Oct 25, 2015

"uncentred, space is also reversible... there is nothing to grasp": Edison Ledges (diagram for twelve archival silences)

"even as strange geographies corrugate, fracture and smear worldly scale and tempo, the ground isn’t somehow evaporated into virtual information flux, but, quite to contrary, we are brought to the end of the non-place, to a point where place can be and must be re-established anew as an accountable habitat in the renewed image of these very same deformations." 
- Benjamin Bratton, 'On the Nomos of the Cloud: The Stack, Deep Address, Integral Geography'.

in creating the short study Edison ledges (diagram for twelve archival silences), various archival sound recordings, in this case, commercially released Edison wax cylinders c.1890-1920 catalogued within the 500+ cylinders that form part of the collections of a small Hobart-based museum dedicated to sound technologies, the Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania (S.P.A.T), were recorded, and the music subsequently removed, leaving only the precursory audio, and the final run-out grooves. Inverting the kinds of editing processes used, for example, in digital archival sound preservation, in which an editor would normally edit out these audible silences and use noise reduction software to progressively remove the grain media to reveal the music, here, the grain, the noise and the silence are all that remain of the technical, epistemological and economic act of late 19th century audio recording. 

These resulting “audio thresholds” were then digitally arranged as a compaction of strata, in two stacks of twelve five-second layers, in groups of six: 6 openings and 6 codas, their arrangement still corresponding to the linear temporal manner in which they were recorded, with six pre- and six post- music silences forming a staggered pyramid structure, whose arrangement allowed no audio overlays, processing, or other editorial intervention. 

So the structure of the finished piece looks something like this: 


Another way of looking at this might be as a figure of narrative de-centredness – a self-enclosed series of entries and exits, bracketing an empty centre. Something like this: 


in this diagram (or poem) what appears as an empty centre, could also be a series of inconclusions, multiple centres. The piece is serialist, and potentially endless, with an additive, indexical structure, rather than a narrative structure. This echoes the infrastructure of the archive itself, which according to Lev Manovich, is organised on database, rather than narrative logics.

This empty centre - the (now missing) content of these mass-produced cylinders - includes various types of popular music: comedy skits with out-of-date racial slurs and sexist mother-in-law-jokes, mawkish, warbly violin tunes, Chopin nocturnes played in-studio by working pianists, and crisp, chipper military marching songs rendered sub-robotic by the sonic proclivities of the hyper-speed turning of the cylinder medium. Also edited out were the audio introductions which characterise early Edison recordings. These 'vocal liner notes' necessitated the speaker shouting into the phonographic recording horn, a purely pragmatic process that inadvertently lends the resulting intonation a peculiar aesthetic formality, what we now think of as that loud, shrill “Victorian” oratorial voice.

Such content is itself the sound of history, dictated by form and moulded within the pragmatic constraints of the recording process. With its removal, what is left audible is the aural bones: various levels of materiality and various strata of time: the real-time mechanism of the cylinders' playback (on an Edison fireside phonograph - the particular machine is also held in the collections of the S.P.A.T archive), the breathily hyperactive spinning of the cylinders themselves, rotating at speeds of between 90 and 160 rpm, and the materiality of the storage media's own life, comprised of donations from the vernacular home-libraries of Tasmanian listeners, with a murky, unknowable provenance of around-the-house popular entertainment. Lastly, there are the sounds of the S.P.A.T office, on the day I recorded the cylinders, another form of more recent recorded silence, now also forever temporally displaced from its situatedness as an unnoticed, fleeting moment of audiblity in a particular room, made audibly material by my own recording process.

With ages ranging between the 1890s and the 1920s, these cylinders are contradictory objects: both mass-produced and uniquely stamped with history. Their potential aura-fetishism, in the digital era, is at odds with their ordinariness, and part of their interest lies in this irresolvably contradictory status – the fact that, even though they are some of the earliest available records, they are also commercially produced copies. What are such objects doing, in a sound archive? Arguably, their aura doesn't hold up: this status can be justified neither by their status as one-off documents, nor be related to the preciousness of their content. To approach their historical uniqueness requires a materialist method, and one that includes actual real time re-listening; this listening re-activates a situation in which the unique event of (re)recording interacts with a unique event of playback. Arguably, a listening-in to history necessitates the removal of those sounds which are copied: namely, the music itself.

