Martin Wesley-Smith's
baby shot


in 1956 or so


in 1988 
or so


old pic


mw-s new pic


an incomplete, occasional and opinionated ramble through miscellaneous events, performances etc in 2012 ...

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The Rob Blog:
The Sheila Blog:

* Mon Dec 31 2012:

From the January 2013 issue of Limelight magazine, a review of the Guitar Trek CD Six Fish (Tall Poppies TP221):

A great Australian guitar ensemble celebrates 25 years of strumming

What a journey it's been. Since 1987, Australian classical group Guitar Trek has been at the forefront of commissioning new works for guitar quartet, as well as working with luthiers to develop different-size guitars to form a true guitar family: treble, standard, baritone and bass (steel as well as nylon string guitars are utilised).

This recording, actually made in 2007, has been released to celebrate 25 years of Guitar Trek and features works by some of Australia's best-known composers for the instrument: Nigel Westlake, Phillip Houghton, Richard Charlton and Martin Wesley-Smith. The Guitar Trek line-up here features Timothy Kain, Minh Le Hoang, Daniel McKay and Harold Gretton (it's since changed, with Bradley Kunda and Matt Withers replacing McKay and Gretton).

If Westlake's Six Fish scintillates with shimmering water, pointillistic textures and playful melodies, Houghton's Nocturne, originally for piano, is a study in meditative if occasionally ruffled calm and moonlit passages.

Charlton's Capricorn Skies is "an attempt to capture in sound the mood or resonance of a variety of Australian skies and landscapes". It's a tour-de-force of sound-painting that finds Guitar Trek at its most dramatically expansive. The following non-linear Wave Radiance by Houghton, who describes it as a "sonic event" with no melody to speak of, is equally eloquent in its exploration of exterior and interior space.

By contrast, Wesley-Smith's multi-faceted political satire Songs and Marches is very much stamped with human concerns, tongue very firmly in cheek, while the final work, Charlton's Dreams and Dances on Moreton Bay, a set of variations on the Queensland folksong of the same name, is one of the most moving. It receives a heartfelt performance from this wonderful guitar quartet. WY

I don't know who WY is. S/he awarded the CD four (out of five) stars.

A review from the Manly Daily, Sept 26:

The quartet Guitar Trek describes itself as a "family", not only because its members Tim Kain, Minh Le Hong, Daniel McKay and Harold Gretton have been playing together for so long but also because they have pioneered and promoted a wider role for the less celebrated siblings of the classical instrument - the treble, baritone and bass guitars.

Now they are celebrating their 25th anniversary with an album of works by contemporary Australian composers - some of them guitarists themselves.

Six Fish, on the Tall Poppies label, takes its title from the opening work by Nigel Westlake - six charming portraits of Australian sea creatures. Westlake is a clarinettist, but he knows a lot about the guitar, having worked with the great John Williams with his band Attacca.

The use of Dobro steel slide guitar lends a menacing and driving character to depict the sling-jawed wrasse whose mouth can stretch half its body length to catch its prey. The sunfish floats lazily on the surface catching a tan while the joy of flight - or at least gliding - is evoked with the final piece Flying Fish, which Westlake himself sees a good omen when he spots them on the east coast.

The work was originally commissioned by the Saffire quartet, which features two of Australia's top performers Slava Grigoryan and Karin Schaupp, but this Guitar Trek version includes the Dobro and 12-string guitars which Westlake originally envisaged for the piece.

Equally impressive is Richard Charlton's Capricorn Skies, a work in five movements originally commissioned by Guitar Trek in 1996. Charlton, as well as being one of our most respected contemporary composers, is a guitarist and this work exploits the instrument's versatility from the ominous Ashen Sky With Darkened Sun - a reference to the Sydney bushfires - to the melodious serenity of A Sky For Dreaming.

Phillip Houghton's Nocturne started life as a piano piece so when he rearranged it for the quartet in 2004 he wasn't sure if it would work. He need not have worried, as this is a little gem from the self-taught composer who draws inspiration from the environment around him.

Martin Wesley-Smith, on the other hand, is a more political animal and he weaves a 12th century Andalusian oud tune around snatches of anthems from George W Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" for his 2004 Guitar Trek commission Songs and Marches. Hitler Youth tunes vie with The Star Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen and Advance Australia Fair in a work that is more a 15-minute satirical tilt than a polemic. Either way it's a tour de force of constantly shifting moods and styles.

The album ends on a tuneful and folky note with Charlton's variations on the famous Queensland ballad Moreton Bay.

This is a splendid recording marking the rich and varied work of this Canberra-based ensemble.

[Steve Moffatt, Manly Daily, September 2012; see here, also]

Visit the Tall Poppies web-site here.

* Sat Dec 29:
The drug I'm on to control the tumour I have in my right lung has various side FX, including promoting hair growth and making it gingerish and curly! Some say I now have a ranga afro, and say they like it, but I think they're trying to make me feel better about myself. No need: I'm quite happy with things the way they are (my condition is stable, with no immediate dangers), and am past carin' about the way I look. The stern-looking photo at right was taken on the same day - Dec 16 2012 - as the photo below. I was at Bundanon, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, for the launch of Jane Sheldon's CD North + South (which includes my song Tommy Tanna), and was introducing the song prior to Jane singing it.

Shamistha de Soysa writes: "The songs are plaintive and sung from the heart with a simplicity of emotion and style clad only in the clear straight toned beauty of Sheldon's voice. The stories are about everyday people - love, whimsy, suicide and death. Most especially it is the Australian folk songs which capture the imagination. The anonymously written words of Tommy Tanna, published in 1895 and set to music by Martin Wesley-Smith ..." [more]
John Hardaker, on Megaphone Oz, describes the CD as, "light as sunlight and a little oasis of purity in a dim-lit, noise-clogged world. A pure delight."

North + South, which also features harpist Genevieve Lang and string quartet the Acacia Quartet, is available from JB HiFi, ABD Shops and all 'good' record stores. It's on iTunes, too.

* I'm a fan of English writer George Monbiot. In an article called Bug-Splats, published in the Guardian on December 17 2012, he points out that while some dead children are mourned, others are dehumanised:

"Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts ... These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change." [1] Every parent can connect with what Barack Obama said about the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. There can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people of that town.

It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world's concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them; no pictures on the front pages of the world's newspapers; no interviews with grieving relatives; no minute analysis of what happened and why ...

The hypocrisy, brutality and stupidity of American foreign policy apparently knows no bounds.

* Fri Dec 21:

The Thirsty Night Singers are no more. After nearly six years of a cappella warbling, we did a final performance last Sunday to an invited audience in a magnificent mud-brick private home. It was a great night, a very special Kangaroo Valley experience: beautiful environment, excellent acoustics, an attentive, supportive audience there to enjoy itself, a great atmosphere, good food, and the best all-round performance we'd ever done. We were losing both our sopranos at the same time and couldn't face trying to recruit new ones and starting again, so we decided to call it a day ... That's a photo of me at left. It was taken on Sunday night after our last gig - see the whole shot here. L to R: alto Janette Carter, baritone Peter Morgan, soprano Nell Britton, alto Jo Stirling, me (a sort of tenor), alto Patsy Radic, bass Peter Stanton, and soprano Nadia Intihar. Lovely bunch of people! Our whole was greater than the sum of our parts, enabling us to transcend our limitations and sound, at times, pretty good. Well, not bad, anyway.

Our final selection of songs included several by Lennon & McCartney (e.g. I Will, In My Life, Yesterday), a kids' song I wrote years ago with my then wife Ann called Shut the Gate, the Paul Simon classic Bridge Over Troubled Water, the Beachboys' hit God Only Knows, and Freddie Mercury's Bohemian Rhapsody, which brought the house down.

* Thurs Dec 6:

A couple of years ago I spent a week or so in New York, where I tried but failed to get to a jazz club to hear the recently-lamented Dave Brubeck. He had been a hero of mine since his LP recording of Take Five, Unsquare Dance and other classic pieces came out in the early 60s (was it?). I was still at school at the time, and became an instant fan. Of his alto player Paul Desmond, too. Vale Brubeck.

Another recent death was of English composer Jonathan Harvey, who I used to know but had lost touch with. Lovely man, fine composer. Read about him here.

* I got back last night from Canberra after attending the 35th Annual Conference of the Musicological Society of Australia (on The Politics of Music). On Monday night I did a concert with clarinettist Ros Dunlop of some of my audio-visual so-called "political pieces": X, about East Timor, Weapons of Mass Distortion, about propaganda, official lies, especially those of the "Coalition of the Willing" who invaded Iraq in 2003, and Papua Merdeka, about the continued rape and pillage of West Papua by the Indonesian military. I attended various presentations during the conference by various researchers, including Lost and Inaudible Sound, by Lea Collins, Containing timbre fetishism and reduced listening: Can the use of gestural metrics improve the perception of information in sobified data and enhance the expressivity of computer music?, by David Worrall, Underscore or overscore? Re-examining the relationship between music and image, by Felicity Wilcox, Telling an Australian story "two ways": Daisy Bates at Ooldea - a reconciliation opera, by Anne Boyd and Alice Haines, Crown land: Whose crown?, by Wanta Jampijinpa Patrick, Keith Jarrett's solo music: Process, product and evaluation, by Colin Spiers, Network music performance and the global context, by Richard Vella, Nathan Scott and Tracy Redhead, and Is birdsong music? Making the case for zoömusicology, by Hollis Taylor. All of it was interesting, some fascinating.

* Mon Nov 26:

Soprano Jane Sheldon has released a CD called North + South that includes my song Tommy Tanna. It can be purchased here (Jane Sheldon/Phosphor Records [PR0001])
The blurb says:

Award-winning Australian soprano Jane Sheldon returns with North + South, ten contemporary arrangements of songs - primarily traditional folk songs - from Australia, the United States, and the British Isles. The album features arrangements by Benjamin Britten, Luciano Berio, and Australian composers Andrew Ford, Martin Wesley-Smith, and Ann Carr-Boyd. The tracklist includes the classic Irish tune She Moved Through the Fair, as well as Tommy Tanna, a sensuous song sung by a white woman to her Aboriginal lover, published anonymously as a poem in 1895, and a new take on The Go-Betweens' 1983 hit Cattle and Cane.

In fact the poem Tommy Tanna is sub-titled From a White Woman to her Kanaka Swain i.e. her lover is not an Australian Aboriginal man, as the blurb above implies. In the 19th century, Kanaks were brought from the South Pacific, mostly against their will, to work in Queensland's cane fields. The poem, published in The Bulletin, must have been controversial: it was quite common, no doubt, for white men to have sex with female Kanaks but quite unthinkable for a white woman to seduce or be seduced by a black male of any description.

In a five-star review, Jem Edwards writes:

Was very pleased to hear She Moves Through The Fayre from this album yesterday on Classic FM ABC Australia, such purity of voice and sensitive harp playing...a true joy, this CD I can whole heartedly recommend.

The harpist is Genevieve Lang.

* Tues Nov 20:

Long time between drinks ... I still enjoy writing this thing, but after maintaining the Thirsty Night Singers website (members only), and our WWOOFer site, and performing regular musical, culinary, gardening and other tasks, there never seems to be enough time left to blog. Oh well ... A few things are worthy of mention. Here, for example, is a review by Vincent Plush of a recent CD (Blue Silence [TP222]) on the Tall Poppies label (in The Australian newspaper, November 17 2012):

Across his 30-year career, David Pereira has commissioned, performed and recorded more cello music than perhaps any other Australian cellist: from the solo suites of Bach to Rautavaara and the Russian romantics, to the ever-expanding Sculthorpe repertoire and dozens of works by other Australians. In this, his 13th CD of solo cello music on Tall Poppies, Pereira and Timothy Young, his extraordinarily versatile accompanist, survey a century of Australian cello composition, including several pieces virtually forgotten. At the top of that list is Ian Farr's 1969 Sonata, its 10 minutes containing some of the most gritty moments in Australian music. At the start of the 20th century, the five dances of Grainger's La Scandinavie contain moments that have defied generations of first-class cellists, but here they are tossed off ravishingly. In between are Don Banks's Three Studies, classics of mid-century modernism. There is repose and lyricism in the softer textures of music by Elena Kats-Chernin and Alicia Grant, a lullaby by Ian Munro and bittersweet barbs in Martin Wesley-Smith's plea for self-determination in West Papua. In Morning Star Lament, Pereira sings the affecting melody of what is the unofficial anthem of that province. Finally, Matthew Hindson's jaunty Jungle Fever breaks into an exhausting disco-club workout. Audio quality is crisp and bright, the kaleidoscopic range of texture elegantly captured throughout. With his producer Belinda Webster, Pereira continues to unearth Australian works for his instrument, pointing to an extraordinary wealth of repertoire, barely known even to other cellists.

* My ex-wife Ann North turned 70 the other day. At the birthday party that our daughters Alice and Olivia organised, a surprise guest was a colleague with whom Ann worked on television in the 60s: Humphrey B. Bear. She was somewhat overwhelmed, as you can see here.

* We were looking forward to hosting an Israeli WWOOFer yesterday, but she wrote to say that she would no longer be coming, the reason being that she didn't want to be continually on the defensive due to Israel's current attack on Gaza. We would have wanted to debate the issue, of course, perhaps vigorously, but we would not have suggested that she was in any way responsible for her government's actions.

Recent WWOOFer/HelpX guests have included Ophélie and Richard (left), from France. Click on the photo to see them with Emma from Taiwan, who wrote: "Hows going? ... I had good time with everyone! ... If there any else Taiwanese ask wwoofing, please hire them! Taiwanese has can-do attitude and easygoing personality. Miss you all, the alpaca and Fish." Other guests have included Hendrik from Germany, right, and, next to him, three French HelpXers Charlotte, Marie and Anne-Gael. For the past few weeks we've also had our brother Rob here from Darwin. For more WWOOF information, click here.

* On Sunday Dec 2, the Thirsty Night Singers will do their final public performance at The Gallery in Kangaroo Valley. We'll do one more recital, this time to friends and family, before hanging up our hats. I'll miss the group, for we've had a lot of fun over the past five years and have achieved a standard that's more than the sum of our parts. Time to move on ...

* On Monday Dec 3, clarinettist Ros Dunlop will be performing several audio-visual compositions of mine during the opening concert of the Musicological Society of Australia's 35th annual conference - The Politics of Music - which this year is in Canberra. There will be two of my East Timor pieces - X and Welcome to the Hotel Turismo - a West Papua piece - Papua Merdeka - and one of my pieces about propaganda, especially that relating to the 2003 Coalition of the Willing's invasion of Iraq - Weapons of Mass Distortion.

Australian pianist Piers Lane, who is the Director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, wrote in Limelight Magazine last July:

I was delighted last year when Martin Wesley-Smith, the 2011 Composer-in-Residence, took people by surprise with his politically provocative Weapons of Mass Distortion for clarinet and tape, immaculately realised by British clarinetist Michael Collins. It wasn't what people were expecting over their morning coffee, but they loved it!

