The city has turned its attention to the Toitu stream lately,
the name having been given to the redeveloped Otago Settlers
The stream runs down Hawthorn Ave, Serpentine Ave, and on
through the Exchange to the sea; information I only know
because of the publicity, as the water was long ago
suppressed by those roads so you can't see it.
However, I am intimate with one of its tributaries, because
the first seven years of my life were spent in Lonsdale St,
which runs into Hawthorn Ave. Lonsdale St has a burbling
trickle in the bush alongside.
If you are a child, you can spend time playing in the
Lonsdale St trickle, keeping it free of weeds or perceived
weeds, damming and then undamming it, subtracting litter and
adding yabbies brought from other creeks, and in general just
checking on it most days.
This trickle will inevitably become the wellspring of your
adult environmentalism (which will preclude the careless
transferral of species between waterways).
But that is by the bye, or at least, that is an oblique
reference to the topic at hand.
Toitu. Inviolate, enduring. The name is also associated with
Studio Otoitu, an experimental recording studio that used to
run on word of mouth and song of mouth and grease of elbow,
in lower High St in the mid-2000s.
I didn't know about it then, because I was sheltered and
sheltered persons do not receive word of mouth. Besides, it
was years before I would form my kazoo orchestra and have
something to record.
Anyone could record anything at Studio Otoitu. It offered
"free, theoretically general access for whomsoever wished to
venture forth". It was "a naive, semi-conscious attempt to
develop a 'community' recording studio".
This information I only know from the liner notes to a
four-disk compilation that has just been released, of
remastered recordings from the studio, called Otoitu in
Otoitu in Flood.
The collection, the hard copy of which comes in a black
package with a die-cut rabbit motif, has been lovingly
assembled and generously handed out by producer Forbes
Williams, who also writes good liner notes.
It is a beautiful and intriguing thing to hear. I'd compare
it to the sound of forgotten water still running underground;
old echoey stuff you can only disinter with tender ears.
Every gargle a dim memory, every burble a soft secret.
Strange yet familiar.
I listened to disks one and two with gingernuts and tea. Disk
one is titled "Classics I". It is mostly singers with
acoustic guitars. Some of it I liked: I liked it when the
voices had gravel or rasp, but the truth is I'm too sensitive
to listen to Dunedin ghosts singing in earnest, really.
Disk two is called "Curios". The title is apt: among 26
tracks, the CD includes a song about vampires sucking, some
throat singing, spoken word, sonorous vespers about a recipe,
and the music of a microphone stand being moved.
Whereas I had ebbed somewhat from the first disk, I flowed
towards the second. It got me wondering about how a person's
aesthetic develops in the course of a life.
What had been the influences and tributaries that meant I now
felt more comfortable with contemporary weird music than I
did with contemporary pop, for example? I used to like pop; I
still like old pop. I just have a taste, now, for weird and
How did I get here? When did I depart? When on Earth did I
become sensitive? Where to next? That sort of thing.
Questions for us all to ask ourselves, probably.
Disk 3 is called "Improvised Music" and it satisfied my
cravings for the weird. It sounded like a New Zealand jungle.
"Ahh..." I sighed and eased into that, no comforting
gingernut needed. I was transported back to my burbling
childhood trickle, mushing around barefoot on moss,
surrounded by lush vegetation, birdsong, and the orgy of
eels, trout and frogs I always imagined were there but
The voices making the calls and croaks and groans began to
sound familiar: strange yet familiar. I read the liner notes
and saw some of them were acquaintances, artists still
lurking in this city. Acquaintances, confluences, influences.
Disk 4 is called "Classics II". More ghosts with guitars
mostly, although one had a harp. Earnest, youthful ghosts,
playing in a dusty Dunedin attic of old. (Studio Otoitu was
in an attic, the liner notes say.) A bit of a haunting, it
Anyway, I want to hush now and let the music do the blogging.
You can listen to it all online at otoitu.implectic.org - for
free, in keeping with the community character that has always
been the bed of this sonic stream. Happily, the liner notes
are published there in full, too.