Noarlunga Centre – more commonly known as Colonnades – is a place that can only be etched in your memory if you’ve frequented it on a routine basis at some point in your life, or alternatively if something really horrible happened to you there. Thankfully, for me it’s a case of the former: I visited Noarlunga Centre a lot as a kid. If I hadn’t visited it before, it would just be another depressed suburban retail centre, dreamt up sometime in the mid-1970s and plonked in the middle of a paddock like a spacecraft touched by some of the more oppressive and crappy tendencies of late brutalist architecture. To further emphasise this observation, have a look at the aerial image of it a year after its first stage of construction in 1979.
From the air it looks like some kind of consumerist utopian idyll. What you can’t see is the depressed socio-economic fog which would creep over the surrounding working class neighbourhoods through the 1980s and result in Noarlunga Centre becoming a punchline for issues relating to the welfare purgatory, hopelessness and occasional outbreaks of public violence. There was a time in the early 90s when you could seriously risk your neck by venturing through the underpass or bus exchange as the natural light gave way to a sparse network of dim electric light. There were a couple of occasions I walked through the railway terminal concourse after dark, past the unattended ticket booths and darkened stairways. At moments like this your heart rate escalates significantly, you quicken your pace and (if you’re a guy) your testicles feel like they’re attempting to retreat back into your body.
Colonnades: Builds Character & Survival Instincts.
One of the weirder developments that popped up near the complex was a Tiki hut-style waterslide complex called Splashdown. It was only a matter of time before stories of full-scale fistfights and razor blades jammed into the waterslide contributed to the business eventually going under. Oh well, the beach was just down the road.
So, Noarlunga Centre was a bit of a shithole in this respect and its reputation certainly preceded it. By the late 1980s local, state and federal government had a pretty good opportunity to properly address aspects of poverty, welfare subsistence and drug abuse in depressed communities, and the powers that be more or less reached the conclusion that it would just be too damn expensive, take a bit of constructive thought and – g-d forbid – require a good dose of empathy. What communities received instead (along with stigmatisation, community service and jail time) was the Orwellian gift of wall-to-wall CCTV. Granted CCTV is virtually everywhere today, but one of the unique things about Noarlunga Centre is that a casual walk will lead you through The Varied History Of CCTV – from c.1986 to the present. I really wish I’d taken some photos of this on my recent visit because it’s pretty interesting to play Guess The Year Of Installation: on the one hand, a vintage beige camera from the 80s creaks away with its grizzled eye adjacent to the hot young Millenial encased in a sleek black dome.
Along with the CCTV, a transfusion of capital found its way to Noarlunga Centre in the late 90s and the owners began to slather paint and panels over the original decaying concrete edifice. This trend appears to have continued up to the present day, but trace elements remain in plain sight – hence the collection of photos before you.
For me, Noarlunga Centre is a largely unwelcome place charged with fairly mundane memories – much like the phenomenom of ‘dead malls’ across the USA. Of course, Noarlunga Centre isn’t yet dead, but it shares similarities with the heyday of mall culture during the 1970s and 80s, and its ultimate decline due to online shopping. I doubt it’s a place that anyone (as an outsider) really wants to visit, but it’s interesting that such a place for me – in spite of its inherent crappiness – still possesses its own uniquely compelling allure.
In spite of my best efforts, my studio is not much of a productive space. It’s strewn with all kinds of distractions: guitars, bells, books, trinkets, notebooks, magazines, scraps of paper, and a wi-fi connection. As I’m sure many could sympathise, it’s the latter distraction that causes the bulk of the problems, with an uninterrupted line to social media, useless information and bad news.
I’ve always been very easily distracted, which I’ve largely attributed over the years to mild dyslexia and a personality trait that’s engineered to hop from one thing to another within an alarmingly short span of time like my life’s depended on it. As a result, this creates all kinds of problems: in a creative sense, I’ve got fourteen half-baked projects on the go at once; in the domestic sense, I’ve got a home that’s perpetually half-cleaned with pockets of OCD-ish cleanliness and surrounding pockets of total disorder and (non-life threatening) filth.