One might expect that such a ringing endorsement might lead to at least a few enquiries from other performers. But there hasn't been a single one. The piece is edgy, entertaining, funny, only mildly provocative, uses great graphics, and while dismissed by many as "political" ("politics have no place in music"), is not overtly so at all. Who can argue with its basic message, which is that the use of propaganda, lies etc subverts a democracy and manipulates its people? That performance was given one of the best receptions any piece of mine has ever earned. Other performances earn similar reactions. I suspect that the fear of being seen as politically active deters most performers: life is a lot simpler, and safer, if one sticks to repertoire that is tried and true.

* I was in Wollongong recently to attend a Song Company concert (Ship to Shore) and see my oncologist. I enjoyed the concert enormously, and the health news was good: the drug I'm taking - Tarceva, a form of chemotherapy - is keeping my condition stable, suggesting that as long as I keep taking it I'll be OK. A friend of mine - American composer Bill Duckworth - also took Tarceva as part of a cocktail of drugs to treat - ultimately unsuccessfully - his pancreatic cancer, which is a far more virulent disease than what I've got. His widow, Nora Farrell, was recently in Sydney to distribute some of his ashes on Sydney Harbour. There will be a memorial concert for Bill in Brisbane tonight.

* I'm at an age where more and more friends and colleagues are dropping off their twig, the latest being Melbourne composer Lawrence Whiffin. Read about his most interesting life and achievements here.

* In a recent article - Iraq records huge rise in birth defects - in British newspaper The Independent, Sarah Morrison writes:

... a new study reports a "staggering rise" in birth defects among Iraqi children conceived in the aftermath of the war.

High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

There is "compelling evidence" to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health ...

At least the people have freedom, and freedom can at times be messy, so Rumsfeld told us.

* I'm looking forward to an upcoming concert by violinist/composer/sound recordist/ornithologist etc Hollis Taylor, 6-7pm Wed Nov 28 at the University of Technology, Sydney (Bon Marche Studio, Level 1 Building 3, 755 Harris Street, Ultimo):

This concert celebrates the music of another species as performed by Hollis Taylor, a UTS Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Hollis is the rare musician with an enduring devotion to and passion for a single species of songbird. She spends hundreds of hours each year recording pied butcherbird songs. These recordings form the basis of detailed birdsong analysis, but she is also amassing a growing body of (re)compositions based on her transcriptions. She will perform a set based on the diverse and dynamic songs of the pied butcherbird for solo violin and field recordings (including various birds, insects, mammals, and frogs).

For several years now I've been trying - so far without success - to get Hollis to do a concert like this in Kangaroo Valley. Maybe next year.

* Sun Oct 21:

Yesterday the Thirsty Night Singers sang a bracket at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival. Today we're doing it again (1.15pm, St Joseph's Church). Lovely little festival!

Later: The Thirsties received a standing ovation! The warm resonance of the church gave us foldback, making a huge difference to how we performed and came across, and the audience responded magnificently. It seems likely that for various reasons the group will disband at the end of the year; if so, our second KV Folk Fest bracket will stand as one of the highlights of our performance career, such as it was.

* Wed Oct 10:

I'm currently editing Song Company recordings of some male quartet songs that Peter and I wrote lots of years ago. To do this I'm having to refresh my memory of how to use Pro Tools, a brilliant application that gets better with every new version. One of the songs is The Day We Found O'Reilly's Chook in Mrs Boon's Backyard, a beautiful if unusual love song. Another is Paddy O'Rourke from Mudgee, about castration.

* Back in June I wrote to the people who claim to own the rights to the song Mad World:

Please find attached a completed FORM_3_Permission_Request_to_ Create_an_ARRANGEMENT (of the Roland Orzabal song Mad World) and a pdf of the completed arrangement.

(They require you to have done the arrangement before asking permission. Er, doh.)

This was in relation to the possible performance of Mad World by The Thirsty Night Singers, which is the vocal group I sing in. I didn't hear anything back till a coupla days ago:

I've just been forwarded your request by our UK office, apologies for the delay in getting this processed for you.

Can you let me know if you went ahead with the arrangement or if you would like to use it in the future?

I replied:

Many thanks for your reply!

Can you let me know if you went ahead with the arrangement or if you would like to use it in the future?

I went ahead with the arrangement (I sent a copy with my enquiry), but will not be using it in future ... Out of interest, if I were to go ahead, what fee would you charge?

The reply:

That's fine, if you decide to use the arrangement (even for rehearsals) you should get a licence from (us) first. The cost would depend on what exactly you would use it for and the number of copies. As a rough idea, if you were using it for rehearsal and performance only, making 50 copies and not making them available for sale, the licence would be $110 (incl. admin & GST).

$110? Crikey!

The copyright owner or her/his/their agent has the right to determine what happens to a song. In this case they want $110 - but in all my years in the music biz I've never heard of anyone ever asking permission, much less paying for the privilege, to arrange someone else's song. It simply doesn't happen. Not, at least, at street level. What's more, I've never heard of anyone being sued for arranging (and performing) a song without permission. Surely it's in the copyright owner's interest to encourage people to perform their songs, not discourage them by charging a fee. This copyright owner, however, apparently thinks otherwise. I suggest that they would make vastly more money from mechanicals (e.g. royalty on recordings sold) and performing rights as a result of people arranging, performing and recording their material than they would from trying to extract financial blood from the stone of rural amateur a cappella vocal groups.

* Tues Oct 02:

Happy 70th birthday to Rob Wesley-Smith, activist and general ratbag who lives in Darwin. Last week he drove 4000km from there to Kangaroo Valley so he could help put on last Saturday's silent movie show.

* Mon Oct 01:

Last Saturday night's Tenth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show was a spectacular success! Large appreciative audience, a delicious supper, superb piano accompaniments by Robert Constable, excellent narration by Earle Cross, beautiful singing by Patsy Radic, and good organisation by, ahem, me all added up to a delightful evening that raised a good sum of money for the Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership and its projects in Timor-Leste. See the printed blurb about it here.

Emailed comments include:

(We) I really enjoyed a night out at the pictures last night. Loved the edited version of Man from Kangaroo, though I do have a problem with 'the man', he needed to be 25 yrs younger and more handsome to match the youth and beauty of the female heroine. Chris and I very concerned about the ministers odd behaviours.....but really enjoy PW-S new text and dialogue. Well done Peter.

Many thanks Martin for organizing the whole gig, very enjoyable again. Patsy was a great addition with a lovely song......don't think I've ever heard a song about birds spooning! Pure genius.
Thank you Rosemary for organizing supper and making the delicious mulled wine. Thanks everyone involved in organizing a fun night. Well done from us.

and this:

Thanks for another great night- we brought along two guests, both first timers to this unique event and they thoroughly enjoyed it. One came from the Blue Mountains and said that she hadn't experienced anything quite like it (in a very positive sense), and has booked herself in again next year ...

We would both like to thank Robert and congratulate him on another beautiful performance. He absolutely brings the characters and narrative alive with his thoughtful, thrilling and enchanting ensemble. Hope he will consider another trip to the valley next year!

Also like to thank Peter and Patsy and Earle for their amazing contribution. Peter's wit and humor greatly enhanced the movie and Earle's honey-like voice and Patsy's dulcet tones just made the whole thing a real treat.

* Setting up for the show, and rehearsing, meant that I missed the AFL Grand Final (that's the Australian Football League, for Aussie Rules, the greatest football code of all). The good news, however, is that the Sydney Swans beat the Hawthorn Hawks in what was a close-fought and, I'm told, thrilling match. Ha!

* Yesterday I drove to Sydney with brother Rob, who's staying here from Darwin, to attend a family function for my son Jed's birthday. Also present were Jed's wife Sally, their sons Oskar and Bassy, my ex-wife Ann, and our daughters Olivia and Alice. Lovely.

* Wed Sept 26:

Steve Moffat, in the Manly Daily (don't know the exact date, but sometime this month), writes about the CD Six Fish on the Tall Poppies label:

Martin Wesley-Smith ... is a more political animal and he weaves a 12th century Andalusian oud tune around snatches of anthems from George W Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" for his 2004 Guitar Trek commission Songs and Marches. Hitler Youth tunes vie with The Star Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen and Advance Australia Fair in a work that is more a 15-minute satirical tilt than a polemic. Either way it's a tour de force of constantly shifting moods and styles ... This is a splendid recording marking the rich and varied work of this Canberra-based ensemble.


I love this CD, I must say, and every piece on it. All the composers are Australians (Richard Charlton, Phillip Houghton and Nigel Westlake as well as me), as are the players (Minh le Hoang, Harold Gretton, Tim Kain & Daniel McKay). It's the group's 25th anniversary recording. As well as standard guitars, they play treble, baritone and bass guitars (and, when required, dobro, 12-string guitar etc). The group, and this CD, are a tribute to the Canberra School of Music, where the group is based. One shudders to think, however, what is going to happen now that the school, part of the Australian National University, is being radically down-sized. It will be a national tragedy if Guitar Trek, Alice Giles's Seven Harp Ensemble, David Pereira's Cello Tragics, and other ensembles are lost.

* This Saturday night in Kangaroo Valley Hall: The Tenth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show, with pianist Robert Constable, which I'm organising. If you're in the area, come along! It starts at 7.30pm. Free supper and gluhwein. A classic Kangaroo Valley evening. See the poster here.

If I were not in Kangaroo Valley Hall I would be in Recital Hall East, Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, at 8pm for a concert by austraLYSIS, a computer music group that includes Roger Dean, Sandy Evans, Phil Slater, Hazel Smith and Greg White. Their blurb says:

This event - Sound in Motion - Sound Emotion - will present new works from austraLYSIS members which use movement of acoustic and electroacoustic sounds in the three dimensional space of the hall as central motivic material. These will be juxtaposed with related work from Xenakis and from our own earlier work. Additionally, some intermedia work pieces will relate sonic to visual movement, and to text. The program includes Xenakis' Bohor, in a novel 4-channel version. It also offers premieres of Inside the Magnetic Spheres, by austraLYSIS and Andrew McPherson (US/UK), of Ground-breaking: Extreme Landscapes in Grains and Pixels by English composer Michael Young, of Roger Dean's Magnetic Shards, and of Disappearing, a new work with text by Hazel Smith and sound by Greg White and Roger Dean.

You can listen to a sound sample here.

* Tues Sept 18:

A Richard Dawkins tweet: "Somebody in NZ insulted Thor. Quick, burn the Peruvian embassy and attack the Italian Ambassador."

This was quoted in I'm Glad I'm an Atheist by Tracey Spicer, and follows riots in Sydney last weekend by Muslims upset by the American YouTube video sending up their "Prophet".

The riots have brought the predictable condemnation, by the Right, of multiculturalism. The true culprit, however, in my view, is religion. And the notion, too, that my God is better than your God. Coming from a Christian family (my grandfather was a Baptist pastor and an aunt was a Baptist missionary), I was a nominal Christian till I left school, when I gave it all up as a ridiculous notion, and a dangerous one, unsupported by evidence. My atheism has only strengthened since then.

* "A NATO airstrike has killed at least 8 women and girls and injured at least 7 females in the eastern province of Laghman while they were collecting firewood on Sunday, Afghan officials say." (see Common Dreams, Mon Sept 17). Good one, NATO. It seems that you're winning the war for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

* Fri Sept 14:

Left: the late Bill Duckworth, composer, whom I met a few years ago through Australian composer Vincent Plush. We corresponded several times and had dinner together in New York in December 2010. He was most affable and charming, even when the pain was bad. From an email in March:

The one thing I am enjoying doing is composing. It's like an alternate world, in a way. A place to forget about health and think about sound. At least it's working for me. I just put up a blog post about the unexpected piano concerto that I just finished writing ...

I like this Duckworth quote: "There's nothing wrong with melody and nothing wrong with harmony. It's only when you try to combine the two that all hell breaks loose."

See an article about Bill by Tom Huizenga here.

Bill was a great friend, and chess partner, of John Cage, whose 100th anniversary was recently celebrated.

* Thurs Sept 13:

Have just heard that American composer and author Bill Duckworth died peacefully today at his home in New York. He had pancreatic cancer, which he'd been fighting with courage and good humour. My condolences to Nora Farrell, his wife. More about this lovely man later ...

* Wed Sept 12:

Today's South Coast Register has some photos taken at last Saturday's Thirsty Night Singers gig in Tomerong. Here's a sample:

That's me on the right with Janette Carter (left) and Jo Stirling. Click on the photo to see a larger version. Shots of other Thirsties can be seen here (Patsy Radic on the right) and here (Nadia Intihar, right, with Sophie Leslie of Clever Sunday in the middle).

* Yesterday, the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, saw a slew of articles about the tragic events of that day and the aftermath. There's a nice collection on Information Clearing House, which you can access here.

* Mon Sept 10:

Sorting through some papers this morning I came across a clipping from The Sydney Morning Herald of June 21-22 2003. Under the heading The Stories They Told, it quotes some of what George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, John Howard and other heroes of our time said around the time of the invasion of Iraq. Here are some of the Howard quotes:

national television address, March 12 2003:
"The Government [is] determined to join other countries to deprive Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons capable of causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale."

to Parliament, March 20 2003:
"We have made a very strong commitment to disarming Iraq ... We do worry about the ultimate and fateful coming together of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism."

to reporters, April 10 2003:
"I've said all along we wouldn't expect to get hard evidence of chemical and biological weapons until well after hostilities ceased. They've been obviously passed around and hidden."

to Parliament, May 14 2004:
"Australia did the right thing. We brought freedom and liberty to an oppressed people. That is something about which we should always be properly and eternally proud."
"The hunt for these weapons will not be easy ..."

No comment needed.

* Wed Sept 5:

I went to the Scott/Thomson concert in Picton the other day: it was as enjoyable and entertaining as I had expected. There should be more such things!

* Last Friday The Thirsty Night Singers sang at a Kangaroo Valley event raising funds for projects in Timor-Leste. Our new song, Bazza the Bass, about fracking, went down a treat! Next Saturday we're singing in Tomerong at a Sing for Uganda concert which also features six-part female a cappella group Clever Sunday, from Canberra, and local group Raised Voices. After that, our future is uncertain: we hoped we'd be performing at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, but there seems to be a spaniard, I mean spanner, in their works so that might not happen. One of our sopranos, Nadia Intihar, has announced that she will be leaving the group at the end of the year, meaning that if we can find a suitable replacement (not easy), we will have to spend a lot of time getting her up to speed. This is an occupational hazard of singing groups! We might do a concert in December, then take time off for a while ...

* Soprano Jane Sheldon is putting the finishing touches to a new CD she has recorded. It contains a song of mine called Tommy Tanna (A White Woman To Her Kanaka Swain), which I wrote in the early 70s, setting an anonymous poem published in The Bulletin in 1895. It was first recorded by Amanda Irving and released on an LP that accompanied a book called The Glorious Years, by Graeme Inson and Russel Ward. It appears on a CD called Waltzing Matilda, released by The Song Company, sung by Anna Fraser (preview it here), and was recorded for the ABC by Nicole Thomson (this is occasionally, meaning all-too-infrequently, broadcast).

