Tag Archives: contact microphones

Sounds from a Deserted Town: Dalmorton

Dalmorton Butchers

The old Dalmorton Butchers

More than a 1-hour drive along a narrow dirt-road winding its way through river-valleys lined with eucalyptus trees sits the deserted township of Dalmorton. Once a gold-mining town boasting 13 pubs Dalmorton is now a small collection of abandoned buildings whose facades are barely surviving the elements and mindless actions of some visitors.

There under the unrelenting midday sun an old butchers shop and residence begged to be recorded …

Butchers

Inside the butchers

The heat was oppressive inside the old butchers shop. I definitely didn’t want to spend much time there. Quickly scanning the room I saw some rusting metal rings from which meat once hung. They looked an ideal place to connect a contact microphone.  The metal transported a definite thumping sound. A loose sheet of corrugated-iron roof was flapping in the barely existent breeze.

Residence

Next door an old residence baked in the sun. Although it had survived decades of abandonment visitors had at some stage kicked in the walls and windows. In a room to the left a tree branch scraped against a sheet of iron. My recording was cut short by the intense heat. The space or sparseness of the sounds caught in the recordings somehow reflected the slow pace of the empty township.

Dalmorton creek

 Boyd River

Walking around the remnants of the old township it is easy to forget that a a river runs through the valley.  The sounds of life by the riverbanks were in direct contrast with the town. We entered its fresh water contemplating the place Dalmorton had once been. Questions were asked:

How had the land shaped those who once lived there? How could a town big enough to host 13 pubs all but disappear? What emotional attachments did residents have to Dalmorton in order to call it home? Did the local soundscape help form a connection to the land? What sounds had since been lost?

We floated in the water, no answers came …

A bridge in Thredbo (or, why I love contact microphones)

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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.

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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?

 

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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 Pylon: contact microphone recording

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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.

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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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.

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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

 

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

 

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.

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.

Gathering field recordings: The Australian Gothic

 

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                      Gothic sounds … a field recording of wind, wire and electricity.

 

Over the past few months I have been spending time in the local hills gathering field recordings for a new work titled The Australian Gothic.

The Australian Gothic attempts to understand the way in which the native soundscape provoked feelings of dread, isolation and entrapment in the minds of the first Europeans to the area in the 1850s. The sounds of the local forest at night unnerved settlers who had migrated from the townships of Britain. Indeed visitors to this region continue to be alarmed by the sounds of bats, possums, owls and other nocturnal animals.

My initial field recordings for The Australian Gothic were gathered during nightly walks in the local swamps and forests. This was because I was only interested in recording sounds that existed at the period of colonisation. However as time progressed I realised that certain electrical sounds connected to local farming add another element to the area’s Gothic potential. The sharp snap of electricity surging along fence-lines is a sound loaded with connotations of danger and containment.

In this field recording a slight wind adds a further ghostly element to the sound of the electric fence.

The Australian Gothic will be released through the Unfathomless label.

 

Field-recording in Estonia: a lesson in being adaptable

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One of several telecommunication towers that rise above the farmlands of Mooste. It was in these objects that I found some of the greatest satisfaction during my one month of field recording in Estonia.

 

A late winter compromised my objectives in visiting Estonia. I had originally intended to explore the sounds of a frozen landscape however with moderately warmer temperatures than expected it was necessary to be flexible in what to record.

After only limited success in recording thin layers of ice on lakes and soft drops of snow on glass I had to face the fact that the weather conditions weren’t right for my intended outcomes. It was slightly difficult to give up these plans but with only a month to spend in Estonia it was important to find a new focus with my recordings.

It was at this stage that I turned my attention to the industrial and telecommunication infrastructure that dominate the village of Mooste. Ex-Soviet water-tanks, electrical fences and telecommunication towers became my new objects of interest.

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Visitors to this site may have already listened to some of my recordings of towers and fences in Mooste. Listening to the objects in situ I was always hypnotised by their deep and heavy resonance. Their tones seem to carry a weight of history that reflect the village itself.

Estonia, a country invaded and occupied by Russia, Germany, Sweden and Denmark throughout the centuries, was a somewhat difficult country to understand. During my month in Mooste I never really comprehended where I was, nor was I able to read the personalties of the local people. Although this was unsettling at times I am happy to have had my cultural perspectives challenged by this remote and relatively unknown part of the world.

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Each day I walked through the village to outlying forested areas or to more localised industrial areas. These walks were documented by recordings of the village of which those using contact microphones are my personal favourites.

On my second-last afternoon I walked more than a kilometre to reach this telecommunications tower. I had seen it in the distance throughout my residency but it was only with John Grzinich’s recommendation that I took the time to record it.

As can be heard in these three recordings each of the supporting cables vibrated at different frequencies in just the smallest amount of wind. With contact microphones connected to the cables I sat and looked at the brown winter landscape that surrounded me all the while knowing that I would soon be back in the heat of the Australian summer listening to a completely different soundscape.

For artists of any medium who are interested in applying for the MoKS residency program please follow this link.