3.2 portfolio

White gums are standing with their feet in the water presents coexistent narratives of the Swan River, Derbal Yerrigan, as a fragmented radio documentary, (or perhaps anti-documentary). Composer Annika Moses has collected sonic remnants of the river and our relationships with it, investigating the ghostly whispers of past & present that are carried on the water. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The voices of: Be Gosper, Noemie Huttner-Koros, Anastasia Julien-Martial, Annika Moses, Josten Myburgh, Noel Nannup, Daniel Price, Alexander Turner, joggers and morning walkers on Matagarup Bridge. Collective improvisation by Be Gosper, Annika Moses, Alexander Turner

This piece is available to listen and download here

The following collection of text and images accompanies my third year recital piece entitled White gums are standing with their feet in the water. The official showing of the piece, rather than being performed, will be broadcast on the radio program Difficult Listening, hosted on local radio station RTRFM 92.1 on Sunday 11 November, 2018 at 9pm (WAST). This broadcast will be available to restream at rtrfm.com.au/shows/difficultlistening the following Monday, and available to listen and download on Bandcamp. Also included in this portfolio are details of other works, performances, and projects I have undertaken throughout the semester.  Please enjoy listening and reading.

- a.m 

 
 

I. Process

I.i Overview

In March I wrote: 

 

My recital takes the format of a 25 minute radio art piece which integrates archival audio with newly composed/recorded material in an audio collage aesthetic, and investigates the politics of this practice. The piece is written for the broadcast medium, and will be premiered on RTRFM 92.1.

Journal entry, March 2018

In November I write: 

 

My recital takes the form of an abstracted, fragmented radio-documentary titled White gums are standing with their feet in the water. Acting as a curator rather than a composer, my sonic gatherings document my experience in investigating our relationships with the Swan River, and the coexistent narratives of past and present that are carried by its water. Field recordings, multivalent dialogue, poeticised narrations and synthetic harmonies form the aesthetic vernacular, prompting un-articulable discussions in unknown languages in times and places elsewhere. 

 

This project has been more process-based than outcome-based, a development of my radiophonic practice and a documentation of my growth as a composer and a person. Condensed, the process of this work involved; 

  • recording the Swan River at different points eg. where it meets the sea at Fremantle, the Nedlands Yacht Club, the newly built Matagarup bridge, the East Perth Power Station, and Noble Falls, close to where the Swan River meets the Wooroloo Brook and becomes the Avon River

  • developing a practice of on-site improvisation with ecology 

  • recording conversations about the Swan River with many people 

  • letting these conversations lead me to other conversations and places

  • responding to experiences and recordings with written text/poetry 

  • reviewing material and piecing together short iterations of the work as a way of developing ideas and structures

  • recording dialogue in the studio, responding to given prompts

  • writing and recording narrations 

  • finding threads between material and forming the structure of the piece as it is now 

  • holding a small showing and feedback session with my peers

  • fine editing and production 

 

This extended period of exploring, investigating and gathering allows the project to accumulate gradually, becoming what it will become, and me humbly accepting the role of letting it. Engaging with other people in dialogue and collective acts of being (like visiting a place together, field recording together) throughout the process means that it becomes a shared experience. The voices and ideas of others are infinitely more exciting than anything I could write myself. The final piece is a documentation of my experience in undertaking this project, but also a collective voicing of intersecting experiences, identities, existences. I choose to engage in this process because I feel it nurtures kind ways of being and interacting, develops interesting dialogues between people, and encourages individual and collective growth. 

 

The project began knowing the kind of format the final piece might take without knowing the content it would investigate -  I began by searching for audio in the oral history archives of the State Library of Western Australia (SLWA), looking for something that might act as a departure point for a line of inquiry/research. Having thousands of hours of archival audio at ones’ fingertips is both exciting and daunting, and having no real place to start, I found myself listening to Western Australian voices telling stories of water; interviews with lighthouse keepers in Busselton and on Rottnest Island; stories of the inactive East Perth Power Station, situated on the bank of the Swan River; childhood recollections of Perth and its early development. My natural attraction to water, and the ways in which Perth’s relationship with water, specifically the Swan River, contributes to so much of our cultural identity left me with a question; 

 

the Swan River defines Perth’s identity - it is the source of ecological richness and diversity in the Perth region, the reason European colonials decided upon this location for settlement, an important part of the Whadjuk Nyoongar peoples’ continuing culture and history. The Swan River has shaped the collective identity of the inhabitants of the area for many years past, and from its curves, pools, crossings and topography our history can be read. By this reasoning, can our future also be read topographically? 

Journal entry, April 2018

Nurturing this magical statement fuelled a kind of faith - an open-eared approach to learning all I might about the way time and place interact in the reality we found ourselves in, and encouraged an investigation into the ways we access the past and future through the present. 

 

Jim Denley’s piece Last Day at Turkey Creek is pertinent to this discussion, offering the idea (and proof) that field recording is a method of time travel.

 

Jim has grown up with and used audio recordings his whole life and they can be powerful cultural objects. But just how powerful? Could a recording bring on a storm?

