A shout-out to my old buddy, Sebastian Tomczak and his new excellent blog, New Me-ism where the emphasis is on self-improvement and reducing waste. This is something I can completely get behind. Check it out via the link.
Regular visitors to my blog will have noted that I’m currently following a similar train of thought – largely reevaluating aspects of my life and creative practice. Not so much the waste aspect, but quite remarkably I was planning to write about this soon. Seb’s blog will most certainly give it a kick along in the schedule.
Corner of Cheesman and Field Street – January 2011
Field Street, Normanville. At no.3 is the cottage that I spent most of my childhood and teenage years. On the corner of the street was a property which sat adjacent to no.3 – a small, relatively unassuming early 20th Century cottage with a couple of large spaces which used to have horses kept in them. This afternoon my mum sent me an image revealing that this property had recently been demolished. I was slightly stunned – it feels as though a significant personal landmark has been erased. Whilst the little cottage and its surrounds are nothing particularly striking, the more subtle elements of the property – its creamy pink colour, the rusty corregated fences and the peculiar white cross painted on the outside of a backyard shed – are images that have resonated with me since early childhood. I also have a particularly strong childhood memory of routinely running my hand along a rusty, yet smooth thick wire which ran through its fence on Field Street. A lot of what I have associated with Normanville in recent years (aside from the cottage at no.3 and the town’s main street) strongly gravitates to this now demolished and razed property.
This significance is further illustrated by the fact that the two Garden Ruin albums – their material drawing heavily from memories and observations in and around Normanville – both feature this property on their album covers.
As you get older, living with the past becomes all the more beguiling.
An early Sunday afternoon in Wirrabara. My ears, still acclimatising to the quiet of the town following the Producers Market catch whatever comes into relief (however brief): the rustle of trees lining the main street pavement, the faint rumble of a car engine or distant machinery and the occasional twitter of birds. In spite of these sounds – both tangible and hidden – the overall impression of this place is a strangely uneasy, empty quiet.
I’m accustomed to this type of quiet. My hometown of Normanville on the Fleurieu Peninsula, which in spite of being more populous and fitfully vibrant during the warmer months, is partial to the same kind of mid-to-late afternoon lull. Since I’ve spent most of my adult life living in the city, it’s occasionally surprising to become enveloped by this quiet, whilst acutely aware one’s own presence (or agency) – marked out by the sound of shoes on gravel or the rustle of clothes. This is maybe one reason why we find streets, buildings and vehicles with a perceived human absence so disconcerting. Within this environment one becomes so much more aware of their own presence.
The Wirrabara Town Hall is rarely used these days. It is split into two main spaces – the original hall, built sometime in the early 20th Century and a small recreation hall with adjoining kitchen probably constructed sometime in the 1960’s. Within the smaller hall, there are shafts of golden sunlight spreading across the floor but the expected warmth is virtually non-existent. It is incredibly cold in this space, the adjoining foyer and larger hall. Within these cold, enclosed spaces and shut off from the empty main street of Wirrabara, it feels as though as I am a little further removed from the world.
A border of gold paint frames the stage of the main hall and deep blue and black velveteen curtains drape across the stage. Florescent lights and ceiling fans are suspended from a ceiling consisting of beautiful pressed tin panels. To the rear of the hall above the main doors is an elevated projection room. Overall, the hall is in immaculate condition – giving an impression that it’s hardly been used in a very long time. There are some indications that the hall may have been used recently – such as a box of children’s toys and books to the rear of the hall, however this is certainly an anomaly. Behind the curtains of the stage is an old piano (recently retuned – another indicator of recent visitors?), upon lifting the piano’s lid I notice its prominently chipped keys suggesting plenty of use over the years.
To the rear of the stage area is a large overhead speaker protruding from the rear wall and appearing to be fixed to a canvas petition. It’s a peculiar looking thing – a huge magnet and voice coil enclosed in a solid wooden box with a square shaped diaphragm. The wooden box has a sticker on it indicating that the speaker was purchased from ‘Benbow Amusements’ with ‘Gladstone’ written below (Gladstone is a town about 30km south of Wirrabara). It’s difficult to place the vintage of such a strange looking loudspeaker, though the 1940’s and 50’s come to mind.
I make a sound recording of the main Town Hall space, positioning the hand-held device on the lectern so as to capture the ambience of the space from the stage. The discrete buzz of fluorescent lights provide a hushed continuum as incidental sounds from the building and outer periphery materialise: the creak of the roof in the sun, a whisper of wind, the muffled trill of a magpie, a passing vehicle, an unidentifiable murmur, a rustle of trees.
It’s a quiet world out/in here.
Later this/next week: PART 3 – Wirrabara Forest and other locales.
To the non-Antipodian visitors of this blog, an explanation: the Hills Hoist is an iconic feature of the Australian backyard, a rotary clothes line which is height adjustable. It has been manufactured in Adelaide, South Australia since 1945. It’s a striking presence in any backyard, and aside from being an invaluable drying apparatus it also can be used for entertaining purposes; such as the infamous Goon of Fortune, or more benignly as a shade screen or rain cover during the Australian summer and winter months (see images below.)
Over the past weekend I decided to explore the internal sonics of the Hills Hoist. My curiosity has been provoked some time ago when living in another house with a Hills Hoist in the backyard. When washing was hung from the line and the wind entered the backyard, the wind would occasionally catch something on the line (usually a bed sheet) and cause the Hills Hoist to turn. Depending on the position of the Hills Hoist, the turning motion would cause the internal shaft to rub against the outer shaft: resulting in a gentle, low metallic tone. It was – to my ears – a wonderful thing to hear occur as part of a kinetic interplay between the wind and the Hills Hoist.
