|Sound and Sight - Performance||"In the Hands of Children"|
and Presented by
"In the Hands of Children" is a performance artwork incorporating the spirit and words of The Convention of the Rights of the Child, biographical extracts and auto-biographical extracts of child soldiers and workers, first hand accounts of the Australian Indigenous stolen generation, court transcriptions, original poetry and stories, traditional stories, multi-lingual bedtime stories and indigenous stories.
As an artist I have based much of my work on the subject of human rights. I consider that it is essential for me to design into my works the recognition of the need to highlight the plight of those who do not enjoy the freedoms and rights that we, in the society that makes up the Australian nation, have come to expect. It is by the presentation of such issues, in the manner that I have at hand, that I hope I can make a difference, in even the smallest of ways, to those who otherwise go largely unrecognised.
The main aim of "In the Hands of Children" was to present the plight of children and the reality of the use and abuse of the innocence and dependence of them in many places around the world.
However, throughout the work there was attention paid to the sensitivities of, and the input made by each participant. As an example, the work was specifically designed to be non-political in direct response to an assurance sought by one of the participants who had been a refugee from Iran. She made the request in the light of several recent reports about the intent of the Australian Federal Government to repatriate many Iranian refugees to their homeland, and the sensitivity of those Iranians who have been recently successful in becoming Australian citizens, but, who retain a learned fear of the unknown. This was perhaps fomented by the media and cultivated by governments and authority. If a politicised nature had been intended it would have been easy to include reports of Australian child refugees in detention, the "children overboard" incidents and many of the issues currently of concern within Australia. I feel, however, that in this case, the particular participant's part was of gentle importance and that politicisation of the work may have precluded her participation. Thus, the work's intended message and the work as a whole would have been lessened.
Politicisation was also a consideration, in reference to the inclusion of excerpts from the enquiry into the Indigenous stolen generation, Bringing them Home, The Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their families. Reference to the present political stalemate, between the Indigenous population of Australia and the Federal Government's apparent inability to express sorrow for past decisions to remove children from their indigenous parents, would perhaps have lessened the impact of "In the Hands of Children". Inclusion of the matter would perhaps have had the result of drawing attention to the political results of the policy rather than the individual plights of those directly involved. These children (now adults) were the innocent victims of the policy; one that was well intentioned, but which has been proven, with the benefit of hindsight, to be an infringement of the rights that are now considered to be inviolable. In this they share a common bond with the other children whose plights form part of the work.
The aleatoric nature of the work and the fact that specific, contributed material was often the choice of the participant, allowed each participant to "own" their contribution and to value their participation. By this attribute the work in question had the possibility of becoming more personal, emotive, sensitive and hopefully, ultimately, more successful than would have otherwise been the case.
Other cultural sensitivities that affected the work and which had to be taken seriously, included the presentation of an Indigenous based Bible story, written and owned by the Indigenous elder who participated in the work. She requested that her face be not filmed as her belief system considered that photographs - the taking of images - removes part of the soul. The television team was under strict instructions not to include shots of the storyteller other than over the shoulder (showing the storybook from which she was reading) and images of her back. This request was adhered to throughout the recording of the work.
Due consideration also had to be made to the age of some of the participants who were of primary school age. Permission from parents for participation was sought in writing and all were keen for their respective children to participate.
The Sound Scape
"In the Hands of Children" was intended to highlight the plight of children around the world, whose rights have been violated. It was thus essential that words formed the basis of information to be conveyed. The choice of sounds was largely dependent on my personal expertise as a percussionist and as a percussion teacher. The work included elements that were readily available, including the use of children as performers and the television studio venue,. Some "found objects" were included for their visual and aural capabilities. These included the internal frame work of an upright grand piano, (originally obtained as a sound source for the music of a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest), and surplus aluminium tubing "bells" that were part of sound experimentation carried out earlier.
Sound elements were provided by the voices of the character StoryTeller, two actors, three bedtime storytellers, three main percussionists, a group of young percussionists and bell players, a trombonist, a demolished piano and the electronic manipulation of words.
It is important to mention that the young percussionists had been working with the composer towards the presentation of "In the Hands of Children" for many months as part of the Riverina Conservatorium Percussion Ensemble. Performing together has produced:-
"In the Hands of Children" is a complex improvised, aleatoric work that combines many separate elements into one work including a visual and aural complexity that allows the audience to select that on which they want to focus at any particular time. The individual elements are as follows:-
Bells - Time line
"In the Hands of Children" began with the striking of three different bells at the same time . These bells provided the time regulation of the work. The basic unit of time used was thirty seconds, with each bell striking at regular individual intervals. The smallest (highest pitched) bell played every three time units (90 seconds), the middle sized bell (medium pitched) every five time units (150 seconds) and the largest bell (lowest pitch) struck every seven time units (210 seconds). The very slow rhythmic pattern that resulted from the time ratio (3:5:7) of the bells provided a sequence that had no combined repetition until 52:30minutes after the initial strike. This point was the signal to end the work. I have made use of repetitative time sequences based on prime number relationships in several works in the past including Meditiation (based on the time ratio 2:3:5 and a basic time unit being one minute) where the resultant pattern repeated every thirty minutes with a total of four repeated patterns (120 minutes).