Jokiranta, M. (2014)

In the podcast, Jim narrates his experience living in the small Indigenous community Warmun, also known as Turkey Creek, and being initiated in order to go swimming in a sacred water hole. It is said that any uninitiated person will bring on a storm by swimming - which is exactly what happens on Jim’s visit, despite all present members being initiated. Jim, in retrospect, remembers the presence of the recording device, and hypothesises that you, the listener, are in fact the uninitiated swimming member. By this we enter a discussion on the power of field recordings to transport a listener to another time and place, and what that means - do we have the power to access and influence the past by listening to it’s sonic remnant in the present? What does it mean to be the wielder of that Zoom H5, collecting the imminent now and preserving it on an SD card at 48k, through which any other person may be transported to that ‘now’ in the future now? The process of developing this piece involved a lot of ruminating on these kinds of ideas, engaging in field recording and documenting my experiences as I went. Gathered material then became the source of the final piece, taking snippets from this archive to form an audio collage. 

I began working with this process-based approach in a previous project, a collaborative installation exhibited at Mundaring Arts Centre titled five point one and a piece of four by two, created with Shannon Lyons). For the project I essentially collated a personal audio archive of field recordings, conversations, dictated text, sounds of install, and musical material. The outcome of this project was an audio catalogue that was distributed through headphones worn while in the gallery space. Engaging in my own personal audio archiving practice was influenced by the Women’s Audio Archive, a collection of recordings taken by Marysia Lewandowska in the 1980s, and now available to the public as an online archive. 

 

The Women's Audio Archive began as a series of recordings, taped by Lewandowska after leaving her home country in 1984, grown out of an interest in language as a site of cultural displacement. These recordings document public events, seminars, talks, conferences, and private conversations as valuable records of a particular time in discourse, beginning around 1983 until 1990. Lewandowska denotes this period of time as one dominated by academics and artists close to October magazine and by feminist gatherings …

The act of sound recording began as a way to address the possibilities, as an artist and in everyday life, within a new, unfamiliar environment  through observation in gathering knowledge and participation in developing relationships …

In establishing the Women's Audio Archive, Lewandowska seeks to create a collection and a site that would act as a meeting point where the recording conversations would participate in developing a history of women in the media-visual tradition that by its ephemeral nature can easily be forgotten. The Archive, with its attention to sound acts as an incision in the hegemony of visual culture and commodity values. It gathers sound and speech, traces debates, contributing a selective commentary.

(Women's Audio Archive, 2018)

Unlike Lewandowska's project, which presents as a public archive, the final outcome of my piece is a fragmented radio-documentary that finds threads between collected material and presents a listening narrative. I suppose what appeals to me most about this kind of work and process is an opportunity to implicate myself as a listener and learner before a composer. This process may not be explicitly political in its outcome, but allows me to develop a political practice that engages deeply with other people and their voices and stories. Throughout the process, I endeavour to exercise and develop a sense of kindness and sensitivity that delicately navigates the line of speaking on behalf of others and letting others speak. 

 

I.ii Field recording

Part of my process involved going to the river at different points along its course and taking field recordings, not only to document the sounds of the environment, but also my engagement with the environment. Influenced by Jim Denley’s improvisation practice, I began improvising ‘in-the-field’ at the places I visited, trying to develop a practice that involved the environment and its inhabitants (plants, animals, water), as an improvising partner. Also influential in developing this practice was listening to Tuva - among the spirits - sound, music and nature in Samba and Tuva, a collection of traditional Tuvan music recorded on-site.  

 

In these unprecedented on-site recordings, master musicians imitate and interact with the natural acoustic environment. Recorded in 1995-1998 on horseback, in creek beds, caves, canyons, and grasslands.

(Smithsonian Folkways Recording, 2018)

 

My vocal improvisations (which can be heard at 16'22) attempt to position the relationship between vocalist and ecology as the focus, rather than the voice itself as the centre point. In the history of field recording the idea of hifi and an untouched environment have been predominant, and I suppose my practice tries to usurp both of those ideas. In my practice I make myself present as the recordist, and attempt to draw attention to the implicit second-handedness of field recordings. Being able to hear the recordist reminds a listener of their ability to only ever experience a field recording as a remnant of another time and place, and discourages the idea that a field recording may be a substitute for actually experiencing the ‘now’. 

 

Gabi Losoncy’s work also positions the recordist as present, often producing work that is reminiscent of excerpts from a personal audio archive; single-take, lofi, linear recordings of mundane happenings; 

 

Gabi Losoncy … makes various decisions with outer consequences based on how she feels, and to the end of expressing how she feels. Generally working in unlayered, linear audio … she expands her practice on a case-by-case basis, making great effort not to do anything  unnecessary.

(Cafe Oto, 2017)

 

My process and approach to field recording in this project was a way of documenting my experiences with the river, and gradually building a small archive that traced the development of my relationship with the Swan River and Perth ecology. 

 

I.iii Studio dialogue

This is the first piece that I’ve used studio recorded dialogue, as all my previous radiophonic works have used on-site interview material (mostly using a Zoom H5). I used both composed text (for my narrations) and dialogue which was generated by the speakers I invited into the studio, responding to questions and prompts that I prepared. These prompts were all relatively open-ended, and involved content that was difficult to articulate. I embraced the excitement of never being able to know exactly what answer a question would yield, and tried to generate discussion around the idea of ghosts and remnants, uncovering the way we talk about and deal with time. Below are some of the questions I asked participants:

 

  • What is a ghost? 

  • What are the remnants of your existence? 

