I have felt the music of “Below” deeply within the pandemic and the uprisings these past months. I’ve been imagining summer, swimming in ice cold rivers, and walking along the Oregon coast. It’s predicted to be the hottest summer on record, which will be an additional stress to the ongoing struggles for human rights.
Below (releasing June 8th 2020, on World Oceans Day) features a singing humpback whale, ingeniously interwoven by my friend, the composer Alex Shapiro, with electronic soundscape, and me playing contrabass flute. It’s a spacious ten minutes of musical yearning, a reminder of kindness, and why we don’t want our numerous, ongoing, planetary dumpster fires. Consider buying Below this summer, to give you or a beloved someone a moment of relief, while trying to take care of everybody and everything. Along with the single, you will have exclusive access to Diana Lehr‘s incredible video, with Below as a soundtrack. If you buy on June 8, all the artist shares go the Cultural Conservancy, an indigenous-lead group that builds cultural sovereignty, for food, water, land and all aspects of culture.
I’ve also been thinking of my great-uncle, A.R.D. Fairburn, a seminal New Zealand mid-20th century poet. I never met him as he died the decade before I was born, but he was close with my grandfather Geoff Fairburn, both of them confronting the blah of conventional New Zealand society with wit and anger in their respective arts. Like most male poets (erm, let’s just say men actually) of that period, he was anti-feminist and homophobic. His essays on those topics ruined and obscured his better and more truthful writing which rooted for a just society beyond its colonial British costumes.
“Below” makes me think of this poem of his, his sadness – and confusion really – about the world the dominant culture has created. It’s a wry and tender take on Shakespeare’s original text from the Tempest.
Full Fathom Five by A. R. D. Fairburn
He was such a curious lover of shells
and the hallucinations of water
that he could never return out of the sea
without first having to settle a mermaid’s bill.
Groping along the sea-bottom of the age
he discovered many particulars he did not care to speak about
even in the company of water-diviners
things sad and unspeakable
moss-covered skulls with bodies fluttering inside
with the unreality of specks moving before the eyes of a photograph
trumpets tossed from the decks of ocean-going liners
eccentric starfish fallen from impossible heavens
fretting on uncharted rocks
still continents with trees and houses like a child’s drawing
and in every cupboard of the ocean
weary dolphins trapped in honey-coloured cobwebs
murmuring to the revolution Will you be long.
He was happy down there under the frothing ship-lanes
because nobody ever bothered him with statistics
or talk of yet another dimension of the mind.
And eventually and tragically finding he could not drown
he submitted himself to the judgment of the desert
and was devoured by man-eating ants
with a rainbow of silence branching from his lips.