idea of south
To get the best out of Roger Mills' Idea of South, you have to put in a little bit of effort. Mills has created a radiophonic work transmitted via two real world radio stations (2SER and FBi) and an internet stream, experienced simultaneously. So you need to gather a few sets of speakers, two radios and a computer all into the one room to fully enjoy the gentle charm of Idea of South. (Alternatively, stream the stations in separate browser windows into one stereo mix. Locals went to Don’t Look Gallery on the night of the June 14 broadcast with transistor radios for an en-masse experience.)
Inspired by Glenn Gould’s work for radio, The Idea of North, composer and trumpeter Roger Mills (who has lived overseas for the last 20 years, recently returning to Sydney) has set out to explore the sonic nature of the southern hemisphere. Like Gould's this work includes multiple voices from a series of interviews that Mills conducted. It begins with extracts from Douglas Mawson’s 1911 diary of his travels in the Antarctic and ends in Argentina where a man talks of the protests of mothers walking silently around a city square holding white handkerchiefs bearing the names of their children who were 'disappeared' during the 1976-83 dictatorship. In between we hear of Mata the whale who protects a Maori man and his ancestors; how sounds of the plover remind one woman of home; a woman on a train at Redfern discussing being in a coma; and the creation of Mount Tangkuban Perahu according to the Indonesian myth The Story of Sangkuriang.
The voices are split between the different transmissions and worked very physically with Gould’s sense of the contrapuntal. The arrangement of subject matter is associative rather than narrative. Some hint at complex stories and histories but others less so, and overall they don’t provide a sense of through-line or cohesion.
However the strength of the work is to be found in Mills’ musical compositions, elements of which were performed live on the premier broadcast with violinist Hogi Tsai and Mills on trumpet at 2SER and, further across town at FBi, guitarist Michael Hanlon. They provide Idea of South with structure—contained movements bleeding in and out of the textual material. The instrumentation also works with and against various field recordings that have been donated from artists around the hemisphere. Growing out of howling Antarctic winds a muted trumpet and violin slide around each other, sweet and melancholic, joined by a stunning whale song (recorded on hydrophone by Mills' father). In another instance a repeated sinuous, organ-like phrase underpinned with a bass pulse is joined by a prayer song and agitated violin notes; the gradual escalation is measured, yet full of tension. The concluding theme is casual with its jazz-styled muted trumpet and walking bass, but the insistent arpeggios beneath leave us with a sense of unease.
The spatialisation, even through my shonky multi-speakered set-up, was well handled. Elements are similar across channels, yet they are offset to create depth and movement. The composition and the restrained use of field recordings are never cluttered, relying on the subtleties of spatialisation to fill in detail. While I’m not sure I get a strong sense of the hemisphere (perhaps because I have always dwelt in it), Roger Mills’ Idea of South is an intriguing and valuable radio exploration, challenging the audience to actively engage in its reception, and rewarding them with a unique listening experience.
A stereo version of the piece can be experienced at http://ideaofsouth.netpraxis.net/samples/ideaofsouth.mp3
Idea of South, created produced and performed by Roger Mills, June 14, 10.30pm, broadcast on 2SER 107.3, FBi 94.5, and streamed from http://ideaofsouth.netpraxis.net
Inspired by resonances of location and memory, Idea of South sets out to explore, provoke and question our sense of place in the southern hemisphere. Combining networked terrestrial radio and Internet streaming, the work is composed as three individual audio tracks, comprising live music, field recordings and spoken word. The three audio streams are broadcast simultaneously and experienced by listeners tuning their radios into both radio stations and a home computer or iPhone for the Internet stream. As the program moves through hot dry deserts or icy Antarctic waters, the sense of these locations is enhanced through the diffusion of sound over a multi-channel broadcast, taking radio out of the singular domain that it normally inhabits into an immersive radiophonic experience. I also encourage listeners to experiment with the position of their devices. Involving them in this process further enhances their experience of the work.
Idea of South
The sound map is available at http://ideaofsouth.netpraxis.net/map
Loop Space Gallery
Image: Roger Mills in 2SER Studio, photo Neil Jenkins