JANWILLEM DORIN: How long have you been dealing with fish?
MIKE W. HALL: My father imported tropical fish in the 60s. He and my mother were naturalists - nudists, actually - and he himself was very active in promoting bio-filtration to New Zealand breeders and fish enthusiasts.
JD: By bio-filtration, you mean using plants to clean the tank water.
MH: Yes. It creates a more natural environment for the fish and of course it doesn't waste power. My father despised undergravel filters - I remember accompanying him on a protest march once outside one of the major tropical fish dealers. He and his friends were campaigning for better pet environments in general and the machine filter suppliers were getting pretty annoyed. It was a close thing actually. Anyway, I took over the business after my father retired and it looks like my son will be running it too, someday. He has a real knack.
JD: You of course are very well known for your work with the fish tanks at the Muse Lounge, both at its first and second venues...
MH: That's right. I had met Gretchen at a nudist beach near Opotoki and we had a long conversation about tropical fish. She had been standing out waist-deep in the water bending over trying to spot tropical fish through her swimming goggles, and of course she hadn't seen any, and she was very disappointed. I remember her hair was up in these sort of plaits and her eyes were red - I thought from crying but it was just the seawater. I had to explain to her that New Zealand isn't a tropical country - she was surprised by that, I think Cedric had misrepresented it to her slightly when they came out here.
JD: So Gretchen was the tropical fish enthusiast of the two of them?
MH: They were both keen on it, if I remember rightly. I checked out the club when I was back in Auckland - it was very hard to find then, in a very odd place - and Gretchen introduced me to Cedric. He was a little slurred, from the drinking and everything - I mean, I don't know what else was going on there, I'm a pretty straight arrow. Anyway, I said I dealt in tropical fish and he was immediately very excited about it, and said he wanted to turn all the walls into fish tanks.
JD: For the first venue?
MH: Yes, that's it. We didn't do that of course, because the weight alone would have gone through the floor. But we set up the big tank by the lift entrance with mostly anabantids. We needed a good community fish and that was a good place to start. We had Dwarf Gourami and some bubble nesters -
JD: But then came the second venue.
MH: Yeah, yeah, and that's when Cedric went for a grander scheme, with the big oval windows and the uplighting and the big tanks surrounding the couches at the north end - three giant walls of tank with the water and the fish.
JD: And the girl?
MH: Yes. Yeah, Tania - she was in the tank on some nights.
JD: Swimming and performing for the guests with the music and so forth.
MH: I don't know how it came about. It certainly wasn't my idea because the perspiration off a human body alone is raising the urea levels in the water, let alone the vibration. And a large body - anything larger than a fish, I mean - is stirring up the temperature layers that naturally settle around the plants in the tank, and that's not good. Apart from that the tank size worked well. Bio-filtration really comes into its own in the larger tanks because it works with the natural currents and movement of the fish.
JD: How did Tania actually get into the tank?
MH: I think she fell in.
JD: Really? She was intoxicated?
MH: Oh, probably. She slipped - she had these very high platforms on one night and she was leaning on the tank talking to someone and she leaned back a little further and she just... slid under. The water was very warm. We ran the tanks at about 27 degrees to support the fish's immune systems. Tania, of course, thought we kept them like that just for her.
Jazz Dispatch 1997
translated by Kirsty Widdell
(First reproduced | Dec 06, 2002)