This link to the time line chart of the work demonstrates that the three bells perform a slow rhythmic pattern that is palindromic in nature, with the end of the piece measured by the simultaneous striking of all bells for the second time. The improvised nature of the work followed this palindromic sequence, with the initial bell toll heralding the playing of a Tibetan prayer bowl, producing a long and pure tone. This was joined at thirty second intervals by two Tibetan prayer bells and two cymbals, played with cello bows. These instruments were played by the young percussionists, who in turn stood up and passed them to Percussionists 1,2 and 3, the Principal Painter and the StoryTeller. This was intended to symbolise the children giving permission to the older performers to "discuss" their culture, lives and rights. The performers to whom the instruments had been passed then played them until the first time that two of the bells played at the same time. This occurred at 7min30secs into the piece.
Throughout the work there were times when two of the three bells coincided. These coincidences were used as trigger points for other visual and aural events.
The palindromic nature of the time sequence allowed, at the 45min mark, the young percussion players, in reverse order to the beginning of the work to collect the bells and cymbals that were at the time being played by the main Percussionists and StoryTeller. They returned to their initial place on the floor at the front of the performance. At similar intervals to the first 7min30secs the players stopped playing one at a time until just the Tibetan prayer bowl was being played. The coincidence of all three bells signalled the end of the work at 52 min30 secs from the beginning. The bells were of 100mm aluminium tube up to three metres long. Having used steel tubes in the past I found that these needed to be struck too hard for the ages and strength of the children who were to play them. The Aluminium "speaks" more readily but the position of the strike needed to be more exact. In the performance I came to the conclusion that I would need to experiment further to produce a set of bells that were easy to use and which would provided a richer and full tone of much longer duration. At the time of writing I am waiting for a shipment of discarded industrial gas cylinders that should be more appropriate.
and Fools Tell the Truth
The use of words to convey a message is fundamental to the human experience. Without the advanced use and manipulation of words, politics, science, the arts and, in fact, most human endeavour would be reduced to the inarticulate baseness of the worst of human experience. Refined and personal language allows the most delicate communication. Perhaps the most personal use of words is that of a mother telling a gentle story at bedtime, signalling to the infant in her arms the trust, safety and sincerity of the relationship. Forceful language can stir the human spirit into actions that normally would be beyond the individual's experience. Words can resolve conflicts, cause misunderstanding, provide knowledge, absolve guilt, prove culpability, create great art and provide the football groupie with means of denigrating, or uplifting the opponent most sincerely. Words are the common means of allowing and enabling relationships between individuals and societies.
However, with the present extraordinary capability of communications, there is perhaps a flood of information - too many words - deflecting interest from particular subjects by overwhelming the senses. The comfort zone of an individual can become less attractive if confrontational information is allowed. It is all too easy to use the off button or to change channels of communication to one of a less confronting nature, one more entertaining and, as a result, more isolating from that which is ideal in enabling the dissemination of confronting but accurate information. Isolation can come from the inability to cope with the onslaught of information and this in turn allows the disregard of the pleas of those who need attention drawn to their individual or social plight. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this, that which is the subject matter of "In the Hands of Children", is that part of society who are too young to defend themselves from others who may have a personal agenda which finds it convenient to prey on the inexperience, the immaturity, and the innocence of children.
As a bank of words for "In the Hands of Children", collections of stories, reports, individual situations and organisations were collated from a variety of sources. These included the United Nations, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child , The Child Rights Information Network (C.R.I.N.) , Human Rights Watch, the printed and electronic media and from individuals to whom the composer was in communication. The common theme was the Rights of the Child and the way that these rights have often been ignored, unratified and/or violated in many places around the world. Permission to quote particular material from the various bodies was sought and enthusiastically granted for use within the performance. From the reports individual biographical stories were extracted and printed on A5 cards of three different colours.
In a world where there are gross violations of human rights in regards to the treatment of children, I believe it is of importance to express opposition to such violations, through whatever medium the concerned person has at hand. In the best of all possible worlds, the politician should perhaps use the forum of the parliament, available words and actions within their purview to encourage development of laws and to bring to the attention of their constituents, the essence of such violations. The educator has the opportunity and arguably the responsibility, to encourage debate within the classroom, whatever its form, and gradually to sculpture opinion and, in the instance of the present study, to encourage an understanding of the dangers that individuals and groups of children encounter in an imperfect world. The artist who has the opportunity and the potential to present aspects of social dilemmas such as those of the present study, can, by application of talent and training, attempt to provide a vehicle for the provocation of thought by formal or casual observer, of their works.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child reflects the ideals that were formulated to protect the rights of children throughout the world and to aid and ensure their survival from birth to the age of eighteen. The need for recognition of the sentiments expressed in the document provided a basis of "In the Hands of Children" and was the trigger for the background research from which the work evolved. It was from the reading of this document and the immediacy of the Internet that other documents were "discovered" and their extended sentiments incorporated in the work. This was a similar trigger to that of the previous work, Meditation, in which the Declaration of Human Rights was used as both text and inspiration. Another work, Silent Prisoner (1998), based on a poem of the composer, used the words of the Declaration of Human Rights as part of the word text. In "In the Hands of Children" the document was not used so much as text as it was the starting point from which other texts and concepts were discovered, collected and incorporated. It was felt that the words of the Convention of the Rights of the Child were more legalistic and less poetic than those of the previously used Declaration of Human Rights and thus less useful for the purpose of providing words directly for the text of "In the Hands of Children". It was decided to use instead the myriad of short biographies and quotations of actual children who had been the victims of violations of their rights as soldiers, victims of war and abuse of many forms, which were part of published studies, journals and reports. The process of research, collection and collation of the stories of young individuals was often emotionally harrowing by their personal nature and by their sheer volume indicating the proportions of the problem.