This hasn’t always been the norm, but when I’m in the thick of this pattern of distraction (as I am currently) this wreaks havoc with my brain, leaving me scattered, unfocused, irritable, gloomy and disgusted with myself. Given my recent struggles over the past year with mental health I should really know better than to get myself into these situations.
One of the key insights with my psychologist was to identify when I’m spreading myself too thin and to find a way of breaking away from it by engaging in something less intensive. And here’s the ridiculous part of the conundrum: I don’t have to be working constantly at the moment; in fact, I could spend most of my time doing far less intensive things than – for example – writing six essays at once, working on an electro-acoustic composition, attempting to learn three guitar instrumentals, alternating between four books and writing new songs. All of these things happened today by the way. Mentally, this amounts to complete havoc and the metaphysical reality has manifested itself in the studio: cables everywhere, notebooks, bad posture, frowning for hours at a time and consuming way too much coffee.
But I haven’t lost it completely yet. Maybe the dopamine inhibitors of the medication are doing an exemplary job of holding my brain chemistry together, since I’m able to form reasonably consistent thoughts and string these sentences together. Still, my Brain Sea of fluids is choppy and the electrons overhead are sparking wildly. Following on from near-catastrophe as 2017 closed out, I resolved to get better, and I did; yet familiar patterns are reemerging and this past week it’s felt like I’m caught up in the feedback loop of varying peaks and troughs – which, last year – felt like it was going to kill me.
* * *
Sitting at my desk, I occasionally look to the left and briefly acknowledge the door ajar to the balcony which is letting a mild breeze in. It’s a lovely day outside and nothing is preventing me from going for a walk. I could go for a walk completely unencumbered. I could leave my wallet and phone here and simply do a loop of the neighborhood. Doing this, I’m certain that I would feel much better about things and I’m sure that my brain would agree, since it’s been flashing the DECOMPRESSION sign since about 10:30am today.
So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to wind up this writing, put the laptop to sleep, leave the guitars idle, put the notebooks to the side, silence the infinitude of Spotify, put some trousers, socks and shoes on and go for a walk.
Another series of steps hopefully going some way to (gently and idly) working through this complicated business of living.
My room in a sharehouse, mid-1999: This album had sickened me. I felt my stomach lurching slightly, whilst my head felt heavy and was swimming in a choppy expanse of confusion. A sense of irritation eventually overcame me and I hit to stop button, ejected the CD and tossed it petulantly across the room.
By the time I encountered Wilco’s third album in 1999 I knew their work reasonably well, but it would be fair to say I was still growing comfortable with them. Whilst they hadn’t yet completely overhauled their ‘alt. country’ tag they were still a restless unit, prone to bursts of raucousness and curious diversions. Where my listening tastes were concerned at the time, they certainly held a lower prestige compared to the likes of my enduring obsession with The Complete Works of Elvis Costello, which at the time was chewing up most of my meager spending money. Where Wilco was concerned, I still had my battered cassette copy of Being There and a CD of their collaboration with Billy Bragg (Mermaid Avenue); both of which I really liked.
How to fight loneliness / just smile all the time / shine your teeth ’till meaningless / and sharpen them with lies.
I had picked up Summerteeth in mid-1999 at the tail end of a miserable, depressed winter. Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy sounded especially miserable and depressed across Summerteeth’s 50-odd minutes. The album as a whole broke away from the previous albums’ country leanings and roof-raising rawk, instead opting for what sounded like a fucked-up version of The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle spliced with The Band’s second album. It’s an album that is at once sunny, yet persistently uneasy – it blooms and glides; then lurches and collapses. In a paisley nutshell, it’s sunny psychedelia tainted by paranoia and loneliness, howling out from the bowels of a K-Hole. Darkness courses through the entirety of this record and for every upbeat respite, there are gut and kidney punches landed everywhere else.
So with that in mind, let’s return to my room in a sharehouse a bit over eighteen years ago.
On a quiet night I loaded the CD into my boombox for the first time. The opener, “I Can’t Stand It” erupted from its tinny speakers with the chime of an electric 12-string guitar (immediately reminiscent of The Byrds) giving way to a swell of Mellotron, thumping drums and weary, nicotine-grizzled vocals.