* Paul Craig Roberts is one of my favourite critics of the USA. In an article titled The Western Onslaught Against International Law (August 28 2012) he writes

A new film, Compliance, examines "the human desire to follow and obey authority." Liberal institutions, such as the media, universities, federal courts, and human rights organizations, which have traditionally functioned as checks on the blind obedience to authority, have in our day gone over to power's side. The subversion of these institutions has transformed them from checks on power into servants of power. The result is the transformation of culture from the rule of law to unaccountable authority resting on power maintained by propaganda ...


Meanwhile, Bishop Desmond Tutu says Tony Blair Should Face Trial Over Iraq War (Sept 02 2012 in The Observer):

Anti-apartheid hero attacks former prime minister over 'double standards on war crimes'

By Toby Helm, political editor

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for Tony Blair and George Bush to be hauled before the international criminal court in The Hague and delivered a damning critique of the physical and moral devastation caused by the Iraq war.

Tutu, a Nobel peace prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accuses the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and says the invasion left the world more destabilised and divided "than any other conflict in history" ...


George Monbiot agrees. In We're One Step Closer to Seeing Tony Blair at The Hague (The Guardian, Sept 04 2012) he writes:

Desmond Tutu has helped us see the true nature of what the former prime minister did to Iraq and increased pressure for a prosecution.

For years it seems impregnable, then suddenly the citadel collapses. An ideology, a fact, a regime appears fixed, unshakeable, almost geological. Then an inch of mortar falls, and the stonework begins to slide. Something of this kind happened over the weekend.

When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power - the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another - and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it ...


Of course, if Blair were ever hauled off to The Hague, I would nominate John Howard and Alexander Downer (Lord Downer of Baghdad) to accompany him. Speaking of Australian ex-Foreign Ministers, I see that Gareth Evans - that great apologist for Indonesia in its brutal subjugation of the people of East Timor - is Chancellor of the Australian National University in Canberra. He worked hand-in-glove with the Vice-Chancellor, Ian Young, in cutting the Canberra School of Music in half, thus doing untold (as yet) damage to that school's programs of excellence, including Alice Giles's harp school, and SHE (her Seven Harp Ensemble), and Tim Kain's guitar school, and his guitar quartet Guitar Trek, and David Pereira's cello school and his student cello ensemble. I won't explore the pros and cons here except to say that there is no God-given set-in-stone formula for university funding and that every university makes its own decisions based on its own priorities. Forcing the Canberra School of Music into an inappropriate funding model meant that it simply could not survive. What do Evans and Young know about the CSM's work? Have they ever attended a concert by one of the school's outstanding ensembles or individual artists? What appreciation do they have of the role of cultural activities, and creativity, in university education? Very little, it would seem. They slash and burn, in ignorance, only to be rewarded with high awards under Australia's version of imperial honours. That's the way it works. Winner take all. Feeling bad about throwing great artistry on the economic rationalist scrap heap? Here, have an AC - that will make you feel better.

* Sat Aug 25:
Tomorrow, in the Southern Highlands, cellist Rachel Scott and soprano Nicole Thomson are doing a concert in the New South Wales Southern Highlands town of Picton. Their program includes four pieces/arrangements of mine: The Fighters Who Fell, Ina Lou, Intervention and I'm Walking in the City. The concert will start at 1.30pm in Wollondilly Shire Hall on Menangle St Picton.

The Fighters Who Fell started life as a poem in Portuguese written by East Timorese resistance leader (later President, then Prime Minister) Xanana Gusmão. Agio Pereira, who later became Xanana's Chief-of-Staff, translated the poem into English, assisted by my brother Rob Wesley-Smith. They gave it to Peter Wesley-Smith, who put the raw translation into verse. I then married this to a Timorese melody called Kolele Mai and arranged it for choir. Later, ten years or so ago, I arranged it for The Thirsty Night Singers and for Scott'n'Thomson. I first heard the latter arrangement only a few weeks ago, when Rachel played it with soprano Jane Sheldon.

I arranged Timorese folk-song Ina Lou at about the same time. I composed the Intervention a few years ago for, initially, Cathy McCorkill (clarinet) and Julian Smiles (cello) of The Australia Ensemble. I simply composed a clarinet melody over a cello part consisting of the second Minuet from the Bach Cello Suite #1 in G major, BWV 1007. Later, Peter Wesley-Smith wrote words to the clarinet melody, to be sung by Nicole. I wrote the kids' song I'm Walking in the City many years ago for the kids' TV program Play School (ABC TV). Lyric by Ann North (my ex-wife). It is probably my most successful composition! I'm looking forward to hearing it sung and played by Rachel and Nicole ...

cellist Rachel Scott

* Fri Aug 24:

The Pursuit of Julian Assange is an Assault on Freedom and a Mockery of Journalism. So says John Pilger in an article published yesterday by Information Clearing House. It's hard to disagree with him. Excerpts:

Threatening to abuse a law designed to expel murderers from foreign embassies, while defaming an innocent man as an "alleged criminal", Hague has made a laughing stock of Britain across the world, though this view is mostly suppressed in Britain. The same brave newspapers and broadcasters that have supported Britain's part in epic bloody crimes, from the genocide in Indonesia to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, now attack the "human rights record" of Ecuador, whose real crime is to stand up to the bullies in London and Washington ...

Assange was not a political refugee, the Guardian declared, because "neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty".

The irresponsibility of this statement matches the Guardian's perfidious role in the whole Assange affair. The paper knows full well that documents released by WikiLeaks indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters of civil rights. In December 2001, the Swedish government abruptly revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammedel-Zari, who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport and "rendered" to Egypt, where they were tortured ...

Accompanying this has been a vituperative personal campaign against Assange ... His persecution is an assault on us all and on freedom.


One mustn't forget that behind all this are allegations of serious sex crimes. While in no way assuming that Assange is innocent of wrong-doing here, the allegations have always seemed to me to be spurious. Pilger writes:

Swedish case documents, including the text messages of the women involved, demonstrate to any fair-minded person the absurdity of the sex allegations - allegations almost entirely promptly dismissed by the senior prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finne, before the intervention of a politician ...

Australia's role in the whole affair is shameful. Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, said yesterday that Assange had been contacted 62 times by Australian consular officials. That could be 62 enquiries about his health, and whether he needs a new toothbrush. Where's the vigorous protest, Mr Carr, at the vindictive persecution of an Australian citizen who has not been charged with a crime? According to today's Sydney Morning Herald, "Mr Carr ... called for Mr Assange to go to Sweden on the grounds his extradition to the United States was unlikely and saying the Swedish Government was 'not part of some fully blown CIA conspiracy'". Would you go to Sweden if there was, say, a 5% chance of being nabbed, taken to America, tortured, and thrown into jail for the rest of your life? I certainly wouldn't. The disingenuous Mr Carr simply would't know if Sweden is part of a CIA conspiracy or not. From what Pilger says in the article mentioned above, it seems highly likely.

Academy Award-winning film directors Michael Moore and Oliver Stone raise another question that I've found perplexing: how come the USA can prosecute a citizen of another country for alleged crimes committed outside the USA?

If Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. Mr. Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil. If the United States can prosecute a journalist in these circumstances, the governments of Russia or China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws. The setting of such a precedent should deeply concern everyone, admirers of WikiLeaks or not.


* Next Friday the Thirsty Night Singers will be singing at an East Timor fund-raiser in Kangaroo Valley. The following week we will be doing a fund-raiser in Tomerong, with other a cappella groups Raised Voices and Clever Sunday. The gig after that will be at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival in October. Friday's gig will feature the first outing of our version of Bridge Over Troubled Water and the very first performance of our new song about coal seam gas mining, Bazza the Bass.

* Sat Aug 18:

Watching three powerful nations - Great Britain, Sweden and the United States of America - hounding Julian Assange has been unedifying, to say the least. Assange has not been charged with a crime, yet the Australian Prime Minister has pronounced him "guilty". Her government mutters vague words about offering him consular assistance but refuses to stand up for him in the face of death threats made against him by various prominent American pundits and politicians. The British government says it must obey the law, and thus is assiduous in trying to meet its extradition responsibilities to Sweden. It showed no such respect, however, when it wanted to invade Iraq. As far as I can see, if Assange is guilty of publishing classified material then so too are the editors of The Guardian, The New York Times and other newspapers. I can make no comment about the sex crimes he is alleged to have committed in Sweden other than to say that the process there looks decidedly dodgy. In other words, we're watching what seems to be an extraordinary farce where the only credible participants are the Ecuadorean government and Assange himself. My bet is that the CIA will find a way to bump him off and thus remove this living embarrassment to American imperialism.

"AUSTRALIAN diplomats have no doubt the United States is intent on pursuing Julian Assange, Foreign Affairs and Trade Department documents obtained by the Herald show." So says an article - US intends to chase Assange, cables show - by Philip Dorling in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald. Read it here. It finishes with "Senator Carr's office yesterday continued to insist Ecuador's asylum decision and Assange's circumstances remained a matter for Britain, Ecuador and Sweden." Senator Carr is Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr. As an Australian I want my government to stand up and be counted when it comes to what amounts to harassment, official or otherwise, of Australian citizens. Carr's refusal to get involved puts him in the same camp as one of his predecessors, Alexander Downer, who with ex-Prime Minister John Howard refused to watch out for Australian citizens Hicks and Habib.

See this article: British Threat Against Ecuadorean Embassy Was a Diplomatic Blunder. It wasn't so much a diplomatic blunder as an arrogant threat by a country that has apparently forgotten that its days as an imperial power are over.

* Coming up: the Tenth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show, with pianist Robert Constable. This hilarious event will be the last show in the series (at least the last one organised by me). It will be held on Sat Sept 29 2012 in Kangaroo Valley Hall, and will raise funds for educational projects in Timor-Leste managed by the Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership. In order to see an ad prepared for the local paper, direct a well-aimed click here.

* Monday Aug 13:

We did it: The Thirsty Night Singers entered two categories in the Choral section of the 2012 Shoalhaven Eisteddfod - ENSEMBLE - OPEN (3 to 12 voices) and CHOIRS - OPEN. We won them both!

Here's me after having received the certificates and cheques, with adjudicator Lyn Aldred (left) and Marie De La Torre of the Bomaderry CWA Combined Choir (right):

photograph by Anna Pedersen

* I recently wrote the program note for my piece Morning Star Lament, for cello and piano, prior to it being released on a Tall Poppies CD:

In the 1930s a Dutch missionary in Netherlands New Guinea, Rev. Izaak Samuel Kijne, wrote a song called Hai Tanahku Papua ("O My Country Papua"). In 1961 it became the colony's official anthem. At the same time, the Morning Star flag became its official flag. In 1963, however, when Indonesia took over what is now West Papua, both were banned. They are now symbols of West Papuan resistance to the continuing occupation and exploitation of their country.

My piece Morning Star Lament treats the melody of Kijne's song as something beautiful and sad - more a lament than an anthem. A lament for those who have died resisting the occupation, for those who are prisoners in their own country, for the destruction of their environment, for the brutality of the occupiers, for the hypocrisy of the West ...

* Meanwhile, The Jakarta Globe reports Police Arrest 10 in Papua for Raising Morning Star Flag:

West Papua Police have arrested 10 people for raising the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, during a rally in Manokwari on Thursday.

Authorities say they were cracking down on subversion against the state, while Amnesty International called on Friday for an investigation into human rights violations perpetrated by the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) ...


* Another piece of mine - Songs and Marches, for guitar quartet - has just been released on Tall Poppies CD Six Fish (TP221) by Canberra group Guitar Trek. The title of the CD comes from a marvellous piece by Nigel Westlake. Other pieces on the CD - all excellent - are by Australian guitar legends Phillip Houghton and Richard Charlton. I'm thrilled with the performance of my piece! My thanks to Tim Kain, Minh Le Hoang, Daniel McKay and Harold Gretton for putting so much skill and musicality into it.

program note:

An old Andalusian ud melody - incorporated into Arab music in the 12th century - is attacked by snippets of the national anthems of the "Coalition of the Willing". A merry-go-round theme is heard ("here we go again, around and around ..."), then, later, a couple of Hitler Youth songs and marches. These sound surprisingly good - but then they wouldn't work as propaganda if they didn't! As Noel Coward wrote in Private Lives, "Strange how potent cheap music is". At the end, the ud melody returns, sadly beautiful, licking its wounds.

Some may care to see a political theme in this piece; others may simply enjoy the rollicking tunes and the superb artistry of Guitar Trek, who commissioned the piece with financial assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council, the Federal Government's arts funding and advisory body.

A comment from an astute friend of mine:

I ... think "Songs and Marches" is a truly great piece ... such a strong contribution to (the guitar quartet) repertoire. I love it as a piece of music independent of the guitars, if you know what I mean. It's incredibly skilfully written both structurally and emotionally - the kind of piece that can only come from a composer with consummate skill and a lot of experience. With all that it touches the feelings deeply and has real humour in places - along with being a bloody good piss-take in parts - you've traversed a hell of a lot of territory there - and along with that it is also really well written for the instruments.

That must be the best review I've ever received! What a pity it wasn't published in a leading journal ...

* Monday July 30:

I'm a great fan of journalist/author Robert Fisk. In yesterday's The Independent, in an article called Syrian war of lies and hypocrisy (sub-titled The West's real target here is not Assad's brutal regime but his ally, Iran, and its nuclear weapons), he writes:

Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I'm not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I'm referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion - eastern as well as western - in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.


* I've come across a review of my chamber music CD Merry-Go-Round, in the ABC's Limelight magazine, that I'd forgotten about. In the interests of shameless self-promotion, I reproduce it here:

: Chamber Music
Timothy Constable, Australia Ensemble
By Ken Page on Jan 18, 2011

Whatever motivations a composer may have for creating their music, they are more often than not specified on a superficial level, if at all.

Here though, we have a CD in which the composer's motivations are so intrinsic to understanding his work that you almost find yourself listening intently to each note for what it may tell you about the South Australian Wesley-Smith. More fundamentally, about what he cares about.

Firstly, humanitarianism: Wesley-Smith is music's defender of the rights of the East Timorese people. But what seems like a political statement can just as easily morph into a jazz pastiche. Secondly, a playful response to childhood classics: he worked for years writing music for children's television and radio. These are works composed by a man who finds, wherever he looks in the world, the inspiration to create a sparkling micro-environment of sound.

The performance, largely wind-based, has just the lightness of touch it needs without fudging the depth of feeling embedded in the music. If the track titles themselves sound rather lightweight - Snark-Hunting, Merry-Go-Round, Oom Pah Pah - we can sense this is simply Wesley-Smith's way. He applies a quality of understatement that is lacking in the subjects he tackles. His music is tuneful and harmonic, mordant and inquisitive, suddenly pausing for moments of reflection without resorting to melodic sentimentality. Wesley-Smith does right by his subjects.

An imaginative CD of great warmth and depth.


The wise Mr Page is clearly a man of great taste and erudition.

* Last Friday there were three funerals - none of which I was able to attend - of people I knew. Sylvia Godson-King was a beautiful and charming long-time resident of Kangaroo Valley who succumbed to cancer, as did Helmut Schaeffer, a strong supporter of East Timor who taught at Oxley College in the Southern Highlands. Blind musician/composer/teacher Ian Cooper, who taught at Frensham School, was taken out by, I'm told, emphysema (which also claimed, six years ago, my brother Jerry). My condolences to the friends and family of these three lovely people.

