The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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Cambewarra Mountain

The sounds of summer in a high valley of the Great Dividing Range.

Cambewarra, Aboriginal for ‘smoky mountain,’ is part of the eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range. To the south and east it drops steeply to the coastal plain. To the north and west it falls away in a series of great terraces to the rich pastures of Kangaroo Valley. In the middle of the 19th century, most of the valley’s native forest was cleared by European settlers (among whom were a number of my mother’s family), but, on the tops of the mountains, in the higher valleys and the sheer slopes, the original forest lives on and remains the home of an extraordinarily rich variety of plants and creatures.

My cousin, Hal Wootten, has a farm which nestles in one of those higher valleys on the side of Cambewarra Mountain. Its land includes many different kinds of habitat: cleared pasture, dams, creeks bordered by River Oaks, hillsides of open forest, secluded rocky creeks in deep gullies shaded by ferns and rainforest, tall eucalypts and great Cedars.

This place has been home from home for my family and myself whenever we’ve returned to Australia. Over the years I’ve made hundreds of recordings there at all seasons of the year. Its shapes and sounds have inspired much of my instrumental music, including Cambewarra and Shoalhaven.

This is where I recorded Cambewarra Soundscape in the last quarter of 1989. Some species of birds are particular to a single habitat, creating local webs of sound, each with its own distinctive colour and texture; other species can be heard throughout the whole area, drawing the webs of sounds together into another, and greater web. Composing the soundscape was a matter of choosing the recording locations; using the microphones to get a balance of solos and choruses; and finally, selecting and editing the many hours of recorded material. Its shape as a piece of music emerges from the natural sounds—the ‘found’ images—of a particular time, and the integrity of a particular place.

The soundscape is also an accurate natural history record of the two days. Recordings for each season were made within the space of a few days and follow one another in diurnal order. To preserve their integrity , there is no mixing of recordings – with one exception: the second nocturne at the beginning of the Summer Day. (At this point the composer was unable to resist a long fade in, fade out which sets up a beautiful overlapping of neighbouring textures.)

Above all, this soundscape is my celebration of a bounteous natural heritage in an area which is protected and nurtured by individual people. In my lifetime, I’ve seen so many rich and beautiful areas become sterile suburbs. There is never any slackening of the pace of clearing and urbanisation: motorways, housing estates, shopping malls, country retreats spring up, claiming ever more of our precious environment. National Parks are essential reserves, but without a sensitive and informed approach to development on the part of every person who buys land and builds a house, there can be no avenues between them to function as natural corridors for the plants and the creatures; nor highways for our own sense of wonder and imagination.

1. Late Spring. Recorded 31st October - 2nd November 1989.

First Nocturne (10pm, 2 am, 4 am)

Location 1, by the northern creek (forest on hillside to north, paddocks to south): crickets, frogs.

Location 2, overlooking the whole of Kangaroo Valley (lightly timbered paddocks, forest on surrounding hillsides): Boobook Owls, Brush Cuckoo and Fantailed Cuckoo.

Location 3, middle dam (just below location 2, surrounded by lightly timbered paddocks): Wood Ducks, frogs and Willy Wagtail. First Kookaburra, leading to...

Spring Dawn Chorus (4.10 - 5.40 am, first light to sunrise)

Location 4, looking up southern valley (lightly timbered paddocks in foreground): Boobook Owls, Eastern Yellow Robins, distant Fantailed Cuckoo, Magpies, Ground Thrush, more Kookaburras.

Location 5, looking up into south-western ridge (forest, lightly timbered paddock behind): Brown Warbler, Golden Whistler, Whipbirds, Noisy Friarbird, Satin Bowerbird, flies!, White-browed Scrubwren, Grey Fantail, Eastern Spinebill (plopping noises are made by its wings). A humming-top effect begins to emerge as the softer upbeat notes of the Whipbird emerge from under the clamour of the other birdcalls. Brown Pigeon, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Grey Shrikethrush, Rufous Whistler.

Location 6, northern valley (dense gully, surrounded by open paddocks): Ground Thrush, Grey Butcherbird, Brown Thornbill, Brown Warbler, Whipbirds, Satin Bowerbird, White-browed Scrubwren, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Lyrebird, Grey Shrikethrush, Superb Blue Wren, White-browed Scrubwren, Crimson Rosella, Grey Fantail, Satin Bowerbird.

