Tag Archives: phonography

Flinders Ranges – a trip into South Australia

Flinders New Year

I swore there would be no field-recording during the much treasured summer holidays. This would be a time to rebalance the senses, to enjoy the outdoors without microphones and recorders. For the most part this resolution was maintained, helped in no small way by strong winds and temperatures of 40 degrees.

But there were some key sounds that couldn’t be left undocumented. Dry plants swaying in the relentless wind …

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flinders wind

 

On New Years Eve we climbed a hill adjacent to our cabin to watch the final sunset of 2015. It couldn’t have been more perfect. As a rainbow stretched from one range to another the sky started turning into various shades of blue to indigo to violet.

The sky, the ranges, the plains … colours enough to startle my jaded self into a renewed sense of wonder, an appreciation of the ephemeral. The wind tore through the trees.

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The following morning we walked into a small section of this range. Here we were told Indigenous rock paintings telling the story of the formation of the ranges could be found.

Flinders

It was early in the morning but the heat radiating from the rocks was already intense. The unfamiliar terrain kept us walking.

Flinders rock painting

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Finally we came upon the ancient paintings, the sunlight reflecting off the rocks. The weight of its history and significance kept us there, we looked at the contours, the colours and motifs, but couldn’t decode its narrative.

A wire grill protected the paintings from human interference. I attached microphones to it and recorded the wind passing over the wires. A sound imposing a cinematic effect upon the location.

Flinders eagle

Eagles and hawks dominated the sky.

Flinders wallabies

Kangaroos and wallabies watched us wherever we went

Flinders Canyon

A canyon in another part of the ranges contains another set of visible reminders of the first Australians.

Flinders rock carving

Carvings in the stones signify pools of water that can be found in this arid region, others signify emu footprints. Here the sound of flies dominated the small space. I regretted leaving the microphone behind that day.

Flinders last day

flinders flies

… Flinders crickets …

Flinders crickets

The first sunset of 2016 was quite unlike the evening before. A brilliant gold swept across the valley. Wind and flies welcomed the new year.

Adelaide

A 5-hour drive south brought us to Adelaide. We sat on the street and saw a man walk into a tree branch. He cursed loudly before tearing it to the ground. Days later David Bowie died.

Auditory Visions: Shitehawk by Rona Green

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Shitehawk by Rona Green

 

Rona Green is well known for her hand coloured linocuts of hybrid figures. Shitehawk exemplifies her interest in the hyper-masculinised world of men living on society’s edge. In this portrait Shitehawk is about to engage in a street fight where there can be only one winner.

Green’s larger than life figure required extreme sounds to amplify this narrative. Field recordings of a chaotic urban world merge with processed sounds to represent the scene that is being played out.

This is the final post relating to the Auditory Visions exhibition. Time for a much needed break over the holiday period. Thanks for your visits and comments this year. Till 2016 …

Australian Gothic: a new Unfathomless release

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My latest work, The Australian Gothic, has recently been released on the Unfathomless label. Read below about the historical context of the Australian Gothic genre and the process of producing this particular composition.

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 Turcotte (Australian Gothic. University of Wollongong.1998).

The Australian Gothic : a creative genre emphasising the terrors of isolation in this post-colonial land. The Australian Gothic exposes a tormented communal psyche weighted by dark secrets.

Australia, a country colonised in 1788 by unwilling convicts and prison guards. For these unfortunates Australia was a nightmarish location, its foreign terrain provoked feelings of fear and alienation. Gone was the British gothic landscape of moors and heaths. In its place were dangerous animals, deserts, bush-fires, floods and droughts. The comfortability of the known European landscape was replaced by this new unstable setting.

Integral to the colonisers’ sense of dislocation and dread was the Australian soundscape. Reading journals and novels from this era it is evident that the aural dimensions of the Australian landscape were strongly perceived in gothic terms of enclosure and entrapment. The vastness of the deserts unsettled the first colonisers who remarked upon its deathlike silence, while in the forests the mass of unfamiliar sounds induced intense feelings of fear and disorientation. This sparked feelings of loathing towards the newly colonised space, including the Aboriginal people. In the Australian Gothic tradition the landscape sounded alive, it surrounded and entrapped with suffocating force.

Growing up in a region where Aboriginal artifacts from the pre-colonial era could readily be found under shallow soil the bloody layers of history have always sat uncomfortably with me. We live on stolen land, a place where immoral and bloody actions happened in the recent past. We have a sense of un-belonging to this country. It is part of the Australian Gothic experience.

With this in mind I collected field recordings in my local valley of Main Arm, a place like much of Australia, partly suburban, partly open for farming. I wanted to create a composition that featured field recordings, both modified and unmodified, of sounds from local farms. Could we imagine ourselves in the past, a time when the steady expansion of the frontier into traditional Aboriginal land was a primary source of conflict?

Listening to the composition I hope a sense of unease and dread is provoked through its combination of sounds. Yet somewhere underneath its layers there is the suggestion of beauty, of what could have been. Listen and be transported into the fabric of Australia’s Gothic experience.

Road trip: the Warrumbungles and hotel recordings

Warrumbungles

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. 

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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.

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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.

 

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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

Junee

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”.

cockatoo

 

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

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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 …

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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.

 

Road Trip: listening to the landscape of Captain Moonlight

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This summer holiday has seen us on a road trip to the historic sites of Captain Moonlight’s last days. We have driven over 1,000 kilometres south-west to the town of Junee where this Australian bushranger (outlaw) spent his last days of freedom in 1879.

Captain Moonlight is of particular interest to me as recently uncovered letters written on death-row have revealed his undying love for a fellow member of his bushranger-gang. This member, James Nesbitt, was killed in a shoot-out with police next to the stand of trees shown in the photo above. Moonlight was described by police as weeping while kissing Nesbitt’s dead body passionately. Moonlight later wore a lock of Nesbitt’s hair on his wedding finger when he was executed. Moonlight’s final request was to be buried next to Nesbitt:

My dying wish is to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt, the man with whom I was united by every tie which could bind human friendship, we were one in hopes, in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms.

Despite the misdeeds of Moonlight there is beauty in his declaration of love for Nesbitt. I admire Moonlight’s unapologetic stance which challenged the heteronormative culture that was fostered during this conservative colonial period.

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On the morning that we visited the site of Moonlight’s last stand a storm was approaching. As dark clouds closed in thunder rumbled in the distance. From the trees at the site of Nesbitt’s death a colony of cicadas dominated the soundscape. I wondered if this same sound was heard by Moonlight and Nesbitt in 1879, I hoped that this auditory experience provided a tangible link to the past.