* This coming Sunday, The Thirsty Night Singers will be competing in the 2012 Shoalhaven Eisteddfod!

* Sunday July 22:

Brilliant Australian pianist Piers Lane is the Director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville. In the current issue of Limelight Magazine he writes:

Festival repertoire should be entertaining, welcoming, moving and cozy overall, but should also expose us to composers and pieces we may not have encountered before. As long as they are presented with integrity and in a communicative and exciting way, audiences will often discover gems they hadn't anticipated. I was delighted last year when Martin Wesley-Smith, the 2011 Composer-in-Residence, took people by surprise with his politically provocative Weapons of Mass Distortion for clarinet and tape, immaculately realised by British clarinetist Michael Collins. It wasn't what people were expecting over their morning coffee, but they loved it!


I must say that the audience response that morning was among the best responses any performance of a piece of mine has ever received. I had dozens of people coming up afterwards, and at other concerts during the rest of the festival, saying not only how much they enjoyed it but how there should be more of that kind of thing. It's an audio-visual piece, with some powerful graphics, about propaganda, official lies etc, especially those that led to the invasion of Iraq, and sends up various world leaders including Bush (the younger), Blair, Howard and Saddam. Inspired by an article by Australian human rights campaigner Julian Burnside, it is hardly controversial - yet despite its success, clarinettists, and pianists (there's a version for piano), show zero interest in it. I think this has something to do with the old politics-and-music thing and the innate conservatism of most classical musicians. An exception is Australian clarinettist Ros Dunlop, who has played the piece in various parts of the world, sometimes with me handling the projections (see here).

* Saturday July 21:

Yesterday I drove to Sydney to hear cellist Rachel Scott play (and sing) my piece Uluru Song, a piece she has performed hundreds of times in many countries of the world. Before that I discovered our dog Ghoti (pronounced Fish) displaying symptoms of tick poisoning, even though I couldn't find a tick on her anywhere. A quick trip to a vet resulted in her staying in hospital overnight - but she's now OK and expected to make a complete recovery.

* This year is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica. According to Amy Goodman in Guernica at 75: Symbol of Art's Triumph Over War (The Guardian, UK, July 20 2012, "The brutal act propelled one of the world's greatest artists into a three-week painting frenzy. Pablo Picasso's Guernica starkly depicts the horrors of war, etched into the faces of the people and the animals on the 20-by-30ft canvas. It would not prove to be the worst attack during the Spanish civil war, but it became the most famous, through the power of art." Reader Activista writes: "In an act with extraordinary historical resonance, United Nations officials covered up a tapestry reproduction of Guernica during US Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5 presentation of the American case for war against Iraq." She adds: "Guardian - do NOT forget (the) NATO bombing of Tripoli ..."


* Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, apparently on her last legs as PM, remains opposed to same-sex marriage. In an interview published here, she says:
"... I've said ... that there should be a conscience vote in Labor, so we will have a vote on changing the marriage act before the end of the year. It'll come up through a Private Member's Bill - that Bill is in the Parliament now, and Labor people will be able to vote any which way that they want to. And I suspect many will vote for change, some won't vote for change. It would be good if we could just see everybody do that across the Parliament, going in and exercising their own personal choice about what they think should change in the Marriage Act ..."

Ms Gillard knows that the leader of the Liberal-National Perty coalition, Tony Abbott, has refused to allow his parliamentarians a conscience vote - the party position is opposed to same-sex marriage - so there is no hope, in this parliament, for any change. There are times when one shakes one's head in disbelief at the stupidity of Ms Gillard - who still thinks that Julian Assange is guilty even though he hasn't been charged with any crime. She remains an ardent supporter of the Western invasion of Afghanistan. At a time when she is being increasingly denounced as a liar (an accusation that I have defended her against), she pulled out of an agreement with independent MP Andrew Wilkie re poker machines once she'd gained, in effect, an extra vote in parliament by the appointment of Peter Slipper as Speaker, saying that she would not have been able to get the proposed bill through parliament. I would not - could not - vote for her even if her opponent is the afore-mentioned Abbott, one of the most odious MPs of recent times.

Ms Gillard is an un-married atheist living "in sin", and in The Lodge, with her partner. It is extraordinary that the Australian people have accepted this with hardly any fuss, a measure of how community attitudes have changed in recent years. Gillard is quite happy to take advantage of this in her personal situation but to deny others a situation with which the majority of Australians have no problem. What's more, she can't come up with a cogent reason to support her view (all she can say, apparently, is "I've got a view about the cultural status of marriage in our society"). At a time when she needs every vote she can get, it is extraordinary to me that she is prepared to risk alienating a large section of society.

* Tuesday July 10:

That great champion of the East Timorese people, Sister Susan Connelly, has written an excellent article called History curriculum perpetuates East Timor myths, published yesterday in Eureka She writes:

Many people's opinions are shaped by notions championed by various political forces and media, and therefore some actually believe that regarding East Timor, Australia has been unremittingly courageous, generous and exemplary. That Australian soldiers went into Portuguese Timor in 1941 'to protect the Timorese', for example, and that Australia 'saved' East Timor in 1999. A study of the history would allow students to have these perceptions challenged by examination of the facts.


Australia's relationship to Timor-Leste has been one of exploitation. In 1941 we invaded neutral Portuguese Timor, causing the deaths of up to 60,000 Timorese killed by Japanese troops for assisting the Aussies. In 1999, Howard and Downer, presented with clear evidence of Indonesia's intentions if the UN referendum didn't go their way, dismissed anything untoward as the work of "rogue elements". Australia has much to be ashamed of with regard to the "Isle of Fear".

* Sunday July 8:

In an article titled Taxing the truth: why we must not let Abbott's dogmas lie, The Age, July 7 2012, Ian Robinson writes:

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott constantly accuses the Prime Minister of "lying" when she made a commitment before the last election not to introduce a tax on carbon. But who's the liar here?

A lie is when you say something is true when you know it is not true. This is quite different from a commitment, which is a promise to do something in the future.

We can be absolutely certain that Abbott, as a former student in a Catholic seminary, knows the substantive and moral difference between a lie and a commitment.

So when Abbott says the Prime Minister told a lie, he is saying something is true when he knows it is not true, so Abbott is telling a lie.


Impeccable logic. Furthermore, as the article states, implicit in Prime Minister Gillard's commitment was her leading a majority government after the election, which she wasn't able to achieve. The hypocrisy of the Liberal-National Party Coalition on this is plain to see, even though a substantial portion of the electorate, perhaps even a majority, refuses to see it. I should say, however, that Gillard's step back from poker machine reform showed that her promise to Independent Andrew Wilkie was a lie. We don't hear about this from Abbott because he perceives poker machine reform to be not in his best political interests. As always, it's not about what's right but about what is likely to bring victory in the next election.

I would never vote for the Coalition under Abbott. Perhaps I could under Turnbull, but it would be taking such a risk that my hand would seize up in the voting booth. The Labor Party doesn't deserve my vote, with its response to so many issues causing me to shake my head in disbelief. To name a few: internet censorship; its refusal to stand up strongly for Assange; its funding of Christian chaplins in state schools; and its apparent inability to reform itself, including ridding itself of union leader Paul Howes, who was one of the architects of the Gillard-for-Rudd swap, which even he admits was a mistake. His current calling for the repudiation of electoral agreements with the Greens would, were it implemented, contribute to Labor's annihilation at the next election.

* Saturday July 7:

If there was ever a clear cut case of good versus evil, then surely it is the contest between Julian Assange and most of the world's governments. They hate him because he exposed their lies, their manipulations, and their routine violations of the most elementary rules of human decency ... WikiLeaks has given us the true history of the world in modern times, or, at least, a good glimpse into its secret underside historians rarely uncover ...

So writes Justin Raimondo - editorial director of - in an article called Assange's Last Stand?, July 6 2012. It is an excellent appraisal of the dilemma in which Julian Assange finds himself.

American author William Blum writes:

I'm sure most Americans are mighty proud of the fact that Julian Assange is so frightened of falling into the custody of the United States that he had to seek sanctuary in the embassy of Ecuador, a tiny and poor Third World country, without any way of knowing how it would turn out. He might be forced to be there for years. "That'll teach him to mess with the most powerful country in the world! All you other terrorists and anti-Americans out there - Take Note! When you fuck around with God's country you pay a price!"


His article - Julian Assange, Infinite Justice, Barack Obama, his Mother, and the CIA - was published in Information Clearing House on July 3 2012. Read it here.

Another hero of straightforward tell-it-how-it-is punditry is Patrick Cockburn, whose article How Julian Assange's private life helped conceal the real triumph of WikiLeaks was published in The Independent (UK) newspaper on July 1:

As Julian Assange evades arrest by taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge to escape extradition to Sweden, and possibly the US, British commentators have targeted him with shrill abuse ...(Their) criticisms tell one more about the conventionality and herd instinct of British opinion-makers than they do about Assange. Ignored, in all this, is his achievement as founder of WikiLeaks in publishing US government cables giving people across the world insight into how their governments really behave. Such public knowledge is the core of democracy because voters must be accurately informed if they are to be able to chose representatives to carry out their wishes ...

An extraordinary aspect of the campaign against Assange is that op-ed writers feel free to pump out thousands of words about his alleged faults, with never a mention of far more serious state crimes revealed by WikiLeaks ...


"Who would willingly take even a 5 per cent chance that their flight to Stockholm might result in 40 years' detention in a US prison cell?"

* Sunday July 01:

Last night the Thirsty Night Singers performed at the launch of a book called The Art & Soul of Kangaroo Valley. We went over pretty well, all in all. Actually, we wowed 'em ...

Last Wednesday I attended a concert in Robertson (not far from Kangaroo Valley) by soprano Jane Sheldon, cellist Rachel Scott and harpist Genevieve Lang. They performed Bach, Handel, and so on, and ... Wesley-Smith, an arrangement I did years ago of a song called The Fighters Who Fell for soprano and singing cellist. That song started life as a poem written in Portuguese by Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmão (subsequently President then Prime Minister); it was translated by Agio Pereira with the assistance of Rob Wesley-Smith and sent to lyricist Peter Wesley-Smith, who took the raw translation and put it into verse form. I then set it to the music of a traditional East Timorese song, Kolele Mai, and arranged it for choir. A few years ago Rachel, who regularly teaches in Timor-Leste, as it is now called, asked me to arrange "something Timorese for soprano and cello". I chose The Fighters Who Fell, requiring Rachel to sing too. I had never heard it before last Wednesday: was delighted by it! The two voices, combined with double stops on the cello, were dark and delicious, making it one of my more successful arrangements. I hope to get it recorded before the end of the year.

Jane played me a recording she made recently of my song Tommy Tanna, which is due to be released on CD later this year. Beautiful! Another piece being released soon: Songs & Marches, for guitar quartet, played by Guitar Trek. My piano (four hands) piece Brother Jack has been scheduled for recording 'ere long.

Each year Rachel puts on a series of concerts called Bach in the Dark. She writes:

It's exciting times for the concert series - we are moving forward. To celebrate the new things ahead, I am putting on a special event - a concert of the first Bach Suite (the piece that started off the idea of the concert series four years ago) and Martin Wesley-Smith's beautiful Uluru Song (the piece that I think most represents me as a cellist!).

I believe the concert is on July 20 - but tickets are reserved for an invited audience. If extra tickets become available, I'll post the details here.

* Today is the day Australia's so-called carbon tax started. So far the sky hasn't fallen in (predicted by Opposition Leader Abbott), but it might happen tomorrow. Or the next day. I support putting a price on carbon as it will encourage the use of cleaner energy. It's not a perfect scheme, and it's too little too late, but at least it's something. I salute Australia's Labor Government for having the courage to introduce it despite continuing strident opposition ...

Another big issue in the Australian parliament of late has been what to do with asylum seekers who arrive by boat. I was interested to read this contribution to the debate by a reader named Ricardo in response to something written by True Blue Aussie, June 27 2012:

I served over 20 years in the Australian Army as an Infantry Officer. I served in Somalia, East Timor (twice). Soloman Islands, Iraq, Afghanistan (twice) and the Sinai. And I would gladly help out an asylum seeker before lifting a hand to some useless bludging whingeing aussie who thinks they deserve a free ride because they were born here. Aussie culture is to give people a fair go and help out your mates and neighbours. Or would you call me un-Australian????

To read the original article - A modest proposal to deter asylum seekers, by Jonathan Green - click here.

* Sunday June 24:

Human rights lawyer Jenifer Robinson is heavily involved in the two issues that I'm most concerned about: West Papua and Julian Assange. Re West Papua, "Did Timor teach us nothing?", she asks in today's Canberra Times. See excerpt at right.

As violence escalates in West Papua, one cannot help but recall East Timor and wonder how much worse it must get before Australia and the international community will act.

Tensions are at breaking point in the easternmost province of Indonesia after the police shooting of independence activist Mako Tabuni.

Human rights activists report Tabuni was unarmed when shot six times by the Australian-trained Detachment 88 forces. Tabuni was deputy chairman of the West Papua National Committee, an organisation advocating independence and the right to self-determination under international law. Tabuni had also been campaigning for an investigation into a recent spate of military killings.

The shooting follows years of violence. At least 16 people have been killed in the past month, according to human rights groups, and hundreds of homes raided, with many burnt to the ground. Thousands are reported to be evacuating, seeking refuge in the forest or heading for refugee camps in Papua New Guinea. Credible reports of human rights violations by Indonesian security forces have emerged, including torture, excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings.

Yet Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency chief, Lieutenant-General Marciano Norman, placed blame on the Free Papua Movement, "foreign agents" and local residents for the violence. The President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, played down the events. As Indonesia obfuscates and Australia remains silent, West Papua bleeds. While most Australians are proud of our role in ending 24 years of bloody Indonesian occupation in East Timor, we should not forget it came after a long history of accepting Indonesian assertions of sovereignty while ignoring human rights abuse on our doorstep ...


See, also, The hope for peace in Papua recedes -- for now, by Endy Bayuni, published in Foreign Policy, Friday June 22. Excerpt:

Papuans love to call their homeland the Land of Peace not for nothing. It's not so much a utopian dream but it is a message they have been trying to convey for decades to the world, and most particularly to the Indonesian government: That whatever solutions anyone proposes to the complex problems facing Papua, they have to be non-violent. Papua, unfortunately, is anything but peaceful. And as violence begets more violence, the territory furthest east in the Indonesian archipelago could soon spiral out of control ...


Unfortunately, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, seems to want to win the prize for the most servile Australian politician in dealings with Indonesia. He has some distinguished competition, of course, including ex-PM Paul Keating and ex-Foreign Minister Lord Downer of Baghdad, but he's off to a flying start. In his answer to Questions Without Notice in the Australian Senate, March 20 2012, Carr said:

... I assured the Indonesian foreign minister that Australia - both sides of Australian politics - fully recognised Indonesian sovereignty over the Papuan provinces ... I underlined that I understood that all the governments of the world recognise Indonesian sovereignty. It would be a reckless Australian indeed who wanted to associate himself with a small separatist group which threatens the territorial integrity of Indonesia and that would produce a reaction among Indonesians towards this country. It would be reckless indeed.


