12 May 2024

"in this stream of lightning birds" - field research for 'ion and bird: a test transmission for the Atlantic Flyway'

On the night of May 11, 2024 I heard the lightning birds singing through the geomagnetic storm, mediated perceptive effects of the extreme solar weather hitting the earth's ionosphere.

There was a nigh-perfect conjunction of elements that catalysed this listening/recording session; a conversation had reminded me it was World Migratory Bird Day; there had been coronal mass ejections from the sun that Wednesday and Thursday. I hastily bought some replacements for broken cables from the local Store DJ outlet and drove with my generous photographer companions to the Victorian coast. 

First we went to the beach, but it was too close to the powerlines, so the textures of sferics were overlaid by the ubiquitous drone of the grid: a loud blaring hum at 50HZ. There were also so many cars and a lot of people taking photos with phones and cameras on tripods and sticks, and stumbling through the dark they looked at me with my less familiar equipment, translators for another aspect of the radio spectrum, with my eyes closed, looking like I was fishing into the sky. I wish I could have let them know what I was hearing.

We went further to try and get off the grid, as the night got later. At midnight until approximately 1am on the 11th-12th May I stood in freezing winds, positioned over the crashing breakers on a desolate viewing platform at Pyramid Rock on the coastal outcrop of the nature reserve on Millowl/Philip Island, among the cries of penguins and the more dedicated and hardier of the photographers, looking out toward the luminous electrical wavering and undulating of eerie, flickering streamers of light, traveling to us from the southern magnetic pole: Tahu-nui-a-rangi, the aurora australis. Earlier these had been brighter still; a glaucous curtain of shifting colour in the visible green/pink/red spectrum that danced in the black under the pinpoints of stars.

What did the green veil and flickering fires of Tahu-nui-a-rangi sound like? Crowding like massed distant flocks on the border of listening, the lightning birds from the other world were singing. Unearthly, distant, teeming, eerie, static-filtered, polyphonic.


Aurora australis is not normally seen (or heard) from the vantage point of the Victorian coast.

This fortuitous listening experience, and the recording that emerged from it, comprises some of the field research for a work called ion and bird (a test transmission for the Atlantic flyway) which I will be presenting for the dual contexts of live performance and broadcast on June 15, at the culmination of my upcoming artist residency at Wave Farm/Radio WGXC 90.7FM in upstate New York, 7-17 June 2024.

This work emerges from a thread of thinking probably sparked when, decades ago as a literature student, I first read the speculative, utopian imaginings of Russian Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov's "The Radio of the Future" (1921), where early radio was interpreted as "this stream of lightning birds," and a future radio art was imagined as follows:

"Where has this great stream of sound come from, this inundation of the whole country in supernatural singing, in the sound of beating wings, this broad silver stream full of whistlings and clangor and marvelous mad bells surging from somewhere we are not, mingling with children’s voices singing and the sound of wings? Over the center of every town these voices pour down, a silver shower of sound.  Amazing silver bells mixed with whistlings surge down from above.  Are these perhaps the voices of heaven, spirits flying low over the farmhouse roof?"

This poetic manifesto and futuristic imaginary is perhaps a foundational text in radio/transmission art circles. My performance for Wave Farm will be part of a wider project that revisits Khlebnikov's Radio of the Future - and specifically his mention of the "lightning birds" as a text that moves toward less centralised media, and more-than-human imaginaries.

It draws deeply on conversations I've had within the radio arts and wider arts/academic communities, initially, and perhaps particularly, with a spark catalysed by a generative (and generous) comment made by the artist David Haines after a talk I gave at the Whanganui Aotearoa Digital Arts symposium in 2009, about how artistic research might approach scientific data on magnetoreception, avian neural pathways, and the question of how birds listen. I was also inspired by multifaceted research into sky media Jacob Smith was conducting through what eventually became his podcast series Lightning Birds, (and in our conversations also led him to the Khlebnikov poem, with which he went on to title the series).  I have also been energised by Kate Donovan's research into magnetite and more-than-human radio ecologies as a way of "doing radio otherwise". And indeed, this short list is the tip of a much larger iceberg of influences, experiment, and thinking. 

Here is more the information on the upcoming project from the writeup on the Wave Farm website below: 


ion and bird (a test transmission for the Atlantic flyway)

Radio is sky. It sings through the mouths of birds on their journeys who navigate by infrasound and listen to the aurora as the sound of the lightning.

Radio is terrestrial. It is in the rocks, in the earthquake prone and mountainous zones of Te Wai Pounamu the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand where the small birds called pīwauwau, or Rock wrens, speak a language that is almost too high for human hearing.

Migratory birds use magnetoreception, detecting the Earth’s magnetic field, as one of their tools to navigate on their long-distance journeys. With a frequency range of hearing considerably lower than human listening, certain species also orient through low-frequency infrasound, along coastline and oceanic landmarks that may serve as orientation beacons. ion and bird considers the links between this still indeterminate set of techniques within the embodied senses of birds, known since the nineteenth century and once mythicised as the “sixth sense,” and the sonic expression of bird songs and calls. In tuning in to less audible sky narratives and correspondences, it considers collaboration and communication with non-human species, intelligence beyond human perception, multispecies media histories, and radio as translation between worlds. As the VLF radio receiver converts the aurora's radio waves into a frequency audible to the human listener, and the crystal radio set harnesses tiny crystals of the minerals pyrite and galena within the simplest type of functional radio receiver, so may the navigational abilities of birds, emerging in part from magnetite-based receptors in beaks, or quantum sensing in avian eyes and ears, be understood to make audible a vibratory, embodied strata of forces that normally remains inaudible.

Using an expanded palette of electroacoustic and radiophonic instrumentation including bird-tracking telemetry systems used with migratory shorebirds on the Atlantic Flyway, and with an ear to more-than-human material histories of radio transmission, reception, and locality, ion and bird will tune into an aesthetic correspondence between bird vocalization and space weather, considering how the otherworldly chirps, crackles, and squeaks created by geomagnetic storms in the Earth’s ionosphere resemble the contact calls of migratory birds, and the phenomena referred to as the electromagnetic or auroral dawn chorus, sounds remarkably like birdsong. 


