I am happy to announce the release of The Great Silence. This 40 minute composition combines a range of nocturnal field recordings in order to imagine our way into the dark layers of Australia’s colonial past. The release can be purchased through 3Leaves.
A short sample from The Great Silence:
When Australia was colonised in 1788 its soundscape was so unfamiliar to the foreign British ear that it was deemed inferior and unworthy. This attitude reflected the alienation and displacement felt by the colonisers, many of whom were unwillingly transported here as convicts from the industrial townships of Great Britain. The refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the landscape and the indigenous peoples who lived within it was so strong that a term now exists to describe the phenomenon: The Great Australian Silence.
With the moon overhead fruit-bats compete with each other for food in a native fig-tree:
The contempt (fear) felt by the colonialists towards Australia is best exemplified through the writing of the explorers who journeyed throughout Australia in the 1800s. Their journals are laden with negative adjectives to describe Australia’s native sounds; these include deathlike, dismal, gloomy and appalling. Ludwig Leichardt, an explorer best known for his disappearance into the Australian outback with 20 mules and 50 bullocks, described the song of kookaburras as mocking and the call of frogs as inharmonious. Thomas Mitchell agreed with many other early colonialists in describing Aboriginal music as sounding like groans. During one of his explorations Ernest Giles stated that the silence and solitude of this mighty waste were appalling to the mind. More of these early descriptions can be found on the programme Hearing the Past. A video with historian Michael Cathcart discussing Australia and Silence can be found here.
A frog in a swamp keeps steady time whilst crickets pulsate overhead:
The notion that Australia was silent, or void of life, demonstrated crucial imperialistic values. In part it illustrated the mistaken belief that the country lacked a significant civilisation prior to colonisation. This belief justified a brutal expansion of the colonial territory into traditional Aboriginal land. Almost half of the 250 Aboriginal language groups that existed prior to 1788 were systematically silenced through frontier warfare. Vital indigenous knowledge was lost, as was an ancient way of listening to the Australian environment.
Crickets gently pass the summer’s night away in long grass:
So what did the first colonialists hear? What was the soundscape deemed so unworthy that it was regarded as “silent”? By using nocturnal field recordings from Australia’s sub-tropical forests this composition imagines our way into the past. In doing so we hear a night that is far from quiet or deathlike. Crickets and cicadas sing from the trees, frogs maintain steady beats in the creeks below, fruit-bats call through the darkness. It is an environment filled with a boisterous vitality. It is The Great Australian Silence.
Please visit the 3Leaves website to purchase The Great Silence. Released April 1st.