In the late 19th century, alongside the development of technologies of visual reproduction, the advent of sound recording brought a radically new ontology – a different kind of memory-object - into the world. The relationship of sound to music was radically changed by this process, as was the relationship between sound and silence. The emergence of texts in which these changes were brought to the medium of sound itself are often discussed through the lens of John Cage's mid century work on silence, which, alongside other studies such as George Brecht's “Gap Events” (the score of which lists three instructions, the second focusing on the space “between two sounds”) reveals the re-casting of experimental sound practice investigating the cultural effects of recording. As David Grubbs reveals in Records Ruin the Landscape; the problems Cage had with the idea of the recording itself were a direct provocation for his work with silence, with 4'33” a problem solving exercise around a development he found distinctly problematic. Beyond Cage's catalytic listening moment, itself seemingly emerging from disdain for the solidifying of a live event into the reified repetition of recording, a project whose outcome was the simple crystalisation of a highly complex cultural shift (the effects of which are still reverberating), artistic projects have continued to reveal that the limits of the recorded sound object have always included its silence. Furthermore, these silences tend to be particular, not generalised: there is little more specific than a listening-space revealing itself.

One thing recorded music teaches us is that a centre can be anywhere; also that silence has always been a part of music performance. The Edison recording process was conducted live in the studio, so the silences before and after each track are also potently infused with that live space. Within each cylinder there is a multitude of silences: between notes, between phrases, before the music begins (as the performer prepares), when each of the pieces ends. As the century progressed, sound was increasingly haunted by the particularity of silence in its connection to death, as history inserted itself into the widening gap between sound and silence, helped along by the moving of the initial gesture of the techological magic trick of sound recording beyond the memory of anyone actually living. The concept of “hauntology” has come to stand in for some versions of this process within contemporary sound culture, but before it was a genre it was first discussed by Jacques Derrida as a play both on Karl Marx’s introduction to the Communist Manifesto, “a spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”, and on the word ‘ontology’.

Like Derrida, the curator of the project Sweet Tribology, an experimental radio maker and sound artist named Julia Drouin, when she says “ontological”, says it with a French accent. To Anglo ears at least, this comes across as distinctly ghostly. Sweet Tribology gathers 25 sound projects, all based on responses to 1 minute excerpts of recordings of wax cylinders in the S.P.A.T archive. The artists are all women. You can read more about it here. The notion of translation and the nexus of ontology/hauntology might be key, both to Julia's more lighthearted approach toward the historical material of sound recording, and the oblique angle of my own project's inclusion within it.

Edison ledges (diagram for twelve archival silences) was recorded prior to Julia's harnessing of the same wax cylinders for her project, and is properly a study for a larger work that focuses on wax cylinder silences, tentatively called The long nineteenth century (a flock of margins, a decentred field). This excerpt, however, will have its own life, and a variety of further unexpected ontological/hauntological outcomes through its association with the Sweet Tribology project. It has already been transmitted over local radio waves in Spain, and has been pressed to chocolate, with the audible hill and dale grooves of the original cylinders, within the recorded silences, transferred to the medium of the 45rpm record. These outcomes complicate the idea of “sound preservation” itself. What is being preserved here, and how?

Collaborations between small museums and artists create the possibility for artist projects to intervene into archives to create hybrid readings of history which re-interpret set narratives. My future work with S.P.A.T will include a radio documentary based on sounds and oral histories of localised technology, and in the past it has has included the use of one of their phonographs – a beautifully preserved Edison Gem – as a playback device for the work Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has retreated), a gallery exhibition whose centrepiece was a new sound fossil - a wax cylinder, recorded with piano decipherings of archival western musical notation of extinct New Zealand birdsong. This multi-layered transcription piece was a lateral take on the notion of historical absences which focused on the silencing of environment, and the complex human complicity within both species extinction and their enduring record in archival memory.

It was also a meditation on sonic materiality. The "new" cylinder made for Collected Huia Notations was far more fragile than the used in Edison Ledges (diagram for twelve archival silences) and the wider Sweet Tribology project. Its contemporary replication of an early, pre-commercial “white wax” cylinder ultimately rendered an object more like a test pressing or lathe cut record, one that had its own mortality very firmly foregrounded within the fragility of its playback, rather than one aligned with the later more stable brown “wax” cylinders, or the blue Amberols which now survive in archives and antique stores, as historical artefacts of the early recording industry. Although interestingly, to my mind, Julia's pressing of S.P.A.T's collection of blue amberol and brown wax commercial records to chocolate re-inscribes this more stable media-strata again into a fragile and unstable medium, a medium in flux, whose ephemerality is further compounded by its ingestion by listeners at the end of the project, in a process which allows us to re-imagine the listening body as simultaneously a digesting body, joining the ear to the stomach, the corpus to the intellect. The history of chocolate records is almost as long as recorded sound history itself, with commercial novelty edible records, along with the special tiny gramophones to play them on, first appearing in 1902. Julia's intervention into this history is like her intervention into recorded music history via the S.P.A.T archive - part playful, loving homage, and part potential critical re-reading.

