Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #17 - September 2008
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Hello, kia ora and welcome to the last Asni: harps & imagination newsletter!

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In this newsletter:

order CD *** listen *** Travelguide to Middle-earth now updated

THAT GORGEOUS TRIPLE HARP IS STILL FOR SALE! - click here for more information

Oh and btw, don't worry, there will be more newsletters, but with a new title and new format in the future!

images © Dominika Zielinska


Well, it's done. After about eight weeks of hard work, long hours and sleepless nights preparing and planning and promoting my CD launch at Happy, the big day has come and gone. Dominika Zielinska, who has been helping me some with my preparations, has taken some gorgeous photos of the event, and one of our rehearsals – have a look here. Dominika is working on building a career as a professional photographer for herself, and she's particularly interested in taking photos of events - have a look here for some of her other work. So if you're looking for someone talented, reliable, competent and totally supportive to take photos at your gig, give her a call! She's given me permission to post her mobile number here: 021 366 859 (that's in New Zealand of course). Or contact her through the Obscure website!

And while I'm talking about my support crew, I would also like to give big thanks and kudos to Rebecca Gray, a budding writer and social researcher who's given me a big hand with my media releases, not to mention helping out with the ticket and CD sales on the day. I met her when she was working on this project, and she's also a fellow harper!

images © Dominika Zielinska

Two things made this show a real treat for me. The first was working with Tahu – Henare Walmsley and Mike Hogan. Both of them – especially Henare – made themselves generously available for rehearsals, and I learned a whole lot about taonga puoro, and how to work with them, in the process! Much as I have come to appreciate the special processes and challenges involved in performing solo, generating everything out of oneself and the interaction with the audience, at heart I am an ensemble player. It is just so much more fun to bounce ideas off each other on stage, and it becomes a multi-layered interaction involving the audience as well. We even came up with a short set of improvised pieces at the end of the show – unfortunately, it being a weeknight and a rather lengthy programme, by that time a lot of people had had to leave! All the more reason to do it again sometime, perhaps.

Tahu started the evening off with a meditative set of their own, which set just the right tone for the night – and it was a special privilege to have Henare recite a karakia (prayer) both at the opening and the end of the show. I have written more at length about their music in my last newsletter – and if you haven’t yet, do pay a visit to their beautiful website. I still have a couple of their CDs left in my shop, if you’d like to order one and hear for yourself, please go here.

images © Dominika Zielinska

The other part I felt really happy about was that I did manage, in a last minute endeavour, to put together a video background projection, composed of my own still photos, sketches, and a few bits of video footage. It looked great and added a whole extra dimension to the performance. Here is a snippet from the video recording of the show (which I did more for my own reference than to publish it, really) – I will be posting more in the Travelguide to Middle-earth, so keep your eyes peeled! The whole thing, of course, is about an hour and a half long, and moves rather slowly since it wasn’t supposed to take too much attention away from the live performance. But I plan to use some of it as basis for a couple of music videos, if and when I find the time.

images © Dominika Zielinska

For a Tuesday night at a small and offbeat venue like Happy, the turnout was reasonable – but a huge crowd it was not. Seeing that this gig was also marking my official retirement from actively trying to be a full time performer, I had sent out a great number of personal invitations, and a good many friends came along – thank you all for making the time, and I hope you enjoyed the show! But it was good to see that there were also people who weren’t my friends or friends of friends – this is why we do these things, is to increase the fan base. :D

Publicity-wise, it was not quite what I had hoped for – the best thing about it was getting a front page feature on, and an interview on RadioActive. The latter were very supportive and even chose one of my tracks to put under their event listings that day. A nice change from the more mainstream media, who unanimously chose to ignore me. But hey, I’m off to do something else in the future anyway – can’t force a good thing down someone’s throat, though I do occasionally wonder why I was given a residency permit on account of my musical prowess in the first place, since no one here seems to particularly want my skills or knowledge or experience. After hanging in here for a good five years, my overwhelming impression is that many of the decision makers in the music scene in this country are too doggedly provincial in their outlook to take advantage of what their government (quite rightly, I believe) thinks would be good for the culture in this country (like, knowing what's going on in other parts of the world), and what people like myself are more than willing to contribute, if anyone could be bothered to take us up on that offer. We would need to be fed in return, though. Well, by now I am entitled to receive unemployment benefit, so I guess I can’t complain.

Frustrating though some of this may be, after putting in all this work and coming up with what I think is actually a really nice show, I am having thoughts of putting it on again in the Wellington Fringe Festival next February. I will let you know if and when that is going to happen! Small steps, is what they say.

images © Dominika Zielinska


One important thing that this project did provide for me, is closure. It is not an easy thing to give up on aspirations and a career that have kept me busy for the last twenty-five years, and have enabled me to travel half the globe, meet and work with people that, growing up, I never thought I’d have a chance to meet, settle in the country of my choice, and gather a whole lot of wonderful, extraordinary, enriching experiences along the way. It’s been a hard road, and ultimately one where some of my most basic needs just weren’t met (such as actually making an income), but it has come with some fringe benefits attached that aren’t accessible to most people. I am grateful for that. It has been time well spent. But now it is time to move on and focus on something else.

