non-fiction rock from Aotearoa New Zealand

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Review of TRANSIT, in NZ Musician

A new review of the album TRANSIT as posted in the April/May edition of NZ Musician
Original link HERE

Transit album cover“MR STERILE ASSEMBLY : Transit
By Steph Gray
They’ve said it themselves: this is not lounge music. But if you like the idea of ‘outsider punk’, appreciate jazz, poetry and math rock precision, ‘Transit’ is for you. The fifth release by the Mr Sterile Assembly, it is both an album and an exhibition of artworks. Charismatically assertive two-piece Chrissie Butler and Mr Sterile secured the talents of Dean Hapeta (aka Te Kupu), Jeff Henderson and Maria McMillian among other collaborators for this production. The result is a literate, rich and engaging double album. Each song is accompanied by an art-piece. My favourite is Pop Sickle – dedicated to the Waihope 3 – and matched by Stefan Neville’s eponymous etching. And if you like information with your art and music, the Assembly have added a third layer by published hyperlinked lyrics on their website. As sources of allusion and inspiration, the links are a mad romp around the Assembly’s creative process, taking you to Hone Tuwhare’s poems, NZ nuclear-free legislation, and an image search for ‘Israeli wall’. The Assembly are celebrating this release, and their tenth birthday, with a national and international tour to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. ‘Transit’ was mostly recorded with Mike Gibson at Inca Studios and released by Skirted Records and Tenzenmen.”

Transit, the album

Transit album cover

Transit album cover

Here is the story of Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly. There are links to individual pages with interactive lyrics. The story of how the album came into being, plus reviews, images, and any additional detritus associated with this release. cheers

01. Hibakusha
02. Jesus heals the Blind
03. I Robert
04. Whyt
05. Pop Sickle
06. March of the Fulfillmen
07. Bug my Ride (revisited)
08. Stella
09. Drought
10. Axe and the Olive Tree
11. Transit

Reviews: NZ Musician, Southland Times Invercargill, Seagull Chainsaw (AUS), Ghetto Punk Rocker(USA), Sea of Tranquility (USA), (NZ), LioncityDIY (SG), The Organ (UK)

mr sterile Assembly album Launch, at The Russian Frost Farmers Gallery. Photo by Karen Melhuish

mr sterile Assembly album Launch, at The Russian Frost Farmers Gallery. Photo by Karen Melhuish

An introduction.

Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly was released March 25 2011. The album took just over one year to complete from its inception point in late December 2009. The Assembly had recently complete a small Aotearoa NZ tour with the Czech group Uz Jsme Doma, in which an offer to the Assembly was made to tour Europe sometime in mid-2010.  Offers like this spawn plans, and one of these was a recording project.

Two surprises in one day: dollars and departure.

An application was made with CNZ for a recording grant, the idea to record the duo bass and drums unit, in preparation for the tour. However, and much to our surprise, the day the letter of astounding confirmation  of $$ came on the same day Sarsha Doulas decided to quit. The tour almost happened but due to personal reasons had to be abandoned at the eleventh hour.

From band reproduction to project.

This caused some serious rethinking on how to approach the project. What developed over the coming months was a growing project of fantastic proportions. We wanted to maintain the energy and feel of the twin bassists so we approach a sterile member from previous times, Aaron Lloydd, to plunk the strings. We knew he had a solid and creative understanding to our approach. Next we contacted another sterilite, Jeff Henderson, to add saxophone on a number of tracks, and Nell Thomas to add special tonal colour on a couple of tracks. Nell plays a a Javanese instrument called a Gender, and we felt this was a perfect instrument to add depth to a particular song, Stella, based on an story of some dear friends in that country.

Mike Gibson was enlisted early on to the initial recording of primary bass, bass, drums track, and to mix and master the final collection of songs. Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu became deeply woven into the development of the album. He offer Matakahi Studio to us so we could add all lyrics, additional sounds, and the sax tracks. During a number of conversations, we also came to the conclusion that there were spaces available that called out for extra words. Dean listened intently over months to lets the ideas grow, and his response to the challenge  of these four songs is spectacular.