It's not quite accurate to call these "obsolete" media. The re-membering of processes by artists intervening in technological histories and archives can not only change our conception of how time works from a linear model toward a more multi-dimensional, multi-directional temporality, but arguably help save those crafts and processes themselves from the cultural scrapheap. This relates to technical formations like radio, which as Tetsuo Kogawa writes, can reach "extreme potentials" when their commercial applications have largely subsided, but also to archival practices, such as cataloguing. Working with the silences of early commercially recorded media, one encounters something akin to a geology of sound, what one of the foremost theorists of such a notion, Jussi Parrika, calls "a critique of a teleological notion of media evolution that assumes a natural progress embedded in the narratives of the devices." Furthermore, one again discovers that the centre is everywhere.  That when approaching narratives of already-extant media (such as commercially recorded wax cylinders) within an art context, to listen to their materiality, is to discover, within the linear timeline of media evolution, another dislocated and open-ended text, devoid of any fixed centre.
Roland Barthes' set this out in his distinction between a work and a text, which hinges around the notion that whereas a Work is a closed system with a fixed center of meaning, a Text is an open system, a decentered or multicentered interplay of differential traces and floating signifiers. While a Work is simply "lisible" (readable), this kind of decentered Text is 'scriptable" (writable), i.e, it induces multiple interpretations. He writes: "In this way the Text is restored to language: like language,it is structured but decentered without closure .... The Text is plural. This does mean just that it has several meanings, but rather that it achieves plurality of meaning, an irreducible plurality."This decentredness is something Barthes also found materially expressed the interior of a traditional Japanese room: "In the Shikidai gallery, as in the ideal Japanese house, stripped of furniture ... the center is rejected (painful frustration for Western man, every- where "furnished" with his armchair, his bed, proprietor of a domestic location). Uncentered, space is also reversible ... there is nothing to grasp."

Feb 5, 2015

Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded)

“As traditional memory has vanished, we have felt called upon to accumulate fragments, reports, documents, images, and speeches—any tangible sign of what was—as if this expanding dossier might some day be subpoenaed as evidence before who knows what tribunal of history. The trace negates the sacred but retains its aura. We cannot know in advance what should be remembered, hence we refrain from destroying anything and put everything in archives instead.” - Pierre Nora, Between Memory and History

We are not so much mourning our own inevitable loss, or the ego reflected in that loss, as we are mourning the absence of the connection. (…) A more tenable ecological conceptualisation of mourning needs to consider connectivity, rather than unified subjectivity, as a tool for exploring the deep channels of grief over the loss of the more-than-human.” - John C. Ryan, Why Do Extinctions Matter?

“The category of the fragmentary (…) is not to be confused with the category of the contingent particularity; the fragment is that part of the totality of the work that opposes totality.” -Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory 

Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded) is a work for phonograph, solo piano, and extinct bird. It collates the four known Western musical notations of the song of the Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris), an endemic New Zealand wattlebird of the ancient family Callaeidae, which was driven to extinction in the last decades of the Nineteenth Century, partially through the attentions of overzealous wealthy Victorian Ornithologists and Museum collectors.

The few musical notations of the Huia that exist date from the late 1800s, and are preserved as brief - yet retrospectively poignant - details within descriptive passages in the accounts of scientists and museologists such as Sir Walter Buller and Johannes C. Andersen, but are themselves (as is standard for folk music of the era), largely uncredited. A projective ethnography renders them analogous to the sounds of the bird itself, but these are in fact cultural texts: colonial folk notations transcribed directly in the field by anonymous surveyors, or musical interpretations derived from observations of the vocalisations used in the forest by Maori to attract and capture this most sacred of birds.
Music, clearly, can not reproduce birdsong. Olivier Messiaen is perhaps the most famous of the Western musical birdsong transcribers, but his beautiful compositions, arising from patient field work, are arguably more of service to music than birds. If the human-centred perspective in music must be noted, then in terms of the Huia, we have the paradox of a bird song only known through human vocalization and human musical notation. Collected Huia Notations is an 'old media' work, which stages the pathos of this paradox, in the words of Media Archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst, as an “epistemological reverse-engineering” that “makes us aware of discontinuities in media cultures as opposed to the reconciling narratives of cultural history.” As a story of the past it is nonnarrative, neither epic nor chronicle, its interest in the history of sonic memory is of the material-technological traces of an overheard dailiness, which for some reason became momentarily solidified.

