Friday, 7 February 2014

It's My Kind of Interview - Sallie Campbell

It’s no secret that we here at IMKOS love music. We promote artists, the process, their products, the community they bind themselves to and the way that they push boundaries. Art can be used for many purposes – be it for the sake of the craft itself, for celebration or healing.  But it can also be used to stir a response from those who witness it. Brisbane musician Sallie Campbell saw a potential in the latter to create awareness of a cause that she felt passionate about.

In recent times, there has been a growing awareness of the forests in Borneo that are being destroyed as part of the palm oil trade. This destruction of natural forestation meant that the population of orangutans has been greatly threatened. With the destruction of their natural habitat comes the inevitable decline and possible extinction of this remarkable and beautiful creature. This cause is an urgent one. If we don’t make action now, it will be too late.

Interview by Lou Endicott

Hi Sallie! Thank you for taking time to talk to us about this new arts project 'Nightingale Floor' that you have started to spread awareness of the orangutan’s plight. Can you tell us a little about this project? 

Sallie: Nightingale Floor is an arts project to raise awareness about Unsustainable Palm Oil. The 20 minute piece for string orchestra and 2 stunningly produced video clips are available to donate and download on the website All funds go straight to the Orangutan Landtrust. The piece is also a charitable registration with Apra so any royalties form airplay also go to the Orangutan Landtrust. Over 100 people gave their talent and time to the project

Nightingale Floor takes its name from the floors found in ancient Japanese Castles.  These floors creak and sing when you walk on them and this keeps intruders out. In the same way we are called to be the “new nightingales” that signal danger to our fragile ecology.

What initially spurred you into action to help these amazing creatures?

Sallie: My now 11 year old niece was my biggest inspiration. She has been making videos about Palm Oil since she was 5. I remember when she was about 8 she was asking my Dad about public liability for a fundraising event she wanted to put on at his place. As a musician I felt a bit helpless and felt a dagger go through my heart everytime I’d hear about an environmental crisis. I’m not a scientist and don’t have corporate power or money but I do have music and a huge circle of talented creative friends. Unsustainable Palm Oil is something that is everywhere. It is in 50% of supermarket items and present in everyone’s cupboard. This is something that affects everyone and therefore something that everyone by educating themselves can be part of the change. To have that consumer power to me is exciting.

I have always been a fan of orangutans. There is something almost human about them that I guess resonates with my own soul. They are like an ancient gentle tribe. I believe that they deserve our respect and deserve to be left to live peacefully on their land in harmony. What is it about these amazing creatures that resonates with you? Have you ever had an encounter with one?

Sallie: No I haven’t had a personal encounter, they are truly amazing creatures and share 98% of our DNA. They are so human and intelligent. I plan to go and visit them once I’ve done as much as I can with Nightingale Floor.  More than anything Nightingale Floor is about being conscious consumers. We have so much power and we vote for the type of world we want to live in every time we buy something. By choosing companies that produce things in sustainable ways and in harmony with our planet we ensure the survival of the Orangutan and many other precious creatures.

You live in Brisbane in an apartment with a community of artists within, “Can I borrow a cup of sugar?” distance. Singer Kate Miller-Heidke and her husband are just two of these talented artists you enlisted to get this project off the ground. How did you go about forming a creative team to start with?  Had you ever used your art for social awareness before or was the process completely new?

Sallie: I haven’t used art for environmental awareness before and so I didn’t have a set way of doing anything. I just let the process come to me and followed each idea as it came. Both David Barker who wrote and directed the clip and Aquarius Films who produced it were crucial in the logistical parts of the project. The whole process was very organic and just flowed. And yes I’m lucky to live in a great apartment block full of talented musicians. There have been many amazing nights spent jamming. John Rodgers, one of the featured soloists who plays Violin and Banjo, also lives below me. 

What was the process of writing 'Nightingale Floor' like in terms of composing lyrics, melody and arrangement? Did the song come together quickly or was it a process of consideration and careful selection?

Sallie: The original melody came whilst gigging on a boat in Japan and in breaks between shows I’d compose on the violin. Later I realized it wasn’t a solo violin piece and incorporated my collection of lesser known folk instruments that I dearly love. The Nyckelharpa, Baritone Bowed Psaltry and Hammered Dulcimer all feature in the piece. I also realized that it needed to be a combination of scored and improvised music. The actual writing of the piece was very quick, about one month. The melody and lyrics to the song came last. In the end Nightingale Floor is for an 11 piece string section, 3 improvising soloists, feature vocalist and electric guitar.

The accompanying short film to 'Nightingale Floor' is soft and dreamy with a through line of desperation in the lead actors' emotional portrayal. Can you tell us a little about the film in terms of its themes and how it relates to the cause?

Sallie: David Barker and Marianne Khoo of Minisumo did such a brilliant job of it. The character played by Sarah Snook is timeless and nameless and finds herself stuck, stagnant in her four walls. She senses something more of herself that she needs to find. She breaks out to try and find the vision of herself that she has seen. This represents the disconnect with spirit and nature and consequent emptiness it brings. She then finds herself, her spirit is reawakened and is able to feel the connection with nature again. This relates to the Palm Oil crisis in that as we feel connection and awe with the wonder of nature we want to tread as lightly as possible on this earth by becoming conscious consumers and choosing products and lifestyles that are ethically and sustainably made in harmony with the earth.

Do you think that as an artist you have a responsibility to bring change to the world? Are there artists before you (or indeed around you now) that inspire you to do this?

Sallie: I don’t think I have a responsibility I just couldn’t bear the feeling of not doing anything. It breaks my heart to see these precious creatures lose their home in the name of a TIM TAM or a packet of chips or noodles. I also hate how it is so hidden. Palm Oil doesn’t have to be specifically labelled so can just come under ‘vegetable oil’. I know most consumers have no idea that the products they are buying are literally killing Orangutans and all the other precious creatures that live there. There are so many artists that inspire me. Peter Gabriel, Sting, Blue King Brown, Jon Butler

What is the first step in us as consumers helping this cause?

Sallie: Learn about what you are consuming. Learn about what is in your food, your cleaning products, your hair care, your personal care items. Learn to shop with a conscience. Read labels and do your bit to educate others. Learn about palm oil.

Sign up to this page on Facebook. They are the best education we have as to what products contain Palm Oil and are just about to bring out an App for smartphone

Thank you for your time and for raising awareness and support for this cause!

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