Every time I visit Australia, my home country, my senses are overwhelmed with the smell of native plants and the sound of native animals. The morning after I arrive, I am usually woken by a fury of local bird going about their morning ritual, perched in a tree in the garden just outside my window. The sounds of the birds are so intensely active and loud I place earplugs in my ears to mute the sound, so l can sleep a little bit more. These moments remind me why l am a sound artist and how these sounds from my backyard have become my instrument.
Since living in Europe for almost 10 years now, I have been working mainly with an archive of found native Australian animal sounds. Australia’s isolation allows for unique animals and plants to evolve, providing a dynamical repertoire of animal sounds for me to produce texturally rich sound compositions – with the use of a sampling machine – either solo or with other musicians or sound artists. Currently, l have a couple of ongoing projects; Plants and Animalia with Berlin-based Austrian radio and sound artist Christina Ertl-Shirley (who produces sound works with plants) and Native Instrument with Norwegian experimental vocalist and sound artist Stine Janvin Joh.
Plants and Animalia
Plants and Animalia brings together our personal investigation into the sound phenomena produced by plants and animals. Christina utilizes plant biochemistry to trigger self-built synthesizers that sonify the chemical composition of plants creating drones and pulses, mixed together with my modified animal voices.
During the summer we played a concert at an evening curated by Liquid Architecture, an organisation that sets up sound-related events:
In this piece, you can hear Christina’s plant chemistry (typically, Prunus laurocerasus; Clivia; Notocacteae; Chlorophytum Comosum; Crassula ovata; Philodendron) transformed into intricate clicking and crackly textures, sounding like dry leaves being crushed under your feet as you walk. She mixes in self-recorded leaves rustling in the wind, then thick lush drones emerge later in the piece that swamp and vibrate all of the physical structure of the room. I’m playing minimal repetitive fazes produced by a simple sample of a single wasp recorded on my mobile phone when we were doing a field project in Finland during the summer. It was an incidental moment, as if the wasp was making an unauthorized audition to be featured in our next sound piece, as it aggressively and persistently pursued my illuminated phone screen while zooming by my phone’s inbuilt microphone. We’d been out for the day recording with high tech equipment, however this recording ended up being the most effective and interesting.
My other duo project, Native Instrument, is a sound collaboration using field-recordings and the abstract vocabulary of Stine Janvin Joh, often referred to as insect techno or bug beats. The music is constructed using electronic and vocal adaptations of wildlife. Our intention is to create ambiguity between rural nature, electronics, and the human voice while forming aural hallucinations and a new type of melodious wildlife ‘genre’ or otherworldly experience.
This set was recorded live at SAVVY contemporary art space in Berlin for Documenta14 radio, Islands Songs presented by Nicolas Perret & Silvia Ploner. The set features tracks from our debut release on the Shelter Press record label and also newer tracks that will be released on an EP early 2019. During this live recorded set you can hear us blending and mixing together several of our pre-composed tracks. Each track taking you into a new orb presenting a unique sound collage of cut-up and spliced together animal sounds and human voice, that have been slightly filtered through the digital effects on our sampling machines, giving our sound a synthetic edge to the organic and rhythmic soundtrack.
Native Instrument’s Debut EP can be found through the Shelter press website.
Quadra’frog’ic (solo project)
A recent sound piece l have been developing is Quadra’frog’ic. The title is a play on the word “quadraphonic”, which refers to a set up of multiple speakers to give the sense of surround sound. In my case l use between two and four speakers, as well as a transducer speaker that looks like a coneless speaker with a flat plate that can be attached to any object or surface that will resonate and amplify a sound being played through the transducer. I have edited a piece that plays back the sound of frogs, insects, an animal scuffling in the bushes and some other ‘vocal’ animals to create a quasi-bioacoustic setting. I have been using and exploring the use of transducers for awhile, with the idea of playing back sounds through objects in a similar way that insects use the membranes of plants to amplify their sounds.
Hereby an early piece exploring animal sound played through objects.
Image credit: Felicity Mangan.
This is part of The Learned Pig’s Tuin Stemmen (Garden Voices) editorial season, autumn-winter 2018/19. Guest editor: Marloe Mens.