 

I also tried to generate abstract material that was drawn from the river, but was evasive and at times became nonsensical;

 

  • Describe the shape of the Swan River as if communicating to someone who was attempting to draw this shape, but do not use place names. Move in a North Eastward direction beginning at the Fremantle harbour.  

  • Beginning at the Fremantle harbour, trace the Swan River in a North Eastward direction, and include any anecdotes, details or mentions of places that are in some way significant to you; maybe your Aunt lives there, maybe you have a childhood memory from this place, maybe you drive past the place on your way to work etc. Include place names. 

 

While perhaps appearing like nonsense, I found this process incredibly beautiful; people’s responses became like these flitting remnants of the river, uncovering poeticism beneath the functional and mundane ways we interact with and articulate the landscape. In the narration I wrote as a response to this experience, I touch upon the way we piece together our understanding of the river from the ways it intersects our existence and experiences, not as a landscape of itself that we interact with. It is maybe too obvious to say that us humans are too often only concerned with ourselves; 

 

The same water intersects all these identities, experiences, histories. Collective cartographers, a landscape we have mapped from our existences. And we hate to think that this landscape existed long before we did.

Journal entry, October

I.iv Struggles

The biggest struggles in undertaking this work were dealing with the politics involved in using other people’s voices, dealing with anxiety and imposter syndrome while working essentially as a ‘researcher’ (gathering and documenting like an anthropologist might), and finding a way to condense huge ideas, feelings, experiences, and amounts of material into a concise yet insightful 25 minute piece. 

 

To put things into perspective, I have around 14 hours of audio that I gathered over the 9 month period for this project specifically. Tangled amongst those many hours there are certain threads that connect ideas and experiences, and those threads have been drawn out to underpin the work. Surrounding those threads are a lot of avenues of inquiry that ultimately weren’t pertinent to this iteration of the piece, (though still contributed to the process and experience). Navigating my way in and out of those avenues was one of my struggles; trying to serve the piece, be true to the initial intention but let intuition lead me into the unexpected rabbit holes that give life and depth to a work. 

 

Learning to trust my intuition was important to my growth, and to the amalgamation of the piece. About a month out from the recital date the piece still didn’t have a structure or form; having been led down these wayward avenues I found myself not knowing what form the piece would take at all, and quite overwhelmed with anxiety. At this point I had a very important discussion with my Principal Studies teacher Josten Myburgh, which reminded me of a very important fact: this piece didn’t have to be anything I didn’t want it to be. Reminded of my original excitement and sense of the piece, I felt that I needed to record some studio dialogue (which turned into the prompts on ghosts, remnants, and topography of the river). This studio dialogue, along with narrations that I wrote and recorded over the duration of the next week, underpinned the structure and content of the final piece. 

 

In case it is of any interest, here is some of the material that I didn’t use, (dug up from all those rabbit holes):

  • field recordings (a lot) 

    • Transperth train, Fremantle line 

    • the dam and creek at my childhood home in Gidgegannup

    • contact microphone recordings around the Nedlands Yacht Club jetty

    • narrated drive from Noble Falls to my childhood home 

  • studio material

    • dialogue about time travel 

    • saxophone and vocal improvisations

  • On-site dialogue & improvisations

    • conversations from a day trip to Fremantle, chatting to people I met on the street 

    • vocal improvisations in the creek bed of Wydgee Station, Paynes Find (where my parents live) 

    • river discussions in Paynes Find with my two close friends (also collaborators for the project Book Club) 

    • a lot of iPhone voice memos trying to articulate ideas and feelings

  • and of course with any material that is included in the piece, there ​is all the audio from that recording that I didn't use. 

 
 
 
 

II. Aesthetics 

Narrations disintegrate into nonsensical dialogues, field recordings give way to organs half-Philip Glass half-Oneohtrix Point Never, and stumbling colloquialisms replace the clear-diction formalities of the radio genre: my influences and interests span a breadth of genres that contribute to some big, complex cross-pollination. 

 

The piece that first drew me to radiophonic music was Alessandro Bosetti’s A Collection of Smiles, and I feel like White gums are standing with their feet in the water nods its head to Bosetti in a lot of ways: 

 

Voices are recorded separately so that they could thereafter be cut, spliced, repeated, reorganised in different and ever changing constellations. Spoken phrases are transcribed into pitches and melodic profiles and arranged and re-composed for a chamber ensemble. Counterpoint is the perspective and the motor.

(Soundcloud, 2018)

The more typical radio documentary aesthetics in the piece, which really act as structural underpinnings and narrative building functions, have taken cues from the works of Jim Denley, Anja Kangeisser, and Earshot podcasts presented by Miyuki Jokiranta (ABC), as well as number of other non-fiction podcasts that I listen to. Take for example the opening sequence of field recordings and narrations in White gums are standing with their feet in the water, which uses fade ins and outs to navigate through multiple field recordings taken across an hour duration at Matagarup Bridge, taking influence from the structure of Anja Kangeisser’s piece In the Eye of the Storm

 

The aesthetic of radio and podcast also shares some vernacular with field recording based works such as the work of Moniek Darge, and Gabi Losoncy. In exploring the idea of past and present inhabiting the same space, I became interested in layering field recordings to create elusive and impossible spaces, such as in Moniek Darge’s Rain from Sounds of Sacred Places.

