The Thomsons kept a sound diary for us. We eavesdropped on feed runs, overheard quiet, meandering chats and shared jokes, gates and tractors, shearing sessions, pigs being born, birds by the creek, footsteps through a paddock, goats learning to suckle, piano practice and laughter in the living room. Recording device snug in someone’s pocket, it felt as though the family gradually forgot the microphone was there. Such beautiful portraits they lent us, of the people, animals, environment, machinery, weather and their intertwined relationships: thoughtful, funny, intimate, full of heart and intelligence.
Listening, it struck me that there are parallels between a musician’s life and a farmer’s. Both occupations are vocational. You do them for love: because you need to. They rely on hugely labour-intensive work. They’re craft-based, and the skills are handed through families, over long apprenticeships of listening and doing. You must be tough and resilient, responding always to changing environments. A sense of humour’s imperative – you’re subject to forces much greater than you. The work relies on care, attentiveness, love for detail, patience, a long view, and intense personal investment.
Out of all this listening, we built an instrument together. An Aeolian harp-fence, from material from the farm, constructed on the oval beside the house, guinea fowl and dog a running cartoon in the background, the wind a bow to the vibrating strings.
And we played in the shearing shed, standing on the platform that surely was made as a concert stage, the family coming and going, quietly doing their jobs, or lying on wool bales listening, the tin shed becoming an instrument, everything intensified by our shared listening.