Australian Sound Artist

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day two at Pollinaria

:: Ground floor @ Pollinaria ::

Tuesday 17th June.

With such short time the recording has well and truly begun. The wet weather is a typical hindrance - it seems every country I have visited in the last two years - my recordings have included rain - no matter what time of the year it is. Water is a wonderful sound to record but it would be nice to have the choice - and that is a little harder than usual to master this time round. 

Last night I 'warmed-up' by recording some of the creaking doors of the farmhouse. Ground floor of the building is a fantastic space whose inner architecture is not dissimilar to a miniature representation of le abbey Noirlac and the acoustics leave you with the same sensation of 'other-worldliness'. Natural acoustics and creaks are like treats to me so it was nice to find them here and begin the sound collection with them. This time round I indulged my typical desire to go against the textbook recommendation of recording technique - close mic'ing the door extremely so, with a hyper-cardioid. I am pretty chuffed with the result - a hyper-surreal sensation of listening through a microscope to the point that the original sound - as authentic as it is, is completely unrecognisable and bizarre. Your instinct to identify the sound swings from assurity (Oh yes - that's a door) to sheer doubt and questioning as the sound's envelope progresses (what the hell is that?)

This morning was the dawn chorus with Daniella. We started a little later than usual as the sky was so overcast that even the birds were slow to get started. The nearby valley is an excellent haven for birds and shelter from the noise of nearby roads and I think the best recording will be the very first.

:: Bean recording - contact mics ::
The afternoon was spent in the closest shed where giant bags of black beans used for fertilising the soil, and wheat seed for planting are to be found. Cue, the contact mic's and we had some very textural rolling rumbles created as I moved my hands through the beans. Taking the microphones in hand, I'd plunge them deep into the bags and then pull-back - yoiking them out just as quickly. The timbrel shift linked to the speed of the hands was not unlike a doppler effect and made me think of breathing…

:: Recording Daniela making pasta ::
Night time was spent drinking vino rosso with Gaetano and further discussing the project. After a few glasses, Daniella decides we MUST record the sounds of making pasta, to then be eaten for dinner. Out with the contact mic's again and she goes to work. It is a beautiful thing to see. 'Oh no! I am not a stereotype!', she promises me as she cooks away - her hands moving deftly in movements she seems well practised in. "Not all Italians cook pasta", she promises. I understand, but as a visiting auzzie, I would like to let myself continue imagining that perhaps in some parts of Italy, they do….  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Welcome to Pollinaria

:: Window view, first morning ::
Monday 16th June. Day one @ Pollinaria:

From Birmingham I've headed to Italy, the Abruzzo region, to begin a joint residency at Pollinaria, that will complete at the annual Interferenze festival, Fortore region. The work that I will do over the next two weeks is part of a collaboration between Pollinaria (Gaetano Carboni) and Interferenze (Leandro Pisano), whose focus is on sound as the medium and rural regeneration as the context. I have the privilege of being the first artist invited for the initiation of this joint project and I am truly honoured to do so. My understanding is that this collaboration between the two entities will continue well into the future and aid the cultural, economic and community regeneration of these specific regions in rural Italy.

The first day has been a bit of a blur. I arrived late last night in the dark and had no visual on where I might find myself…. I have come prepared for the beginning of a hot Italian summer but woke - to the sounds of rain and wind. I look out my window to see where I am and find myself surrounded by rolling hills and unbelievably picturesque Italian countryside framed by sheer dark mountains rising in the background. No this is not a dream, this is Pollinaria, a property that supports the working ideal of the 'young' landowners and cultivators such as Gaetano Carboni, to be found in growing numbers,in rural Italy.

During my stay I will be collecting recordings specific to this pocket of the world. As regions whose economy is primarily agricultural they both produce a variety of nourishments for the body. Delights such as olive oil, grapes and fresh fruit and veg all come from these inland mountainous areas. The project I will undertake will focus on two points of simpatico between Fortore and Abruzzo - these are Wheat and Honey.

My morning was spent talking at length with locally born photographer, Daniella D'Arielli. She will be my 'touchstone' (so-to-speak) to the area, helping me understand its community, lifestyle and the ethos behind Pollinaria. She will also make sure I do not get myself into trouble on early morning recording expeditions, keeping me well clear of wild boars and giant wasp looking things that scare the absolute crap out of me!

