After the past month in residence over with the locals of Campos de Gutierrez in Colombia (foothills of the Andes), gigs at Plazartes and La Mantana que Pience in Colombia, and excavating under their studio floorboards in search of gold, music /spoken-word duo Finnigan and Brother — Chris (guitar / FX) and David (words / radio) are psyched to be showcasing their new material as part of Something Else.
Scissors Paper Pen caught David at 2:22am, pre-transit home to Canberra in Buenos Aires airport, and sat him down for a chat about brothers, Solar System, and all the gravity in between.
David Finnigan: Well in the longer scheme of things we’ve been collaborating for the last 10-15 years in some capacity, but in a music/poetry sense for the last five. Chris was playing guitar and I was doing performance of the theatre kind, and then we linked up in several bands / performance ensembles (Fight Fire With Knives in 2007, with Muttley and Nickamc and Reuben Ingall, among others, and Diplodocus with Paul Heslin), but we became Finnigan and Brother when we were misnamed that at a Multicultural Fringe Festival gig we were playing at in 09.
What it’s been like this last few weeks, though – well alright, so we’ve been staying in an artist space in the foothills of the Andes, just above a Colombian city called Medellin. Medellin has a reputation for massive violence and a huge drug problem – it was the home of Pablo Escobar, head of a massive cocaine cartel – which was the result of a whole raft of factors in the 60s-90s, leading to its popular appellation of ‘The City of Death’ (thanks, The Guardian). Over the last 5-6 years, this whole culture of violence and strife has massively turned around, and the city is transforming into something very new, very different and very exciting. And we were lucky enough to be in the midst of that. Which was exciting.
So in this context, our working process was something like:
- get out of bed, watch the dawn fog over medellin and listen to the reggaeton and cumbia echoing up the valleys from the churches and houses in the barrio below
- play with the cat, the dog and the cow
- head down to the studio and work on new music – I would write and improvise sketches, chris would compose new sounds to go around them
- lunch break, hang with the other artists (from the USA, Puerto Rico, France, India, the UK) about their projects, share ideas and debate the world
- edit, revise, rework the poems and stories from the morning, chris would tighten and tweak the compositions
- back to the studio, rehearsing and recording the new material for the day, rehearsing all our existing songs
- and then catching a bus down the hill into town, to check out a gallery opening or play a gig (we ended up playing four in our month there), seeing reclaimed art spaces in the commercial district, community spaces in poor barrios in the foothills, hanging with colombian artists
- catch a late night cab back to Campos and dig on the taxi driver’s particular slice of salsa, reggaeton, cumbia, villanuerte, tango or hiphop
- sleep, repeat.
The joy of working like this is that it was dedicated, focused creation. Chris and I have always worked together, but usually in stolen hours here and there, late at night or in a crowded house, in between other projects or around working hours. And that’s fine, and we’ve had lots of great moments come out of those minutes here and there. But suddenly working full-time, totally focused on just this one thing, and all this unexpected stuff came out. We produced a lot more material than we anticipated, we played more concerts than we expected, and we even had the opportunity to work on recording video content. So there’s some kind of crazy lesson there about, the collaborations you have up your sleeve, what can happen if you give them the time and energy they deserve.
By a massive stroke of luck, we were able to convince Michaela Dabson to come join us for our final week. Michaela’s a NSW-based theatre designer who’s previously worked with me on the Crack Theatre Festival and You Are Here festival, and she came to help us with our filming, photography and staging our final two gigs. Which was a major blessing in that it allowed Chris to focus wholly on the music and me to focus wholly on the words.
DF: On the one hand it’s incredibly simple, it’s just poetry set to music, but on the other hand it’s poetry which comes out of music, sounds used to colour and inform story, and abstract audio plays with a live soundtrack.
Content-wise, what we’re performing are a selection of new pieces that have arisen out of our stay in Colombia and working in that context. Some of them are personal reflections that arose from having a period of contemplation (one of them is about taking our cat to the vets to have her put to sleep), and others are more directly about Medellin history and culture, filtered through the lens of our (naive) outsider perspective.
One of these is called Psychic Radio. It’s a composition for guitar, voice and FM/AM radio, which emerged from a story we heard about gang violence in the 90s in our area of Medellin about one of the ways in which the drug cartels blatantly demonstrated their power to the citizens of the city, and the psychic code of ethics. Which is a thing, I learned recently – in Australia, psychics are obliged to adhere to a code of ethics which includes: you can’t tell people when they’re going to die, you can tell people what’s going to happen but you can’t influence people’s behaviour (by for instance selling love potions). Did you know about this? I did not! And those two stories combined into this piece, which was one of the more successful pieces for Colombian audiences.
However, the nice thing has been that while we’ve been working on these new pieces, we’ve had this Something Else gig in our minds, so there’s been one or two tracks that we’ve been working on specifically for the SPP audience and the Smiths Bookshop setting. And we’re very fucking excited, to put it mildly.
SPP: Would you recommend a Youtube/Vimeo link to us and explain your selection?
DF: We’re a few weeks away from having all the material from our Campos de Gutierrez residency recorded and uploaded to the web, but if anyone is curious about our previous work, you are welcome to click on this link and have a listen to Solar System Play, a live radio play we performed on FBI Radio in Sydney in 2010. It’s the story of how earth escaped from the sun’s orbit and fled from the solar system into the dark, and it contains the true story of how the moon was formed, set to some of Chris’ finest oldschool psych guitar.
(Warning, this link takes you straight to an mp3 download of about 14mb – in 1996 this would have been unimaginable, in 2012 I hope you can roll with it because this is the FUTURE guys no fear ever)