The notations perhaps reveal a hidden history of familiarity, an insight into a world in which the Huia was not yet a tragic symbol of loss and extinction, but an everyday forest bird whose pleasant calls might have been whistled absent-mindedly while walking down a bush track. This experience, along with the wider soundscape of 19th Century New Zealand, is now an inaccessible listening space, which seems all the more distant through the fact that no actual sound recordings of the Huia exist, apart from these traces, despite the invention of commercially available recording technologies at roughly the same time. Now, in the absence of the source, we have the trace of a sound, in the form of imperfect, highly subjective notation. These notations counter the notion of a bird as a nationalist symbol, through their evocation of the relationships with birds the transcribers might have had. Yet they are not well known, compared with the other more visual-material traces - the melancholy specimens of the Huia scattered throughout the world in the glass cabinets of museums, the drawings, the sacred feathers passed down within families.

In developing Collected Huia Notations, the notations were first played on piano (a musical instrument found in most domestic houses in colonial New Zealand) by Pascal Harris in Dunedin, New Zealand, in December 2014. They were then cut to phonographic wax cylinder (invented in 1877, this was the only commercially available sound recording technology available while the Huia was alive) by Graham McDonald of the National Sound Archives in Canberra, Australia, in January 2015. They are played back in the gallery on an Edison Gem phonograph, the smallest and least expensive machine Edison produced, introduced in February, 1899, one intended for domestic use. (Many thanks to The Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania for their kind loan of this machine). The sounds are further degraded and rendered intangible through the successive stages of this translation process, only serving to emphasise their distance, and the lack of accuracy which in empirical terms renders them dubious scientific records.

The wax cylinder is an extremely fragile recording medium and this work will eventually be destroyed by its own playback. For this reason (and replicating the standard practice of contemporary sound archives), a digitally recorded version of the first playback of the cylinder's sound was also included in the exhibition as an option for listeners, to relieve the burden on the material object of the cylinder itself, so that it might be accessible to as many listeners for as long as possible. This material fragility is also conceptually relevant, and crystallises the poetics of the work, which aims to represent the mortality of media as much as it does the gaps and silences within the totalising forces of historical (and contemporary) environmental and museological discourse. A series of recordings of the wax cylinder were made in a progressive manner throughout the show, charting its wearing-down. As an experimental process, this charted a sonic shift, in which the initial clarity of the piano notes started to sound both more spectral and much more like a bird. The wax cylinder itself seemed to be engaged in a rite of some kind, back-engineering a taxonomic poetics which is itself progressing toward erasure
. It is a false historical object, constructed from the marginalia of historic sonic narratives, which inserts a speculative form of environmental witnessing back into the historic record, a fragile and fleeting reconstruction, a fragment which hopes to remind the archive that its own memory, too, is full of blanks and erasures.

Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded) was exhibited alongside works by Alex Bishop-Thorpe and Matt Warren at Constance ARI, Hobart, from 10-31 January, 2015, as part of the Mona Foma 2015 programme.

Dec 3, 2014

a one minute radio silence for Sceloglaux albifacies

recordings of the silences of mounted specimens of the extinct New Zealand bird Sceloglaux albifacies (the Whekau, or Laughing Owl) are collected from public Natural History museums, via the paranormal investigation method of EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), which is associated with the use of radio and sound recording as a means to contact the dead. the silences are layered into a one minute transmission, collated on the centenary of the officially recognized extinction of the species.

a blank time-capsule, “a one minute radio silence for Sceloglaux albifacies” investigates cultural notions of death and memorialisation in relation to the stability of recording mechanisms, the ‘eternal stasis’ of the archive as storage, linking this to early colonial collecting practices: the predatory accumulating of rare birds which rationalised sacrificing the living animal in favour of the ‘immortality’ of the museum specimen. despite a few dozen of its corpses being collected in such a way, along with a scant number of known photographs, some drawings and written accounts, the living Whekau’s cry was not recorded. accordingly, this project aims neither to represent, nor to ‘speak for’ the bird in human terms, in favour of giving space to its absence, listening in to the one hundred year lack of any signal between 1914-2014.

