[Art News]      [Submit]      [BOOST News]

Figures in a Landscape

BY Philip Samartzis | 10-Aug-2019
The Bogong Centre for Sound Culture [B–CSC] provides artists with the opportunity to undertake deep fieldwork in the Victorian Alps in order to trace the environmental, social and historical underpinnings of the region. Since 2010 the B–CSC has hosted 80 artists in their artist in residence program at Bogong Alpine Village in North-East Victoria. Philip Samartzis speaks to recent alumni of the program about their experience of working in a remote alpine environment. #bogongsound @bogongsound​ ​@hextape.wav​ ​@adampultzmelbye​ ​@shannonleahcollis​ #peterblamey ​#soundart​ ​#fieldrecording #alpinenationalpark​ ​#victorianalps
Image: Shannon Leah Collis
Bridget Chappell is a Melbourne based sound artist and activist who runs Sound School, which celebrates and upskills folks making electronic music on the margins. She facilitates courses in hardware (synthesizers, soldering etc), software (Ableton), field recording, Deep Listening, and beat-making. Bridget produces dance music under the name Hextape, and studies and performs classical cello at the Melbourne Conservatorium.

What interested you about the B–CSC AiR program?
I was excited to come across a residency program that is both concerned with sound and listening, and in a place intersecting alpine bushland and human infrastructure. It sounded really similar to the kinds of places I've squirrelled myself away to get research & writing done, so it just seemed like somewhere I needed to go and suss.

What surprised you about the region?
I was amazed by the complexity of the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme - I left Bogong village every day in a different direction to walk or ride and was amazed by how often I stumbled across seemingly unattended infrastructure related to the Scheme. The region also straddles so many different ecosystems stacked on top of each other as the altitude increases - it was amazing watching their rapid transformations as you move through. The sound moved very differently once you were above the treeline - an area I really couldn't get enough of.

What outcome did you produce from the residency?
The principle outcome was my performance in Junction Dam, Bogong village. The performance was the culmination of my electromagnetic field recording work of the four power stations in the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme, researching the variation in pitch produced by these sites and arranging them musically. This work was positioned in the middle of the Scheme - Junction Dam - and provided the backdrop to my cello performance in the cavernous space exploring the modulating keys the Scheme hums in. The long, narrow corridor that is the passage through the Dam was filled with a single-file audience as I played. https://vimeo.com/311064395

I also composed a piece for cello using infrasound readings from Bogong Power Station as a graphic score http://bogongsound.com.au/artists/bridget-chappell

What impact did the residency have on your practise/research?
The residency marked my introduction to electromagnetic field recording, which has become both part of my musical practise and my teaching practice with Sound School, the electronic music school I coordinate in Melbourne. I have since gotten a number of electromagnetic microphones and use them in workshops regularly. The opportunity to spend such an intensive period listening very closely to such an interesting place and develop new ways to interact with it sonically were really beneficial to my practice. I think a common problem of field recording is that so much of the magic is in the gathering of the sounds, which is then hard to re-articulate out of context - I wanted to challenge myself as an artist to come up with new ways to try and manifest those intense feelings and experiences of being in the bush. I had a lot of good conversations about this while in Bogong and have continued those conversations since.

What do you now know that you didn’t before undertaking the AiR program?
I learnt a lot about the Indigenous history of the Bogong region which, like everywhere in 'Australia' is immense, complex, and very unacknowledged. I noticed a type of "terra nullius" discourse peculiar to the area amongst settlers - in how it was sometimes stressed that (in settlers' minds) Indigenous people have historically only lived in the area over the summer, during the Bogong moth migration and better weather. Research (particularly at the Mount Beauty Information Centre - a great resource) shows that this is not true, however. And beyond that, many non-Indigenous people only visit the area either over the summer or during the ski season.

I also now know a lot more about hydroelectric power - and I am really indebted for this opportunity to witness one power scheme in depth. The program has made me think much more deeply about the privileges and responsibilities of field recording, and the ethical paths to navigate in gathering sounds to present in new contexts.

