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.
<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/13424513″ width=”640″ height=”363″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen>
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.
An abundance of posts today!
Many years ago, when it came to writing and performing electronic music I used to call myself red_robin.
For a while I’d been keen to make the early red_robin albums and eps available – Tiefurt, Staub and Oslo. Previously, I’d had a conflicting relationship with these releases since in many respects they scream, overproductivity vs actual quality. These three releases were produced within the space of a year. Whilst there’s definitely merit and a surfeit of ideas going on, my approach to editing releases hadn’t yet been refined.
On a couple of occasions these releases had been unceremoniously removed from the web, and at worst – deleted from my computer altogether. In order to find any trace of Oslo locally I had to exhume my 2007 MacBook and scour iTunes for a copy. Miraculously, it was still there and hadn’t been sent to the trash many years ago!
On the downside, only mp3s of these releases remain so therefore they can’t go onto Bandcamp and instead have found a home over at Soundcloud. For free! I had pretty shabby standards when it came to preserving my own music in the past, and more often than not the original lossless copies were deleted. I don’t know exactly why; I can only presume I was being stupid and flippant about it.
But anyway – the albums:
The only proper album of the bunch and upon reflection it should have probably been contained to probably 7-8 tracks. It’s a travelogue of sorts since the bulk of the material was composed and recorded in Germany during the latter half of 2008 – specifically around Weimar where I was undertaking a mentorship with Robin Minard at the time. Some additional work was done back in Australia. The material is fairly heavy on lo-fi approaches, blended with Plogue Bidule and Max-based processes.
This EP has a considerably more loose and improvised feel to Tiefurt. If my memory serves, I think I recorded the entire set in one day using a combination of electric guitar, turntable, Roland synth and Soundhack plugins. Very lo-fi, but a nice spatial and minimal quality to these pieces.
I hadn’t listened to this in many years and I was pleasantly suprised by what I heard. I’d completely forgotten that recordings of my teapot work, Infuser had been employed as segues for a selection of grungy, dark drone textures and a couple of pieces which seem to have been heavily influenced by Rolf Julius. A strange work, this one.
Back in 2015 I recorded an EP as a special release for Christmas. I’m quite fond of this release, but I always thought that the four tracks comprising the EP should have been presented as one continuous track.
I’ve now gone back and remixed this release as one continuous track. It’s now available as a free download over at soundcloud.
Original 2015 liner notes:
As of last year, I reinstated my earlier tradition of issuing aChristmas or End of Year single/EP. This occurred in 2008 (“Enlaced”), 2009 (“Spool”), 2010 (“Parlour”) and last year (“Red Eyes”).
This year I’ve decided to expand the offering to an exclusive four-track suite which has been composed at my studio during November 2015.
Recorded at Maurilia Sound Studio: November 2015.
TLR: Synthesisers, turntable, bass guitar, samples and effects modules.
“Invisible al cuore” contains a sample from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 film, “L’Avventura”.
Sometimes being alone in the wilderness can do strange things to me. I love being alone and some of the happiest times during my childhood was when I was left to my own devices and my imagination. A child is expected to do weird things – after all, they’re preoccupied with exploring the world and observing how it gives way or pushes back to their whim. When you’re a fully grown adult such curiosities are less permissible, largely by virtue of bodies that don’t readily recover as quickly as that of a younger human.
It was mid-winter in 2011. I had set off before dawn from Normanville caravan park and had made my way down south along the coastline. A gloomy light had emerged as a approached Lady Bay with the roar of the ocean in my ears and breeze chilling my face. I was on a field recording trip, starting what would eventually become the The Fleurieu Sound Map – documenting sites along the coastline. Lady Bay was my primary destination. Having arrived there by around 7am, I made some recordings of the water gently ebbing over the reef at low tide, the ambience occasionally punctuated by the cry of a distant crow. As I sat on a compacted lump of seaweed drinking coffee from a thermos I looked further south down along the coastline. It has been a long time since I’d ventured beyond Lady Bay on foot. I recalled a trek south of Lady Bay sometime in during high school with my brother and a friend. We’d almost made it down to some caves before the failing light made us wary and we decided to turn back. Slightly intoxicated by that bit of sudden nostalgia, I ate a couple of mandarins, packed up my recording gear and set off for the caves.