[image: juvenile Sceloglaux albifacies photographed at its nest in a cavity under a limestone boulder by Cuthbert and Oliver Parr. c.1909, Raincliff Station, Opihi River, South Canterbury, New Zealand. This is the only image of this bird ever taken in the wild.]

Sep 28, 2014

a partial list of animal companions, 1978-1985

a partial list of animal companions i had as a child, age approx 4-12, in Oyster Cove, Tasmania, and East Gippsland, Victoria. classification is of individual, recognizable animals or groups of animals "collected" for close-observation of behaviour or life-cycle in terrariums/aquariums, and/or lived with as deliberate "familiars" in my immediate environment, rather than just observed in passing in the garden / in the wild. I have only included animals that weren’t ‘acquired’ via commercial transaction, but approached personally, by collection (mostly temporary) and/or re-visitation over days/months/seasons in the immediate environment they (and I) lived in. Many of the individuals of these species were admired for their beauty and/or emotionally connected with, some were regarded as being as close as (if not closer than) human friends, and some received full burials upon death.

Garden Mantis (Orthodera ministralis)
False Garden Mantid (Pseudomantis albofimbriata)
Common Grass Blue (Zizina labradus)
Common Garden Katydid (Caedicia simplex)
Gum Leaf Katydid (Torbia viridissima)
Green Grocer Cicada (Cyclochila australasiae)
Emperor Gum Moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti)
Longicorn Beetle (Phoracantha obscura)
Black Field Cricket (Teleogryllus commodus)
Wanderer Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
Mottled Cup Moth (Doratifera vulnerans)
Saunders' Case Moth (Metura elongatus)
Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti)
Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii)
Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affinis)
Eastern Long-necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis)

Aug 23, 2014

"water is meaningless without ships"

"Water is meaningless without ships and that bespeaks harbours to haven them, and men and cargoes. What I have written does not pretend to poetry. It only says what it seemed could be said. … "

- Denis Glover, 'Wellington Harbour', 1974

Jul 23, 2014

the worlds within a film: revisiting Nigel Bunn's photography for 'Notes for a Coastline'

notes for a coastline was a 2003 film directed by Zoe Roland, for which I wrote an essayistic, poetic monologue, which was used as the basis of the voiceover which sonically "anchored" the non-narrative drift of the film.

the Dunedin Film Society asked to screen the film in their 2014 programme, on the 23rd of July, as a local example of artist-filmmaking and a short before Shirley Horrocks' documentary on the senior New Zealand photographer Marti Friedlander, Marti: The Passionate Eye

the film was finally digitised for the screening, and in dragging frames out of it I was newly struck by all the small worlds that are buried inside it, which emerged with their own beauty and texture.

these images are all sourced from the exquisite 16mm camerawork Nigel Bunn shot for the film, only one of its media. as individual frames rendered into digital stasis, they paradoxically whisper of the fluid materiality of celluloid. apart from the myriad filmic references one could mention, some of the shots remind me of Vija Celmins' drawings, and some look like early photography by Henry Fox Talbot, and some have the mystery of a box of photographs or glass magic lantern slides newly discovered in the dusty corner of an old antique store, their out-of-sequence timeline revealing a new "treasure map" buried in their relation.

it seems appropriate that they are re-shufflable in this new way as a series of found photographs, as the last line I wrote in the script was "and there is no real ending to this process, as the walking continues after the viewing is finished. as listening continues...".

Jul 16, 2014

"at home" a collaboration by radio cegeste & moth

“We comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images. Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home and, by recalling these memories, we add to our store of dreams; we are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
under the moth moniker, Jon Dale's occasional sonic missives have been collectively described by one commentator as an "incredibly haunting, rich dronescape." certainly, Jon is pretty much an honorary New Zealander when it comes to evoking the kinds of beautiful isolationism one might normally associate with an everyday familiarity with South Island landscapes, and one of the most assiduous and eloquent writers on that particular experimental idiom to be found anywhere.

staying for a week in Jon's apartment in Brunswick, Melbourne c.2011, resulted in this. we called it "at home" because that's where it was recorded; the small spaces of domestic life are very present in the piece. the fate of this apartment, now no longer Jon's home, and sadly since gentrified toward 21st century neo-liberal blandness, uncannily echoes that of the home I lived in at the time - the first place I'd called home in over five years, very much my childhood dream-house in Bachelardian vein, as well as the solid structural frame around history and memory which made the destabilisingly destructive anxieties of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake bearable. This was the 1903 mansion Threave in Dunedin, its bay window blurrily visible in the photo of the cover art here - a weight of air and light and listening also now lost to the expedient whims of "development."