 

But there are perhaps less translucent influences, many from the pop realm. Duo The Books, (guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong) influenced a lot of sampling techniques, and glitch aesthetics like the hard-cuts between material, mostly used in transitions between sections (eg. 3”22, 10”12). This cut-and-paste method draws attention to the use of sampled material, rather than trying to mask its foreignness. Lofi recordings, colloquial dialogue, and sampled speech also typifies their music, such as the track ps from the album Lemon of Pink. Listening to The Books’ music feels whole but never feels like one place; collected and collated are more fitting words. Working with the same kind of material, (though perhaps less ‘musical’), I feel endlessly amazed by the intricacy, complexity and care with which their music deals with a multitude of material. 

 

Another sample based influence comes from J Dilla’s album Donuts, particularly in the way he recontextualises samples throughout the album to the point where a certain sample takes on a new meaning, heralds a change or acts as a narrative development tool. 

 

The organs in the ‘ghost music’ section at 14'48, (as I fondly call it) are definitely a Oneohtrix Point Never thing. I find all of Lopatin’s production very interesting; embracing the synthetic, playing between binaries of sickly sweet pads and harsh, gritty eruptions. In the context of White gums are standing with their feet in the water the more obvious binary is between synthetic and real; obviously synthesised materials act as harmonic beds for text and field material as well as draw attention to themselves as being distinctly different. This is also apparent in the cacophony of dialogue at 6’34-9’56, underpinned by sustained harmony made from sine tones and a sampler instrument built using a sample of my voice.

 

Repeating harmonic progressions of irregular lengths and shifting footings are very Philip Glass-ian, but also draw influence from Feist’s 2017 album Pleasure (one of my favourites, and a big influence for my folk project Nika Mo). This is very noticeable in the two ‘musical’ sections, at 6'34 and 14'48. 

 

And amongst all that, some influences are text based, shaping the poetry and text-based responses that I developed over the duration of this project (some material appearing as narrations in the final piece). The way Italo Calvino constructs and deconstructs time and place has been pertinent to my research for this piece (particularly in the novels If on a winter’s night a traveller and The Castle of Crossed Destinies). There were some narrations that didn’t make it into the final piece, but were heavily influenced by the post-modernist meta-discussion that Calvino does so well. The mundane colloquialisms of Raymond Carver also influenced my selection of dialogue, inspired by the simplicity of his vernacular and the complexity contained within it. I have intentionally foregrounded the colloquialisms of the studio dialogue, and the oh-so millennial mannerisms and vocabulary, for example ‘Yeah, I guess, like, does that make sense? Cool’ (at 14’40). This is not intended to mock or diminish the importance of these voices; on a very simple level I just enjoy listening to the ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ that are so often avoided in text-based work (be it music, theatre, radio etc.) I feel there is beauty in the un-articulable. These foregrounded colloquialisms, are contrasted by the wise, measured voice of Noel Nannup that appears at 19’49, who speaks so articulately. I had no intention of pitting the two vernaculars against one another, or privileging either of the two; more so, I tried to highlight the beauty in each of them. 

 

III. Compositional techniques

III.i Structure

The piece is structured using intermittent narrations to draw links between disparate material, and gently guide the listener through this material. Everything before 19'50 serves to contextualise Noel Nannup's monologue (19'50-22'39), acting as a precursor to frame the important information we receive (Noel describing the process through which the plants and animals in our catchment come to share our DNA) As Noel says; 'when you say that sort of thing to people, particularly those that don't know and understand our culture and who we are, it can be completely foreign to them.' I hope that the structure of the piece encourages a certain openness in listening and thinking, alleviating the urge to reject information as a response to its foreignness. 

As the piece goes on, remnants of previous sections reappear, drawing links between material so that the listener is always receiving new material in conjunction with previous material, and previous material is recontextualised by the new. For example, the section of dialogue about ghosts and remnants (at 12'13) is only contextualised by Noel's monologue near the very end (19'50), suddenly finding a way for this seemingly irrelevant dialogue to make sense within the piece. See a visual depiction of the structure below: 

 
 

Narration transcript:

Matagarup Bridge, morning, good morning. Women’s running club and high school rowers club. And the morning commuters making the freeway rumble. In August I am dressed in layers; leggings and jeans, three jumpers and a trench coat. And a scarf. And a beanie. But dogs, already dressed in their coats, laugh at my numbness, and their walkers try to apologise with curt nods. The sun smiles on me too, as she curls her fingers over the Burswood skyline and finally emerges after tempting us with that long, vague few hours of lightness that is not really night anymore than it is day. (I think they call it dawn.) And beneath all this chatter, footsteps and high-vis wearers, commuters, Transperth, exercisers and two musicians holding fluff-topped devices. Beneath all this chatter, the river. Matagarup meaning leg deep. In Nyoongar, Derbal Yerrigan. In length, 72 kms according to a Wikipedia page that sites the Swan River’s end where it meets the Wooroloo Brook, about 10kms from where I spent the first 18 years of my life. 

 

-

The same water, intersects all these identities, experiences, histories. Collective cartographers; a landscape we have mapped from our existences. And we hate to think that this landscape existed long before we did. 

-

Noble Falls, afternoon. I don’t say good afternoon because the only people who pass by are on the opposite side of the river. And no one is as friendly in the afternoon as they seem in the morning. This place is very close to where the Swan River meets the Wooroloo Brook, the point of convergence that defines its end. Here the trees are all thick with trees and slick with mud after heavy August rains, and the only bridge is a metre-wide-wooden-one, maybe ten steps across. White gums are standing with their feet in the water, as they do in the winter, and I wonder if the people rowing in East Perth even know, if the Golden Triangle yacht club goers ever pondered, or the Fremantle Dock workers have even once stopped to try smell the eucalyptus in the water. If they know it is the same water at all. 

