Another new realease. “Nodes/Old Waters” is a meeting of sorts – a studio improvised amalgam of live instruments, Fleurieu field recordings and samples from old red_robin tracks. Listen/purchase below.
Another new realease. “Nodes/Old Waters” is a meeting of sorts – a studio improvised amalgam of live instruments, Fleurieu field recordings and samples from old red_robin tracks. Listen/purchase below.
Continuing the recent trend of looking back at past work and its intersections with present activities and preoccupations, I thought that this time around I would return to where I found myself approximately ten years ago.
This is essentially a post about how a teapot salvaged my Masters degree and went on to form the basis of an installation work that I’ve presented a couple of times over the years. The teapot in question began its sonic journey ten years ago and has been used in conjunction with loudspeakers, microphones and other electronic paraphanalia more than actually brewing tea. This was to be its fate.
Trust in Crate.
To set the scene it was mid-March 2007. I’d arrived in the morning at Sebastian Tomczak’s parents house in Brighton carrying my Tascam 424 Portastudio and a milkcrate full of non-musical objects. The milkcrate and its contents were an important component of this visit. In 2004, Seb hosted the first Milkcrate, a music project he devised whereby participants are required to create music using only the contents of their milkcrate over a continuous 24-hour period. I’d participated in the second Milkcrate which was held in the Brighton scout hall in January 2005. That was a strange experience. I’d recently come off a particularly humiliating break-up and had spent a good week shacked up in my room not speaking to anyone. By the time I arrived at the scout hall on a sunny January morning I was having tremendous difficulty verbally communicating or acknowledging anyone present. Eventually I loosened up and got into the flow of making a racket with a pair of speakers, a couple of objects and load of feedback. Good times!
By March 2007, the ‘Crate was up to its thirteenth installment and had been hosted in a variety of locations including Adelaide University, my sharehouse in Stirling and a former art and music venue, The Gallery Delacatessen. All manner of objects were exploited during these sessions – various kitchen implements, plastic tubing, wineglasses, aerosol cans, etc – with the musical outcomes encompassing a variety of styles. Where one participant might be producing a soothing ambient bed of textures, another might be rendering a monolithic slab of abrasive noise. Up to that point I’d participated in a few of the sessions with results ranging from admirable to fucking horrendous. Whilst one could sometimes attribute (or pass off) the dubious quality of their work to a lack of sleep over a 24-hour period, some of the ideas I incorporated into given pieces (in spite of dulled faculties) now seem downright inexcusable. A track from Milkcrate 6 comes to mind, a piece entitled “Carnal Pivot” where a short shrill EDM beat is followed by the audible penetration of a peach with a blunt pencil. Throbbing Gristle much?
I arrived at Seb’s parents house with next-to-no fruit molesting intentions and instead set my motivations on exploiting a variety of resonant objects in my Milkcrate, including a big red teapot. This is where my eventual work, Infuser took its origins.
At this point in my life I was pretty miserable. I’d (again) come off a break-up and was looking more worse for wear than usual. I had begun to live in a shit-brown coloured leather jacket with wide lapels and not bothered to wash my hair in about a month. I was pretty much broke with a dribble of income coming in from music technology tutoring and trying desperately to resurrect my Masters after acrimoniously abandoning it the previous year. My life was a depressed slag-heap consisting of misery, apologies and late rent, so surrendering myself to spontaneous music making over 24-hours seemed like a good idea.
Paging Alvin Lucier.
* * *
I Am Sitting In A Teapot
One of the composer Alvin Lucier’s lesser know later works is a piece called Nothing Is Real (1990) and consists of a performance involving a piano, teapot and amplification system. The title of the work derived from a line in The Beatles’ 1967 track, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the melody which accompanies the song’s lyrics are played on the piano during the performance; albeit with a deliberate free-time feel and sustained tone clusters giving the melody a slightly disjointed, yet recognizable feel. On top of the piano is a teapot, and placed near the teapot is a microphone. Whist the pianist is playing the melody to “Strawberry Fields Forever” a recording is being made of the performance. Once the pianist has finished the melody, a small loudspeaker positioned inside the teapot broadcasts the recording of the performance. At various points the lid of teapot is lifted and this radically affects the resonant response of the piano – with blooms of rich harmonics materialising from the piano’s body. It’s a beautiful, elegant work. You can watch a performance of this work performed by Lucier below.
