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.
Light reflecting on a wall in Adelaide
Posts on soundslikenoise will be a little sporadic while I complete compositions for a number of upcoming exhibitions.
Dreaming, you glide is a work in progress, to be listened to in an exhibition featuring sculpture and sound.
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 …
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.
Image: from the film Days of Heaven, 1978. Terrence Malick.
Reducing the speed of digital field recordings is one of life’s simple pleasures. By decreasing the speed of everyday sounds we immerse ourselves in altered landscapes. This process triggers the imagination into flights of fancy – birds and insects become prehistoric creatures, rain drops resemble explosions, and the human voice transforms into monsters hiding in shadows. It is an enjoyable way to destabilise your connection with reality.
The sound files in this post explore the process of transforming sounds beyond recognition. The original recording was taken using contact microphones taped onto the back of a digital television.
Original Speed: With the television volume set on mute the contact mics pick-up static and a pulse that is ordinarily unheard:
At 0.25: By reducing the speed of the original recording to .25 new sounds begin to appear. The harsh tone of the first recording is replaced by this digital stridulation:
At 0.05: After reducing the original file to .05 the recording now resembles a sound effect from early science-fiction shows. From the original recording to sounds of stridulation to science-fiction. The transformation seems appropriate considering the content of the original sounding object.
Field recording is often identified with attempts to faithfully capture the sounds of natural habitats. However of equal worth is the manipulation of familiar sounds into the unfamiliar and its disorienting effect upon the listener. It is here that we find the combination of listening, imagination and the construction of new worlds.