-

Just like the way traffic sounds the same no matter where you are, and running water is all running water once you’ve trapped its sound in an SD card - wind is a different thing to be experienced. At 48k it all sounds like air but when you’re there; that thing you can’t see but tugs your hair and sighs so delicately. And afterwards you’re not sure but at the time you could have sworn-

 
 

III.ii Found structures and melodies

In a number of instances, dialogue or field material aligned in uncanny synchronicity without prompting, creating a perfect counterpoint. One such instance was recording Be Gosper and Alexander Turner in the studio describing the shape of the river. Though they couldn’t hear each other, their dialogue coincided in such interesting patterns that it seemed composed. Part of this dialogue is included at 4’25, accompanied by a recording of plucked chords on a piano that sits in a neighbour’s garden on my street (I took this recording a number of months before recording the dialogue). Incredibly, the rhythm and melody of the garden piano recording sat perfectly beneath the dialogue, finding synchronicity with the voices without me arranging it at all. Allowing found structures and melodies to permeate the work is part of my ethos as an arranger of these sounds rather than a composer. By practicing patience and listening, I feel I have been able to uncover interesting relationships between existing material without having to necessarily 'compose' it.

III.iii Melody/Harmony 

The harmony of the piece definitely takes influence from pop music, like Oneohtrix Point Never’s organ drones and the cyclical repetitions of Feist’s Pleasure. For the most part, harmony was defined by found melodies in the material, such as the recording of plucked strings of a piano sitting in the garden of my neighbour. The only music that I composed entirely from scratch sits beneath the cacophonous section of dialogue that I call ‘collective cartographers’ (6’34-9’56). The harmony in this section was composed, or rather improvised (funnily enough, using the Musical Typing function in Logic) as I listened to the overlapping dialogue (in one of its first iterations) and was later edited to align exactly in rhythmic unison. I suppose I approached this less from a theoretical perspective, and more from a feeling; the harmony functions almost like documentary music, providing a certain atmosphere for the dialogue to sit atop, foregrounding and supporting the voice rather than drawing attention from it. 

I did think about transcribing the pitch and rhythm of dialogue, such as in Steve Reich’s Different Trains, and even thought about analysing field recordings of the river in order to transcribe and arrange it for voices. However, I decided against pursuing these avenues because I felt that analysing and notating the material was beside the point; the material is already interesting enough without me having to reinvent it. Also keeping in mind the intended medium for the piece, these rigorous techniques might feel more relevant in a traditional ‘recital’ format in an auditorium, rather than a radio broadcast. (As a side note, I do really love Different Trains).

III.iv Duration 

All the musical material in the piece takes its durations from the rhythm of speech and dialogue. The existing relationship is easily perceivable; for example in the polyphonic section at 6’34-9’36, the underpinning harmony changes in rhythmic unison with the voices. Though this technique is very simple, it’s very effective and punchy. It also gives a pace and forward motion to the dialogue, which otherwise might risk the chance of becoming stationary. Achieving this effect, and also ensuring that the overlapping dialogue (6’34-9’36) stopped and started in exact rhythmic unison took a lot of fine detailing; keeping track of five voices at once turns out to be a very large task.

 

A very important consideration in regards to duration is the idea of giving breathing time for the listener to process information. The piece is not intended to be a difficult listen; it aims to give the listener intermittent respite in order to process dense material. For example at 9’36, dense polyphonic dialogue and sustained harmonic accompaniment gives way to a single voice narration, and a field recording of the Swan River at Noble Falls. The narrating voice appears intermittently, allowing the listener to receive the sounds of water at an easy pace. Another instance of this is directly after Noel Nannup’s monologue (19’50-22’39). When making decisions to leave breathing space in the piece, I took into consideration duration and pace, the variations in density of material, and the overarching structure of the piece. See the visual depiction of density throughout the piece:

IV. Recording Techniques

 

Throughout the process of gathering material I tried to use a variety of recording devices and techniques to develop my experience and skills, collect contrasting audio, explore audio qualities, and sometimes just out of convenience (many an iPhone voice memo was taken). I have always been affectionate of lofi aesthetics, but will admit to the glee I felt at listening to the high quality studio dialogue I recorded using an AKG C414 in the WAAPA underground studio. There is nothing more enticing than a clean, crisp and gently twinkling recording of decontextualised nonsensical dialogue. Having access to university equipment allowed me to create a piece that (hopefully) can pass at the industry standard of radio works. 

My choice in using lofi quality recordings is mainly one of aesthetics; I really enjoy the sound of an iPhone voice memo, in all its hiss and clipping. There are certain associations with Voice Memos (that are perhaps only present in my immediate circle of friends), that remind me of curious listenings and spontaneous happenings, impromptu folk music improvisations and rain, and the sharing of those recordings with a friend months later. I suppose in some way the inclusion of lofi recordings in the piece attempts to create a sonic world that is not all glamour and hifi, that has the ability and humbleness to pay homage to all those iPhone recordists out there, and alludes to the sense of 'personal'. 