* * *
With my Tascam 424 Portastudio, a little loudspeaker, small microphone and Big Red I would record the sound of the teapot and broadcast its sound back into the teapot’s chamber until its natural resonance had reinforced fully. Whilst my teapot process was in part inspired by Lucier’s work, Nothing Is Real it was his seminal electro-acoustic work, I am sitting in a room (1970) that really brought my own process to fruition.
Explained succinctly, I am sitting a room consists of a performance work which involves spoken text and two recording devices. Following the initial recitation of the text, a recording of this is then broadcast back into the performance space – whilst being simultaneously re-recorded – until the natural resonant frequencies of the room are reinforced.
The spoken text also operates as a score:
I am sitting in a room. Different to the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice, and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the natural resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves. What you will hear then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated my speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but rather to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.
Depending on the dimensions of the room, a performance of Lucier’s work can take up to 40 iterations of the process of broadcast/re-recording until the natural resonant frequencies are reinforced. Applying this process with the intimate confines of a teapot streamlines the iterative process considerably whereby the resonant frequency of a teapot can be established over 3-5 repetitions of this process.
The process utilized in I am sitting in a room is similar to the process of photocopying the same thing over and over again. Imagine you have the front page of a newspaper consisting of a header, headlines, some images and a bunch of text. If you make a photocopy of this material and then proceed to photocopy it again and again, gradually certain elements of the material will become indistinguishable from their original source – losing aspects of their detail and semblance – and eventually becoming a homogenous blot of ink.
So I went to work: hunched over the teapot, making sure the microphone was positioned appropriately within its chamber and placing an appropriately sized loudspeaker in place of the teapots lid. Four to five iterations of the process of recording/broadcasting brought the Big Red’s voice out.
Big Red salvages Masters degree
In the past couple of weeks I have re-activated my status as a post-graduate student at Adelaide University. Though I had considered my life as a student to be officially over after last year’s debacle, a handful of people managed to coerce me back into the fold. The research on Alvin Lucier re-commences!, complete with rocks, teapots, stairwells and the University’s resources at my disposal. The provisa [sic] is of course I am undertaking my study as a part-timer and I won’t complete my degree until around December 2008. This means plenty of research centric posts over the next 18 months. Hooray for you dear reader! (blog post, 29th March 2007)
Enthused by the results of this Milkcrate session, the following month I booked a studio at the Electronic Music Unit and used my MiniDisc recorder, microphone, an amplifier and ProTools to replicate the process.
A key aspect that distinguished the teapot process from the one utilized in Lucier’s I am sitting in a room was that the teapot process didn’t begin with a voice or any other sound, rather it began with silence. This was one of the most compelling things about exploring this process during the Milkcrate session; hearing a resonant voice coaxed out of seemingly nothing. Of course, there was something there, and within the context of the Milkcrate session, the activity of fellow participants in adjoining rooms of the house and street traffic could be heard on the periphery of the teapot’s quiet chamber. Over a couple of repetitions of the process, these incidental sounds would dissolve into a harmonic texture consisting of several perceptible harmonic frequencies.
Obviously, the architecture of a room differs significantly from the inner chamber of a teapot, so the complex acoustic properties of the teapot’s interior made the process of coaxing out and reinforcing resonant frequencies an occasionally delicate affair. For one, I needed to dutifully monitor the volume level from one iteration to the next as the unpredictable harmonic response within that little chamber would cause frequencies to amplify significantly and materialise in all their ugly distorted glory. Rather than being frustrating, this instead became a way of learning how to bring out the teapot’s frequencies effectively – a tweak of the volume here, a slight attenuation of middle-band EQ there. Later on, when I would put Big Red with other teapots for an ‘ensemble performance’ I would need to learn how to play other teapots of various dimensions and materials. Every one is unique in itself. I’ve found that porcelain teapots are the most manageable during a recording process, whereas thin metal teapots are an absolute nightmare to get anything worthwhile out of.
 In 2007 I acquired a bunch of about 6-8 metal teapots from the 1950s. Whilst they were aesthetically interesting from a visual point of view, they were absolutely useless for furthering my research. Later that year, I was packing the last of my possessions for a move to a new sharehouse I decided that these teapots were not going to join me on the next stage of my life. As it was very late in the evening and being a bit wired by the whole moving ordeal, I took the teapots down to the nearby beach, arranged them by the water’s edge and let them be taken out by the tide. This is (now) known as littering.
