Making Peace I & II (2023)

My musicking process / continuum is unavoidably autobiographical, always reflecting some aspect of whatever life events my ‘self’ is experiencing at the time. I think of my albums more as creative journals and sketchbooks, drawing and writing in sound. The act is immediate, grabbing snatches of life as it swirls, rumbles, whizzes, grinds and shudders through me, transmuting the felt experience into sound so as to creatively reflect on it, interrogate it, and gain insight into my human evolution.

Sense of place, and changes in my environment, are important factors for me in terms of how well I cope or function, how my autistic sensitivities present themselves, whether I manage to maintain internal equilibrium or not. Moving house is a major upheaval to anyone’s environment, and can be many things: a liberation or release, an unwelcome expulsion, a distressing loss, a practical necessity. The embedded learnings in moving house – by which I mean deeper aspects of ourselves that we might encounter – can include: surrender & acceptance of ‘what is’, resistance & fearfulness, creative expansion, potential & renewal, confusion & displacement…there are plenty of opportunities to observe our responses to life when we are ‘moving house’.

In the years since I began regularly recording my music (2016 – now), my family and I have moved house three times. Each move has had an entirely different flavour, and each new environment (land & house) has seemed to offer us particular ‘life learnings’, marking different stages in our lives together (and our lives apart). When we first moved in 2017, from Eggs & Bacon Bay to Kalonga Rd, my musical journals were the trilogy Tectonic / Melancholia / Stelliferous. When we moved from Kalonga to Petcheys Bay in 2022, my journals were Floater / Kalonga / Displacement Ritual. Eight months later, 2023, and we’ve just moved again, from Petcheys Bay to Deep Bay. Like the transition from Kalonga to Petcheys, this latest move occurred gradually over two months, and during that time I made four albums reflecting some of my inner process: Making Peace I & II, Looking For Light, and Burial Grounds.

Our time at Petcheys Bay was often filled with tension, dark and strange, physically & psychically uncomfortable, and a huge test on our inner resources. Of course, this was a convergence of influences, not only our environment. For instance, it was interesting to learn that there were several major planetary movements during this time, which from an astrological point of view were specifically contributing to the atmosphere we were experiencing: shadows & fog, uncertainty, doubt, heightened emotions, trauma healing, addictive behaviours, issues of trust and concealment, digging to the roots of things, and the consequences of leaving things buried.

From the outset, I had felt the land & house as a ‘bad place’ – by which I mean that energetically there were so many layers of historical trauma in that spot, that it seeped into the present, and I felt sensitive to that. The rural farm property had been neglected and was overgrown, and piles of farm rubbish lay hidden or exposed all around the place. We had no privacy – a separate tenant lived in the upstairs area of the house, and there was no sound insulation between the areas. While we tried to be compassionate toward her situation, living as she did with her own unhealed complex trauma, her emotional dysregulation and distorted perceptions made our time there very difficult. Even the flora and fauna seemed to reinforce themes of aggression, intrusion, invasion, abrasion. The house was surrounded by stinging nettles, thistles, blackberries, neglected rose bushes; the soundscape was dominated by birds with especially abrasive, piercing or primal calls: two tribes of grunting mudhens, the strangled squark of wattlebirds, roosters crowing at each other across neighbouring properties, kookaburras cackling, the penetrating sonic of a thrush, the mournful clatter of nearby pacific gulls, the shrill shriek of the parrots – all contributed to the layers of intrusion in our days and nights.

H & I also hit a point of polarisation in our relationship: whereas my gut instinct was telling me it was a ‘bad place’ for me, H seemed especially connected to the place. She immersed herself in a process of being very present with ‘what is’, recognising the layers of trauma in the place & deliberately channeling her love into it as a healing loop. She especially embodied this in the truly glorious garden she sculpted from a mangled / tangled nothing, with flowers and herbs that sprung into being like supernovas of beauty, defiantly alive, ablaze with optimism and delight. The garden was her journal and metaphor, as she dug deep into the soil she dug into herself, as she invoked growth and hope in her plants she invoked the same in herself.

Meanwhile, my gut feeling did not subside over time. I knew that it was an unhealthy environment for me, that I needed to move elsewhere, but of course that raised questions about our relationship, as H had no desire to move. I had no income, nor any idea how I could manifest an ideal environment for myself. I sent the intention out there, and focused on the present. I did my own deep digging, I found new ways of living with Absolute Uncertainty, sometimes I found reasons to appreciate and sometimes I found reasons to just be away from the house.