Inca studios and the NZSIS

Working with Mike at Inca studios also took on a particularly delicious an ironic feel. When I first met Mike to discuss the project, he almost incidentally commented that the studio use to be the home of the NZSIS, the government security intelligence service. The main record room that we were situated in was the old safe, the home of all those secret files from years gone past of union activist, conscientious objectors from previous international armed conflicted, and any other ‘radical’ who opposed the government of the day. That we should find ourselves in this space, performing our songs about the governments attempts to survey citizens, of this countries role in international spy rings, and the police’s employment of a particular individual as a failed covert spy to protest activity couldn’t be more perfect. (note:the SIS still is a functioning arm of the NZ govt, it simply relocated to a different building)

Collaborative lyrics

As well as having Te Kupu’s text in the songs, mr sterile collaborated over several months with Wellington poet Maria McMillian on the song Drought. Maria was invited to this collaboration as not only do we consider her a poet of fine standing, but the commitment to her political activity of opposing the privatisation for water would inform the similar content of the song further. The word’s were ferried back and forth over months, being stretched and teased into existence, then edited down into the form on the album. This reworking process continued up until moments before the words were committed to the recording.

Once the mix, which took several weeks, the mastering, and completing of art design, all the finished work was sent to Dualplover in Australia for the final stage of making the actual product. We were in the very capable hands of Swerve, who helped soothe the anxiety around the possible design slips that could happen as we were including two booklets into the final complete package. Additional support and help with the OZ release is from Tenzenmen, a specialist in d.i.y releases from Australia, Asia, and now us.

The evolution of the art work

Running alongside the audio process, the task of conceptualising, compiling artwork, and designing the artwork and packaging was explored. In an organic fashion, similar to the way many things evolve in sterile, the final design took many months, multiple edits, and a massive effort to execute what ultimately because a stunning and beautiful package.

After some initial abandoned design ideas, the concept to approach individual artists to illustrate the  songs was almost accidentally stumbled upon. We looked through our contacts, aware of the vast array of talented friends, and matched songs with artists whom we thought could respond sympathetically to the intent and meaning of the words. And we were astounded and humbly impressed at how much they stood up to the mark, the quality of the art work, and the enthusiasm we received from each artist was incredible.

Building an exhibition.

While the art was coming in, the idea sprung into life that this part of the album deserves more that to be rendered into cd booklet size and never seen in its true form. The idea for the exhibition was born.  A close friend, James Kirk, was approached to frame the work over a number of months, not all of it easy, but the quality of displayed art work was astounding,  James also facilitated the contact with a photography who would take the highest quality photos for our reproduction in the books.

We’d like to say thank you

The craftsmanship executed from musicians, the sound engineers, artist, and the framing easily lived up to, and surpassed our Everest like expectations. the creating of this album was one stunning experience after another, not always easy, but ultimately extraordinarily rewarding.

We are incredibly grateful to all the amazing people who have participated in this project.

We thank you all individually:

  • Aaron Lloydd
  • Andrew Ross
  • Campbell Kneale
  • Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu
  • Deborah Barton
  • Garage Collective
  • Kate Whitley
  • Kerry-Ann Lee
  • James Kirk
  • James Robinson
  • Jeff Henderson
  • Maria McMillian
  • Mike Gibson
  • Nell Thomas
  • Roger Morris
  • Stefan Neville
  • Tao Wells

Ongoing Developments:

The Launch:

The album was launched at the Wellington Gallery, The Russian Frost Farmers on March 25 2011


We toured the album extensive within Aotearoa, we also took Transit to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and returned to Java Indonesia. While in the township of Blitar, south east Java, a music video was made for the song Stella. The story of a young women from Blitar having a baby, moving to Singapore to get work as a transient migrant worker, while leaving baby back at home. A reflection on the globalised process of cheap labour for wealthy countries, everybody through travels with a very real human story.

The Exhibitions:

After the launch we presented to firstly the Hamilton, and then latterly  the Dunedin Fringe Festivals. The art work was couriered and installed with help from local to write the text around the art works. We then arrived to deliver a seminar discussing the process of developing this project, the content of the songs, and to play a few tunes.

Our show won two awards in Dunedin, and one award at the Hamilton Fringe. Below is a clip made by a Hamiltonian (thanks) from the Saturday afternoon discussion.

ICOT Presentation

ICOT13 – The International Conference on Thinking

In January 2013, the International Conference on Thinking was held in Wellington. We submitted an abstract, which was accepted, to present our thinking around the processes involved in this Transit project.It was a 75 minute break-out session that was well received.

