Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Recently I led an interdisciplinary research team investigating the potential of ‘noise transformation’ as a soundscape design method for improving the life of those living along motorways. The research was funded by the toll-way company, Transurban. Our team worked directly with their sustainability department, who are responsible for funding art and design programs, innovative research ideas and sustainable energy projects.

Some peers, in private correspondence, have raised their concerns about the instrumentalisation of art that such projects might represent. I find this to be a limited view, inso far as it contains art within a narrow perception of having to be obtuse, radical or provocative. My attitude is that art exists with our without artists, and the existence of manifested art, and as such its potential applications and realisations are unlimited. Art cannot be contained or controlled – not for long anyway – and as such we shouldn’t be afraid to apply art in various scenarios.

In this project, artistic processes are applied as a means to come up with real world solutions. In this case, if people are forced to live with motorway noise can we apply modern technologies to reduce the annoyance and anxiety created by these noisy soundscapes to improve quality of life? It builds on a long history of composers interested in urban sounds and composition, including Russolo, Varese, Cage, Westerkamp and Oliverios.

The full report can be accessed here: https://www.transurban.com/sustainability/innovation-grants/rmit-motorway-noise-project

An article I wrote on the potential of turning traffic noise into music can be accessed here: https://blog.transurban.com/news/the-sound-of-music.

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I recently completed a tour of N-E America, the U.K. and Europe investigating sound installations. During my trip I discovered the Klankenbos Sound Forest in North Belgium (near the town of Neerpelt). I was asked to write a blog about my experiences. There are a number of audio recordings and images, as well as text.



Houses of Sound (installation by Pierre Berthet)

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I was a participating sound artist at the May 2015 Aural Lighthouses symposium in Santorini, Greece. As the brochure explains:

Curated by Ileana Drinovan-Nomikos, the event hosts artists and scholars from around the world including Greece, United States, India,United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Italy. Sound artists and atmospheric scientists are brought together to evoke the emotional, affective and visceral responses of sound and frequency, and their effect beyond what scientifically manifests in graphs and images. The symposium explores human aural performance and how we make and create disaster sounds to seem natural and to fade into a perceived inaudibility. The works further explore the oscillation between apprehensive, stressed, distressed and relaxed listening, and so the difference between dread and the beauty of disaster listening.

My contribution was a four-channel immersive sound work, constructed from sonic materials that were part of my 2012 City of Melbourne public art work, Revoicing the Striated Soundscape. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the conference but I was lucky enough to receive this feedback from the symposium co-coordinator, Ljubi Matic.

Rupture was played publicly starting from Tuesday May 19th, 2015 through Saturday May 23rd, 2015, every day for at least 4 afternoon and early evening hours. A separate room, approximately 4×4 meters large, was dedicated to the piece. Santozeum is a conglomerate of rooms of different sizes on several floors, so the audience could ramble around the space walking in and out during the pieces and taking in different sound events at their leisure. In the room where Rupture was listened to, there were 4 paintings on the walls, copies of the wall paintings of Akrotiri (an ancient site on Santorini). The speakers were located on the ground, in the 4 corners of the room. The audience was not seated (as I think you had originally suggested) because we thought that chairs would make the space too cramped. However, some listeners felt inclined to sit down while listening, on the ground and next to the speakers, and then rotate their position during their listening session. This rotation could and did happen quite quickly as the speakers were not too far from each other. The room, smaller than what is a typical gallery space, thus, I think, brought a special sensitivity to auditors’ 4-way movements. Those among the listeners who did not have the chance to read the info found in the brochure had not been informed about the type and provenance of the sounds you had created and used for the installation. Upon learning that, some came for the second time. An audience member told me he felt listening to Rupture transported him above the ground, to a flight of sorts, that is, flights of different kinds, some more or less comfortable, others evoking situations of fleeing and mobilization for war. Another one compared the listening experience to a “slow-motion of gigantic waves” with “abrupt abysses of silence (ruptures?) gaping from the oceanic expanse.” A third one was struck by the “compulsiveness” she sensed in the sounds of machinic origins as well as in her urge to stay put in the room and listen to them. The presence of ancient human and animal figures on the wall paintings gave a special twist to the experience at those moments where your composition brought breaths, sighs and strange (gutural?) sounds to the fore. It almost felt like anthropomorphic auricular traces were being uncovered from the strata of our machinic past, or like some kind of otherworldly communication was under way. Santorini, after all, is all about multifarious geological layers. Must be same for Melbourne and thank you for making us become aware of that.