After sunrise (7 - 8 am)

Location 5: Brush Cuckoo, Grey Shrikethrush, Brown Warbler, Golden Whistler, Magpie, Spotted Pardalote, Whipbird, Fantailed Cuckoo, Striated and Brown Thornbills, Grey Fantail, Australian Raven, White-throated Treecreeper, pair of Whipbirds, Golden Whistler.

Late afternoon (4 - 5.30 pm)

Location 2: Bees and flies in the grass, Golden Whistler, Brown Warbler, Whipbirds, Brown Warbler, White-browed Scrubwren and Grey Fantail, Brown Thornbill behind.

Location 3: Crickets, Rufous Whistler, Australian Raven, Currawong, Yellow Robin, Black Duck in flight, Grey Shrikethrush, Brush Cuckoo, young Raven, Peewee.

Location 7, on the road between locations 1 and 2: Satin Bowerbird in wattle tree, Wonga Pigeon and Lyrebird on far hillside, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Grey Shrikethrush, Kookaburras, Grey Butcherbird, Crimson Rosella.

Sunset to dusk (6.30 - 7.15 pm)

Location 7: Kookaburras, King Parrot, Yellow Robins, Wonga Pigeon, Whipbirds, frogs, Boobook Owls and cricket.

2. Summer. Recorded 25 - 31st December 1989.

Second nocturne (8 - 10 pm)

Locations 7 and 1: Crickets in gully below road. Frogs by creek and in marsh. (Silent glow-worms on the bank in litter below tree ferns.) Boobook Owl, crickets.

Summer Dawn Chorus (3.45 - 5.30 am)

Location 8, northern hillside (dense forest on steep sections, lightly timbered paddocks on terraces, overlooking locations 1 and 2, and across valley to 6): Frogs in marsh, crickets, Eastern Yellow Robins, Grey Fantail, Magpies, Kookaburras, cattle, Black-faced Monarch Flycatcher, Fantailed Cuckoo.

Silvereyes, Grey Fantail, Lyrebird, Ground Thrush, Whipbirds, Kookaburra chorus, White-browed Scrubwren, Grey Fantail.

Whipbird’s ‘humming-top’ chorus begins to grow.

Grey Shrikethrushes, Grey Butcherbird, Green Catbirds, Satin Bowerbirds, Lyrebirds, Black-faced Monarch Flycatchers.

Location 8, South-west ridge, just above location 5 (dense forest): Rufous Fantail, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Satin Bowerbirds, Lyrebirds, Black-faced Monarch Flycatcher, Whipbirds, Golden Whistlers, Magpie, Raven.

Location 5: 2 parties of Logrunners, Whipbirds, Grey Shrikethrushes, Magpie, Wonga Pigeon, Striated and Brown Thornbills, Green Catbird.

Brown Thornbill, 2 Grey Fantails singing a kind of round.

Location 6: Extended Grey Shrikethrush duet, with Black-faced Monarch Flycatcher, Grey Fantail, general chorus on hillside. Satin Bowerbird swears! Magpie, Brown Warbler, Ravens.

Location 9, dense gully near location 5: Grey Butcherbird family, 4 adults feeding 5 young – usually only 1 or 2 adults present at the same time, but hear duets continued from a distance as well as close to. Satin Bowerbird in tree behind.

After sunrise

Location 5, (5.30 am - 6.15 am): Ravens, Whipbirds, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Magpie, Currawong, Grey Butcherbird, Lewin’s Honeyeater. The sound of cicadas builds up as sunlight moves down and across the hillside.

Location 7 and 1 (9 am - noon): Solo cicadas with Ravens behind. Massed cicadas with creek.

Dusk and Third nocturne (7.40 - 9.30 pm)

Location 10, marshy creek, below 9: Cicadas, frogs, Grey Butcherbirds. As cicada chorus ebbs in waves, crickets emerge. Cattle. Frogs move to foreground. Location gradually changes as the recording follows the path of the creek uphill to the dam at location 2. Frog and insect solos and choruses to end. Distant Boobooks.

Cambewarra Soundscapes was commissioned by Belinda Webster with the assistance of a grant from the Performing Arts Board of Australia Council, and first broadcast by 2MBS Sydney on Australia Day, 1992.

It is dedicated to Hal Wootten.

Late Spring.

1. First Nocturne

2. Spring Dawn Chorus

3. After sunrise

4. Late afternoon

5. Sunset to dusk


6. Second nocturne

7. Summer Dawn Chorus

8. After sunrise

9. Dusk and Third nocturne