By the time I’d reached my destination an hour or so later, the allure of discovery and trekking through a fog of mild exhaustion had firmly established itself and the caves weren’t good enough for me – I wanted to go further. This involved scaling a steep two-metre incline comprised of brittle slate and sandy soil. The destination in mind was frankly ridiculous since all that lay beyond this impasse was the breakwater of Wirrina Cove – not an awe-inspiring man-made wonder. I got about a metre up the incline and was focused on securing my foothold when a lump of soil gave way in my hand and I embraced nothing but air for about half a second. Hitting the ground thankfully wasn’t too bad (a grazed hand and bruised arm) but the mental admonishment I gave myself was particularly severe. Yes, I do strange things when left alone in the wilderness. Had I seriously injured myself, no-one would find me for days…maybe weeks. In local lore it is mentioned that only weirdos venture as far as the caves. So on the remote chance I been found I might have had my kidneys harvested and been subsequently tortured to death.
Maybe it’s the fault of an adult imagination, untethered and unencumbered from its real-world responsibilities. In this scenario your guard is let down; the natural world soaks into the consciousness, full of allure and curiosities: C‘mon! Climb this! Look under that rock! Eat this! You’re only atoms, it doesn’t matter! Everything’s in a perpetual state of entropy!
Maybe nature’s a similar enabler to alcohol and drugs – unlocking an index of escapism. Nature won’t necessarily inspire you to climb onto the roof of a train at high-speed, but it still may lead you to do a myriad of dangerous shit which might lead to – maybe – perishing on a remote beach with a twisted ankle.
I started my long trek back to Normanville, but shortly after leaving the caves I decided to rest on a grassy rise which overlooked a stony beach. I went down to investigate the beach, which consisted of an even stretch of covered in large rocks and stones; and a slope consisting of small pebbles and shells which fell away into the shore. At one end of upper section of the beach a surfeit of driftwood had accumulated from a recent storm. Without thinking about it too much, I gathered some large pieces of driftwood and began constructing a sculpture. My intention was to construct this sculpture as a personal landmark of sorts – something relatively innocuous, but which distinguished itself enough from the surrounding landscape to be recognisable to the wandering eye. I also thought it would be interesting to have a work in a remote location that I could return to from time to time.
My hometown of Normanville is full of personal landmarks which I didn’t happen to construct. One such landmark was a small house on the corner of Field Street. I wrote about this house quite recently since I had been informed by my mum that it had been demolished and sent through a photo of the vacant lot.
I was fairly rattled by this image; it was as though a chunk of my memory had been erased. Houses and buildings are routinely demolished, but this is the first time it had ever occurred so close to home – so close to an actual past home since the property pictured on the left is my childhood home. The only trace of this property which remains is the concrete dome-shaped enclosure for what I believe is a septic tank below the ground. Everything else is gone: the cream coloured exterior, thick wire fence and a corrugated tin shed with a cross painted on it.
Demolition is such a radical, immediate way of demarcating the present from the past. Rather than following a linear trajectory of transformation and/or decay, within a matter of hours visible histories are wiped out and can now only be experienced through reproduced images and memory.
The sculpture that I was constructing on the beach some five years earlier would never be demolished per se, but rather would be subject to the transformative (and occasionally destructive) whim of the elements.
I called the sculpture Nude, owing to its raw materials and exposed proximity to a body of water and surrounding environment.
