respond to statements like that … It seems to me to be saying something more about what Miller is trying to achieve with his writing. It comes out in the way he talks about the imagination, the unconscious and dreaming. I think he must see music as closer to that part of ourselves, the part we can’t explain in words. But, as a reader, I’m more with you. I adore music but as you say I consume words.

  5. What an event – words and music go so well together don’t they. You were obviously greatly impressed with the event and your enthusiasm comes across in your post

  6. I wish I could have been there too!
    I’m not sure I understand what Alex Miller was getting at, but I guess there must be many writers for whom the purity of musical forms represents a glittering goal, while words must, in some sense, be grounded in the everyday. I think about music all the time, in particular the ways that composers arrive at resolutions. There is a wonderful essay on the musical in Proust which has taught me a great deal.
    And on the ‘unstable element’ there’s a Brian Castro quote I love, where he talks about (these may not be his exact words) ‘sailing the seas without a compass and trusting the stars to bring me home.’

    • Thanks Dorothy. I’m sure I understood correctly but maybe Irma might see it differently. My sense though was something to do with that purity or expression … and yet, one could suggest that music could be so pure that we miss what it’s saying? I love that Castro idea … it sounds more or less what Gould means doesn’t it.

      You would have enjoyed the event I’m sure … it was special. Irma has done SO well. It feels like there’s been a vision behind the book … I’m sure it’s grown and changed a bit over time but the thing is that it’s there isn’t it?

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