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

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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. 




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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.

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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 


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.

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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.

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Exhibition
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.

  

26 Oct 2017

new writing by Meredith Kooi in Art Papers, Fall 2017 issue.

my work was recently profiled in Meredith Kooi's feature "The Chorus at Dawn: An Aesthetics of the Tweet" published in the Fall 2017 issue of Art Papers magazine. Thank you, Meredith!

here are a couple of excerpts:

""Talking to animals" such as McIntyre's extinct birds by using radio transmission - in what radio artist and theorist Gregory Whitehead describes as an "intricate game of position" that "unfolds among far-flung bodies, for the most part unknown to each other" - dissolves the boundaries between human and nonhuman worlds, perhaps it even transcends historical time."

"McIntyre's works are simultaneously here and not-here, now and then, physical and intangible, audible and inaudible; the uncanny sonic and ethereal worlds she creates are ones marked by death and disappearance, strangeness and silence -  discomfort we can feel in our bodies [...] In the event of a transmission, artists working in this medium bring otherwise elusive beings - often, phantoms - into the spaces we inhabit. Emerging out of, from, and into the electromagnetic spectrum, radio and transmission art allows us to experience being as both material and immaterial." 

18 Sept 2017

Medium: Paranormal Field Recordings and Compositions, 1901-2017

An exhibition titled Medium, showing at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, USA, between August 29 - December 3, 2017, will feature recordings from my project collected huia notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded).

The exhibition considers the possibility of communication with the unknown, collecting together over thirty multimedia works from contemporary artists, as well as historical objects ranging from 1920s séance transcripts and Soviet Cold War-era “bone records", and archival materials from University of West Georgia, Ingram Library, Special Collections, William G. Roll Papers; the collection of Dr. Patricia Poulter; and the American Society for Psychical Research, Inc., the show "considers how intangible vestiges of the past haunt our contemporary world," aiming to "introduce a space to talk about things we don’t truly understand and to experience the impact of history as it lingers in our present."

Medium is presented in conjunction with a vinyl record, Medium: Paranormal Field Recordings and Composition, 1901-2017, functioning as an audio supplement to the exhibition, which features sound recordings selected by Ben Coleman, including previously unreleased Poltergeist Recordings from the Society for Psychical Research in the United Kingdom as well as compositions by Dedekind Cut, Eluvium, and Frank Perry.

further details about the exhibition & the record can be found here

6 May 2017

collaboration with Mark Harwood, 'Liar Lyre' at the Wellcome Collection, London


In early May, London-based Australian sonic artist Mark Harwood and I collaborated on a piece for an event at the Wellcome Collection, organised by academic, poet, film curator and experimental geographer Amy Cutler. Liar Lyre saw "experimental geographers, musicians, field recordists, multi-media artists, poets and composers play with alternate ways of sound-tracking nature documentaries in live collaborations". The event was part of a weekend at the museum called Remaking Nature, and part of the preliminary public programmes to the exhibition A Museum of Modern Nature, which runs at the Wellcome from June to October. 

Mark and my collaborative performance stretched the distance between New Zealand and London through radio communication, tales of lazarus taxa, and speculations on nature and (neo)colonialism, critically re-soundtracking the first footage of the South Island takahē, or Notornis (Porphyrio hochstetteri), shot the year after its dramatic "rediscovery" in the Murchison Mountains, in 1948.  

7 Apr 2017

the tūī sings the place, not about the place


It is now Autumn in Dunedin, the gathering days just after the daylight saving change. The tightening of light, where the magic-hour creeps into an earlier time-slot, and becomes a particular hue of grey-green-gold at a certain time of late afternoon/early evening, one that occludes certain colours and makes the khaki land look even more sombre, like a fading bruise with a yellow edge, or a piece of precious yet neglected metal, crusted with verdigris but still glowing pale gold through it. And then, just before sundown, the darkness seems to sit preemptively, visibly and heavily on certain objects, making them hard to see. The skin of whatever part of the body has been unwisely left at the mercy of the elements prickles against the gathering cold and darkness, with a kind of thrill that reminds the body it's alive, and that winter is coming and it better be ready. 

And the birds seem to know what's coming too. After a week working mainly at home in the near-silence of the hillside neighbourhood, every day has begun with a particular neighbourhood tūī, which is itself the exact colours of this landscape, chortling and sparking outside my window like a malfunctioning robot, before gurgling lower tones, sometimes completely inaudible - the bird is singing visibly, but i can't hear anything - and despite all the historic notation of tūī songs here on the table in front of me, i can't hear any of this experimentalism, in this supposed transcription of this bird's "music", only a historic human - and specific cultural (pakeha) - listening talking to itself, and leaving the bird out of things. it would be better to look at the sounds the bird is making as emergent properties of this place, too, and not abstract them in such ways, or relegate them to the airless space of a field recording on a harddrive, a dead museum of sound. 