The document The Convention on the Rights of the Child is comprehensive in detailing the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family [as] the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. (Preamble) It recognises that discrimination occurs but that the manner in which a person is nurtured in society should not be decided on matters of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status But that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance. (preamble)
The Convention recognises the importance of the family in the nurturing of the child and states that children have the right to enjoy the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, [and] should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. (preamble)
Particularly emotive issues that were considered to be of importance for integration into "In the Hands of Children" were found in :-
Article 7, Paragraph 1 The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. (Convention on the Rights of the Child)
Here the child is given the right to an identity and a place in society, but, in reality, due to lack of knowledge and understanding of particular political environments, military regimes, work environments, discrimination of a myriad of forms and the sheer numbers involved, the individual child's identity is lost in the mists of numbers, secrecy and anonymity; the child's voice remains unheard in the general "noise" of society. With this in mind and, in a manner similar to the use of the words of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Meditation, words were used as sounds without context, often heard indistinctly, overlaid with others, distorted, or otherwise indistinguishable one from another.
Article 9 Paragraph 1 states that Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. (Convention on the Rights of the Child)
In this case the child has the right to be nurtured within a family situation and the interpretation used in "In the Hands of Children" was to highlight the removal of children from their family by military regimes who forcibly and otherwise enlisted children within the armed forces, and by governmental decree, such as that used by the Australian Governments when indigenous children were forcibly removed from their mothers and from their cultural heritage. Reports of such removal from their homes, more often than not by force, for incorporation into military situations, including actual combat, were sought and their information incorporated into the work. These included reports by Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) and the United Nations Children Fund UNICEF.
Article 13 The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice. (Convention on the Rights of the Child)
It is perhaps this article that suggested that the incorporation of children and their opportunity to express themselves through their special and particular talents into "In the Hands of Children", was appropriate. The first section of the work (to 7:30 minutes) was used to establish the identity of the children and the ownership of their art through the sounds they produced. They symbolically passed the sounds to the adults who were given "permission" to extend their expression. The responsibility for speaking on behalf of children who may not have the words for detailed expression is a heavy one. The adult thus representing the child must be able to provide the child with a voice without misrepresentation, omission or misinterpretation. The adult must have the integrity to not use the responsibility for their own ends and for their own political or personal advantage. The adult thus becomes the voice, the educator and the opinion through whom the child's concerns and representations are made. It is a heavy responsibility. "In the Hands of Children" finished when the adults symbolically passed the "voice" back to the children (from 45:00 minutes), perhaps to the next generation.
Article 38 States that
1. Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.
2. Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.
3. Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.
4. Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict. (Convention on the Rights of the Child)
Of all the articles within the Convention that had influence over the material and intention of "In the Hands of Children", this article was of prime influence. In the board game that, by the throw of dice, selected which stories would be read during the work, a majority of the cards, (each containing the biographical details of an individual child,) concerned the use of children in armed conflict and potential armed conflict.
Within the scope of the work and the time limit of the event it was necessary to restrict the particular areas of the Convention of the Rights of the Child to those detailed above. This does not, however, mean that the many other areas of concern are less worthy than those used. The incorporation of other aspects of the Convention into other works is a possibility for further study.
In a similar manner to the collection of words from reports of military conflict, transcripts of courtroom testimony, in which children were interrogated by barristers in New South Wales court cases, largely concerning instances of child abuse, were collected from a report by Mark Brennan. 2 This paper highlights the manner in which the sophisticated language of trained courtroom officers was able to manipulate the words of young children when giving their testimony in testimony against their abusers. The report and others on the same subject have highlighted the difficulty of cross-examination of young victims of abuse within a complex and frightening adult situation. This form of adversarial interrogation has and is being replaced by pre-recorded taped interviews relieving the child of the necessity of long and often repeated sessions in the courtroom, which sometimes, perhaps too often, resulted in the collapse of cases that may have otherwise succeeded in the prosecution of offenders. It is important that the child who is honestly and bravely reporting an adverse situation is listened to within their own language capabilities - within their own culture - and their words accepted for the manner in which they are able to express themselves.
A collection of fairy stories was made for inclusion in "In the Hands of Children". These stories have traditionally been used to ensure cultural continuity between generations, provide children with examples of correct and acceptable behaviour and to engender the use of language through personal communication, largely between parent and child. These communication imperatives rely, however, on the fact that the child has someone to use the words, time and opportunity to listen and the comfort of personal love and security to absorb their intentions. It is easy to speak of the importance of such stories to children, but it is sobering to consider that many of the children represented in "In the Hands of Children" do not have the luxury of a conventional, middleclass, Western style family situation. Many have been forcibly removed from the safety of the family to the lonely discipline of the military camp or the alien home without biological family to pass cultural stories to them. The stories provide examples of the style of home life and childhood development that is often seen to be the ideal for a stable and nurturing environment.