The Video

A video for the song Transit, made by Wellington photographer and film maker John Lake. This clip includes a crowd fund choir from across the world. Click this link for more information


Deborah Barton - Donald's Domain (after Drought), 2010

Deborah Barton - Donald's Domain (after Drought), 2010

Who brought this stuff? Falling down for free
Wash the salt from your skin before it meets the salt of the sea
Who brought this stuff? Who owns the tap owns the vein
Who can lock the Commons? Who can sell the air and the rain

I am thirsty, I am parched. I’m contained in a fluid line
Can I buy a glass
I am thirsty, I am parched. I’m coursing in a growing line
Can I buy a glass

Who caught this stuff? That laps around your feet
Runs down from highest hill top, to the flood & thirsty heat
Who caught this stuff? Who owns the pipe owns the dream
Who can bank the current, and cast demands on a silver stream

I am thirsty, I am parched. I’m standing in a fluid line
Can I fill a glass
I am thirsty, I am parched. Ride the swell in a growing line
Can I fill a glass

There’s 5 of us, fitting tight, in 3 rooms
Joe lost his flat and needs to come back home
Baby’s in a mess, I’m under stress
Mother watch the skin to see infections grow
Times are tough, money’s tight. Swelling bills
Gas ‘n spuds, heat ‘n rent, ‘n water in the tub
What wastage is mine, on garden or washing line
You make it my fault when you say I dry the rivers up
The rising costs with no stop. Now user pays
We just about cope, just about most days
Wallet tightly zipped. Cents add up with loose drips
It’s meal or medicine, but can’t have it both ways
Dam the letter box. More demands, they overflow
Plug up the leak but I sense it never stops
Payments have to wait, this thirst never sates
No water for my kids, but you never turn your sprinkler off

Who taught this stuff? This ration of priority
With the fertile words of drought still keep the Cake-Tin green
Who taught this stuff? Who owns the oars owns the course
Who can sets restraints on the leakage of a fluid force

Words in BLUE collaborative text by Maria McMillian/mr sterile

Bug my Ride

Andrew Ross - Damaged plate glass salvaged from the Whanganui Computer Centre, 2010

Andrew Ross - Damaged plate glass salvaged from the Whanganui Computer Centre, 2010

Intimidation and harassment by agents of the state
Outlawing opposition, criticism, manufacturing hate
Restricting what can be said, accessed or read
And if you protest strong enough you may be found dead
Imprisoned, overcome by public fear and suspicion
In the name of democracy exercising fascism!
Tricked into compliancy because you thought your vote could speak
Thought you were really saying something
But ahh, you’re just bugged and weak
To such an extent you can’t perceive this dastardly state terrorism
Brow beaten by conformism, an apologetic fellow necessarily
Upholding and assisting a failed capitalist society

Check my house on Google Earth, see me stand in my backyard
I’ve seven different passwords, a PIN code and a plastic card
Watch me on the cameras, in the streets and in the malls
Read the transcripts of transmissions from my interesting calls

Logging on, logging off, checking in, track and trace
The electronic shadow left from accessed stuff in cyberspace

I’m south side now from Huxley, Orwell too is just behind
GPS to check my transit, SIS to bug my ride
Fingerprints and DNA, the electro hum of 0 1
Scan the love songs in my texts from your blow-up house in ECHELON

Privacy has had its’ day, print my face for show and tell
These methods are for hidden men the legacy of
COINTELPROtected by the weight of state, defended by the party line
Profit needs security and progress is a state of mind

October 15 2007,
The culmination of two years
spying on environmental, anti-war,
anarchist and indigenous activists,
heightening awareness to the depth and extent to which we can be surveyed.

Note: The image captured by Andrew Ross is of the glass door at the entrance to the Whanganui Computer, the once upon a time repository of the computerised information about NZ citizen. The door was damage in 1982 when Neil Roberts approached the front door with an amount of explosives, detonating at the glass doors and causing some damage. Neil’s action were of a political motivation, protesting at the growing shadow of the state into individuals lives. I think this image is important to this song as just over 25 years later the evidence of the states ability to spy on citizens was brought to the fore as on October 15, 2007, the police asserted its’ dominance with armed defender squads and accusations of terrorism. Which is the more extreme action?


