Communiqué is a series of long-than-usual blog entries which have been posted at semi-regular intervals since mid-2019. The impetus for this was my desire to get away from posting brief updates to the blog and instead consolidate these into a newsletter of sorts, which provides a summations of my activities, observations and musings on aspects of sound, culture, politics and the environment.
Earlier this year, the eighth instalment of Communiqué was to be dedicated solely to the work of Akio Suzuki and (finally) having the opportunity to see him perform as part of the MONA FOMA festival in mid-January. It was a thrilling experience. So thrilling, that – to date – I’ve struggled to convey this in written form. I started work on it following our return from the festival, and it has remained as a fragmented draft since then. I’ve been revisiting it gradually, but I feel it may take some time to pull together into something I’m satisfied with.
So, in the interim, here’s a summation of what I’ve been up to during the first few of months of 2020. What a year so far: catastrophic bushfires burning my country alive, and now the Covid-19 pandemic paradigm-shifting societies whilst decimating and silencing the cultural sector.
It goes without saying: please look after yourselves and each other.
The last Communiqué was filled with existential dread which, I think was entirely justified given the situation enveloping the country over the Christmas and new year break. At a certain point (a breaking point?) I had to tear myself away from my Twitter feed and the Country Fire Service bushfire alerts and check in with myself to evaluate the impact that all of this was having on my mental health. I’ve been conscious for awhile of the effect that social media has on my MH and purposefully distancing myself from the cascade of news feeds, images and catastrophe becomes a matter of self-preservation more than anything else. During this time, I found myself again discussing with friends how that we – as a species – have no historical or evolutionary precedent for taking in, and metabolising this density of information. With cascading feeds of horrendous news, images and statistics at the height of the bushfire emergency, admissions for individuals experiencing climate anxiety and ecogrief were – quite understandably – skyrocketing.
As I recounted in the previous Communiqué, my own personal feelings of anxiety helplessness were huge. As a means of getting myself away from the torrents of information, I had to take stock and think of strategies for doing some good.
WAVES (for Kangaroo Island)
During that first bleak week of the new year, I’d been inspired by several charity gigs that had been announced involving various branches of the Adelaide Music Community. With my days of curating concerts long behind me, my thoughts turned to a compilation album. Why not get in touch with some local electronic/experimental artists and see if they’d like to participate?
The response was excellent. A Facebook group of artists was assembled and I put the call out for submissions. Pitching itself as a diverse representation of the Adelaide (South Australia) experimental and electronic music scene, all revenue generated from WAVES (for Kangaroo Island) would be donated to the Kangaroo Island Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund.
With tracks coming in thick and fast, I finalised the release whilst in Tasmania at MONA FOMA, writing up comprehensive liner notes on the flight back to Adelaide, ensuring that it could be released on 20 January 2020.
To date, almost 50 copies of the album have been sold, generating over $700 in revenue. An amazing feat for compilation of Adelaide artists with nothing but word of mouth to spread the word!
A special blog post covering this release was posted earlier this month, which you can read here.
Potential projects on Kangaroo Island for 2020 and beyond
During the height of the bushfires and my unhealthy fixation to Twitter, some good did come out of this activity. A local student of Genetics and Palaeontology, Lulu Duxbury had taken an interest in some of my field recordings from Kangaroo Island. We corresponded over e-mail and Lulu explained that she had been involved in field work on KI examining sediment cores and using benchmarks to determine previous climate events. Her research team (affiliated with the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA) were scheduled to head back to KI and continue their work, and the findings would be also used for Lulu’s own Masters research. Because of the bushfires on the island, these field trip would be delayed, but in the interim she was keen to meet up and discuss a potential project with me. One that could potentially incorporate underwater acoustics.
This proposed project would involve examining recovery of lake systems after bushfires using DNA extraction and analysis. She was keen to learn more about substrate and underwater acoustics and how such recordings could be used in a research setting. She had previously heard about similar projects involving substrates and waterways and I told her about Leah Barclay’s ongoing River Listening project as well as a citizen science project in Switzerland incorporating the acoustic mapping of soils. We had a wonderful, tangential conversation and it seems very likely that we’ll collaborate together at some point in the near future. Applying acoustic ecology principles in a more rigorous research context is certainly something I’d like to do more. I’m not exactly sure how we’d compliment each others approaches at this stage, but I think it’s viable. More conversations to follow into the future.
Speaking of which, my long running sound map got an expansion.
Fleurieu & Kangaroo Island Sound Map
I’d previously announced this on the blog, but I felt it deserved another mention since it’s one of the most significant updates to the site since its launch in 2011.
Back in October 2019, with a few good recordings filed away, I’d given serious thought to accomodating the island in an expansion of the Fleurieu Sound Map. The end of the year got a bit hectic, but with the bushfires in the new year, this idea took priority.
To be completely honest, I was struggling with the thought of listening back to the recordings, knowing that the majority of these locations had been obliterated by fire. Given how stunning some of these soundscapes were, the thought of them having been silenced was heartbreaking.
Nevertheless, there was no better context to situate these recordings than the sound map. Not only would they serve as a document of these unique locations at a given point in time, but also may serve in the future as a useful tool (for myself and others) in evaluating these respective sonic ecologies as they recover.
Not everything I’ve been doing has been set against fires, smoke, ash and the spread of viruses. An exception has been a project involving the rehabilitation and development of the Angaston railway precinct in the Barossa Valley. Back in mid-2018, I was approached by an architecture firm, Mulloway Projects to participate as am artist in the large scale project.
Since then, the scope of the project has changed a bit from its original conception, but that’s fairly reasonable when a huge budget is involved with a lot of stakeholders and logistics to manage.
