Travelling from the city, my most familiar environment to a place like Bogong, felt like I was getting ‘into nature’, a kind of imagined place free from human influence and control. I knew it was an area driven by industry but I couldn’t shake this fictional place from my mind. I was a little disappointed when instead of finding my untouched wilderness I found a town built for the purpose of an extremely human controlled environment, a hydroelectric scheme. The tension between my preconceived ideas of the place and reality dissolved during the week as I learnt more about the history of the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme and saw the industry at work. I began to appreciate the function of the area and find wonder within it rather than imagining and wishing for a less human altered place.
Alice and I had chosen a spot on the bank of the lake to perform, as our sounds would jump left into the water and then wrap around to the right, following the stream. It was so strange to see the levels of the lake dramatically alter day by day, to either reveal or hide the lake’s contents. Some days our spot was submerged and other days we were far from the edge of the bank, completely changing the playing experience. Nearby our playing spot was what appeared to be a very odd hill plonked on flat land next to the lake. It was revealed to be the 11-storey underground Bogong Power Station that had a grassy knoll built on top of it to avoid disfiguring the surrounding ‘natural’ environment. At the station’s info centre I learnt about the 5-meter wide tunnel-boring beast that made it’s 6.5km journey between the McKay Creek and Bogong Hydro Power Stations only in the end to be encased in concrete and buried where it lay.
The surrounds at first felt distant and it was difficult to break out of feeling like an outsider or observer of the environment rather than another contributor to it.
When I began to play my instrument at various spots around the lake and with the other musicians I felt uncomfortable, as I couldn’t superimpose my city way of playing and sounds onto this environment. I didn’t know what to contribute especially when the constant bird and insect sounds were so amazing. I needed to find different ways of playing as I felt less impetus for constant change, being drawn to making repetitive and similar sounds as a kind of imitation of the constancy of the surrounds.
As I spent more time in Bogong I went through a process of ‘coming to terms’ with the environment, of accepting what was the function of the place and also of my role as a musician there. My way of seeing and hearing the place became less about cultural baggage and more about personalised experience, marking a memory with parts of Bogong that I spent time in, playing and documenting. I took a trip up the mountain one day, recording the overhead power lines, pylons and transformers. I was astounded by the heightened sound world revealed to me through the use of Philip’s parabolic microphone. My hearing became more sensitive from this experience as I sat listening to the birds, insects and gushing water sounds mixing with the buzzing and crackling of electricity generated by the lake, being sent to a nearby town down these lines through the trees.
During the week in Bogong, I appreciated the apparent oddness of the situation and the different kinds of listening and interaction the environment required of me. The alive responsiveness I find in improvising and playing with people, I also found in the environment. It was an experience with musicians and environment alike that demanded openness, reflection, compromise and an appreciation of sharing a brief moment in time.
Referencing artist Alice Hui-Sheng Chang and Bogong AiR