No love’s as random as God’s love / I can’t stand it…I can’t stand it
As Tweedy’s refrain collapses into a hoarse scream, before I knew it I was immersed in one of the saddest songs I’d ever heard: “She’s A Jar”.
She’s a jar / with a heavy lid
My pop-quiz kid / a sleepy kisser / a pretty war
You know, she begs me not to miss her
Tweedy sounds even more resigned and forlorn on this song. Whereas on “I Can’t Stand It” he at least sounded like he was being propelled and pushed ahead by the momentum of the song, here he sounds like he’s been buried alive by it, half-speaking allusions of a lover as a jar (or is it ‘ajar’?), quiet front yards, water skies and bruised roads.
But what a gorgeously sad song! Lyrics aside, on musical terms alone this song is utterly sumptuous. A rickety sounding acoustic guitar floats uneasily atop a bed of entwined organ, Mellotron, loping bass and bleats from The Most Lonesome Harmonica In The World. It’s like the tangled undergrowth of the mind at its most charged, poetic and forlorn. A soundtrack for losing your mind whilst surrounded by beauty. Then there’s the rhythm that Ken Coomer lays down: a dour pulse alternating between snares and rim shots, yet totally immediate and forceful – urging the momentum of the song along. A trap kit scything through the cluttered web of the instrumentation and Tweedy’s surreal lyrics. That’s ‘surreal’ in the Bunuel-lian sense; i.e. whereby the imaginings of the unconsciousness ruptere and manifest themselves into reality by turns discrete, poetic, bewitching and disturbing.
“She’s A Jar” contains probably what is (to this day) my favourite set of lyrics – a staggeringly beautiful and confounding string of imagery; a stream of wild mercury that in my mind is matched only by the terror and beauty of Dylan’s mid-60’s streams on consciousness:
Are there really ones like these?
The ones I dream
Float like leaves
And freeze to spread skeleton wings
I passed through before I knew you
An unconscious reverie committed to song. It’s so gorgeously vivid and unsettling.
But before we become too lulled by the twisted beauty of everything in this song, the lights shut out suddenly in the final seconds of the track. It consists of a reprise of the song’s opening lines and a tweaked revision the final line. Where Tweedy had previously sung, “you know, she begs me not to miss her”, he swaps it with this:
She’s a jar / with a heavy lid
My pop-quiz kid / a sleepy kisser / a pretty war
You know, she begs me not to hit her
Tenderness replaced by a brutal and confronting confession.
It’s not an exaggeration to admit that I felt physically ill when that fucked up line landed. It ruined everything. Slightly distressed, I hit pause on my boombox, dug the lyrics sheet out from the CD’s jewel case and corroborated what I thought I’d just heard.
Reluctantly, I restarted the CD. The gurgling synths opening “A Shot In The Arm” made me queasy, not to mention the chorus’ refrain where Tweedy longs for “something in my blood, bloodier than blood”.
What on Earth had happened to Jeff Tweedy since Being There? How had the rest of the band not quit in disgust? (fact: they almost did) How was he still alive? Was he still alive?
Whilst I didn’t skip through the rest of the tracks, I was too rattled and sickened to acknowledge the rest of the album as it lurched along. Barring a couple of sunnier, hopeful moments, once “Via Chicago” rolled around it was all over for me:
I dreamed about killing you again last night
And it felt all right to me
Your cold hot blood ran away from me to the sea
As the zombied closer, “In A Future Age” petered out the CD was (r)ejected and put back in its case. A couple of weeks later I sold it back to the record store and bought another Elvis Costello reissue. A couple of years would go by before I heard the album again.