All aurora images by Campbell Walker.

14 Jan 2024

Sterbende Welt redux: field notebook for a failed nature documentary (for Andreas Reischek), commission for Kunstradio (Austria)

Title: Sterbende Welt redux: field notebook for a failed nature documentary (for Andreas Reischek).

Artist: Sally Ann McIntyre

Duration: 50:00


In Vienna I look at a being that can no longer look back. In the bird’s eye, plucked out and long discarded, is the past I cannot access. There is a world there, a way of sensing and moving in the dense green thickets of canopy of the 1880s, which are not a landscape, that do not conform to that Eurocentric convention of contemplative distance. There, the food trees the bird knew as landmarks, the ones it regularly visited within the small, constrained territories, walking through the forest in lines of kin, clambering through the thickly matted density of treetops, branch to seamless branch to branch, without any need for flight, without ever touching the ground. Those long-felled trees appear still, a series of bright points, a constellation sinking down in the memory of nothing now living. This too was song: a sonic tree-map of low muttered closeness, and all air, all earth, all distance subsumed in this closeness, the green density of the whispering canopy.  

The agency of seeing has been removed. In the public-facing specimens the glass eye, inserted in its place, seeing becomes depthless; a decorative wall, a placard. In this bird, rewritten as a study skin, no replacement eye has been offered, and the sockets are open to the tufted fronds of arsenic-infused cotton, above a beak tied with a small loop of hemp string. These substances are also infused with colonial histories, cotton and flax. They fill the body rendered placeless, without agency, present as a blind and glassy field, a placeholder for the farms that have replaced the forests with a blind and husklike dryness where the tall grasses wave in ripples and folds, grazed by the molars of sheep in quiet wind. The memory of forests is buried here, erased beneath the quiet amnesia of this useful landscape. The forests burned, to make way for pasture, are a layer of charcoal. An unspoken and illegible violence written as layers of ash in that geological strata is also present here, in the quiet body, the arsenical-soap stilled study skin, which is also a recording. It holds these sounds to itself as a witnessing, an archival sound-object, a phonography without playback. 


Sterbende Welt redux: field notebook for a failed nature documentary (for Andreas Reischek) is a feature-length experimental radio documentary that engages conceptually and critically with the ornithological collections of Austrian taxidermist and self-taught naturalist Andreas Reischek (1845 –1902), housed in the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Reischek spent twelve years in Aotearoa New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, initially working for Julius von Haast at Canterbury Museum and then travelling the two main, and several offshore, islands to appropriate an immense collection of ethnographic and natural history artefacts, including a near-complete collection of New Zealand birds, the largest of its kind to ever travel to Europe. Many of the bird species Reischek collected, in sometimes vast numbers, went extinct during the same period. Confronting these aspects of Reischek’s collection, as a New Zealand sound artist and researcher, is also an engagment with the entwined histories of colonialism and ornithology, and a recognition of their inseperability. In this piece, the Natural History museum is approached as a space where the material remnants of extinction can be encountered, and the languages of colonial science can be listened to, in their inability to transmit knowledge of the relational ‘natural’ worlds of now-extinct creatures of which little behavioural information was recorded, apart from the violence of their deaths – this event itself then smoothed over in the birds’ re-writing as representative types within a taxonomic catalogue. Despite this, within the process enacted when making this work, the specimens are also approached as former members of complex multi-species ecosystems, even if this status is minimised by their current positioning as individualised specimens, potential portals to environments that Reischek himself encountered and recorded in his travelogues, and are now lost to time and history, erased by colonial-era land transformation from forest to farmland. The piece utilises sound and transmission methods to listen again to these inaudible histories and their many ecocides, ostensibly as forms of silenced and inaccessible knowledge, which are presented to the listener as acoustic silence through the media of field recording and transmission art. As such, they use sound recording and radio in a highly material, non-representational way. 

The work is composed in two sections, or movements. In the first section, we are located in the field in Aotearoa New Zealand. Two recordings of specimens of the extinct owl Sceloglaux albifacies (now re-classified as Ninox albifacies), the Whēkau or Laughing Owl, are taken in Vienna in October 2016 on standard industry field recording equipment and then physically transported back to the place in Aotearoa New Zealand, as written on their labels, where they were killed and collected by Reischek in 1884. A mini-FM transmission is then conducted at Silver Stream, in the Otago landscape, beside the banks of the river, re-releasing the owls’ silences, in a durational performance without human listeners. This radio memorial is itself re-recorded; it is then supplemented with a reading of two passages of Reischek’s text Sterbende Welt (1924), translated into English as Yesterdays in Maoriland (1930), at the same site. This performance speculates that perhaps even the smallest ecocides leave forms of violence as traces still present, if invisibly and inaudibly, in environments. For Judith Butler, at the scene of loss “it is myself that I find there at the site of the object, my absence.” This transmission work is posited as not merely an archival memento mori, but also a speculative commemoration which is an undoing or reversal, through the minor politics of micro-radio, where the listener follows the artist in not mirroring but reversing Reischek’s journey from Australasia to Europe, as well as the associated one-way geographic flow of colonial extractive economics. Here, potentially, nonhuman lives wiped out by such processes can become subject to experimental forms of memorialisation and sonic repatriation, and the dead silence of the static archive, in which nature is understood as a series of objects to be deciphered and catalogued, can be re-cast as a listening, in which we acknowledge the silence at the site of our own observation. (This performance has been previously exhibited elsewhere, in a different form, as Twin signals at Silver Stream (fragments of a landscape for specimens #50.766 and #50.767) (2016–18))

