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 Sounds Unusual, Fannie Bay Gaol Sounds Unusual, Fannie Bay Gaol
photo Tanja Kimme
THE 2007 SOUNDS UNUSUAL EVENT BEGAN IN ALICE SPRINGS THIS YEAR AS PART OF THE ALICE DESERT FESTIVAL BEFORE MAKING THE JOURNEY THROUGH DESERT TO COAST TO DARWIN TO PRESENT SURREALESTATE AT FANNIE BAY GAOL AND ISLANDS:CROSSING IN WHICH FIELD RECORDINGS BOTH AUDITORY AND VISUAL WERE COMBINED FOR MULTICHANNEL SOUND AND NEW MEDIA INSTALLATION AT THE DARWIN VISUAL ARTS ASSOCIATION (DVAA).

Director Rob Curgenven likes to gather audiences in historical Darwin sites, previously the WWII oil tunnels and this year Fannie Bay Gaol. These significant sites provide more than a backdrop, often dictating the overall listening compass. The essence of these events is an individual’s experience of a textured and tactile listening world, performed in a venue with great acoustic potential and theatrical presence.

The opportunity to explore the grounds and in particular the maximum security building where surrealestate was performed provided sombre reflections on 96 years of incarceration including that of Lindy Chamberlain. Many of the inmates gaoled here languished under appalling colonial policies which were racially prejudiced against Chinese and Aboriginal Australians.

Blastcorp (aka Kris Keogh), one of Darwin’s most invigorating performers, teamed with newcomer Ruben from The Fairweather Dolls to provide an appropriate ‘Welcome to Darwin' set. Jason Kahn from Switzerland performed a solo for analog synthesizer and percussion, and then completed the event in an improvised duet with Curgenven’s field recordings and instrumental harmonics.

Sounds Unusual, Fannie Bay Gaol Sounds Unusual, Fannie Bay Gaol
photo Tanja Kimme
Kahn’s sleight of hand across the snare drum created a gradual, entropic state change which was mesmerising. His right hand shimmered over an inverted cymbal while his left deftly controlled the output on the analog synthesizer. Minute changes to the position of the cymbal over the drum created dramatic sonic resonance via an overhead microphone. It seemed the slightest movement from the audience within the cell blocks also impacted on the sounds in the space.

There was a cyclonic build-up of volume as superseded sounds echoed down the darkened tunnels of cell blocks A & B. Speakers formed horizontal columns of sound either side of the audience.

The performance paralleled Darwin’s most famous sound recording, Cyclone Tracy, which plays in a dark room at the Northern Territory Museum & Art Gallery. The gaol is one of the survivors of that disaster. Kahn, perhaps unaware of this uncanny connection, drew us to an immersive finish of gentle dissipation.

Curgenven makes the point that sounds are fundamental to our perception of the world and significant to notions of the familiar and our sensing of otherness. Nature’s presence is pervasively felt in the Top End, not least in terms of time and place. Curvengen’s field recordings, a collection of over 250 CDs stacked in neat piles next to various portable CD players, was the result of many hours of recording from Alice Springs and Central Australia to Darwin via the Tanami Highway.

The complex micro and meso-structure of these field recordings suggested a time pattern for Jason Kahn’s processing. Curvengen’s collection included familiar sounds such as twilight crickets and dogs barking, as well as more all-encompassing sound events evoking specific places. The listener’s recognition of the source material completed the extension Kahn shaped for the overall composition and created an interesting counterpoint to his own continuum. Our ability to completely hear the complexities of a place and time is intersected by memories of the familiar which are in turn displaced and transformed.

The new media installation Islands:Crossing at DVAA featured Rob Curgenven’s field recordings and Katie Hepworth and Tanja Kimme’s photographs and video. A culmination of the journey these artists took from Alice to Darwin, the work recounts through stops and starts the visual and audio journey undertaken. For those who have experienced this road trip the travelling felt familiar. The distance expressed visually seems vast and often is told through zooming towards a point in the horizon. The moments of deceleration are quiet and reflect the field recordings heard.

As a diary piece Islands:Crossing suggests a rich source of material for continued performance.


Sounds Unusual, Northern Territory Festival of New Music, Alice Springs, Sept 8-18, Darwin, Sept 25-28; artists’ field trips: Central Australia, Sept 10-14, Alice Springs to Darwin, Sept 19-24; www.soundsunusual.com

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 40

© Sarah Pirrie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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