 

V. Politics of practice

 

Though this piece isn’t intended to be explicitly political, I was aware and gave consideration to the politics involved in my practice, mainly those which come along with recording and using others' voices in a composition. There is already a history to sampling vocals, such as the orchestral piece Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet in which Gavin Bryars samples the singing voice of a homeless man, Come Out by Steve Reich, which samples the voice of an African American man, and even in contemporary music like Moby’s Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? which takes samples of a devotional song, ’courtesy of the Shining Light Gospel Choir … recorded by the folk collector Alan Lomax.’ (Webb. 2013)

 

There is a fine line between speaking on behalf of someone and letting someone speak, and a responsibility in taking someone’s words and positioning them, recontextualising them, separating them from one and another and placing them adjunct to other voices. As ‘composer’ of the work (arranger, or documenter might be more fitting) I hold a lot of power in how these voices are represented. Marysia Lewandowska wrote the below statement in relation to her project Women’s Audio Archive which documented ‘public events, seminars, talks, conferences, and private conversations’ (M. Lewandowska) between 1983 and 1990; 

 

"Having been educated and raised in a totalitarian state and under a Communist regime, [Lewandsowska] maintains a sensitivity to the power of representation, to the original and manipulation of images, thereby influencing her perception of how history is constructed, who keeps the documents, and who has access to public broadcast."

(Women’s Audio Archive, 2018)

 

This is exceedingly relevant in Australia, a colonial country whose genocidal history has had its brutal edges curved, shaped and hidden with careful construction, and relevant to my position as a white, middle class cis-gendered woman documenting the voices of other people, including (in this project) voices of Jewish, non-binary gendered, Mauritian, and Nyoongar people. 

 

To an extent, the anthropological writings of Donna Haraway and Gayatri Spivak have influenced my ideas around the politics of my practice, though my understanding and engagement with their works is still limited (I intend to remedy this!). The beginning of the third chapter, entitled Sharing Suffering in Haraway's When Species Meet influenced my approach to collecting and caring for the voices in my piece; 

 

"Reading Nancy Farmer’s young adult novel A Girl Named Disaster, I was arrested by the story of the relationship between an old African Vapostori man and the guinea pigs he cared for in a little scientific outpost in Zimbabwe around 1980. Used for sleeping sickness research, the lab rodents were at the center of a knot tying together tsetse flies, trypanosomes, cattle, and people. During their working hours, the guinea pigs were held in tight little baskets while wire cages filled with biting flies were placed over them, their skin shaved and painted with poisons that might sicken the offending insects with their protozoan parasites. The flies gorged themselves on the guinea pigs’ blood. A young Shona adolescent girl, Nhamo, new to the practices of science, watched.

“It’s cruel,” agreed Baba Joseph, “but one day the things we learn will keep our cattle from dying.” He stuck his own arm into a tsetse cage. Nhamo covered her mouth to keep from crying out. The flies settled all over the old man’s skin and began swelling up. “I do this to learn what the guinea pigs are suffering,” he explained. “It’s wicked to cause pain, but if I share it, God may forgive me.” "

(Haraway, D. 2008) 

 

Though there was no physical pain inflicted on my participants during recording sessions, they were influcted with a certain fear; fear of being vulnerable, of having your voice used and the chance of it being misrepresented. Throughout the recording process I tried to keep Haraway’s discussion in mind, embodying the philosophy of Baba Joseph. 

 

The radio project Sisters Akousmatica, created by duo Julia Drouhin and Phillipa Stafford, engages in inclusive, community radio work, and is the kind of practice that I am interested in developing in the future. Their curatorial statement acts as a kind of manifesto (that I am endlessly inspired by); 

"Sisters Akousmatica create curatorial, artistic and written projects which are concerned with collective radio practices, auditory-spatial exploration and the potential of emergent art forms to support, promote and cultivate socio-cultural and gender minorities in the field of sound arts.

Exploring the akousmatic nature of a voice divorced from its source, they are seeking the truth of herstory through investigations of hidden radio broadcasts, communities and person-to-person communications.

They believe in the power of active listening and unpredictable realm of invisible signals that is radio to excite imagination and social change, questioning senses of hearkening the world.

They position electromagnetic frequencies in a network of active and passive participants to establish an ecology of sound and facilitate an aural perception awareness of various social-cultural environments.

They use radios as instruments, stitch collective conductive maps of female sound makers, built FM and crystal (and dress) transmitters with kids and adults, speak two languages and try to get their amateur radio licence.

They sing loud with the wind, feet in the ground of sand and ears in the ocean of air : they are radio."

(Sisters Akousmatica, 2018)

V.i Representation of Nyoongar voice and culture

 

When making work that considers place, ecology, and ‘Australian identity’, the Nyoongar perspective is important to include in discussion. I have tried to approach this project with a cultural sensitivity that recognises and respects the culture of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, and acknowledges my own position as a white Australian woman. 

 

One of the first recorded discussions I had was with Noel Nannup, a Nyoongar elder, about his relationship to the Swan River and its importance in Nyoongar culture. Part of this conversation is heard towards the very end of the piece, in which Noel describes the process through which plant life comes to share our DNA. My conversation with Noel was very formative, and most of the ideas at the core of my process and final piece, (interconnectedness, intimacy with ecology, deep listening, ghosts and remnants) all stem from that conversation. 