In the second movement, we are located in the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Specimens of three species of extinct New Zealand birds that Reischek collected in the late 19th century are heard as they are recorded in-situ in the museum. These are the huia (three female specimens: Reischek’s total collection of huia at the museum is four hundred and twenty four birds), the South-island kokako (five birds, including two pairs and a single male), and the South-island piopio (eight birds). The fourth recording, of twenty adult and juvenile individuals of the hihi or stitchbird, is the coda. The hihi went extinct on the mainland of Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1880s, with one remnant population surviving on Little Barrier Island, where Reischek took these specimens; at least 78 and up to 130 of the 181 extant 19th-century hihi specimens are Reischek’s. Taken together, these stark one-take recordings are akin to a field log, and replicate the bare accounts within Resichek’s own notebooks, which catalogue the names of species he collected in austere, crossed-out lists. In terms of field recording practice, this project was procedural in a simple way. I treated it as one would a set of nature recordings, as part of a field research exercise, introducing the species and recording a durational “excerpt.” I also think of these recordings as re-collections, in both senses, their accumulation a kind of counter-archival practice. Ostensibly recordings of nothing (dead birds can’t make a sound), they also document what is audible in the Viennese site in 2016: firstly, they become a documentation of the sounds of the everyday life of the museum, where these birds are still housed in frozen animation as study skins over a century after their deaths. The absence of sound of a living bird becomes the presence of the sounds of museum staff chatting, the office photocopier, chairs scraping, myself talking and rustling around in boxes as I pick up the birds and try to decipher the copperplate script on century-old labels, overwhelmed by the experience and sometimes getting the details wrong, the sound of my museum-issue pencil scribbling notes. Secondly, the recordings are documentary evidence of the investigative forensics of discovering these birds in the present era, ostensibly solely through the inscrutable classificatory information on their labels, but also with vivid and overwhelming awareness of their presence, not as taxonomical representatives of their species safely housed behind glass, but as once-living beings that are also cultural taonga to Aotearoa (indeed, many taonga within Reischek’s collection of stolen ethnographic artefacts have recently been repatriated, after almost a century of negotiations, by Maori communities). Dugal McKinnon wrote about this friction between the silence of extinction and the presence of the everyday in my work as "dead silence," (when Cageian silence assumes an ecological, ethical dimension). 

There is an added material-conceptual dimension to Sterbende Welt redux: field notebook for a failed nature documentary (for Andreas Reischek) in terms of its positioning the site-specificity of radio art. In the first movement, the two owl silences are transmitted on small-radius Mini-FM back to the site of their collection on two frequencies corresponding to those of the National radio stations of Austria and New Zealand, layering the museum recordings with the sounds of the river, which is then itself recorded; this work also engages further with the site-specificity of the airwaves in its broadcast on Kunstradio over the Austrian public broadcaster Österreichischer Rundfunk, setting the presences of five New Zealand birds into flight through the medium of transmission to engage in a ghostly manner with Andreas Reischek’s legacy – including his son’s (1892-1965) important role in the early years of Austrian radio, beginning in 1924, which coincided with his editing and publishing (and substantial embellishing or re-writing in the Adventure-story genre) of his father’s journals, first as Sterbende Welt (1924) and in English translation as Yesterdays in Maoriland (1930). It is from the latter that the text read out in the first section is exerpted.

Through Sterbende Welt redux, and other projects since 2010 that have similarly combined research into the museum and the field, I have come to understand the museum itself as a giant recording device - within it living things formerly functioning as nodes in giant interconnected webs of community and communication, including forms of sonic signalling from which humans might have initially learned their own capacity for communicative language, become reified with the taxonomical classification given them, so imprinted with recordings of imperial arrogance that they can no longer be said to retain their original function. They become specimens and enter into another ontological order of objects – through the transformations of such reification they become partly their own memorials and partly a zombified material strata, a form of noise or silence. Unlike the interpretive museum exhibits in Aotearoa that have tried to re-create the sounds of these extinct birds, I appreciate the fact that the public galleries at NHM Vienna have no sound at all, not one interactive exhibit; instead the retaining of a complete time capsule of Victorian scientific process means it is a site to research such histories of without the added layer of contemporary filters of interpretation. Out the back, in the study skin cabinets, it’s both a wonder of scientific classification, and a horrific mausoleum, and completely unapologetic about that. It's interesting to imagine what the historic "New Zealand nature" that Reischek heard can "sound like" here. I invite the listeners of this documentary to fail with me in doing so. 

Sally Ann McIntyre, nipaluna/Hobart, lutruwita/Tasmania, January 2024.


Sterbende Welt redux: field notebook for a failed nature documentary (for Andreas Reischek) is a feature documentary and work of radio art commissioned for Kunstradio and first broadcast on the 14th January 2024.

Recording, editing, production: Sally Ann McIntyre
Thanks to: Elisabeth Zimmerman, Anita Gamauf, Markus Gradwohl

Permalink to the work on the Kunstradio site is here 

16 Aug 2023

works for disasters: an incomplete archive 2011-2021

Works for disasters: an incomplete archive 2011-2021 is an exhibition by myself and Campbell Walker presented at Richmond's Seventh Gallery in Naarm/Melbourne from 27 July - 18 August 2023. Campbell is showing three video/performance works, and I'm presenting two radio/transmission art pieces. The exhibition is an opportunity for Campbell and I to exhibit together for the first time since moving o Naarm/Melbourne, and these are all quite personal works for us. 

My contribution to the exhibition involves a formal re-framing (and re-composing) of two ephemeral and temporal mini FM transmission works. Made a decade apart, these pieces converse together across time within the durational space of the exhibition, finding a shared focus on the ontology of transmission as a formal mode through which to attempt to grasp the wider slippage, liminality and material-structural changes of two disaster events. Ongoing questions come up for me when listening back to these works: how do we remember - or memorialise - traumatic events lived through, how to not reify them when attempting to grasp such intangible shifts? Can radio / transmission Art modes work formally to mark these while honouring their ingraspability, to bring them into earshot, to frame them as an alternate archive of experience?