In order to get to the Nude sculpture, you’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes, some water, maybe a snack, plus surveying the state of the weather is always a good idea. Between 2012-2016 I would park at a lookout point off the main road, a couple of kilometers south of Lady Bay. From here, there’s an excellent view of the southern coastline – the impressive cliffs, rocky beaches and procession of coves and bluffs from Wirrina down to Rapid Bay. Nude‘s location is a couple of kilometers from this point and the beach that hosts the sculpture is obscured from view. It takes roughly about 45 minutes to get there on foot.
I’ve visited the site five times between 2012 to 2016, managing to get there once a year – mostly in Autumn when the weather is less prone to arctic-style wind chill and dumping buckets of rain. On a couple of occasions my partner Lauren has joined me on the trip and I’ve been frequently surprised how much further the journey actually is compared to the idea I have in my head..much to Lauren’s chagrin.
The steep hills on one side, the ocean on the other. I’ve always found these hills impressive. Whilst not necessarily cliffs, they convey such a strong physical dominance over the surrounding environment – gentle grassy slopes graduating into steep cliffs of clay and rock. On clear days I’ve spotted hawks gliding gracefully on thermals against the blue sky. On one occasion, Lauren and I watched a fox make momentary eye contact with us before darting up the hillface with incredible speed and precision. When walking south toward the site, I cant help but spend some time looking up at the summit of the hills and scanning the rock outcrops for signs of life – expecting to see something indistinct move from one point to another, casting a curious gaze downwards at me/us. When I’m alone on this trip, occasionally I feel this overwhelming feeling of contentment couple with a deep sense of insignificance. As the trip progresses the bars denoting reception of my mobile phone ebb away – I’m at the mercy of nature here. The ideal tonic for doing stupid shit, perhaps?
Further along, the remnants of a man-made boundary appear.
Following the boundary up the hillside, lopsided fenceposts and a tangle of rusty fence wire disappear into the hillside. At the summit, a couple of lonely posts lean out along with a small bare tree bent by the wind.
In May 2015 I attached a couple of contact mics to the fenceline as it rattled in the wind. Thanks to the wonderful Kate Carr for the inspiration on that one.
After rounding a couple of coves that involve climbing over large boulders, the beach that hosts Nude comes into sight. It always takes me a while to locate it from this point, but my reference is a small thorny shrub that sits alongside the sculpture. Approaching it is always a new experience – observing the way it’s altered its appearance in between each visit (roughly a year each time) – being collapsed to one side, its wooden planks on the top bent by the weight of rocks, or its regular inundation of sour sobs and the occasional weed.
Photos are taken of its current state for documentation and then I search for a plastic bottle concealed under a plank of wood and several rocks:
And within the bottle:
A series of notes – starting at the time of construction in July 2011 through to (currently) August 2016. Each of the notes details the date of the visit and the current state of the sculpture.
2016 – an ending of sorts:
As Lauren and I made our way down to the site in August 2016 I had reservations about this visit. In the previous month, the metropolitan area of Adelaide and Fleurieu Peninsula had been hit by severe storms. Torrential rains led to flooding in many areas whilst wild winds and powerful tidal activity wreaked havoc along the coastline, washing away dunes and completely destroying a couple of jetties. The Bungala River – with its estuary at Normanville beach surged with volumes rarely seen in living memory. It seemed as though no area along the coastline had been spared. With this in mind, I expected the worst for my sculpture to the south.
Obviously, part of the intention of constructing the work was to observe its gradual degradation and ultimate return to the natural environment as its materials decayed and are pulled away by winds, gravity and the tides. All original intentions and recent knowledge of the storms aside, I was still suprised and strangely moved by what I encountered.
The sculpture, which on my previous visit in May 2015 had retained a degree of its original semblance was now practically obliterated, save for a square of planks and rocks on the ground. The array of wood and stones that been torn from the sculpture now lay scattered around its foundations with the ever-present sour sobs poking out through the vacant spaces.
In spite of this destruction, the bottle was still there and I added a new note to it before concealing the bottle amongst the remaining wooden planks and stones:
I was feeling slightly melancholy at this time, but wasn’t exactly sure why. Lauren and I commenced our journey back to the car and I wondered if I would return to the sculpture the following year.