Investigation of a story such as Little Red Riding Hood provides food for thought upon critical examination. There are versions of this story in virtually every major language around the world. The European version, according to Catherine Orenstein, author of Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked; sex morality and the evolution of a fairy tale, appeared in its first printed version in 1697 in the Court of Versailles. It was not a children's story but a sexual parable about losing virginity. The expression avoir vu le loup, to have seen the wolf, was the term for having lost one's virginity. The modern version of the story concerns itself with a child who is the anonymous victim of a child abuser. She is named, not by family convention, but by the nature and colour of her clothing. She is stalked by a male "wolf" which entraps her by appearing within a previously safe environment and by the violent removal and impersonation of a recognised and familiar entity - the grandmother. One must question if such a story is really suitable for young children at bedtime, and yet it is used, and will continue to be used, by adults who need to caution their children about the dangers of the "wolves" within society and the way in which such encounters must be avoided. With controversy about the stalking of young children within the chat-room culture of the Internet, and the access that sometimes very young children, not yet aware of the possible consequences of their words to anonymous entities and in the safety of their own homes, have, the inclusion of Little red Riding Hood in "In the Hands of Children" represented a fundamental cautionary message that is basic to the relationship between parent and child. Similarly, young children in third world countries, on the way home from school or in the safety of their own villages, may be approached and enticed (or forced) into the military services or indeed into sexual slavery, by agents foreing to their interests. The original cautionary tale perhaps has relevance to all children who are the subject of adult avarice.
In addition to Little Red Riding Hood, a story entitled William and the Wolf was written and read during the performance by the StoryTeller, Tessa Bremner. This story is an up-dated, male adaptation of the original Little Red Riding Hood, where the technology savvy William, confronted by a very hairy and ugly granny replacement, locks himself in the bathroom and rings Mum on the mobile. He manages to sort the problem by asking himself what Dad would do in his place and by using his own ingenuity. William is perhaps the product of an environment that is nurturing and encouraging of self sufficiency when away from the safety of home. There he enjoys a middle class environment demonstrated by the provision of technically advanced personal communication equipment and a creative culture that has developed and allowed the young potential victim to "think outside the box".
The collection of written material made for "In the Hands of Children", sometimes focused on a variety of differences between one cultural form and another. For instance, a brief extract from "They're Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace" citation was included as a contrast between the stories of actual child soldiers and the joy of childhood observation of the spectacle, pomp and ceremony within the British military tradition.
A call to all poets, through Wagga Wagga Writers Writers, based at Charles Sturt University, for extant poetry about the rights of the child, or more general subjects which included children exacted responses from several writers including Mark Brennan who gave permission for several of his published and unpublished poems to be included. A selection was made and added to the collection of words. It is significant that the first words selected at random in the performance of the work, by the "In the Hands of Children" board game and read by the StoryTeller, were from the works provided by Brennan. The poem selected begins:
Children are not special
Girls called to arms
Hyped away behind big doors
Other particular and significant sources of words came from several dramatic and emotive reports that bear relevance on the present project, for example, on the use of children as soldiers and those that were removed from their parental relationships by well intended but misguided government intervention.
This report is entirely indebted to the 69 boys and girls who agreed to participate in the interviews and have spoken frankly about their experiences as child soldiers. (While we refer to them as boys and girls because of their age when they were soldiers, we do recognize that many of them are now adults.) The study would not have been possible without the dedicated work of the researchers who traveled to remote and, in some cases, insecure areas to speak with former child soldiers.3
Examples from this report were included, not only for the fact that the stories are a dramatic indication of how the young can be caught up in the adult world of conflict. It was felt to be important because those whose lives are reported and whose personal words are included, are not from the other side of the world but from island nations in conflict, very close to our own shores and the relative safety of the Australian continent. It was also felt that the efforts of those who want to report such situations should be recognised and that their collections of words be presented in another form to another "readership" than that which would seek out and read such material.
Of recent collection is the report from Human Rights Watch entitled My Gun Was as Tall as Me 4 , a report of child soldiers from Burma. This report similarly details examples of the words from the mouths of those who are child soldiers and those who have been child soldiers within the military regime and its opposition forces. Despite the assurance of the military regime there that there is no recruitment of children into the army, and that regulations of personal identification that has sometimes been the excuse for taking children into the forces (identification was unable to be obtained until the age of 18 reduced recently to 12 and it was an offence to be on the street, even walking home from school, without identification) has been changed, there still appears to be forced recruitment when the need and opportunity demands.
The third major source was the report of the stolen generation, the generation of Australian Indigenous people forcibly removed from their parents, their identities and their culture supposedly for their own benefit. Bringing them Home, The Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families 5 emphasises the fact that the Australian culture myth of equal opportunity and "a fair go" for all has often been misplaced within the cultural conceit of the European derived population. This was the result of the religious ethic that determined to "save" those who (mistakenly) appear to be of lesser moral, cultural and religious worth within the very paternalistic society that developed in Australia. It is of significance that one of the storytellers used in "In the Hands of Children" was of the stolen generation. She was one who has been both able to overcome the effects of the governmental action and to support and educate others of the Indigenous community. Permission for inclusion in "In the Hands of Children" of some of the stories extracted from that report was granted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Many other words, stories and reports were included in the source material for "In the Hands of Children". All material was carefully edited to exclude any language that was inappropriate for use within a work that included young children. Names and places were removed to ensure that there was no association with particular individuals who could possibly be recognised by those observing the work. This detail has the added result of making the individuals more anonymous than even detailed in the reports. Their stories become one more step away from reality while at the same time allowing the individual to represent a broader more inclusive group of their peers.
A collection of quotes by famous characters of the English speaking world, about children were collected and collated. It is from here that the title of the work was derived.
I saw ten thousand talkers
Whose tongues were all broken,
I saw guns and sharp swords, in the hands of young children.... Bob Dylan 6
Detail of Game Spot
The complete boardgame
Detail of the boardgame.
