It was a relief to be able to get back to NZ in 2022. After a few years of not being allowed to go back to your own country (who thought what would ever happen?) we embraced craziness and returned for a month in early 2022, ready to chnage plans rapidly if people we were staying with go Covid etc. Plenty did.
In the first days of the trip S was lucky enough to go on a Great Walk along the Paparoa Track, essentially an old gold road in the North West corner of the South Island. Amazingly they had great weather, pretty much unheard of in that part of the world due to the punishing prevailing weather slamming into the mountains after 500 miles of clear air across the Tasman Ocean.
S sent me a recording she had made on her phone of native birds. It wasn't a good recording, it was just a note really. But I became somewhat entranced with it.
On the same day that she sent it to me I was in the Christchurch Art Gallery where, among other things, was the great canvas by Bill Hammond - Bone Yard - Open Home.
It's a big beast too - maybe 3 metres across.
Here's the collection reference if you are into that kind of thing https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/2020045/item/bone-yard-open-home-cave-painting-4-convocation-of
Like many I love a bit of Hammond, for me pretty much the perfect Kiwi painters in the heroic mould - big, intuitive, gestural and punchy.
I sat for quite a while in front of this and then, over the next few days, as I floated around Christchurch in a holiday spirit, I kept coming across the Hammond books and spent a fair bit of time in the new Library with them.
It's worth noting for my now Kiwi friends that birds are a thing in Aotearoa. Prior to European conquest there were no predators, like none. No dogs, no ferrets, no rabbits, no cats, no cows, sheep.... there were no animals that the English would recognise as they disembarked in the new colony.
That changed rapidly of course and the native birds suffered and, over many many years, efforts are bing made to return some of the variety and number by establishing colonies and sanctuaries and the like.
But, while we could veer into twitcher territory here and get all gooey eyed over 'nature', my interest was really piqued by Hammond's description of his trip to the Auckland Islands:
“It’s bird land. You feel like a time-traveller, as if you have just stumbled upon it – primeval forests, rātās like Walt Disney would make. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s also full of ghosts, shipwrecks, death…” —Bill Hammond
Birds are really fucking weird. I mean I know most animals don't give a fuck about humans (and rightly so) but birds are just so odd. They are almost mechanical, strange machines en mass, but still with this wonderful dream about them - the dream of flight.
And coming from the UK the birdcall in Aotearoa is intense. I got rather obcessed and started wandering out at dawn where I could to hear the rising of the birds. Once you start listening you can't really stop and you start to tune into the ensemble of it - the swirling competition and space and layers of sound.
Rips, squeaks, riffs, rills, segues, motifs, motives.
Not romantic, pure being.
When I got back to the UK I made these tracks. They all contain the sample, bald and disguided and manipulated in many ways, all of them influenced by the tone-colour of Hammond's sickly acid blue greens (which I absolutely love).
Finally the marvellous canvas 'The Fall of Icarus (After Bruegel) is just epic.
There's the colour and, like the original, Icarus is an after thought, an almost irrelevant detail while the impassive birds barely note the event.