 

Part of the studio recording involved playing that same snippet of Noel’s dialogue through headphones, and inviting participants to respond to it. Most people responded with silence. After gentle nudging some responded with a stuttering attempt to process, communicate, articulate (some of these responses are heard in the very last section of the piece). I feel these responses indicate some of the difficulties that colonials and immigrants have in understanding and articulating their relationship with the Australian landscape. The effortless beauty in Noel’s speech and his understanding of the Perth ecology makes obvious the wealth and depth of Nyoongar knowledge that is widely dismissed and under-acknowledged. Though the piece does not intend to be a political statement, I hope that the listener is left with a sense of the magnitude of Noel’s words; the listener need not comprehend, but only appreciate and respect the knowledge that Noel has imparted to me, and anyone who might listen to this piece. 

 
 

VI. Radio and listening contexts

 

Radio occupies an interesting space that intersects both public and private spheres. While we usually listen to radio and podcasts in solitude, there is always a sense of collective listening, a community of listeners interspersed across large distances. We turn on the radio in our car as we drive to work, and we know this broadcast is occupying the cars, and homes, and headphones of any number of other listeners. Yet at the same time that it occupies endless spaces, radio occupies no space; 

 

“Each broadcast takes place inside an echo chamber of informations, histories, biographies, life stories—and inside the echo chamber resounds the most unnerving question of all, the ghost question: Who’s there? Is anybody out there on the other side of the wall, on the other side of this broadcast? Of all the questions that have rattled around inside my head over the past 10 years, that is the most persistent. So radio is certainly most captivating as a place, but a place of constantly shifting borders and multiple identities, a no place where the living can dance with the dead, where voices can gather, mix, become something else, and then disappear into the night—degenerates in dreamland.”

(Whitehead, G. 2001)

This is the space I launch this collection of sounds into. I intended this piece for radio broadcast not only because it shares a similar syntax, but because this piece is a collective discussion; it makes more sense to launch it into this unknown yet shared space, rather than keep it safely unheard in the musical auditorium of a tertiary institution. 

 

I went through a process of preparing the piece for broadcast, including smoothing out the dynamic range to be suitable for listening to in the car, and gave consideration to the compression that will be applied as it is processed through the radio station. After the premiere broadcast, I intend to make the piece available for listening online (through streaming services etc.) and will upload a ‘studio version’, keeping some of the intricacies that will be most likely lost in broadcast. I suppose that studio listening is the way I most enjoy experiencing the piece (as I am sure most sound-makers will second), but I don’t necessarily think this is the 'right way' to experience it; I like the idea of giving away my power by making it available to the public ear, letting the piece take on many lives and listenings. 

 

VII. Past & future works

 

My previous radiophonic works have mainly explored familial themes; in SONGS FOR LIZ JULY 1985, voices of my mother and father tell the story of the mix-tape that he made for her when they first started dating, and in V.K.W 96FM (duet for voice and radio) I sample a cassette recording of my grandfather presenting a jazz radio program for the last time in Cocos Keeling Island where he and my grandmother lived. My most recent installation In Cars, exhibited at Audible Edge 2018, used field recordings taken from inside cars during transit in Perth and Indonesia, radio music being the most prominent element though the voices of my friends and travel companions can be heard elusively. 

 

White gums are standing with their feet in the water is the first work to very prominently use the voices of anyone other than myself or my family. It has been a new, and at times challenging experience, but developing this kind of practice is something I’d like to continue in the future. I’m excited to work with more voices; voices of strangers, archival voices, diverse voices, hearing from different places and cultures. I feel my next explorations might dance the border between anthropological studies and the world of studio composition, such as African Feedback by Alessandro Bosetti; 

 

“Through a process of listening and speaking, African Feedback documents an exchange between artist Alessandro Bosetti and residents of villages throughout West Africa. Playing music by various experimental and avant-garde composers to people met in villages, Bosetti records their responses, asking them what they are hearing, and how they relate to the music and sounds. Composing their responses, with field recordings made throughout his travels, African Feedback is a musical portrait of cultural translations, misunderstandings, different voices and languages.”

(Radio Art Net, 2005)

 

Throughout the process of developing White gums are standing with their feet in the water, the pressure and anxiety of producing an ‘anthropological sonic study’ was certainly present. But beside it was an incredible sense of nourishment from having the opportunity to engage and converse with all these people. Though there are struggles that come with this kind of work, there are also immense benefits; it becomes a practice that engages and builds connections amongst people, that develops networks of ideas and finds the intersections of existences, and asks us to practice kindness and empathy. 

 

VIII. Reference list

Cafe Oto. (2017). Gabi Losoncy. Retrieved from https://www.cafeoto.co.uk/artists/gabi-losoncy/

 

Denley, J. (2014). Last Day at Turkey Creek. In Jokiranta, M. Soundproof [Podcast radio programme]. Sydney, Australia: ABC Radio National. Retrieved: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/soundproof/last-day-at-turkey-creek/5560634

 

Haraway, D. (2008). When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press 

 

Radio Art Net, (2005). African Feedback. Retrieved from https://radioartnet.bandcamp.com/track/african-feedback

Sisters Akousmatica, (2018). WHAT - Sisters Akousmatica. Retrieved from http://www.sistersakousmatica.org/curatorial-statement/

 

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. (2018). Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music and Nature in Sakha. Retrieved from https://folkways.si.edu/tuva-among-the-spirits-sound-music-and-nature-in-sakha/world/album/smithsonian

