Grave Listening

Writing by Esther Anatolitis

In 2014, Margaret Cameron began a project involving recordings made at cemeteries around the Bellarine Peninsula near her Indented Head home, working in collaboration with David Young. That she should receive a terminal diagnosis of her own as as the project developed meant that Grave Listening took on a very different life. Generous, playful, adventurous, honest and imperative to the end, Margaret’s presence in Grave Listening was something I could feel across my shoulders, on my chest, in the delicate balancing hairs of my ears.

The performance began by preparing the ears, as David Young described it, for the sensitive listening to follow. Rattling plastic cords were pulled to raise blinds set against a long wall of incongruous yet collinear windows, one after the other, with a smoothness unexpected from our all-Australian boat club setting. Once revealed, the bold stripe of sea against sky in the thick blue painted bay arrests us. We have each spent the morning privately recovering our bodies from two days of plus-forty heat, our joints now yearning for the salty relief of the waves and the breeze. We feel our shoulders release and drop, our ears opening just a little more, our eyes focusing for the moment on the stripes of blue and not on the long stripe of a table cluttered by sound-making equipment of tech high and low. Dylan Sheridan is wearing the feathered head of a chicken. We feel what good sense this makes. Margaret was a mouse the last time I saw her. A small mammal. We hear tones, sounds, we listen more carefully than we are hearing, than what we are hearing. We listen collectively.

The first time we hear Margaret’s voice as recorded, she is exhorting an interlocutor – and, of course, she is exhorting us – to take seriously the question of what we want most to do in life. To think about what we’ve always wanted to do, but never have. Skydiving? Make it possible. What is it about skydiving? What can you analyse to make it happen, through the work? What matters about skydiving? Jumping. Freefalling. Make it so that you are freefalling in the work. You, she repeats, compelling us in the second person. And as soon as you start to think it through, you are engaging in your practice. You are making the work.

Crash into sound from here – sound and fury, intensity. We had already been invited to cover our ears at this point. Most of us choose not to. We want to feel the danger right up against our eardrums. We want to engage.

The final recording we hear of Margaret’s voice was made only two days before her death.

… I don’t want to die Sorry to say the obvious! It’s the bit you can’t say It’s the bit that hurts When you look at the thick blue painted bay…

Best to say it It would be a terrible thing to want To want to die But please… Don’t send me horrible flowers.

Afterwards we sit, we turn and look at one another, we commune, we reflect and introspect, we take each other’s hands and hold firm.

Grave Listening by The Unusual Music Project was performed on Sunday 4 January 2015 at the Indented Head Boat Club. Poetry by Margaret Cameron. Music by David Young and Dylan Sheridan. Performed by Deborah Kayser and Dylan Sheridan with David Young. Supported by the City of Greater Geelong’s Community Arts Grants Program, and Arts Tasmania.