* * *
When I was eighteen I didn’t understand depression. I was living with it, but I had neither the ability to comprehend it, let alone articulate it. I would instead regard my perpetual melancholy and social anxiousness as just something that happened when you were at this part of your life. It was my belief that this permitted you to cry for no reason and be perpetually angry at or feel hard done by the world. I never really regarded it as depression because that term scared me and had all-too-dramatic connotations with padded cells, electric shock therapy, slashing wrists and throwing yourself off buildings. I couldn’t decouple these things from what actually happened in real life and I figured things had to get really bad before I ended up in one of those scenarios. ‘Depression’ was a tag that I didn’t want dangling from me and on show to the rest of the world. At this stage I hadn’t been diagnosed with depression or prescribed any medication, so in lieu of professional intervention I wallowed in undiagnosed and romanticised misery.
From this unfortunate position I should have been able to relate to where Jeff Tweedy was coming from across the emotional massacre of Summerteeth. This guy feels like shit; I feel like shit. It should have clicked. In previous years, my high school friends had been into all sorts of tormented and transgressive music that sounded and read on paper ten times worse than anything Tweedy could dream up. And it’s not like I wasn’t partial to such indulgences – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads looms large.
So what was the issue? As a songwriter, Jeff Tweedy’s always had a knack for earnestness and sincerity in his writing, regardless of whether it’s literal, a collision of surreal imagery or a deft combination of the two. Dylan and Neil Young have a similar impact – regardless of a given song’s clarity or impenetrability (“Visions Of Johanna” and “After The Goldrush” come to mind) they are delivered with such potency (and sonic pixie dust) that some kind of emotional wallop is inevitable regardless whether you understand exactly what the fuck they are on about.
Back in 1999, that emotional wallop was also inescapable when I listened to Summerteeth for the first time. I couldn’t however get past the effect it had on on my stomach before it could get anywhere near ruining my heart. The blood, guts and bruises alluded to in Summerteeth felt so much more grave, horrifying and real than Nick Cave’s trail of dead on Murder Ballads simply because Tweedy’s experiences felt genuinely real, whereas Cave’s come across as B-grade schlock cribbed from folk tales. Chalk and cheese; Tarkovsky and Tarantino.
I’m fairly certain that Tweedy has never murdered anyone (“Via Chicago”) or committed acts of domestic violence (“She’s A Jar”). Tweedy has however suffered from depression and substance abuse and this was channeled through Summerteeth when things were especially in the ditch for him. To Nick Cave’s credit, he too has produced fine work when life was at its most shit and it should come as no surprise that in the same year that Summerteeth blindsided meI encountered his 1997 album, The Boatman’s Call.
When you’re depressed, horrible things come into your head and if you’re creatively minded you have to splatter and frame them somewhere. If you’re a good songwriter (as Tweedy is) you might be able to transcend clichés and plumb the depths of the poetic. Rather than simply dismissing Tweedy as a murderous misogynist on the basis of those two songs, when Summerteeth eventually clicked for me a couple of years later I read these songs as painful, yet articulate expressions of alienation, misanthropy, loneliness, regret and shame. It’s an album suffused with this stuff – the rough contours of existence.
Emotional maturity and intelligence is critical when dealing with this kind of work. This is primarily the reason why Leonard Cohen’s still mistaken for a wrist-slashing sad sack, when in actual fact the melancholy and torment isn’t always a literal reading of the artist’s state, especially when it’s accompanied by daubs (or smears) of humour, self deprecation and – in some notable instances – outright piss-taking.
When I first heard Summerteeth I simply wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t old enough for it and the weight of the world, which was crushing me made it too difficult to bear and appreciate fully. That said, it’s still an album that’s been with me since I first heard it. It left an impression on me, so shocking and profound that my body literally rejected it (I think throwing the CD across the room counts here). But when it did eventually creep its way back into my life, it seemed miraculously compatible with everything going on with me at the time. Sure, I was still depressed but thank goodness I was a little smarter!
For a while there – let’s say most of 2016 and the start of this year – it almost seemed like the Fleurieu Sound Map wouldn’t continue. As several blog posts had indicated, at various points from 2015 to mid-2017 I was hugely unhappy with my creative practice for several reasons and on several occassions I felt compelled to put several projects and possibly the entire thing on ice for an indefinite period.
