Looking For Light (2023)

Looking For Light contains many layers of meaning for me, all relating to my experience of living in a particular place over the months between July 2022 and March 2023.  The album emerged at the same time as three others (Making Peace I & II, and Burial Grounds), and all are meditations on the same central theme – a conscious farewell to a difficult place, and a difficult period of life. As mentioned in writing about the Making Peace albums, I created this music in the final month before we moved to a new house, a last burst of creativity before I packed up my music gear, and an attempt at emotional & psychological closure.

The place was Petcheys Bay, one of many tiny bays along the Huon River in Southern Tasmania. The house we rented, and the surrounding property, was steeped in difficult history, and it felt as if the layers of accumulated trauma were still energetically very much alive and insinuating themselves into the lives of anyone living there. The house sits on the site of the first colonial settlement of the bay in the 1800s, where an inn was originally built to accommodate the hundred or so workers employed to fell the timber there for export to England. Our landlord mentioned that there had apparently been a murder in the inn, but given the violent realities of Tasmanian colonial life back then, I’m sure the place would have witnessed every kind of human atrocity.

The existing house had been the family home of our landlord, a longtime local, farmer and retired clergyman. The family’s own history of tragedy added another layer of residual trauma to the template of the place. The pervading atmosphere was one of resignation to fate, a sense that the accumulated trauma was just too deep to deal with, too painful to address. This seemed to be the theme also for the other tenant who lived above us upstairs. Entangled in this were other themes – profound faith, surrender, acceptance, trying to find the places in the heart that could stretch to accommodate the unresolvable, that somehow there is a healing action in accepting things that may never be healed in a single lifetime. Mere Mind will not help us in these processes…we have to enter the language of the spiritual, the intuitive, the trusting of some force infinitely beyond our delusions of human control.

The whole Looking For Light album is built on an environmental recording I made on my phone, in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2022, as I sat in a listening trance on the front porch, gazing over the front paddock, the main dirt road and the Huon River. Predominantly it features a sparkling array of bird sounds, with the occasional vehicle rumbling past, and the drone of the nearby water pump. I used this recording as a centrepiece for the album in order to focus on the living beauty of the place, rather than the trauma – much as H had been doing when she invested herself in creating a colourful garden there. This was also my aim with the two Making Peace albums from the same period.

Originally I had intended the 60 min recording to remain intact as a single track, in order to have a sense of a continuous space over time. I especially wanted to highlight the bird sounds, such a rich variety of sonics in constant motion through the space as different species came and went. Over this I improvised some simple guitar patterns, trying not to intrude too much on the environmental background. I was mostly interested in its textural qualities, rather than melody, composition, development etc. I feel the presence of the guitar is almost that it’s not there even though it’s obvious to the ear (except when a particular melody or riff has really stepped forward, eg Petcheys Theme and title track Looking For Light). I left extended spaces of birdsong between the guitar vignettes, so the instrument steps in quietly for small moments before receding again.

In the end, due to technical limitations, I had to divide the hour into smaller tracks. Not my preference, but it gives each guitar improvisation a bit more definition, they still run in their original chronology, and the same space is given to the interludes of birdsong.

My underlying thoughts in choosing titles for this album were particularly in the direction of our landlord, a quiet and humble man who had survived much. In my few interactions with him, I had the impression that his faith was central to coping with the traumas in his life – and that his personal practice of faith had given him a profound acceptance of existence. I don’t subscribe to any formal religion myself, but I have certainly had experiences that I can only describe as ‘God’ (as distinct from other experiences I could only describe as ‘Buddha’, or ‘extraterrestial’, or ‘Spirit’, or ‘Cosmic Light’), and somehow there was an element of ‘God’ energy woven through the weird mix at Petcheys. I almost named the album ‘Letting God’, in reference to allowing, accepting and letting go – ie knowing we really have no control.

In small tribute to our landlord, I have quoted him in one of the track titles. One day he came to do some repairs, and his back was giving him trouble. Having lived with back trouble half my life, I offered to help, but he declined and said with a worn smile, “It’s all an act”. His look was ambiguous, as was his meaning; I wondered later if he was just being self-effacing, or pointing out that our physical complaints are inconsequential in the greater scheme of things, or even if he was playing with words (eg “It’s all an act….of God”). Perhaps he meant a bit of all these, but I didn’t ask and the moment moved on. Yet his throwaway line still lingers in my thoughts….how do we come to terms with the fact that all our human drama, from our petty concerns to the things we hold dear, are ultimately an act?