On 17 April, I saw and heard, Airwaves, 100 Years of Radio by Topology and Loops. I didn’t know what to expect on the night.

Airwaves begins with the advent of radio in 1901, when Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal, the letter s (dit dit dit) transmitted from Poldhu Cornwall to St John’s Newfoundland.  The advertising for this performance told us that:

  • Topology and Loops celebrate both the medium and the century, looking back over key events and people by means of recordings of radio broadcasts of voices. These broadcasts have been used to make ‘voice portraits’ – finding the characteristic musical qualities of each speaker and then emphasising and underscoring them with instrumental accompaniment.

The events captured in the program took us on a roller coaster ride through 100 years of history, with footage relating to each event projected on screen, behind the musicians.  At times I was so engrossed in the footage that I was oblivious to the soundscape, so well did it capture and wrap around the ‘feeling” of a myriad of historical moments that were representative of the culture and attitudes of the times. There were moments of joy, humour, tragedy and inspiration. I was reminded of the Australian Voices rendition of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, a striking example of the musicality of language, composed by Robert Davidson.

Some of the events in this program, I anticipated would be included, for example The Dismissal of 1975.  Who could celebrate 100 years of radio without including that major turning point in Australian political history?   What I didn’t anticipate, was the clever musical treatment of that event, with Whitlam’s “Well may we say God Save the Queen” commentary morphing into a looped waltz.

The program ranges across some important moments of history across the world, the impacts of war, the end of the British Empire, the Cuban missile crisis. But it returns to local matters frequently, showing the Australian social influences and culture  of the times in light hearted moments, through, for example Blue Hills and Dad and Dave.  I was taken to my childhood and to my university years; made to think about my own memories of these times and to question, retrospectively, how they were viewed in the media.  I cringed to hear the comments of those interviewed on the White Australia Policy; I was inspired, all over again, by Martin Luther King’s I have a dream.

In fact, when King in his speech said “ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”, I was reminded of the Brisbane NAIDOC week ball where I met one of those four little children, Martin Luther King Junior.  His message that night was that “Australia is not ready for reconciliation, you have not yet done the work”.  The 2023 Voice referendum brought home to me just how right he was!

I laughed out loud when the Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky episode was accompanied by  Jonathon Diamond’s playful trombone; the conjured image was inescapable.

I really enjoyed this program; it was intelligent, thought provoking and beautifully sound scaped.  I am unable to tell you when it will play again, but I have no doubt that it will and I urge you to go and see it.  Topology and Loops have created a retrospective, enriched with music which will not only stand the test of time, but will have you questioning your own place in it.