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David Bridie
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Beat Magazine Interview
By Christie Eliezer

David Bridie was in Darwin on holiday for three weeks, hanging with his kids, swimming in waterholes and camping out. He needed a breather before launching himself back to no less than four projects. But even on holiday, work seeped in. Despite the glorious weather, Bridie had to remain indoors. First there were phone interviews to do to coincide with his current Australian tour. Then he would head off to Darwin University's music department, run by a friend, and hole himself in a room with a piano for two hours, preparing himself for the tour's first show the next night.

From Darwin, Bridie could see West Papua in the distance. It was quite apt. His new EP "Act Of Free Choice" is about that country. A regular visitor to neighbouring New Guinea, Bridie's also become indirectly involved in West Papua's resistant struggle. The Act Of Free Choice is the sham 1969 referendum where Papuans were asked if they wanted self-rule or be part of the "Indonesian motherland". Indonesian soldiers rounded up 1024 villagers and herded them into concentration camps, threatening them with cutting their tongues out and never seeing their families again, if they didn't vote the right way.

The title track samples radio broadcasts of the Indonesian invasion. Since then, over 200,000 West Papuans have been killed and entire villages tortured.

Even as Bridie was talking to Australian music journalists about his music, in Indonesia, there were changes in leadership which Papuan resistant guerrillas feared would make things harder for them. The new leader Megawatti is not a fan of independence. The next night, as Bridie performed the song live to a rapturous crowd, the New York based Human Rights Watch was releasing a report, which highlighted an incident last October. Some villagers set up the West Papuan independence symbol, the Morning Star, on a flagpole in the village of Wamena. Soldiers came in, shot eleven people, and chainsawed the flag down.

All royalties from the "Freedom Of Choice" EP are donated to the human rights group Els-Ham, the West Papuan Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy. It has 500 people monitoring and reporting on atrocities by Indonesians.

Says Bridie, "Els-Ham representatives in Melbourne and Sydney have been sending me reports about the human rights atrocities there, some of it is shocking reading, really chills your blood. If it happened on the Gaza Strip, it'd be front page news. It's very like the situation in East Timor, which Australia took too long to respond to. The more attention the West Papua problem gets, the more pressure is placed on the Indonesian military not to repeat these atrocities. The Papuans a long way from getting recognised and respect from the international community. Australia needs to play a greater role in the Pacific region."

Bridie came from a family which believed social injustices should be addressed. That belief that intensified during his college days. In his music, an undercurrent of anger about various social issues has never been too far from the surface. Would he say that playing with Melanesian musicians is as much a political statement as using tape loops of military invasions or the rightwing rantings of Sydney talk back radio hosts? "Oh, absolutely, I do think that. Who knows (smiles), you could argue that Kylie Minogue's records are political because she makes a statement for the things she stands for! There are things worth being motivated about, especially when your art is supposed to reflect your environment. I value that fact that I do have some sort of public presence, and I don't mind taking a role over an issue.

"The question is, how would you respond if it happened to you. If your child was one of the Stolen Generation. If it was your brother taken away or your house burned down? I have so much admiration for people in Els-Ham. They can truly say they've made a difference. They have a strong commitment to social justice, and they've been quietly fighting for a cause that hasn't become fashionable yet."

The "Act Of Free Choice" track on the EP contains a charged remix by Nick Littlemore of Pnau. "It's got an amazing kick drum through it. Nick's more au fait with dance, I like his work. He's an interesting young guy with a lateral approach to music and his programming is highly innovative. We've collaborated on a number of projects, sending audio files up between Melbourne where I live and to Sydney where he is. His remix of my last single 'Koran' was my favourite of the remixes, he's not shy about crossing boundaries and taking risks."

The EP also contains two unreleased tracks from the album sessions, "Hide" and "Malaria", and "The Deserters", which was Bridie's first full orchestra score. How did he prepare for his first score?

"Some of it was about keeping it within a budget," he chuckles.

"Recording an orchestra for one day costs $25,000 to start with. I'd been mucking around with those kind of textures with Helen Mountfort in (My Friend) The Chocolate Cake and a wall of sound approach with Not Drowning Waving. To get inside (that sound) was a fantastic experience. I'm doing some more orchestral scores. I'm sure it is a source of amusement to the classical world working with some dumb arse rock musician. But I don't know any of their rigid rules so I feel no guilt breaking any of them. I'm learning all the time, I work closely with Helen on the arrangements. But the orchestra is a wonderful instrument to get some exotic sounds."

Bridie is working on a number of soundtracks. There is Bill Bennett's thriller "Tempted", set in New Orleans, and starring Burt Reynolds, Peter Facinelli and Saffron Burrows. Mark Joffe's comedy "The Man Who Sued God" stars Billy Connolly, Judy Davis and Colin Friels. Following on from his soundtrack with Mountfort for the Ten Network's mini series "My Brother Jack", Bridie is working on a two-part TV series called "The George Johnston Book".

He's also been asked to be musical director of the Yeperenye Festival (September 8, 9), an enactment of the Caterpillar Dreaming of the Arrente people from around Alice Springs, and a star-studded concert in Alice Springs.

So music's still the prime medium of expression for him? "Pretty much so. After being in two bands, I recorded my solo album at a late period. To me, that solo album was a renaissance period, the beginning of something. Film soundtracks gives me the chance to work with a whole variety of styles and instruments and musicians. I recently worked with Ed Kuepper, which I'd always wanted to do. So my music path has a lot of by-alleys, and that keeps it interesting for me."

* David Bridie performs at the Prince of Wales on Sunday August 12. Further information on West Papua's freedom struggle, email elshamirja@jayapura.wasantara.net.id

Beat Magazine
Wed, 8th August 2001