Q&A: Mutiny Music (Rick Robertson & Baecastuff)

by John Hardaker

Mutiny Music is a moving and evocative suite of music written by Rick Robertson and performed by Baecastuff. The piece is based on the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty and the descendants of the mutineers and their Polynesian wives who escaped the wrath of the British navy by hiding away on Pitcairn Island and developing their own language and culture. It incorporates Polynesian rhythms, traditional melodies and language samples. The band takes these fragments and ideas and builds harmonic and rhythmic platforms on which to improvise and tell the story in their own unique way. Rick is baecastuffa Pitcairn Descendant so this is the story of his ancestors.

“The players are amongst the finest improvisers alive yet the piece itself was the star” John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald

In the lead-up to Baecastuff’s performance of Mutiny Music on January 29 at Sydney’s 505, John Hardaker asked Rick a few questions about this remarkable suite of music.

1. Rick, you are a descendant of the Pitcairn islanders, so this suite is close to your soul. What was the spark that lead to you writing Mutiny Music?

I’d heard about a recording made on Norfolk Island in 1954 of a group of islanders singing a few Hymns in the traditional way. There were only a few copies pressed by the ABC and it took months to find one. I can remember listening to it for the first time and the tears were rolling down my cheeks. A few years later I was asked to do a soundscape for a Cyclorama on Norfolk which depicted the voyage of the Bounty and the history of the Pitcairn people. At that point I thought that I could write a piece that could be performed live that drew upon the history, music and culture of the Pitcairn and Norfolk Islanders.

2. What is it particularly about the Pitcairn culture that stands out as unique to you?

The circumstances under which the culture developed are fascinating.

A few British sailors, led by Fletcher Christian, put their Captain in a longboat and sail back to Tahiti where they pick up a dozen women and a few Tahitian men and head back to sea to find somewhere to hide. After nearly 12 months at sea they find the wrongly charted and uninhabited Pitcairn Island. Two very different cultures living very closely together with no outside influences led to some very interesting outcomes. 10 years later when they were finally discovered there was only one surviving Englishman, a dozen Polynesian women and a bunch of kids. They were pretty much left alone for the next 70 years in which time they developed a very distinctive language and a unique culture.

3. You use samples of the spoken Pitcairn language in the suite. Why did you decide to incorporate these?

Language is a very important part of any culture and the Pitcairn/Norfolk language is a very musical one. Apart from the hymns very little of the musical culture was recorded. I found some recordings made in 1956 of spoken word and realised that the lyrical way in which the Islanders spoke could be transcribed and used as themes. So I guess it serves two purposes. It highlights and exposes the language and it provides thematic musical ideas.

4. You play with many ensembles, all of them exceptional musicians. What made you choose Baecastuff to present the suite?

Baecastuff is a Norfolk word and I’ve been working with this band for 16 years. I guess we’ve really developed something of our own over a long period of time and I really admire and trust all the guys. They are also the most creative musicians I’ve ever worked with so it wasn’t really a hard decision. I have thought about doing the show with strings and vocalists but that may be for the future.

5. Do we have a recording of ‘Mutiny Music’ to look forward to in future?

I’ve just received an Arts Council Grant to record the music. We’ll be in the studio at the end of February. Very much looking forward to it. I guess we’ll have a CD out in a few months. It will definitely help us get the show onto the international stage.

6. What are your thoughts on current music: jazz in particular and music in general?

There is so much music around these days it’s hard to keep up. I make a conscious effort to listen to new music and keep my ears open but I’ve still got a lot of music that I’ve downloaded that I haven’t listened to more than once. I have teenage kids who love music with a passion so I hear what they are listening to. Some of it I like, most of it I don’t but there’s always something to listen to within the track, whether its the vocal production or the massive bottom end. As far as current jazz goes there’s a bunch of artists who continue to push the barriers and it’s about going to the venue and hearing them live. That’s as current as it gets.

Listen

Here’s one of the songs from Mutiny Music kindly provided by Rick Robertson. It’s called ‘Hue Hue’.  Thanks Rick!

http://australianjazz.net/audio/Huehue-Rick-Mix-D&B.mp3

And you can here Baecastuff perform Mutiny Music at Venue 505 in Sydney on Wednesday 29 January – 8.30pm @ Venue 505

Personnel

Rick Robertson – saxophones
Phil Slater – trumpet
Matt McMahon – piano
Alexander Hewetson – bass
Simon Barker – drums
Aykho Akhrif – percussion

Links

Baecastuff on the web – www.baecastuff.com.au

Venue 505 –www.venue505.com/music

John Hardaker also publishes on his own blog site – Words About Musics

The picture of Mutiny on the Bounty at the top of this Q&A came from WikipediaThis imageis in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.