Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Al Fraser has been described as the foremost taonga puoro player of his generation, that is someone who plays and explores the sounds of traditional Maori instruments.
In recent years he has also been making them.
Over a series of albums and in collaborations, he has taken the evocative and sometimes primeval sounds of these instruments into sonic landscapes, and on his most recent album Panthalassa (with Sam Leamy and Neil Johnstone) into the underwater world before the dawn of Mankind.
At times his music seems located in the space between worlds where time is suspended and there is neither dark nor light.
The instruments, sometimes with electronic manipulation or placed within the context of other similarly evocative instrumentation, conjure up emotional as much as physical states.
His work is quite remarkable and on the release of the Panthalassa album Elsewhere is pleased to offer him this questionnaire designed for sonic innovators.
The first piece of music which really affected you was . .
I was lucky enough to have Poi E hit when I was 9, which showed me that NZers could make NZ music and get to number 1. Mind blown.
I also heard Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley at about the same time.
Your first role models in experimental music were
Matua Richard Nunns, Jeff Henderson, Chris O’Connor, Patrick Bleakly, Tom Callwood. I’d listen to them at The Space in Newtown in the late 1990’s.
Did you grow up listening to rock music, and if so who or what bands when you were 14?
Not so much rock music, I started off listening to my Dad’s 1950’s rock n roll records. The Beatles and David Bowie were on constant repeat by my two older brothers in my house around that age as well as some Dunedin bands...Straight Jacket Fits etc. I was also starting to listen to old blues guys …Jimmy Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James and John Lee Hooker.
If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .
Acoustic Archaeologist and pounamu carver.
The three pieces of innovative music from any period (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .
Become Ocean – John Luther Adams
Utterance – Long, Nunns, Mann
Te Kū Te Whē– Melbourne, Nunns
Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia or instruments at home ..
Interesting: My new pahū pounamu – pounamu gong.
Strange: I have a collection of 17th-19thcentury crotal bells.
Valuable: Not telling
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
Singing Treasures by Matua Brian Flintoff. It is an absolutely essential read for anyone interested in ngā taonga pūoro and New Zealand music.
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be?
Ariana Tikao, Bridget Douglas, Phil Boniface, Sam Leamy, Neil Johnstone, Erika Grant, Jake Church, Steve Burridge. People who I’m playing with right now are fantastic to play with. Big ears and big hearts.
The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
The New Zealand Wars – James Belich
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include…).
Recent downloads – April Is The CruelestMonth – Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit
Apollo – Atmospheres and Soundtracks – Brian Eno
CD – Te Kōtare - Waiata
One piece of mainstream pop music, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
Down By The River - Neil Young
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
My own album cover – Toitū Te Pūoro. The cover art is a photograph by Tony Bridge of ice bubbles at Coal Pit Dam, Naseby. It’s a galaxy within itself.
You are allowed just two albums of any genre to take on a month-long retreat, they are . . .
A Library of Congress Compilation Box Set (is that cheating?)
Te Kū Te Whē– Nunns, Melbourne
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where and doing what?
Exploring, camping and tramping through Te Waipounamu with my family is top of the list.. Walk more of the Camino De Santiago, this time through Portugal and from Seville. I hope I’d find some time to help other people in some way before I popped it and maybe do some gigs, create more music and plant some trees. I’d also invent a time machine and explore the multiverse.
People often speak of certain instrumental pieces as “music for imaginary films”. Is there a piece of your music you could say would fit perfectly in THAT film?
Any NZ ‘cinema of unease’ film would be a good fit for much of my music, so I’m told. I agree.