'Mickey mousing' in Walkabout

'Mickey mousing' in Walkabout
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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The sequence is partly about language, and the inadequacy of words as a tool of communication. The young woman (Jenny Agutter) has no success in trying to communicate but her brother (Lucien John) is much more intuitive. The young black man (David Gulpilil) has already told them where to find the water and what to capture to eat, but his words also fail to register with them.

Notes by Paul Byrnes


In this clip, the score draws on the musical device of parallelism (often called 'mickey mousing'), meaning music that mimics (through pitch and/or rhythm) actions occurring on screen. As the Aboriginal boy sucks water through a pipe from the ground, we hear an ascending melodic fragment played by orchestral strings and using an intervallic motif.  The combination of longer and shorter notes creates a kind of musical conversation that resonates with the conversation (or lack thereof) occurring between the characters. Then when the young boy starts drinking from the same pipe a similar melodic line occurs but this time in a lower register. Finally, when the girl draws water from the ground, we hear a five-note ascending woodwind pattern. Thus, the ascending music in each case correlates with the movement of the water. A similar type of parallelism occurs elsewhere in the film - for instance, in an earlier scene when a descending musical scale emphasises imagery of the boy rolling down a dune.

Walkabout's lush and heavily orchestrated European-in-style score was composed by British composer John Barry. The soundtrack also includes electronic music by the modernist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (e.g. such as ‘Hymnen’ ), as well as the constant presence of popular music, news reports and broadcasts emanating from a transistor radio that accompanies the children on their journey through the outback. By contrast, sonic signifiers of indigenous culture feature through the raw, unprocessed (and uncredited) didgeridoo performances of David Gulpilil. Importantly, as the narrative unfolds, the sonic signifiers of Western culture gradually outweigh in importance the signifiers of nature (e.g. the animal sounds) and Aboriginal culture (e.g. the didgeridoo music). Thus, the film’s soundtrack could be read as symbolically representing or speaking to the destruction imposed on indigenous culture through the colonisation process. 

Additional notes by Johnny Milner


Production company:
Si Litvinoff Films
Si Litvinoff
Nicolas Roeg
Edward Bond
KN Stockhausen and John Barry