Looking back now, I can see a correlation between this event and my more recent reaction to the demolition of the house on the corner of Field Street that had prefigured so strongly during my childhood. Perhaps in the case of Nude, its decay from one iteration (2015) to the next (2016) had occurred too rapidly? Over the past four years I had grown accustomed to the sculpture’s elegant collapse against the elements, yet I hadn’t anticipated a shift as dramatic as this. Its appearance on this visit had given the impression it had been demolished much like the house – albeit by nature.
When I originally constructed the work in 2011, I knew (at the very least subconsciously) that I would grow attached to it and documenting the work through photos and notes would only reinforce this feeling. I had suspected that one day it would be wiped out, but I always thought that its position on an elevated section of the beach would protect it from the most monstrous storm and tides imaginable. In August 2016, I stood at the wreckage of the work imagining that destruction by natural forces. It must have been extraordinary – with gale force winds belting the landmass and huge waves thundering into the rocks, waters surging upwards and penetrating the sanctity of a structure laid bare.
That’s something that I can certainly appreciate now: how one can ascribe such intense feelings of possession, protection and expectation over an object regardless of its form – a body of work that represents (initially and/or over time) something deeply meaningful and personal. That its destruction occurred in isolation has heightened this appreciation: I wasn’t there to protect it, I couldn’t protect it, and yet I never intended to protect it.
It’s late in the evening. I’ve spent the last three days coming and going from this post. Whilst fairly certain of the direction this writing would take, the work itself has come to mind with increasingly intensity; insofar that I’m very tempted to make the trip this weekend, just to see…what’s there? An array of memories are down there – my clumsy fall from the incline near the caves, Lauren’s little rock towers by the sculpture, the inclement weather – but there’s still a spot by that thorny little bush, where in 2011 I marked a spot for myself to return to. It’s still there, it’s changed…but it’s still there.
A tiring week is behind me. Following on from the previous blog post, Adelaide (and the rest of Australia) was plunged into an intense heatwave. Whilst Adelaide only copped a string of three days above 40C, other parts of the interior and Eastern centres were hit with ridiculously scary highs of 46-47C, smashing all kinds of Summer climate records. The planet’s getting crankier with us. Meanwhile during the same week – as cities and regional centres sweltered and bushfires sprung up all over the place – the federal government mocked renewable energy again and taunted the Opposition in the House Of Representative with an actual lump of coal, espousing the virtues of ‘clean coal’. Wind turbines and solar farms be damned, this is apparently part of the ‘Australian energy mix’ for the next fifty years or so.
It seemed remarkable that our own government could beat out Trump this week in terms of demoralising me and our tenuous existence, but this was like a kick to the brain of any sensible, educated person. Oof.
Oh well, we’ll face the music and dance.
Or in my particular case, I’ll sit down at my desk with various notes, a Max/MSP patch, vocoder, effects and resume working on a project I’ve been nurturing since 2014 – Goyder’s Line. Heatwaves, drought and more recently climate change have prefigured strongly in the inspiration and development of this work since 2014. So in that sense, my introduction was less of a political rant and more of a providing a prelude to this very long post.
Goyder’s Line has been mentioned at regular intervals on this blog as it’s gone through various stages of development. The work is unique in the sense that this is the first work that I’ve regularily returned to over the years, making numerous refinements to its technical process whilst further investigating the broader contextual aspects of the work.
What is ‘Goyder’s Line’?
‘Goyder’s Line’ is an isopleth starting near the Ceduna region then extending across South Australia and terminating at the SA-Victorian border north of Pinnaroo. This boundary was developed during 1865 by Surveyor-General of the South Australian colony, George Goyder. Goyder had been asked to map the boundary between areas which received good rainfall and those that experienced drought. This would allow settlers to determine where the best climate and growing conditions were to the north of Adelaide and beyond. Goyder traversed over 3000km on horseback surveying the region and submitted his detailed report consisting of a line of demarcation. The areas above the line were deemed liable to drought whilst areas to the south being predominantly arable.
