Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dawn Choruses

The good news: when Wellington composer Nic MacGowan broadcast a 25-minue "futuristic concert" consisting of wailing sounds dubbed the Synth Birds of Dawn, at 6:30 am from the hills surrounding Island Bay, at least eleven people complained to noise control.

It's heartening that people are now prepared to demand the same respect for peace in the morning hours, as in the evening.

On the other hand, McGowan was clearly unrepentant, and of the view that complaints were driven by mere philistinism. He appeared on the front page of the Dominion Post, defiant on a hilltop beside his Dawn Synth machine. The sounds had apparently been inspired by the dawn chorus and, god forbid, church bells.

The synthesizers and speakers on three hilltops were intended to create "soft creature-like tones" across the valley. "We were basically playing Island Bay like an instrument" he said. "it was an incredible sound, you get all these slapback echoes".

Right on. But get this, dude. At 6:30 am, many people are bloody well sleeping. I wouldn't care if it were the choirs of seraphim themselves that were singing - my response would be the same as when the unidentified council contractor chose 6:55 am as a good time to clean up the verge outside my window with a weedeater the other day.

In our rather frantic modern existence, sleep is a rare, precious commodity. And for me, and I suspect quite a few others, it is sweetest of all in the early hours of the morning. As much as we try and squeeze ourselves into the 9-5 mould demanded by this society, our metabolisms know better. You early risers are welcome to leap out of bed before the crack of dawn - but please, give us the same respect as we do to you when you stagger off to bed bleary-eyed at 10pm.

The upshot of the compaints were that McGowan decided to shift the time of his second "concert" planned for the following morning - to 7:30 am. I'm just glad I live very far away from Island Bay.

In the end, though, I understand his creative urges. So I'd like to pass this message to the misunderstood composer:

Nic, I too was disappointed that many Island Bay residents failed to appreciate your futuristic and innovative concert the other morning. I appreciate what you were trying to do.

You see, I'm an aspiring experimental musician too. Right now I'm interested in the sounds created by the interaction of organic and industrial objects. One thing I'd like to do is take a stick, a piece of driftwood, maybe, and run it up and down the colorsteel roof of a house. The driftwood the bow; the roof the instrument. A meeting of the driftwood's weathered curves, shaped by wind and tide, with the rigidly corrugated, industrial surface of the steel. You know?

Nic, can I come over and do it at your place? I would "play" your house. I'll be over to do a 30 -minute concert, ok? Starting at 11:30 pm on Tuesday night?

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Susan said...

I laughed out loud at the mental picture of you "playing the roof" - perhaps you should write a letter to the paper with just such an idea. I've heard much more way-out notions.

noizy said...

Poor old Nic.

The thing that has been missed in a couple of stories about the Synth Birds is that it was part of the Island Bay Festival, of which Nic has been the main organising person for the last couple of years. There were dozens of events over the course of the week that would've caused more noise (Bands in the Park) and disruption (the Festival Parade and the Ribble Street Races) than the Synth Birds, yet, because these are regular, traditional events, not a jot of complaint about either.

6:30am, is, admittedly, early. But the sounds themselves were extremely ethereal, not at all constant, and, despite being relatively close to two of the locations from which they were being played, they didn't wake my wife or kids up (I had gotten up early to listen). Having lived in Newtown for a couple of years, I'd've said that the gibbon's morning wake-up calls would be louder than the 'noise' the Synth Birds inflicted on Island Bay (not to mention the actual bird dawn chorus, which was deafening over early summer).

And the second concert at 7:30am could hardly be heard over the early morning traffic noise.

And I reckon he'd be amenable to your "playing the house" idea, whatever hour of the day you chose to do it. I don't think his neighbours would approve though.

Simon Bidwell said...

Cheers, James. I should have relied on the DomPost not to get the full context in there. To understand my reaction to this story you need to read my previous post on morning church bells. While I do hate getting woken up early, my main point was the double standard compared to the extreme sensitivity about noise at night.