Since the end of last year, this blog has staggered along without a great deal of momentum, clear intent or purpose. For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what a blog could possibly offer amidst the glut of information that creative folks – such as myself – pump out regularly through their social/media platforms.
As much as I’ve enjoyed operating a blog for over ten years, I’d been recently pondering whether there was any point to keep this going. In the end, I decided that I would persevere, since the blog is a unique format for covering projects and processes in detail; lengthier musings, digressions and detours. And in case I needed any further convincing, this thoughtful post by fellow blogger (and all-round legend), Marc Weidenbaum (Disquiet) sealed the deal for me.
So, how to proceed?
Well, for starters, as you may have noted (if you’re a regular visitor to the blog) I’ve given the layout a bit of a radical overhaul with the intention of compressing everything down a bit. Insofar, the posts are now clustered together as summaries you can click into, whilst sub pages, the archive of posts and external links are all in one place to the side. If you’re on a desktop/laptop (and maybe a tablet) this will be evident; if you’re on a smartphone, not so much.
Then we come to this Communiqué, which is intended to be a regular digest of my activities, things I’ve been interested in and feel like sharing. I’ll aim to get these out on a weekly-to-fortnightly basis. Again, credit goes to Marc Weidenbaum for the inspiration for taking this approach.
I’ll aim to get these out on Monday’s (AEST). However, I’m making an exception this week.
Without further ado:
Communiqué 1: streams, juntos and a lot of wire
Last month, I finally got around to putting some of my music up on Spotify and Apple Music with the release of a new compilation of my studio work covering the five-year period of 2014-2018. Liquidation Totale is exclusive to these platforms (i.e. it’s not available on Bandcamp) and presents a cohesive and concise summary of this otherwise erratic/frenetic period of activity. The content of the compilation is dominated by pieces featuring field recordings blended with fragmented melodies, vaporous textures and guitar improvisations and is largely concerned with themes of memory, distance and space. Whilst tracks like “Maurilia”, “Swathe of Opiates” and “Fleurieu Passage” are in-the-box studio creations, other tracks such as “On a Balcony, the Love of a Good Life” and “Chang Song” are more spontaneous interventions, with a heavy emphasis on responding to being in-situ and simply creating something. The latter approach has – in part – informed more recent approaches to composition and performance.
Another nod to Marc Weidenbaum, whose work with his site/blog, Disquiet has remained an inspiration for many years. A while ago, Marc shared a collaborative project between myself and fellow South Australian, Sebastian Tomczak where Seb and I gathered sounds from our respective backyards and used these for a hour-long laptop led improvisation.
Aside from maintaining his website, writing, contributing and sharing a wealth of information, since 2012 Marc has moderated a compositional challenge, Disquiet Junto. It’s a weekly challenge that anyone can participate in, with a compositional prompt announced on the Thursday and a submission deadline of the following Monday. Recent challenges have included composing a national anthem for a fictional country, manipulating the ‘colours’ of noise and imagining a fake instrument and making music with it.
I’ve only recently joined up for the Junto and so far I’ve found it creatively stimulating, whilst it’s been enjoyable to share thoughts, feedback and ideas with fellow participants.
Thus far, I’ve duetted with my snoring cat (Junto 0394); played the southern hemisphere’s largest guitar (Junto 0395); and hummed into an instrument that I’m constructing on my mum’s property * (Junto 0396). I’ve included my submissions to date in the playlist below.
If you’re keen to participate in the Junto, I strongly encourage it! It’s great for stimulating creative ideas, approaches and processes.
Middle Farm and the MiddlePhone
My mum lives on a property just outside the Fleurieu Peninsula township of Yankalilla. From the early 1980’s through to the late 90’s this is the region I grew up in and – if my creative work since 2010 wasn’t evident enough – the influence of the region is writ large (nay, humungous). Middle Farm a beautiful property situated in a valley, and since the 1970’s the valley and neighbouring properties have had vast tracts of native vegetation and ecosystem restored – largely due to incredible work of Mulberry Farm resident and lifelong family friend, Ruth Eisner. Given that the Fleurieu is a largely pastoral and agricultural region and has had huge swathes of vegetation cleared since European settlement, these re-wilded areas are precious landscapes.
Since mum relocated to Middle Farm a couple of years ago, it’s become a bit of a second home, retreat and base camp for my ongoing project, Fleurieu Sound Map. On my visits to the farm I’ve frequently explored the surrounding landscape and made numerous recordings – especially around Carrickalinga Creek, which runs through the property. Just last weekend, I made a stereo hydrophone recording of the creek in its winter flow which sounds pretty wonderful. I’ll be sure to share it soon via my Soundcloud.
So aside from making recordings and chilling out down there, for a while I’ve fancied the idea of building an instrument in-situ, which can be positioned somewhere on the property that can be played and play itself at the whim of weather conditions. A resonant wire (much like that of the WIRED LAB) or Aeolian harp was what I had in mind.
After reacquainting myself with some fundamental physics concerning the behaviour of waves, I visited the farm back in April 2019 and attempted to suspend a length of fencewire across the property’s disused dam. It was a fair effort, but in spite of my tweaks, incorporation of found resonators (including a length of chimney flue) and the absence of any wind, it was pretty fruitless. I countered my disappointment by exciting the wire instead with my little reed organ.
Jumping ahead a couple of months: in mid-July my mum had showed me some old tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys) fenceposts that she had salvaged from a neighbouring property. They are these beautiful, tall and weathered posts which I thought would be perfect to make the centrepiece of the instrument. I thought of using a single post with thin wires attached to its apex and running these over an oil drum as a resonator.
