30 Sep 2010

visible city #3 : links and interjections : soundtracks for the city

during the Visible City artist residency, a simple group work was mooted early on in the piece by the collective participants, as an initial exploratory framework for our intervention into Melbourne's public spaces. this work, eventually titled 'sit on it', involved each of the 11 artists entering into the space of the city with a chair, and sitting for a specified durational period while performing an action of their choosing.

my action was borne out of the chance finding, in Gertrude Street second hand record store Northside Records, of a large stack of library music on "10 vinyl, a whole collection of background music soundtracks evidently thrown away in one go from the sound archives of Australian TV magnate, Channel 10.

Most of these records were on the Chappell and Conroy labels, alongside a few KPM discs. They are original pressings dating from the late 1950s to the mid-late 1960s.

Utilising these over-dramatic, over-determined filler theme tunes and nostalgically evocative pieces of stock music, I responded in a detatched, spectatorial manner to my immersion in the cityscape, and "watched the city like a film", piecing together a responsive soundscape to the textures of its urban visual field, in the way a sound artist might respond live to a piece of found footage.

the two locations for this work's manifestation were :

a) on the corner of little collins st and swanston st in the Melbourne CBD

former site of the Town Hall Chambers, a spectacularly ornate 7 storey stand alone recreation of a second empire Parisian building, demolished as part of a land clearance which also involved demolition of Tivoli Theatre and part of the Royal Hotel. The site became an unoccupied carpark for many years until finally a council re-development in the 1990s changed the site into a small square and cafe.


b) within the former Greville Botanical Gardens, now Grattan Gardens.

off Greville Street in the inner city suburb of Prahran, part of the City of Stonnington, subdivisisions have caused incursions to the former park, which is now a mere strip of grass with some palm trees, used largely as a pedestrian thoroughfare.


soundtracks for the city : setlist for programme 2 (grattan gardens, prahran)

1. Stranger in the City : Aspiration (Trevor Duncan), BM 152-A
2. Hawaiian Hula
3. Children at Play (Kenneth Morrison), BM 374-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.
4. Automative (Ronald Aldrich), BM 375-A, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963. 
5. Lunar Landscape
6. Mother Love (Ronald Aldrich), BM 375-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.
7. Six Short Dramas (Roger Roger), Chappell Recorded Music
8. Stranger in the City : Disillusion (Trevor Duncan) BM 152-B
9. Hawaiian Breeze
10. Underprivileged Children (Kenneth Morrison) BM 374-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.
11. Happy Household (Ronald Aldrich), BM 375-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.
12. Pleasure Island (Harry Rabinowitz), BM 112-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1958.
13. Lullaby, (Kenneth Morrison) BM 374-A, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.
14. Links and Interjections 1
15. Achievement, (Roy Ernst), Opening / Bridge No. 1 / Bridge No. 2 / Closing, BM 139-A, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1958.
16. String Dramatics (Patterns in Shock / Morning Incident / Run Run Run / As the Breeze Goes / Deadly Intruder), BM 339-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.  
17. Ready for Action / Rescue Squad / Rescue Squad Curtain (Syd Dale), KPM.204B, KPM Music Recorded Library, 1966
18. Drums and Fife (Wilfred Burns) BM 301-A, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1961.
19. Dramatic Bass and Drums (Wilfred Burns) BM 300-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1961.
20. Bowery Boys (Frank Marlow), KP.034A, KP Music Recorded Library, 1960.
21. Links & Interjections 2
22. String Dramatics (Prelude to Panic / Twilight Episode / To Say Goodbye), BM 339-A, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1963.
23. That's Life / That's All / The Aggressor (Syd Dale), KPM.204A, KPM Music Recorded Library, 1966
24. Fanfares (Wilfred Burns), BM 300-A
25. Period Fanfares (Wilfred Burns), BM 301-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1961.
26. Champs Elysees (Frank Marlow), KP.034B, KP Music Recorded Library, 1960.
27. Achievement (Roy Ernst), Bridge No. 3 / Bridge No. 4 / Loop No. 1 / Loop No. 2, BM 139-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1958.
28. Accordion Solos side A
29. Shore Line (Harry Rabinowitz), BM 112-B, Conroy Berry Music Ltd., 1958.
30. Stranger in the City : Alienation (Trevor Duncan), BM 152-B
31. God Bless Australia

22 Sep 2010

visible city #2 : visible listening

arriving in Melbourne to participate in an artist residency called Visible City, my first thought, of course, is sound - whether I can close the eye and activate the audible city. Accordingly, I begin making field recordings while roaming around on the city's public transport system. Trams are iconic in Melbourne, and have their own distinct social spatiality. They are spaces where a heightened attention to territory and etiquette is compressed as an alert tension, and this is not simply tactile, but multi-sensory - on trams, you do not really look at other people. Glances are furtive, perhaps curious, often couched in a deliberate blurring of specificity, a deferred blind-spot. The tautness of the space immediately draws me into thinking through the relation of the aural and the visible in the city's mythogeographical fabric - at the same time as focusing on their audible soundscape I am drawn perhaps even more to the the stark and silent surfaces of a very visible listening-culture present in these spaces - the creation of bounded personal spatial zones - small private rooms - via ipods and other personal audio.

I find myself starting to take photographs of people lost in their own private, publicly silent listening worlds. The faces of listening become fascinating : the escape into a moment of drift and timelessness outside the metronomic durational boundedness of the journey signposted by intercom announcements, the closed eyes, the meditative staring out of windows, the coldness and insularity with brief glimmers of private reverie (a guarded smile, a slow blink), the walling of privacy as a form of blurring of presentness within a specific and distinctly awkward social space, the faustian bargain (seen as a necessary, if uncertainly agreed-to sacrifice) of which becomes the creation of a distinctly vulnerable human presence via the deliberate blocking of one of the human senses, a situation which does as much to heighten small anxieties as it does to temporarily relieve them.

These faces are a blank index of mysterious, highly personal inner spaces. One is drawn to ask - what are these people listening to, as they utilise technology to override the city's own sounds, and soundtrack its images as a silent film, with their own choice of music? And how can the city be understood to exist now, as it flows by on the ebbs and tides of these thousands of soundtracks, as a thin wafer of fleeting, insubstantial images?

I am so aware of my own placing within such a compressed and potent visual space, transgressively collecting people-as-images, with a device whose function is more obviously recognisable than the Zoom recorder I am using to gather the audible anthroscape. The tiny fraction of time before a person realises I am pointing a lens at them is not always the one that is captured. Sometimes in these photos the subject has already become aware of the viewer, and has turned to confront us, breaking the fiction of objective observational space as they break their reverie and level a stare of wary attention. Both they and I/you cannot escape the eye, the city's incessant visuality, or the knowledge that the city may not be a screen, but that we can't help but treat it as one. It is in that moment of confrontation that we discover the walls and limits of the city's other spaces, those that are normally known only as invisible interpersonal architecture, the ones hidden in plain sight.