I can’t believe what a feeling of relief it has been, those past couple of weeks, to know that now I am free to spend my time developing a number of projects that have absolutely nothing to do with harps. Some of them are just sketchy outlines, and it’s too early to even talk about them in public. Some will involve music in some form – but not as a performer (unless punching tunes into Garageband counts as performing). All of them, however, will involve my fancy new Macbook Pro (also known as “My Precioussssss”). I guess in a way it’s just a change of instrument … but the possibitities of what one can create on a Macbook are just vastly more varied than what one can create on a harp. Let’s face it.

One of my first and most urgent priorities, of course, is to generate some income. Apart from keeping an eye on the job market and submitting applications when appropriate (the last one was for a fancy music theory lectureship at the University of Auckland, actually) – I have delved head-on into a couple of design projects. Simple things, to begin with – like a contact card for a friend I met at the “Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment” (PACE in short) seminar, which I finally got to attend last week after some struggle to get put on the programme in the first place, obvious though it may seem to anyone who can read and understand my CV. Sometimes I get the feeling that the people at Work and Income don’t actually possess that skill. (But hey, no bitching, they feed me.) I charged her twenty bucks and I really enjoyed the job - I learned a few things about interacting with clients, and I didn’t work for free. So far, so good.

The rest of the year is likely to be devoted mostly to various website projects. Apart from my own website, which is still awaiting its long announced and desperately needed update, I am also going to build a site for a musician friend in Europe – same deal as with the contact cards, charge her ridiculously cheap and learn a lot about how to work on a professional project, including finding out how much I do need to charge to cover my time and expenses.

It looks like there will also be some work for me on the WIFT (Women in Film and Television) Wellington website – I’ve recently become a member, and volunteered to do some small updates on the site. It’s a good way to get involved, and use my skills for something useful. There seem to be some politics attached to that project though – well, aren’t there always? But hopefully it will all get sorted out, and it’s just as well I get some experience dealing with that sort of thing, anyway. I’ll keep you posted about the progress of all three projects, of course.

After that, I hope to delve more fully into developing my animation and modelling craft. The little Tiki man I designed and animated during my multimedia course was a rousing success with my fellow unemployed artists at the PACE seminar, and I feel it’s a project I should really spend some work on. I’m currently on the lookout for some potential collaborators – a writer, to tell me what the little fellow actually does all day, and someone who is knowledgeable about Maori culture and makes sure that I don’t step on too many people’s toes along the way. Did anyone mention politics? Contrary to popular belief, the arts are a political minefield, I tell ya.

There are also some fledgling plans to travel to Europe next year. At the moment I am aiming for August/September 2009, with a view to going in search of my family roots in Estonia with my mother, and taking my video camera along. There’s also a possibility in the air of another Rent a Nightingale revival gig or two. I never said that I would never play the harp again.

check here for: new art & multimedia work * workshops and courses

images © Dominika Zielinska


So much about my own projects. I’ve been too busy those last couple of months to participate extensively in cultural events around town, but I would like to mention that I finally got to see Apron Strings – another great kiwi movie that premiered at this year’s New Zealand Film Festival, but which I didn’t manage to see at the time. I did manage to attend the question and answer session, organized by the very active Wellington chapter of WIFT, with director Sima Urale. She said a lot of things during that session which I could very much relate to – and I had a remarkably nice time going out for drinks and a meal with her and some of the other WIFTees afterwards - so I’d been really curious to see her movie. Luckily it did get a run in some of the theatres around Wellington, so I made a point to catch it, and am I ever so glad I did!

It’s a story about food and families – and I was hooked from the opening shot, a poetic play of colour and shape which, after focusing in and panning out, turns out to be a close-up of some Indian sweets frying in an oil pan. The plot focuses on the multi-ethnic community of small food store and restaurant owners in an Auckland suburb – in particular, the families attached to an Indian eatery, and to a traditional Anglo-New Zealand cake shop. It is amazing what a range of relevant issues and subtle to intense emotions the filmmakers were able address and tease out of that seemingly commonplace setup. As I always say, the most exciting stories tend to happen right on your doorstep, if you only care to look.

It’s also very unusual to have a movie plot whose main interest is not a love story, not a heroic quest of some sort, but the relationships within families – particularly mothers to their children. Food plays a big part in that relationship, and the movie celebrates it in shots of stunning beauty and richness. The two interlaced family stories touched quite a few strings with me, and I happily cried myself through most of the second half of the movie. You don’t have to do that – it’s not that tragic, really! – but do go and watch it if you ever get the chance. I hear the movie has been selected – very deservedly – for the Toronto Film Festival, so hopefully it will have a bit of an international run in the festival and art house circuit – and there’s always the old DVD. Actually, perhaps I should find out if they’ve been made yet, and put them in my shop! Now there’s an idea.

Arohanui, from Asni

images © Dominika Zielinska

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last updated: 30 September, 2008