James Robinson - Universe Monster!, 2010

James Robinson - Universe Monster!, 2010

Yeah everybody’s caught in this war
Between better judgment and acquiescence
In the minds’ battlefields perception
Provokes decision so be aware
It’s psychological abuse to deny
What should be, but isn’t
Too quickly discounted are dreams
For debilitation, madness …Whyt

Go scan the horizon, for a flag promoting peace
Find a dove with an olive branch, a roasting tray underneath
Look for the holy man, find the filings of his sharpened teeth
Seek the truth behind the spin, get pepper-sprayed by police
Sometimes a shoulder’s needed
They’re compassionless these flocks of shells
Then your confidence fails you and you damn it all to hell

There’s a minefield in the playground, it’s explosive in your mind
Beware those claiming righteousness, advance the might of any kind
In a world set to label you, your moods and shopping needs defined
On the stage the wrongs put right, you struggle to find the time
Sometimes a shoulder’s needed when living’s like a prison cell
Restraint maintains the status quo it’s sugar sweetened I can tell

The sun melts away the night, if you let it you’ll feel warm
Ma said, “Don’t ever play with fire”, now it’s turning up to burn
The camp’s expand in Purity and sing the Lord his love is stern
And proclaim the original sin, was to question and to learn
Sometimes a shoulder’s needed or some shelter or a meal
When freedom’s gained at thrice the price
Can you buy the health to heal?
Sometimes a shoulder’s needed or some shelter or a meal
It’s a miracle you’re an optimist, ‘cos sometimes your hell is real

We fight the fight for improvement
Stop them ecocidal lunatic confusement
Because we nah dead although them continue killing
Maiming, executing, imprisoning, polluting
All this crime that them do cannot defeat
The purpose, the will, the words to speak
The truth, the fact, no hidden crap
Just stay on track, just stay on track

Axe and the Olive Tree

Roger Morris - On the Road to JerUSAlem, 2007

Roger Morris - On the Road to JerUSAlem, 2007

Bulldozer blames the broken homes
Bullets blame the broken bones
Fist blame the fallen moans
Bully blames the victim

Tower’s tale of fleeing feet
Sniper’s tale of aim and bleed
Wall’s tale of cordoned peace
Tell tales on the victim

Doesn’t matter who’s the holy one in the promised land
Only who’s continuing the disaster of genocide on man
Blame the soldier not the stone, the throw, the hand
See a murder excused by the invader’s demands
These goliath massacres witnessed by the world
Displacement occupation where imposers build
Upon ancient scriptures used to justify walls
Atrocities and horrors for refusing alien rule
Bulldozers, despair, repel, dismantle
Detention, terror, demolition, torture
Checkpoints, intifada, curfew, lookout tower
A home with no restrictions, no anguish, no slaughter
These misguided axes, vicious in their misery
Seeking to exterminate while asking for sympathy
These mighty olive trees, radiant majesty
Sustenance of land and people universally

The axe blames the fallen olive tree
The olive tree falls to the blaming axe
Falling to the axe the olive tree is blamed
The steal of the blade says the trunk of the tree attacked

For Palestine.
“From the window in my small cell
I can see your massive cell”
End of a Discussion With a Jailer, Samih Al-Qasim.

Thank you ActiveStills for the inspirational work in telling these stories.

I Robert

Garage Collective - I Robert, 2010

Garage Collective - I Robert, 2010

I am a man to gather data’s dust
I am a man of sneaky schemes
I am a man of hidden intent
Who is secretly sent, I stoop to any means
I convey the secrets of acquaintance & friends
The ambitious talk & the radical plan
I am entrapment to the wait of police hands
I am a man of sneaky means

I am a man to gather trouble’s trust
I am a man who earns a buck
I am a man with powerful friends
Who’ll use any means while I’m in good luck
I travel & meet, I sleep & I play
I live this deceit, and live on good pay
It’s espionage in the bold light of day
Don’t believe what I say I am a man of errant luck

Gone, it’s all finished!
It’s all public and kaput!
Leaving Robert named
Crowned king of ill-repute
Hard drive got corrupt
Reveal the evidence in email
It was the
Scores of police contact
That tore away the veil

Is, Is he? Isn’t he? Isn’t he? Is! S P Y

I am a man of tradition unmasked
I am a man with a decade laid waste
I am a man whose friends have all split
This Judas kiss tastes of shame & disgrace
I collected & kept, I passed it along
The gossip & gas in the big hunt for wrong
To the powers in power who plan & respond
Who have left me & gone
With the fallout of this famed disgrace

This song is about a chap from the city of Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, who was ousted for being an undercover informant for the NZ police. For 10 years he toured the country, at quite some expense to the NZ tax payer, gathering trivia and detail on the actions of various activist groups. This James Bond was uncovered when his partner at the time was asked to fix his malfunctioning computer. She discovered years of contact with the police.

There is an article here from PEACE RESEARCHER giving an in depth look at this story

Super big thanks to Garage Collective who created this beautiful image to accompany the song.