I was also sent some photographs of the exhibition. Fascinating to consider Melbourne’s laneway sounds finding a home in the island of Santorini! photo 1photo 15photo 9photo 6

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What is the sound of heavy industry, machinery and metal? Has it a detectable “atmosphere”, a taste, a sensuality? Urban noise is often loathed, and there is good reason for this considering its ubiquity, and dominating effects. And yet, inside noise, there is something tantalizingly alive. I think of urban noise as in its infant phase; a neglected child yet to find its true potential. Or a formless material without a maker to provide it with diverse expressions. Luigi Russolo, John Cage,  Christina Kubisch and Max Neuhaus are four well-known composers/artists who brought to urban sound a musical sensibility; that is, treating urban noise with a musician’s respect.

day full container

Note the four speakers on the two containers. On the right container you can see one of the transducers in the center that was used to vibrate the container. Lengths of neon can be seen on both containers.

From the 22nd-24th January 2015, a team of artists including Fiona Hillary, Shanti Sumartojo, Eliot Palmer and myself were invited to produce a three-day atmosphere as part of Dagmara Gieysztor’s 3 month artist residency on the Maribyrnong River in Footscray. The shipping containers were located adjacent to a heavy freight rail bridge, which crossed the river to reach a giant container loading bay. Industrial soundscape 101!

Left image: The container storage yards on the other side of the river by night. Right image: A view of the train bridge running over the river toward the container storage yards. Containers are at the bottom of the hill to the left.

Left image: The container storage yards on the other side of the river by night.
Right image: A view of the train bridge running over the river toward the container storage yards. Containers are at the bottom of the hill to the left.

In response Eliot Palmer, who is a sound-artist, rigged up two transducers, one on each container, to vibrate the containers’ architecture. We closed up one of the containers and placed two shotgun microphones inside. The mics picked up the internal resonance of one of the containers which we threw out of four speakers sitting on the roof of the two containers. Included with these feedback sounds were various transformed industrial recordings I had made on site, industrial soundscape designs from my previous installations including Revoicing the Striated Soundscape and Subterranean Voices, and the use of rapid-tempo sequencing through a Korg synthesiser to further “suspend” the vibrations. Fiona Hillary and Shanti Sumartojo created a visual feast with neon lights and data projectors accentuating the multi-coloured and linear arrangement of the containers across the river. (For further description of the visual creations see this link).

The containers by night. At this point the atmosphere becomes surreal as both real and ghost trains pass, and neon glows in the dark.

The containers by night. At this point the atmosphere becomes surreal as both real trains and ghost trains pass, and neon glows in the dark.

Listening to the sound recording, which is live and unedited (besides a few cut and pastes to minimize length) gives a sense of the augmented atmosphere. The soundscape, which can be heard below includes the familiar sounds of trucks and trains aside the continuous drones and snores of vibrating containers, and the other-worldly calls of alien industrialism.

The soundcloud link below includes a silhouette of the four artists basking in the nightlight of the neon.


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hiddensounds has emerged (submerged actually) to present a new work thanks to the curators of Liquid Architecture. I’m inhabiting a cavernous underground bunker beneath Federation Square known as the Trench. The Trench was once destined to be a service area for federation square but has since become a haunt for artists intoxicated by its strange presences – sonically and visually. It is a long cuboid concrete room that sits astride platform 13 (the Sandringham line) and houses an intestinal array of piping transporting sewerage cooking oil and other gastronomical delights.

Recording in the Trench

Recording in the Trench

I have entered the space with an eight speaker sound system and have spent time investigating the site to understand its sonic ecology and the extraordinary dynamic range delimited by the blast of train horns at one end and the delicate drippings of concealed pipings at the other. The aim is to create a short lived transformed listening experience for those who descend to the trench with me at the end of the month on Saturday or Sunday.

Testing in the Trench

Testing in the Trench

In some ways the work presents a real challenge as the Trench is already a fascinating listening experience. One can spend 20 minutes in the Trench (which is the allocated audience time for the performance)  and become intrigued by its unusual sonic ecology in its natural form. But of course I intend to transform this sonic ecology using the method of introducing transformed site specific sounds in the space. Similar to my air-conditioning work Revoicing the Striated Soundscape I hope to create a sonic environment that at once merges the real with the surreal for an altered listening experience, which contrasts the constructed listening experience of a concert.

Rivers & James help with Speaker Placement

Rivers & James help with Speaker Placement

It would be great if you could make it down and experience Subterranean Voices, a soundwork for the sonic ecology of the Trench. See the Liquid Architecture website for more details, and for the incredible array of interesting works on offer. Liquid Architecture have a facebook page and a Twitter page.