The first of the pieces is called a private swamp was where this tree grew feathers once: a radio memorial in four movements; it is from a set of works I was making in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when I first began operating the radio cegeste project, and was originally transmitted in January 2012. Alongside its companion pieces, modified radio memorial #1 (a fissure in the line of a public silence)After Bexley and dear friends who have died are all talking to me tonight / all at once, this work was an investigation of  radio/transmission art's formal capacity as a mediator for the archive and a potential site-specific mode, and an interventional spatial response to a particular set of transformative events: the seismic force of the many thousands of earthquakes that, starting in 2010, ruptured Ōtautahi Christchurch, New Zealand, forever altering the city's architectural and social fabric. Several of these works were exhibited together as "Selected Christchurch Radio Memorials" in the show Simulcast at The Audio Foundation March 7-30, 2013. All were radio cegeste transmissions (i.e. mobile, small-radius mini-FM) that re-distributed collections of field recordings as narrowcast transmissions, intervening into architectural spaces, approaching small-scale transmission itself as a mediator of and structural intervention into the poetic and political architecture of the airwaves, and as a creator of archives. 

'a private swamp.' was always the most private and ritualistic of these bounded re-castings. Functioning as a re-collection and re-transmission of the silences of four of my rented flats, some of which had been destroyed in the quakes, the transmission was not initially intended for a public outcome, and, remaining unrecorded, didn't really exist apart from the documentation (an essay and photographs) that anchored it in time as an event, and the set of four field recordings, each five minutes long, taken in the four flats, that were transmitted for the work. As such, the work for Seventh Gallery was re-composed from the fragmented remains of the 2011-12 transmission, much as that had been responding to the fragmented remains of the four houses themselves in 2011-12.

In the gallery I re-contextualised these recordings as a new transmission on the original frequency: radio cegeste's 104.5FM, alongside the essay I wrote about them, and several photographs taken of the site-specific transmission. The recordings could be tuned in within the space by anyone on their own device, although four small transistor radios also channelled the silences of the four flats. These were arranged in a small geometry, vaguely approximating a street map of the spaces themselves. One listener, on the opening night at Seventh Gallery, came up to me and said that he'd appreciated the "architectural" aspect of this arrangement within the transmission space of the four radios, as a conduit to the the way that the four rooms were entering another room in the present.

To re-visit this project now seems timely, if not conclusive. The quakes continue to reverberate through other life-events as a murmuring learning of site and substance that never seems quite complete, even as the topicality of media moves and forgets. Zita Joyce and Susan Ballard recently revisited the radio cegeste quake transmissions as a group in their 2022 essay "Seismic media: art and geological co-creation in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand," where they write of 'a private swamp’ and 'After Bexley': 

"Sally McIntyre’s radio work as Radio Cegeste 104.5FM hovers in this space of memory, briefly populating physical spaces with a spectral past. Her transmitter translates the acoustic energy of silent sites into electromagnetic energy, radio waves that are shifting and imperfect, difficult to receive clearly, prone to interference, like memory itself. Two of McIntyre’s works have particular resonance in the space opened up by the earthquake, as they use electromagnetic energy to displace, translate and reinterpret the sounds and silences of post-Quake Christchurch; a mediation of the after effects of the seismic. In the personal performance memorial ‘A private swamp / was where this tree grew feathers once’, McIntyre used a simple mini FM transmitter to record the interior spaces of houses she had previously lived in. The recordings were ritualistically framed, exercises in close listening, observing the movements of a building, its acoustic qualities and the silence beyond it. On the 2nd of January 2012, she transmitted the sounds of those houses all at once into one of them – one chosen because after 41 aftershocks in the preceding 24 hours it felt most stable. McIntyre described the work as a ritual of releasing layers of memory, ghosts and the remains of these spaces that once sheltered her, one of which had been reduced to rubble. The work was a radio memorial, a ‘mobile to hang invisibly in the air’, and a process of reclaiming the earthquake experience. McIntyre layered spaces and the times of memory and recording, into a single long meditative moment: a moment that was full of the anticipation of its own end – the fear that another wave of seismic energy would finally bring down the walls around her. (...) By bringing together memory, place and seismicity, these artworks both engage with the effects of the earthquake and respect its impact. They engage with histories of the city, integrating the past into the post-quake present and future. They also reflect the new geological expertise of living in a seismic city. Earthquakes have happened here before, but not in this way: able to be mediated by new technologies of recording, storage and transmission." 

I understand this period of radio cegeste's work as the systematic creation of a set of alternate archives: the recording as a library or index structure. Sean Cubitt writes of the archive that "in archive aesthetics we confront temporalities that extend backward and forward into times we experience both as sensory things here, now, in front of us, and also imaginatively as emissaries from the past to the future of which we form only one moment. To the extent that the aesthetic is also ethical (...) it ties us into networks of obligation which extend beyond the present moment into the deep past and the deep future."

Within such works and their small-scale reach, I was always trying to get to grips with the ways in which the durational nature of disasters within everyday lives sits in conflict with their role as spectacle within public media. The most obvious of these is the slow violence of climate change. But other disasters subtly announce themselves in ways that were also true of the 1600s plague and the 1918 flu epidemic. Even now, the Covid-19 pandemic that first emerged in 2020 is writing itself on bodies; both those that invisibly suffer from long covid, and those that walk the streets of inner city Melbourne, those in thrall to conspiratorial right wing mythologies, still protesting imaginary restrictions. As Joyce and Ballard go on to conclude of their investigations into creative works that have articulated a response to the earthquakes: 

Working with the earthquakes and their media has taught us much about the amount of time it takes for stories to emerge. This tracing of artists’ relationships with the material geology of a city points to new geological and aesthetic understandings. Media and experiences are still evolving, as houses and public spaces are still being rebuilt. Many of the evocative images of the Lisbon earthquake were published 100 years after the event. Media and image cycles are now much faster, and as we have shown, many creative responses to Christchurch were immediate and dynamic. Rather than considering media as a reflective material, we have suggested that seismic media is the result of co-creation between the elemental energies of the earthquake, the creative energies of the artists and the community and social energies of the city. 

