The Return of Vinyl (and my obsession with Sonic Youth)


Compact disc versus vinyl; digital versus analogue

It’s a long and sometimes heated debate. As someone who grew up in the 1980s I knew the heartbreak of accidental bumps of the stylus making favourite tracks on records unlistenable. Theoretically the arrival of the indestructible CD should have been a godsend.

Crackle crackle pop skip

And let’s not forget the cassette tape, vulnerable to stretching and getting mangled in the playback heads of the cheapest machines. It was great for making mix tapes though, we were all the world’s best dj.

Can someone pass the lighter?

Vinyl of the 1980s and ’90s was inextricably linked with smoke-filled university rooms and share-house lounge rooms. On high rotation on my own turntable was Sonic Youth. Anything up to their 1988 album Daydream Nation to be exact. A quiet evening could be turned into a noisy rabble once the needle was dropped on the vinyl and party goods were unveiled.

Certain songs had to be saved until after a smoke, only then could their true intensity be revealed. Play it again, no wait, can someone pass the lighter first?

But of course the act of aligning the stylus to desired tracks while somewhat foggy-headed did not always have positive outcomes. Mistakes were made. Needles were dropped too harshly, skating across treasured records, uncoordinated bodies bumped into the turntable. What a mess!

The Great Disappointment

It might have been 1991. A friend of mine had hired the most unimaginably sophisticated CD-player and speakers. He was an urban sophisticate and was not to be left behind in the new digital world. To demonstrate the brilliance of this new technology he had specially bought Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. I felt a small loss at the format of the packaging, all that beautiful art-work reduced to something less than originally intended … but I did like the shiny silver light reflecting off the CD.

Before pressing play there had to be the ceremonial smoke. We sat gazing at the marvellous new machine. A new dawn had arrived. Once we were all sufficiently glassy-eyed it was time to  press PLAY … …

… … and the disappointment was palpable. Where was the bass, the swirls of guitar sound that should have been practically tangible? We experimented with the EQ but the machine couldn’t redeem itself. It was a total bummer.

Moving to the other side

It took a few more years before I bought my first CD-player. Records were becoming harder to find, though the range of CD’s wasn’t great at the time either.

It may have been my own perception but those guitars and drums I loved just never sounded alive on cd. There needed to be a replacement. Soon the synthetic tones of electronic artists started to fill my room with crisp and clearly articulated sound.

I’m aware of the arguments that state there is no difference between the audio quality of cd’s and vinyl. Those and contrary opinions of people working in sound studios fill an entire corner of the internet

My own experience tells me that I lost interest in an entire genre of rock music once I switched to digital.

Vinyl is back

20 years after I bought my first cd-player I returned to vinyl. I am now the proud owner of a very swanky turntable which I call Debbie.

Vinyl is back, though I should note that the smokey rooms are a thing of the past.

The ritual of it all … cleaning the vinyl, placing it on the turntable, moving the stylus to the correct position and dropping it with a slightly elevated heart beat. Those deeper sounds have returned, as well as the occasional pop and crackle which digital natives may celebrate as part of something nostalgic. It is a much more complete experience.

And there in my tiny collection of albums, in pride of place, is Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Hey, where’s the lighter?

ABC Radio National: the sound of red

deep red colour


Red. A colour of extremes …

In this, the final episode of the primary colour series, we listen to the story of Russian composer and synaesthete Alexander Scriabin. Scriabin claimed to hear colour as different tones on the chromatic scale. He heard the colour deep red as “F” on the keyboard.

Over the next few months I will be working on the other colours in the ROYGBIV spectrum. Until then please visit Radio National to listen to Red, Yellow, and Blue.

ABC Radio National: the sound of yellow



Yellow, a colour that can provoke joy and nausea. Artists have used its binary shades to reflect summer’s vitality and our gradual decay. The negative connotations of yellow are quite strong in the English language. Consider: yellow-bellied, yellow-streak, yellow-journalism, yellow-fever.

If we were to imagine the sound of yellow, what would we hear? Viewing fields of sunflowers we might connect them with pleasant high pulses of energy; yet as their petals begin to fade their former sound could be replaced with low murky drones.

“Yellow” is the latest colour to be heard in my “Sound of Colour” series on ABC Radio National’s Soundproof. To listen or to download this piece please click here.

Next week, the colour red.



ABC Radio National: the sound of blue

IKB 191, monochromatic painting by Yves Klein


For the past few months I have been working on a short series of works interpreting the colour of sound for Australia’s Radio National.

This 3-part series features a combination of spoken word and soundscapes designed to reflect the emotional resonance that is shared by sound and colour.

The first episode, Blue, is now free to download through Radio National’s program Soundproof.

While you are visiting the Soundproof page check out their archive of radio art and other delicious audio features; all of which are freely available to download.

Click here to listen to my work The Colour of Sound: Blue.

Road trip: the Warrumbungles and hotel recordings


It is a strange experience visiting the place of your birth, a region left behind as a child with only family photographs and verbal anecdotes to support the fact that this period existed. The Warrumbungles National Park and its outlying farming districts where my family once lived had almost reached a mythological status in my mind so 41 years after moving away seemed more than an appropriate amount of time to visit it. 