So "at home" might be readable as something of a meditation on these spaces, and transience, small and impermanent comforts, stray signals, locality, finding space for listening, wandering thoughts only possible in silence, the remembered atmospheres of introverted, solitary rooms. in this regard, something about the piece reminds me of the final track on one under-appreciated masterpiece of the Dunedin home-recording aesthetic, Nigel Bunn's 1999 album Index, a seeming-afterthought to the song structures elsewhere on the album, called "this day at home." The track is a field recording of gently falling rain out the window of an old Dunedin warehouse, Nigel's home at the time; a capturing of one afternoon, a moment in a life - now also lost: the building has been demolished, its site turned into a carpark. But in the meditative, slow space within the sound of the recording, the building's memory, all the lives it once contained, seem still extant, endlessly circling in the aether.  

for moth/cegeste, there is talk of a record. in the meantime, you can download "at home" for free from the bandcamp link above. 

Jul 9, 2014

McIntyre/Stern in performance at Make It Up Club's 16th Birthday Celebrations, Melbourne, 14.01.2014

I was rather chuffed to find that Weirdo with a Dictaphone had recently bootlegged a recording of the duo performance I did with Joel Stern at Make It Up Club in mid-January, alongside this appropriately noisy photo and the somewhat startling comment: "An amazing, mystifying performance. Possibly one of the best MIUC shows I’ve ever seen."

This gig was a unique one for many reasons; significantly, Joel's playful interventions marked the first time i'd ever experimented with another live input signal going direct through my transmitter, at the same time as my own. The resulting homage to the misuse of the archive, theremins, morse code, a shared passion for the collecting of weirdo Library Music, Canary Training and Bird Identification records, and similar ephemera, can now be download for free from the link above, for your listening pleasure. It's great to be able to hear it....

Thanks again to Joel and Lloyd for making it possible, and to all the other erudite (and sometimes archival) ears...

Jul 5, 2014

a memorial silence for Sceloglaux albifacies, on the centenary of its extinction.

On the 5th July 2014, I headed into Canterbury Museum to record the mounted specimen of the Laughing Owl/Whekau (Sceloglaux albifacies) to be found, grouped humbly under the designation "forest birds", with various other New Zealand endemic species both extinct and still hanging on, in the Museum's extensive, old fashioned 'bird hall'. A sonic still life which was quietly significant, this 10 minute recording occurred on the 100th anniversary of the day (05.07.1914) the last officially acknowledged member of this species was found dead by the side of the road at Blue Cliffs station, not far from here in South Canterbury, by an 18 year old girl named Airini Woodhouse.

It seemed appropriate to commemorate this small, bleak anniversary, not mentioned in the New Zealand public media (unlike the 100th anniversary of the First World War, which has diverted much arts funding towards various memorial projects this year), with a private mourning ritual, a memorial silence which mirrors the silence of the bird itself, from Airini's sad discovery in 1914 onward, despite the rich prior textuality of description which attends this bird's voice, the eerie "doleful shrieks" and startling, unsettling, mad night forest laughter documented so frequently in the late 1800s, when the Whekau was still found in South Island forest and plain. This took the form of recorded listening as a form of meditation, an inhabitation of a listening space, rather than merely a form of archiving, mixed in with a paranormal ritual investigation, via the practice of Electronic Voice Phenomenon - a nod to radio's long association with attempts to contact the dead.

Jul 3, 2014

inclement and incline: irirangi and "three inclements (the ocean does not mean to be listened to)"

1. spirit voice - an eerie, high pitched off key note, or harmonic, sometimes heard near the ceiling of the meeting house above people singing. It was sometimes regarded as a bad omen and a portent of death.

2. (noun) radio wave.
Mehemea ka waiata tātou ki roto i te whare, ā ka rangona te waha e waiata ana i waho, he waha wairua, he irirangi tēnā (W 1971:80). / If we sing inside the house and the voice is heard outside that is a spirit voice.

The wonderful experimental music imprint Consumer Waste records has been kind enough to release (29.06.14) a set of three short pieces (as CW13) whose various component sounds I recorded while NZ Dept. of Conservation / Creative New Zealand artist in residence on Kapiti Island in May 2012, and finished editing on headphones in the unlikely sound-studio of Fendalton Community Library, located just down the street from my parents' house in Christchurch, very soon after returning from the residency that June. It's a wonderfully anonymous, hands-off public space, where i'm unlikely to be interrupted by anyone I know. Almost two years to the day, I am again sitting in the same place in Fendalton Community Library typing this, listening to the recordings and looking at various historic photographs which have, for me, become attached to this set of sounds. A return, of sorts.