Again, I return to Cubitt's thoughts on the archive, that it "is not an aesthetic category but an ethical one, in that we owe some obligation to the past and the future to maintain objects in the present. This obligation is either virtuous (it is right and fitting to recall the dead and pass on their memory) or deontological (we remember and transmit ancestral actions as we would wish ourselves and our works to be remembered and transmitted)." (Cubitt 2017) 

The second of my works in the show was '–. .-.. .- –. ..- . / -.– . .- .-. (plague year)' (2021) a fifteen part micro-cast radio serial narrowcasting a daily poetic reworking of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), made during the pandemic lockdowns in Melbourne, as a commission for the State of Disaster public art project.

24 Jun 2023

Post-extinction huia soundings, Te Whanganui-a-Tara 1912-1924 (moments of history torn away from the movement of history, then returned; no longer quite life, not yet death)

Post-extinction huia soundings, Te Whanganui-a-Tara 1912-1924  (moments of history torn away from the movement of history, then returned; no longer quite life, not yet death) is a sonic fieldwork project that extends and recontextualises ongoing artistic research by Sally Ann McIntyre that focuses on the audible traces of charismatic extinct bird the huia. In Collected huia notations (like shells on the shore where the sea of living memory has receded) (2015), two sets of early twentieth century musical notations of human imitations of huia calls were played on piano and then re-recorded on an extremely fragile and temporally bounded late 19th – early 20th century audio medium, the two minute phonographic wax cylinder. Post-extinction huia soundings geographically re-locates this media archaeological archive within a local map of sites where encounters with huia were documented in the Wellington Te Whanganui-a-Tara region after the species official extinction date of 1907. It takes the cylinders out into these sites, where they are played back repeatedly on a small Edison Gem phonograph until they erase themselves.

Rather than charting huia ‘sightings’ the work emphasises the central role of sound, recognising the long histories of more-than-human sonic interconnections between huia and humans in Aotearoa, developed over hundreds of years before the species was wiped out, and the further echoes of these histories in twentieth century cultural phenomena such as the use of huia song playback in 20th century bio-acoustic field conservation practices.  

In considering several unofficial huia sightings that were reported but not considered officially verifiable (such as a 1922 sighting in Lyall Bay that was dismissed by the then director of the Dominion Museum, who believed the species to be already extinct), the project focuses on the phenomenon of extinction debt, also known as “dead clade walking” (DCW), drawing parallels between the huia of the 1920s and extinction debt narratives in contemporary conservation, such as that attending the South Island kōkako.

Re-playing the archive of huia calls back into these post-extinction geographies creates an echo-chamber that opens the question of this extinct bird’s ongoing cultural life. It suggests that by the 1910s-20s the huia’s relationship to Aotearoa is already a hauntology that destabilises the early 20th century audible landscape of the settler imaginary with ‘the presence of an absence and the absence of a presence’ - or what Mark Fisher has termed the eerie - in ways that undermine empirical verification and visual representations. Instead, the huia’s histories and futures are bound up with oral culture recording methods that hear the human voice become a mediator to the absent presence of this most sacred of birds. “Soundings” might also be seen as a synonym for this interconnectedness, equated to kōrero, discussions, surveys, investigations, consultations.

Within this project, the phonographic wax cylinder is a time capsule traveling in both directions. It filters environmental and extinction histories through the functionality and temporality that is inscribed in the materiality of media technologies. It asks listeners to consider what can be gained by listening in an expanded way to the relations between what is inscribed within the materiality of media technologies, what is “recorded,” and what can never be.


Exhibition runs 24 June - 28 July 2023
Open Tuesday 10-4pm, at all Pyramid Club gigs and by appointment via email: admin[at]pyramidclub.org.nz
Special thanks to Creative New Zealand for supporting Pyramid Club's programme

8 Dec 2022

'Nocturne: Sonic Migrations' broadcasting on Radio Amnion, 8-10 December


I'm truly delighted to be able to announce that the  composition and live site-specific performance work Nocturne: Sonic Migrations, a project developed over two years by curator Eliza Burke and composer-performers Matt Warren, Dani Kirby and myself for a performance on the nipaluna/Hobart waterfront in February 2022, has been thematically and physically extended through a collaboration with the experimental transmission art platform Radio Amnion. 

Nocturne: Sonic Migrations will be the 19th transmission by the Radio Amnion platform/sonic sculpture. Its programmes are broadcast over each full moon from the transmitter's position "far beyond human perception," located on a multi-faceted neutrino telescope more than 2kms deep in Cascadia Abyssal Plain, the most extensive deep-sea channel currently known of the Pacific Ocean. 

5 Sept 2022

marcasite radio (an unstable object for ann ada): further and future experiments.

I'm starting writing this today on the 4th September, 2022, a date that marks 12 years since the 2010 Christchurch earthquake. A geological event understood within discourse for a while, after the even more devastating event of 2011, as the 'first' quake. And perhaps some of us reading and listening also believed this. Within the settler imagination and timescales, it was unexpected, and this in turn cast the settler imagination and its timescales into a shocked confusion, even as it affected personal histories on the immediate level of crisis. As time went on and the initial shock turned to learning, the questions proliferated - had this happened before, and if so how and when? 

The decade since this 'event' provides ample opportunity to reflect on several other temporalities, human and non-human. It has perhaps let us understand that the 'first' quake of the 4th of September was an event that cannot be understood as singular in any way, even if the structures of Anglo-Western naming initially led us - and continue to seduce us - into reifying it into a stasis, something that seals it into a nostalgic past. But far from singular, it is an event which kept - and still keeps - on its way. As a slow tremor, reverberating out beyond itself, into all of our histories, and as reverberant energy tends to do, changing and co-mingling them, through resonance as the fluttering and fraying of singularity, the troubling of borders. It has affected my family deeply, in ways that are ongoing, and complex, and will continue to be so.  

