Below are two variations of the collaboration with Kara, rendered from the indeterminate composition.
20-26th June 2013
The time spent in Hobart was an unusual one, as it was not so much a destination as a point of departure for a series of smaller trips around the outskirts of the city. Ruby was my travel companion and Kara was our host and my collaborator in this composition.
Ruby and I explored by car the beautiful and diverse surrounds of Bruny Island and Port Arthur. Much of the time that we were driving, and occasionally in other situations, we were recording our conversations – not for any particular outcome, but just as another means of creatively exploring. In many places around Hobart low lying clouds drape over the mountains and through the valleys. The scenery changes quickly around us. It is like passing through different seasons, from minute to minute.
Often we got into conversations where the fact that we were recording had no particular bearing, and it was just like any other conversation we would have had, but other times it would bring the situation into a clear and sudden focus, most often when musing on life, love, music, poetry and death. Often we'd stop somewhere on the journey - anywhere - and have poignant unplanned reflective pauses, to which the clear, crisp air lent itself. Suddenly standing by the water's edge, or overlooking a serene bay or valley. It was interesting how the momentum of a road trip coupled with the quickly-changing surrounds of the beautiful Tasmanian scenery drove the conversation on like a river.
Photos by myself and Ruby Michael
Some time after, back in Adelaide, I was talking to one of my teachers about these recorded conversations, and he asked, "Will they be made into a work, or was that the work itself?"
There was a lot of truth in that. It often felt like a performance - not for each other, but a performance for no one; just an incredible and beautiful play that no one could ever see. Ambient, meandering, and confronting at every turn. I suppose that is part of the power of recording - whether conscious of it or not, it amplifies the performative potentials. There is an attentive listener, whose very presence transforms what is being created.
Towards the end of the trip, I collaborated with Kara for this composition. Rather than create her own sounds for the piece, she chose to bring a series of photos to illustrate a story she told about a particular recurring poignant experience in her life, and to let me create sounds to represent this.
The story she told to accompany the images below was about her special relationship to camping, and the immediacy of being struck by the beauty and presence of nature when stepping out of the tent - how there's less between you and the elements, being enveloped by it, and sharing that sense with others.
She describes "a quality of it that doesn't need to evolve" and that it's close to her natural state of being, and so not exactly a nostalgic feeling, though not completely removed from nostalgia. She talks of how although the "outlook" - the sights, sounds, and smells, might be greatly different in one place or another (for example her birthplace of Canada compared to her current home in Hobart), there is a very similar quality in her experience; it is not dependent on place.
As the conversation continued on to her persistent connection to her homeland, I got the sense that the experience she was describing was of her own inner nature of place responding to place - stepping out of the tent and re-awakening. Having the same re-awakening every time, yet completely in response to nature's summons.
Below are two variations of the collaboration with Brianna, rendered from the indeterminate composition.
Katoomba, Blue Mountains
13-17th June 2013
It is not easy to convey the experience of spending time with Brianna and her husband Luke. There is much conversation, laughter, joy, good food, wine and friendship shared, and out of all the trips I feel this was less about what we did, though what we did was also rich and beautiful. In this place, serene and clear by day, dark winds howled at night.
Looking again upon that time, it seemed more about the humility of these two people and the life they shared. Not a quiet, shy humility, but an extroverted and joyful one - having understood much and discarded any pretense about it, and just gotten back to what's essential to them.
Together we went into the forest down in the valley by the Three Sisters, where Brianna interviewed Luke - a professional tree-lopper - among the trees and streams, asking him about his relationship to the forest. Much of his response is featured in this piece. I don't feel to say too much else about this - it's the kind of place where you don't feel like speaking.
Logan Brae Orchard
As we were shown around this orchard, the owner told us about how he was pulling out many of the old apple trees - which were all of the same variety, a monoculture - and that he was planting new varieties of trees. He explained how more bees would be more attracted to a more diverse culture, and so would more readily travel throughout the orchard, helping to pollinate as they went.
I felt great resonance with this. Everyone I'd been visiting was on their own creative journey, and in many ways, my role has been like a bee going from flower to flower, passing the ideas, inspiration, and conversation from one person to the next while also collecting nectar and pollen - fuel for my own creative hive. It was as if my own work was humbled in the light of this amazing communication happening between the beautiful and inspiring women with whom I've been traveling.
Each person I've had creative interactions with, in their own way, has brought me again to the idea of the Glass Bead Game with which I began this journey - a kind of effortless play with artifacts of living creativity, that we allow to transform or dissipate as we weave through these spaces of intimate philosophical and aesthetic sharing.