I again would warn any member of the Senate against foolishly talking up references to separatism in respect of the Papuan provinces. That is reckless and it is not in Australia's interests.

Two responses: firstly, the fact that "all the governments of the world recognise Indonesian sovereignty" does not mean that Australia should. Most other countries defer to Australia's position, it being the Western country closest to and most involved with Indonesia. If Australia were to take the lead in raising questions about Indonesia's role in West Papua, many countries would follow. The notion that no-one should do anything because no-one else is doing anything makes a mockery of our supposed independence.

Secondly, Australia has no qualms about associating itself with small militant groups threatening Libya, say, or Syria. We don't interfere with Indonesia's continuing rape of West Papua because we're frightened that Indonesia might threaten us. It is "not in Australia's interests" to stand up to the regional bully, so we sell out the indigenous West Papuans in the same way we sold out the East Timorese.

Carr's verbiage is full of such stuff as "full and frank exchanges ... with our Indonesian counterparts". But these exchanges never seem to lead to any changes. He says "President Yudhoyono - a great friend of Australia's, by the way - has committed his government to raising the living standards of the people of Papua and reinvigorating special autonomy." Why is it that the the people of Papua have seen no difference in their living standards since the bogus Act of Free Choice in 1969? If Indonesia is committed to "shifting responsibility for law and order in the Papuan provinces from the military to the police", why does it keep sending troops there? What it doesn't seem to realise is that the daily violence inlicted on indigenous West Papuans is guaranteed to stiffen the West Papuan resolve to seek independence. Indonesia and the international community should try to learn from the disaster that was East Timor, or face a calamity even worse.

* A long list of prominent American activists have signed a letter, dated yesterday, to President Correa of Ecuador, urging him to grant political asylum to Julian Assange. The list includes Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, Naomi Wolf, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Coleen Rowley and Ray McGovern.

* Monday June 18:

Despite all the disappointments of the current Labor government in Australia, I've always had a belief that underneath its aura of incompetence lies basic decency and intelligence. Now, however, with its refusal to stand up strongly for the rights of Australian citizen Julian Assange, this gutless USA-kowtowing government has showed itself to be just as vacuous and morally deprived as the Howard government before it. Remember Howard's lack of support for Hicks amd Habib? PM Gillard, once a barrister, pronounced Assange guilty when first asked about him, even though he hadn't - still hasn't - been charged with any crime. Compare this to her ridiculous support for an Australian teenager accused of drug offences in Bali, or to Foreign Minister Bob Carr's heroic, if self-glorifying, efforts on behalf of International Criminal Court lawyer Melinda Taylor, languishing in a Libyan jail. When Assange is languishing, quite possibly being tortured, in an American jail, facing the death penalty, will Gillard and Carr jump up and down about the rights of an Australian citizen? No way. Attorney-General Nicola Rixon will mouth a few platitudes about how "the Government considers the safety of Australian citizens to be of paramount importance" and that it "continues to provide consular support to Mr Assange" (from a recent letter to Australian civil rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson; to read the whole letter, click here (pdf)), but she will no doubt stand by as the Americans check the chosen electric chair to make sure it's working.

Has there been an answer to the disgraceful situation recently when Ms Robinson was stopped, she claims, at Heathrow airport, only days after meeting Assange, and told she was on an inhibited travel list and unable to enter Australia without permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs? (see here, Sydney Morning Herald, April 19 2012)

From Julian Assange Seeks Asylum at Ecuadorean Embassy:

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said the Government has no information about any US indictment pending against Assange and would provide him with the same assistance as any other Australian citizen.
Yep, same assistance. Same as that given to Melinda Taylor.

Beiruti writes, on the above website:

Regardless of his views and character, this man has been screwed pretty hard by the Australian government. The convicted drug trafficker bogan Schapelle Corby got better support from the government, in addition to the massive media and popular support.

Assange's mother, Christine Assange:

"Well unfortunately we have a puppet government in Australia, it's run by the US, but I would have liked to have seen the Australian government stand up and have some independence from US foreign policy, and say "no, what you're doing is persecuting a journalist who has not been charged with anything and under your own first amendment has done nothing wrong." They didn't stand up, they should have stood up. They should have protested vehemently to the UK government for its disgraceful display during the hearings. It is unheard of in the last hearing that a court of appeals would introduce new evidence at the appeal, it's absolutely unheard of. They should have protested to the US that calls are being made to incite murder upon my son. They should have protested that the grand jury being run by the US is not a due legal process, it has no judge or prosecutors, no defense material is allowed, and the jury comes from a pool of military contractors. They should have protested all of those things, and they've done nothing. In fact, they've aided and abetted the US in persecuting my son."

(see here, published yesterday)

See, also, Assange's mother slams Bob Carr.

From Roxon letter spurs Assange flight to Ecuador embassy (Sydney Morning Herald, today):

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, have repeated that the government "has no evidence" of any US intention to charge and extradite Mr Assange, though Ms Gillard added the qualifying words "at this stage" in answer to a parliamentary question from the Australian Greens deputy leader, Adam Bandt.

Seems to me that if the Americans can't get Assange legitimately then a stray drone over Ecuador will have to do the job.

Guy Rundle has an excellent analysis of the situation in yesterday's Crikey. Read it here. In a comment on that article, ZUT ALORS writes: "It was bad enough when J W Howard gift-wrapped Hicks for the US govt but we expect Gillard and Roxon to behave with more intelligence and compassion." Not any more. Puddleduck: "Poor bastard. Assange will last as long as a snowflake in hell if he is ever in the clutches of the US. They will eat him alive. Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't run sooner and I don't blame him for doing it."

* Monday June 04:

The Song Company will be performing a song of mine - Who Stopped the Rain? - at the Bellingen Music Festival, this Saturday June 9 at 7.30pm. For details of the festival program, click here. Apart from Who Stopped the Rain?, which I wrote when I was 20 and subsequently arranged for six voices a cappella, this marvellous group will sing Dawn Mantras by Ross Edwards, Out there by Dan Walker, after Irkanda by Peter Sculthorpe, Past Life Melodies by Sarah Hopkins and Where the cats sleep by Elena Kats-Chernin as well as traditional gospel and Australian folk songs. Wish I could be there!

* I used to sing in a choir in Berry called The Courthouse Choir. One of the pieces we did, and loved, was Rachmaninov's Bogoroditse Devo. Click here for a superb YouTube rendition of the piece by six members of The Australian Voices (Artistic Director: Gordon Hamilton).

* Thursday May 24:

Australian politics are currently infused, more than ever, with vicious personal attacks, mainly to do with the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper affairs. The fundamental principle of "innocent till proved guilty" has been trashed by the Federal Opposition and the mainstream media, and it is horrifying to see people tearing into both men, even though no accusation of wrong-doing has been proved. If Thomson has his day in court, and is found not guilty, he would potentially win millions of dollars in defamation cases. Slipper, too. I find the James Ashby allegations of sexual impropriety against Slipper highly suspicious (see I Think I Smell A Rat, posted on the Wixxyleaks website on May 16). The Opposition is playing politics, of course. Nothing wrong with that. But what we are currently witnessing is going far beyond vigorous debate ...

* Where I live (Kangaroo Valley) one comes across the occasional leech. There's an interesting story - Leeches Are DNA Bloodhounds in the Jungle - about these fascinating little creatures on the website ScienceDaily:

Apr. 23, 2012 - Copenhagen Zoo and University of Copenhagen have in collaboration developed a new and revolutionary, yet simple and cheap, method for tracking mammals in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. They collect leeches from tropical jungles, which have been sucking blood from mammals, and subsequently analyse the blood for mammal DNA. By using this method, the researchers can get an overview of the biodiversity of the mammals without having to find them.


It seems that leeches have a use after all (apart from assisting patients who have had microsurgery). I've never understood what role they play in the ecological system. Nothing eats them, as far as I know. They suck blood (around here they seem to favour echidnas, horses, wombats and humans); when full they drop off and immediately go off looking for another blood-engorged leech - peferably a good-looking one - with which to mate (they are hermaphroditic). They can survive for a year or so without a feed, living under rocks in, ideally, cool damp conditions. When feeling peckish they come up, attach themselves to a passing mammal, injecting a blood-thinner and an anaesthetic as they feed. Read about them in Australian Geographic here.

* See this article - No Country for Young Men as Old Men Play for Time: The End in Afghanistan is Totally Predictable by Dave Llindorff in Information Clearing House, May 23 2012:

John Kerry ... famously asked the members of the [US] Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing, "How do you ask a man to be the last one to die for a mistake?"

That was 1971, and the Vietnam War continued to drag on for two more years, with more Americans dying, and with many more Vietnamese being killed, until finally the last US combat troops were gone. But even then the fighting continued, with the Army of South Vietnam armed and financed by the United States, until April 30, 1975, when the last resistance ended and Vietnam was liberated and reunified and finally at peace.

During those two terrible years between Kerry's statement and the end of US combat operations, American soldiers stationed in Vietnam knew that the war was lost, and knew they were there for no reason other than keeping President Nixon from looking like he had lost a war, particularly as he faced re-election during the campaign year of 1972 ...

Now consider the situation in Afghanistan. Once again a war has been lost by the US, this time to forces far weaker and more poorly organized than the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. Once again American troops are being asked to keep fighting for a mistake -- this time the 2001 fantasy of the Bush/Cheney administration that it could make a client state out of Afghanistan, a mistake that President Obama doubled down on after taking over the White House, when he called Afghanistan the "good war" and committed another 30,000 troops there, plus ordering up an aggressive kill campaign of night raids, assassinations and the heavy use of pilotless armed drone aircraft ...


I have never understood how the Americans and their allies thought they could control Afghanistan, that "graveyard of empires". Obama could have withdrawn American troops as soon as was elected (and thus justified his Nobel Peace Prize), ensuring that the Afghanistan debacle remain Bush's debacle. But he's hanging on, and on. Llindorff predicts that:

the next two and a half years of pointless war in Afghanistan will be a terrible scene of drug abuse ... of terrible carnage of civilians as increasingly automated remote killing methods are employed to make up for the lack of motivation among the troops, and of US casualties, as the Taliban resistance grows increasingly confident of its power and its impending victory.

The "government" of Afghanistan, meanwhile, knowing its days are numbered, will be preparing its exit, with money spirited out of the country, while the police and army, knowing that they will ultimately pay a deadly price for serving the US master, and too poor to buy their way out of the country, will increasingly turn on American forces, or simply switch to what they know will be the ultimate winning side. This is all totally predictable.

Australian Prime Minister Rudd could have taken us out of Afghanistan when he took over from War Criminal Howard. Gillard, too, could have taken a bold stand. Instead she maintained the status quo, allowing yet more Australian soldiers to lose their lives - for a mistake.

* Monday May 21:

I've been busy of late doing various things including doing sound for a concert in Kangaroo Valley by Joseph Tawadros (oud), James Tawadros (req), and Steve Hunter (electric bass) - brilliant concert, amazing virtuosity. We have a new soprano in the Thirsty Night Singers, so much of our rehearsal time at the moment is taken up going over songs the rest of us know pretty well. New repertoire includes Brian Wilson and Mike Love's classic God Only Knows (the arrangement by Tomas Bergquist for The Real Group) as well as Peter's and my Freddie the Fish and We Thought We'd Lost You, Johnny. We have several gigs coming up. I'm currently setting up a new work space. Last weekend I sang, with three others, a specially-written-and-arranged birthday song for a friend of mine ... Various deaths have occurred since I last blogged, including that of Melbourne composer Felix Werder (read a brilliant article about him, written by Warren Burt not long before Felix's death, here). Australian activist David Scott died recently. He wrote a most interesting book about East Timor's travails called Last Flight Out of Dili: Memoirs of an Accidental Activist in the Triumph of East Timor, and he played a vital part in the struggle for Timor's freedom. The March 2010 issue of Quadrant contains an article by John Izzard called Crumbs of Compassion, about events around the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor. It includes an account of the 1976 voyage of The Dawn, a boat that tried to get humanitarian supplies to the beleagured East Timorese (one of the four brave men on the boat was Darwin activist Rob Wesley-Smith). Read it here ... The odious John Howard took the opportunity to pat himself on the back for his government's role in the liberation of East Timor in 1999. The truth is that he suggested autonomy for the East Timorese, not a referendum, putting off any serious action for ten years. He knew that the TNI-controlled militia were committing massacres of innocent Timorese citizens and planning more, but he waited till the last possible moment before sending troops in. In the meantime, thousands died. Note that not a single Indonesian citizen has been convicted of any crime to do with the killings in Timor ... I have a continuing health issue; a visit to a specialist in Wollongong last week indicated that there has been no change in my condition, meaning that the drug I'm taking - Tarceva - is stopping things getting worse. There are a few side FX, but nothing up with which I cannot put. I'm lucky: several friends of mine with a similar illness are in much worse shape than me ... The April West Papua Report, issued by ETAN in the US, contains the usual accounts of outrages committed with impunity by Indonesian security forces:

The real crimes during the three day gathering (the October 16-19 2011 "Third Papuan National Congress") were committed by the security forces, including the U.S.-organized and -funded Detachment 88, which along with other state security elements attacked the gathering shortly after it concluded. As participants were preparing to leave the open air venue, the police opened fire from their armored personnel carriers. At least three people were killed in cold blood. Participants were rounded up, beaten, kicked, and forced to crawl into the middle of the field. Some 90 sustained injuries and 300 people were arbitrarily detained ... [more]

Five victims of this travesty of justice - Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, Selfius Bobii, Agus Kraar and Dominikus Sorabut - were each jailed for three years for nothing more than peaceful protest. As usual, Australia, the US, Britain etc kept their heads in the sand. Last Sunday was the 10th anniversary of Timor-Leste obtaining its independence. Many words have been written about this event. One of the most thoughtful articles I've read is by Michael Mullins: East Timor's independence is from Australia, published in

With East Timor marking ten years of independence on Sunday, it's relevant to ask which nation in particular they are celebrating independence from. It could be the colonial master Portugal, as the UN did not accept the Indonesian invasion, and East Timor was officially Portuguese from 1702 until independence in 2002. In the minds of many, it's obviously Indonesia, given the brutal repression of the period of Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999. But there is also a sense in which East Timorese value independence because it's a reminder that they do not hold ties and obligations to Australia, which might have become their neo-colonial master ... [more]

* Tuesday May 01 - May Day:

From an internet site whose URL I can no longer find (sorry!):

In 1884, unions declared that eight hours would constitute a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886. When workers went on strike at a factory in Chicago on May 3, 1886, police fired into the peacefully assembled crowd, killing four and wounding many others. The workers movement called for a mass rally the next day in Haymarket Square to protest this brutality. The rally proceeded peacefully until the end when 180 police officers entered the square and ordered the crowd to disperse. At that point, someone threw a bomb, killing one police officer and wounding 70 others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing one and injuring many others.