:: Found in my camera bag during first night of recording ::
Late afternoon comes and we are joined by Gaetano. We discuss the ideas that have been sparked during the morning with Daniella. While I arrived with a clear starting point for my work, after speaking with Daniella I begin to comprehend the broader ideals behind this growing movement of rural regeneration - particularly in relation to working relations with the land and the beasts and bugs to be found there. There is an intrinsic connection between human and nature, to be observed in the work of those who choose to live by the land, in these areas. The key word to this ideal is 'Choose', as in this century, with growing mass consumption and produce, these young 'farmers', have chosen - not only to continue working the land as per their relations before them, but - as importantly - to counteract the notion of mass produce - and return to farming the unique grains and region-specific produce, as per their grandparents…

It is a romantic and powerful ideal. This seems to be the essence of the purpose to the work I will undertake….


This work is made possible by the generous support of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Field recording Vs Compositional agenda

:: Jonty Harrison, the dome room @ Birmingham ::
I consciously decided not to bring any completed material to the University of Birmingham - the idea being - to have a 'clean slate', on which to work. Having made that decision, the night before departure my cowardice got the best of me and I dragged and dropped onto my harddrive, the piece I have been working on of late - that uses the collection of recordings I gathered whilst in North Northumberland. On meeting with Dr Scott Wilson and Professor Harrison, they both asked me, 'what I had to play to them'. 

I didn't see that one coming... 
Why on earth did I not see this coming...?

So over half a day I took my 40 minute - stereo composition, broke it apart, sliced sections of it - removing chunks and re-assembling the remains - spilling it over 8 speakers + 2 subs to be presented the following morning. Little did I know, what discussions this selection of work would stimulate nor the internal debate and realisations/retaliations it would spark in my own head.

To provide context to the piece - it was created with the intent of maintaining (as much as I felt possible) the original slabs of long recordings and to honour the technical and spiritual practice of the field recordist. During my time with Chris Watson and the independent residency that followed, I found myself focussing on long engaged recordings. I say engaged to mean - the ones during which you stand there, imitating stone or trying to dissipate into air so as not to be participatory, whilst guiding a boompole and/or actively monitoring your levels. Typical recording times from this expedition were between 10 to 30 minutes. The longest was over an hour. 

In light of the understanding of the extreme sonic processing and compositional techniques exercised by those who create(control) in the electroacoustic domain - you could say that presenting such an uncontrolled (in comparison) piece was inadvertently provocative....  (another great gift of mine - yes I am being sarcastic...) While I wouldn't do the same again, the exercise rang with a resonance that was as frustrating as it was - enlightening. It was a perfect metaphor for the point I find myself at in my work development. The questions Professor Harrison asked me of my own work consisted of ones I often ask myself - the many unresolved inner conflicts I have about the ideals behind each piece - the aspects that can be considered contradictory or hypocritical - the constant debate that rages in my head - between concerns of  nature and the awe of technology.... The wish to capture and present more 'pure' field recordings and the desire to carve sound into my own making with the tools of composition and absolute control....

Does my work pertain the concerns of acoustic ecology and perhaps an awe at the natural world as is?
Is there a gentle obsession with control, the manipulation of sound and the technology that facilitates?

I believe so..

And these two polar ideals that I am trying to resolve in sonic composition, have come to loggerheads...

This intensive is made possible by the generous support of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Diskery....

:: The Diskery, Birmingham 2014 ::

This morning I successfully managed to detach myself from all luminous screens and venture into Birmingham city centre. On my journey home I somehow eventuated at another sonic Aladdin's Cave. Initially I couldn't believe my luck. After a stunted moment of realisation I pretty much ran through the door - just incase it disappeared before I could get there. The sight was one for sore eyes. On leaving my home town (Adelaide), there were two record stores that I use to frequent - one had a die-hard cult following with the 'younger' music lovers - selling old and new vinyl - with a renowned electronic section that rivalled no other I have come across ever since. The other, was not unlike The Diskery - perhaps less popular musics such as the 'Big Hit' material from any decade. On a quick return to Adelaide about three years later - both stores had folded - I would say the surge in digital would have played a part.

