Filters, oscillators, each eliciting the hidden potential within one sustained note. Many an hour has been spent listening to the variations within synthesised tones and field recordings alike. Sitting in the darkness with headphones on it is easy to get lost between layers of sound. A gentle and gradual process of exploration where time is lost, the mind moving beyond the structure of the clock, instead we are transported by sound itself.
A road trip into the Snowy Mountains region. Driving south from Canberra we entered foggy valleys with yellow grassland. Leaving the city behind we were ready for a new landscape, something to jolt our senses into a renewed state.
And then it began. Road-kill to the left and right. Wombats, kangaroos, emus, wallabies. Not a kilometre without bloated corpses defrosting in the early morning wintery sun.
At first we counted the number of dead wombats we passed. Not native to our home region we had been excited at the prospect of seeing them in the wild. As the number increased we told each other they were sleeping by the side of the road but this feeble joke grew old pretty quickly.
We soon entered a region where even the vegetation was dying. Huge old Monaro eucalyptus trees standing like skeletons, their fate not changing from one field to the next.
Researching it later we had unknowingly passed through a 2000 square kilometre area regarded as a tree graveyard. For over two decades the eucalyptus trees have been dying leaving behind an eerie landscape.
We finally arrived at the Snowy Mountains. The mountainsides were characterised by lines of thin white tree trucks. They were the remnants of forest that had burnt to the ground in bushfires in 2003. Bleak, devastated, silent.
Walking through the countryside it was hard to feel uplifted. Signs of loss were everywhere. Many reports suggested the Snow Gums were not growing back.
We stayed in the area for 3 days. On our last night we watched the breaking news of a mass shooting in Orlando. We fell into silence.
Driving back north we again passed the corpses of the local wildlife. They hadn’t moved since days before, still sleeping in the midday sun.
Black Hole. photo courtesy of NASA
Brexit. Orlando massacre. ISIS. Trump. Global warming. Syria. Financial crisis. Presidential election. Healthcare. Nauru. Sea level rise. Human rights violation. Gun laws. Sun spots. Turn Back the Boats. Clinton. Marriage inequality. Putin. Coral bleaching. Brussels. Zika virus. Drones. Taliban. EgyptAir. Poaching. Merkel. Suicide bombers. Pope Francis. Refugees. Pistorius. Catholic Church. North Korea. Asylum seekers. Terrorism. Forest fires. Methamphetamine. Julian Assange. Flooding. Fallujah. Abortion ban. Domestic violence. MH17. Famine. Security alert.
Contact microphones – my favourite portal to listening to “the inaudible”. Whether recording in domestic spaces or the outside world I love nothing more than connecting contact microphones to inanimate objects and listening to their voice. Not only do they reveal unexpected tones and pulses but they also stand in contrast to their surrounds. The juxtaposition between the landscape and its elusive auditory companion keeps me occupied when I’m on field recording trips.
Thredbo in Australia’s Snowy Mountains. A short metal bridge crosses a creek at a place alluringly called Dead Horse Gap. The ambient sound is as you’d expect, a rush of water gurgling over rocks, a pleasant soundmark for those lucky enough to spend time there.
What took my interest though was the potential of any sound that might vibrate within the metal handrails of the bridge. I wasn’t disappointed. A sound similar to the low drone of a pipe organ moved with the flow of water. With headphones on, looking at the surrounding landscape, I had my own private soundtrack to the region. What could be better?
Moving the microphones to the bridge’s thin wire-grill deck a shrill high-pitched sound replaced the softer tones that flowed beneath my feet. It wasn’t a sound that was easy to fall into however I continued recording as I thought it held the potential to be mixed into a slightly nightmarish composition somewhere in the future.
I left Dead Horse Gap feeling lucky to have experienced its hidden soundscape. With temperatures well below zero it was time to return to the apartment for some warming red wine.
Next, electrical sounds in hotel rooms …
Electrical pylons. Towers dominating the landscape, fields dissected by lines of parallel wires. Their symmetry and incongruity have always been appealing.
For years I have wanted to record their steel frames. Passing them along country roads I have always wondered about the sound vibrating within them. How does its low level frequency affect those who live around it; can we hear crackles of electricity, a low monotonous drone?
Until recently these questions had been a source of frustration with each pylon sitting within private land. However on a recent trip to Canberra one electrical pylon stood by the side of a quiet road. I quickly took the opportunity to record it.
The recording process was hampered by wind and rain however the contact microphones brought an otherwise inaudible side of the pylon to life. Its sound being quite different to what I had expected. The recording is short due to the weather and my fear of being apprehended by the authorities so I still don’t feel entirely satisfied with the end result …
… but here it is, my first recording of an electrical pylon.