INTERVIEW WITH ANNETTE HUGHES
How long have you been together?
We formed in 2008 to record, arrange and play Geoffrey''s back catalogue, and to give his home made instruments a workout. In the process, I recovered my own shoebox full of song.
What do you play?
I had begun cello lessons which was pretty confronting so between bouts of practice I'd pick up Geoff's Dulcimer and fool around with it. I must have reached a point beyond just passing interest when Goeff arrived home with a lovely crystaline cherry wood Applecreek dulcimer. There being no possible way to play a wrong note, I soon found myself proficient enough to play along with Geoffrey. I already knew them from hearing them over and over, but now I had a machine that could knit me into the music as well as the vocals. I've since become less intimidated by my cello, using it for bass and sound FX.
Geoffrey plays a range of instruments in addition to guitar; ukelele, his hand made banjolina and dulcimer. He has rather a lovely old Framus too. I buy instruments like other women buy shoes.
What are you working on?
We have been rehearsing together daily partly for the pleasure of making music, but also working towards recording a live album in our own living room to try to recreate the experience of hearing our performance as if you're in the room with us. I can't count the hours its taken to get to this point, but they have paid off.
You are working with a producer now?
In 2012 we met producer and engineer Kalju Tonuma who came round to hear us play, and has offered to help. It is devilishly difficult to record yourself, and having that outside editorial ear listening and giving you the thumbs up makes a huge difference to the energy of the performance. Kal's work is amazing. It has taken 4 years to get it all recorded and mixed- a mammoth project. The songs are both mine and Geoff's 'divorce songs' - which are the psychic catharsis of our lost loves. During the recording of this album, Kalju went through his own. It must have been completely gut wrenching for him to have to listen to them over and over - all our sad songs of hearbreak and loneliness - but each is redemptive in its own way, and unltimately, he has come through it and been 'born new again'. Record producers like Kalju are as rare as rockinghorse droppings. The emotional intensity of the project has been immense.
And now you are touring?
Yes, we are about to take our EP Whispering Highway on the road - a bunch of road songs from the recording project. I need to perform - I do not have Geoff's stage experience, so really, this preview is for me to get my performance up to speed so we can then go out and showcase the work.
And then what?
Death, I guess. I am 55 and Geoff 60. Most people are thinking about retirement at our age, but we've already had ours. We intend to spend the rest of our lives doing this - taking the work out to a wider audience, and not just to the centres - we will be touring the far flung places. I am partiularly keen to play the non-English speaking parts of Australia.
Featured Contributor Datson Hughes
from ABC's Pool team 08.07.10
When we think "Datson" we think of that quirky little car from the 70s that you could fit 50 people in, run for ever on two bucks, and it never, ever died. When we think of "Hughes" we picture a colourful palette that's a useful tool to produce a wonderful visual painting. So maybe it's only natural that when you combine those two thoughts, you produce a quirky, colourful workhorse that's capable of artistic brilliance! Perhaps that was also the thinking behind Datson Hughes ? Geoffrey Datson and Annette Hughes are one of Pool's most creative duos! So that's why we thought we'd find out a little bit more about who "DATSON+HUGHES" really are and what their involvement in Pool is.
What’s your day job?
We like to think that our day job is our various artistic pursuits - Geoffrey is a poet, composer and musician, and I'm an author, singer and songwriter but really we farm beef and trees. Mostly, they look after themselves, giving us enough spare time for our projects. The other added bonus is that the environment finds its way back into our work. Geoffrey does the on-farm work, and I do the off-farm gig, picking up whatever paid work is available.
About six years ago we moved from Sydney where Geoffrey was working at his music in a tiny studio in a vast noisy warehouse in Surry Hills, and I was working as a literary agent. Though we were working at the epicentre of art and culture, we found that we couldn't actually afford to leave the warehouse. When that realisation set in, that we were really economic prisoners of the city, we took the opportunity to move to Geoff's father's farm in South East Queensland to help out. The move was the subject of my book "Art Life Chooks" published in 2008.
On Pool you’ve contributed a lot of great audio and music. What can you tell us about your background and musical interests?
Geoffrey has been making music & the instruments it's played on for 38 years. Early experiments with reel to reel recording continue augmented now with digital technology. The music making is more like a nervous compulsion than any attempt to make a commercial product. His intention is to build a soundscape or sonic set in which to place the dramatic action conveyed in his words. A lot more like short opera than straight forward song. The work has evolved from early youthful adventures into pop and punk forms in bands Surfside6 (70s and recently included in the Inner City Sound compile of the Sydney punk scene by Clint Walker) and Samurai Trash (80s) in Sydney & Fred in New York (later 80s). His work in Belle du Soir is included in the recent M Squared compile of the inner city Sydney new music scene of the early 80s.
I had also been in bands in my misspent youth in Brisbane during the 70s but gave my Suzy Quatro fantasies away for motherhood and a career in arts management. When I met Geoffrey 10 years ago, I was completely taken by his sound - I'd never heard anything like his music and recognised, as poolie Belledamai did in one of her comments on an early post; "he's not amateur good...not commercial good...just good.." I found my voice again in his studio and we began collaborating not only on making music, but also showcasing the work and in 2000 we set up our indy label, Stickylabel .
Since making the move to the country, the strangest thing has happened. Geoff's formerly sophisticated, layered electronica has morphed into much more sparse, pared back and acoustic arrangements using his handmade instruments. We have begun rehearsing the recent works and find that they work beautifully live with just the two of us. We are currently working up to the release of a double album of past and present work - a musical memoir entitled Then, and Then. It's going to be launched at the forthcoming Reality Bites Literary nonficiton festival up on the Sunshine Coast on Sat 31 July. It's free, so if you're a local poolie, come along to the performance !
How did you find out about Pool?
I think it was first mentioned on Radio National. When I tried to sign up I didn't have a browser that could deal with it, but the idea was so intriguing that after driving poor John Jacobs nuts with my inane tech questions, I gave up and bought a new computer.
What do you like and what don’t you like about Pool?
What's not to like? And it looks so gorgeous! For some reason, no matter what images people upload, that blue works. A brilliant piece of design.
For artists like us, parallel to the mainstream and not physically in any particular 'scene', I can't tell you what a boon it is to be able to post new work and receive feedback from others whose work we can immediately check out to see where their commentary is coming from, and in the process find like minds we'd never have found otherwise. The fact that the content is monitored and pointed to by producers, that there is an avenue for broadcast on air and the opportunity to respond to the call outs are the most valuable aspects of Pool. It is a win win situation for the artists and the ABC - we keep sending in our content because the reward, although not financial is nevertheless tangible.
INTERVIEW WITH GEOFFREY DATSON
What got you started with music?
I've been recording sound since my late teens and though it speaks for itself I'd like to add a bit about method and motivations.
I grew up listening to 60'S & 70's pop on a crystal set built by my uncle. The hard highs of its Army surplus Bakelite headset earthed to the metal bed frame still define the excitement of electricity for me; perhaps it was just harmonic shock therapy. In the background was a fairly constant stream of contemporary classical music from my parent's part of the house and of course back then we also had a properly funded public radio station owned by the people of Australia called the ABC. It played shows like My Word, Hancock's Halfhour, The Goons and a fantastic radio travel documentary where the tape machine produced an aural landscape with minimal but incisive and sometimes sardonic commentary, which impressed me how they used sound as much as words.
Dad owned a tape recorder: a Pandora's box of noise. He would audio id the head of each tape with cryptic phrases like "RED LEADER ONE'' (tape, not Communist leader). I hopefully but briefly thought we might be part of a spy network. Our house faced out to sea where Russian/Chinese submarines lurked, waiting to snatch our unsuspecting Prime Minister (Hey could we do that trick again?)
At about 10 years old I developed a stammer so the family ritual of recording Christmas day for the relatives in England was a mixture of fear and frenzy, like having to deal with the sonic equivalent of the mirror phase.
What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was the Appalacian mountain dulcimer, a modal and droning sound, sometimes crystalline; sometimes mournful. The manner of it's tuning lends it an archaic quality. The intervals on a dulcimer's neck are such that all notes belong in its tuned mode, making it impossible to play a wrong note! It's influence on how I recombine sounds is substantial. The dulcimer led me to music prior to the introduction of equal temperament, and hence the work and philosophy of Harry Partch, (American hobo philosopher, instrument maker sound theorist and poet [1901-1970].
Your interest in recording is philosophical as much as technical?
Like the lie of "Reality TV" the very act of turning on a recording device distorts reality. Charles Cros, a French writer simultaneously theorised a parallel technology to Thomas Edisons phonograph but seemed to be more interested in the metaphysical implications of fixing time. 'If' in the beginning is the word' and you keep on reproducing it what happens?' Try asking a stammerer near you!
Your music is kind of edgy - where does it come from?
I was always most interested in that noise out on the perimeter of the song, the implied melody, and the way sounds combine to become quite different from their component frequencies.
Sometimes the veracity of the song lies in the most minute of clues that often have little to do with melody or lyric. In the same way that the world has become speechless in the face of the fear of the last few weeks - our language, one of order and empiricism, can't convey the emotion. It comes out as babble They may be using words, but syntactically, nothing adds up to a coherent meaning, because we are tuned into the subconscious message it contains. This is the interface of the oracular where the only events worth recording happen. The rest of it is only reproducing the known.
The recording process sometimes involved building solid blocks of disparate noise and eliminating what wasn't necessary. Some seemed to appear almost fully formed and finished on the 1st take.
What lies ahead?
We are in a very exciting phase of the evolution of sound. More people than ever before have direct access to refined hierarchies of noise. Affordability and digital technology have transformed the symphonic tradition. Music and song have a tribal and spiritual significance, it's obvious but you'd never guess it by looking at the business of music.