During the opening sequence of "In the Hands of Children" the two actors, seated at a round table, took time to set up a board game derived for the occasion. This consisted of thirty coloured circles on which were instructions for actions to be taken. The actors allocated piles of stories, ensuring that they were shuffled (to introduce an element of chance) to four positions on the table. They consisted of Chance Cards, Opportunity Cards, Listening Cards and StoryTeller Cards. Each card had a particular written passage that the actor would read when the card was selected by the chance elements of the game. Positions on the board were selected by the throwing of a pair of dice. Markers were plastic soldier action figures, which were significant with the often military subject matter of many of the cards. The use of plastic soldiers and guns as toys for the developed world young reflects the insensitivity and dissociation of those in the chain of their manufacture and purchase.
The board game was designed with many more stories than could be selected during the work, with the result that, even when a particular child's story was part of the game, there was a chance that his or her story would not, and could not be heard.
The intention was that the dice would be thrown each time the small tubular bell was struck (every 90 seconds). The sounds of the game were amplified and the voices treated with added reverberation and echo. The two actors improvised the game, with childish enthusiasm forming part of the essence of their presence. They were instructed to include any conflicts that arose if the figures collided on the same circle. Instructions included throwing the die again, go back or forward to other spaces, to choose a card from a particular pile and to read the words on the card. Methods of delivery were sometimes included ie slowly, quickly, or even twice. Other instructions included the choice of a card from the StoryTeller pile of cards and to pass it to the StoryTeller. If the StoryTeller was away from the table at the time, the actor was instructed to move to where she was and to hand her the card for reading. The StoryTeller was not aware that this would happen and the instruction added to the unexpected elements in the work.
Other cards contained the examples of courtroom examinations from the Brennan papers. These were on two attached sheets and when one of these was drawn by one of the actors the other stopped playing and took the part of the child in the court case. The actor who had thrown the dice and drawn the card played the barrister. The game continued throughout the work until the 42nd minute (see figure 1) This point in the palindrome represents the equivalent time from the beginning of the work when the children passed the sounds to the other players. It also coincides with the last time that any two of the three bells struck at the same time before the end of the work.
The role of StoryTeller placed a central focus on words and a counterpoint to the stories read by the actors. The StoryTeller's words came from the StoryTeller pile of cards and were selected as the die determined during the game. The StoryTeller also either read or told other stories not listed in the pile and ones that were collected or written by the StoryTeller herself. Her stories were in English, French and Russian and included the collection of fairy stories, children's word games, poetry, songs and actions. The fact that the pile of cards allocated to the StoryTeller were not included in the initial shuffling and dealing of the cards by the actors meant that they were largely excluded from the element of chance that selected the actors' story cards.
The cultural importance of the bedtime story is of great significance. During the telling the relationship between parent and child and the subtle use of language is developed. The parent reads the story in the most delicate and trusting of times, that when the child is preparing for sleep and when they are at the most vulnerable. There develops, through the story, a bond of heritage, language, love and kindness. In a modern western world it is sometimes the only time when the parent and child spend gentle time together. It is of value beyond compare.
Many of the children whose stories were told, or not told within "In the Hands of Children" do not have the benefit of the bonding made during the bed time story time or the cultural equivalent. Many have been taken from their homes and families to be used as work units in factories, servants for more privileged households, soldiers in regions of conflict or sexual playthings in abusive situations. This contrast made the inclusion of the bedtime story an essential balance with the baseness of the other words.
The Bedtime Story Tellers were three mothers from vastly different cultures. The first was an indigenous mother, an elder, who had written a story incorporating pictures and words based on Indigenous culture and the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark. This story was read to several of the young musicians who sat in a circle on the floor of the performance space. She read the story and showed the pictures in a manner that was reminiscent of the passing of indigenous stories from generation tho generation. It is of significance to state that the Elder storyteller, being one of the stolen generations, had to rediscover her heritage in order to pass it on to others.
The second Bedtime Story Teller was a mother from Brazil. She read a story in Brazillian Portuguese to her young four-year-old child who sat snuggled on her lap as the story was told. She demonstrated in a very personal and private way, the love and bond between mother and child.
The third Bedtime Story Teller was a mother of a young child who once again sat on her lap and listened. This mother was a refugee from Iran who came to Australia with her family. She has learned English since she arrived and is a respected member of the community. She read the story in Persian and included all the vocal inflection, imitated voices and excitement that is common to children's stories around the world. Without understanding the words, the sense of the story was evident to those who listened.
When initially contacted the two Bedtime story tellers were instructed to find an appropriate story and to read it as if at bedtime to their own child. The Indigenous Storyteller stated that her youngest child was more than twenty-one years old and would not sit on her lap! She has recently qualified as a teacher and is proud of the fact that she now teaches her own classes at school. It was thus appropriate that her "children" were in fact presented in a classroom situation, albeit in a circle in traditional style, and it mattered not whether the listeners were of Indigenous or of European origin, she was passing on her version of the indigenous culture that she reconstructed from its disjointed origins in her particular culture.
In Australia we have some artists whose art is largely defined within an extensive social conscience, and who use their visual art as an expression of that conscience. An inspiration for the direction of "In the Hands of Children" was Australian artist, George Gittoes, who travels to places of danger and presents, in graphic form, the plight of those who have no world voices of their own. His immediate concern for the victims of war emphasised the importance of the visual elements in the project at hand.
