Author Archives: soundslikenoise

About soundslikenoise

Sound artist and field recordist from Australia.

Swarm: the onslaught of Argentine Lawn Scarabs.

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Hundreds of Christmas beetles Argentine Lawn Scarabs flew into the glass door at night then scratched around the wooden boards of the verandah searching for a mate.

 

Thanks to Chris Reid from the Australian Museum for correcting my identification of the beetles in this post. What I had thought were Christmas Beetles were in fact non-native Argentine Lawn Scarabs. Read his comment for more information. Summer and introduced species? Another reason not to like this season …

I’ll admit it … I am not a summer person. In fact just the anticipation of the the mind-numbing, body-bloating heat of the Australian summer is something that I dread the moment winter fades away. There must be a point to summer, but I just don’t get it.

However there is one thing that slightly redeems these humid and draining months: the brief onslaught of Christmas beetles. For about a week these beetles emerge from the earth and swarm around street lights and brightly lit windows. This mass event is something that marks the beginning of summer.

The beetles fly clumsily into walls and faces, often getting stuck in long hair and clothing. Their long spindly legs claw their way across skin and clamp down when feeling threatened. Needless to say these beetles have a certain creepy value. Their buzzing and whirring as they fly through the night air is something I’d like to add to my list of Australian Gothic sounds.

Frog n beetles

Easy pickings for this green tree frog.

Each year I have tried to record the arrival of the Christmas beetles as they circle our outdoor light in their hundreds. These recordings have never been very successful as the beetles invariably fly into the microphone. After these recording sessions I return inside with beetles covering my body.

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Beetles re-enacting Ancient Roman orgiastic rituals.

This year I tried a different approach by recording the beetles as they flew into our kitchen window. The multiple thuds as they hit the window give some indication of the mass of beetles swarming outside.

So these beetles and their characteristic sounds are a soundmark of the Australian summer. I’m not sure if it is enough to help me appreciate summer but at least there is something to consider as the sweat trickles down my face. (Though now we know that these are in fact an introduced species, impostors! One less thing to like about summer).

Sound and Our Past

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Sound entwines itself within our memory. Our adult selves are transported into emotional states from childhood through the exposure to sounds connected to past experiences.

 

Sound, like memory, is intangible yet it has the ability to haunt us. States of being rise through buried layers of personal history when exposed to soundmarks from the past. Although sound passes swiftly it leaves raw emotions floundering in its wake.

… and so it is for me.  Sitting by streams the gurgle of water unlocks a deeply hidden reservoir of childhood emotions.

As a child I grew up in a valley filled with farms, patches of forest, and trickling streams. In one sense it was quite ideal though as a queer youth it wasn’t without its problems. Verbal and physical homophobic harassment was something to endure on a daily basis and its shame was something to bury and keep silent about when at home. A sense of insecurity prevailed.

But there was a refuge. On the outer perimeter of my parent’s farm was a place where the anxiety of the school week could wash away. A stream flowed under the shade of trees which lined its bank. It was a space where I could sit alone allowing the week’s accumulation of fear to sail downstream. The sound of the stream allowed me to move beyond those experiences.

At the time I didn’t know that the sound of water was burying itself inside my subconscious, becoming an emotional memory, a personal soundmark. I sit by streams today and feel myself transported into the past. This familiar childhood sound provokes a confusion of sadness, anger, quietude. I walk away from streams feeling unsettled.

This is just one soundmark however there are so many more tugging at these barely hidden emotions from the past.  And so it is with us all.

Which sounds reverberate inside your personal history?

Listening to Caspar David Friedrich: Woman Before the Rising Sun (Woman Before the Setting Sun)

Woman Before the Rising Son Caspar David Friedrich 1818 to 1820

 

Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman Before the Rising Sun, or as others have named it Woman Before the Setting Sun, is often described as a meditation on the benefits of communing with nature. In this painting Friedrich’s earlier works, overtly religious in theme, have been replaced by a metaphorical presence of God.

For many critics this painting contains a gentle element that marks a turning point in Friedrich’s artistic career. The woman, most probably his wife, is seen quietly stretching her arms in a way that resembles the rays of the early morning sun. Has she been caught in a moment of prayer? However if Friedrich intended the painting to capture the sun setting behind the hills it could equally symbolise the coming of death.

Viewing the painting from a completely agnostic point of view I see something apocalyptic in its scene though this interpretation could be the product of 21st century anxieties and popular culture imagery (it is hard to detach oneself from them). I see the woman as embracing the earth’s final moments, she has made peace with the inevitability of her own death, indeed she appears to welcome it. Does a better life await her?

And what do we hear when viewing this work? The wind, birds, a family in the background or perhaps farmers working in neighbouring fields?

I hear the escalating tension of a brutal and relentless force …

In my composition for the painting waves of sound intensify as the end draws closer. Cicadas stridulate rhythmically as if anticipating the impending catastrophe.

Raising the Inaudible to the Surface

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The pulse of an electronic rust inhibitor as recorded through a coil pickup microphone.

 

Trails of sonic activity drift, unheard, around us. Beneath our feet the earth groans in frequencies too low to be discerned. From the trees ultrasonic clicks from insects remain unrecognised. At home electrical pulses radiate from domestic utilities. It is the unheard universe.

Discovering these hidden sounds is one of the joys of field recording. Although contemporary discourse describes the world as getting smaller field recording and the act of listening reveal the planet to be much larger than we think. How satisfying to know that there are still some mysteries to be uncovered!

