The 50-minute immersive features sounds recorded in the natural world, excerpts from the interviews, and music composed by James Henry. It is something of an oral history, appropriately for a people whose stories have been passed down in that same way from generation to generation.
Browning sees the box as something of a time machine and says it provides a transportative experience. “It is possible to go in there and forget yourself. Not to escape necessarily but to inhabit another space,” he says. “Think of it as a meditation and a reverie, a little bit of a dream.”
He says the Seasons project is all about the Kulin seasons. “The experiences of all the different clans and all that biodiversity and all that plant and animal life. How their lives were predicated on the movement of the seasons. Their bodies moved with the seasons, so in essence it’s about that rhythm of life.”
“What I’ve discovered is that seasonal knowledge was the key to life. You couldn’t live on country without reference to what was happening in the waterways, deep in the bush and even in the sky.”
The concept of deep-listening can seem foreign in our over-stimulated, noisy modern world. Tellingly, many Indigenous languages have words for different types of listening. “In Ngukurr in the Northern Territory, in Wurundjeri, there’s a word for deep listening, in Yorta Yorta, there’s a word for this very fixed, attentive way of approach, of how you approach your interpersonal relationships.”
Sound and the absence of a visual image allow imagination to take flight. The richness of the human voice is exemplified through the project, the timbre and nuance and character of the individual speaking.
The lighting, designed by Karen Norris, takes its cues from the environment, says Browning. “Colours that correspond with the seasons, so autumn you might have a burnt orange or deep high summer. When we’re talking about the silver wattle, the nights need to be a kind of silver, corresponding with certain flowers, the yam daisy purple.”
Designed to be mobile, the Blak Box’s the program of sound is different every time it goes to a new place. There have been two iterations in Sydney, at last year’s Sydney Festival at Barangaroo and in Blacktown about the dialogue between generations of Indigenous people.
“The dream would be to take it to all parts of the country and see it in really diverse landscapes and try to tell the story of that country with the artists from that country,” says Browning. “There’s so much poetry in our languages and for me these projects are always about hearing our languages spoken and absorbing that poetry and metaphor and meaning. Our languages embody so much of us.”
“For me there is nothing more respectful than when you listen intently to someone. Listen without the expectation of speaking.”
SEASONS in Blak Box is at the Royal Botanic Gardens from March 6–April 5.