Eight of the city's most active unionists were charged with conspiracy to commit murder even though only one even present at the meeting was on the speakers' platform. All eight were found guilty and sentenced to death, despite a lack of evidence connecting them to the person who threw the bomb. Four were hanged on November 11, 1887, Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison, and the remaining three were finally pardoned in 1893. Lucy Parsons, the widow of Albert Parsons, traveled the world urging workers to celebrate May Day and to remember the events of Haymarket and the subsequent government-sponsored murder of those fighting for the rights of all workers.

Over time, May Day grew to become an important day for organising and unifying the international struggle of workers and their allies.

* music & politics:

Open Letter to Red Hot Chili Peppers: Please cancel your gig in Israel

Wednesday April 11 2012

Dear Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Chad Smith, and Josh Klinghoffer,

In 2005, Palestinian Civil Society called for a cultural boycott of Israel. Red Hot Chili Peppers, as artists of conscience, please don't ignore the nonviolent approach of Palestinian people by breaching the boycott. Your solidarity with the cultural boycott is needed.

The boycott call by Palestine has become a global movement, and with good reason ...

* Last Wednesday's ANZAC Day prompted memories of the impact war had on my family, including the death in an aircraft accident in 1942 of my uncle Robbie (my father's brother). I've come across the official telegram:

Robbie died in a training accident prior to combat duties in the Second World War.

* Sunday April 29:

music & politics:

I see that Bob Dylan, who wrote and performed Masters of War and other classic anti-war songs, "is accepting a Presidential Freedom Award from a cynical if affable, still, to many people, master of war. What is Dylan thinking?" (from Make Love, then War by Linh Dinh, Information Clearing House, April 27 2012). Read more here.

MiKi67 responded:

Please Mr. Zimmerman. Don't. I just re-bought two of your classic albums. Don't kowtow to a Master of War. Don't. It'd kill me.

Let's hope Dylan turns it down. If he doesn't then he will be revealed as a hypocrite.

* Wednesday April 25:

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia, the anniversary of my father Harry's death (in 1986) and the day before my mother Sheila's birthday. I acknowledge the extraordinary sacrifices made by Australia's service men and women - including my father - in various wars, but I feel that the day has been cynically manipulated by politicians, particularly J. Howard, to become a celebration of militarism. I guess I'm more a And the Band Played 'Waltzing Matilda' than a National Anthem sort of bloke.

I like this comment, which I saw this morning:

I actually get pretty angry over the spectacle people make of Anzac day. It seems to be in very poor taste. If I want to remember/honor my grandfathers, I will do it in a manner and at a time of my own choosing. They were much more than soldiers. To let their manner of death define their lives is disrespectful.

I also saw this:

(Am) pausing a moment on this rainy, wintry day to remember all the service men and women who have given and who continue to give a massive amount for our country so that we might live day to day in relative freedom and security with our families. Lest we forget.

In some cases, Australia's wars have contributed to our "relative freedom and security". In others - e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq - they haven't. In fact our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have threatened our freedom and security. My problem with ANZAC Day is not the glorification of the soldiers and others who put their lives on the line, but the glorification of war itself.

* I have a covered garden, designed to keep bower birds, wombats, wallabies etc from whatever I manage to coax to grow there. Unfortunately it doesn't keep out rats, who have prospered on my sweet corn, apples, zucchini etc. A few days ago I discovered a large python in there, which I warily welcomed. A Korean member of WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) was too frightened, however, to do his designated weeding, claiming that the snake had been chasing him (next morning he left, several days before the due date). Today I found the python trying to leave via the chicken wire fence. About half-way through, it got stuck, a bulge in its belly suggesting that it had consumed one of my rats. A pair of tin snips, cautiously applied, snipped the wire, allowing the snake to live another day.

* Tuesday April 24:

Came across this photo on facebook today. It's of some of my favourite percussionist friends with, third from left, American composer Steve Reich, currently in Sydney. From left, Rebecca Lagos, Bree Van Reyk, Alison Pratt & Timothy Constable. The bloke on the far right is Joshua Hill, whom I don't know. The musicians are rehearsing for a concert at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday on which they will play Reich's Music for Eighteen Musicians.

Reich was a huge influence on me as a student composer, his electronic piece Come Out changing the way I looked at - and listened to - music.

Alison, Becky and Tim have all played my For Marimba & Tape. As far as I know, Bree and Joshua haven't. What's going on, guys? C'mon!

* Sunday April 22:

If you're a Bible-thumping Christian, ignorant of the notion of separation of church and state, you will enjoy an article published in today's Sunday Telegraph, Sydney. Written by Barclay Crawford, it is titled the Bible can teach our children the essential lessons of life. What really grabbed my attention was the conclusion:

To me, people who view the Bible and Christ with disdain are sneering at the very foundations of our society. These are the same people who end up seeking solace in macrobiotics, transcendental meditation and voting for the Greens.

And there's more danger in all of those than anything contained in either Testament of the Bible.


Crikey! I'd better watch my step. I no longer do macrobiotics or transcendental meditation, but I'm not averse to voting for the Greens, despite having attended Religious Instruction classes (Christianity Instruction classes, actually) throughout my school career.

Speaking of the Greens, I pay tribute to Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, who recently announced that he will be resigning from the leadership, and from the Senate, while he is still young enough to pursue other interests (such as bushwalking). Read an excellent article about him - Bob Brown hikes off into his political sunset by James Norman (The Age, April 15 2012) - here.

* The Thirsty Night Singers - the a cappella vocal group I sing in and direct - has recently recruited a new soprano, Jo Stirling (left), to replace Nell Britton (right), who is having to spend a lot of time away as part of her nursing studies (next year she will probably have an outback placement). Now begins the long process of rehearsing with Jo and finding a good balance between our voices. We're currently learning and rehearsing some light pop stuff, including Lennon & McCartney's Blackbird, Yesterday and In My Life, The Beach Boys' God Only Knows, Paul Simon's Bridge Over Troubled Water, the classic Irish song Danny Boy (whose melody was collected at Limavady in Northern Ireland, where my paternal grandmother was born), and three songs of Peter's and mine: Freddie the Fish (a conservation song), the ambiguous Lollipop Man (claimed by some to be about oral sex, although this is denied by its lyricist), and a moving though funny love song from parents to their gay son, We Thought We'd Lost You, Johnny. When we've got these down, I want to explore some more-adventurous repertoire. We've entered the 2012 Shoalhaven Eisteddfod, and have several gigs coming up, including the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival in October.

* I've just read an article by Adam Brereton in April 17's New called A Decade of Failed War. Here's an excerpt:

Last night on the ABC's 4 Corners former PM John Howard repeated a claim he had previously written in his memoir Lazarus Rising:

"I mean, I want to see democracy everywhere, but I'm not starry-eyed enough to think you're going to have it flourish in Afghanistan in ten years time. We were never into that - we were always into retaliating [for the September 11 attacks] and denying the capacity for al Qaeda to come again, and we were successful in that. Very successful."

So much for the assurance in his original moral justification for the war, outlined in an address to the Australia Defence Association in October 2001:

"The cause with which we are allied is just. It is no simple act of revenge. It is no knee-jerk response to combat terror with terror in return."

The problem that all liars face is remembering which lies they've told when ... See the entry for April 12, below.

* Surely the last word on the occupation of Afghanistan must come from former Afghan MP and democracy activist Malalai Joya, who says "In the Taliban time, we had one enemy. But after 10 years of war, we have three - the warlords, Taliban and occupation forces." See here (an excellent article - Leave Afghanistan, Urges Joya - by Pip Hinman in New
* Australian human rights lawyer and activist Jennifer Robinson was about to board a plane to fly from London to Sydney a couple of days ago when she was tapped on the shoulder and told that she was on an "inhibited" travel list and was therefore unable to enter Australia without permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Read the story here (Assange-link lawyer on 'inhibited' fly list by Henrietta Cook in The Sydney Morning Herald). Ms Cook writes:

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam fired off an angry tweet to the Department of Foreign Affairs, requesting information about why the human rights lawyer was allegedly placed on a watch list. "@DFAT care to explain why @suigenerisjen is on your watch list? what kind of threat do human rights lawyers pose exactly? #auspol" ... Ms Robinson is the director of legal advocacy at the Bertha Foundation in London. She advises WikiLeaks and (Julian) Assange and acted for Mr Assange in extradition proceedings in Britain.

Suddenly everything becomes clear: despite official Australian Government denials that it knows anything about any watch list that Ms Robinson might be on, the word "Assange" sparks such hysterical reactions from politicians the world over, including from our Prime Minister (who declared Mr Assange "guilty" without being able to say quite what he was guilty of) that they will do anything they can to put him away, including harrassing members of his legal team. Ms Gillard stands up for an Australian boy caught with drugs in Bali, but appears to be quite happy for Mr Assange to be officially persecuted by foreign governments. This is reminiscent of Howard's and Downer's abandonment of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay ...

Meanwhile, Julian Assange's mother Christine Assange has demanded the resignation of Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon. Read all about it here (WL Central).

Read the Crikey report here.

Note that Ms Robinson is also a staunch advocate for the people of West Papua. This alone makes her a dangerous person subject to bullying from governments anxious to appease Indonesia. She'd better watch out.

* Last Tuesday night I sang a couple of songs at a 60th birthday party in Kangaroo Valley for Tall Poppies Records head honcho Belinda Webster. They were both specially-written. Words by Peter Wesley-Smith, music by me (actually, one of them, written ten years ago for her 50th birthday, used the tune of Galway Bay, which I wish was mine). Here's the first verse and chorus of the recent one:

I sing this sad lament for dear Belinda's vanished youth
we're witnessing the start of her decline
she'd still look fresh and maidenly, alas but for the truth:
she'll never ever again be fifty-nine
Belinda, oh Belinda
she's such a wondrous beauty to behold
Belinda, oh Belinda
trouble is she's sixty years old

It got worse from there, descending into slander and smut. The music, however, was as clean as a whistle!

Click on the photo of Belinda above to see a larger version. Graphic by Diana Jaffray.

* At last an establishment figure has decried the stationing of American troops on Australian soil. In an article called China will 'take us as a prize': Fraser (The Australian, April 12 2012), Bernard Lane writes:

AUSTRALIA could end up "taken as a prize" by China if a US policy of military containment leads to defeat for our American allies, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has warned ...

He argues that Australia's decisions to welcome US troops to the Northern Territory and to entertain the idea of US surveillance drones in the Cocos Islands were part of a bigger picture of Australia as a subservient partner in an attempt to contain China by military means.

Yesterday he told The Weekend Australian he believed hostilities between China and the US were likely within the next 40 to 50 years unless the US abandoned its policy of containment ...

"If (the US) couldn't win in Vietnam, if they couldn't win in Iraq, and they can't win in Afghanistan, how could they possibly win against China?" ...

He says the stationing of US troops in the NT is "a major and significant mistake". US marines arrived in Darwin this month for training with the Australian Defence Force ... "If the US wishes to conduct a hostile action from Australian shores we are complicit in that action and party to it. The Americans will not ask our permission first before the troops are used."

The US embassy spokesperson said these claims were "absolutely false" because US troops would be on short rotation in various locations and the US "would not do anything from Australia's bases without full knowledge and concurrence".

Yeah, sure.

Read the whole article here.

Good on you, Malcolm Fraser. Once a leader of the Liberal Party (a conservative party not at all liberal), he has moved slightly to the Left while everyone else, it seems, has moved massively to the Right. He is a clear voice of reason and compassion, and is criticised, therefore, by both major Australian political parties.

* Saturday April 12:

I recently came across an address by ex-Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, to the Australian Defence Association, October 25 2001 (six weeks after 9/11). Excerpts:

The cause with which we are allied is just ... no simple act of revenge ... no knee-jerk response to combat terror with terror in return ... We waited until the evidence showed beyond doubt where the guilt was hidden. When convinced by the evidence, we gave more time than was necessary for the Taliban regime to give up bin Laden and the other leaders of the Al Qaida and to dismantle terrorist training camps. Nearly a month passed before those supporting and sheltering the terrorists were brought under attack ...

[My understanding is that the Taliban asked, not unreasonably, for the evidence that bin Laden was ultimately responsible for 9/11, but the only reply they received was a cruise missile. As far as I know, that evidence has never been made available to the public.]

The immediate goal is to seek out and destroy Al Qaida and ensure that Afghanistan can never again serve as a base from which terrorists can operate ...

[I wonder what hubris drove the USA and its allies to think it could achieve victory in the "graveyard of empires" when no-one else - not the Persians, not the British, not the Soviets, not many others - had succeeded before them. It was clear from the start that the response under the coalition of nations involved in the campaign was not at all "proportional", contrary to Howard's claim: the full gamut of modern weaponry was used in response to a few men armed with box-cutters. Some of us argued at the time that patient diplomacy and police work were likely to be far more effective - and much cheaper in terms of blood and treasure - than a military response. In fact, Howard says:]

(This war) will not only be fought through military action but through concerted international action on the intelligence, law enforcement and financial fronts. And it will also need to feature effective diplomacy and international aid to address the serious inequalities that the terrorists seek to exploit for their own ends.

[But diplomacy with one hand while the other is blowing up whole villages, wedding parties etc is always going to be a tough task.]


Now, more than ten years on, countries still contributing to the invasion forces are talking about "peace with honour" (where have I heard that before?) and preparing to withdraw. When they've gone, the Taliban will move back in and life will continue as it was before the invasion - after score-settling massacres, no doubt, of those who worked with the coalition forces.

Howard: "There is no doubt that the coalition forces will win" - but how do you define "win" in this situation? The same way we "won" in Vietnam?

I detest the Taliban, just as I detest all authoritarian governments. The treatment of women in Afghanistan is particularly appalling. But the response to 9/11 had to be what was likely to be effective. A decade of war, with its frightful cost, on all sides, might have stopped more 9/11s. For now. But it has generated many more terrorists whose time will no doubt come. Thank you, Mr Howard, for your un-thinking "all the way with the USA" response. Your blinkered fawning of Dubya, and of America generally, blinded you to the real instigator of 9/11: American foreign policy in the Middle East and the building of the American empire.

In an article in Rolling Stone called The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn't Want You to Read (Feb 10 2012), Michael Hastings writes:

Earlier this week, the New York Times' Scott Shane published a bombshell piece about Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a 17-year Army veteran recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan. According to the Times, the 48-year-old Davis had written an 84-page unclassified report, as well as a classified report, offering his assessment of the decade-long war. That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military's top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it's been going. "How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Davis boldly asks in an article summarizing his views in The Armed Forces Journal ...


* Monday April 02:

Yesterday I bought an EP ("extended play" record) on eBay:

I've lost most of the recordings that I made with the folk group I was in in the 60s, so I'm gradually trying to acquire a complete collection. I was hoping to have to pay a high price after a fierce bidding war, but I regret to say that I was the only bidder: I got it for a measly $12.

In a separate transaction I also bought an LP we were on that I'd never seen before: Spirit of Australia, a compilation of songs from us, Gary Shearston (whom I bumped into a couple of years ago, quite by chance) and Redgum. I wonder if we were paid for it? Almost certainly not. Now, 45 or so years later, it would be impossible to check, much less recoup, any monies owing ...

