It’s interesting, I think, to take note of the music we listen to when we’re alone. Perhaps there’s a dog sleeping on a nearby bed, and a cat amongst the cushions on the couch, and, at least for me, it’s highly likely there’s a glass of wine involved, but essentially, at moments like these, it’s just us, our own breath, our own heartbeat, our own living.
Recently, my alone music has been one – or all – of the following.
The Optimist LP by London-based acoustic duo Turin Brakes. I’ve known their cracking song ‘Underdog (Save Me)’ for years, but I first bought this album, which came out in 2008, only twelve months ago. I was a writer-in-residence – such a grand term, probably a wanky term – and had made a trip from Launceston, my temporary home, to Hobart to give a workshop on writing about place. The Tasmanian Writers Centre put my up in an 1840s whaler’s cottage, which I loved despite finding whaling despicable, even historical whaling, and I began feeling this way when I was a little boy. Whenever I put on The Optimist LP I remember that little whitewashed whaler’s cottage, I remember the novella I was writing when not giving the workshop, and how much I enjoyed the writing of that story, because I was writing it for myself. I remember the kitchen in which I wrote for those few days, the view up to Mount Wellington, the fact that the infamous Salamanca Place markets were literally at the back fence, I remember that I was so happy.
The second ‘alone’ record is March of the Zapotec and Realpeople Holland by Beirut, which, in this context, is not a whole country but just one person, the ridiculously talented Zack Condon, a young man from the United States. It’s a two-disc set: the first is Condon’s typical street-side oompa-oompa brass-band confection; the second is more electronic, a little bit Depeche Mode, maybe almost full-on night-clubby, even if it sounds like it’s been made on a cheap Casio keyboard. The record reminds me of another residency, this time Bundanon, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift to the Australian people. In 2009 I was on that isolated stretch of Shoalhaven River for a month, and I loved every second of it. The words, the birds, the bushwalks, the late-night booze-ups with the other artists. Each afternoon it was my little tradition to pour myself a glass of wine and sit on the verandah and listen to ‘March of the Zapotec’. It felt like real living, true living, and I was so happy.
The third – and potentially the greatest – ‘alone’ record is playing right now and it’s Fordlandia by Icelandic minimalist composer Johann Johannsson. There’s a fair dollop of Arvo Part in this music, plus some Craig Armstrong, a film-score composer, and, just a touch here and there, some Sigur Ros, perhaps even some Massive Attack, though I might be getting carried away there. The point is lately I’ve been playing it most evenings, when a day of writing has been done, a meal’s been cooked and eaten, the television news has had its say, and the dark has come. Yes, Fordlandia is dark music (check out the title track if you don’t believe me), but with its slow cascading minor-key string washes it’s also very, very beautiful music, and it will always remind of this great shift in my life, when I moved from a city to a town to put writing and creativity at the centre of my life, at least as central as we can ever do such a thing, because I can’t forget about love.
So. Three albums. Two residencies, and a house that, sometimes, when I’m alone, I like to think of as a place where creativity might flourish. Christ, where would we be without music?