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.
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 sing 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.