Bookends and Chair Backs: A Busy Few Weeks

When do you get time to read? I mean really read: novels, poetry, fiction – not just the labels on food products, or the minutes of the last committee meeting that you and I dozed through?

I’d like to say that I’ve finished reading two books in the past fortnight: What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing (by Brian Seibert), and The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory (by John Seabrook), but I’ve had only time to skim them. The good news is that even skimming revealed a great deal I never knew.

I learned that songwriters and performers of hit songs often work together on a song from different ends of the globe. They may have never even met, and never will. Writing factories have become the norm: high-pressure pop think tanks where a deep-pocketed rock god or goddess (Beyonce’s name is mentioned in the literature) convenes creative tribes of producers, composers and lyricists in hotels and studios for days on end. Every permutation is tested out; every single beat, chord progression, anthemic chorus, or what the industry calls “track and hook”, is sent out simultaneously to potential collaborators. After the edited material is returned, the producer and the performers choose what they want: a verse from one collaborator, a chorus from another, or an instrumental bridge from a third. It’s the ultimate digital brainstorming, but no different in some ways from the sort of ideas-sharing and intellect-sourcing promoted now by

Years ago I attended a weekend-long workshop at an eminent university in Europe and the convenors set us the rather daring task of co-writing a book by Sunday evening. In pairs we grafted and drafted. It was all a bit mad, a sort of academic boot camp, kept motivated by competitive company, caffeine, and citation count. Never again, even if it was destined to be a best-seller, which it definitely was not.

In the meantime when I’m not skimming the pages of the New York Review of Books stacking up ideas for lectures I don’t have time to give, I’ve had the pleasure of giving speeches of welcome to all our new students and staff. I’ve also had the joy of opening the fabulous exhibition, 100 Chairs in the Design Hub and the richly provocative video work by Richard Bell in the RMIT Gallery. I’ve hosted a great lecture on geodata by a new professor and launched Sustainability Week 2016. You’ll be glad to know the lyrics were different for each speech and I “sang” a different chorus to each event. Although it has to be said my singing is rather like my speeches, invariably done without notes…