I gather that CBS in Australia was eventually acquired by Sony. I've written to them several times re possibly rescuing the master tapes - if they still exist - and re-mastering them, digitising them, and releasing some on a "Best Of" compilation. I suspect the original recordings no longer exist, for I'm pretty sure that they used Ampex 406 tape, which after a few years deteriorated quickly ...

Later: I've just found a copy of our second LP, City Folk, on eBay, going for USD69.99 - now that's more like it!

* Sunday April 01:

Chrys Stevenson writes an excellent blog called Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear ("Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Philosophy and Politics from a Bear-of-Very-Little-Brain"). Today he's talking about gay marriage in Australia:

This week, bishops from the Victorian Catholic Church distributed 80,000 copies of a pastoral letter, condemning same-sex marriage. I have never read such a load of bigoted, small-minded, passive-aggressive drivel in all my life.

The letter reveals the Catholic Church in all its hatefulness, pettiness, out-dated, wrong-headed, unsupported thinking and purely evil desire to control the lives, not only of its followers, but all of us ...


We've come a long way, socially, in Australia during my lifetime. For example, who would have thought, a few years ago, that we would ever have a Chinese lesbian as a cabinet minister? Or an openly-gay man being Leader of a major Australian political party. Or a female atheist Prime Minister "living in sin" - in the Lodge, no less - with her male partner? The majority of Australians have no problem with gay marriage, yet our politicians, even those benefitting from today's relaxed attitudes, still carry on about it, calling for a conscience vote (as I see it, this has nothing to do with conscience) and running scared of the big churches and their power to indoctrinate their congregations. Australian parliamentarians should put aside their conservative, mean-spirited and timid views and stand up for the civil rights of gay and lesbian Australians. They could then put their energies to more urgent ends.

* Saturday March 31:

Have just come across this:

Before the sun and the night and the blue sea, I vow to stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful; to seek adventure; and having discovered aught of wonder, or delight, of merriment or loveliness, to share it freely with my comrades, the Band of Happy Rowers.

This was the pledge, written by Nina Murdoch, of The Argonauts, an ABC radio program for kids (1939-72). I was a happy rower back then, #8 in the boat named Ocnus. Aaaaaah, how innocent we were!

American composer Laurie Spiegel (left, photographed in the early 70s), whose 1972 tape piece Sediment is heard in the film The Hunger Games. From an article by Geeta Dayal in Underwire, March 29 2012:

A strange and fascinating piece of abstract electronic music ... used to great effect during the movie's "cornucopia scene" ... analog synthesizer and old-school tape machines ... "I didn't have multitrack recording," (Ms Spiegel)said in a phone interview with Wired. "I had to do the mixing with two stereo reel-to-reel decks, and the only way to mix was to play something live, where one deck was playing audio while the other deck was recording the other machine. You piled the tape hiss and noise for every generation you added."


While I have a certain nostalgia for those halcyon days, I have no wish to return to the tape hiss that plagued most of us back then. I remember falling in love with dbx noise reduction and, later, digital recording ... I was remembering just the other day the effort required to supply performers with the tape parts for my instrument-plus-tape works (such as For Marimba & Tape and White Knight & Beaver): tapes could be recorded (and hence played back) at 3 1/4 or 7 1/2 or 15 inches per second, with or without dbx. I would spend half a day in the studio, cleaning, de-magnetizing, lining up etc the tape machines required then making half a dozen dubs according to the orders, then splicing in paper leader tape and labelling the boxes. Then it was off to the post office to send them into a void from which I rarely received thanks or - God forbid! - money. Still, the pieces were performed a lot (some still are), so I would get lots of warm runny feelings ...

* Wednesday March 28 2012:

Last night I went to see a one-person show - I Wish I'd Said That, written and acted by Henri Szeps (who - full disclosure - is a friend of mine) - at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Center in Nowra. It was excellent: funny, poignant, sad, witty, well-paced, an entertaining and moving show powerfully presented by an actor whose time has come just as it has been and gone (meaning that he's at his best as an actor at an age - 69 - when fewer and fewer stage roles are available). Critic Bob Ellis wrote that Henri "is a formidable actor in his prime":

(His acting is) so close-in, so empathic, so unemphatic, so searchingly arrived at. He doesn't say a line, he admits it. He slides from accent to accent without us ever noticing the border-crossing. He has the concentration of Tendulkar, or Rostropovich, or Elgar. Or Ralph Richardson. Or Russell Crowe. It is impossible that each line he says could be any other ...


The blurb says:

Witness the touching story of failed actor Joe Bleakly performing for his inmates in a retirement village come to life through Szeps performance. Witness full excerpts, anecdotes, jokes, songs and observations about life, family and getting older.

A review by Lauren Sherritt in Australian Stage, March 4 2012:

It is a remarkable actor who can introduce you to the likes of Lear, Vanya and Tevye all in one night, a challenge which might automatically scare some actors away. Nevertheless, it is this feat which Henri Szeps (well known for his role of Robert the dentist in Mother and Son) attempts in Wish I'd Said That, as with ease he conjures up these and the many others characters that make up the list of roles he wishes he had been given the opportunity to play ...


What I particularly like about the show is Henri's ability, as writer and actor, to switch from profundity to farce in just a few words, or to have you still laughing while he's telling you something tragic - both the humour and the tragedy are somehow enhanced. I think the show is particularly suited to people - e.g. me - in Henri's own age group. But the young people there seemed to get a lot out of it. Recommended!

The show is now going to Canberra and other places in New South Wales.

* Friday March 23 2012:

An email received from one of the great fighters on behalf of the people of Timor-Leste:

Dear Friends,
I would like to have it explained to me why the Attorney-General has chosen to block the release of 37 year old cables relating to East Timor.
Please read this link:

Best wishes,

Sister Susan Connelly
Mary MacKillop East Timor Mission

In the ABC News article - Roxon blocks release of East Timor cables (March 21 2012) - Matt Peacock writes:

"Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has blocked the release of cables about East Timor, despite the fact they are up to 37 years old. (She) decided to keep the documents secret on the grounds that opening them up would prejudice Australia's security.

"Associate Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of New South Wales believes the documents are being kept secret because they would reveal Australian complicity in concealing the mass starvation of 100,000 East Timorese."

Read more here.

After 37 years, yet more appeasement, this time from a minister from whom some of us expected better. Once again, Australian democracy is at risk. What's more, concealing whatever it is that Ms Roxon doesn't want us to know only encourages present-day appeasers and the thugs and murderers who are currently being protected.

In a separate article, Our Money Helps Kill, Intimidate And Torture, published today, Marni Cordell, editor of New Matilda, writes that Australia plays a key role in training and funding elite Indonesian counter-terror unit Detachment 88. "(There) is growing evidence" she writes "to suggest what was once solely a counter-terror unit is now moving into counter-separatist operations. Activists in West Papua claim the squad is being deployed to hunt down civilians aligned with the independence movement in a growing campaign of intimidation."

"According to Eric Sonindemi, a participant in last October's Third Papuan People's Congress, ... Detachment 88 personnel were involved in the deadly attack on Congress in which six people were killed and many others wounded."

Read more here.

Our money is used to fund an Indonesian terrorist unit - but we will never know for sure. Not now. Not in 37 years' time. Not ever.

Nicola Roxon's email address:

* Wednesday March 21 2012:

Today in Perth the Australia Council for the Arts announced the winner of its Australia Council Don Banks Music Award: violinist, composer, educator, lecturer, innovator, inventor, writer etc Jon Rose. I nominated him for the award, and was asked to write an appreciation of Jon for the Australian Music Centre website Resonate. Read it here. It starts:

(Jon's) work flows across different media and art forms: improvisation, composition, performance, performance art, radio programs, radiophonic works, environmental events, soundscapes, theatre pieces, images, graphic design, Super 8 films, videos, websites, instrument design and construction, choreography, installations, multimedia, political art, texts, books, CDs, DVDs, and more. With enormous energy and originality, well-honed organisational and practical skills, good humour, healthy irreverence, and a constant stream of ideas, he moves freely between and over the fences we build between art forms, stopping along the way to play them. I know of no other Australian musician whose output is so enormous, so eclectic. Who else is equally at home with and excited by high-tech instruments, like the interactive MIDI violin bow he invented, and found object instruments like bones and bottles?


Goodonya, Jon! He and I collaborated in the early 80s - he on violin, me on Fairlight CMI - as a free-form improvisation duo doing concerts in Sydney and Paris and making an LP called Tango, released by HOT Records.

* Saturday March 17 2012:
This weekend, Timor-Leste goes to the polls to elect a President. Incumbent José Ramos-Horta is up against 11 other hopefuls, including Fretilin's Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres and former armed forces chief Taur Matan Ruak, a guerrilla leader during the occupation.

I was there in 2002 when resistance hero Xanana Gusmão was campaigning for the Presidency against the very first President of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, left, who recently died of cancer. (The Republic was declared on November 28 1975, nine days before Indonesian forces invaded (Dec 7)) In the photo, do Amaral shows his dye-stained finger as proof he voted at the 2002 presidential election. Photo: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside.

On May 20 this year, Timor-Leste will celebrate ten years of independence. In June, a general election will be held.

see here (AlterNet) and here (Aljazeera)

To learn more about do Amaral, read A charismatic revolutionary, an excellent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, dated March 15 2012, by Damien Kingsbury.

* Sunday March 11 2012:

The following excerpt from an interview with Lyndon Terracini, Artistic Director of Opera Australia, appeared on the company's blog:


Leaping ahead

Lyndon Terracini on giant OA initiatives coming to fruition

Q: In previous centuries, thousands of operas were created and staged, and never heard of again. Yet if it weren't for those unsuccessful operas, we might never have had the masterpieces of the repertoire. It would seem that the international opera community can no longer sustain such a volume of creative activity; it's simply too expensive to produce opera. How do we solve this dilemma?

LT: It is indeed extremely expensive to produce new opera, and very difficult to find a substantial audience for it. This will continue to be the case if we keep creating and producing these pieces in the same way as we always have. We've been throwing huge amounts of money at new operas, and they're still playing to very small audiences. So it's my view that we need to rethink how we approach them.

Q: There is a view that OA has not been doing enough to educate audiences in the appreciation of contemporary opera. What is your response to this?

LT: Actually it's the other way round: opera composers need to write music that appeals to audiences. Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, they all wrote for their audience, and if they didn't have an audience, they didn't have a show. The Magic Flute played 100 performances in its first run because the public wanted it to see it. We're flat out trying to fill the auditorium for four performances of a new opera. To me that says that we need to develop and workshop new pieces, so that by the time they are performed, the audience is able to connect with them. The feedback that we get unequivocally shows that if people come to a contemporary opera and dislike it, they never come back. And the most common criticism of new opera that we get is that people hated the music.

My response, in part:

[a] Opera doesn't have to be "extremely expensive to produce". Sure, if you have a huge cast and orchestra, with elaborate costumes and sets, a complex, difficult score, and major international stars demanding huge fees, then of course it will be expensive. But opera can be lean and mean without expensive trimmings yet still be effective.

[b] I have no problem with composers needing "to write music that appeals to audiences". Those that do, however, are branded within the new music scene as populists and therefore not taken seriously. To be a composer is to be attacked from some direction or other on the grounds of idiom - as if there were a correct idiom and lots of incorrect ones. I love a wide range of music, from tonal children's songs to wild free-form improvisation, with classical music, jazz, folk music, computer music, and more in between. I don't love all music within those categories, of course, but a lot of it, and I've tried to compose in a lot of different idioms (hence the adjective "eclectic" has often been used to describe my output). Now just about every piece I've ever written has been attacked by someone, usually because they don't like "tune-less, form-less rubbish", say, or they can't stand "music in this day and age that uses tunes and conventional harmonies" i.e. on the basis of idiom. One needs a thick skin to be in this "business" (as it is sometimes laughably called): you have to get on with what you do and hope that at the end of the day there are a few people who think that what you're doing is worthwhile (and, hopefully, worth a little bit of funding and/or other support).

A quarter of a century ago I wrote an opera-sort-of-thing called Boojum!, which was produced, controversially, at the 1986 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Its music does, from my observation, genuinely appeal to audiences. To most, anyway. An excerpt from it was performed at an Opera Australia concert in 2001, receiving an enthusiastic response. A new production by Chicago Opera Vanguard in Nov-Dec 2010 received twenty four performances and a dozen or so of some of the best reviews anything of mine has ever received. But Opera Australia seems less than interested in mounting a full production. No reason given, even though I believe that Boojum! ticks all the OA boxes, could be inexpensively produced, and would be a hit with OA audiences.

It's a funny old world ...

Here are some of the cast of the Chicago production:

photo by Jon W. Sisson Jr

* Saturday March 10 2012:

According to an ABC news report - Gunns deal off, boss blames green groups - Tasmanian logging company and would-be pulp miller Gunns "has notified the stock exchange that potential investor, Richard Chandler Corporation, has pulled out of its bid to buy a 40 per cent stake in the company." This is good news for those who feared an ecological disaster in the Tamar Valley, for there's now a chance that Gunns will not be able to proceed with the planned pulp mill there. Not good news, however, is the attitude of Tasmanian Labor premier Lara Giddings, who was quoted as saying:

"I believe it certainly is concerning that it would seem as if some of the meetings that they have
held with environmental groups in this state have had an impact on their thinking.
"This is quite alarming, I think, for big business across Australia in terms of their role and what can be undermined by small minority groups."

You mean, Ms Giddings, that it's concerning that groups with a different view from yours have exercised their democratic rights? And it's alarming that a business has changed its mind after considering an alternative point of view? What I find alarming is a State Government leader clearly having no commitment to democratic procedures or their outcomes. Out, Ms Giddings, out.

* Wednesday March 7 2012:

Here's a telegram - recently unearthed by Clinton Fernandez - sent by my brother, East Timor activist Rob Wesley-Smith, to Andrew Peacock, Australia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Dec 2 1975:

Indonesia invaded a few days later (just after US President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had flown out of Indonesian air-space). Note the scribbled "No action required". If Australia had taken action, perhaps the disastrous - from most points of view - Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor could have been averted.

* Tuesday March 6 2012:

The first President of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, died today in Dili. He became President of Timor-Leste on November 2, 1975, just a few days before the Indonesian invasion. In the photo at left, he is in the middle with Alarico Fernandes and Rogerio Lobato (click on the photo to see a larger version).

I'm currently reading a book called Dancing With the Devil (Monash University Press, 2002), by David Savage, who was a police officer in East Timor during the 1999 referendum. He writes: "(The Indonesian police) would spin the most incredulous stories and expect us to believe them. With hindsight I suppose that foreign governments had for years accepted any ludicrous account that the Indonesians would put forward, and the troops weren't expecting us to question them as closely as we did." (p274) There you have it: give in to them, time and time again, the result being that they have no respect for you and feel free to continue their murderous ways. Again, there has not been a single conviction of an Indonesian soldier for any crime committed in Timor between 1975 and 1999.