In what is otherwise a land dominated by flat fields of yellow wheat the Warrumbungles rise incongruously from the ground in ancient violent rocky eruptions. Once covered in a layer of green foliage the Warrumbungles were stripped bare by an intense bushfire in 2013 that burnt 43,000 hectares of eucalyptus forest to the ground. Driving through the area it was very evident that 80% of the park had been devastated. Blackened tree stumps were what remained of the forested hills although hints of greenery shooting from the cracked earth pointed towards regeneration in progress.

Looking at the devastated landscape it was no surprise that there was little in the way of sonic variety. Aside from a few birds in small pockets of surviving forest the dominant sound came from cicadas. It was a strong auditory marker of how the biodiversity of the park had virtually been extinguished.

On our first night at the Warrumbungles we watched the sun set behind the hills. As the sky deepened in colour the cicadas pulsated in the valley below us. The sound was omni-directional having no fixed perspective, no discernible layers of depth. It was as if the immense stretch of earth below us was breathing in slow measures.



The experiences of the outside world were in sharp contrast to our hotel rooms. I’m always eager to explore these interior liminal spaces, searching for sounds that amplify our strange artificial worlds. Hermetic space capsules.

My favourite object to record was a TV in Canberra. A coil pickup microphone recorded this tiny musical siren perhaps warning of the health hazards associated with mind-numbing sit-coms and live-televised golf tournaments.


IMG_0896 (1)

Later I recorded the flickering tone of a fluorescent tube that cast its sickening light throughout the surface of the hotel bathroom. This was one example of a sound whose penetrating edges perfectly resembled its physical source.

And now the road trip is over …

… I am left with only a small selection of field recordings, the scorching heat of inland Australia in summer deterring me from spending much time standing in the sun with a microphone. However the moments that I did record are now etched strongly in my mind, much like the way in which drawing objects in situ helps reinforce the awareness of space.

Returning to the Warrumbungles as an adult, with no real memories of the region from childhood, I found myself wondering what other possibilities life would have presented had we stayed there and not moved to the east coast. It unsettled me a little. Hypotheticals.

Road Trip into the Australian Gothic


What better way to spend the holidays than by driving into Australia’s Gothic past? After a couple of days driving through unfamiliar terrain we reached our destination: the neighbouring districts of Junee and Wantabadgery. Our aim was to explore a slice of Australia’s queer history through both sight and sound.

This isolated farming district was the site of a bizarre bushranger siege in 1879. Captain Moonlight, having recently been released from prison for bank robbery, was travelling north recounting his tales of injustice at the hands of the colonial legal system. Moonlight’s attempts to sell his story to audiences in regional Victoria and New South Wales were thwarted by police who road ahead of him smearing his reputation to local townsfolk.

Having starved for two days and without any money Captain Moonlight and his gang arrived at Wantabadgery station where they asked for food in return for labour. The station owner refused any assistance and sent the gang on their way. Moonlight returned the next morning and took all 25 residents and workers in the station hostage.

wantabadgery stn

After a number of days Moonlight’s gang fled the station with the police shortly behind them. After a shoot-out at a hut near the station Moonlight’s partner, James Nesbitt, was shot dead. At this stage Moonlight and his gang surrendered. From his gaol cell, just metres from the gallows where he was soon to be hung, Moonlight wrote endless letters declaring his love for James Nesbitt. At the moment of his execution he held the hand of another of his gang members, his last words being “we have made a sad mistake”.



After exploring the area we stopped by the Murrumbidgee River just across the road from Wantabadgery Station. A flock of cockatoos screeched from the trees above us, this the only sound other than the incongruous chatter of some Swedish tourists who appeared for a swim in the murky water. Metres away were the two wings of a cockatoo, the body missing. Their neat arrangement and cleanly cut lines implied human involvement.

sandy beach


A long wire fence separated the camp ground from this group of trees. Old enough to have stood during the time of Captain Moonlight I wondered if he had journeyed through this same area, the trees a living memory to this region’s Gothic past. How did he hear this environment, which sounding objects survived to this present day? I connected contact microphones onto the fence lines and listened to their eerie resonance, the tapping of grass on the wires playing at a lower frequency. The sound of the cockatoos and the wires conspired to create a haunting atmosphere informed by the story of Moonlight 135 years ago.

It wasn’t a traditional type of Christmas day but it was one whose regional sounds added depth to my understanding of Australia and its colonial past. The next stop was to the Warrumbungle Mountains, an area decimated by bushfires in 2013, this to feature in my next post …

Floodwater and fencelines: a contact microphone recording


This New Year started with the intense sound of thunder ricocheting through the valley. At times it sounded as if the sky was being pierced open. With the thunder came heavy torrents of rain, bringing our first flood for 2015. This photo shows our driveway submerged under murky floodwater, a regular occurrence during summer.

Aside from the humidity that rises from the earth after a flood there is another common phenomenon that I have noticed over the years: the locality is rendered mute, a virtual silence  surrounds the water-soaked valley. So, recording the floodwater receding has never been as satisfying as I hope it to be. That is until this morning …



Stepping across the flood debris that lay on the bridge I noticed fence-lines stretching into the quickly flowing water below. Contact-microphones brought their sonic characteristics to life. I sat on the bridge and listened to a dystopian choir rising from the floodwater. It felt like the perfect combination between object and sound. It was only the relentless heat and the need to clear the bridge that dragged me away.

Happy New Year and fingers crossed for less floods in the future.