back / zurück
| street (e)scape
Commerce descends Lygon, Brunswick and Smith Streets, Melbourne, Australia
An audio netcast by Andrew Garton for the 30 hour live, international netcast, GATEways,
consisiting of interviews with Polyester Books, La Mamas Theatre and sounds from Tiamo's Cafe,
Mama Vittoria's Cafe and incidental street scapes.
On the 21st of March 2000, worldwide anti-racism day, I participated in a 30 hour netcast, GATEways, commissioned by alien productions and organised by polycollege, Vienna, Austria.
GATEways dealt with the space in which cultures in transition, often peoples
up-rooted from their countries of origin, inhabit. Other contributors sent live audio streams
from Belgrade (Yugoslavia), Erfurt and Weimar (Germany), and Vancouver (Canada).
My contribution to this international collaboration was
Throughout Melbourne's history Bohemian culture has found its home in the multicultural streets of Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood. Marked by government housing apartments, these suburbs have been common destinations for migrants in particular Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek, Italian and to a lesser extent some middle eastern communities. This mix of languages and traditions has attracted writers, artists, musicians and poets since the 60s.
In the past two decades these areas have become synonymous with significant increases in property values, particularly rent, both residential and commercial. Despite the fact that the inhabitants of government housing found in these areas live on the fringes of the poverty line, commerce has descended and is laying waste to the culture that has stimulated so much creative activity here.
In the 60s Lygon Street, Carlton, dominated the theatre and visual arts with its band of writers and painters, many of whom frequented the cafes and pubs that were sparsely located there.
Melbourne University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are neighbors. The student population contributed to the vitality of Lygon Street, but by the mid to late 80s a steady flow of bohemians left Lygon for Brunswick Street, the next major parallel shopping centre in the working class suburb of Fitzroy.
Lygon Street began to attract investors and the wealthy middle class who wanted to live amongst interesting people! But as they came, rents increased, the artists left and the restaurants and malls moved in.
From the late 80s through to the very early 90s Brunswick Street was all the rage. The remnants of Lygon Street's colourful past can still be seen in Tiamo's Cafe, La Mamas Theatre and Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar and Cellar.
Brunswick Street now supports more than 90 restaurants and cafes and is officially registered as a tourist district. The money moves quickly here and so too the real estate.
Struggling to maintain some elements of its past, Brunswick Street is faced now with its first street lined apartments, a 7/11, the first Blockbuster Video store in the neighborhood and a $7 000 000 investment about to turn a small grocery store into a supermarket and mall style eatery. All this on a street that was home to the most violent pubs in Melbourne and some of the most hardy and consistent of band venues in the city. The Punters Club is still there, so to the first of two cafes in Brunswick Street, the Black Cat Cafe and Mario's. The other mainstay, battling to sustain its presence there is the radical bookshop, Polyester.
The final bastion of bohemian existence in Melbourne has found a home on Smith Street, surrounded by tired, disused factories and warehouses and of course the ever present government housing estates. Here you will still see people in traditional dress walking comfortably amongst Aborigines, ferals, homeless people, artists, drunks, slumped heroin addicts, and the ever desperate, eternally bored middle class struggling to find a foothold in this last and final stronghold.
Venture one to two blocks down from Smith Street and one can't help but feeling surrounded, as if commerce is moving around in an attempt to strike from the bottom, from the expensive thin walled, hurriedly build warehouse apartments to the few glitzy restaurants serving the wannabe public... the kind of eating establishments where one won't find the local Aboriginal nor Asian communities.
The wave of commerce is relentless, but on Smith Street it seems to have found hardy resistance...
For a time...
I spent two days collecting material for street (e)scape, both photos and sound. Andrew Thomas from Toy Satellite assisted with camera in hand capturing the landmarks of Smith Street and some of the new developments on Brunswick.
Many more days were spent dicing, carving and listening to audio files in preperation for GATEways during which time I was often reminded of R. Murray Schaffer's book, The Soundscape, in particular his comments about noise pollution. He suggests that a solution to the world's growing problem with noise pollution would be a "world-wide energy crisis". That would fix it for sure!
The greatest enemy of the urban sound artist is the car. It was wind till I made wind my friend, but the car remains my greatest foe. In compiling streetscapes for the netcast, it become impossible to discerne the difference between a Melbourne street or one in Milan for that matter.
What gives each place the character that is discernable in the context of sound, is more
often than not, the people that create these environments themselves... and at the heart
of people is communication, and at it's apex is the imperfect medium of language. A friend
once remarked that "language is dead", but in sound and in listening we may yet rekindle
that which many in the so called civilised world have come to dread... wonder!
