Notes on Goyder’s Line

I’ve submitted a proposal to perform my work, Goyder’s Line (2014-2017) at this year’s Australasian Computer Music Conference which is taking place in Adelaide this year. I’ve reproduced the text of my proposal/abstract below. Although I’ve regularily commented on the inspiration and development of Goyder’s Line in the past on this blog, I feel as though this text perfectly sums up the essence of the work. With thanks to L for her thoughts and input.

 

The plains that I crossed in those days were not endlessly alike. Sometimes I looked over a great shallow valley with scattered trees and idle cattle and perhaps a meagre stream at its centre. Sometimes, at the end of a tract of utterly uncompromising country, the road rose towards what was unquestionably a hill before I saw ahead only another plain, level and bare and daunting. Gerald Murnane, The Plains (1982)

The plains surrounding the ghost town of Dawson are situated in the lower Flinders Ranges – a vast arena of ochre-coloured earth and sparse vegetation. The presence of distant hills that stretch around the plains appear to reinforce the utter stillness of this place. As if time and motion are suspended or are just inclined to unfold at their own pace. As one spends more time in this place, its unique properties are revealed. A subtle scent carried on a breeze that sends a rustle through dry leaves, the droning buzz of busy insects, the brief relief that lies in the shadows of clouds drifting slowly over the terrain and discrete rumbles that exist just on the audible periphery.

Sometime during 1865, a few kilometres south of where Dawson would be settled twenty-three years later, George Goyder was travelling across the region on horseback. Goyder, who was the South Australian colony’s Surveyor-General had been tasked with the duty of mapping the boundary between areas that received regular rainfall and those that were prone to drought. Based on Goyder’s Line of Rainfall and the subsequent report detailing his findings, farmers were discouraged from planting crops north of the line. In most instances, this advice was not heeded.

At the beginning of the 21st Century as much of Australia was enduring the Millennium Drought (1997-2009), Goyder’s Line became a point of reference for meteorologists, climate scientists and farming communities. During the drought it became evident that the line of rainfall as identified by Goyder in the late 19th Century – whilst being subsequently regarded as a highly accurate tool of analysis and agricultural planning for most of the following century – was requiring reassessment and pointed to a southward trend in light of protracted drought, shifting seasonal rainfall patterns and the impact of anthropogenic climate change.

Goyder’s original line of rainfall and a recent 21st Century revision inform the basis of this electro-acoustic work. The lines – their relative patterns and trajectories- represent the fundamental frequencies of two sawtooth waves, which are routed as inputs to a vocoder and extended effects modules. Although each of the frequencies remain distinct throughout the work, the resulting modulations reveal expansive sonorities and rich harmonic textures. At regular iterations the lines are purposefully suspended in parallel, allowing their harmonic relationship and modulations to unfold and develop.

I regard this work as an ode to the South Australian interior, as defined by Goyder’s original line and its contemporary revision. The interior, at its boundary appears as a vast, seemingly boundless space – rich with the possibility of uncertainty, terror and fascination.

TLR, July 2017

Goyder’s Line v.3 in the works

I’m currently in the process of revising the Goyder’s Line Max/MSP patch with the intention of streamlining the drawing process and adding some additional features to the interface.

In addition to this, the work will be expanded with the incorporation of a video component for a potential exhibition/performance of the work in the future. A summary and audio of of v.2 (2015) can be found below.

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A snippet of the revised Max/MSP patch

Goyder’s Line Version 2 release notes (accompanying the Maurilia Sound Studio Volume 4 edition):

“Goyder’s Line” – recorded in April 2015 – is a composition for Max/MSP, vocoder and effects modules. For its structure and form, the work references the geographical boundary (or isopleth) pioneered by George Goyder in the mid-1880’s to denote and determine patterns of rainfall in South Australia. The work’s sonic character (derived from sawtooth waves and the feedback of a Moog MF-108M module) results in a continuous drone; consisting of rich, wavering harmonic tones and textures which are intended to be evocative of the colours, climate, topography and relative stillness of the landscapes that Goyder’s Line passes through.