Adam Pultz Melbye is a Danish double bass player, composer and improvisor currently undertaking practice-based PhD-research at Sonic Arts Research Centre in Belfast. Recently his focus has been on the development of adaptive feedback systems that allow the performer to engage with sound environments that respond to sonic gesture by generating their own behaviour and become musical agents in themselves.

What interested you about the B–CSC AiR program?
I was attracted to the prospect of working in an ecosystem such as the one surrounding Lake Guy and the opportunity of withdrawing from daily life to focus on core aspects of my practice. I was intrigued by the residency’s focus on “systems of representation used to render natural and built environments”, a formulation that resonates with my own interest in complex and adaptive sonic behavior.

What surprised you about the region?
The variety of its nature, not only in terms of the enormous biodiversity but also regarding the dramatic changes in flora and fauna as the altitude increases. I was amazed at the way in which the various altitude regions have adapted to differences in temperature and humidity. The complexity of the ecosystem is a lesson in the adaptive capabilities of evolution while also serving as a reminder that environments such as these do not evolve overnight, and that we must show extreme care in how we interact with them.

What outcome did you produce from the residency?
My main goal of the residency was the development of a feedback double bass as well as the creation of a performance practice with this instrument. This goal was achieved and the instrument has been performed throughout Australia and Europe during spring. Additionally, I began recording an archive of every imaginable sound on the double bass, an ongoing project that is so far comprised of around one thousand discrete samples. Madelynne Cornish’s expertise in field recording resulted in the documentation of double bass improvisations in the massive Lake Guy dam hall and the nearby power station. The experience of playing in the absurdly reverberant space of the dam hall and the imposing sonic environment of the wildlife near the power station made a deep impact on me.

What impact did the residency have on your practice/research?
While not working with acoustic ecology in a strict sense, my interest in adaptive and self-organising sonic systems was greatly influenced by my immersion in the nature of Bogong and its surroundings. On a more holistic note, rather than making you feel small and insignificant, the physical power of the residency environment gives a strong sense of interconnectedness and primordial belonging, although the sonic ecosystem of birds, trees, wind and water does humble any attempt to create meaningful artworks, by its sheer immediacy and beauty.

What do you now know that you didn’t before undertaking the AiR program?
Undertaking a residency, especially one that distances you from social interactions and responsibilities, always seems to entail a reevaluation of your work process and even more fundamentally, yourself. The residency taught me that these phenomena, rather than being static and unchanging, are more like emergent appearances surfing on a wave of awareness, the latter which can be focused through an immersion in environments that recontextualizes human existence and puts it where it belongs, that is, on par with that of any other species.

Shannon Leah Collis is a Canadian artist who investigates relationships among multiple sensory modalities and between visual and acoustic phenomena in perception. She creates audiovisual installations and interactive environments that highlight the situated, embodied experience of hearing and seeing.
What interested you about the B–CSC AiR program?
I was interested in finding the time and space to challenge my practice in an environment that is completely unfamiliar and isolated. I often seek out residencies that are self-driven, that test my ways of working and impose limitations to my practice. I look for the unexpected, unscripted, and the uncomfortable way to position myself outside of my everyday life. I was interested in B–CSC for this reason, and because the residency was sound ‘centered’ - My practice is primarily audiovisual and I wanted to work against the tendency for sound to exist as secondary to image – I wanted to ‘listen’ deeply first, and this residency allowed me to do that.

What surprised you about the region?
I was truly amazed by the beauty and richness of the landscape and the sounds and sights I experienced. Their fundamental power has touched me deeply and has stayed with me to this day. I was also surprised by the scale of the hydro-electric project, and the complex intersection between human activity and the natural world in such a remote region. I drew similarities to Northern Canada (where I grew up) and the oil sand mining and its large impact on the environment and on the majestic boreal forest, a complex ecosystem that comprises a unique mosaic of forest, wetlands, and lakes.