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A meaningful life, is to create. Simple. Nietzsche suggested something similar when he wrote that the world was a dream of the Gods, and the highest act of human nature is to mimic the Gods by dreaming new world’s ourselves. So what is it to create? This is of course a personal question. It is not just an artist that creates, anybody who makes something creates. The life of children and 9-5 work is a template for creating in so far as the basics can be met – “I have created children, I create something of use everyday”. (Though Nietzsche would be horrified by the correlating of the quotidian with the creative!). To be creative is to bring something new into existence – physical or mental.

The soporific of the everyday is dangerous as it can seem like one is creating and yet one is repeating the same action. Recognition of this (conscious or otherwise) leads to depression, glumness . I need look no further than the faces of peak hour traffic to know this. Equally those that escape work and are free to do nothing are equally depressed and glum. I think of the tattslotto winners! So it is the act of creating that keeps the self buoyant and alive. Why? Existence, all of it, all ways, is in the act of creating. It is as if all existence strives to create the new. Death is only a necessity to make way for the new. Death is the glorious departure of a manifestation of newness. Death is a gracious departure to make room for the new. To create the new – seems to be a fixture of existence. So if existence is the newness of the Gods’ dreamings, then we, the product of their dreams, create, to align our actions with the meaning of our own creation.

Aligning creation with success – now there’s a problem. A problem with humanism, the great philosophical charade in which God is put to death and replaced with a new God – the God of humanism: we are now God! Jealous little Gods who scramble over one another to be the greatest God – the God who creates best, loudest, most audaciously, the most narcissistic. So are we witnessing the death of humanism (hopefully not humanity!). What will it be replaced with? Hopefully something other than ourselves, against which we can measure ourselves. To measure ourselves against ourselves is to turn in on our selves, to destroy one another as we compare our selves to one another – that we are truly the new: my child is cleverer than yours, my artwork is more compelling than yours, my body is sexier than yours..! At least when there were Gods, we could compare ourselves to something outside ourselves.

Escaping success, means escaping comparison with the other human. To instead compare ones creative output with some other drive or destination, or hope, or non-human otherness. How to reach this state? Intangible as it is… I keep creating. And comparing myself to others: can’t help it, still a humanist, hoping for the death of humanism, to make way for the new… the other.

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Revoicing the Striated Soundscape is a sound installation commissioned by the City of Melbourne (COM) as part of the 2012 Public Art Program. Public information provided by COM regarding the artwork can be found here. An article focusing on Public Art in Melbourne in the Age Newspaper wrote extensively about Revoicing the Striated Soundscape. I also want to throw in a couple of extra points using my blog, for those who are planning on checking out the installation.

Installation site: unnamed laneway behind RMIT bookshop, Little Latrobe St.

I am calling this an invisible installation, as the four air-conditioning units bolted to the wall are easily mistaken for permanent features that house actual air conditioners. It is the intention for this impression to emerge, as it reflects the everyday experience of urban dwellers who pass a multitude of air-conditioners everyday. The visual aspect of these machines are ignored as much as the consistent drones of these machines are blocked out. It is only when the unusual sounds emitted by these four machines are perceived that the air-conditioning units come into focus. I have seen people looking for the sound source, sometimes refusing to believe that it could come from the air-conditioners. As such the artwork plays with perceptions of the everyday.

All the sounds are recorded in the laneway itself. So the installation knits into the existing soundscape such that the border between installation and soundscape is uncertain. The sounds have been composed using a multi-speaker system so sounds at times move through the space from one side of the laneway to the other. If you do go down stand in the centre of the four air-cons. This is the “sweet spot” to perceive maximum movement. Also standing under each individual air-con can be an interesting aural shift as you will receive the direct sound from the accompanying speaker.

This is a work that requires some time and immersive listening to appreciate. In fact multiple visits are ideal. It was designed so that people who walk through the space daily will get a slightly different experience each time. There are eight compositions totaling 90 minutes played on a permanent loop, though the loop is random; that is all eight compositions play before the loop starts again, but each loop will play the compositions in a different order. Some compositions are quite jarring such as the sounds of bins being dragged around, or doors opening and closing. Others are immersive, referencing wind and water sounds. Some others are rhythmic with sounds fully processed or just raw air-con sounds dancing around the space. So if you have the time, a full loop is best! The installation is active seven days a week from 10am – 10pm, and will be in place till late November.

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