Aside from the cooly impressive cover, which resembles an academic title produced on the fine textured paper of an underground literature press, everything about Erewhon Calling: Experimental Sound from New Zealand is as humble, approachable and unpretentious as your average New Zealander. Or, rather, the experimental music it produces: the interviews, stories, artwork and anecdotes detail an energised and active community, joyously self-reliant and justifiably proud of their achievements. And like all good music books it compels the reader to check out the subject, for which editor Bruce Russell has thankfully provided a shortcut upfront: http://audiofoundation.org.nz/erewhon.
This valuable resource functions as an orderly complement to the (intentionally) haphazard structure of the book. Shunning any sense of linearity or progression, varied layouts and grainy images xeroxed from old ‘zines collide with bold-type interviews, chummy chats between friends and monochrome art prints, Erewhon Calling resembles the work of the Re:Search Incredibly Strange series. “The rationale behind our ‘collage approach’ ties in with the ethnographic impulse – this book is mainly about storytelling” says Russell, and it works: the reader is taken up close into this world, and it’s a privilege.
So, we have an overview of Chris Knox by the Wire’s Byron Coley following three notations from the ‘Rock Records (Polar Projects)’ by Phil Dadson, impressions of soundings taken direct from stone surfaces and resembling rubbings on pavement. An essay on Dunedin sits beside an overview of Matt ‘Crude’ Middleton’s career, followed by Dugal McKinnon’s ‘After the Great Divide, The Little Gully: Miscommunications About Sound’, a discussion on the similarities and differences between sonic art and experimental music. Need they be separate entities? This discomfort in the ‘academic’ aspect of sound art is repeated throughout the book, although is pleasingly confused in the book’s title. Su Ballard’s ‘All Night Silence: live experimental sound in New Zealand public art galleries’ also disregards any such distinction, challenging the 1895 views of Alfred Fitchett that ‘There is no music in New Zealand’ and arguing that New Zealand’s very isolation might have equipped its audiences with better concert-listening skills than those of Europe.
The book’s clearest argument however is for self-sufficiency. For all the range of work of these artists, promoters, critics and producers, one gets an impression that it is the connections between them that matter most. The links are drawn most vividly in Dan Vallor’s ‘Transparent Spirals: King Worldwide and the art of the lathe cut record’, in which the book’s entire cast pass through Peter King’s record plant, but ‘Wellington: blowin’ hard’ puts it more bluntly. Dotted between Jeff Henderson, Daniel Beban and Nell Thomas’s conversational reminiscences are step-by-step mini lessons on ‘How to put on a gig’, ‘How to run a venue’, ‘How to release an album’, and ‘how to play the guitar’. Let’s get to it!