:: Jimmy chats to a regular (which is almost everyone who walks through the door) ::

The photos I took of The Diskery don't really do the place justice. The sheer amount of the collection has reached the point of climbing the walls and spilling across the ceilings. Fortunately, I arrived just before a big rush - when I had to compete with a number of hatted, caned and elderly gentlemen, for the attentions of the two in house experts - Jimmy and Liam. Lovely, lovely people - Liam has been working at The Diskery for 42 years, whilst Jimmy, is going on 47. Entering the store is like entering their home and their love of music (all types) and phenomenal knowledge becomes apparent with each enquiry - no matter how trivial.

My find for the day was the record, 'FIREWORKS! JVC presents the Spectacular Sound of CD-4'. As a rule, I don't let myself buy records when I am travelling - particularly heavy and prone to bending they don't make for good travel companions but in this instance, I thought an exception could be made. As I have come to Birmingham as a student, who works with field recordings in multichannel, it only seems fitting that on seeing a CD-4 record containing sounds of fireworks  - it should be mine. CD-4 is one of the many attempts at commercial release of multichannel recordings on hardcopy media. To be honest - I don't know much about it but a quick wikki tells me it was introduced as early as 1972 (!) I can't wait to get home and try it out - A/B it with my own quad work - should be vEry entertaining! I'd like to also better comprehend its technology - it's fascinating to learn about the many multichannel formats we have tried and old technology in hardcopy appears quite appealing to me at the moment.......

If you would like to hear more about Liam and Jimmy at The Diskery - you can view a clip on youtube HERE - or drop by and say hello at 99 Bromsgrove St.

Friday, June 6, 2014

University of Birmingham: Visiting Student

:: 'Old Joe', University of Birmingham, 2014 ::
Walking up the stairs to the foyer entrance of the Bramall music building at the University of Birmingham, I couldn't help but think, 'Not in Kansas anymore....'. For two weeks I will be a visiting student at their Music Department with direct focus on the electroacoustic section, under the supervision of Dr Scott Wilson (Supercollider extraordinare). As the home to the renowned BEAST system, multichannel works (live and static) are well catered for - with a number of sound studios available for post-grads, in a variety of multichannel configurations. My timing is at a point of change in the department, as Professor Jonty Harrison is on the cusp of retirement from his position as director of BEAST - none-the-less, a small cross section of the international electroacoustic and acousmatic community can be found tucked away in these  culdesacs of sound and measured thought. 

The downfall of coming all the way from Australia for such a visit, is the unrealistic expectation that on entering this inspiring and accomplished institution, all my previous compositional 'road-blocks', will be solved. Of course - it takes only a matter of hours to consciously acknowledge 1 - the previously unvoiced expectation and 2 - the fact that these technical and creative hurdles are still as present as I am..... Unfortunately, I can't leave them - along with my unwatered plants, behind in Australia. Unfortunately, I cannot kill them with neglect...... 

The upfalls of this journey start with the stripping away of your comfort zone of excuses that you have oh-so-craftily propped up around you to mask these greater areas needing your address - leaving your (lack-of) accomplishments raw and exposed, under the scrutiny of your own scathing eye.... In more congenial wording - 'It is very clear, the areas that I wish to improve in my work'. Having had a two year hiatus from live performance and a strong focus on compositions whereby the field recording is the primary intent - I now need to switch my gaze back to more 'gestural' composition - that constructs its own agenda via creative control and execution.

Enough of my ranting - having spent the last three-and-a-bit days in the studio - only to CREATE more problems than I intended to fix, I am truly beginning to understand the value of knowing that you know nothing... Now that I (think) I know what I do not know, I will begin again, from (almost) scratch, and see where these works develop. At this stage my focus is on purely software/midi capability. Sound diffusion on multichannel/custom systems - the most effective/flexible (to my ear) way to do so and Sonic processing - particularly in live performance via midi control. Any plans for collecting field recordings in Birmingham will have to wait until Italy and the Interferenze festival, along with the indulgence of creative composition.....

More details to come ~

This intensive is made possible by the generous support of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust.