Communiqué 2: concrete, creeks, 808 and a thesaurus

Brutal Magill.jpg

Greetings readers. As I’d promised in the inaugural communique, I would endeavour to post another one of these on the following Monday. That happens to be today! So, with a bit of traction happening, let’s take a sentimental journey into the past:

Brutal youth

If you’re someone like me, nostalgia takes you on some curious backroads. After dropping Lauren off at work on Saturday morning, I thought to myself, “hey, maybe I’ll check out my (first) uni campus in Magill”. I hadn’t been on the site since 2000. I’d started a journalism degree there in 1999 which went downhill slowly and painfully. Almost everything about the place is imbued with painful memories of homesickness, rejection, alienation and depression. So, as you can probably gather, over the years I haven’t been necessarily inclined to revisit this place.

The Magill campus is an odd site. Magill is a suburb in the Adelaide foothills about 7 kilometers east from the CBD. It’s an area full of trees and quiet streets. The campus itself was formerly one of the campuses of the The South Australian College of Advanced Education (SACAE), when in 1991 it amalgamated with several other sites to become part of the University of South Australia. I haven’t been able to find any record of when the late Brutalist buildings which dominate the Magill campus were built, but I’d assume sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. I’ve always been fascinated with Brutalist design in Australia; probably because as a child (who was born in 1981) I’ve got potent memories of walking around these spaces when they were still relatively new. In a couple of previous posts I’ve touched on this personal affinity to Brutalist architecture – most notably this post about the Collonades shopping precinct; a place I frequented a lot in my childhood.

The term Brutalism is derived from the French beton brut meaning ‘raw concrete’. Whilst late Brutalism still has a strong emphasis on concrete facades, by the 1970s features like contours and stucco had crept their way into the style. Nevertheless, the austere, oppressive vibe that the traditional Brutalist movement evoked was ever present. As this 2015 article suggests, the movement’s strong aesthetic connotation to the monolithic structures embodied by totalitarian regimes of the Soviet era haven’t helped its reputation or efforts at long-term preservation.

On this Saturday morning as I walked around the quiet and deserted Magill site, I recalled the younger version of myself: trudging meekly from one oppressive building to another. For someone who grew up in the countryside, there’s no graver setting that I could imagine than all this concrete, beige-ness and dim interiors.

Whilst I was reflecting on this, a compelling thought came to mind: Maybe this is why there’s a desire to wipe Brutalist architecture off the map? The aesthetics are strongly divisive, sure; but maybe – at a metaphysical level – within the decaying concrete edifices, brown-ness and beige contours there’s contained within it a collective residue of pain, loss and disappointment; pressing out a dark, morose energy that implores: fuck off, leave me alone…this place will mess with you too. A contamination akin to radiation or black mold.

Of course, I didn’t proffer this explanation to the security guard who appeared to ask why I was wandering about taking pictures of the buildings (a legit concern). I explained I used to study here, I’m sentimental and I (now) really like Brutalist architecture. He laughed and said, “yeah, I know it’s weird but I kind of like it too.”

In spite of the pain it inflicted upon us years ago, may us weirdos – with clearer eyes, hearts and minds – pay tribute and preserve the last remnants of late-Brutalist design.

The underwater song of Carrickalinga Creek

In my previous communiqué I’d mentioned a recording that I had made with a pair of hydrophones at Carrickalinga Creek, near my mum’s place in Yankalilla. I’ve uploaded an excerpt of the half-hour original recording. It’s a fine document of a waterway in good health and teeming with the swirling, hypnotic rhythms of life.

A stark contract to the same location in mid-April 2019, where following a protracted dry spell of drought and hardly any rain, I could walk long stretches of the dried creek bed.

Carrickalinga Creek - April 2019.jpg

808 (junkyard) State

My participation in the Disquiet Junto assignments rolls into its fourth week. This week we were prompted to commemorate 808 Day (August 8) with our own ode to the legendary Roland TR-808 drum machine. Like many other souls, I don’t possess an actual 808, but thanks to millions of apps and sample packs, emulators and sound patches aren’t too far away.

For my short piece, I created a loop in the iOS app, Funkbox and broadcast the output through an external amplifier and a pair of my corked speakers:

A quick and dirty one this week. I used an iOS 808 emulator, sent it through a stereo amp driving a couple of my corked speakers, using the vibrations to move and rattle objects. I stuck some old guitar strings in the cork of the left speaker to wobble about and strike a tambourine; on the other speaker I layered a tin foil bowl to rattle about. Then I move the objects around and incorporate a bit of tinfoil. I’m quite fond of the outcome; my partner, not so much.

David Berman and a sound thesaurus

Lastly, like many others I was gutted to hear the news of David Berman’s death last week. His work as a lyricist and poet has been a part of my life for such a long time, and I cannot think of another artist whose incredible turn of phrase and expression has resonated so strongly with me. Be it allusions to people, space or ephemera, his uncanny knack for symbolism and poetic metaphor was frequently stunning.

For a long time, I’ve thought of creating a thesaurus for sounds, since our ability (well, at least within the confines of the English language) to describe sounds is pretty limited to say the least. Especially when we unconsciously incorporate visual verbs into our lexicon: i.e. let’s see how that sounds.


The reason why I mention this is because the inspiration for this project was – in part – inspired by a lyric of Berman’s – “I Remember Me” from the Silver Jews Bright Flight (2001)The song itself is remarkable (and heartbreaking), but there’s always been this one line that has stirred my aural imagination (which I’ve highlighted in bold below):

So I remember you and I remember you
And I remember you do-do-do-do-do
And I remember me and I remember me
A blackhalk nailed to the sky/and the tape hiss from the trees.

A beautiful, evocative allusion to a sound and its surreal connotation to naturally occurring phenomena.

Think about that sound and the descriptions that come to mind: hissing, sibilant, hushed, etc. The way we express sounds through language is fascinating, but far more constrained and limited than our visual (or other sensory) lexicon. Anyone got a sound thesaurus handy?

Currently reading:

The past few days have been hectic, so I’ve had little time/space for the books I’d listed in the previous communiqué, which are John Cage’s Silence, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris and an audiobook of Jill Stark’s High Sobriety.

Currently listening to (current obsessions):

  • a Spotify compilation of Bob Dylan’s unfairly maligned 1980s output with tracks drawn from Shot Of Love, Infidels, Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Down In The Groove, Oh Mercy and the third disc of The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.
  • Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (2019)
  • Silver Jews – American Water (1998)
  • Laurie Spielgel – The Expanding Universe (1980)

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s