In the case of "In the Hands of Children" the elements of sound and vision were combined with the confinement of the message to a restricted audience and was the personal expression of the "composer" of the work. It also incorporated those words and forms of expression that other artists, visual, aural and technical, were able to contribute.
A consideration of the inter sensory experiences of many artists was of
importance in the production of "In the Hands of Children" . The
connection between senses has been labelled synaesthesia, a phenomenon
researched by Dr Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Director of the Centre for
Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego and discussed
in the British Broadcasting Corporation's recent series of Reith Lectures
presented on the Australina Broadcasting Corporation. 7
Ramachandran's lectures explained the observations that Ostoja-Kotkowski made in reference to his need for music and sound to enhance his visual work. Ostoja often expressed the notion of hearing colour and seeing sounds.From his early experiments with electronic art, the use of theramins to provide sound for his enamel "paintings" , the inclusion of observer dependent sound in his Expo 70 display and, of course, his sound and image works in which the image was inspired by, or directly dependent on the sound and vice versa. Perhaps one of the best examples within the Ostoja-Kotkowski catalogue of works was the Synchronos 72 series of performances which included the use of compositions by such composers as Don Banks and Larry Sitsky and, amongst others, the sounds of the Don Burrows Quartet. Here the laser projections danced to the music and the shapes of the images were directly dependent on the sounds as they were produced and processed. His interest in the writing of Adrian Klein in which the history of "Colour-Music" production to the early part of the 20th Century was discussed. 8 This form of cross-sense has resulted in many visual artists having the ability to see colours when listening to sound and many aural artists seeing sounds as colours. Ramachandran suggests that artists experience this phenomenon to a greater extent than the general population.9
Similarly, the visual aspects of even a specifically musical performance forms a major consideration when the performance is rehearsed and presented. The observer of the work will absorb visual aspects that are specifically dependent on their personal culture. The specialised observer who attends a performance of a pianist will book a seat where the hands of the performer can be seen. The layout of an orchestral performance provides a visual feast of synchronised movement which is directly related to the sounds being produced. The direction from which they are produced means that each observer will receive a different series of images from each other observer.
Their particular attention may be drawn to different actions within the performance. Thus the observation of a performance is as unique as is the observer. It is with these phenomena in mind that the performance of "In the Hands of Children" was devised. Visual considerations within the work included the production of two paintings based on the sound scape, in a manner similar to the work of Hajar Parmedi in "Meditation". The board game played by two actors and the StoryTeller, and the movements of the performers combined with the range of instruments used, provided visual elements that were capable of satisfying the visual aspects of the aural experiences of those observing the work. The visual attention of the audience was also enhanced by the fact that the "eye of the world", the camera, became an important part of the performance. During the brief rehearsal period the camera crews practiced the navigation between the various elements of the work. The crews were given particular points that were scheduled within the work but were instructed to seek shots of interest and to inform the producer of what they had in view. The cameras became the metaphor for the focused eye, biased to specific images, movements and thus attention to sounds; these were the images that told a specific story but which may not, through restrictions of time and place, show the entire picture.
Artist Canny Kinloch produced a painting based on the sound scape of the work as it evolved and in reaction to the sounds that were produced.
Ms Kinloch painted with acrylic paints on a sheet of clear acrylic, 180cm x 120cm. The sheet was suspended from the studio lighting grid, such that it was visible from the small audience observing the work. With the artist standing behind the sheet, she applied paint with brushes, fingers and rollers providing a visual representation choreographed by the sounds being produced. In turn the musicians had been instructed to produce sounds corresponding to the painter's movements. The painting evolved over the time frame of the overall work. Drying time was essential and was aided with the (noisy) sound of a hair drier. The composer, as one of the performers, was, initially, affronted by this intrusive sound and tried to cover the "noise" by producing "cover sounds"10 on suspended cymbals. When it occurred again, the realisation of the principle that whatever happens within the performance is a valid part of the performance, overcame the objection to the sound and the "noise" was promoted to a valid part of the sound scape.
A young painter, Georgena Schultz, was provided with a smaller sheet of acrylic suspended in a similar manner at an angle to both the audience and the larger sheet. Georgena was instructed to imitate the larger work as it evolved. She also started the work by dipping fingers into paint and dabbing it onto the raw "canvas". She too picked up the hair drier and aimed it at the paint to aid the drying process whenever necessary. She studied and imitated the larger work carefully until the larger one became opaque as the amount of paint applied increased. Her work then began to diverge from the "masterwork"with the result that there were two beautiful and original works finished.
I work in a visual sense in the design of theatre sets and works in an evolutionary way from initial ideas which are seen as vivid visual images in three dimensional space. As new ideas refine the design process the images add or subtract aspects until the final work is completed. It is then a matter of applying the images to paper for translation for others who need to see the images (director, costume designer, construction manager). I see shapes with sounds, have spatial vision with words creating pictures.
"In the Hands of Children" was engineered to include the presentation of bonds between individual members of the performers employed within the work and, with the nature of the subject matter these relationships become important. Many of the relationships arrived because of common interests; others were convenient and serendipitous relationships that fitted the overall concept of the work. The relationships represent those of the wider community, and their presence or absence in the life of the children around the world is significant and makes them worthy of brief discussion.
The relationship between mother and child is probably the earliest and strongest bond within human relationships. This was represented by the Bedtime Storytellers and their methods of reading and animating words. This is one of the most direct methods of passing on cultural knowledge in early childhood, it develops an interest in reading and the, perhaps most significantly, bonds of love and personal expression between mother and child.