I am so grateful that these beings are still among us, that they are some of the few that have survived, the few that can live with us. While our familiarity and sharing of space extends to conviviality to these birds as endemic, their over-depiction in sentimentalised often kitch representation also hides the fact of their complete otherness from us, the ways in which their song also contains a memory of the emergent properties of a landscape that we have actively destroyed, that we have never seen. Maybe the clues are here, in the song, rather than the archive. Today's research into the question : 'do birds hear bird song like we hear bird song?' (short answer : no) + other aspects of bird listening has produced various reflections on divergent evolutionary pathways, biosemiotics, the bald anthropocentrism of various prior models of listening, and the bare fact that humans really don't sense better, they merely sense differently, and perhaps in some ways, not as well: "300 million years ago when mammals split from birds, birds in some ways got the better deal." But all this could basically be summed up by the sentence: i wish i could hear what that tūī hears of its own song, when it sings.

More to come, on that, I hope.

---x---

image: 'Poe Bird' or Tui
James Cook, A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World: Performed in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775, 2 vols (London: Printed for W Strahan & T Cadell, 1777)
University of Canterbury Library

13 Feb 2017

QUIET NOISE VI.


on Feburary 12 radio cegeste was invited to perform at Quiet Noise VI, an annual house/backyard show challenging experimental/noise performers to play without amplification, curated by Clinton Green (of Shame File Music) in his suburban garden in West Footscray, in Melbourne, Australia. 

taking a somewhat baroque approach to this ideal opportunity to explore the theme of non-electric amplification, I brought a Columbia Graphophone Cylinder Phonograph (a very special Model Type AA, c.1901-1902, the "smallest talking machine" sold by Columbia; it plays 2 minute cylinders, and is all original including the horn) all the way from New Zealand.

30 Dec 2016

radio feature: "In Prototype Days: sounds and stories from the Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania"

In Prototype Days is an experimental documentary radio feature that details scenes in the everyday life of not-for profit small museum The Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania (S.P.A.T.), located in the quiet suburb of Bellerive, in Hobart, Tasmania. The museum is dedicated to the preservation and display of historic sound technologies, and is a rich repository of devices and narratives which emphasise often localised and minor histories. The feature is told through the voices of the custodians of these technologies, some of whom have been working in radio and sound recording in the state for over 50 years. 

This feature was commissioned by Radio National's Soundproof program. It can be listened to here.

"If the history of technology is a repository of memory, then it's not a seamless recall. According to Lindsay McCarthy, president of the Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania (who himself first went on the radio waves in 1950), between the 1890s and the 1930s there wasn't anything recorded in Tasmania. Much of what was recorded only survives in the archives of S.P.A.T., a small museum and archive devoted to the history of recorded sound, located in an old post office in a quiet suburb on the eastern shore of Hobart's Derwent River. A love letter to amateur culture, In Prototype Days portrays scenes from the everyday life of S.P.A.T. Taking the lid off the museum's 'beautiful room', stacked floor-to-ceiling with hundreds of meticulously catalogued machines from the history of recorded and transmitted sound, alongside tens of thousands of recorded items from local and national audio history, presents a daunting, even overwhelming task.But as we walk into the room, memory gets specific. Within the walls of S.P.A.T., we hear the wonder of the simplest sound recording devices, like the Australian-invented card talk cardboard record player, made of folded cardboard and played with a steady hand holding a pencil at 78rpm, the sounds of once popular household playback devices like gramophones and phonographs, and tales from the pre-history of radio, when it was a rite of passage to make a crystal set by hand, with whatever was lying around the house."


29 Oct 2016

bending the waves #1: a series about radio as instrument, ausland, berlin.

after travelling to Germany to be part of the Radio Revolten festival in Halle, I was invited to play the first of a two-part series of concerts called Bending the Waves: Radio as Instrument.

I invited Berlin resident composer and viola player Johnny Chang to collaborate. Johnny is from New Zealand, and we'd been friends for quite a number of years after I'd met him via my role as one link in the New Zealand experimental music touring chain through event-organisation in Christchurch in the early 2000s, and hosted a couple of ensembles he was involved with. Since then, Johnny has become an integral part of the Wandelweiser collective of composers, with compositions incorporating an attention to the listening spaces of field recordings and a sense of space bordering on silence. I last saw him play at the Now Now Festival in Sydney in 2014, and his performance utilised radio and viola in sparse and conceptual, yet entirely material ways. 

The opportunity to play in the same room, timezone, and gestural space with Johnny is a very welcome one, because we have collaborated on two prior distance projects, each of which figured the structural element of the distance between us as an essential part of the gestural interchange and sonic dialogue. This foray into proximal liveness potentially extends and deepens our collaboration in some exciting ways.

image by Jean-Phillippe Renoult

5 Oct 2016

'Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species', Ursula K Heise.

I was pretty chuffed to find out recently that Ursula K Heise, author of Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global has written about my work as a case study in her new book Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species.

The University of Chicago Press writes the following about the book on its website: "We are currently facing the sixth mass extinction of species in the history of life on Earth, biologists claim—the first one caused by humans. Activists, filmmakers, writers, and artists are seeking to bring the crisis to the public’s attention through stories and images that use the strategies of elegy, tragedy, epic, and even comedy. Imagining Extinction is the first book to examine the cultural frameworks shaping these narratives and images."