I recorded the Hills Hoist in our current backyard by attaching a couple of JrF hydrophones (functioning as contact mics) with velcro straps: one to the inner shaft and outer shaft of the Hills Hoist respectively. The recordings below are the result of me ‘playing’ the Hills Hoist, since there was no wind present at the time of recording.
21 weeks have elapsed and I have decided that I will have to pull out of Weekly Beats 2014. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d get to late May and be able to say that I’d produced 21 tracks on a weekly basis, as the process can range from being demanding to extremely demanding once day-to-day life is factored in. On a week to week basis, the tracks themselves are fairly diverse with the occasional three week block settling on a particular theme or genre. I was pleased to find a place for some of my Garden Ruin work during March.
All 21 tracks can be streamed below.
The primary reason for retiring from WB is because I need to give myself a break – a fairly long break. 2012-2014 has been an incredibly hectic period in terms of my artistic career with a variety of projects and commitments which have consumed a large part of my life for the past 2 1/2 years and whilst this has been incredibly rewarding, the strain is palpable enough now that I’ve taken the decision to slow my activity to a (near) halt. The rest of 2014 will be decidedly quieter, though there’s several archiving projects in the works and updates to the Fleurieu Sound Map coming soon. Depending on how this break works out, I may even get around to finishing an album I’ve been working on since early 2013.
Actually, this doesn’t really sound like a break does it? Rather, a change of pace.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with a light sensor and an Arduino Eleven board to control parameters in Max/MSP – at this stage just simple stuff like controlling the frequency amount of a waveform.
At the same time, I’ve been exploring the vocoder of my Microkorg, using basic Carrier and Modulation inputs to affect the vocoder’s oscillator. Last week’s submission (Goyder’s Line And A Shadow Passing) utilised two rising sine waves as the Carrier and Modulation inputs. Whilst the result was as I anticipated – very subtle and imperceptible – it was later pointed out to me that there would probably not be any actual affect on the vocoder’s oscillator since the Modulator imposes its harmonic characteristics on the Carrier, and since we’re talking about two sine waves, well…this should have occurred to me. I do have a tendency to get distracted by technology and overlook the basics from time to time, and I think I’ll be re-learning the rudiments of all the things to my grave.
So, this time around I used two sawtooth waves as the Carrier and Modulator (harmonic range = good!) and raised the Modulation frequency above that of the Carrier frequency using a simple Max multiplication object. * I’ll go into further detail with the Max/MSP patch in a later post.
A perfect fifth is held on the Microkorg (E2; B2) and as the light level changes, the relationship between the Carrier and Modulation frequencies shifts resulting in a change to the overall structure of the sound heard through the vocoder. Since I recorded this track in the late afternoon (the full version is 20 minutes long), the light level gradually falls as reflected light being read by the light sensor diminishes.
Up until March 2014 my partner and I had been living in a first floor two bedroom unit which is located on Cross Road near the south eastern Adelaide suburb of Westbourne Park. Cross Road is one of several major transport arteries which comprise the southern network of roads in the Adelaide city area. Cross Road is particularly significant as it leads on from the Princess Highway and carries a large density of cars, public transport and semi-trailers at all hours of the day. As a consequence there is the almost constant presence of vehicle sounds; increasing in frequency and volume during the peak periods of the morning and the late afternoon. During this time, the ambience of a domestic environment is held to siege by the activity on the road; surrounded by a dense sonic cloud of shuddering engines, screeching brakes, bleating horns, the wail of sirens and a sustained murmuring of low frequencies.
When we moved to this location the previous year I wasn’t particularly concerned about living next to a major arterial road, drawing comforting sonic parallels between the clamour of traffic and a rushing river – full of complex frequencies and dynamics, yet predominantly consistent and relegated to the background. Surely it couldn’t be all that bad?
This optimistic view remained with me throughout 2013 at various points as this entry in my notebook from November 2013 attests:
“As I write this now at close to 10pm on a Tuesday night, I have the spare room’s window slightly open and the activity on Cross Road has dissipated considerably from a heavy continuous stream of indecipherable vehicles to an infrequent trickle of cars passing by. These water references are appropriate as I happen to be listening on studio monitor speakers to Annea Lockwood’s ‘Soundmap of the Housatonic River’ with its gentle ebbing and rushing of waterways making for an ironic sonic accompaniment to the vehicle sounds outside.”
I knew this outlook was precarious and my aesthetic position (which I believe was initially due to the excitement and distractions of moving house) rapidly gave away as the day-to-day routine of life resumed. Whilst the noise was not unbearable, it was certainly an unwelcome presence on a number of occasions. The idea that one can live with noise (aesthetically or otherwise) is ridiculously naive. The road and its vehicles were not the only source of noise as the neighbours’ house on the eastern side of our block played host to incessant techno, revving engines and the occasional domestic dispute.
I started to imagine our first floor unit as a tiny island surrounded by a vast ocean of noise.
There was also the aspect of noise affecting the other senses, such as the visual boundary that a major road represents, as well as the occasional stench of engine fumes and a the oily byproduct of a nearby McDonald’s wafting through the kitchen window. Maybe I’ll touch on these other forms of noise another time.
Now, far removed from our tiny island and that ocean of noise, I write this post in the peaceful environment of a quiet suburb, where the window is open and only the sound of birds, a distant lawnmower and (if I strain my ears) a very faint murmur of traffic is heard.
Noise – by its very definition has negative connotations, and it’s certainly apparent that this post’s preoccupation with the negative aspects of the past year run the risk of suggesting that an otherwise good year of domestic life with my partner was just a day-to-day ordeal of living with noise. I can reassure you that this wasn’t the case. Rather, noise became a backdrop to our lives: like a radio station prone to occasional interference and drop-outs, but carrying on nonetheless.