 Used specifically in meteorological and cartographic fields, an isopleth is a noun used to define a line on a map connecting points.
Background of the Goyder’s Line work (2013-14):
My first encounter with the concept of Goyder’s Line occured early in 2013 upon a visit to Peterborough – located approximately 300km north of Adelaide. If you travel to this region, by the time you reach Peterborough the climate and terrain is arid and crop based argiculture is virtually non-existent. The region of Peterborough situated closely to Goyder’s Line and heading further north reveals an increasingly arid, dry and inhospitable environment. One day during my stay in Peterborough, I made a trip with a couple of family members to the abandoned town of Dawson.
The town of Dawson (est. 1881) is located about 30km north of Peterborough. A dirt road stretches between empty grazing paddocks then winds through shallow gullies of hardened red earth, rocks and sparse vegetation. Following the road over a steep hill, the town comes into view below: a church and school on the left, whilst a ruin of the town’s hotel and an occupied residence sits on the right.
 This residence, with its own off-grid solar power unit appeared to be the homestead of a local family. I believe that they are also the caretaker of the town, managing the schoolhouse and church.
The terrain across the township area is rust coloured, hardened and cracked. Drought tolerant vegetation propagates unevenly across the ground – scattered across empty paddocks, through dry creek beds and beneath the few trees that are around. My visit to Dawson was in late April (mid-Autumn in Australia) – a relatively mild climate. It was clearly evident that this was a region that scarcely receives any consistent rainfall year round.
The town’s existence was essentially doomed by two factors – firstly, that of ignoring George Goyder’s advice and establishing a town north of Goyder’s Line; secondly, Dawson was originally intended to form part of a rail network, situated between the rail hub of Peterborough and Broken Hill. However the rail line was redirected to Ucolta instead, depreiving Dawson of a vital trade route for essential supplies. In spite of this, remarkably the town existed until 1981.
It was this visit to Dawson that got me interested in Goyder’s Line, what it repesented geographically, its historical importance and its relationship to the environment – both past and present. I became interested in creating a work based upon the Line and finding a way I might be able to contextualise it in a composition. Following on from my visit to the region, early in 2014 I came across a couple of published articles highlighting the remarkable accuracy of Goyder’s Line, although speculating that as a consequence of frequent drought conditions and the prevelant impact of climate change that the Line is trending southward .
After finding a graphical representation of the modern-day Goyder’s Line and considering this with the original Line, I now had two lines to work with which presented themselves as a graphic score of sorts. I just had to find the right application and process.
Discovering the Vocoder:
In early 2014 I was exploring the sonic possibilities of a Korg Microkorg synthesiser. One afternoon I was curious about the vocoder so I gave the manual a cursory read and started plugging in audio sources to serve as the vocoder’s carrier and modulation signals. It was when I routed two sawtooth waves of differing frequencies into the vocoder that things became very interesting. A sawtooth wave – as I reminded myself – contains all of the integer harmonics – so if you start sending sawtooth signals into a vocoder it’s going to start responding in a colourful and slightly unweilding manner.
Hang on (some of you may be asking) – 1) what on Earth is a vocoder?; 2) and how does it work? I’ll give myself about a paragraph and attempt to explain the process:
A vocoder consists of three primary elements – a carrier signal, a modulation signal and a bank of bypass filters. The modulation signal uses the filter bank to analyse the harmonic characteristics of the carrier signal and produces a modulated version of the carrier signal. So, let’s say for example that our carrier signal is my voice speaking into a microphone and the modulation signal is produced by a synthesiser tone played on a keyboard. What will happen is that the speaking voice (carrier) will be analysed by the filter bank and subsequently have the modulation signal applied to it, so that the voice will sound like a synthesiser tone, yet maintaining the semblance and characteristics of human speech.
