Language of the Wind speaks to Country

Natalie O’Driscoll | July 2018

Residents around Greenmount may have wondered at the daily soundtrack wafting through their windows during the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018), as The Language of the Wind – Yargeh Wadjeleh permeated the natural landscape. But what actually was it? Bundjalung-Yugambeh artist, musician and producer Kyle Slabb gave us the lowdown.

“The whole concept of The Language of the Wind was around the expression of the voice of the land, of this Country, and of the local story,” he tells us.

A sound installation created by emerging Indigenous leader Kyle, along with Elders from South East Queensland and northwest New South Wales, The Language of the Wind – Yargeh Wadjeleh explored the concept of multi-layered cultural planes. The project combined a series of incredibly rich and moving soundscapes of local songlines, which correlated to traditional Indigenous notions of place (Jagun) and time (Guriahbu).

“We wanted to look at what are the local languages for us, and the local story that’s always existed here,” says Kyle, “and how sound and vibration affects people and the environment and how it exists in this space.

“That was the local part, the concept originally, and that kind of developed into the where the songs fit in and how those songs describe different parts of the day. One for sunrise, some for different things that happen throughout the day and then the sunset, and those were played at those specific times.”

Sounding at intervals throughout the day, these powerful and evocative calls to country spread over the local landscape. The idea came to Kyle when he was travelling.

“It was set up in a speaker system similar to the concept of countries where they have different religious expressions over loudspeakers, like a call to prayer. I was in another country where that happened. I was sitting on a beach and this big loudspeaker came on, and I heard songs and prayers in a language I couldn’t understand.

“It brought me back to a reality in which there’s a whole other cultural layer that’s happening here that I don’t understand, and I wanted to express that reality on the GC. People are here are tourists, doing business or just living their lives but not understanding there’s a cultural story that’s existed here for a long time.”

With the help of the City of Cold Coast’s Generate program, Kyle began collaborating with internationally renowned sound artist Lawrence English on the project.

“We looked at different sites and practicalities, what they would take and resources that were needed, and Greenmount Hill seemed to be the perfect place because of Churaki’s (local Indigenous man, Gold Coast’s first lifesaver) association with that, and our community and being right on the edge of the ocean.

“I was glad of the support from Generate. It’s good to engage and interact with the other artists who were involved and just get that feedback and the help in the development of the project.”

The work was designed in such a way that locals and visitors could participate with it at their own level, says Kyle.

“I wanted it to be an intervention and provocation for people to respond to and engage with in their own way. On the towers with the speakers we had some of the story. I would find some people would read the story and the concept but some people could just hear the sound and say ‘what’s that noise?”

Much as Kyle predicted, The Language of the Wind – Yargeh Wadjeleh exposed the way in which we still have a long way to go when it comes to educating the general populace about Indigenous culture.

“I’m still hearing stories and having people coming and asking me me ‘what was going up on the headland?’ People who were out in the surf say to me ‘Hey I heard your voice when I was surfing over that time’,” Kyle chuckles as he remembers some of the interactions.

“One of the classic stories was, there were a bunch of council workers doing the boardwalk at the bottom of the headland, and I was walking around and listening to people’s responses, and the workers all looked up and wondered what the noise was, and one said ‘I think it sounds pretty good’ and the other on said ‘I think it’s Hare Krishnas!’” Kyle cracks up.

“It was interesting listening to people’s response and their perceptions. These people might have lived on the Gold Coast their whole lives and have never heard the traditional languages and the songs that existed here.”

If Kyle has his way, The Language of the Wind – Yargeh Wadjeleh isn’t over yet.

“We were talking about the next stage,” he says. “I’d like to develop The Language of the Wind a bit further, and I’ve got a few other projects on as well.”

Keep your ears to the ground, Gold Coast.

Generate is a City of Gold Coast initiative through the Regional Arts Development Fund and a partnership between the Queensland Government and the City to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. The Queensland Government also supported Generate through the GC2018 Arts and Cultural Program.

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