In February I had an opportunity to spend two weeks interstate, reconnecting with my blood family for the first time in many years, and revisiting layers of myself from a distant past. Not only was it a visit of healings and shifting old habits of relating with my family, my being away also enriched the communication between H & I, and seemed to ‘raise our vibration’, as the mystics say. It was an intense and profound time, I felt simultaneously radiant with love and exhausted. Refreshingly, I felt myself in motion, purposeful. A day or two before I was about to return from this odyssey, and still not knowing what I was coming back to, H called: a new rental had been offered exclusively to us via a friend, a sanctuary in the bush, private and beautiful, and it even had a self-contained studio separate from the house, which could meet my need for both solitude and connection – as H & I had been envisaging for quite awhile. On viewing this miraculous new house, H had realised she wanted to move after all, with or without me – during my absence, she’d also ackowledged she’d been using my discomfort as an excuse for not setting her own boundaries around the unworkable aspects of Petcheys. When H collected me from the airport, she drove me straight to see the new house, and there was no question in my mind that we should move there.

We still had a couple of months before we could commence the lease, but the owners were happy for us to start moving things into one of the sheds beforehand. Somehow, now that we could see ourselves moving to a much healthier environment, our perception of our time at Petcheys took on a different angle. It seemed now more like a bridge, from our beloved Kalonga house to our newly-beloved Deep Bay house. We could see our Petcheys experience as a necessary process, even as some kind of test or karmic resolution, and that this amazing new house was a reward for our perseverance through some very unclear territory.

I made these albums as a conscious effort within myself to make peace with the many difficult and complex layers of Petcheys Bay, to find some grace in the experience and honour the place for its insights.

Central to these albums, and my creative starting points, were some environmental recordings I made at Petcheys. The first two, each about an hour long, were made in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2022, as I sat in a listening trance on the front porch, gazing over the main dirt road and the Huon River. Mainly these NYE recordings feature on the albums Looking For Light and Burial Grounds, which I’ll write more about in a separate post, but a segment of one of them became the opening track on Making Peace II

The other environmental recordings I made at Petcheys became the tracks Peace I – IV, which appear on Making Peace I and Making Peace II. (Yes, I know all the numbers are clunky, but when it came time to name them I was just too tired to be clever…)

Anyway – one day, in amongst the turbulence of still living at Petcheys and being part-way moved to the new house, I had an opportunity to take some time out. I was at home alone (apart from ‘upstairs’), it was a deliciously sunny Autumn day, so I sat out the back by H’s glorious garden, her metal tongue-drum in tow (as featured on the Temple album). To minimise the disturbance to ‘upstairs’, instead of playing the instrument with rubber mallets, I tapped on it with my fingertips. It’s quite a resonant, responsive instrument, although much quieter played this way, but it seemed fitting to the day’s mood. I figured I’d just leave the phone recording while I noodled around, which I did continuously for about two hours.

As I began playing, I was confronted by an absurdity of environmental sounds: on top of the usual stream of bird noises, there was a repetitive hammering noise from a couple of paddocks away, roosters crowing across 3 different properties, a passing garbage truck collecting roadside bins, bursts of chainsaw, brushcutter, and other assorted interjecting machinery – in short, one of the noisiest days I’d experienced there. I found the juxtaposition both aggravating and hilarious, and the interference challenged me to sharpen my mindful attention to playing the instrument. Even as I played, I was amused at the thought of how the intruding noises would sound on the final recording, overlaid with such pretty music, and figured it would become an ironic comment on how ‘peaceful’ country life is. Interestingly, when I came to edit the recording, I was surprised (and a little disappointed) to find that those intrusive background noises are barely noticeable.

Making Peace I is predominantly three segments of the original tongue-drum recording, with some minimalist guitar layers added to tracks 2 and 3. My tongue-drum improvisations are entirely spontaneous, without method or structure, virtuosity or technical intelligence. I just played into the moment, skidding round corners when I thought I was losing rhythm then recovering, only to be thrown again by some unexpected bird (or other) sound.

The companion album, Making Peace II, continues with another segment of the tongue-drum recording (Peace IV), but also includes the first part of Release The Ghosts Of Trauma Past (the second part is the last track of Burial Grounds), and features improvised guitar rather than tongue-drum.

Both album cover images are photos of H’s garden at Petcheys – the delicate innocent pink of the nasturtium, the fragile twist of the lily – I chose them foremost for their beauty, their statement of H’s dedication to hope (in growing them), their relevance to my overarching themes of grace & appreciation, and even for their twee cliche – which is, of course, my own cynic piping up (meditation music, anyone?).

I feel these albums can be approached as a deep listening experience or an ambient meditative wash. Both albums offer an honest document, with a little electronic tweaking & some subtle embellishment, of a person in the moment, responding to a living process…that’s all. There are stumblings, there are monotonies, but they all definitely represent authentic moments, authentic life.