Here’s a good example of the process (play from 2:10 mark):
So, how did my experiment sound with the sawtooth waves? Well, as most of you will probably know, a sawtooth wave has a distinct buzzing sound. When both of the sawtooth signals were sent to the vocoder a messy sonic texture resulted – far removed from the more simple, elegant process previously described of speech being modulated by a synthesiser tone. With two sawtooth waves as carrier and modulator there was a far more complex harmonic process going on and I have to admit that at this stage it didn’t sound very good at all – a bit like two dueling bansaws intimidating each other in a small room.
This experiment was ultimately redeemed when I whimsically pressed a key on the synthesiser’s keyboard. I wasn’t expecting anything to occur since I thought that the keyboard’s oscillator (as modulation signal) would be overridden by the incoming sawtooth signal routed to the modulation input. This wasn’t the case, so I now had two modulation signals – one from a sawtooth wave, the other from the synthesiser’s oscillator. This enhanced process produced a sonic result that was far more interesting – both sawtooth waves (although perceivably distinct from each other) appeared to have certain harmonics blur and smear against each other, a result of the influence of the modulation from the synthesiser affecting the sawtooth waves whilst producing also a continuous and consistent drone.
The desert appearing right before my ears:
Aspects of the sound texture reminded be of David Berhman’s On The Other Ocean (1977) and some of Eliane Radigue’s drone works (1980’s Tryptch). These are elegant works where tonalities and sound textures drift and evolve subtly over long durations. Berhman’s work in particular has this knack of evoking spaces and landscapes in a beautiful way. Though my experiment had a long way to go, already it appeared to be recalling the desert environment in and around the town of Dawson – evoking its enveloping stillness and openess with the space and depth to observe discrete changes: subtle breezes, the shadow from clouds drifting across the landscape, slight change in temperature and minute movements of surrounding vegetation and objects (leaves, weeds, fence wires, the rattle of tin roofs, etc). I was on the right track.
First version and performance of Goyders Line (July 2014):
The 2014 winter in Adelaide was an absolute shocker – an arctic barrage of freezing winds, constant drizzle and to heighten the experience further, I ended up with pnumonia for a couple of weeks. When I wasn’t convalesced in bed I crawled into my studio space to rehearse a primitive version of Goyder’s Line as a support act for an upcoming concert by artists Simon Whetham and Tarab.
I no longer have my original notes for this performance, but I believe I had drafted a diagram on graph paper plotting the the two lines over a traced map of South Australia.
I must admit that the sawtooth waves’ respective trajectories were approximations of both Goyder Lines since I didn’t have the appropriate means to map the lines at this point to frequency over a duration of 15 minutes. Goodness, bearing in mind I had pnumonia as well. I recall simply tweaking the frequency knob of an oscillator for each of the ISOs and reading each of the lines in real time. A bit like feeling around a room in the dark. It’s certainly not accurate, more of a poetic interpretation of the Lines, but it worked in its own way at this early stage.
Although sending the sawtooth waves directly into the vocoder produced an interesting result, by this stage I decided to use some extended effects processors as a means of further affecting and warping the harmonic relationship between the two waveforms before they reached the vocoder.
The technical process of Goyder’s Line Version 1 went as follows:
Here’s a couple of brief snippets from the performance that night. Captured by Sebastian Tomczak:
Andrew Lord, who was present at the performance offered the following observations on this early version of the work:
This was gentle, still music with a throbbing texture that ebbed and flowed, slowly developing and changing. It seemed to be music more about textures than about events, but Louth-Robins seemed to pull off something of a magic trick – you realized at the end that it had become something completely different from what it was at the start and it happened under your nose and you didn’t know how. The throbbing pulses that were playing off each other gradually disappeared and left purer extended tones before the piece ended. 
 https://tristanlouthrobins.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/new-sounds-at-emu-18-review-by-andrew-lord/ NOTE: Andrew’s website (aplord.com) appears to be not active as of February 2017. This is a link to a republication of the review on my blog.