Timor Leste: Open letter to all members of the Security Council regarding justice, truth and reparation in Timor-Leste

Download: PDF
Index Number: ASA 57/003/2012
Date Published: 20 February 2012
Categories: Timor Leste

In this open letter The Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), KontraS (the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence), and Amnesty International write to urge the Security Council to take immediate and effective steps to address the continuing impunity for crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations which occurred in Timor-Leste (then East Timor) under Indonesian occupation (1975-1999). This is a crucial time for such action as the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste is due to expire on 26 February 2012.

see here, where you can download a pdf of the letter

* Monday March 5 2012:

From an article titled Fate of East Timor's stolen generation in Indonesia finally coming to light by Lindsay Murdoch in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

They were East Timor's stolen generation. Between 1975 and 1999 about 4000 young and vulnerable Timorese were secretly taken to Indonesia where some of them were forced to work in slave-like conditions while others were educated and grew up with the families of soldiers.

Until now little was known of the fate of the children, some of whom were abducted and others whose parents were coerced or deceived into giving them away. Following research in Indonesia and East Timor an Australian academic, Helene van Klinken, has published the first detailed account of the practice she says was an example of "hegemonic power using children in its goal of dominating the subordinate group to which the children belong".


As not a single Indonesian has been found guilty of crimes against people in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion and occupation (1975-1999), as a result of which 200,000 or so people died, no doubt no-one will be punished for stealing East Timor's children ...

* The Thirsty Night Singers did two gigs last weekend: a bracket at a fundraiser for the refurbishment of Upper River Hall in Kangaroo Valley (the venue for many wonderful concerts, film nights etc), and a bracket at a birthday party in Berry. We're now having a short break before continuing to learn new repertoire and auditioning new singers.

* Sunday Febuary 26 2012:

In the early 80s I bought, for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a Fairlight CMI ("Computer Music Instrument"), using it for such pieces as For Marimba & Tape, White Knight & Beaver and Snark-Hunting. In 1986 I took one to China as a gift from the Australian government, installing it at the Central Conservatory in Beijing and teaching local composers how to use it (at the time I was dubbed "The Father of Chinese Computer Music", but I suspect that someone else has now claimed that title). A few years after that, Fairlight Instruments went belly up. Just recently, however, Peter Vogel, who was one of the geniuses behind the machine, has put together a 30th anniversary machine called the CMI-30A. Check it out here.

The other day I was reading the Fairlight Forum, and came across an article by Tom Stewart, a student at the Con at the time, in which he describes the genesis of the voice ARR1.VC, which he created in the Con's Electronic Music Studio with his girlfriend Sarah:

The vocal sound sample "ARR1.VC" was included in the CMI Sound Libraries. There have been some queries and theories about how it was made so here's the story.

In 1980, I was a poor jazz music student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Dr. Martin Wesley-Smith was the head of Electronic Music there and had one of the early model Fairlight Series I CMIs ...


Tom explains that ARR1 went viral, with other manufacturers blatantly using it in their products. It's a breathy sound, a touch of pan flute mixed with traces of a female voice (you've heard it many times, even if you didn't realise it at the time). I remember first hearing it in the Studio; after that it seemed just a few weeks before it was in just about every film score, every jingle, and a lot of pop records. I don't think Tom ever made any money out of what was a magnificent achievement, although he did get a job with Fairlight partly, I suspect, as a result.

On the original CMI and on the IIX model, there was a software package called MCL ("Music Composition Language"), which for some entailed a tedious way of getting music into the machine. Hence it was not popular, the legendary Page R garnering all the attention. But MCL enabled a composer to achieve things that were either very difficult or impossible to achieve with other sequencers, and hence it was popular with so-called "serious" composers like me. Alas, the 16-bit Fairlight CMI Series III abandoned MCL, as has the CMI-3A. If I can find an external MIDI sequencer that gives the control that MCL was able to, I will start saving for the new version of The Legend!

* I recently went to a concert in the Sydney Opera House by a cappella group The King's Singers. I've been a great fan since they began, but while they sang superbly, and I enjoyed it enormously, I had the odd criticism of the concert:

While The King's Singers sing a wide range of material, the repertoire that most people love them for is their close harmony and light pop stuff. That's why most seats in the Concert Hall were bought (for up to $112 each) and why the lighter fare attracted the most applause of the evening. There is not that kind of audience for madrigals, say. Nor for contemporary Australian work. If there were then local group The Song Company, which is in many ways better than the K's S, would get much larger audiences than they do. Like it or not, most people were there for the lighter fare, which attracted the most applause of the evening.

By all means sing some madrigals, I say. But don't open the program with eight of 'em, some quite long and in Italian or Spanish, sung without amplification in the cavernous Concert Hall of the Opera House. I was a few rows from the front, yet I had to strain to hear. Why not subtle amplification to give the music a presence that it simply doesn't have in that space? Aaaah, the purists say, in their ignorance, you'll destroy the integrity of the listening experience, or something similar. Never mind that most people these days hear music up close and personal, in their face, pumped directly into their ears, and that six choristers, singing softly, are always gunna sound tiny and tinny in that place. I bet that when the madrigal section of the concert was over, most people breathed a sigh of relief: Phew! That's the 'serious' side out of the way - now we can enjoy ourselves. Don't get me wrong: I generally love madrigals. It's just that their time and place is not eight in a row at 8pm on a Thursday night in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House at $112 per ticket with no amplification. Perform them in a small specialised venue somewhere singing to afficionados. And not very often. I mean, there's an enormous amount of good contemporary music not being sung, not getting a look in, while the K's S sing, again and again and abloodygain, like lots of other groups do, 16th century stuff from the museum.

Then we heard Greensleeves. Excuse me? That's Mr Whippy's song. Can't we have something a tad more interesting? Next: Danny Boy. Now I happen to think that that is a most beautiful song, despite it being crooned by just about every pop singer since Bing Crosby. In fact I recently arranged it for the Thirsty Night Singers, partly 'cos the melody was collected in a town - Limavady - in Northern Ireland where my paternal grandmother was born. But, again, there is more interesting stuff in the K's S' vast repertoire. Then Dance to thy daddy, which was a promotion for a recent CD of theirs. Nice song nicely arranged, but nothing more than that. Then Botany Bay (we'd better give 'em some of their own - that'll keep 'em happy). But there is Australian stuff that's much more interesting, and which they could sing much better, than Botany Bay. The next sop was The Band Played 'Waltzing Matilda'. Magnificent song, but I found myself wishing for Roland Peelman's arrangement ...

Interval. Then Elena Kats-Chernin's River's Lament. In a serious concert of contemporary music in an appropriate venue, this piece would've fitted right in. But in this concert it was yet another piece delaying what most people came for: "close harmony". In four movements, it was far too long for this concert. Not Elena's fault, of course. It was ignorant, unintelligent programming. They should've commissioned a 5' piece. The piece itself set words, by American writer Charles Anthony Silvestri, about a river. It was an enjoyable piece of earnest new music. Elena is, after all, an excellent composer. But while I admire the K's S for commissioning a local work, its idiom and length weren't appropriate for this concert, the group's first in Sydney in 27 years. I got the sense that most people in the audience merely politely sat through it as they waited for ... wait for it ... "close harmony"!

By then there was time for about four songs. A couple of Beatles' songs (Penny Lane and, would you believe, Obladi, Oblada - I mean, probably the least interesting song of the Beatles' entire catalogue), a couple of other things that I can't remember, but no real "close harmony", and suddenly it was all over. Three encores, and exhortations to go out and buy their CDs and give them yet more money. The audience loved them, but [a] of course they did: they'd paid $112 and weren't gunna admit that they'd done their dough; [b] the group is famous, and is from overseas, so it must be good; [c] the group is fabulous, doing what they do very well, and [c] they didn't know what could've been. I loved 'em too, 'cos I'm a fan and have been forever. Their intonation, ensemble, balance etc are exquisite. But I do know what could have been: an intelligently-chosen, better-balanced program that worked on many levels and which could've turned a nice night out into a great night out. Their spoken introductions were generally stilted, amateurish. While this had some charm to it, for $112 I expect something a little more professional. And a decent informative printed program! The one we got was pathetic. And the bass's mother would have been appalled had she seen his hair.

Anyhow, that's what I think. I suspect that I don't have a career as a music critic coming up ... No sour grapes in there, incidentally, although no doubt I'll be accused of 'em.

* Talking of vocal groups, I was asked the other day to write a short article about the group I sing in and, sort of, direct, The Thirsty Night Singers:

The Thersty Sight Ningers

In 2007 a bunch of singers who'd been in the Courthouse Choir in Berry decided to form a smaller, Kangaroo Valley-based group. Various songs and styles were tried, people came, people went, till eventually a regular seven-member line-up had established itself. They rehearsed on Thursday nights - hence their name.

At the beginning of 2010 soprano Alex Holliday, who left to start a family, was replaced by Nadia Intihar. Other members of the group are Nell Britton (soprano), Janette Carter and Patsy Radic (altos), Martin Wesley-Smith (tenor), and Peter Morgan and Peter Stanton (basses).

The Thirsties sing without instrumental accompaniment. Their eclectic repertoire includes traditional songs (e.g. A-Rovin'), contemporary folk-songs (Hey Ho Cook and Rowe), jazz songs (When I Fall in Love), political songs (about East Timor, West Papua, and the Stolen Generation), kids' songs (Shut the Gate), and pop (including several Beatles songs and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which has become the group's pièce de resistance).

Martin Wesley-Smith does some of the musical arrangements. He also modifies existing arrangements to suit the Thirsties' voices. In 2008 he and his librettist brother Peter Wesley-Smith composed a piece called Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo, for choir and an ensemble of seven harps. In 2009 the Thirsties recorded it with SHE (Seven Harp Ensemble) in a local recording studio for local record company Tall Poppies. It is available on a CD called Bolmimerie (TP204).

While the group does not generally seek out gigs, it has done various concerts, including private functions, performances in Canberra and Sydney, at River Music in Nowra, and at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival. They are widely regarded as one of the finest seven-member a cappella vocal groups currently based in Kangaroo Valley.

Recently, Nell announced that she will be leaving the group before the end of the year, meaning that we're looking for a new soprano ... Here's a recent photo of the group as it is:

l to r: Patsy Radic, Janette Carter, Peter Stanton, me, Nell Britton, Nadia Intihar & Peter Morgan

* Tuesday Febuary 14 2012:

My Resident Lyricist Peter Wesley-Smith (and Spare Tenor in the Thirsties) has written a poem especially for today:

I love thee for thy beauty, dear,
I love thee for thy mind;
Thou'rt luscious, hot and fruity, dear,
And generous and kind.
For now and in the foocher, dear,
My troth will e'er be thine;
I want thee as my smoocher, dear,
My lovely Valentine.

I'm reminded of a poem that I read in a Bluey and Curly cartoon when I was a kid and have remembered ever since. A lonely lovelorn cowhand has written a poem to his loved one:

You're more to me than all the butter Mother ever churned
You're more to me than all the money Father ever earned
Just like a lonely poddy-calf I feel when we're apart
For you're the Friesian heifer in the cowyard of my heart

In 1988 I was commissioned to compose a large choral piece for the Intervarsity Choral Festival of that year. It was Australia's Bicentennial - two hundred years of white settlement - and I wanted to do a piece that looked at Australian society from different angles, some nostalgic, some loving, some critical ... This poem seemed to fit right in. I set it to music, then sought permission to use it in the piece. Well, after a long process, during which executives of The Herald and Weekly Times, which owned the copyright in the Bluey and Curly cartoons, went through every one they'd ever published - but couldn't find it. Someone else must own the copyright, but I now have no idea who does or where I got it from. The song went into the piece - Songs of Australia - with a note asking any aggrieved copyright owner to get in touch (no-one has).

Here's the melody:

A version exists for six voices, sung by The Song Company.

* Friday Febuary 3 2012:

English composer and one-time coleague of mine Jonathon Harvey has motor neurone disease and is in the final stage of his life - see this article in The Guardian (UK): Jonathan Harvey: Touching the Void by Tom Service.

* Sunday January 29 2012:

American William Blum is one of my favourite critics of American foreign policy. In an article called Iraq. Began with big lies. Ending with big lies. Never forget (Information Clearing House, Jan 03 2012) he noted

... how the modern, educated, advanced nation of Iraq was reduced to a quasi failed state; how the Americans, beginning in 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one dubious excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, tortured without inhibition, killed wantonly, ... how the people of that unhappy land lost everything - their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives ... More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood, and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lying anywhere in wait for children to pick them up ... a river of blood running alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again ...


It's hard to see that the people of Iraq are better off now than they were before the USA and its allies, including Australia, told great big lies and invaded their country.

* Tonight in Chicago there is a reunion of everyone involved in the brilliant November 2010 Chicago Opera Vanguard production of my piece Boojum!. I would love to be there!

* Friday January 27 2012:

Oigle and Mum Zorro Dad Dave with Auntie Chuck
shots taken a few days ago
click on photos for larger versions

* Tuesday January 03 2012:

music and politics:

It's an old story, but for some reason there was a reference to it on my facebook page this morning: it's Krystian Zimerman's shocking Disney Hall debut, in the Los Angeles Times, April 27 2009:

Poland's Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation's military policies overseas ...

About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. "Yes," he answered, "some people when they hear the word military start marching."

Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. Zimerman responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy ...


Those who walked out have no problem with music that supports, directly or implicitly, the status quo. It's when it presents a contrary view that we hear that "music and politics don't mix!"

* In Seize the Chance to End the Craziness in North Korea (Information Clearing House, Jan 1 2012)), Eric Margolis writes:

The US has hinted it will consider using tactical nuclear weapons against North Korea in the event of war. Nearly 30,000 US troops garrison South Korea; 70,000 more could swiftly intervene there along with powerful US naval and air units.

North Korea keeps asking the US to sign a non-aggression pact in which Washington pledges not to attack the North. The North's modest nuclear program is mainly to deter a US attack by threatening a counter-strike on South Korea, Japan and Okinawa.

Washington has long refused such a pact. Instead, it has ringed North Korea with military forces and imposing a punishing trade embargo that has played a major role in keeping the North in dire poverty. The US says North Korea's regime is brutal, illegitimate despotism with which it will only deal with the greatest reluctance and disgust.

Yet the US supports many nasty dictatorships around the globe, such as Uzbekistan and Ethiopia. If the US really wants to end North Korea's nuclear program, the solution is to sign a non-aggression pact and end US trade sanctions.

Both the US and South Korea should end their provocative military war games on North Korea's borders. Such posturing led to last year's military clashes.

North Korea will have to end its nuclear program, agree to cease threats against neighbors that are a form of financial blackmail, reduce the size of its huge armed forces, move them away from the DMZ, and divert resources to feeding its people ...


A reader, Izrael Finklestein, responds:

... I must disagree that north korea dismantle its nuclear devices - we all saw the reward Qaddafi received from doing the same thing. Do not expect anyone to be that naive ... the dprk is starving because of the vicious trade embargo imposed upon it by usa ... this is economic warfare bordering on genocide ...

Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction but pretended he did so that his enemies would not attack him. They attacked him anyway.

* Sunday January 01 2012:

A new year, a new blog ... For my 2011 blog, click 2011. Come back here in a few days' time for news, rants etc.

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