As at the time of writing, I’m pleased to announce that my contribution – an installation of nine sound poles entitled Sternere – is completed and only the in-situ calibration of the work needs to occur before the work becomes officially public. This is very exciting given I haven’t developed a permanent installation work before!
I’ve provided a statement about Sternere below:
Sternere (2020) is a multi-channel sound installation by artist Tristan Louth-Robins, created exclusively as a permanent work for the Angaston Railway Precinct redevelopment.
It is to be installed in a 3 x 3 ‘sound pole’ formation at the north western section of the development’s ‘pole forest’
For this work, I took inspiration from my visits to Angaston and the surrounding Barossa Valley region over the past year. During these visits I made notes and sound recordings of locations in the town, rail yard precinct, surrounding neighbourhoods and other public spaces.
Within Angaston, I discovered commonplace sounds – such as wind blowing through leaves, bird songs, the sound of insects at dusk, water cascading through the creek. Unique sounds were also discovered, such as a demonstration in a blacksmith’s workshop (anvil being struck, bellows, sparks) and the vaguely musical resonance of metal pipe beneath one of the town’s bridges. Within Angaston’s historic rail yard precinct, I discovered sounds by moving rail/signal levers, striking metal poles, listening to the vibration of fence wires and recording the patter of rain on the surface of a metal box. Some of these sounds were quite musical in nature, with distinct pitches, dynamics and tone colour*.
* Because of these sounds inherent musicality, I was inspired to explore their attributes further once I began the compositional process in my studio. In this respect, certain sounds – such as the struck poles – have been digitally altered so that their pitch is lowered (or conversely raised) to resemble the sound of a bell. In addition to these altered musical sounds, in the provided audio excerpt you will hear the occasional tones of a vintage reed organ which is played by air flow (much like a harmonica is played.) I thought that such a musical sound would compliment and harmonise with the other sounds, as well as drawing a poetic association to natural sounds (wind) and man-made sounds (horns, engines rumbling.)
I compiled the sounds recorded in Angaston into three categories:
- biophony (non-human organisms – i.e. birds, insects)
- geophony (sounds of the natural environment – i.e. rain, wind)
- anthropophony (sounds of human origin – i.e. vehicles, structures, voices)
When I listened to these sounds I was interested how some of them evaded clear categorisation and tended to blur the boundaries between natural and non-natural sound. The sound of the rain pattering on a metal box is a good example of this: Is this a geophonic (e.g rain) or anthropophonic sound (e.g metal surface)? Can it be both? Is it somewhere in between?
These are questions I posed to myself as I created the work.
In recent years, I’ve found this blurring of natural and non-natural sounds to be a fascinating phenomenon and it’s formed the basis of many works I’ve created since 2012. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this blurring is how this has come to epitomise many of the soundscapes that we inhabit. Even in regional centres such as Angaston and the wider Barossa Valley. These are spaces where the sounds of nature appear to be perpetually at odds with the sounds that humans produce. Indeed, the world is becoming an increasingly louder place for everyone and everything.
For Sternere, I wanted to create a work that encapsulated and reflected a blurred sonic impression of Angaston and the Barossa region. The layers of sound are dense, sometimes obscured, sometimes distinct, shifting in and out of phase and are distributed across the sound poles. The work doesn’t attempt to project a literal representation of the environment, rather, it is intended to be an impression of the environment, which can co-exist in sympathy with the surrounding environment.
In this respect, the audience and surrounding environment are integral to the reception of the work.
The audience is encouraged to position themselves amongst sound poles and to be drawn in by the curious nature of the sounds and construct their own impressions based upon what they hear amongst the sound poles, but also in combination with the sounds of the surrounding environment – such as voices, a bird song, wind blowing through a tree or traffic from the main road. They may decide to remain in one spot; they may chose the freely move around. For each audience member, the experience of the work will be entirely unique.
Once installed, I am curious to see and hear the public’s response to this work. I hope that Sternere may provide a site of interest and curiosity. Where one may retreat into a dense tapestry of sound, in turn creating unique personal compositions simply by listening; and perhaps, be inspired to lend their ears more closely to other environments beyond the work itself.
The work’s title, is taken from the latin word, ‘sternere’ which roughly translates to a ‘scattering of things’.
Tristan Louth-Robins – February 2020
Covid-19: Arts and culture needs you now more than ever..
So, I’ll keep my updates limited to this. I’m a bit beyond a 2000 word count and I like to keep these instalments succinct. I’m currently writing this from my studio, where I’ll be working from for at least the next week. My employer’s taking the situation with Covid-19 seriously, so I’m foregoing my daily bicycle commute, social interaction with colleagues and the normalcy of the work/life/art balance for a largely home-based existence.
I mention this because I’m in a fortunate position as an artist who pays the bills with a secure day job. There are so many friends, colleagues and contacts who aren’t afforded such a luxury; whose livings are mostly or totally attached to working in the arts. The impact that Covid-19 is already having on the incomes of artists, musicians, instructors, tutors, facilitators, curators, et. al is devastating. The Australian branch of I Lost My Gig (a website set up to calculate the loss of income and revenue for the arts and culture sector) is – as at 16th March – reporting that $50M has already been lost in two days due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you are reading this, I would implore you to support the artists and the institutions that you appreciate. Consider donating to institutions and companies, purchasing artworks, buying musicians work from Bandcamp (where you can pay as much as you like) and spreading the word about artists that you love. It is, and is going to be an incredibly tough time and we must do everything we can to assist – as patrons and a wider cultural solidarity.
TLR, March 2020.
From the dusty, disregarded corners of life a new world of beauty has unfolded. It is a world that everyone knew, but a world that no one knew. It is my task to speak of this world of miscellaneous beauty, to see what we can learn from it.
Soetsu Yanagi, The Beauty of Everyday Things