One Night the Moon: Instrumentation

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This post describes the instrumentation of the film One Night the Moon to inform those studying the text of the instrumental choices and their meanings – cultural, social and dramatic.

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Flinders’ Theme features violins, a low-pitched tin whistle, uillean pipes (pipes of the elbow), cello, bass drone and lute. The pipes and violins are typically found in Irish music and in that context are used for many purposes – to be grand, to lament, to dance and to be playful. The versatility of these instruments is boundless in Irish music but in Flinders’ Theme it is grand – like the landscape. Flinders’ Theme aims to contextualise the farmers who settled in the area and more specifically the family of Jim, Rose and Emily. Their cultural heritage, relationships to the indigenous people and to the land, needed to be firmly established musically as well as visually, so that their reality as a happy family could then be understood to be deteriorating as the story unfolded.

The Moon Child theme features female voices, which reappear through the film to represent the moon. We made draft recordings prior to shooting the film but ultimately we sang to the final cut so that the music responded to the moves of the moon and the child.

The Gathering features bodhran (a frame drum played with a stick), violins, uillean pipes, lute, cello and plucked bass notes. Later it also features a hand drum borrowed from the Greek musical tradition. The piece rolls along in a ‘call to arms’ to accompany the line search – an activity which has marred Australian history since European settlement.

Hunger draws from the Cretan tradition which is most evident in the use of the lute and a giant lyra (and upright violin) called a lyroukla. For this we also played rocks, a large pod of seeds, a clay pot, a drum with a stick and violin. This piece really monumentalises the frustration and failure of the father who had invested all his hope in being able to find the child by himself. During this piece, we see him isolated, distraught and hopeless on the hillside. This kind of piece is in stark contrast to the more comforting Flinders’ Theme

Nightshadows features similar instrumentation but starts with Kev whistling – the sort of whistles you can make when you cup your hands – mimicking the cooee of searching and communicating in the bush. Dijeridu is embedded in this sound scape – I recall when we recorded it, the birds in the courtyard began to tweet in response to the sounds and I you can still hear them at the end of that piece. The sound scape, being free and amorphous also sits in contrast to Flinders’ Theme and The Gathering which have a more formal musical structure.

Moody Broody features lute, violin and cello (and probably references Greek music structure more than Irish music) and builds tension around the feelings of the mother, who has very few lines or words and is silent for much of the film. Dijeridu is also featured here, when the tracker and mother come together in a weird, unexpected meeting. Moody Broody reflects the mother’s highly emotional state, and her desire (coupled with fear) to connect with the tracker in case he can help her.

Dijeridu also features in This Land is Mine. Kev and I chose to embed the dijeridu into the instrumentation and across pieces in the work– as we did with nearly all the instruments in the work.

Moment of Death is in the style of an Irish lament. Laments are common to the traditions that I have engaged with – Greek, Cretan and Irish music – and serve a variety of purposes in their own contexts. They can appear with or without lyrics, and may celebrate a renowned leader or event. A lament without lyrics seemed appropriate in One Night the Moon as there seemed to be nothing more to be said once everyone accepted that the child was gone. A child is lost, indigenous knowledge was offered but denied, the family is divided, efforts to bridge any gaps are thwarted/impossible – and eventually the child dies. This is the lowest point of the drama and emotions are running high, but time is taken out to focus on the loss and its loneliness through this music and the landscape.

Little Bones gives the mother a voice, and again features, lute, violin, lyroukla, frame drum, and pizzicato bass. It is played in free time as a song with lyrics and then turns into an instrumental march as the body is delivered to the father. The piece ends with a rendition of One Night the Moon from the film’s opening, plucked on violin and mandolin, to recall the child with her family.

Finally, Ruby Hunter chose to song a hymn rather that a song Kev and I had written called The Human Hymn as she thought it better to use a traditional hymn. We are so glad she made this choice, and that her earthy voice and incredible presence was captured in the film.

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One Night the Moon – music development

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When first approaching the story of One Night the Moon, we planned to tell the tragedy through music, aiming to use as little speech as possible to convey story, emotion and cultural information. To develop the music alongside the script, we had three composers and an ensemble of musicians who came together in workshops. We created a presentation somewhat like a radio play based on the skeleton of the real story. In its rawest form, the first presentation of the piece included music and narration by John Romeril (the writer) to tell a narrative. So the work in its first iteration was an audio piece.

