Alazon in the Quiet Room
I didn’t start to write or perform music until I was living in Berlin. I had moved there with a multi-media music group mid 80’s and had been involved in the technical side of multi-media music performance since 1981. I was literally drenched in the sounds and themes of living in the walled city of Berlin with a lot of other curious internationals. The theaters, cabarets, clubs, basements, underground art/music happenings, pop-up 24-hour night-life in old toilets, abandoned houses, Berlin apartments – you name it, in every venue, music was in flux. You could be anything you wanted to be in Berlin pre-wall fall 1989 – just be politically motivated and aware, quick on your feet, always carry ID and 23 pfennig for your only phone call if you got arrested by the police.
In those years, as I shot/edited and projected film for an Australian Music/Arts collective I moved to Berlin with, the opportunity arrived to perform in a famous old Theater on Potsdamer Strasse in West Berlin. It was an exciting time. The group, having been sponsored by the Berlin Arts Senate in 1987, presented an opening night show that immersed with film, slides, artwork, early synced drum machines, live musicians, and a choir on stage, all amongst oversized props of church doors, crashed cars, urban window-framed scenarios, and golden organ pipes. After a very successful opening night, we awoke to the unfathomable news from the sound engineer that the theater stage had caught on fire and everything was destroyed in the dawn hours. After years of creating together, the horror of seeing the charred remains of seven years artistry and a severely damaged theater - an insurance nightmare - broke the flow and we eventually disbanded.
In these charred remains, adrift from the artists I have been with for so long, I took up violin and guitar to help me rake through the ashes. It took three years to find my voice and train, concurrently dealing with a painful long-term problem of tendonitis from years of editing (which led to job-loss, and further disruption.) Undeterred, my first concert was in 1991, my original songs accompanied by a fabulous guitarist, as the tendonitis had severely altered my ability to continue learning my instruments. As roughshod as my compositions were, packed with lyrics about my then current experiences working in German TV houses during highly charged political times - communism had somewhat collapsed - with interspersed songs of loss and tragedy, that first stage appearance was terrifying and yet so very fulfilling. 25 years later, many of these songs informed my art film, Folk Tales of The Monarch, which is now in a permanent catalog with the Art Video International Film Festival in Cannes. By the early 90’s, Berlin’s music scene was changing, techno and drum n’ bass was permeating and thus began the merge of electronic with pop/folk that became my signature. You have to go through something to gain something new. And the road is long, as it is tough.
By 2014, now residing in New York since the early 2000’s, (awarded Artist’s visas in the USA) I arrived at an artist’s residency in the historical and very liberal town of Bisbee, nestled in the mountains of Arizona, a few miles from the Mexican border. It was shortly after my father’s death, and I was thrumming with themes of shifting emotions and displacement. Ensconced in this large schoolroom with wall-width-length chalkboards as a studio, I draped the chalkboards in packing paper and wrote two words from an old 1990’s notebook; Alazon and Malfeasant. An Alazon is a stock character in ancient Greek comedy, a boaster, characterized by arrogance, misplaced self-confidence, and a failure to recognize irony. From there I created a “Songline” akin to the anthropologist and writer Bruce Chatwin’s analogy to the Aboriginal definition of the journey of their animal spirits. I drew the stations of each song, visually stamped by the musty Roman Catholic stations I was forced to confront regularly at school. All came to mind as a crossing or turning point in my music travels, and in turn, I emotionally comprehended how foolish and naive I had been till this point in my life – very much the Greek Stock Character –Alazon.
Looking back, leaving my country of birth at age 17 with just a backpack and a few dollars, sewing for the gay and Art-School fashion community in London in the early 80’s in a “Leather Boutique” on Kings Road, Soho, to support myself, while studying Drama and Dance, was just the beginning of a very disruptive era. Many of my colleagues passed from AIDS before 1984. Several years later, after training in Australia, I worked as a news-video editor in Berlin for German Television and production houses in the 80’s and early 90’s. Tragedy surrounded me.
Downloading agency satellite footage during dawn hours, to be precut before being aired to the news, was one of my first tasks at the TV station. Pre-internet and current open-field mass media exposure, this was my first insight into war carnage and refugee exodus in impassable snow-covered terrain, young through the elderly, injured, starving and persecuted. Working with camera operators returning from war zones, as I edited daily news stories or documentaries, excluding footage that was considered too graphic for the broadcast public at that time, all of this heavily influenced how I artistically purge. The basics of extending a visa included standing at dawn with sometimes-barefoot mothers holding babies in the winter cold, waiting, to possibly be shunted through embassy gates. One queued for a daily restricted- ticket number to apply for a visa interview back in the mid 80’s in Germany; witnessing the plight of border situations, my privileged position of owning a New Zealand passport shamed me.
I might add, I was kept sometimes for up to three hours at Checkpoint Charlie border crossings pre 1989 as the border guards were not aware that New Zealand was a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government and there was no internet to check this. They let the Australians with me through faster! We regularly went into the east to purchase art supplies and Russian made cameras, and passed through the divided country’s corridor when traveling. We lived in a predominantly Turkish suburb in West Berlin, directly opposite the Berlin wall on Goerlitzer Ufer in Schlesiches Tor. It was not uncommon in local bars and gatherings to hear young and old defectors tell their stories, recounting what it is like at age 21 to go to prison just because you want out of a system.
Today, here in the East Village in New York City, a migrant built, former enclave, on marshlands and Indian clay cooking pots, there is no way to slow down disruption and displacement. I have lived in five countries over four decades, and it was time to tell the story. At first with the album, Alazon In The Quiet Room, I was speaking of my own experiences, but as I knitted together the first few eponymous multi-media performances, Alazon In The Quiet Room - DISPLACED 1 and currently DISPLACED 2, the experiences of other displaced immigrants intrudes. Immigrants such as the Czech storyteller Vít Hořejš who was a defector from the Czech Republic, exiting in 1978, and a writer/director and Marionette master I worked with many years later in New York. Continuing opportunities arose to let the songs I compose, that speak so strongly of displacement, loss of home, business, partners, country, come to the theatrical stage. And so Alazon In The Quiet Room came to be as an album and now is an on-going music/multi-media episodal performance.
Find insights into some songs from Alazon in the quiet room and information for a November NYC performance below
Chandelier In A Rowboat
“I said goodbye to Dad in a hospice, and the last thing he said to me was, “My dear, no tears” I carried his carvings and self-brewed gin back to the USA.”
Ass in the Middle
“Years before it occurred, I dreamt of total family disruption, alienation, and salty farewells to common roots - the embodied weight of resisting patrilineal proprietary as the outspoken feminine.”
ALAZON IN THE QUIET ROOM - DISPLACED 2
Immigrant Artists, through songs and stories depicting the many facets of displacement November 12th and 19th at Pangea in NYC.