The Indigenous storyteller had had the bonds between herself and her mother forcibly broken in childhood. She is a tireless worker in the passing of knowledge to younger members of her community and has become a person whose heritage is strong because of the quest she has set for herself in regenerating a dislocated past. She was depicted as storyteller and teacher.
One of sons of the Indigenous Storyteller played a significant role in "In the Hands of Children" as the one who controlled the timing of the cuing of the bell players and thus of the work as a whole.
Within the percussion group the relationship between teacher, mentor and/or parent was able to be examined. Of the three main percussionists, one is the father of one of the younger performers in the work. Both share an interest and enthusiasm in performing music and, when rehearsing for the work the father, who assisted with the rehearsal process, was often observed "keeping an eye on her" in a manner that was more intense than the others he assisted. The bond between father and child is also of great importance in human culture. The need to have someone to whom the father's knowledge can be passed is strong within the male members of society. One of the other main Percussionists is a young performer of considerable talent, Michael Stevens. Until 2003 he was a student with the composer, sharing the journey of developing his talent and putting the music into the notes he was learning. This performance was the first time we had performed together and it was the first time that he had performed in an experimental, improvisatory way in a performance of this type. The relationship of teacher moving to colleague proved to be very satisfying for both.
All of the young percussionists share a common relationship to the composer, as they are all my students and have been learning music with me for an average of two years. We formed the Riverina Percussion Ensemble specifically to provide the performers with the necessary skills and understanding for "In the Hands of Children".
A significant relationship was that between the two painters. This was a devised relationship but one which provided a visual parallel with the storytelling aspects of the work. Painting on a transparent sheet of acrylic, the main painter was instructed to listen to the sounds and words and to make a painting that was a reaction to the sound. The senior painter is one who is concerned with the education and nurturing of the visual arts within the community. The younger painter (eleven years old) was instructed to imitate the other's work. The relationship was designed to represent the passing of visual culture from one generation to the next; from teacher to student by example and inspiration. The relationship also allowed the example set by the one to be explored and extended, thus developing the younger painter's own thoughts, techniques and, eventually, her own personal culture.
With these connections "In the Hands of Children" provided parallels with cultural life in general. It is the exclusion of these close and developmental relationships within many societies that allows the isolation of children from their families, education and stable development. The children who were the subjects of the work did not enjoy the close and nurturing aspects at the time at which their lives were observed.
It was considered important, within the scope of the performance, to demonstrate the passing of cultural skills, knowledge, and stories that nurture the sense of safety and wellbeing within cultures such as our own, while, at the same time, telling of the traumas and the plight of those children who do not have the opportunity to experience such safety and nurturing.
Outside the actual performance, acting as immediate observers, were the members of the audience. Their relationships to the work were varied and worthy of mention. Restricted to 35 in number by the space available in the television studio meant that the message of the work was directly conveyed only to those who had a reason to be there. There was none who was there out of interest in a new work, the subject matter, and interest in the arts in general; there was none of the passing curious, nor the usual theatre goers or concert goers. Those present were there because they were parents and friends of the participants, University staff and those specifically concerned with the performance. Their observations of the work and its value were skewed by their relationship to the participants. The pride of a parent for their offspring's participation in a large scale performance, especially one that is outside their personal culture, is of considerable significance in the relationship between them. The child's worth is elevated in the observation and the overall observation of the work is inevitably biased to the moments when the offspring is performing
The observers images of the production were influenced by the inclusion of the camera biased images that were projected onto monitors within their view. This allowed them to metaphorically walk through the performance and to see images that they may not have been able to observe in their direct line of sight. The monitors provided another dimension to their observation that was similar to that seen on television with its feeling of biased unreality, whilst observing the reality at the same time.
The premiere performance of "In the Hands of Children" took place in the Television Studios of Charles Sturt University on the 12th June 2003. The performance was considered the first in a series of similarly based performances and with the consideration of adapting the work for more public performance and to discover whether the work could be successfully transferred to a more accesible venue.
Any attempt to train and to collect the number of performers who took part is a major logistics exercise. The addition of the tight schedule of the television studios and the opportunity for the work to be part the television production students' experience provided a valuable opportunity, the venue and the reason for the performance.
There were two groups of percussionists within the work and the expertise for both groups needed to be nurtured. The younger musicians attend the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, Wagga Wagga. They are all my students and have been learning for as little as six months and as much as three years. They all form an Ensemble called the Riverina Percussion Ensemble and perform works which vary from conventional group percussion, arrangements of popular music, Latin American rhythm based works and works written specifically for the group. They have also had some experience of performing graphic scored works, improvised experimental works and composing works of their own. This training has produced a group that demonstrates abilities that are often far beyond their individual ages. Percussionists need to have some expertise on a wide range of instruments within the definition of percussionist skills including techniques on snare drum and its associated technical requirements, keyboard mallet instruments, and the myriad of assorted small instruments. In addition, they are expected to explore sounds which are outside the conventional range. The exploration of cymbals played with 'cello bows, Nepalese and Tibetan prayer bells with their "wine glass" method of sound production and the interior parts of a "demolished" piano provide such exploration. The students were observed, when provided with these instruments, exploring and discovering a range of sounds that were new to them, useful and adaptable to their own purposes. Those chosen for the performance of "In the Hands of Children" attended regular weekly rehearsals, the underlining purpose of which was the performance in question although they were unaware of this purpose and wer more concerned with the ability to perform together and to understand the general percussive medium. They also attended several intensive workshops that likewise, were intended to engender those skills necessary for the performance without specific attention to their ultimate participation.
