The Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, “Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.” This is the line from Rudyard Kipling’s short story ‘The Elephant’s Child’ that inspired local musician and sound artist Vicki Hallett. Vicki completed a Bachelor of Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, and studied clarinet before joining the Air Force as a musician participating in concerts and parades.
Now, she works as a freelance sound artist, which involves setting installations recording the natural environment and adapting compositions inspired by nature. On top of this fascinating work, Vicki manages the Geelong Symphony Orchestra. The Humans in Geelong team met Vicki at the Geelong City Council Arts Grant ceremony, where we listened to her story as a recipient of the personal development grant. “It was good to be given something from the local community,” Vicki said.
With the funding, Vicki participated in a sound art workshop at a sound art residency in South Africa – the same area Kipling himself stayed in. Vicki conducted field research to create music inspired by wildlife, leading to the captivating moment that entranced us entirely.
Vicki brought her clarinet to the Mabolel rock on the Limpopo River, to play the sound of the hippo in the environment. After setting up some field cameras for a dusk concert with the other sound artists on the riverbank, Vicki sat on the rock patiently, waiting for permission from the family of hippos nearby. Once they were use to her presence, she played one note, the same pitch as the hippo’s call used by guides in the area. Then, something incredible happened: the biggest hippo let out a spurt of water. The hippo was just 30 metres away now. “I felt so calm and connected to him,” Vicki said. “I never felt so linked with the environment.”
Vicki continued to play her song based on the recorded hippo sounds, as the hippo moved even closer. Other animals, including birds and baboons, also gathered around to witness the performance. The hippo snorted, as if to bring Vicki’s attention back to him. When she had finished her solo concert, Vicki sat in silence for 20 minutes, locked in eye contact with the hippo, until he finally disengaged.
Following the Kolokolo bird’s advice, Vicki travelled to the banks of the Limpopo River. “This is what I found,” Vicki said: a sense of clarity and synchronicity with the environment. Her connection with the hippo illuminated a sense of purpose and mindfulness, and a determination to follow her heart.
Today, Vicki is working on two sound installation projects, one involving ocean sounds and one extending her work in the Elephant Listening Project. She is also working on a new CD, with recordings of improvised responses to spaces such as St Mary’s Basilica. The recording of Vicki’s extraordinary performance in South Africa can be listened to at her Bandcamp page.
Vicki is passionate about the future of the arts culture in Geelong, saying that we “need to create new art in order to evolve.” She is a co-curator of the New and Experimental Arts Laboratory (NEAL) alongside Jem Savage, a space that invites creatives to perform their work or meet other artists. Anyone can apply to perform, and anyone is invited to attend. The goal is to foster collaboration and networking in the arts community.
“I want people to leave feeling inspired, and that anything is possible.”
Story: Stephanie Downing. Photo: Ferne Millen Photography