Upon re-listening, the release - now called "three inclements (the ocean does not mean to be listened to)" after quite a few other working titles (the language, unlike the pieces, wasn't instantaneously obvious) - seems jagged, its vignettes reflecting its topographical variety of sonic spaces and collecting methods, a rocky and uneven terrain alive with the rawness of the island's own life. For a sonic document made on an island bird sanctuary, there are very few birds to be heard, apart from those incidentally in the background of some of the location recordings. This CD is not a literal representation of birds (other projects from the residency focusing on birds can be found elsewhere on this site), but a listening-in to the wider context of the island, its histories, its politics, and its absences. As part of the residency's wider focus on radio as fieldwork, this project gathers three "field tunings" into the frequency spectrum, which were all recorded on one day - the 9th May, 2012, around the area of Waiorua Bay. The receiver - a retired Maritime multiband radio - was cast as a listening ear within fields and shorelines, and its tunings layered with sounds also recorded in the same locales with various kinds of microphones. 

Mar 31, 2014

some reflections on the dead space of storage media, and its relation to a bird which evaded solidity in classification for 150 years

Moving into an object-based output for radio cegeste's dissipative ephemeralities was initially only driven by finding productive frisson in collaboration with improvisational musicians who release most things they do on their own record labels (here's looking at you, Lee Noyes). I couldn't really say no, and i'm glad I didn't. Since then, and despite ongoing trepidations around solidifying fleeting aetheric mobiles into repeat-listening structures in storage media, I'm telling myself i'm using such formats strategically.

I'm rather fond of the almost unplayable format of the mini CD, which is obsolete in a more recent - and invisible - way than most of the sonic objects i've tended to be interested in, the early 20th century forms whose temporal distances speak 'materiality' to a digital age in more obviously 'antique' manner. This dainty wafer of digital inscription is however an entirely appropriate format for radio cegeste's first solo release to have been caught on; the New Zealand Storm Petrel EP, released on Kate Carr's label Flaming Pines late last year, is a fleeting, crackly thing, just less than 20 minutes long. I was specifically interested in Kate's Birds of a Feather series for this label, based on birds in music, for its potential to extend my radio work around the immediacy of radio-and-bird communicability (see Kokako Variations, and other recent transmission works) into the 'dead space' of storage media. (I've been using storage media in combination with transmission for a little while, but often though their appearance as chunks of stored time in live performance.) 

The New Zealand Storm Petrel was a perfect focus for this investigation, being notable for its flight from taxonomy, a re-appearance which is only Lazarus-like for the classificatory mechanisms of human language (presumably, the bird knew where it was, all along). A bird like a book returned to the library of babel after more than a human lifetime, to assuage the spectres of colonial guilt. To replace its ghost shelved in some dusty corner, with all the other stuffed specimens.

Mar 15, 2014

refining light

Extending radio cegeste's recent live cinema collaboration with Campbell Walker at Auckland's RM Gallery,  anxious repetitive smiling (nothing's going to happen), toward a formal Dunedin iteration couldn't have found a better context than Refining Light, an event nestled within the 2014 Dunedin Fringe Festival. 

This gathering of (un)like minds was co-curated by Campbell and improvisational guitarist and local experimental audio scene organiser Peter Porteous (Lines of Flight, Alt Music), and ostensibly took the secondary medium in experimental music-and-film festival Lines of Flight, (begun by Peter Stapleton and Kim Pieters in the year 2000, long a biannual part of the Dunedin Fringe and an established part of the NZ audio cultural landscape  - my & Gilbert May's radio documentary on the 2009 festival for the Radia network can be heard here), and made it primary. It also built upon an event, a night of live audio-visual convergences, which Campbell and I co-curated in 2011 with the Melbourne experimental music space KIPL, which combined moving image with improvised scores by experimental musicians.

