Notes on a stream and a trickle

The city has turned its attention to the Toitu stream lately, the name having been given to the redeveloped Otago Settlers Museum.

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 Flood.

<i>Otoitu in Flood<i>.
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 weirder.

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 weren't.

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 was.

Anyway, I want to hush now and let the music do the blogging. You can listen to it all online at - 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.


Big river in Old Bohemia

Far be it for me to promote classical music CDs, but the tone poem Die Moldau by Smetana describes a mountain stream becoming the mighty river flowing to the sea, in twenty minutes.