Slack Group performs Alvin Lucier’s Vespers (1968)

The theatre work group (actual name TBC) I’m a member of has been workshopping ideas over the past couple of months for a new theatre project to be presented in 2018-2019. Each fortnight a different member of the group has run a session incorporating texts and activities which benefit the development of ideas and concepts for the eventual project. A couple of weeks ago I ran a sound-based session focussing primarily on the work of Alvin Lucier; specifically a performance work called Vespers (1968) where performers navigated themselves in a space (either in the dark or blindfolded) using sound devices to map out the space. Whilst our session performances in the video below are not entirely faithful to the original Vespers score (the lack of clicking Sondols diminishing the echolocative emphasis of the work), I would regard these performances as broad interpretations of Vespers, using the performance format of the work as a point of departure for exploring aspects of group listening, sensory depreviation, acoustical awareness and exploration of space.


Thesis: Final Approach

It’s that time again when the masters thesis rears it’s queer face on this blog.  A couple of days ago I managed to complete the final draft, which is essentially what it will be, albeit with some editing and revisions courtesy of my supervisory panel.  An anticipated catharsis came over me as copies of the tome were spooled out and subsequently punched with spiral holes – a process I seemed to enjoy with a little too much enthusiasm.  Now I can sit back for a few days, whilst my supervisors have a read of it and offer up their thoughts on the overall product.

How do I feel about it?  Aside from the relief of finally getting to this stage (a process that has taken far too long for a variety of reasons),  I’m feeling a bit conflicted about it all – on the one hand I’m happy the end is in sight at last and I can move on with things, whilst at the same time there’s a profound sense of unease and dissatisfaction with the whole endeavor.  First of all, it should have been finished in 2007.  If that had been the case a lot more people would be happier about the project, and my relationship with the University would certainly be a lot more amiable.  It didn’t turn out this way – things went wrong early on followed by a series of personal and professional calamities that nearly threw everything off the rails.  In 2007, things corrected themselves but things continued to get in the way and the project lurched along for another couple of years.  It’s kind of like I dropped a conceptual anchor and bobbed about for four years gathering the flotsam and jetsam with the occasional bite.

Secondly, I’m not convinced the outcome has been as enriching as I’d first envisioned – was it really worth it?  Could the process of learning and researching been more enlightening had I not been attached to a degree or a University?  Sure it’s all hypothetical, but I’m seriously questioning how beneficial the degree and an affiliation with the University was in terms of gaining an insight into the research topic, since major insights were gained through extracurricular activities that had little or nothing to do with the University.  A degree certainly applies a ‘template’ to any line of research and activities, conditioning and disciplining the findings into something that fits a set format.  Which is a great thing, I’m not knocking the merits of post-graduate research via degrees and Universities, I just think to myself whether things would have been much better (personally and professionally) had I done it all on my own terms.   What do mean by ‘my own terms’?  It would mean no thesis for starters, though certainly a lot more artwork/product and in the place of a thesis, a lot more papers and attendances at conferences and events.  I could even argue I might be a better artist, a better writer, etc.  Though I might be running the risk of overstepping myself here.  Like I said before, this point is hypothetical and daydreaming at best.

Let me say though, I do not blame anybody else but myself for the way things have gone – I’ve certainly (and somewhat unfairly) blamed the University for the many crises that have affected this project, mainly financial and professional issues that have arisen.  I’m wholly responsible for the situation and I could have left the project at any time to pursue my interests from another vantage.   I did actually go on hiatus for a few months towards the end of ’06 to gather my thoughts, though it didn’t really work out for the best.  As much as I derided the project at times, something kept willing me back as I felt a bit lost and unable to apply myself without the ‘template’ of the degree and the University.

Aha! I just (sort of) contradicted myself didn’t I?  Maybe the outcome of all of this wouldn’t have been as fulfilling had I gone it alone – I might very well have ambled away on the dole, eschewing my arts practice and weighing up prospective offers of a career as a rent boy or (G*d forbid) an accountant or something.

My feelings about it all are probably best summed up by what you, dear reader, have just trawled through – a need to vent and rant.

Hypotheticals aside;  I believe I’m a much better person having gone through all of this.  It’s taught me to commit better to things, persevere and overcome issues in a much more considered and ethical fashion.  When it’s finalised and dispatched, the dust will settle and I’m sure my feelings towards the whole endeavor will be much more favourable and the inclination to vent and rant will most definitely diminish over time.  Though I’m sure there will still be plenty of things aside from this project to rave about.

