Tag Archives: Soundscapes

Listening to your local sounds

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How is your sense of place informed by the sounds that surround you?

 

After decades of living in the northern NSW region of Australia I am pretty familiar with its sights and sounds. It is an idyllic area with forests, farmland, towns, rivers and beaches however this year I have felt a growing fatigue towards its rural limitations. In turn this has fostered a certain deafness towards its sonic diversity. It is an affective deafness driven by an impatience to explore new areas. Wanderlust!

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This morning, on a whim, I drove a few minutes from home and walked into the local forest. It is an area I once visited regularly but have neglected to frequent for over 1-year.

I sat by a stream and listened to the surrounds …

     … water dripped from a leaf into a small pool, birds called from trees overhead, a cricket chirped from somewhere in the undergrowth, flies buzzed around the microphone …

The recordings I made were unremarkable however the act of recording somehow reasserted my attachment to place. This is an experience many field recordists seem to mention. Listening to the waves of sound that pass around us we become immersed in our immediate environment. Our internal mapping of an area becomes multi-sensory. We find our position within it, realigning ourselves with its metre.

There in the forest life moved at a slower pace. The slow and steady rhythms in the gully calmed, albeit temporarily, the mental rush that has permeated much of 2016. It felt churlish to wish for something more.

On the way home I drove with the windows down, listening to all that I passed. Was it naive to think this moment would last?

 

 

Road Trip: Snowy Mountains

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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 …

Auditory Visions: Threnody by G.W. Bot

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Threnody by G.W. Bot (1993)

Threnody, a song of mourning, looks down upon a snowy landscape where stark trees break through a white surface. Named, in part, as a tribute to Peter Sculthorpe’s composition of the same title, the dominant sound for this work is a cello progressing in slow harmonic intervals. My aim was to acknowledge the musical connection identified by Bot whilst capturing the steady mood of her print.

This work was included in Auditory Visions, an exhibition of prints and sound created by myself and Rona Green. G.W. Bot is one of Australia’s most prominent printmakers. It was an honour to have her work included in the exhibition.

To learn more about the exhibition, and to view all of the works, please visit the Auditory Visions website.

Auditory Visions: exhibition of soundscapes and prints

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Sant’Alvise III – Jan Davis (2014)
sugar lift etching with chine collé

Auditory Visions, an exhibition combining prints with original interpretive soundscapes responding to the artworks, will open at Lismore Regional Gallery on the 12th September. The exhibition features works by 7 established and emerging Australian printmakers. The worlds of sound and vision come together in this exhibition curated by printmaker Rona Green and myself.

For the purpose of the exhibition seven contemporary Australian printmakers were invited to contribute two works focussing on an environmental or personal space. In response G.W. Bot, Jan Davis, Rona Green, Alexi Keywan, Bruce Latimer, Travis Paterson, and Michael Schlitz have each created works depicting scenes of quotidian objects under a microscopic lens, exotic locations seen through dreams, and inner worlds rendered visible. Each work was made with the intention to be interpreted through a mix of field recordings and synthesised tones. The 3-minute sound pieces highlight visual and psychological elements within the prints.

Printmaking is a visual medium, but at its best it can trigger and inspire other senses. It is concerned with conveying sensory ideas of texture, space, smell and, in the context of the proposed exhibition, sound. Visitors to the Gallery will be able to listen to the interpretive soundscapes through media players located close to the works. The soundscapes will offer a viewing beyond a literal understanding of the prints, enhancing the viewer’s appreciation of the work in a way that is absent in 2D representations.

I am really excited to have worked with some of Australia’s finest printmakers in this exhibition. Auditory Visions showcases the work of some of our most talented printmakers whose diversity in style and content allowed for a variety of ways to place sound alongside the image. Visitors to the gallery will hear field recordings from the bottom of the Venetian lagoon to the outer edges of the atmosphere, each of which add additional layers to the ink on paper.

The print featured here is by Jan Davis. In 2014 Davis spent time observing the way in which light reflected from the ripples of the Venetian lagoon. While in Venice she completed Sant’Alvise III  for Auditory Visions. Rather than interpret the print with a literal soundscape I imagined the life that exists outside its frame. Thus the sound of church bells and musicians from a Venetian conservatorium blend with the sound of water lapping against the hull of a gondola, none of which are present in the print. Here, sound serves to refocus sight.

The entire Auditory Visions collection is now online. Please follow the link to view the works.

A small aside: recontextualising field recordings

One of the things I enjoy about posting my field recordings and compositions on this site is the unexpected ways in which they might be used by people working in other disciplines. That the recordings don’t remain fixed within the context that I have given them but instead have their significance broadened in the hands of others is often quite heartening.

Impressions by Trent Thompson

Recently Trent Thompson, a thesis student studying architecture at the University of Toronto, asked if he could use a number of recordings for a film he was working on named Impressions. An edited version can be viewed here. Recordings I made in the frozen world of Estonia and here in Australia have been used to complement his images of urban life.

When asked about the film Trent said with the city as protagonist and witness, the series offers
a loose and sprawling pool of images and repeating themes.The fanatic pursuit of the suchness of things finds source in the absence of incident.

Through a post-curatorial method, stills are juxtaposed,related and contrasted. The selection and arrangement of content, played alongside non-synchronous urban murmurs, are skewed by compositional exaggerations. It is with this torsion from which stories are generated:

A field of readings, peculiar relations, instances of ambiguity, points of disunity, mental transitions.

This might be the first in a few posts looking at the work others have done with my recordings. Each from different backgrounds and different stories to tell.

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.