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FORMALLY TRAINED AS A COMPOSER AT ADELAIDE'S FLINDERS STREET SCHOOL OF MUSIC, TRISTAN LOUTH-ROBINS WENT ON TO COMPLETE AN HONOURS DEGREE WITHIN THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC UNIT (EMU) AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE. DURING THIS TIME HE GREW INTERESTED IN PHASE RELATIONSHIPS AND THE IMPACT OF PLAYBACK TECHNOLOGY ON COMPOSITION. HE CITES THE ALBUM ZAIREEKA BY THE FLAMING LIPS AS THE INSPIRATION FOR HIS THESIS RESEARCH.
Tristan Louth-Robins Tristan Louth-Robins
Created by playing four CDs simultaneously, Zaireeka, he explains, is a generative composition “utilising the technical features and potential of the technology—CD players—in order to create phase relations: either by accident or the inherent characteristics of the technology.”

This fascination with ‘accidental’ music and phase relationships led to a creative partnership with sound-artist Sebastian Tomczak. Together they formed The Glitch Collective, a loose ensemble of sound artists and musicians gathering to produce a series of spontaneous compositions using pre-recorded material: “We wrote the first couple of scores very much in the vein of the early Fluxus scores of the 1960s; very text-based. The first one we did was Glitch: a free-for-all which lasted an hour, where we were each assigned to write one minute of any sound material we wanted.” The result surprised its makers: with contributions variously at high pitch or low frequency ranges and with multi-tracking of all the sounds there was “a wonderful fullness [that] coloured the environment…We found that each of the sounds would fall in and out of synch with each other because the repeat times on the CD players are different. So that’s how you create phase relationships.” He thinks that general listener finds the result pleasing “because it’s made up of these little musical ostinatos.”

The basic principal of phase relationships used in Glitch, he notes, was also the one employed by Brian Eno to produce Music for Airports, composed from phasing loops of pre-recorded material on magnetic tape, cut to different lengths and therefore cycling at different rates. Eno created the piece in order to counter the impersonal nature of airports. Environments, whether built or natural, and their sound qualities and aural ecology, is a growing interest for Louth-Robins.

In a recent collaboration with the SHOOT collective, Louth-Robins produced the sound score for their video installation, Sounds from Level Four, an ominous piece about paranoia and social confinement using the central motif of an elevator to induce the feeling of claustrophobia and controlled movement. The sound moves from complex rhythms of cut-up vocals through to hydraulic elevator sounds, blistering glitches and sweet machine-like harmonics.

“The conceptual process…took quite a long time…probably close to three to four months developing an idea of how we would marry the visual and sound elements. I didn’t produce any sound per se until two months before it was first exhibited. I wasn’t necessarily gathering lots of audio samples and sticking them together and seeing how that sounded. If anything I was just writing down words that I would associate with the video and trying to find some kind of parallel to a sound or particular atmosphere.” On the issue of ‘machine aesthetics’ he was particularly pleased that he had created the score without relying on reverb. “I’d grown to hate an over-reliance of reverb in order to create the impression of space. I think there are other ways that you can evoke space.”

I had always attributed this penchant for reverb to the ‘wall of sound’ introduced by Phil Spector. Louth-Robins claims a later, far more sinister origin: “I think it’s partly to do with Phil Collins inventing the drum reverb in the 1980s. It’s that snare reverb. You listen to anything from the 1980’s and it’s there in some capacity.”

Louth-Robins is currently extending his interest in environmental sound design, using composition as a way of crossing over into ecology, influenced partly by his meeting with environmental musician and sound artist Robin Minard: “I was fortunate enough to meet Robin at the start of 2006 when I was involved with Michael Yuen’s Project 3, and spent some time with him setting up his Silent Music installation. My current interest is in natural phenomena and sound’s relationship to them, which is inextricably tied to the work of Alvin Lucier and Rolf Julius.” It also relates to the ideas of sound theorist and ecologist R Murray Schafer.

“Schafer looks at the particular characteristics of a natural environment, referring to these as sound marks: sounds that characterise the environment in a particular way. If you were to go down to a lake and hear the continuous sound of crickets and the intermittent chirps of birds, the water [lapping], they are always going to be there to a certain extent. What Schafer did was to start mapping these things out over the space of a year, so he could track the migratory patterns of the birds, or if the wildlife was diminishing or moving somewhere else.

“I’m specifically interested in the relationship between natural and industrial sounds. Such investigations involve making field recordings of various environments and assimilating excerpts into a collage, installation or [other] context. They stem from two main sources: the continuum of ambient sound—such as wind sounds and machine drones—and more instantaneous sounds which are characteristic to an environment, such as the croaking or frogs or a passing tram. This creates an interesting juxtaposition of sound sources and evokes a sensation, what writer David Toop [citing Schafer] describes as ‘schizophonia’, essentially sounds displaced from their point of origin. This is nothing new in terms of hearing transmitted or recorded sounds over the radio etc, but the displacement and juxtaposition of environmental sounds can significantly alter a listener’s perception. I am looking to apply this idea in an installation sometime over the course of the year.”

While interested in the objective appreciation of environmental sound, Tristan Louth-Robins says he is “still keen though on the idea of putting some kind of subjective intention into my work. I think maybe I’m just a little too much of a traditionalist. But if you put too much subjectivity into a piece—particularly a site specific installation that articulates a particular environment—then you can cloud the audience response with too much musical information.”


Glitch Collective archives: www.geocities.com/glitchtogether/

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 50

© Samara Mitchell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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