|Alan Lamb, WIRED Open Day 2011|
photo Mattias M. Morelos
The eponymous Wires are large-scale Aeolian instruments developed by West Australian artist/scientist/physician Alan Lamb, who has been exploring their potential since the 1970s, initially with found telegraph wires. At the WIRED Lab, a purpose-built collection of The Wires exists as a permanent installation on a large area of farmland. The residents of this land, artist/curator Sarah Last and artist/scientist David Burraston have been working closely with Lamb on the documentation and further development of his work, as well as opening up The Wires to exploration and collaboration with local and international artists and researchers, through regular workshops and residencies.
WIRED Open day is a biennial event that showcases both The Wires and work made with them. This year, due to inclement weather, the event was forced to relocate from the farm to nearby Muttama Hall. While it was disappointing that the audience didn’t get to experience The Wires, the community hall (established in 1925 and looking like it hadn’t changed much since) turned out to be a very suitable location for an event that was in many ways a celebration of community.
Some in the audience had in fact already experienced The Wires, including a large gathering of emerging sound artists from around Australia who had converged on the WIRED Lab for a residency over the previous week. The weather had thwarted their plans to develop a work for this event, but the performances they experienced would turn out to be a fitting masterclass.
The local community also showed great interest and the hall was soon full of a diverse range of people, including children, as well as many long-distance travelers like myself, who were bused in from the nearby town of Cootamundra. Prior to the performances we were treated to the country hospitality of a big spread provided as a fundraiser for the Cootamundra Creative Arts and Cultural Centre
The first tent contained a work by Chris Watson, the renowned UK field recordist and former member of Cabaret Voltaire. His installation was a time compression of the environmental sounds around the WIRED lab, which he had recorded over a period of 24 hours during a residency in 2009. Wet, windy atmospheres and a range of birdcalls were eventually joined by the singing of The Wires steadily increasing in intensity. More than just a beautiful soundscape, with Watson’s trademark crystal clear fidelity, this is also an excellent example of acoustic ecology, documenting the sounds of an endangered habitat. Watson was to have attended the Open Day, but was instead called to Burma to record the sound for what may be one of David Attenborough’s last documentaries.
|Garry Bradbury and David Burraston, Dormative Fields, WIRED Open Day 2011|
photo Sofie Muceniekas
Back inside the hall proceedings began with a warm welcome to country from Peter Beath, who gave us illuminating insights into his family’s relationship with the area. Event organiser Sarah Last then introduced the program and Lamb’s work by playing "Last Anzac" a piece from Lamb’s 1998 CD Night Passages in order to "get our ears in." This was classic Wire music. Throbbing bass filled the hall, eventually giving way to a constantly shifting palette of metallic drones and static tones, like frozen sirens. While superficially sounding like dark ambient or industrial music, it is really just a (framed and edited) document of the sound world of The Wires.
Unlike most stringed instruments, The Wires are so long that they vibrate at a fundamental frequency well below human hearing, and therefore have closely spaced harmonics that are multiples of that very low frequency. What we hear then is the often chaotic interplay of its higher harmonics, activated and modulated by environmental phenomena and/or by human intervention. The resulting timbres and harmonies are endlessly fascinating and compelling, and remarkably dramatic—Lamb’s recordings are featured on a number of film soundtracks. "Last Anzac" is a recording of Wire music at its finest.
|David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, WIRED Open Day 2011|
photo Sofie Muceniekas
|Alan Lamb, David Burraston, WIRED Open Day 2011|
photo Sofie Muceniekas
After an intermission Last introduced her "partner in life and art" David Burraston (aka Dave Noyze) and his array of equipment, which included two variations of another of Lamb’s inventions, a feedback generator called the Infinite Music Machine. Alongside these were a cellular automata sequencer (the subject of Burraston’s doctoral research) and sundry other electronic devices. Beginning with the air of a mad scientist giving a demonstration of his findings with little regard for aesthetics, the performance became more musically satisfying as it progressed and deeper, more complementary tones merged with the beautiful sound of rain falling on The Wires.
|Delmae & William Barton, WIRED Open Day 2011|
photo Sofie Muceniekas
The piece began with Lamb and Burraston at one end of the stage, mixing cavernous recordings of The Wires, sounding like a symphony stretched out beyond recognition. This lasted for several minutes before William Barton punctuated it with a series of assured yet delicate interventions from his slide didgeridoo. The reverberant swell of The Wires re-emerged, joined by birdcalls and eventually transforming into gongs and cymbals. As these receded and the didgeridoo came into its own there was an overlapping period that sounded almost Tibetan. But then Delmae began singing into her didgeridoo, a high, keening cry that was unlike anything I’d heard before. It only lasted for a minute, but by the end of it we were all in tears, knowing that we had just experienced something very special. Delmae dedicated her performance to the people of Muttama and to "all people of the world." As we walked outside under the bright stars we felt simultaneously awed and yet closer together.
The Wires can be understood as an instrument to help us tune in to the environment, to sound, and to each other. Alan Lamb deserves credit for his important work, but it is Sarah Last’s curatorial vision that is particularly deserving of praise for its powerful combination of inclusiveness and rigour. She tells me that “as much as I am curating/creating potentialities for the development of discrete projects, I am also attempting to create an experience of landscape and community. I want the experience of these projects to be powerfully subtle, seemingly organic and much like the way culture naturally evolves.” The work of Sarah Last and the WIRED Lab offers experiences through which we may better appreciate and engage with the most important questions of existence.
WIRED Open Day, October 29 2011, Muttama NSW, http://wiredlab.org
Shannon O'Neill is an artist, academic and curator. He runs the website Alias Frequencies http://aliasfrequencies.org and is also assisting the WIRED Lab with it’s website.
RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web
© Shannon O'Neill; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org