Moong-ung-garh garla-gula: Blog #1 from Tos Mahoney

There is something simultaneously claustrophobic and fecund about the cocooned nature of a creative development workshop and residency – my past week spent with Yamatji artist Mark Atkins and composer Erkki Veltheim at the UKARIA Cultural Centre Twin Peaks Residency in the Adelaide Hills was no disappointment! Here we developed a major new work and new process of collaborative composition amidst the focused intensity that the residency process provokes. Creative claustrophobia and liberating fecundity – in the best possible sense.

The three of us are here to work on Moong-ung-garh garla-gula, which celebrates Mark’s many forms of expression including his didgeridoo playing, his songwriting, and his poetic storytelling. Embedded within sound culture, Mark’s writing is compositional, drawing direct connections between country and history. His writing is powerful and provocative and when spoken with his gravelly voice, a mix of delight and dread carries the listener to alternative perspectives and new understandings. One morning Mark bursts into our breakfast, reading out his latest piece written in the middle of the night. A stream of consciousness, its pithy stuff over muesli, yogurt, and coffee.

Here in the Adelaide Hills Erkki is both documenting the process and collaborating with Mark on the overall shape of this singular piece Moong-ung-garh garla-gula. He’s working on how the composed and improvised music for the future ensemble will support, amplify, and juxtapose against Mark’s poetry and didgeridoo playing. The ‘claustrophobia’ of the intense creative development is necessary so that Erkki can immerse himself in Mark’s process, thinking and outputs. Here Erkki can imagine the possibilities that writing for the ensemble will bring and how to make space for the other ensemble members, while being influenced at every moment by Mark’s thinking and aesthetics.

As Erkki says, “This sort of collaboration can only be really meaningful if there is the opportunity like this week to spend this intense time together. The UKARIA Residency creates a perfect space for this collaboration. Working with Mark in this way doesn’t follow the tradition European mode of compositional collaboration. It requires a great deal of flexibility and openness to someone else’s process”.

“Moong-ung-garh garla-gula is Yamatji for sitting around the fire at night telling stories. We weren’t allowed to light a fire here this week due to fire restrictions” quips Mark, “but the spirit of that has been really strong through this time of collaboration. I grew up listening to my uncles telling stories around the fire and those stories sank into my pores. They’ve poured out this week as well as memories across time. Working with Erkki on the musical concepts has only strengthened the writing. I really can’t wait to hear it when it comes together with the band”.

That will be in November when we return to Ukaria with Genevieve Lacey, Stephen Magnusson, Anthony Pateras, Scott Tinkler and Vanessa Tomlinson to bring all the elements together across another week of development. Then, we hope, onto full production next year around Australia.

Huge thanks to Ulrike, Alison, Emma and Kingsley at Ukaria for the support and perfect hosting.

Tos Mahoney
Tura Artistic Director

The project is produced by Tura in partnership with UKARIA and supported by Ulrike Klein AO and the Australia Council for the Arts.