Discussion of two works "Huia Transcriptions" and "Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild", exploring extinction, silence and silencing in the postcolonial environment, and the subject of cultural mourning of the nonhuman, are included by Heise. It's an absolute honor to be represented in this context, and I thank Ursula for seeing how these works might speak in their own small ways to an important and necessary wider discussion, alongside so many other thinkers, writers and artists whose work I value so greatly.


24 Sept 2016

'Das Große Rauschen: the Metamorphosis of Radio' at Radio Revolten Zentrale, Halle.


arriving in Germany to be resident for the month of October in the city of Halle (Saale) to participate in the Radio Revolten International Radio Art Festival, I am joining more than 70 artists from 17 countries who will visit this month to contribute in a variety of ways to the festival, at the invitation of artistic director Knut Aufermann, and co-curators Anna Friz, Sarah Washington, Ralf Wendt and Elisabeth Zimmermann. That’s 30 non-stop, exciting and exhausting days of contemporary radio art, at 15 locations around this small and picturesque city, in the form of performances, site-specific installations, concerts and events, and live radio broadcasts, as well as discussions in the upcoming symposium Radio Space is the Place. The festival will be transmitting 24 hours a day on Radio Revolten Radio, on the FM frequency 99.3 MHz in Halle, further afield locally on the AM (middlewave) frequency 1575 kHz, and reaching a worldwide audience via the festival livestream. Additionally, 35 radio stations around the world will integrate parts of Radio Revolten Radio into their own programming, including Resonance FM, Radio Zero, Wave Farm/WGXC Hudson Valley NY, and other stations involved in the Radia network, whose members will also take the opportunity to converge for a two-day meeting and thinktank at the studios of Halle's Radio Corax during the festival.

A week out from the opening, I am currently setting up my installation within the walls of room 106, once the office of a certain Frau Dieter, on the first floor of Radio Revolten Central in Rathausstraße 4, for the contemporary art exhibit Das Grosse Rauschen: The Metamorphosis of Radio (2nd–30th October 2016), which also features Steve Bates (ca/qc), DinahBird and Jean-Philippe Renoult (fr), Golo Föllmer and friends (de), Fernando Godoy M and Rodrigo Ríos Zunino (cl), Jeff Kolar (us), Emmanuel Madan (ca/qc), Kristen Roos (ca), with Maia Urstad (no) installed in the Stadtmuseum Halle as part of the “Unsichtbar Welle” historical installation. The curator of Das Grosse Rauschen, Anna Friz describes the exhibition as grouping “international artists working on the cutting edge of art with a trailing edge technology,” focusing on the expanded context of radio art: “What other possibilities might exist for radio in the popular imagination, what significance might radio have outside of it’s usual functions of broadcasting information and entertainment? Artists working with radio have consistently sought to re-imagine the medium itself: to subvert the standardized and institutional approaches to broadcasting, to challenge ownership (state or corporate) of the airwaves, to rethink what counts as transmission infrastructure by pulling radio out of the studio and into new spaces for public actions, installations, performances, infiltrations, and interferences.”

My contribution to this exhibition is threefold, with an interconnected suite of works exploring the indeterminacies of historical memory via the medium of transmission: site-specific iterations of Collected Silences for Lord Rothschild and modified radio memorial (a fissure in the line of a public silence) will be joined by a new work, study for a data-deficient species (grey ghost transmission). More detail follows:

24 Jul 2016

transmitter building workshop, part of the B.Y.O. BATTERY series.


on July 24 I hosted a mini FM transmitter building workshop for ten people at The Anteroom, an non-profit artist run space based in an ex Masonic Lodge in Port Chalmers, run by the media artist Charlotte Parallel. The workshop was part of a series of D.I.Y creative technology and skill-sharing events Charlotte curated called 'BYO Battery'. 

This workshop's intention was to make transmission technologies accessible, with participants constructing their own simple hand made ultra low watt transmitter with which to narrowcast their own sounds. Grounding this practical making within wider theoretical reflection and discussion of how DIY analogue technologies might inform our understanding of communications within the post-digital present, drawing on the histories of DIY radio making and free radio experiments in 1970s and 1980s Italian and Japanese media art and activist histories, we also discussed the use of transmission media for artistic and non-centralised cultural purposes. With participants coming from various backgrounds, including dance, experimental music, and film, it was a stimulating day. True to the spirit of the series, everyone also brought along their own 9v power source. 

14 Jul 2016

a horn of chicken wire, a new kokako, and Douglas Lilburn's media zombies at the National Library


 
On the 14th of July at 1pm I gave a performance/lecture at the National Library, Wellington, in response to Zombies on the Horizon, an exhibition drawing on archival collections to tell a lateral story of the development of experimental music in Aotearoa, put together by the National Library's music curator Matt Steindl for the Turnbull Gallery.  
This exhibition takes its name from a statement by composer Douglas Lilburn, who begins the show's own narrative, talking about the coming of electronic media within music culture as "the zombie on the horizon". I also took this as my own lateral starting point, speculating how Lilburn's statement might be seen in relation or contrast to the notion of Zombie Media, recently elaborated by Jussi Parikka and Garnet Hertz, particularly in relation to an 'archival turn' within sound art cultures.