Thesis: Sinking and resurfacing

I’m escaping one of my thesis chapters temporarily as the basin appears to be overflowing with rhetorical clusters.  I thought it might be appropriate to use my blog space as a willing reciprocal.   I’m a little bit stuck at the moment with the process of finishing this off, in recent weeks I haven’t seemed to be able the channel that high octane lucidity that propels me out of these tar pit moments.

The area in question is this elusive fourth chapter that serves as an expanded commentary on everything that’s come before it – in short, explaining why focused listening/sound art and the work of Lucier, Julius and my creative works are relevant in the 21st Century.


Yes I know, dangerous territory.  So far I’ve managed to snare, immolate, lacerate, dissolve, amputate, puncture, crucify, drench, poison and stink out my arguments in a flurry of seemingly aimless references to globalised culture, urban decay, data clouds, iPods and Umberto Eco.  So far, so shit.

However, today it would seem with my bullshit detector recharged and my fog lights on high beam, I’ve struck a little vein of coherence and relevance.  Hoorah!  I’m making an effort to emphasise the simplicity and minimalism of the cited works (with special reference to the respective performance aesthetics of Sachiko M and F.Lopez) and how an rapport may be facilitated between the work and the listener through the work’s apparent antithesis to the ills our modern existence.  Or something.  It makes more sense to me I’m sure, it just needs to be expressed a bit better and spread over a couple of thousand words.

Incidentally, my metaphor count is on a catastrophic level tonight.

Masters: the final leg

I thought it was about time I posted something relating to my Masters research project which I’ve been undertaking since 2006.  It’s been a long hard journey in the ensuing years, but I’m pleased to say that it’s beginning to come to a timely conclusion.  Since 2007 I’ve been going at it part-time, a result of having a freak-out and failing dramatically at balancing the whole work/study ratio in 2006 when I was cocky enough to believe I could handle it full-time.  The period from 2007 to the present hasn’t been that much easier, but at least I’ve been afforded a bit more breathing space by only having check in with my supervisors half as much, write/research half as much and be able to earn a living at the same time.

The research (to once again, refresh your memory) examines the act of listening within the context of sound art, and how a particular form of listening – what I have dubbed as focused listening – is inherent to specific forms of sound art.  The research is broken into three main sections:

1) A definition of what focused listening is, using composer James Tenney’s concept of focus and applying this model to both musical and artistic contexts.

2) A study of works by composer Alvin Lucier and sound artist Rolf Julius respectively, making particular note of their aesthetic and how focused listening is endorsed in their works.  A key work from each artists oeuvre is then analysed.

Alvin Lucier (image:
Alvin Lucier (image:
Rolf Julius - warum rot, warum schwarz (2007)
Rolf Julius - warum rot, warum schwarz (2007) (image:

3)  The works of Lucier and Julius inform the following section which documents three creative works by the author (i.e. me), two installation works (Infuser [2007/2009], Sumi [2007-2008]) and a concert film (190409 [2009]).  Although the installation works have more in common with Lucier and Julius with respect to aesthetic and focused listening, 190409 is an important inclusion as it encapsulates a significant part of my practice since mid-2008, which has been live performance and the examination of the role of listening in live sound art.

tristanlouthrobins_infuserInfuser (2007, revised 2009) – exhibited at ARIspace (October 2009)
tristanlouthrobins_Sumi2008Sumi (2007-2008) – home studio set-up (December 2008)
tristanlouthrobins_190409190409 (2009) – exhibited at the Adelaide Festival Centre (Moving Image Program, July-September 2009)

So far so good, so what’s left to do?

I’m currently writing a commentary chapter that will examine other areas of (particularly, performance based) sound art where focused listening is apparent, looking specifically at the work of Sachiko M(atsubura), Francisco Lopez and Philip Jeck.  This chapter is intended as a way of bringing things more into the 21st Century and speculating where listening in situated within these examples and the present tense.

Then it’s a conclusion, compiling the portfolio and we’re done and dusted come February 13th 2010That’s right, I’ve set a fixed date for submission!

So I’m pretty content at the moment, save for the fact that my final presentation at the University (a Music Technology Forum gig) last week was a listless, flaccid calamity.  If I have a resolution to make for the new year it will be to get my knack back for giving decent presentations.  It must have been apparent to the audience that this research project has been dragging on a little too long and I’m a bit over talking about it at length.

Now it’s time for tea, scones and some heavy duty tome-ing.