Well, how things have changed! I’ve overcome my discontent, and as (another) several posts have indicated I’m back with it and fully engaged with things, feeling a genuine passion for things again. Insofar, the sound map is resuming with a bunch of new and archived recordings being prepared for documentation. It’s a really, really good time at the moment and I’m having a ball getting the FSM back up and running again.
So, with that in mind here’s a sonic apperitif comprising of two new site recordings, from Ingalalla Falls and Second Valley Forest Reserve respectively. I’ve also added a bit more depth to the field notes accompanying the sites, which previously have felt a bit too concise. Follow the link below and click on Updates to find the new ones.
More is to come – I’d forgotten how time consuming the post-production process is with HTML-ing, audio uploads and pinning the things on Google Maps. I’ve got some little audio snapshopts from Parawa and Torrens Vale (done on the same road trip) and also more recent recordings from my Mum’s property which feature the new Sound Devices Mix Pre-3.
In the meantime, check out the new additions to the soundmap and make sure you also check out my new video blog covering the visits to these sites!
Since I began the sound map back in 2012, I’ve wanted to do something like this, but other things took precendence, such as the actual recording of things to put on the sound map or not really having anything to say at a given time. Well, it’s five years later and I (think I) can articulate myself a bit better on camera and combined with higher resolution technology, this will hopefully make for interesting and nice looking outcomes.
In this first instalment I visit the beautiful Ingalalla Waterfall and adjoining creek (almost entirely absent of visitors for the hour I was there) and the far more desolate and slightly creepy area of Second Valley Forest near Gate MH2.
The audio recordings made on these visits will be posted to the sound map soon.
My concert work forMax/MSP and vocoder, Goyder’s Line (2014-17) will be performed at Concert 2 (Saturday 30th September 2017, Elder Hall) as part of this year’s Australasian Computer Music Conference. Information regarding the conference and concert program can be found at the conference website.
I’ve been busy working at refining the MSP patch with a few tweaks and additional parameters. Rehearsals have begun in the studio and it’s sounding promising!
Earlier this year I wrote at length about the development of Goyder’s Line. You can find the post here.
Is this the final instalment of my 2017 trilogy of exestential despair? I’d like to hope so. It’s not so much a case of the energy and time required to write stuff like this that concerns me, but rather the scale of anguish and torment that feeds the material. The last 12 months have by far been one of the more stressful and ridiculous passages of my life and with the financial year clocking over into the second half of the year, I’m set on making the rest of this weird year more enjoyable for myself and those around me. I feel okay right now.
Three weeks ago I was hunched over the toilet bowl in my office bathroom throwing up my lunch as discretely as possible. Following this, I splashed water on my face, walked back to my desk, slumped in my chair and stared vacantly at a spreadsheet. It was stuffy and too warm in the open plan and the weak afternoon sun angled itself unwelcomely across my desk making the situation even more intolerable. There was nobody (and rarely is anyone) in the open plan aside from a box containing a plastic Christmas tree, stacks of folders and vacant desks covered with a light film of dust and grime. Unfortunately, inanimate objects aren’t going to casually read your body language and make suggestions. So, I got up from my chair, gathered up some spare change, left the office and bought a bag of nuts from a vending machine a short walk away. I got back to my desk, felt panic arise again and desperately tried call my gut’s bluff. The inanimate objects remained unmoved. This was a thoroughly miserable time.
Prior to my body needing to hurl out of irrational panic, for the past month I’d been knotted up with all manner of anxiety, frustration, stress and depression. Along with the other things going on my life (buying a house, playing gigs, etc.) since last September I’d been holding down a finance role at work – a reasonably daunting prospect given that I’d only had cursory experience dealing with financial things in my previous, more project-related role. Initially I’d gone into the role with gusto and motivation to get across the tasks, responsibilities and processes as efficiently as possible and do the best job I could within a 12-month term. Fairly quickly things started going awry and I struggled to keep things on a level footing. There were a few reasons for this – firstly I had to relocate to the city; not a biggie, but the pressures associated with a new environment and building rapport with a bunch of new people took awhile to adjust to. Secondly, I had to get acquainted with a new team, who were geographically scattered across the country and compounded what began as a discrete feeling of isolation eventually sliding into deep lulls of lonliness and an inability (and occassionally reluctance) to communicate or ask for help.