The three main percussionists included myself, one of my ex-students and a member of the Kapooka Army Band. The latter two had not been involved in improvised performance of the type presented and they were enthusiastic about participation. Their contribution provided for the work with a strong foundation of musical expertise and the range of skills which comes from extensive performance practice. Although it was initially intended to use the younger percussionists for this part of the performance it was felt that this was probably beyond their skills and endurance.
From the intitial bell strikes the continuous tone of the Tibetan Prayer Bowl and the Nepalese prayer bells emerged played by the running of a wooden beater around their rims. These instruments produce penetrating and evocative pure tnes in a manner and quality similar to the running of a moistened finger around a fine wine glass. Each percussionist attempted to produce this sound and the ones who could produce the best, continuous sound were selected. After a short time the Tibetan Prayer Bell was joined by two which were excited in a similar manner to the first. These were higher in pitch and provided a "chord" that was of full timbre and duration, suitable for the long, slow opening sequence. This sound was then joined by the playing of two clash cymbals with cello bows exciting the edge of the individual plates. When excited by a bow, cymbals produce a range of sounds depending on pressure, and the duration of the bow stroke. The sounds can vary from deep mellow hummings to very harsh, loud and nerve jangling tones. Several of the young percussionists also played improvised drum patterns at the three main percussion stations and had been prepared for this with several workshops which included call and response, reflex response to cues and listening techniques in which they all displayed considerable understanding.
It hardly needs to be said that the use of the young performers was important to the work and to their individual and group performance skills.
"In the Hands of Children" has possibilities for future performances and the experience of the premiere of the work would indicate several changes that could be made to advantage. The value of a performance in a space such as the television studios and with the type of audience present is that the composer can see first hand, those elements that work, those that don't work and those that could be included in future performances, in different places, with different audiences and in different times.
The work is not particularly suited to the onstage situation of the concert hall, nor for the proscenium arch theatre. These performance spaces assume a "fourth wall" that is built by the performance, and accepted as the barrier through which the observer passively accepts or rejects the qualities that the performance conveys. This virtual window of the theatre and concert space that has too often been replaced by the small window of the television and the shelf on which the speaker boxes of the listening audience are placed. Even when an observer is attracted to the space, the isolation of the performance from the audience engendered by very nature of the space, often makes an artificial barrier between the expectations of those who attend and the intentions of the performance. It presents a two dimensional image of a work where the audience cannot be involved in any way other than as the passive observer. On the other hand, the performers, within the space and within the performance itself, are involved in a three dimensional visual and aural event of interaction between performers. This aspect is difficult to convey.
The very nature of concert spaces results in the varied experience of each observer depending where their particular seat is positioned. Those who enjoy ideal seats, perhaps in the centre of the space, receive a balanced visual and aural experience that would be difficult to reproduce with even the most technically advanced high fidelity reproduction. Those at the front of a concert hall seated on the left and wanting to hear their favourite orchestral performance, will necessarily hear a performance that is balanced towards the treble strings and, if too close to the front, a restricted visual presentation. Thus each audient will hear their own version of the work.
If the perfect performance is to be heard, it becomes more attractive to purchase a good stereo system, light a warm fire and enjoy a technically balanced performance, heard hopefully from a place in the centre of the concert hall from the audience point of view, providing, of course that the performance was recorded with such balance in mind rather than the technically perfect, artistically artificial recordings that are all too common.
It is, by necessity, that the audient, who may be accustomed to attending performances in main centres, but who for whatever reason finds himself in a situation where the possibility of access to concert hall excellence is severely disadvantaged by distance, must make the choice between attendance and the alternative mechanically reproduced performance. The latter becomes increasingly attractive.
Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.unicef.org/crc/crc.htm
2. Brennan, Mark. The Discourse of Denial: Cross-examining child victim witnesses. Journal of Pragmatics 23 (1995) 71-91 Elsevier Science BV 1994.
3. Emmons, Karen. Adult Wars, Child Soldiers:Voices of Children Involved in Armed Conflict in the East Asia and Pacific Region. Unicef 2000 Bankok.
4.Heppner, Kevin. My Gin Was as Tall as Me. Human Rights Watch, New York 2002.
5. Bringing them Home, The Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Sydney 1997
6.Dylan, Bob. A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall. 1963 Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Oxford University Press, New York 1999
8. Although now largely out of date, Ostoja referred to this publication during many of his public lectures and in interviews. It is interesting to note that the book was borrowed from the South Australian Library on dates that corresponded with the his lectures.
9. I have composed a work based on the inter-sensory aspects of synaesthesia. The work included the use of shape , colour and images upon which a group of musicians improvised. It included a movement based on the shape and colour of a hat worn by the Queen Mother and was entitled "Hat in B Flat". The hat was an inevitable shade of light blue.
10. The term was used in Shakespeare's time to describe the use of certain sounds wht were designed to obscure sounds that were made due to the mechanics of the productions. The sound of clanking chains associated with the appearance of ghosts wasprobably due to the need to cover the mechanisms of the theatre in those times.
* The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) is a global network that disseminates information about the Convention on the Rights of the Child and child rights amongst non-governmental organisations (NGOs), United Nations agencies, inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) educational institutions and other child rights experts. CRIN is based in London, UK. (Information provided from CRIN website at http://www.crin.org)