By around 2008 the teapot process began to find form as an installation work which I had called Infuser, the title being a poetic reference to the process of brewing tea leaves which I also considered an appropriate analogy for the technical process of reinforcing the resonant frequencies of the teapot.
I can’t recall the exact background, but in 2009 I was invited to participate in a group exhibition at a newly established artist-run gallery in North Adelaide. The exhibition was called The Art of Tea and featured work from painters, ceramicists and sculptors. The exhibition seemed like the a perfect opportunity to present my work to the public for the first time. Three teapots featured in this version of the work.
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A couple of years later I submitted Infuser for the 2011 Format Festival and it was exhibited in the front area of the Format venue in the Adelaide CBD. Seven teapots featured in this version of the work.
For each of these installations, I sequenced the looped playback of each of the channels so that there would be a fade-in and fade-out of the resonant frequencies, followed by a silence. I made each of these sequences at different lengths so that when each of the recordings began a new loop they would fall out of phase with each other creating different tonal and textural patterns. Obviously, the more teapots that were introduced the more complex and varied the patterns became. This was certainly the case of the Format installation.
Infusing the present
Infuser hasn’t been exhibited since the Format installation in 2011 and as other projects have taken priority in the following years, I haven’t really had an opportunity to revisit the work. I did utilise a very similar process to the recording of the teapots for my work, Five Voices (2015) where bottles of different sizes were recorded in a manner so as to reveal their resonant frequencies.
Where I had previously begun the recording process with silence, by this point I had discovered that it more favourable to begin the process with an impulse (similar to Lucier’s spoken text) as this allowed the subsequent process of re-recording to be a bit easier to manage in terms of volume, equalisations and following the behavior of the resonant response with each iteration. Since I didn’t want to use anything readily identifiable or dynamic as a voice or instrument, I used a clip of continuous white noise that would serve as a consistent acoustic impulse for the resonant frequencies to reinforce themselves around.
So, what’s happening now? Well, Big Red’s currently in the upstairs studio joining a few of the others for some impromptu jam sessions. There’s nothing to present as yet but I’m pleased with outcomes so far – it’s been lovely to reacquaint myself with this work and hopefully there will be another installation sometime in the future.
Reflecting on Big Red, I tend to regard this teapot as I would any other musical instrument. Much like a guitar, it’s symbolic of various artistic and social activities over the years. It also wears the marks of usage with a couple of scratches and a very recent chip near its spout. It’s imbued with good memories and long may it continue to be there as a familiar and reliable presence in my practice.
Having said this though, every teapot is significant whether it’s used for sound art or conventionally making tea for oneself or good company. As an object, teapots can possess a deep personal significance – tied to aspects of domesticity, socialising, ritual and aesthetics. These are broader and potentially interesting threads to follow, but that’s something to explore another time. The tea’s getting cold.
I probably need a haircut. In the interim I’ll curse this highly unseasonable humidity and extra helpings of rain. Adelaide’s normally subject to 2-4 Sydney-esque days of weather per summer; instead, the beautiful yet beguiling La Niña’s working her phenomenological weirdness over South Australia at present. It’s like the Thai climate I was subjected to in December has followed us back to Adelaide.
What’s this post all about? Something new, I suppose. I used to do posts like this many years ago on my old blog – mostly detailing my wayward, unfocused post-graduate studies and musings on self-imposed poverty and why nobody understood me. MySpace was also handy for that kind of thing. Ah, MySpace.
However, occasionally I’d touch on something that was a little more interesting – such as the creation of my Infuser work in early 2007 or musing on the work of Alvin Lucier. At some point I stopped doing that and in the intervening years I’ve struggled to find any direction or purpose for this blog aside from posting links to music, reviews and Fleurieu Sound Map updates. There have been several occassions I can think of when this blog was nearly shut down and committed to the archive. These notions have been entirely justifiable at times – after all, there’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a dozen other platforms to push our stuff out there, soak up valuable time…and honestly for lengthy patches of time I didn’t really have much to say or put out there.
The last couple of years have been difficult for me artistically. Since 2015 – in spite of regular projects – I’ve been at an impasse of sorts where I’ve been seriously doubting my ability as a creative practitioner, whilst frustrated at my relative level of success and recognition as an artist.
Dear reader, hang in there with me before you get thoughts that I’m drifting into self-indulgent word-wanking territory, I’ll do my best to get this scenario across.