Life Is Short and Long: Wirrabara field notes (part 1)

A trip (back) to Wirrabara – July 2016, PART 1.

The parentheses in the title are intentional since I’d visited Wirrabara once before – some thirty years prior in either 1985 or 1986. Given such a considerable span of time has elapsed since my first visit, it seemed only appropriate to regard this as a second visit, but the first visit as an adult with the majority of my childhood memories lost to the chasm of the intervening years. It’s tricky attempting to consolidate disperate experiences like this.

For my first visit to Wirrabara the primary destination was the Wirrabara forest reserve (about 10km west of the township) where my dad was participating in an orientation sport event. I remember our 1970’s Ford Cortina station wagon, a blue tent and my younger brother being carried around by my mum in a harness. We were camped on the edge of a pine plantation – the spires of the tall dark trees towering up into an overcast sky. Sonic memories – from such a young age, as always – are harder to come by and are virtually non-existent.

So now in mid-July 2016 I found myself on route via Port Wakefield, Crystal Brook and  Gladstone to my destination. The purpose of my visit was as part of a rec (i.e. research) visit as sound designer for Emma Beech’s Life Is Short and Long project, which has been joint facilitated and funded by Vitalstatistix and Country Arts SA. You can read about the project on Vital’s website[1], but in summary – and in Emma’s words – the work is described as “a performance installation created from three years of travel yarns and investigation of how people respond to crisis and change.” Wirrabara is one of three locations that Emma has spent time in – the others being Port Adelaide and Barcelona – conversing with locals and discussing how aspects of crisis and change have affected their lives.

Whereas communities in Barcelona and Port Adelaide have been primarily affected in recent years by the respective crises of the GFC and decline of local industry, Wirrabara’s crisis is more reflective of the plight of regional Australian communities in the 21st Century – affected by aspects of climate change, industrial decline and dwindling populations. The main street of Wirrabara now hosts a few functioning businesses, the remainder of properties (formerly cafes, specialty stores and restaurants) are now either vacant or have been sold as private residences. I remembered witnessing a similar situation in a nearby town I’d visited several times in 2013.

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Main street in Wirrabara, July 2016.

Peterborough, located approximately 50 km west of Wirrabara and situated near Goyder’s Line was once a thriving agricultural and industrial hub servicing local communities in the lower Flinders Rangers, whilst functioning as a crucial railway network between Port Augusta and Adelaide. Since the decommissioning of industrial railway services in the late-1980’s the town had since experienced a rapid decline in the intervening years, coupled with the dual-related factors of long droughts and a declining population. In 2013, the town looked broken and half-ruined – the main street had a handful of active businesses, the rest – similar to those of Wirrabara, save for a defunct bookstore and video rental outlet – were now empty and fading into the routine main street visage of threatened regional centres.

Post collapse Peterborough Railway Station.
Peterborough Railway Station, February 2013.

That familiar tableau was mirrored in several of the townships that I passed through on my way to Wirrabara – the burnt out pub in Locheil, visibly abandoned homesteads on the outskirts of Red Hill and several gutted petrol stations over a stretch of a hundred kilometres.

By contrast, my arrival in Wirrabara on a Sunday afternoon was characterised by activity, commerce and the sound of a lively community. Existence. I’d managed to arrive within the last half-hour of the Producers Market on the main street where locals sell their produce, knick-knacks and hang out with each other. It was probably the best possible way to arrive in a town that I’d been told was in considerable decline. There’s something  particularly invigorating about withessing an event consisting of groups of people within such a small locale – voices and activity spill out into the street, inviting you to engage and participate. And so I found myself being instantly drawn to the markets with enthusiasm, eager to experience this community interacting with each other and see what the market was like. It was fleeting. No sooner than I’d arrived, the market was in the process of closing up and the eventual absence of people and activity couldn’t have been more striking – the emptiness and deadening quiet of this small town rapidly encompassed the space. What energy there was had dissipated.

[1] http://vitalstatistix.com.au/performance/life-is-short-and-long/

Climate Century: Stranger (11 November – 13 December 2015)

"Stranger" element.