Feb 13, 2014

anxious repetitive smiling (nothing’s going to happen)

On the 13th February, at the culmination of his early 2014 artist residency at RM Gallery in Auckland, I embarked upon an audio/visual performance collaboration with filmmaker and moving image artist Campbell Walker, called anxious repetitive smiling (nothing's going to happen), in which in-camera audio from his month long gathering of visual fragments in Auckland spaces was expanded within the screening as a transmission piece, a live improvisational score. Text from William Gaddis’ novel The Recognitions, spoken by Walker, was additionally harnessed within an autofictional depiction which literally reflected back in windows as a noir cityscape. The screening space in the gallery added additional light bleed and environmental screen space via its nightlit windows and analogous sonic structural openness.  

images by Matthew Ward

Feb 4, 2014

various australian wanderings, early 2014

performing at Undue Noise, curated by Jacques Soddell at the Old Fire Station in Bendigo, 1st February, 2014. photo by Viv Corringham.


radio cegeste in Australia, January-February 2014:

@ The Now NOW Festival, Sydney
- two works in the Now NOW group show (with Kusum Normoyle, Kynan Tan, Sarah Hughes, Patrick Farmer, Emily Morandini, Jon Hunter) at SNO Gallery, 8/1/2014 - 12/1/2014 
- solo site-specific outdoor radio narrowcast in Sydney Park, 11//1/2014

@ Make it Up Club 16th birthday celebrations, Melbourne
- duo with Joel Stern, 14/1/2014

@ Soundout Festival, Canberra 
- group improvisation with Ross Manning / Viv Corringham / Evan Dorrian, 23/1/2014.
- outdoor site specific performance curated by Jim Denley at Lake Walter Burley Griffin with Jim Denley / Kim Myhr/ Rosalind Hall / Ross Manning / Evan Dorrian, 24/1/2014
- solo outdoor narrowcast in venue courtyard (with intro / segue from venue from Clayton Thomas & Cor Fuhler), 25/1/2014
- group improvisation with Maya Revillion / Viv Corringham / Reuben Lewis / Rhys Butler, 25/1/2014 
@ Sound Klub X, Hobart
- solo performance/transmission, 31/1/2014

@ Undue Noise, Bendigo
- solo performance/transmission, 1/2/2014

Jan 1, 2014

Bioacoustics issue of 'Antennae: the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture'

issue 27 of Antennae: the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture is dedicated to the topic of Bioacoustics: "Shifting away from the historical epistemological prominence that sight and the visual have played in the forming of our understanding of the world, this issue proposes a human-animal aural turn."

Cecilia Novero has written a fairly lengthy critical essay about my work with birdsong and radio called Birds on Air: Sally Ann McIntyre's Radio Art. It incorporates a few interviews we did just after the Kapiti Island residency in 2012, and includes an in-depth critical discussion of the projects I did on the residency. The issue places this work in very appropriate, fascinating, and distinguished company. I am very grateful to Cecilia for her research and intelligent explorations!

From the editorial: "Starting from the notion of recording natural sounds as central to the practices of institutionalised preservation for the purpose of education and entertainment explored by Craig Eley, the issue focuses on the quintessential animal voice: that of birds. Our starting point is therefore grounded in the affirmation of classical mimetic values. From here on, the issue attempts to depart from such trope through the reconfigurations of a number of contemporary artists and scholars. The multifaceted human-bird relationals revisited through the medium of sound are thus explored through the artistic practice of Catherine Clover; connections between listening and thinking, perceiving and imagining, sound and movement, language and the city are considered in this piece with specific reference to the everyday and the ordinary. Cecilia Novero’s discussion of New Zealand- based artist Sally Ann McIntyre's site-specific art transmission raises questions about colonialism, nationalism, and the environment. Novero argues that operating in the realm of sounds both with an ear to birds, and with critical attention to the technological and institutional history of the medium of radio, McIntyre broadcasts Mark Dion’s call to resist nostalgia in our relationships with animals. An exploration of the potentialities proposed by the intertwining of sound and visuality is drawn by a series of graphic works by Sari Carel in which a soundtrack incorporating the original recordings of extinct and nearly extinct birds creates a layered sonic environment enveloping the viewer. As sound turns into drawing and unfurls notions of transformation, translation and extinction, the piece emerges as a document chronicling that which is slowly disappearing. A clear activist approach to preventing the extinction of birds is brought into focus by Ceri Levy, well known film-maker, writer, and curator. In an extensive interview with Matthew Brower, Levy discusses the challenges involved in preventing the extinction of protected bird species and demonstrates how visual and sonic arts can aid the process."

Cecilia's article can be read (and downloaded) here: Birds on Air: Sally Ann McIntyre's Radio Art

issue 27 of Antennae can be downloaded and read in full here: www.antennae.org.uk