We went to Hargraves Lookout together, under a deep ink-blue sky and a fulsome garden of stars, and I made this piece with hands numb from cold, and wrapped in layers of clothes and blankets. Afterwards, the three of us lay together talking up at the stars for as long as the cold would allow.
In her work creating radio documentaries, Brianna said that she gets an image in her mind of how a piece needs to be before she starts it, and that guides her creative process - so when we started creating raw materials for our collaboration she was able to work in this way; with a vision for how she wanted certain sounds to be.
It's curious that with Brianna being the most extroverted of all the collaborators in this project, her piece ended up being the most ambient and brooding, like the night winds here in the mountains.
10-13th May 2013
Although this didn't end up being a collaboration destination for one of the Fields of Possibility pieces, it was still a source of inspiration for several solo improvisations, and was the site of many other forms of collaboration and creative dialogue including improvised percussion, spoken word, and traditional Hawaiian song.
I spent much time here exploring around the river, through the trees on the banks where it forks in two.
Sitting in a tree - just large enough to support my weight - I recorded the sound of the water. There was a busy main road close by, but the riverbank was steep and tall enough here to absorb much traffic noise.
I took many photos and made many recordings of birds, water, wind and my own voice. It was a strange feeling of being enveloped by nature, but knowing that the busy city was right over there.
When I returned to my lodgings that afternoon, I sat on my bed and unwound. Suddenly a vision of the trees and vales I'd been picking my way through came into the room, not just into my imagination, but seemingly quite literally into the room, into my sense.
In the story Where the Wild Things Are I especially loved as a child the passage where the forest gradually became part of Max's room, until it was completely transformed (see below).
That's what my vision was like - there was no separation between the trees and the room, in my mind I brought the trees and the vale right there into the room with me, if only for a moment.
Earlier that day, there had been much talk of mana - letting go, making right, and receiving the mana of nature.
This was the inspiration for Where the Mana Things Are.
Dan spoke about how he often considers his own software as "rooms" - fixed structures with recognizable characteristics of audio behaviour.
This reminded me of Nia's take on the nature of "place", and the timeless energy of any particular place - although the true nature of a place can be distorted, it seems to have a set of characteristics - an essential, unchanging core.
Side by side, these viewpoints are so valuable. Nia's life and research are deeply intertwined with the land, while Dan described himself as being uncomfortable in the country. I feel there is a great truth both in the essential nature of the land, and in the fact that most of the time, as human beings, we inhabit rooms or buildings that may have their own characteristics, that may be completely incongruous with the land they're on.
A synthesis of these ideas brings me to the allegory of Where the Wild Things are, where Max's room gradually transforms into a forest. When I undertake any creative work there is some kind of inner vision that guides me, that allows me to intuit a way forward. This is like the forest - brimming with natural life and not denying the shadows.
Nonetheless, I always start where I am - in my room, in my body, in the world, however that needs to be. If I have escaped to the forest, if I have retreated from the world, I am absent, the physical aspect is lacking. If the forest is with me where I am, I am present, and the vision is clear. This is the middle-ground, the in-between stage, where Max is at once both in his room, and in the forest.
Below are two variations of the collaboration with Dan, rendered from the indeterminate composition.
An improvisation by Dan Thorpe
This is the first piece to use the Fields of Possibility instrument for the purpose for which it was designed (a purpose which was later abandoned indefinitely). Although the piece appears above exactly as Dan performed it, each sample was being output to a separate recording channel, and so the each component was captured as a distinct raw material which feed into the indeterminate software piece.
As it is, this is a rich and beautifully unfolding work which shows great harmonic and rhythmic agility in navigating a dense palette of samples.
Created in Lyndoch, South Australia - 5/5/13
Samples: Christopher Roberts qin, Dan Thorpe piano, Melanie Walters flute, Sebastian Phlox organ
Commentary from Dan:
"I was looking for hidden, complex inharmonicities within samples that seemed to be more pitch centric, distorting the sense of pitch and the fidelity or "wholeness" of the sample.
In considering the ability to make fast changes in the software, I was bringing over something from my own performance practice. I played with the idea of reifying and inspecting the moment - reducing it to a single atom then distorting and stretching that to find more information. Dismantling the relationships between the components of a sound."
My sense of this place:
There is a pall of yellow-grey smoke rising off the rolling Barossa hills today. Its scent is rich in the cool country air. Next to me, with headphones on, Dan loops bass guitar. I can hear harmonics and string scratches.