I asked the songwriters to focus on characters who were pivotal to the drama – Kev Carmody on the songs for the tracker and Paul Kelly to write for the father/farmer. We agreed to work together on songs for the mother hence collaborations led to creating Little Bones, One Night the Moon (the lullaby), What do you Know? and Unfinished Business. Kev Carmody and I then worked in isolation on writing instrumental music that linked to themes and sequences in the script. Kev wrote guitar and dijeridu pieces which we blended with my compositions by playing them with the ensemble of musicians who are heard on the recording. Working with an ensemble that was close to the script, supported the music to develop into a cohesive whole prior to shooting and editing the film.

Instrumental music

In writing instrumental music, I saw the landscape and the moon as characters that sat alongside the people in the film. I wanted to convey the vast and powerful nature of the landscape, and whilst it was important for an indigenous view of the landscape to be present, I wrote much of the “landscape music” through the eyes of the settler, with a pioneer attitude and an outlook that the place was vast, scary and unknown. For the purposes of the drama, the landscape needed to be perceived as ominous, enticing, powerful and easy to get lost in – Rachel Perkins and I referenced Picnic at Hanging Rock, for example, in developing this portrayal of the landscape. Hence the instruments featured here are borrowed from the Irish tradition, and placed in a new context. In One Night the Moon, the settler is disconnected from the land, doesn’t understand it or how to work with it or connect to it. The instruments I selected bring this disconnection to the fore and also reflect the grandeur of the landscape, its omnipresence, and conversely the brevity of human life.

The moon was treated similarly. For the film it needed to be a character that is beyond human control, is enticing, and could lure the child away in the night. But it was also used as a connector. The choice of female voices for the moon, allowed us to let a range of characters who were otherwise separated to connect, by noticing the moon. Their emotions moved between fear, longing, despair, and hope and each time the moon was seen, voices were heard and we could imagine the child might still be living. Kev observed that the female voices connected to the human and community experience, rather than the race-based story that was underlying much of the action.

It’s worth noting that in the final cut there are only 20 spoken lines on film, which always surprises me as it seems like there’s more but I guess that’s the power of music, people and landscape! Given this, what is said on screen is punchy and either supplies information to move the story along or tells you indirectly about the characters – eg, when Albert’s wife slams the door and says “Albert’s not here!” we understand the tension and history behind the settler/indigenous relationship.

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Early Melbourne

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Over the next few weeks, students will learn about the settlement of Melbourne and consider the impact of Europeans on the Koori people. The Huddle’s program “Early Melbourne” focuses on events in the early 1800’s, through the lives of three characters: William Barak, William Buckley and John Batman. Learning about this significant event, enables students to consider indigenous Australia, intercultural understanding and events that form the basis of our existence in modern-day Melbourne. This is pivotal to reconciliation, knowing the place we live in and building our community by understanding our place within it.

The program begins with a pre-learning activity I call “Graffiti the Treaty” where students write titles, captions, thought bubbles and speech bubbles on a painting of white settlers (John Batman) making a treaty with Koori leaders in 1835. This is done on our Samsung Slates, using its stylus and a digital image of the painting.

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They go on to learn about the lives of Barak, Batman and Buckley by viewing images and texts from the 1800’s – for example, a transcript of a treaty, paintings of the natural environment and early settlement, photographs of indigenous people at Flagstaff and paintings by William Barak. They also view video commentary on the significance of these that are sourced from Victoria’s key cultural institutions available through Culture Victoria http://www.cv.vic.gov.au and browse the National Museum of Australia’s interactive resource Batmania http://www.nma.gov.au/interactives/batmania/shell.html

Discussion, being an important part of learning at The Huddle, enables students to question the meanings behind images, facts and events, to uncover the interaction during settlement and express their own views on what happened in Victoria and the situation that indigenous people found themselves in. Through images and discussion, students who are less familiar with Australia because they have only lived here for a short time, are also able to examine the origins of Melbourne and express their views on it. Students rotate through learning stations to examine pictures, maps and artifacts relating to the content so they can recycle language and grasp concepts through discussion with their peers. They learn new words in Koori languages and identify how central Melbourne, the docks, bay and Yarra have changed over the past 200 years.

At the end of the program, I will ask students to discuss whether the exchange of items such as axes, mirrors, flour, blankets and scissors was a fair exchange for 500,000 acres of land and how the exchange and settlement could have happened differently. The students will also make “freeze frames”, shot on Samsung Slates, depicting scenes from the extraordinary life of William Buckley – the escapee who lived with the indigenous people around Port Phillip Bay for 32 years prior to the arrival of Batman and Faulkner.

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