Second and Third versions: Max/MSP comes into the mix (early 2015)
Following the performance in July 2014, Goyder’s Line was put on ice for the remainder of the year as other projects and activities took priority. By the time I returned to the work in 2015 I was eager to refine the Lines and render them a little more accurately and faithfully. Max/MSP seemed like the most ideal way to realise this.
Max/MSP is patching paradigm software which I’ve used on an infrequent basis since 2002. It can be used and applied in number of ways. Although it is predominantly music and sound based, more recent iterations of the software (Vizzie, Jitter) have provided the ability to design and control aspects of visual media.
I employed Max/MSP for two reasons: to be able program the ISO line mapping and to draw the ISOs as faithful representations of both Goyder Lines. The ISOs would – like the previous version – provide the trajectories for the respective frequencies of the sawtooth waves to follow.
Looking back now, with Max/MSP I easily achieved one of these goals (presets) whilst the other (drawing the line) was an arduous process of complex sub-patches, refinement, losing my patience…and further refinement. The line drawing function was particularly laboureous insofar that I can’t believe I subjected myself (or the software for that matter) to such a painful process.
The mapping of the lines to frequencies was derived from the above sketch, whereby the points on the x axis (marked 0-14) would represent a multiple of a frequency. So that a point at 11 would be subject to a simple equation (x axis point * 100 / 3.5 = frequency) so that a point at 11 would equal 314.28 Hz.
With the extended effects (EXH-MM and MF-108M) still in place, I made several recordings of this set-up in mid-2015, with Version 3 of Goyder’s Line released as part of my self-released Maurilia Sound Studio series.
Each of the three variations on the release are identical in duration (12 minutes) but vary significantly in terms of timbre and harmonic behavior due to the chord position played on the synthesiser. So Variation 1 consists of a C-E-A chord pattern, whereas the other two Variations consists of E-A-G and F-A-D. The influence of the synthesiser as modulating signal radically affects the vocoder’s behavior, resulting in three unique variations of the same process.
An additional feature developed in Max/MSP patch permitted a delay (what I’ve termed as a ‘suspension’) at each of the draw points. This created a wonderful effect, whereby the intervals between the ISOs would be briefly suspended at a given point, allowing harmonic interplay and modulations to develop before the next stage of the line is drawn.
You can listen to these three variations below:
Fourth version (late 2016 to early-ish 2017):
Although the third version of Goyder’s Line was regarded as a genuine release in July 2016, it still very much represented a work in progress.
In the development of Goyder’s Line version 4 significant refinements were made in Max/MSP to the rendering of the ISO lines whilst the patch design now included an array of features which allowed the control of various parameters. As you can see in the above image, it’s a lot more easy on the eyes.
The ISO lines were now plotted using a ‘function’ table which allowed points of the respective lines to be plotted and dragged into place, allowing the composition of lines with more accurate degrees of elevation, descent, trajectory and contour.
The features in Version 4 include the following:
Below is a video clip featuring the latest recording of Goyder’s Line. However, it has been abbriviated to 15 minutes since that’s the maximum length permitted on YouTube:
Where to now?
With this latest version performing beautifully in the studio, it feels as though the design of the system that drives Goyder’s Line is finally complete and is doing what I intended it to do. However work still needs to be done exploring the thematic and contextual aspects of the work.
Currently I’m working on a more academic-styled paper for the upcoming Australasian Computer Music Conference which is being hosted here in Adelaide during September 2017. There’s also a plan to perform the work at ACMC. This should provide an excellent and exciting platform to present and discuss the work further.
So that’s it for now. Hopefully this epic blog post (by my standards) has been reasonably informative and understandable.
Thanks for reading.
Peas and larvae,
The Path Described” creates moments of reminiscing, which are sometimes very cautious and then again astonishingly impressive.