3 Apr 2022

The New Zealand Storm Petrel, transmission for 'Ground' exhibition, at Haus of Vovo


A work by radio cegeste is scheduled to be cast over the airwaves of a small-radius transmission art station embedded within Haus of Vovo, a project space in New Norfolk, lutruwita/Tasmania, in an exhibition entitled "Ground," opening next Saturday the 9th April and running until the 22nd May. It joins several other works gathered together on the theme of one of the four known fundamental forces of nature - electromagnetism.

My work "The New Zealand Storm Petrel" was originally released in December 2013 on the label Flaming Pines, within a series of small-run releases that saw sound artists focusing on particular species of birds. "The New Zealand Storm Petrel" is dedicated to its eponymous creature - a small, nocturnal, critically endangered pelagic bird endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. It was thought to be extinct since 1850, and known only by a small number of museum study skins gathered by 19th Century collectors, until a series of sightings from 2003 indicated the presence of living birds and a previously unknown breeding colony.  

7 Feb 2022

.--. .-.. .- --. ..- . / -.-- . .- .-. (plague year), for Radiophrenia Glasgow 2022

A new work by radio cegeste, '.--. .-.. .- --. ..- . / -.-- . .- .-. (plague year)' has been made as a half-hour program for radio art project station Radiophrenia Glasgow. It is scheduled for broadcast on 20 February 2022, 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm, GMT. 

'.--. .-.. .- --. ..- . / -.-- . .- .-. (plague year)' (2022) is a thirty minute edit of a fifteen part live transmission artwork that ran as a radio serial from 11-25 September 2021, as part of ROAD MAP: State of Disaster, a temporary public art project conducted within the bounds of a single geographic postcode, 3031, in Melbourne, Australia, while the inhabitants of the city were under curfew, in the midst of the longest pandemic lockdown in the world. 

Microcast over local airwaves on the frequency 104.5FM, the serial was a daily poetic reworking of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), written as 'a fictional reworking of true events,' a mock-first-hand account of the last epidemic of bubonic plague in London in 1665. 

8 Jun 2019

ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene

I'm really pleased that some of my audio work themed around the re-collection of museological traces of extinction, the devastation of island ecologies by globalisation, and the sounds/silences of lost birds has been included in a fascinating new work of audio scholarship in the Environmental Humanities called ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene. 

This 10-part open access audiobook was written and produced by Jacob Smith, who is Professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film and Director of the Master of Arts Program in Sound Arts and Industries at Northwestern University (and a lovely guy, to boot).

Through the ten episodes of his podcast, Jake sieves the afterlife of selected episodes of a particular American post-war radio adventure serial called Escape (1947-1954), widely considered "a classic of the golden age of American radio." Instead of hearing the show nostalgically as a "relic" of a lost age of modernist media, his project aims to re-listen to the show critically, "with an ecological ear," as "a sonic archive that comes from a time which has crucial relevance for our present era," when the forces which contributed to the current climate catastrophe were concertedly gathering "through the roar of the great acceleration."

3 Nov 2018

Twin signals at Silver Stream (fragments of a landscape for specimens #50.766 & #50.767)

Drawing on the medium of radio’s ability to connect across time and distance, Twin signals at Silver Stream (fragments of a landscape for specimens #50.766 & #50.767) (2016-18) listens in to the global flows of colonial extractive economies via two minor silences present as traces in the landscape of contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand. A new performance work and installation themed around erasure, the audible trace, extinction, colonial-era collecting, and silence, the piece utilises micro-radio transmission as a conduit for speculative forms of sonic repatriation.

Sceloglaux albifacies is an extinct New Zealand bird commonly known as the Whekau or Laughing Owl, once found nesting in rocky crevices in the remote landscapes of the South Island. In October 2016, one male (specimen #50.766) and one female (specimen #50.767) of this species were encountered in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (National Museum of Natural History, Vienna), as part of the collections of Andreas Reischek, an Austrian taxidermist and self-taught naturalist who spent over a decade roaming New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, appropriating an immense collection of ethnographic and natural history artefacts, including a near-complete set of New Zealand birds, the largest of its kind to ever travel to Europe. A local footnote within the totalising and globalising drives of Reischek’s taxonomic catalogue, the pair of owls were collected by the naturalist at Silver Stream, Otago, a small river near Mosgiel, in 1884, thirty years before the species was declared officially extinct.

14 Aug 2018

Between 13-14 August 2018, myself and the Melbourne based sound artist Michael Prior took a 2 day workshop with RMIT students in the course 'Sound, Screen and Materiality,' on building and using a contact mic for recording, at Testing Grounds.

the poetics of connection, immediacy + restraint: ground to ground, crystal to signal.

4 Aug 2018

"study for two unfinished silences (for Len Lye)" in Sensory Agents: Sounds of Len Lye Sculpture, at the Len Lye Centre, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 4 Aug — 18 Nov 2018

In July 2018, in the Italian city of Prato, I found a small, antique zither in a local junk store. It was beautiful but in a sorry state. A few of its original 15 thin steel strings were missing, but those remaining had a pleasingly chiming, distinctly mournful sound. I procured it for 20 euro alongside its accompanying twelve yellowed, decaying music sheets that evoked the aesthetics of digital storage punch cards from an old computer, or player piano rolls. As the junk store owner demonstrated to me through our mutually shaky grasp of each others’ language, these triangular pieces of paper fitted under the strings to show finger positions, so even if a player wasn’t able to read music, they could still perform the songs in a kind of aural “paint by numbers.” It was an indicator of an era of folk-memory nudging up against the border of mechanisation, if not stepping over it into a literal "programmability," like a player piano. Most of the music sheets were popular Italian folk tunes. Just one was in English: the notation for the Christmas carol Silent Night.