Stranger is a response to research and discussions concerning the impact of climate change in the Port District, and its likely effect on local ecosystems, inhabitants and man-made infrastructure. This work presents the listener with an auditory landscape from a hypothesised future, whereby a single entity remains with its lonely utterance; projecting its transmuted voice (derived from a now disappeared organism) into an empty field.

Venue:
Stairwell and landing of Weiman Room, South Australian Maritime Museum, 122 Lipson Street, Port Adelaide.

Opening Event:
November 11, 6-8pm

Exhibition dates:
November 12 – December 13
12-8pm Thursdays and 12-5pm Friday to Sunday.

Artist talks:
November 26, 5-7pm
December 3, 5-7pm

Tristan Louth-Robins - Stranger installation - November 2015
Stranger installation – November 2015

The People’s Weather Report: New version for RN broadcast and revised text.

A re-worked version of my People’s Weather Report which will be broadcast on Radio National very soon. This version incorporates a revised spoken text and Fleurieu-centric field recordings. The earlier version of the Weather Report will be installed as part of Arts House’s Going Nowhere project at North Melbourne Town Hall (21-23 November)

I’m sitting on the sand beneath Normanville jetty, looking out to the ocean. The jetty’s century-old character comes into relief: supporting posts weathered by the elements, rusted bolts, horizontal beams which have been periodically carved or illustrated with pocket knives and pens – inscribing initials, romantic allusions and indecipherable text. During the peak of summer, tar will occasionally ooze from the beams and emit a pungent, though strangely satisfying smell combined with the salty air and heat.

I’m facing south looking down the western coastline of the the Fleurieu Peninsula. The visual quality of the peninsula’s coastline is striking – Normanville beach with its ancient sand dunes stretching elegantly into the distance, eventually joining a succession of sheer cliffs and bluffs; concealing secluded beaches, reefs and caves.

I begin to wonder what the future will hold for parts of the coastline.

Normanville Beach will be transformed, the jetty eventually submerged; and what of the ancient sand dunes that overlook the beach and extend down the coastline?

What of the beach houses and shacks that are nestled behind just a thin strip of native vegetation looking out onto Lady Bay? The shallow dunes will have given way to rising tides, the parcels of vegetation and large clearings transformed into a network of lagoons. The beach houses and shacks rendered no longer habitable – their prefabricated ruins having gradually washed away into the ocean.

Terrestrial caves that were explored as a child are most likely transformed into underwater caves.

What of the marina at Wirrina Cove holiday resort? Submerged breakwaters, pontoons torn from their moorings and capsized vessels clustered together?

The secluded beach coves of Second Valley once covered with large pebbles and rock outcrops. Now all immersed in water; the ocean risen and making its way to meet the cliff tops that overlook this part of the coastline.

Then, nearing toward the headland of the peninsula is Rapid Bay. The once long stretch of beach is now submerged marked only by two impressive landmarks that still remain above water; at the southern end: a quarry that was dug into the side of a steep hill in the 1940’s. Its airborne dust of floating limestone particles that settle into the seabed, turning the water an attractive turquoise blue. Then, at the northern end of the bay: just above the water’s surface a slight opening of what used to be an open air cave, now colonised by ocean life.

Then, above Rapid Bay is Starfish Hill and an installation of wind turbines; one of many wind farms that have been installed across South Australia over the past fifteen years. The wind turbines on Starfish Hill will most likely survive a significant rise in sea levels, but who knows what other environmental cataclysms await us in the near future? In a way their presence is a comfort, they are a symbol that reminds me that we can make difference and turn things around.

TLR, November 2014.

The People’s Weather Report submission

My submission for The People’s Weather Report.

The People’s Weather Report is a global response to the enormity of climate change, from a number of very personal perspectives. In an installation created by eco designer Tanja Beer, using recycled materials and showcased during Going Nowhere, audiences are invited to experience a 24 hour sound work of original ‘weather reports’, collected from participants located around the world.

Read more here: http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/artshouse/program/goingnowhere/pages/thepeoplesweatherreport.aspx

Listen to my Weather Report below: