Friday, December 19, 2008

Ambient City

The sun broke out for a couple of hours yesterday and I celebrated by joining in with Unsilent Night 08 for an ambient music tour of Melbourne's CBD. Having downloaded one of several music tracks composed especially by Phil Kline I was provided with a old fashioned megaphone to plug into my MP3.

About 16 people each pressed play simultaneously on our boombox, ipod, megaphone, transistor radio or laptop. The different tracks of a beautiful ambient composition combined differently depending where you walked within the group, and of course for the innocent bystanders who came out of their shops to listen to the ethereal music drift by.

It was a glorious way for me to see the city as a newcomer. Following our leaders meant I didn't have to put any of my brain into navigating* but could just gaze around enjoying the cityscape/soundscape. It was like being inside a music video, something I like to evoke with Brian Eno on my headphones, but this time I was sharing with our group and with everyone we passed by. Better than drugs, man.

We were led through a variety of acoustical and visual environments, narrow cobblestoned alley ways, upmarket malls, bustling main streets, Christmas throngs in a department store. I kept looking up, craning to see the tops of the skyscrapers shifting against the blue sky as I walked or admiring the decorations on the nineteenth century architecture. At eye level there were fabulous shop windows, glimpses of urban domesticity, and brick walls covered in colourful street art. We moved past bakery and restaurant aromas to stinking garbage cans, spilt beer and stale urine, past heady perfume counters to exhaust fumes. Our celestial music was supplemented by piped Christmas carols, and engines, conversations and best of all, a choral group.

While our Silent Night crew assembled on one side of the State Library steps, synchronising our boomboxes and megaphones, another group was practicing singing on the other side of the steps. They turned out to be an community chorale setting out to sing anti-consumerist songs while wandering through the CBD. Towards the end of our respective journeys, our two groups met, one on each side of a narrow lane. For a moment, we paused, looking at eachother like a music video cliche of gangs meeting for a dance off, and then both groups stepped out into the lane and started dancing and singing together and stopping the traffic.

My heart may belong to the forest, but this is what cities are good for.

NB If you are on Facebook you can see more pictures of our UnSilent Night 08 adventure here.

*So disengaged from navigation was I that at one point I actually walked into a bollard and now have a large purple bruise swollen up on an intimate and tender part of my body.

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