Opinion: If A Tree/Artist Falls/Plays In A Forest/Basement Parkade And Nobody Hears It/Him/Her, Does Anyone Care?

February 28, 2023



There’s a man playing a singing bowl and warbling along to the soothing sound it makes outside the bank of elevators that service Rosebank’s The Zone centre. He’s good. He has a couple of albums displayed for sale on the floor next to his chair, suggesting a measure of experience and, perhaps, a viable market for his recorded work.

He’s in the middle of a song as I exit the elevator on the way back to my car. It’s a quiet day – as I pat pockets, trying to find my parking ticket, I notice that we are the only two people in the parking arcade.

Why, then, does he play? If music is not heard, does it have any validity? Is it possible for the man with the singing bowl to derive any satisfaction from endlessly repeating a couple of dozen compositions if he has no audience?

I don’t ask because, for the moment, with me there, the relationship is as it should be – an artist expressing himself; a viewer an listener appreciating the effort.

Having paid for parking I toss a couple of coins into his basket and head to the car. As I open the door, the singing bowl goes silent, abruptly. Peering back, I see the singer back up his bowl, CDs and chair and stalk off into the darkness. He nods as another man walks past, and the newcomer returns the greeting.

This man has his own chair, and is carrying a guitar in a cloth case on his back. He goes to the spot in front of the elevators that his colleague has just vacated, puts his chair down – somewhere, an outlet selling garden furniture is doing a brisk trade with buskers – and begins tuning his instrument, ready for a set of his own.

The complete lack of friction involved in this brief transition suggests that there’s a schedule to which the Rosebank buskers must adhere, moving from the underground parking garage to the open-air lot and picking different ticket machines at which to await fresh custom. There must be better and worse slots at which to sit. Perhaps the more generous patrons park closer to the clothing boutiques; perhaps not.

As I close my car door and started the engine, Guitar Man starts up. The few bars I hear suggest a Bob Marley cover version – No Woman No Cry, probably. But as I drive away, I leave the musician alone, strumming and singing to parked cars and uncaring concrete. The elevators have not opened again, and nobody has driven in through the boom. Even the usually ubiquitous carwash brigade is absent, perhaps gone elsewhere for a mid-morning tea-break.

In my rearview mirror, I see the man lifting his head as he sings to ensure maximum projection and to send his lyrics to the back of the huge room. I think his eyes are closed. Perhaps that’s the key: he could be imagining the Royal Albert Hall, or the seething throng at a Soccer City stadium gig, or simply his friends and family at the coffee shop or bar down the road from where he lives.

Whatever the case, what he’s not seeing is a two-thirds empty parking lot, devoid of life and steadfastly unresponsive to his performance. He’s doing something he loves, and he’s doing it well. And soon the quiet period at the centre will be over – people will pop in to get their groceries, see a movie or meet a friend for a meal. And as they check their messages and Twitter feeds while walking from their cars to the elevators, they’ll be hearing his melodies. They’ll smile at him as they wait for their lifts or stand in the queue to pay parking.

And if he keeps his eyes closed, he won’t see if they leave without putting a coin or two in his basket.