Wait for the dog to stop barking. OK, press record. Garage music, but not as you’d expect. A soundtrack. One take wonders. One wonders. That’ll do. A short film in French.
1999. Brett Collery and I had done a few soundtracks together. One for a large-scale festival piece called Blurred at Brisbane’s Festival Hall was a total beast. We’d played in Watertower and shugafix/silver sircus together so we had quite a strong musical partnership going. He had a studio out the back of his house in a converted garage/workshop. It wasn’t soundproof or anything, but we made some beautiful, spontaneous music there…Anthony Mullins who I’d played music and made short films with, was working on a documentary with his wife Kris about the Magnificat Meal Movement, a Christian cult that had made headlines by shifting into, and purchasing a lot of real estate in a rural town called Helidon, not far from Brisbane in the Lockyer Valley. There’d been a bit of police action and it was having an impact on the town. The doco was part of a scheme run by broadcaster SBS called ‘Australia by Numbers’ so there was some funding. He asked Brett and I to do music for it.
This was about all the information we had when we started work on the project. They were still making the doco, and nobody knew how it was going to end. Work-days and weekends we did a few sessions where we simply improvised acoustic music, with one of us starting a track, and the other then shifting into the control room and responding over the top.
Other improvisations included a live take of Brett on drums and me on 12-string, which we then overdubbed with two randomly played accordions. Brett owned a late 1970’s analogue synth: a Jupiter-4 which we worked into the mix. It had a delightfully organic and unpredictable way of coming up with sounds after a bit of knob-twiddling. These were woven in too, along with volume swells and harmonic plinkings. Some slide guitar, harmonica and high, dry electric guitar.
It wasn’t ‘bitsy’. We were making music that spoke to itself, not soundtrack to be squeezed into narrative. You’d sit down in front of the mic to play, listening closely to the backing. You’d hold yourself softly against this new piece music as it emerged. That’s not done by ‘trying to get it right’ or avoiding mistakes. There’s an element of performance here in the improvisational moment, ebbing and flowing with the simple patterns and just trying to inhabit this new space you’re creating.
It was instinctual, and a lot of fun. We’d add a few layers, then listen back, both of us taking pleasure in what we seemed to be plucking out of the air. Sometimes we’d take stuff out of the mix and marvel at the sonic space we’d created. The sound seemed very natural. You could hear the room. After playing we’d have a beer, look at the clothesline and talk over the magpies and dog next door barking.
His two year old son Phoenix might come bounding up to say hello. Or reprogram the Jupiter 4, randomly pressing buttons.
The music was mostly acoustic, the mood was soft and contemplative. We didn’t know about what scenes were going to be in the film, but just recorded pieces which were either light or dark, just following our noses. Ears, actually. We weren’t trying to ‘evoke’ anything in particular. We probably have Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas soundtrack to thank for the association of dobro and acoustic voicings with one-horse towns, but we didn’t want to play to these sonic stereotypes either.
Before too long, and without much effort in the recording room, we had a collection of around a dozen pieces of music.
Once the music was superimposed and placed in the film by Anthony, we could see it worked. We recorded one extra piece, an uptempo thing with Fender Rhodes and twangy Duane-eddy style guitar to soundtrack a moment when the cops drove into one scene or another.
But that was it. It was clear the music was beautiful in itself, pulsing with its own life as well as conversing effectively with the images and stories in the film. It balanced being noticeably good with being unobtrusive. It did the trick.
In subsequent years we did a few more soundtrack projects where we were working ‘to order’ more. While there were some good moments in both process and product, to my mind they were less effective.
The film, and filmmakers were telling the music what to do, and therefore the results were more predictable and less interesting. Images for these later films hung in new windows on the screen as we composed, dictating timing. The filmmakers would come in and literally shift a note on a wave-form or instruct us as to how many notes should be in a particular figure. It was probably closer to ‘real’ composition for film, and current industry practice, but it was pretty dysfunctional. The closer the image and sound were synced, the less effective each of them was: not quite mickey-mousing, but kind of a reverse symbiosis. Each depleted the other.
Two Roads to Helidon showed on TV a few times. We got some royalties on top of our fee.
Both of us kept returning to the music in our private time and with James Lees’s encouragement and support we decided to release a limited edition of the music, thus far the only entry in milliamp records’ catalogue. James designed the CD sleeve using images I snapped around the studio – the image of my old Hofner guitar is the logo for this blog. I used some grabs of Two Roads in a quickie-short film I made called ‘Butter Fly’ that was almost award-winning. You had to include a butterfly somewhere in it, that was the rules of the competition.
As far as I know the Two Roads CD sold out and is now unavailable. In one review we were compared to American band Pullman who I’d never heard of. I bought the record, heard the similarity and sent them our CD. They sent a very friendly postcard back. They recorded their album in a Chicago loft.
There was something captured in the music of the place and space where Two Roads was made. A garage in suburban Coorparoo with sky painted on the walls. And the interpersonal space, too, a trusting relationship where you knew that each of your contributions and risks was welcome, and had the potential to add up to something more than the sum of its parts. We ended up compiling some of our soundtrack work on the Sonic Loom album.
Once Two Roads had been released on CD, listening closely, I was surprised to hear Brett’s voice buried in one of the tracks, saying
…as he reached the end of an improvisational take. Then a couple of years later I realized my voice was on there too, saying exactly the same phrase. And it would. Do.
Two Roads – Review
Brett Collery and David Megarrity – two roads (milliamp records)
The soundtrack for an SBS documentary about the Magnificat Meal Movement, a Catholic cult based at Helidon, two roads stands on its own as an engaging instrumental set. The guitar interplay of Brett Collery (who’s made quite a name for himself for his theatre soundscapes, as well as his playing in the likes of silver circus) and David Megarrity (goodbye notes, silver circus) has the sunny afternoon feel of Pullman – especially ‘nice garden’ and ‘flutter’ – while the addition of harmonica (as on the title track) lends this album a distinctly Australian feel. (think Mick Turner) The atmospherics of ‘red sky, shooting star and ‘an ocean’ and the easy fluidity of ‘riverbed’ are further examples of this pair’s versatility (four stars) Eileen Dick > Time Off February 13, 2002