Would you like to go and make a cup of tea and come back?
Right, you’re back.
Let’s address that first issue of doubt before we get onto the more trival matter of success.
When did the doubt kick in? I think a lack of confidence has always been there; buried in the morass of projects I’ve been involved in over the past decade and a bit. Whilst it certainly prevented me from undertaking certain things or communicating things adequately from time to time, there was something still kicking things along; insofar that I kept moving along from one project to idea, from one idea to the next project reasonably undaunted. I reflect on this time, culminating during a period (c. 2009-2010) where – now looking back – I’m certain this immunity to doubt was largely fuelled by a combination of confidence, arrogance and an increasingly risable ego. I’m frankly suprised I didn’t lose friends or seriously alienate people around this period. I feel very uneasy about this period – I was a real prick.
The next couple of years brought on some of the most rewarding work I’ve been involved in to date. 2012 and 2013 were hugely productive years with successful installations (The Roil, Ecocline), work in theatre and the release of The Path Described on 3Leaves. Once 2014 came around things changed and for the first time I remember seriously doubting whether I should continue with my work or take an extended break. It was certainly a quieter year in terms of opportunities coming in; read that as “people offering me work” as opposed to activly seeking work or putting proposals in.
I’m going to sidetrack slightly at this point and make reference to that bit in parentheses, which can also be read as: “people approaching me to do x“. I’ve always been a private person and this thing of waiting for people to come to me has – since I was in my teens – extended to socialising with family or friends, going out or looking for work. It’s a built-in bit of programming that’s seriously hindered me at times and occassionally put me across as a person who doesn’t really want to be disturbed or bothered. He’s a serious guy after all.
So, with that in mind I think I know what was happening around this point. With my ego and arrogance significantly bevelled off and a lack of work put in front of me I had to actively motivate myself to keep making and feel good about my work. This didn’t happen at all and it certainly created a space where deep doubts and insecurities crept in and affected virtually everything I did from that point.
This space can be summed up as follows:
That last point is where the dreaded issue of success, recognition and perception comes in. Fucking hell, dear reader – have you made it this far? Good on you, I owe you a beer.
Success – whatever the hell that is – as we all know is relative to a myriad of things. Obviously, by being incapable of motivating oneself and not actively seeking opportunities will create a cosmic vacuum where you’ll feel directionless and deeply insecure about your your work. On any given day you can spy many a lonesome confused artist wandering around on the beach screaming into the roiling seas, “NOBODY UNDERSTANDS MY ART!”. Also, envy’s also the worst, most poisonous thing to slump into. Thanks to social media platforms, this has the potential to amplify these feelings to an almost unbearable extent on a bad day.
Let’s take a breather, here’s a kitten:
Dear reader, you’ve been incredibly patient with me. It brings us to the ultimate question: so what the hell am I going to do about this? God forbid they’ll be another post like this detailing my anxieties to such an agonising, vomitous extent (well, at least for the remainder of this year.)
Look! I’ve hauled myself down from the proverbial cross so I can address it. This is what I’m going to do: actually do things – submit proposals; send work to conferences, radio, labels; have conversations with people; get back behind the local Adelaide scene and support artists. The list goes on, but I’ve got an agenda which refreshingly isn’t being driven by a) others generously offering me opportunities; b) an iteration of my ego that I hopefully divorced by the time I turned 30; and c) a moribund fear and self-loathing that I haven’t yet shown any work in Japan.
2017 will be a year of looking after myself a bit better, being much better to those around me whilst being thoughtful, considered and patient.
More posts like this to come, but next time they’ll come far less saddled with therapy sessions like this. I’ll actually show you some of the things I’m working on.
Everything is going to be OK.
Peas & Love,
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.
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.
Read PART 1 here.
PART 2 – Wirrabara Town Hall
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.
Listen below (via YouTube)
From my notebook:
9:25am – 10:25am
Recorder positioned with L (north), R (south)
Town Hall bells chime at 9:30am, and periodically every 15 mins.
Lots of sporadic traffic on Pirie Street (trucks, rattling engines)
Construction to building to the south. Frequent sounds of drilling and hammering. Becomes less frequent in the final 15 mins of recording.
First tram passes on King William Street at 9:47am
Nice organ harmonies at 9:53am
Nice low resonances at 10:07am
Patter of leaves blowing at either end of walkthrough
Pedestrians – on foot: 33