Silent Night was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, to lyrics by Joseph Mohr, in a small Austrian town in 1818, exactly 200 years before I bought the zither. In the subsequent two centuries, it has lost all its specificity, and travelled around the world to become a saccharine signifier of the global reach of Western culture and the commercialisation of Christmas. Might this have been one reason Len Lye chose to deconstruct it in his sculpture Roundhead (1961), a surprisingly delicate small kinetic whose material sound component is a toy music box, whose small mechanism once held this evocation of the hush of snow in a European December as its original crank tune? I suspect the carol's inclusion in the kinetic wasn’t as intentional as this, and Len used it because it belonged to one of his children, or he just happened to have it lying around the studio. Either way, during the work’s development, through processes of modification and removal of the music box’s pins by the artist, both the tune itself and all its cultural and narrative connotations were shaved down, broken, and fractured.

Roundhead (1961)in situ in the exhibition Len Lye: Stooped Short by Wonder, 
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, September 2017
Lye’s use of silence and erasure in regard to re-sounding Silent Night within Roundhead was a witty and warm intervention whose delicate result belied a serious method. His use of a modified toy sound medium mirrored the use of the toy piano in the 1960s by artists to critique the significance of this most ubiquitous of instruments in European high-cultural music. For Lye it was also a piece of sonic inventiveness which echoed his discovery of direct film, as a creative leap born out of economic necessity. Both show his disinclination for repetition in media, over a generative and ever-evolving momentum that drew on the rhythms of the natural world. Lye’s inventiveness and DIY spirit, as well as his predilection for found objects mis-used for their creative potential, are currents very present in experimental arts cultures - including those in New Zealand - to this day.

study for two unfinished silences (for Len Lye) was commissioned by the Len Lye centre for the exhibition  Sensory Agents: Sounds of Len Lye Sculpture. The brief was an extraordinary one: to make a piece drawing on a sonic element of Lye's sculptural oeuvre. At the centre of study for two unfinished silences (for Len Lye) is a playing of Silent Night on the junk-store semi-programmable toy zither, captured in a one-take field recording in the room I was staying in for two nights in Prato, with busy street noise outside. Through arbitrary material damage (which parallels Lye’s more intentional erasure of the toy music box also originally programmed with Silent Night in the sculpture Roundhead), the tune itself has largely been erased through the missing strings of the damaged zither failing to register certain notes, as well as the limitations of the instrument providing their own tonal register, making this more ‘silence’ than ‘night,’ a music as rudimentary, aleatory and minimal as Lye’s broken music box.

This recording is then put into dialogue with another score, punched out on the simple paper strips of a programmable music box, that provides another layer of sonic material, which oscillates around the recording of the zither like the four rings of Lye’s sculpture, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in dissonance. This second sonic element is a phrase of musical notation written down in the field by a European listener to the song of a bird from Aotearoa / New Zealand, in 1913. Johannes C. Andersen, in his observational notes on the song of a particular tui in the vicinity of the city of Wellington, wrote: “one would suppose the bird to be “preparing” for singing, for he emitted more clicks, clacks, and gurrs than musical notes, sounding like the snapping and intermittent whirring of clockwork, as though his musical box had been undergoing seasonal repairs, and was being tested as to its mechanism.”

When Roundhead was made, it had already been a decade since Kenneth and Jean Bigwood had recorded and released the box set of 3 45 RPM records, A Treasury of New Zealand Bird Song, a set of recordings which would go on to become some of the most recognisable sounds on New Zealand radio. But it wouldn’t have been so easy for the expatriate Lye to listen to the sounds of his childhood in Aotearoa, even though I imagine he had tui lodged in his memory, whirring and clicking away. Maybe we’ve misunderstood Roundhead all these years: just as the tussocky sway of a kinetic like Grass evokes aspects of the New Zealand landscape, it would be just like Len to want to make a mechanical tui himself.


4 Aug — 18 Nov 2018
Centred around Len Lye’s noise-making kinetic sculpture and a set of audio recordings held in the Len Lye Foundation Archive, Sensory Agents focuses on the role sound plays in Lye’s work, and links Lye to a younger generation of artists who share his interest in the capacity of sound and music to elicit sensory responses.

Witnessing Lye’s steel sculpture in motion is a highly physical experience, with the sounds produced by their movements – their force, energy, rhythm and resonance – vital to their sensory impact and appeal. Working with steel, Lye developed a range of techniques to heighten the potential sound-producing qualities of his sculptures, including the use of bells and percussive ‘strikers’. This gave Lye the idea to record and make these new sounds available to musicians and composers as source material for their compositions, expanding their material for music.

In keeping with this idea, Sensory Agents also presents newly commissioned compositions by contemporary artists and composers using the sounds of Lye’s sculpture alongside original recordings held in the Len Lye Foundation Archive. It opens a new evaluation of his work in terms of sound and music, to consider them, in Lye’s own words, as ‘musical instruments rather than visual kinetic works of art’.

12 Mar 2018

In the deep time of the recording: performing with Arthur Allen's 1935 footage of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

"We speak so much of memory because there is so little of it left." 
- Pierre Nora, 'Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire'

Extinction, while conceptually aligned with silence, has mediated histories that trouble and extend what listening to - and looking at - such silence might entail. As a media artist I find it valuable to speculate on the concept of "witnessing" extinction through the archival histories of media, and how this might relate to cultural understandings of memory and materiality.

What, for instance, is the cultural value of a near 100-year old visual or aural recording of an extinct species? Does it have a special status, when a whole species is dead? What is the relationship of modes of witnessing to preservation, outside of the 'building awareness' rhetoric of environmental discourse? Can there be a discussion of this beyond the conflation of "rarity" with the commodification of nature? 

6 Mar 2018

'Study for a data deficient species (grey ghost transmission)' at Audiograft Festival, Oxford, UK

Audiograft is an annual festival of Contemporary Experimental Music and Sound Art curated by the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University, U.K. This year's programme ran from the 6th - 18th March and included performances of new experimental music and sound, exhibitions, artists talks and workshops. I could unfortunately not attend, although I did have a piece travel without me, to be part of the group exhibition that anchored the festival, shown at OVADA gallery, alongside installations by Kathy Hinde, Sarah Hughes, and Simon Blackmore.