 

Soundcloud. (2018). Alessandro Bosetti: Collection of Smiles Excerpt. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/alessandro-bosetti/collection-of-smiles-excerpt

 

Webb, Robert. The Independent; London (UK) [London (UK)]08 Aug 2003: 19 (6 Nov 2018)

 

Whitehead, G. (2001). Radio Play Is No Place: A Conversation between Jérôme Noetinger and Gregory Whitehead. In Allen S.Weiss, Experimental Sound and Radio (pp.89-95). New York, America: New York University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 

Women’s Audio Archive. (2018). Women’s Audio Archive: Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.marysialewandowska.com/waa/negotiations.php

 
 

IX. Also: collaborations 

 

IX.i Sound of Trees residency and creative development

 

The Sound Of Trees is an exploration of the impact of human touch upon local ecologies through interactive sound and sensorial installation. A showing and workshop held in October was the culmination of the first stage of development between four local and interdisciplinary emerging artists; Rebecca Riggs-Bennet, Claire Gillam, Olivia Tartaglia, and myself. The creative development was supported through the Septimus and Louisa Burt Residency as part of St George's Cathedral, and the Drug Aware: Yculture Metro Grant, offered in conjunction with Propel Youth Arts WA. Jule Japhet Chiari and Dr Claire Pannell (Furchick) mentored the project throughout this first development. I worked as sound designer alongside Rebecca Riggs-Bennet (who directed the project), documenting our interactions with environment over the duration of the residency and during a weekend trip to the South West, developing text, and creating two short sound works that were exhibited as part of the residency showing. 

 

IX.ii She, still choreographed by Izzy Leclezio

She, still was premiered at Unleash, the WAAPA 3rd year dance season at Dolphin Theatre, UWA. Choreographed on an all female cast, the work explored the boundaries between the tenderness and strength of female vulnerability, drawing from personal experiences of sexual assault and the aftermath of this. I worked as sound designer, developing music for two sections of the work, bridged by an excerpt of Girl from Ipanema (Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto). 

 

IX.iii Sunflowered choreographed by Anika Fyfe

In this work Anika Fyfe investigated dualities, and binaries; what is the difference between the self we present outwardly and the self we harbour inwardly? The work was premiered at Unleash, the WAAPA 3rd year dance season at Dolphin Theatre, UWA. I composed music for the two contrasting sections of the piece, representing these inward and outward depictions of ourselves. 

 

IX.iv Rhiana Katz honours dance film 

This set of three short dance works takes three Odilon Redon paintings as inspiration, trying to find translations between visual art and movement. The works were choreographed by Rhiana Katz, and filmed by Edwin Sitt. I developed three short sound pieces for the film. 

X. Also: releases 

X.i mess head EP (Nika Mo)

Nika Mo and her debut EP 'mess head' finds ways to express a comfortable melancholia while finding light and poetry in snapshots of the Perth mundane. Raw, gut-wrenchingly honest lyrics paired with garage-folk aesthetic and warming vocal harmonies. 

 

X.ii Impressions/Sequences VA (great statue)

Rathe is a collective established early 2018 by Ryan Macdonald and Rhys Prka and is based in Perth, Western Australia. It’s focus is on live performances of experimental electronic music and ‘Impressions/Sequences’ marks the emergence of Rathe as a label. 

This release comes in the form of a V/A and features contributions from each of the artists that performed at the first Rathe events (‘Impressions’ and ‘Sequences’). It showcases some impressive offerings from the local scene - listeners should expect grainy reverberations, left-field atmospherics, mutant electronics and emotive murmurs.

 

XI. Also: performances

Annika Moses

Outcome Unknown Regional Tour Mandurah - Bunbury 

Outcome Unknown Regional Tour Albany - Denmark 

Outcome Unknown Regional Tour Geraldton 

Temporary Autonomous Zion - 'Making Kin' cassette launch 

NoizeMaschin!! #82 - Minimalism 

NoizeMaschin!! #86 - Tone List Guest Curation 

Outcome Unknown #16 

Outcome Unknown #18 

Repertoire

Un Paso Al Abismo by Lindsay Vickery at Sound Spectrum 2018.2

Njookenbooro by Lindsay Vickery at Limited Hangout: in the Field 

Procession - Eduardo Cossio, Spectrum Project Space

great statue 

In the Field, Sound Spectrum 2018.2

Seiche T0nn single launch, 459 bar

Nika Mo 

24/7 Maddie Godfrey book launch, The Bird, Northbridge

2/8 The Aardvark, Fremantle  

4/8 Jugular, Bicton  

15/8 Mojos Bar, Fremantle 

24/8 459 Bar, North Perth 

1/9 Clancy’s Fish Pub Fremantle 

21/9 Haxa House, Maylands 

27/9 The Bird, Northbridge

4/10 Brayden Sibbald single launch, The Bird, Northbridge

10/10 Clancy’s Fish Pub, Canning Bridge 

13/10 Calmly single launch, The Bird, Northbridge

21/10 Spacey Jane + Nika Mo, Sunday Music at The Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle

27-28/10 Dunsborough Songfest 2018

2/11 Abode Camp Stage: Kraken 2018, J Shed, Fremantle

7/11 Gumnut: Nika Mo, Smol Fish, Ashleigh Carr-White, El Grotto, Scarborough