Archive for the ‘music’ 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 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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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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There is a great line in the REM song (which is also the title): ‘It’s the end of the World as we know it, and I feel fine‘. I used to find this line strange. How can you feel everything is fine if it’s the end of the world? Perhaps you’ve given into substance abuse, and so, have anesthetised yourself to the coming gloom, or perhaps you are nhilistic and couldn’t care less if it is the end of the world. Or perhaps you’ve figured something out which gives you joy even in the face of hopelessness. Regardless I have always loved this line and sing it with great gusto, as it somehow makes sense.

And it possibly is the end of the world as we know it. That is not to say the end of all life, but the world as we have come to know it. We show no signs of reducing our rapacious consumption of goods to which the bounty of the world must perpetually relent her sustenance. Even after 50 years of dire warnings about the future of our civilsation we show absolutely no intention of doing what needs to be done to ensure the survival of our civilsation. Instead we continue to buy bigger machines, buy bigger houses and constantly shop! And the rest of the world that do not have what we wealthy citizens have crave our lifestyle. This is reflected in the growing capitalist economies of China and India and the flow of economic migrants from poorer regions of the world to the wealthy regions of the world.

Meanwhile the world’s climate is becoming more chaotic (even if Australia is full of climate change deniers), the world is running out of potable water and we have a population forever growing and forever demanding more goods and services. We are in a word, stuffed! Having faith that all of humanity will wake up one morning and say, ‘my God we are destorying ourselves, we must change our ways immediately’ is a way to avoid the malaise that such knowledge inspires; though it is a fairly ignorant viewpoint. Go to a local shopping centre and watch the lust on people’s faces as they greedily eat up all the goodies on offer. They ain’t gonna stop. Even though, overall, if you spoke to these people over a coffee they would be concerned about the state of the world and would wish they could do something about it…

Anyway I have accepted it is the end of the world as we know it, and after years of anxiety and anger I feel pretty much fine about it. My reasons are philosophical. Let me begin with a description of karma. I do not see karma as a moral law. I see karma as a natural law that ensures equanimity in existence. At the ground of existence is a harmony that keeps all things in check. This is necessary to ensure order. From order all arises including me here typing on this computer. It is the fundamental coalescing force of existence. (The nature of this existence is left for physicists and mystics to ponder. I have written an earlier blog on this.) Karma is the law which ensures that this state of equanimity is never compromised. Anything that goes to the extreme will be be brought back to a harmonious position through balancing actions.

In the case of our planet, Earth, we have a harmonious system that has developed over billions of years. The huge diversity of life, ecosystems and environments on our planet is testimony to the extraordinary range of possibilities that the harmony of existence implies. Karma works throughout this process causing extinctions, population growths, transformations and whatever is necessary to ensure harmony. The special case connected with homosapiens is our furious pace of change! We have changed things so rapidly due to our extraordinary level of intelligence that the few billion years of fine tuning, which created our planet is being transformed almost overnight. Unfortunately our intelligence does not always translate to wisdom and we have pushed things so far and so rapidly in one direction that karma will inevitably pull things back in another direction.

Time for an analogy. I picture a nail embedded in wood as an image of the point of harmony to which existence is held. The actions of existence are like a rubber band hanging off the nail. They will stretch in any number of directions depending on the circumstances. This is one of the extraordinary aspects of existence, it is harmonious and ordered yet it can take on many forms. One only has to reflect on the diversity of existence to appreciate this. The law of karma is analogous to the elasticity of the rubber band. If it stretches to far from a state of harmony it will bounce back. In the case of humanity we are stretching the rubber band to breaking point here on Earth, and it is going to bounce back. The form of this change is hard to predict. But pretty clearly, by recent events around the world it is going to be catastrophic.

The question arises as to why humanity would knowingly walk towards its own doom when it knows that it is walking towards its own doom? Not only that, we also have all the solutions to ensure our survival and the flourishing of our civilisation(s). And we have the intelligence and the imagination to pull it off. So what stops us? I don’t know! But I try to imagine a person who holds a gun to their head and is surrounded by loved ones who tell them they will help and that they will be there for them. But still they shoot. Why? Do they hate their self? Are they inherently selfish? Do they have an unexplained death wish? Are they blind to the love that surrounds them? Can these questions be translated to humanity at large? I am sure their are psychologists with some answers somewhere.

So getting back to the song. I feel fine because I am sure that universal processes are playing our whether or not humanity is able to hear it. Humans are a fine and extraordinary emergence from the ground of existence as is all life on Earth. If we were to destroy ourselves it would be tragic, but it would not be the end. It would mean a major transformation in existence on Earth as we know it, due to the laws of karma, but it would not be the end of life. The dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteor collision. They were grandiose creatures whose life ended with a type of climate change that will dwarf ours and yet life found a way and thrived, including our mammal ancestors.

I continue to fight for this beautiful world and the amazing creatures that live on it – humans and otherwise – but if it is the end of the world as we know it, it is not the end of all the world’s as existence knows it, and so yeah, I feel fine about that.

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My blog is late this week and I deeply apologise! I am madly busy getting two gigs together for this week: Blow the Fuse and hiddensounds @ horse bazaar. If you are on facebook you will easily find both events. As preparation for the hiddensounds gig has obsessed my mind for the past week I am going to talk about it.

hiddensounds is my experimental project. And my set up for the gig this Saturday is growing exponentially. I now have a sampler, a synthesizer, a lap top, a bass guitar, a 6-string guitar, vocals and a mixing desk. They are all wired up by by midi and audio. I also have a vj, Paul Rodgers, shooting out images behind my head. So it is going to be a multimedia performance that deals with most of the senses (taste is beer – there is a bar – smell is electricity!). With my set I am exploring different aspects of musical expression. I am starting with a singer-songwriter approach and then moving into soundscapes where I will be overlapping the energy waves of various scenarios including the ocean, a football crowd and passing footsteps. This will meld into an exploration of frequency beats mimicking the movement of a bird’s ear drum as it engages with the magnetic field of the Earth. Then a space-rock exploration in the old krautrock sense of the word. Experimentation to me means not just playing around with sounds but also horizontally mashing up genres. In the end it’s about creating an effect that is exciting! Hope you can make it. All the details are in the poster below.

'horse bazaar' poster

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