22 May 2011

'Species of Spaces 0:02 : soundtracks for the city/Melbourne tram conglomerate' on Frequency Oz, hosted by NAISA radio for the Deep Wireless Festival

my piece Species of Spaces 0:02 – soundtracks for the city / Melbourne tram conglomerate has been selected for inclusion in Frequency Oz, a thematic exhibition of sonic media art and radio art by Australian artists, part of a programme presented and produced by Yanna Black, curated by Colin Black, and hosted by NAISA (New Adventures in Sound Art) radio for the Deep Wireless Festival of Radio & Transmission Art.

Deep Wireless is a Toronto-based month-long festival, running in 2011 from April 30 - May 31. It includes performances, installations, radio broadcasts of commissioned works, and the Radio Without Boundaries Conference. Frequency Oz's stated wider aims as a project are to act as "a nexus for supporting new and innovative sonic media art, and building on the legacy of Australian radio art". They also maintain an online research resource for Australian radio art history.

The work by radio cegeste included in Frequency Oz's 2011 programme is an experimental documentary edited from field recordings and recordings of performances gathered during my time as one of 11 artists participating in the keynote project of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, a residency and "large scale collaborative live artwork" called Visible City which ran from 22 September - 10 October, 2010.

The initial work of the Visible City programme, in which "a live collaborative radio work for a transient audience" was created on Melbourne's number 57 tram by radio cegeste as a curatorial project involving the collation and transmission of audio and field recordings from the home cities of the 10 other Visible City participants, occured at the Visible City launch on Wednesday 22 Sept 2010, followed by other transmissions during the residency. More can be seen at the Melbourne Fringe website.

some Visible City video documentation of one of these performances :

Visible City - Species Of Spaces from Martyn Coutts on Vimeo.

The entire programme for the fourth week of Frequency Oz, as well as my writeup for the piece, appeared as follows :


Week Four, 23 - 31 May 2011 (duration 59:30)

New Australian works submitted to Frequency Oz responding to the theme of “transmission, dislocation, space and place” and how this theme relates to them as Australians :

  1. Daniel Blinkhorn - Built Environment

  2. Automating - DePreston - Dedicated to Ambulance Victoria

  3. Radio Cegeste (a.k.a. Sally Ann McIntyre) - Species of Spaces 0:02 – soundtracks for the city / Melbourne tram conglomerate

  4. Garth Paine - Present in the Landscape

  5. Sam Gillies - Dichotomy:Assembly

  6. Pamela Lee Brenner and Johannes Muljana - Overhead, By the Way

  7. Jordan Lacey - I'm Really Conscious Of Myself Talking Here


Species of Spaces 0:02 – soundtracks for the city / Melbourne tram conglomerate

Radio Cegeste (a.k.a. Sally Ann McIntyre)

In Melbourne during October 2010 on a collaborative residency for live art called Visible City, the keynote project of that year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, I spent much of my time roaming around on public trams, foraging in record stores and libraries, and recording the sound of the city I was living in, a sustained private psychogeography which served as an investigation of an Audible City, which, via its various outcomes in small public art projects, was my response to the residency’s daily challenges.

Despite growing up three hours east of Melbourne, the concentrated attentive focus on the city which the residency allowed meant this was the first time I had got to grips with the place through its sonic details for some time. The sonic textures of the inner city’s life, poised as it was between a historically unprecedented draw in the local football league’s final match and the re-play outcome the week after, something that had left the city on some level of standstill, like a held breath within the weave of its tribalisms and rivalries, seemed richly interpolated with mythologies, accents, the tension between older ways of life and newer, globalised mall culture.

My public art works during the Visible City residency included creating Mini FM stations for localised situations and spaces in response to my wandering research, such as narrowcasting a series of field recordings collected on inner city public transport back into the tram system via distributed radios, installing a dawn chorus of radiophonic native Australian birdsong in an inner city arcade in the week of the 70th anniversary of Walter Benjamin’s death, and the project ‘soundtracks for the city’, a live radio show and film soundtrack which involved sitting on a chair in a public space (in this case the corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets in the Melbourne CBD, and within the former Greville Botanical Gardens, now Grattan Gardens) with a portable record player and a stack of library records thrown away from the channel 10 TV archives (with such titles as “Stranger in the City : Alienation”), over-dramatically responding to an imagined narrative crafted from the movements of passers by for a two hour period, with appropriate feedback from the city’s population of viewer/listeners (this work was not a one-to-many, but many-to-one transmission).

This piece for Deep Wireless Toronto is a re-situating of some of the audible elements of this series of works, within a new transmission work for Mini FM recorded in Dunedin, New Zealand in April 2011. As a memory space, Melbourne appears here as fleeting and fractured, its narratives disconnected, fragmented and subtle at turns. In such a bewilderingly rich environment of signs, one gets the impression that the smallest spheres of holding are the only ones really trustworthy: either the cloistered private spaces of the headphone-listening space, where people build private rooms in public space via the delineation of their own sound-worlds, or that of intimate spaces of private conversation, whether it be between two strangers on a tram of different nationalities and generations, or an old regular being welcomed into an Italian café that has been in the same site for four generations. Here, on the level of city life, grand narratives of romantic nationalism seem as pompous, outdated and misrepresentative as public sculpture which tries to speak “for” a population so diverse and decentred. People sing their own songs on the trams of Melbourne, in exchange for a dollar or two.

The medium of radio, with its potential to site sound in small bounded transmission spaces (in the case of Mini-FM) and in the immaterial materiality of the ether, is an apt exploratory tool when thinking about sound recording, memory and place. This experimental documentary eschews a centralized narrator in favour of letting the city ‘speak for itself’, reflecting and re-posing the shifting, ephemeral fabric of the city’s sounds, where we listen in daily to many such fragmented narratives and imperfect attention-spaces, quiet whispers and clamours to be heard. The specificities of the spaces in which this work’s original recordings move, layered together in a field of interference, imperfect recall and re-transmitted siting within the present, become analogue for my own dislocation from Australia as an emigrant whose cultural identity is informed by spending half my life living in, and identifying with the cultures of, New Zealand. For me, asking the question(s) ‘what is it to be Australian’ from such an observational, yet immersed perspective seems the gateway to a potent set of trajectories.

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