This was Study for a data deficient species (grey ghost transmission), which had evolved again through its previous installation iterations in exhibitions in Halle and Hobart, and the broadcast of a piece in the programming of Glasgow's Radiophrenia, toward an indexical simplicity. No live transmission in this iteration, but a more minimal presentation that predicated an emphasis on the catalogue, the sound object, and the listening experience as a recording with fixed duration. 
Thanks to Patrick Farmer, and all at Audiograft. images by Paul Capewell + SARU.

15 Jan 2018

Martin Nutt, TMN. Trichromatic Moiré (score), 2017

It's January, and summer in Dunedin. The empty days are stark and long and bright, and there is a held silence to my part of the city, up on the ridge. A poise, as if the new year is delaying itself as long as it can, not quite ready to begin. Harsh, caustic, white South Island light, framed in the warped late-19th century windows, sketches across surfaces, creating heavily delineated geometries on scarred floors of native hardwood and 1930s celadon green attic room walls, an irregular angular architecture, shifting with the rotation of the day. The wind-torn doppler effect of exuberant childrens' voices normally audible from the school over the road is now silent, and my house is a wooden, many-caverned ear. Listening in to the tiny sounds of the outside. Its two stories are a creaking ship, cool and dark and solid, yet crooked open to the emptiness and brilliant light.

I'm currently spending my time in this house working on a piece for Martin Nutt, the British-born, Japan-based composer, for a CD release in early March, as part of 2018's Audiograft Festival. This festival is held annually by the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University, UK. I'm one of a few artists sent the score for TMN. Trichromatic Moiré (2017).

12 Nov 2017

radio 33, broadcasting from Domain House, Hobart, as part of the Hobiennale, 3-12 November, 2017.

When operated in politically strategic ways, the contemporary aesthetic use of modernist technologies, like radio, can function as an effective localised antidote to a global technological homogeneity, one that ultimately flattens the field to a narrow bandwidth of expressive possibilities, within a homogenised focus on commercial interests.

Joining other experimental and artist-run stations I know which are using the constraints of bounded technological space to critically address this set of conditions, is a small North Hobart micro-cast radio project called Radio 33, which specifically re-imagines radio, through the operation of month-long artist projects put into physical broadcast space as small scale, low power FM transmissions, as a potentially emancipatory medium, where communities can be built and the like-minded can connect with each other.

Radio 33's particular take on the minor and amateur literature of the airwaves is historicised within its careful listening to gendered histories of radio space, hearing them - and celebrating them - as a medium holding an ongoing structural continuum of self-identified female/non-binary voices audible since the medium's earliest days.

With core reference to the U.S. radio amateur/ham designation YL, instituted in 1920 by the American Radio League to designate a female operator, and amateur operator Clara Reger's subsequent YL33 code, coined especially for women communicating with other women, a salutation "considered sacred by female hams", Radio 33 recognises these historic women as kin and forebears, as well as the ongoing work it has taken, in the past and the present, for such voices to claim audible space, as - and for - themselves.

Tricky Walsh, the artist behind Radio 33, has been experimenting with the artistic use of radio in their work since 2011, and started this project at the beginning of 2017 as a radio station programmed as a gallery space for month-long artist projects: "I see it as less of a "program" than a virtual space anyone could 'walk' into and experience a sound work. just think of it as a gallery space made out of radio waves".

I was lucky enough to be invited by Tricky to be one of four 'ephemeral residents' in this on-air gallery space for the duration of the inaugural Hobiennale Arts Festival, from 3-12 November, in the beautiful upstairs attic rooms of Domain House in Hobart. Radio 33 broadcast a compilation of my extant past and present sound and radio art works into this listening space, and after this first excursion into the possibilities, I very much look forward to developing new work for - and with - Radio 33 in the near future. 

thanks to Tricky, also, for the photographs and the text.

5 Nov 2017

'three variations on a study for a data deficient species (grey ghost transmission)' on air at Radiophrenia 87.9FM, Glasgow

I have a radio art piece included in the impressively extensive schedule of radiophonic experiment coming up in the programming of radiophrenia 2017, a temporary project station for radio art, broadcasting 24 hours a day from 6 - 19 November, out of Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts. This solid fortnight of radio, sound, and transmission art (from friends, peers and many new names), together promises to "promote radio as an art form, encouraging challenging and radical new approaches to the medium."

4 Nov 2017

a Deaf Cinema for Thylacinus cynocephalus.

It is not you who will speak; let the disaster speak in you, even if it be by your forgetfulness or silence.”
- Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

…I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire… I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
- William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

“We humans seem disastrously in love with this thing
(whatever it is) that glitters on the earth--
we call it life. We know no other.
The underworld's a blank
and all the rest just fantasy.” 
- Euripides, as translated by Anne Carson, in Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides

For a cultural heritage site of some significance, the former Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart is surprisingly overlooked. Over the course of a few days in October 2017, on the site of its derelict ruin (which is locked, and currently inaccessible to the public) near the Botanical Gardens in the Queens Domain, almost no-one comes by as I place highly sensitive contact microphones alongside various open-air microphones, to record whatever might be audible there. Together, both pick up the movement of metal and wooden fences and padlocked gates, the vibrations of structures in wind, the guttural croaking of endemic Tasmanian forest ravens (Corvus tasmanicus) and the eerie melodiously rhythmic warblings of black currawongs (Strepera fuliginosa) twisting in the air like mobiles or sonic DNA structures, the melancholy monotony of water falling from objects, the deep juddering of cars on the street going by from the same direction as the occasional, softer yet more startling human footstep, my own movements as observer. These sounds together begin to create a sightless image of the predominant life of the site, in absence of direct attention from people, which is also a gathering picture of the desolation of its abandon: an expanse of field containing a few crumbling, indeterminate concrete structures, a swampy area attended by Tasmanian native waterfowl sitting incongruously inside a ringed-off area of faded hi-vis tape.