Sounds vs noise

I did my favourite Raglan walk today – through the Bryant reserve, along the beach and then back to the bush track that takes me to the lookout, where I snapped the photos above. One of the delights of this walk is the sounds – the boom and crash of the waves, the cries of the gulls and the calls of the birds that frequent the bush, the sighing of the trees in the breeze – which is why I don’t emulate those who walk with headphones plugged into their ears. Most of the human activity is muted – the occasional shout of a child finding the water colder than they’d expected, people one passes on the track saying hi, the slap of a surfboard hitting a wave. But today, the high-pitched whine of several jet-skis could be heard even above the sound of the surf. They set out at speed from the Manu Bay jetty, accelerated along a stretch of coastline and then performed noisy U-turns before heading back the way they’d come. They repeated this several times, with no discernable purpose apart from going as fast as they could, making as much noise as they could. On my way back to the track I passed a couple sitting on a bench overlooking the beach far below. I have often sat there myself, enjoying the view and listening to the waves. But this couple were playing music from some sort of portable device – why is it always music with a repetitive beat and inane lyrics (she asks judgmentally)? And then there are always a few people who fail to remove their dog’s droppings, which is not noisy but noisome for others using the track. It was a relief to get to the lookout and enjoy the quiet of the bush all around, watching the silent surfers below and the silent paraglider above.

The Magic Flute


I haven’t posted anything on my blog for a long time, mostly because we’ve returned to New Zealand and taken up our old lives and routines. It seemed that there was nothing that we hadn’t experienced before and hence nothing remarkable to blog about. But that changed over the weekend when we enjoyed a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which was part of the 2019 Auckland arts festival. This was the production from the Komische Oper Berlin co-directed by Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade (British theatre group 1927) with animation by Paul Barritt. In addition to Mozart’s famous music ably played by the Auckland Philharmonia, the performance was remarkable for some fine singing and amazing animation instead of sets. Some of the animation was reminiscent of silent movies – warnings to Tamino and Papageno during their trial of silence, for example, were projected in huge words complete with exclamation points. The animation was inventive and amusing, resulting in laughter from the audience at times. It suited the fantastical plot of this opera though I found it distracting at times and I closed my eyes to concentrate on the singing. I also didn’t take to the Queen of the Night as a giant spider! But overall, it was a wonderful experience and the the applause at the final curtain was long and loud.

Coffee culture


It hasn’t taken us long to get back into New Zealand’s coffee culture. It was one of the things we missed most when living in Malaysia. This morning we went to Empire Cafe in Te Awamutu ( In addition to good coffee, which you could smell as you approached the door, there was cool music playing. When asked one of the young staff told us she puts together her own playlists and this was one of her favourite Saturday mixes. It was obviously aimed at clientele our age – rock favourites from the 60s and 70s – and one wall is covered in chalk drawings of album covers. Our delicious Hummingbird cake was accompanied by Raglan coconut yoghurt – yum! They are reluctant to serve take-away coffees in disposable cups and there are signs encouraging you to sit down for a coffee or use a keep cup. They also do not use straws. Empire Cafe runs a pay-it-forward lunch programme – you pay double for your order and they provide a lunch for a hungry school student. What a great place!



The Petronas Towers at KLCC are the emblem of Malaysia for many international and local visitors. There are hundreds of people at KLCC at any one time. It felt like there were thousands there yesterday afternoon when we arrived for the philharmonic concert in the splendid concert hall at the base of the towers. It was a dazzling programme with works by Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky. The orchestra filled the stage and included two harps, an expanded percussion section and impressive woodwind and brass sections. But the hall was not nearly full and going out into the throng in the Suria mall afterwards, I felt it was a pity they hadn’t been there to experience it. Hundreds of people were enjoying the piped Christmas music, taking selfies in front of the cut-outs of Santa and his reindeer and shopping in the numerous designer stores that line the mall. Good on them but I think we had the more enjoyable experience.

The glorious 5th


We heard Beethoven’s fifth symphony played by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra last Friday night. The conductor was Roberto Abbado, nephew of Claudio. He was wonderful – at times up on tip toes and at others sweeping the players along with exaggerated arm movements. It is dramatic music that requires a dramatic conductor. Although the symphony is so well-known, it is amazing to hear it live and see the all the instruments, from piccolo to trombone, from violin to double bass, played with such rapid proficiency. It is hard to believe that Beethoven wrote such music over 200 years ago. Apparently the French composer Lesueur said after its first performance in 1808 “It moved and excited me so much that my head was reeling. One should not be permitted to write such music.” To which his student Berlioz replied “Calm yourself, it will not be done often” and he was right.

La Traviata


Last Thursday the five of us got into our glad rags and caught the bus to Circular Quay. We walked in the direction of the opera house and got to the end just as the sun was going down. We had a drink and a bite to eat while watching the lights from the harbour bridge appear through the twilight. Then we went into the opera house for a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata. It was a first for all of us and we enjoyed everything about it – the spectacular building with its views of the harbour, the orchestra playing the overture, the sumptuous sets, the singing and the familiar music. We got tears in our eyes when Violetta parts from Alfredo and were stunned when she dies! None of us will quickly forget the wonderful experience.

Tchaikovsky’s 4th


We heard this symphony yesterday played by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in the Petronas concert hall at KLCC. It is such rousing music, at times delicate and playful as in the third movement when the strings are played pizzicato, and at others loud and turbulent with horn section and timpani in full voice. Both the opening and the finale are an assault on the senses and there is plenty of work for the cymbals player. It was such a pleasure to listen to music in that setting with a full orchestra, an enthusiastic conductor, and an audience who were there solely for that purpose (and they didn’t applaud between movements!) It was also a balm to one who lives in a society where there is “music” blaring in shops and parking lots and the constant barrage of noise from the nearby theme park. Our enjoyable day was enhanced by lunch at Harrod’s cafe and a nosy round the well-stocked Kinokuniya bookshop prior to the concert!