It was a warm Monday afternoon when I left the studio to walk the several blocks to Lygon Street. I hadn’t done this one for a while so I was prepared for a kind of Lygon Street refresher.
Lygon Street - resilient despite the emergence of the mall, poker machines, questionable cafes and inflated real estate. Life here has the appearance of being vibrant, more stimulating, but in lesser amounts. Perhaps it’s the illusion of public place created by the extended footpaths which are home to the latte fixated patrons of the numerous cafes and restaurants that seduce the passerby.
La Mama is powering with eccentric will, propelled by its own presence and the vortex of expression and creativity it is host to. It’s a perfect day for sound.
After leaving La Mamas I was drawn to Tiamo’s - coffee, time out, observing the process of energetic pastimes or a comfortable nook. Tiamos displays these and other fine attributes of the Italian café I had come to enjoy.
A photo of a young, moustached Paul Hogan in a turban beams at the bar seated clientele. A smile from a this man’s youthful past, a brief encounter with Melbourne on his stairway to Hollywood.
The coffee is rich and aromatic, tasteful without a hint of milk despite the latte I have clenched before me. That’s how I like it - with body - a perfect blend of fluids. A fine brew and well worth the walk from Smith Street. Next stop Brunswick Street. I’ll photograph the Planet Café, Punters Club… tired already.
Tiamos - cups, plates and spoons shuffled hurriedly away in their worn out trays, shelves and containers - the staff weave about like dancers, performing repetitive tasks with grace and precision. Time to go…
Damn! The agony of the sound artist is finding the recorder on pause. Regrettably, another coffee, stomach palpitations… I know I won’t recapture the owner singing, the banter and exchanges that were so engaging between staff and clientele… It’s a pity… the singing was to be the most exciting part of listening back to these tapes… he’s changed the menu and left the bar for the kitchen.
A quarter of the way into the second coffee and I’m feeling mellow. I recall this mood from Sydney, sitting at Café Black or the Bookshop Café - that feeling of uncertainty and dread, of thoughtfulness and fear. These were the moments I found comfort in Satre’s early writings, but these days I can barely read a chapter of Iron in the Soul. In some ways I’ve changed little, just oppressed myself more…
After leaving Tiamos I took some photos of Jimmy Watsons, perhaps one of the finest wine bars
in Melbourne. It has a tradition of being host to the city’s literary community, some of which
had carved out their names in the interior woodwork of the bar. A soundscape over lunch would be
one to keep in mind.
I headed down to Brunswick Street via Johnston, the specter of the Carlton housing commission apartments to my left. I recall first coming to Melbourne people telling me of the suicides there and of the baby that had fallen or been thrown. It survived a three story drop. Others didn’t.
Johnston Street is infamous for Melbourne’s Spanish quarter, once raw and fecund, vital and daring, now tainted by discos appealing more to the bored middle-class. You won’t find many Spanish speaking people here on a Friday or Saturday night. Most have headed to the new music barrios on Smith Street.
Once on Brunswick Street I dropped in on Paul Elliot, founder of Polyester Books and scored
a great interview. Clearly street (e)scape needn’t stop at GATEways. Everyone I meet unshackles
yet another hidden history, the few that remember them and reminds me of the short time that
remains for so many precious memories to be forgotten.
I completed these notes whilst sat in the Mama Vittoria Café on Smith Street. The café is home to Melbourne’s best known pasta family with the graceful and generous matriarch, Vittoria Tonin at the helm.
The café started off as a pasta house, the rear of the premises a pasta factory of unequal quality. I recall three tables max, great coffee and the most tasteful and filling foccacias ever. Two years ago, maybe less, they expanded. Hot pasta is now served for lunch, gleeful faces preparing food and coffees, Robert, Mammas eldest, presiding over the entire operation with his Cheshire face, human and boistress cheek.
I come here for the clatter and warmth that one can only find in the remnant memory of families
long gone by. Robert offered to tell me a few stories, but this would have to wait for an extended
street (e)scape. I know he will have much to tell and I would want to listen - this time without
pause on hold!
|About the Composer|
Andrew Garton is a sound and media explorer who also works on community networking and online publishing initiatives.
In recent years Garton has merged his Internet activities with his interest in computer-based music systems. He has been commissioned to create numerous networked sound pieces and installations, both streaming and generative compositions.
Garton is co-founder of the Web production house, Toy Satellite, principal artist of Secession Records, and a director of Community Communications Online (c2o), a member of the UN affiliated Association for Progressive Communications.
Garton performs solo and collaborative works under the names, lost_time_accident, Speed Vinyl,
Fierce Throat and the Electro Pathological Consort.