In the garden of an old wooden house in Droop Street Footscray, silky chickens roost in a profusion of green vegetables. A glaxy of artistic activists live in the house, including banjo-playing vocalist Kiah Dennerstein and partner Lachie Keller who plays electric bass. With drummer Robbie Smith, who lives further down Droop St, the three are a music collaboration called LUNAR FLARES.
LUNAR FLARES is three activist-musicians from Footscray who self-describe as “a dissonant drone collective, creating dense, ambient soundscapes”. Ambient means atmospheric or ethereal music that reflects or relates to the immediate surroundings of something. Since hearing about the troubles in West Papua, Lunar Flares ‘something’ has become LIBERATION and SELF-DETERMINATION. These are big themes for the musical mind. How, for instance, should they, as the atomic nuclei of composition, sound? How do you actually play ‘liberation’ on a five-string banjo? One might even wonder if self-determination can be music? Or is it better left in its more recognizable form as a carriage for identity politics and sustainability?
Kia Dennerstein, Lachie Keller, and Robbie Smith are natural lovers of the grounded abstract. And self-determination within West Papua means independence. The Papuans were working towards it when the Netherlands ruled their land, but much more vigorously since the United Nations, spruiked by Indonesia and the United States, over-rode this fundamental right and set up an Indonesian administration. Consequently when Lunar Flares says it’s singing up freedom, it’s reflecting what the INDIGENOUS MELANESIANS WANT AND NEED IF THEY ARE TO SURVIVE BEYOND 2020 AS MORE THAN A ‘DWINDLING MINORITY POPULATION’.
Lunar Flares first act of solidarity was Free West Papua: building the musical architecture and then hosting an open-house jam session for their friends to learn and develop it. The catchy liberation anthem is opening the SAMPARI MUSIC gig in the ACU Art Gallery in Fitzroy on SATURDAY 10 DECEMBER 2016, alongside the Melanesian classic Akaibi Pemere (Black Orchid String Band) that immortalises the funeral scene in ABC-TV’s popular crime thriller THE CODE.
Composing a catchy freedom song is one thing; writing and performing an extended essay on self-determination is something altogether different. While the Papuans indigenous cultures are rich and colourful, and arc back a long way in mythological time and space, their present homeland, Indonesianized since 1963, is a dark place, putrefied by the worst of human behaviour. Kiah, who regularly visits the Maribyrnong Detention Centre (where asylum seekers rejected by our government are locked up) believes DARKNESS IS A REALITY, WE HAVE TO CONFRONT IT. Only West Papuans know the real price paid for confronting the evilness that shadows their lives, but Lunar Flares has now put up its hand, offered to share the load, and also promised to transcribe the experience to music. Courage and skill “working for the possibility of a reality that we can’t see” (that’s Kiah’s yoga mantra).
Below is a recent interview, where Dr Joe Toscano, Australia’s most enduring and successful political activists, explores how Kiah’s formative years shaped and didn’t shape the way she sees the world and her ambition to deal with the huge problems confronting her generation.
KIAH DENNERSTEIN, Radical Australia, 3CR Radio, Melbourne, 10 August 2016
BRIAN ENO used ‘ambient’ to describe the genre of music he helped pioneer in the 1970s. The Latin root of ambient is ambire, to surround, and the new music composers then were primarily concerned with creating an atmosphere that would shift their listener to a different state of mind. Remember Music for Airports? Dark side of the Moon? Loved by the Sun? Four decades later, the genre might look and sound different but it has managed to retain its key focus. Canada’s GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR for example, which happens to be a huge inspiration for Lunar Flares, still worries about what we, the world, are doing to us and our environment. A recent blogger wrote “If I could broadcast something endlessly into space it would be GYBE …. nothing else so fully explains humanity to me, you just hold on.”
For KIA, LACHIE, ROBBIE, composing helps them transpose their anger about Australia’s apathy to the plight of West Papuans to quiet reflection on the justice and freedom they deserve. The Lunar Flare sound isn’t hard, it’s tonal, it isn’t loud, it’s urgent, it doesn’t use many words, it just encourages you to think about the dreadful predicament of our nearest neighbours.
LUNAR FLARES is a cathartic sense of self-expression, a medium for pushing a message about positive social change and positive internal change; for expressing a general dissatisfaction with aspects of social justice, including the right to a sense of place and belonging and all the responsibilities that entails [LACHIE KELLER]
Lunar Flares will demonstrate its capacity to create a meditative space (‘a sound for people to fall into’) in the ACU Art Gallery on THURSDAY 8 DECEMBER 2016 when it opens the debate SHOULD WEST PAPUA BE INDEPENDENT? with a sonic exposition of the main themes. The debate featuring the Melbourne University Debating Society (MUDS) creates space for leading representatives of the millennial generation to express their views about our Melanesian and our Indonesian neighbours, and haggle about the price they are prepared to pay for justice peace and love in our region.
OUTSIDERS have tended to view the West Papuans as far too primitive to act as the mature, rights-bearing subjects of popular sovereignty that liberal thinkers place at the heart of the modern nation form [Danilyn Rutherford “Why Papua wants freedom: the third person in contemporary nationalism” Public Culture Vol. 20 No. 2, Duke University Press]
LUNAR FLARES ‘You’ve one too’
(note there is a very soft 60-second exposition on electric bass at the beginning of this recording)
more Lunar Flares tracks at https://soundcloud.com/user-467651245
SAMPARI ART EXHIBITION & SALE FOR WEST PAPUA
ACU ART GALLERY, 26 BRUNSWICK ST, FITZROY, 2-11 DECEMBER 2016
Forums and Events in the Gallery during Sampari Exhibition
Sampari Poetry, Saturday 3 December 2016 : 1-3.30pm
Melanesian Culture Day, Sunday 4 December 2016 : 1-3.30pm
Debate: Should West Papua be independent?, Thursday 8 December 2016 : 6-8pm
Film: Mark Worth’s Land of the Morning Star, Friday 9 December 2016: 6-8pm
Sampari Music, Saturday 10 December 2016 : 1-3.30pm
West Papua Rent Collective Christmas Party, Sunday 11 December 2016 : 1-3.30pm
INQUIRIES FRWP Womens’ Office, Federal Republic of West Papua, Suite 211, 838 Collins St, Docklands, Victoria; TEL (03) 9049 9509; EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org