Outside, birds sing in clusters, more vivid than in the city.
Simplicity and complexity in music. Taking the next step as one needs, when approaching the limit of what can be expressed of the inspiration coming through.
My feelings about the Barossa are very mixed. To me it seems so artificially European, I can't imagine what it was like before it was transformed in this way. But nonetheless, this is how it is now, and it is still the beautiful and inspiring place that I spent all my childhood years.
Photo by Nia Emmanouil
Below are two variations of the collaboration with Nia, rendered from the indeterminate composition.
20-22nd April 2013
Beautiful Ash and Ruins
An improvisation by Nia Emmanouil
This piece created in Ludmilla - 21/4/13
Samples: Christopher Roberts qin, Dan Thorpe piano
Nia speaks about her inspiration for some of these recordings in her own blog here, and again about our time traveling and making music together.
My sense of the place:
This trip is the real beginning of In Sound Surrounds, a project of exploration, improvisation, collaboration, and place that I'm sure will resonate through the rest of my life.
This is the perfect place to start - the physical atmosphere created by the humidity in Darwin is so thick you can't miss it - as an outsider I feel immediately in it as soon as I step out of the airport. Though somehow, despite the abundant moisture of the air, the natural environment remains harsh, red-ochre, and craggy. This is tropical air colliding with desert.
It resonates with such abused cruelty that who knows how it's meant to be?
How does it sound? As in, "the bell sounded out across the valley."
In all ways, to the soul and all senses, how does it make its resonating cry? From its seed through its resonant space...
I don't know what I'm doing here, why I'm traveling, what my purpose is. But here I am, bewildered in the wilderness. Even as the tropical air on a desert coast. I'm reminded of The Glass Bead Game once again, "Understanding nothing, divining everything" and of Twin Peaks, "You have all the clues you need."
At Tolmer Falls we lay on rocks in the river, the water flowed over us, and, a few metres ahead, cascaded over the falls.
Down below, it streamed past a boulder and under a grand high arch of rock, reminiscent of great still places painted by Thomas Cole, but bright and dry.
We lay in the river on the rocks, with water flowing over us, for a long time,
Talking or resting.
When I was standing on the rocks, a golden-winged dragonfly hovered and perched on a leaf, near me for a long time.
When I was in the water a blue dragonfly hovered close.
A lizard perched on a rock in the middle of the river, then swam away, its tail snaking down through the water.
A leaf floated to me under the clear water. It looked like a mask. The warping lines of focused light through the lenses of the surface of the water streaked across the face of the leaf mask as it slowly turned through the water, under the surface.
I plucked the leaf out and looked. Without the light shearing through, the ripples dancing across its face, it seemed lifeless.
I put it under the surface, and it was magically animated once again.
The rocks were hot, so I danced over them.
We lay in the river for a long time, with water flowing over.
Photos by myself and Nia Emmanouil
At some point on the journey Nia asked me in a very direct and arresting way:
"What does place mean to you?"
I answered that I generally considered that if time doesn't exist, then neither does place - but I acknowledged that I'm not satisfied with this answer.
As far as how one environment can be so infused with life, and another be so dormant (the abundant diversity of wildlife in apparent in Darwin as compared to Adelaide for example), or how a place can be felt to be genuinely sacred - I do not know.
If the physical world is an illusion, I don't know how these things can be true. I spent so much time chasing the source of the illusion in the abstract, but perhaps it is in the essence of the diversity of a place that the illusion really unravels, that reality is revealed through the hyper-reality of the illusion of the real world - when it suddenly seems so real, that it no longer can be.
This is tied with stories Nia has told me about the Dreaming being not an ancient thing, but always now, always evolving and something we're all part of. The magic that happens in knowing place, being with place, being aware of the field in which you are living and are a living part - the life-world of the organism.
Nia told me a story about a particular river that flows in so suddenly on a new moon, that a person can literally ride it as it fills, and it is like the man entering the woman.
There has been much talk of the female aspect of places we've visited. Images and formations in the land of the female being open, and suggesting to me this first trip on my journey is a birth into a new phase.
Fields of Possibility will examine the concept of the rich interweavings between place, composition, improvisation, collaboration, re-interpretation, and how the music is delivered to the listener.
Simply put, the goal is to share a creative space with others, and together create pieces of music that are different each time they're listened to.
Each collaborative space, and resultant piece is a field of possibility - a set of defined constraints within which myriad possibilities are contained. By delivering each composition as a piece of software, it is able to re-realize itself as a new variation each time it is played.
A more detailed brief exegesis can be downloaded here