It’s important to note that when I started the role I was holed up in a private office in one of the more dismal areas of the building. Intially I was excited about the prospect of having my own space and relished to opportunity to scribble stuff on whiteboards and spread paperwork out everywhere, not to mention the luxury of cranking some tunes with the door closed. But of course the benefits associated with a private space aren’t going to amount to much when there’s a distinct lack of natural light, a non-ergonomic desk layout, horrid peppermint-coloured decor and a crowd of voices in your head chanting: what the fuck are you doing here? Thank goodness the end-of-year break was approaching with three weeks to get my head together and recalibrate things! Things would better in 2017 I whispered repeatedly to myself.
If only the three weeks off had been a little more relaxing. Don’t get me wrong, two weeks in Thailand with family was mostly lovely, but if you’re like me eventually you end up loathing the seemingly constant doing-things-by-committee approach with a group of people and spending most of the last four days of the vacation glowering in your room drinking beer, writing sad songs and listening to Morrisey. The husk of your former self who declared on the first couple of days, “this is the greatest time of my life” is now seated on a lurching ferry filled with horrible tourists and you’re desperately longing to find a quiet pocket of the universe to be left the fuck alone. The final week of my break was spent at home and was relatively quiet and relaxed, but I wished I’d spent less time drinking and becoming obsessed with Myer-Briggs personality tests (often dangerously at the same time) – its results uniformly pointing out that the worst possible career options were aligned with a) finance; and/or b) selling cars. Supplanting the notion into my head that one of these vocations was a horrible fit a few days shy of returning to work struck me as both timely and a bit foolish.
Whilst the intervening six months haven’t amounted to complete disaster and there have been rays of sunshine here and there, I’ve arrived at this point where I could swear there are about a dozen dead versions of myself dumped somewhere that had fizzled out at given points only to be replaced by a slightly more broken and inferior version of myself. A bit like successive models of smartphones with cheaper components, incompatible cables and a propensity to freeze or shut down at inconvenient moments. I’m certain several of my work colleagues are now convinced I’m on track for a monumental mid-life crisis and will spend the rest of my days shacked up in a monastary. As Howlin’ Wolf once put it, “I’m goin’ down slowwwwwww”. If Hubert Sumlin was there in the corner of my office playing searing lead guitar whilst the Wolfman wailed away, that would have been the perfect sonic accompaniment to the spectacle of me at my desk on a given day: nervously jumping at the sound of the office phone ringing, clutching my head in my hands, moaning quietly, and – yes – throwing up in the toilet. The blues come in many contextual shades.
The other day I had a conversation with my manager reflecting on the past nine months in the role. Like an incompatible couple self-mediating we both arrived at the consensus that finance probably wasn’t the best fit for me and resolved that I’d be going back to my old role in a month or so. I’d arrived at this conversation more relaxed than expected since I’d already been tipped off by a former colleague about a week prior that I was expected to return to my old role. I have no idea if there had been talk about me behind closed doors (frankly I couldn’t care less) but upon learning this news something miraculous occurred – all of the culminative tension I’d built up in my body began to unwind and my head felt as if it had been immersed in a cool body of water after spending half a year in the sun. So by the time I was talking with my manager I was totally prepared for a conversation that went along the lines of: “you’re not really that good at this are you?”; and “I think it would be best (for everyone) if I got out of here”.
Although I felt a bit numbed after the meeting, I still knew I was making the right decision. And if it means I’ll no longer be coming to work knotted with anxiety and gifting my meals to the alter of the toilet bowl on a regular basis, I’ll take it. This old role is a good fit for right now – a bit of familiarity with a few things that have changed here and there. I think it will be a very welcome stop gap in the short to medium term. Better still, I won’t be bringing my work home with me like a pair of stale underpants that constantly evade the washing machine. That reminds me, I need to do some washing.
The moral of this tale? Don’t do things you’re not good at if it makes you continually miserable.
So – and I say this with a degree of trepidation – I think I could be out of the knotty woods.