What outcome did you produce from the residency?
The recorded sounds and images of my journey and new knowledge/research of the region were harnessed to create a new body of work. In March 2019, I presented a solo immersive audiovisual projection for ​Grizzly Grizzly​ an artist-run gallery in Philadelphia, PA and also for an installation at the University of Maryland Art Gallery (Fall 2018)

What impact did the residency have on your practice/research?
I have a new way of thinking of how our bodies exist in the world in terms of scale (both in time and space) - this was due to the size and remoteness of the Alpine Valley. Also how the natural environment brought unique experiences in exploring my individual habits and ways of working. I learned how to document what we see and hear in a different way, through the isolation and quiet. I was also given a lot of time to reflect on my work.

Peter Blamey is a Sydney based artist who pursues (amongst other things) the interconnected themes of energies and residues, which is often achieved through reimagining and recasting our everyday encounters with technologies and the physical world. His practice is often sound-focussed and usually accomplished with a minimum of means, and includes performances, videos, recordings and installations.

What interested you about the B-CSC AiR program?
The opportunity to participate in the programme came along at a time when I felt that my practice would benefit from moving away from the kinds of environmental interactions a city can provide. Although part of my aesthetic and conceptual interests lies in garbage, salvage and residues, cities don’t provide many opportunities to work with geology, rivers, shadows, trees and lightning - or at least not without a lot of infrastructural mediation. However, it wasn’t that Bogong offered an oasis of pristine untouched nature that was appealing; instead,​ it had a physical environment and climate that I felt I could work with or alongside, coupled with the somewhat monolithic presence of the hydro scheme and its related infrastructure that I could effectively counterbalance my work against.

What surprised you about the region?
One thing that surprised me about Bogong and Kiewa Valley was the gradual way that I came to understand the relationship between the physical environment and the hydroelectric scheme. I found that I became increasingly aware of the markers of an ongoing exchange between the natural and infrastructural worlds that, for good or ill, now coexist in the region: the cuts, clearings, regrowth, erosions, fallen trees and felled trees, former buildings and fixtures and so on. Rather than the straightforward statement of intent proffered by the more visible contemporary features of the hydro scheme, these markers showed how electricity has been argued out of this environment over time.

What outcome did you produce from the residency?
The main outcome has been the publication of the CD Five Fertile Exchanges, CD by UK experimental label Consumer Waste, which included a 16-page​ booklet with an essay by Douglas Kahn. Five Fertile Exchanges stemmed from a simple idea, that ran counter to the constancy of commercial electricity production, and instead focussed on the variability of electrical technologies, using a range of simple ‘sensitive devices’ that responded to environmental factors through their fluctuating responses. These devices were tiny amplifiers powered by solar panels, primitive hand-wound electrical coils, turbines made from small electric motors, or repurposed everyday objects such as hacked solar-powered calculators; others were simply a solar panel with its output cable connected to an audio recorder. In all cases,​ they directly sourced whatever energy they required to function from their immediate environment (so no batteries or mains power), while simultaneously giving an account of that same energy and of the location in which it was sourced, realised as sound.

What impact did the residency have on your practice/research?
A lot of my work interrogates spaces—conceptual, physical and otherwise—between technology and nature (however imagined), and the work I did during the residency really allowed me to explore the category-dissolving capacity of those spaces. This is something that, to a degree, can clearly be experienced in the Kiewa Valley, where, for example, any encounter with a tree or a track involves a power pylon, dam or electrical yard; or where a hill hides a substation, and so on. As a result, my thinking around my work has moved away from an explication of its technical and physical aspects and how they might be applied to specific contexts, and focused more on symbiotic exchanges that occur at the technological and physical edges and fringes, with an emphasis on materials mediating energies however they might be manifested.

What do you now know that you didn’t before undertaking the AiR program?
The AiR programme was actually a bit of a proving ground for me. There were a number of things that I had planned to do where I had no real idea as to whether they would work on either a technical or an aesthetic level. As a result, I know now, quite a few things I didn’t previously, for example, that it’s possible to make an audio recording of moonlight using a solar panel!