A couple of weeks later, I spent a couple of days at the farm experimenting with different configurations of my sketchy concept until I arrived with something that looked, well..quite a bit different from my drawings:
Arriving on a Saturday afternoon with only a few hours of daylight available I got to work quickly. Without a hole-digging tool readily available, getting the tallowwood post into the ground would be an imprecise and almost impossible task. Funnily enough, I didn’t give this important aspect much consideration in my planning. The next best option to sticking the post in the ground was to firmly wedge it between the sawn off branches of an old melaleuca tree. The oil drum was moved to the side and wires (attached with brackets at the apex of the post) were tensioned using turnbuckles and tent pegs hammered into the ground. One wire was stretched freely from the apex to the ground, whilst another was stretched and made contact with the rim of the oil drum; employing it as a resonator for the vibrations of the wire. With the basic form in place, I added some additional components from my inventory.
When I prepare an inventory for a project away from the home studio, I tend to overcompensate. The essential items (wire, tools, amplifier, mics) are often joined by miscellaneous things like – in this particular case – golf balls, tin cans, slinkys, a metal bowl and a tambourine. Whilst not all of these miscellaneous objects found themselves incorporated, I found a place for the metal bowl (as fencepost resonator). The following day I added the slinky and a tin can, along with a length of chimney flue found in the shed.
In honour of Middle Farm, I decided to call this instrument the MiddlePhone.
Well, what did the MiddlePhone sound like? In the absence of wind, my plucking and scraping of the wires resulted in low tones from the oil drum and metal bowl resonators, but ultimately it was fairly subtle and not overly exciting. The following day brought a little wind and slightly more interesting results. I had fixed the chimney flue to an upper branch of the melaleuca tree and ran a wire from one end of the flue to a shorter, gnarlier fencepost. I attached the slinky and a tin can to another part of the chimney flue and left this to hang, where it wobbled discretely in the breeze. Again, the wire interplay and resultant resonances in the open air were very subtle, but attaching contact mics to various parts of the instrument (flue, tallowwood post) revealed some promising sounds.
The recording below documents a recording made with a single contact mic fixed to the apex of the tallowwood post. The resonance of the MiddlePhone’s wires quivering in the light breeze can be heard at first, then I pluck some of the wires. The deep fundamental tones and harmonics of the respective wires when plucked are pretty impressive.
Following on from this, I got an idea for that week’s Disquiet Junto challenge. My submission notes are below:
I attached one end of a slinky to the chimney flue on the MiddlePhone, and the other to a tin can. I fixed a contact mic to the interior surface of the chimney flue and pointed a shotgun mic off into the distance. Hitting record, I stretched out the slinky/can and hummed an improvised melody into the can for about a minute.
In the recording you can hear two simultaneous recordings which have been mixed together: the slinky’s contact with the flue, and the shotgun mic; which is fixed on my position with the stretched slinky/can. I’ve mixed the track so that you hear only the shotgun mic recording at first (w/peripheral sounds) and then gradually crossfade into contact mic; the latter revealing the reverberant/harmonic effects of the slinky, as well the articulation of resonances. Which most of the resonances are derived from the flue/slinky combo, I’m fairly certain the network of stretched wires have had some effect too.
Both of these recordings revealed a lot of potential for the MiddlePhone, but I knew that I would have to spend more time with it to refine and understand the nuances of its behaviour. The recordings are useful for the sake of analysis, but being in-situ and able to adjust the configuration of the wires and resonators will be key. I’m planning to revisit the MiddlePhone in a couple of weeks time.
- John Cage – Silence (re-reading for the upteenth time) Kyle Gann provides the foreword for the 50th Anniversary edition. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy his erudite, yet very playful writing. On Cage, I’ve been very interested in the perception of time lately. I’d recently devoured Carlo Rovelli’s wonderful The Order of Time, so it seemed only appropriate that I should reacquaint myself with this essential work of Cage’s.
- Stanislaw Lem – Solaris – I bought a recent edition back in 2016, with simple yet startling cover art: a blood red matte with a white band sweeping across it. I’d attained a copy for a flight to Thailand, but such was the constant screaming of children and interruptions that I never progressed beyond 50 pages. Much like Tarkovsky’s interpretation (and even Soderburgh’s 2002 version), to be fully immersed in the story requires a backdrop of quietude and minimal distraction. I’m still seeking that conducive environment/state since it’s been a week and I’m only up to the third chapter.
- Jill Stark – High Sobriety (audiobook) – I got hold of this based on a reference to it in a Guardian article on Australia’s culture of binge drinking and the ridiculous amount of influence that the alcohol industry has on every recreational aspect of our Antipodean existence. Personally, I’ve been trying to cut back for awhile and I’d been keen to read some first hand accounts; which have – to date – ranged from the inspiring to downright horrifying and depressing. Sobering, you might say. As for Stark, whilst the author regularly taps into the more nefarious forces at play in Australian and global culture and makes some interesting insights, I’m halfway in and tiring a bit of ‘Starkers’ tedious reminisces of drunken binges, wild abandon and feeling sorry for oneself.
Currently listening to (current obsessions):
- “Blue” Jean Tyranny – Out Of The Blue (1978)
- Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel (2019)
- Talk Talk – Asides Besides (2002)
- John Cale – Helen of Troy (1975)
- David Behrman – On The Other Ocean (1978)