With the advent of modern recording technology regions of uncharted sound have been made available to us. Contact microphones capture the subtle vibrations of inanimate objects; hydrophones amplify the sound of aquatic life; coil pickups, my new personal favourite, reveal a musicality of tones emanating from everyday electrical appliances. It is in these objects that I have recently found the greatest interest.

Coil pickup microphones detect the electromagnetic signals of motors and microprocessors. It is endlessly fascinating listening to the variety of tones each appliance projects. The timbre, duration and frequency of tones is quite unique, often falling into the region of what is termed microsound. Here short bursts of sound are heard lasting between one tenth of a second and 10 milliseconds.

The effect of these tiny sounds on our approach to listening is immense. They emerge briefly to the foreground forcing the ears to pay attention to the space into which they retreat. Through this process we hear sounds beneath sounds. We notice a polyphony of textures and beats, the complexity of which encourages the mind to lose itself, if only briefly.

When I first started field recording I did so from a concern for the state of the natural environment. Although that concern still exists my interest in recording has moved to a new terrain – that of bringing the inaudible to the acoustic forefront. With the aid of recording equipment we can overcome the limitations of our auditory system, enabling us to listen to a more 3-dimensional version of the world in which we live. We are the richer for it.

Sound and Memory: field recordings and temporality

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The pied currawong, John Gould (1848).

 

The return of the liquid tones of pied-currawongs in the eucalyptus tree outside my kitchen window is a sound marking the change of seasons. Each year, as the cold teeth of winter lose their bite, the mornings are often punctuated by the sudden call of 15-20 currawongs. What I love about the currawongs is the way in which they appear from nowhere and, for a brief period, rule the the garden’s soundscape, only to disappear as quickly as they arrived.

What is it for something that endures to remain? (Ricoeur. 1984)

Listening to my archive of currawong recordings from previous years it is surprising how clearly the sound transports me back into the past. This experience is shared by many others.

Personal field recordings act as a portal to distant memories, triggering the ghosts of long forgotten thoughts and emotions. The process of recording sounds embeds subjective temporal memories within them. Upon subsequent listenings field recordings tunnel their way through our auditory system and unlock the resonance of the past. The dominant sound of the recorded object thus becomes secondary to the psychological layers present at the time of the recording. 

It has been a year since I last ventured outside to record the currawongs at a local creek. I remember being sick at the time, feeling the guilty pleasure of not going to work, realising that my illness had granted this tranquil moment.

Listening to the currawongs I am also reminded of an earlier walk through snake-infested waist-high grass in order to record the birds’ mercurial calls in a small grove of trees. It was windy that day and I imagined the sound of snakes with the movement of each stalk of grass swaying in the breeze.

And this recording? It too will capture something of the essence of today, the experiences of this present moment to be unfastened in some distant future.

Interview/Documentary: field recording and “sound art”

Radio_National

 

I was recently invited to curate a show about field recording and sound art for Soundproof on Australia’s ABC Radio National. For one hour Soundproof’s host Miyuki Jokiranta and I discussed the physicality of sound and soundscapes, listening to works by Hildegard Westerkamp, Andrea Polli, Richard Garet, Chris Watson, Heiki Vester, Jacob Kirkegaard.

My selection of pieces was intended to showcase the diversity of interests and styles that is explored by contemporary field recordists and artists working with sound. Join Miyuki and myself to listen to sounds from deserts to Antarctic research stations to huskies and helicopters to Mexican train lines to Norwegian killer whales to the vibrations of German bridges.

This show is now available to download directly from the ABC.

Heike_Vesterjacob kirkegaardAndreaPolliwesterkampOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArichardgaret

Composing The Australian Gothic (an update)

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A short sample from my new composition The Australian Gothic.

Long before the fact of Australia was ever confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. The idea of its existence was disputed, was even heretical for a time, and with the advent of the transportation of convicts its darkness seemed confirmed. The Antipodes was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world.

Gerry Turcote “Australian Gothic”, 1998.

The Australian Gothic: a creative genre emphasising the terrors of isolation in this post-colonial land. The Australian Gothic weaves the threads of our personal and collective subconscious, revealing a tormented communal psyche weighted by dark secrets.

The Gothic novel was born in Europe in the 1800s. The Gothic showed the dark side of eighteenth-century rationality and morality. It threatened its values in the shape of supernatural and natural forces, imaginative excesses and delusions, religious and human evil, social transgression, mental disintegration and spiritual corruption (Botting. 1996. 2). The Gothic novel was transported to Australia where it readily adapted to the sense of dislocation and disorientation felt by many of the first colonialists.

Growing up in a region where artefacts from the pre-colonial era could readily be found under shallow soil, the local layers of history have always sat uncomfortably with me. We live on stolen land, where immoral and bloody actions happened in the recent past. This knowledge adds a sense of weight, of “unbelonging” to our connection to this country. It is part of The Australian Gothic experience.

With this in mind I have been collecting field recordings in our local area for a composition titled The Australian Gothic. It features field recordings, both modified and unmodified, of sounds captured from local farms, the steady expansion of farming land into traditional Aboriginal land being a primary source of frontier conflict during the colonial period. The composition therefore contains sounds of native and introduced species alongside farm equipment being struck in various rhythmic ways.

Listening to the composition I hope that a sense of unease and dread will be provoked through this combination of sounds. My aim is for the listener to be transported into the fabric of Australia’s Gothic experience.

The Australian Gothic will be released through the Unfathomless label in April 2015.