Copyright © 2003 by Ros Bandt
First electronic version: 14 August 2003
The changing faces of Australian Identity as heard through children's voices in
Kim's Song is a short 3 minute
electro-acoustic radiophonic work commissioned by the ABC for their Earclip
series in 2002.
It was a response to their call for works
embracing the theme of "This world My Time" I felt the future of Australia
is so firmly in the hands of the children that I should consider them as source
material to endorse a spirit of hope for the future. My choice to work
with cross cultural children who live in very different minority
communities was motivated by my concern?with the depressing political racism we have seen in decisions
concerning the boat people and refugees in recent years. I thought it would be
interesting to work with the children from different groups Vietnamese and
Aboriginal to see how they were also grappling with how to cross the enormous
cultural differences that are side by side in Australia.
The authentic voices in
this piece are those of children whom I know and love. Kim (far right) is the
daughter of Le Tuan Hung, a Melbourne university colleague and co-founder of
the Back to Back zithers cross cultural ensemble. Her mother, the composer
performer, Dang Kim Hien and I were collaborating on a work Inside Outside when this song was
recorded as little Kim wanted so much to be part of our rehearsals. Hien
decided the song didn't belong in what we were designing at the time so this
piece for little Kim was made separately. The aboriginal children are my
partner's grandchildren, Kara Rayner, and her cousins Casey and Renee Sweetman
and their new sister, Aaliyah O'Brien.
Left to right:
Casey Sweetman, Aaliyah O'Brien, Kara Rayner, Renee Sweetman, Kim Le
The voices were recorded at their own homes
in Springvale and Glenroy respectively, and the children were delighted to be
recorded in each case and found it very exciting to hear their own voices. Kim
sang her Vietnamese song perfectly twice. Then her father sent me a recording
of her singing Kookaburra sits in the old
gum tree which he told me was her preferred song choice now that she had
started school. In Glenroy, the cousins played games with each other and sang
numerous playing and clapping songs over a period of an hour, running in and
out, practicing and coming back in when they were ready. The simple stereo mike
and DAT recording machine were not too obtrusive but still were objects which
they wanted to touch, hold and listen to. Many minutes were spent under
headphones by them all, even the baby.
Back in my office with Pro Tools, I decided
to enter all the recordings to see how compatible the sounds were and edit
from there. Once in the machine, certain
musical elements, timbre, pitch, loudness, density, phrasing and syntax
directed my intuition, more than the content of the words they were singing.
The texts of course were in different languages, Vietnamese, Aboriginal and
1. Vietnamese Children's song
Gà mơ cục tác
Mỏ nhát cầm chèo
Con mèo bẻ lái
Con nhái chạy buồm
Thuồng luồng tát nước
Gà xước nấu cơm
Con chồn hái mướp
Ăn cướp vô nhà
Kỳ đà cản mũi
Dế nhũi lăng xăng
Thằn lằn liếm mỏ
Con thỏ dọn mâm
Con tằm bưng chén
Chim én vỗ tay
Con nai ngơ ngác
Cao các giựt mình
Giựt mình, giựt mình, giựt mình
A, chúng em chơi nhà chòi
Ý thiệt là vui ghê!
Ý thiệt là vui ghê!
The hen crows,
The snipe rows,
The cat steers,
The frog pulls the sail,
The crocodile bails the water out!
The rooster cooks,
The fox picks the bitter melon,
The robber enters the house,
The salamander stops him,
The cricket bustles in and out,
The lizard licks its mouth,
The rabbit carries the tray,
The silk worm holds the bowls,
The swallow claps,
The deer is dazed,
The bird started at the sounds!
Started at the sounds, started at the sounds, started at the sounds!
Ah, we are playing the hut-game,
We have good fun!
We have good fun!
2. Aboriginal Song
a traditional Aboriginal song learned by the Sweetens at Koori school,in
Shepparton. It was a song the teacher taught them from the Tiddas version.
Their version of Inanay appears on the CD
Sing About Life, 1993 ID Phonogram Recordings 1993 with the
summary traditional aboriginal song (Words not Available). The fact that it is
being transmitted still by oral tradition in a non-scribal manner is
3. Australian Songs
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
A range of play songs were recorded showing
the influence of television and the media as well as those from the schoolyard.
Snippets of these appear at the end as well as the children's laughter.
Merrymerry king of the bush is he
Laugh kookaburra laugh kookaburra laugh
Gay your life must be.
Yet much greater than the texts was the vitality and energy of the children's
rendition. It was this that influenced me to choose one fragment over another,
confirming my interest in non-verbal communication and extra-linguistic
behaviours including body language. The element of communication was very
evident in the aboriginal children's play songs as they were communal, but it
was also in little KIM. She sang quite vehemently, having a great sense of self
and a very confident song knowledge, coupled with a marvellous performance
energy for a four year-old. In working with the children, there seemed
to be an overriding cultural agenda, the collapsing of cultural boundaries
The mapping of the piece
The mapping of the piece
reflected this cultural intersection. Firstly, each
child is looking at the world from a different place and cultural identity. For
Kim it is represented by the Australian
Song overtaking the Vietnamese song in the mix as the dominant culture is
shaping her Vietnamese roots and traditions. For Casey and Renee, they have a
living link through school to the cultural origins tho not the songs of their
own family group.
They were happy to share this
song with their cousins in Melbourne and taught it to them, quite naturally
during playtime in the backyard. Both aboriginal groups shared their common
play songs from the Australian school yard. These can be heard at the end of
the piece, especially the clapping song. It was decided to use a loop and
treatment of the Inanay song as a landscape during the entire piece with
respect for the aboriginal heritage of the land and ancient culture unto which
we have all come.
Several electronic effects,
fades and treatments allow the materials to flow from one layer to another. The
end result is summarised in the programme note.
The programme note reads:
"Kim's song is based on a recording of a
Vietnamese children's song I recently recorded in Springvale, Victoria. Kim, a
young Australian Vietnamese girl has just started school and now prefers to
sing Australian songs rather than the Vietnamese songs she
learned at home from her parents. The Vietnamese song she sings is a game song playing with
animal names and activities played out in the hut. It becomes overtaken by
'kookaburra sits in the old gum tree', representing the dominant English
speaking culture in which she is living and into which she has been born. The
song comes in and out of various contexts. A landscape of place is created with
the treated and untreated layer of Inanay, an Indigenous song sung by
my partner's Aboriginal grandchildren who
also live in Melbourne. They were taught this song at school in Shepparton. It
will be up to Kim to make her place in Australia and the world. Her identity
and language will be shaped by how she interprets being born of migrant parents in Australia. She will
make it her world in her own time in her own way."
Kim's song is composed entirely on computer
as an entirely electroacoustic piece designed for radio in stereo
configuration. The elements of the soundrecordings were cut, reassembled,
treated and designed into a three minute
piece, the length being defined by the ABC.The piece was mixed on Pro Tools and
engineered by Iain Mott.
I would like to thank everyone for helping
this piece to occur, the children, their supportive parents, the mixer, and the
commissioner. Kim's Song is dedicated to the children and all those working on
the ground for Australian culture which respects indigenous culture. It is they
who determine the real future of Australia at this time.