Safety Zone (Richter Variations) detail

Monday 12 August 2013

I finally had a C-type print made from one of my photos. There was an old picture frame left by the previous tenants, which was doing nothing except housing a rather grubby Fidel Castro calendar for 1997. It had to go.

The trouble is that I’m so pleased with it I want to make another variation and get it printed, too.

This is going to mean finding another frame exactly the same shape and style, or starting all over with two matching frames. I spent months getting round to this and I still think I rushed it.

Capitalists and Music For Bionic Ears Redux

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Just a quick update to say that I AM THE PRESIDENT OF CAPITALISTS INC. now has a proper page of its own on the website. An update with the thrilling sequel to this historical non-re-enactment will be coming as soon as I get my hands on a decent slide scanner.

Also, you can now hear for yourself This Is All I Need, my contribution to the Interior Design: Music for the Bionic Ear project. This was the concert of new music made especially for listeners with cochlear implants, who can understand speech really well but have a hard time making sense out of music. People without technological augmentation can enjoy it just as much. I’ve gone into some detail about the project and the thinking behind the music.

Another box post, plus new video!

Tuesday 23 April 2013

I’m off for the boat train to Belfast tomorrow for Sonorities 2013 at Queen’s University. I’ve prepared a new mix of Third City: Walking on Red and Blue to present at the Sonic Lab on Thursday, 25 April.

In the meantime, I’ve received a new toy in the mail, delivered in an oversized, passive-aggressive box with a warning label defying me to bend it.

I was so excited with my new mini recorder I left it out on the window while still plugged into the speakers and turned it up a little too loud. Please enjoy this video I made by accident.

This Is The New Music: Sonorities 2013

Sunday 7 April 2013

In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll be in Belfast for Sonorities 2013, presenting a new audiotheque mix of Third City: Walking on Red and Blue.

This is a piece which has been developing for over 15 years now. It started as a pair of field recordings, documenting walks through the city of Melbourne. These recordings were played simultaneously into a third space, Bill Fontana style, as a sound element in my first visual art exhibition. In turn, these sounds were used as raw material to be digitally manipulated, according to a set of instructions obtained from a new interpretation of the maps that determined the route of the original walks. This digitally-transformed version was used in a later exhibition.

I’ve presented later re-interpretations of this material, with subsequent additions and subtractions, but it’s been a number of years since I last worked with field recordings or audio documentation. I’m looking forward to the trip to Belfast as a starting point for resuming this activity.

The theme for Sonorities this year is “beyond soundscape”, so it seems like an appropriate venue for my approach to soundscape work. Third City: Walking on Red and Blue presents two types of artificiality, or synthesis, in its soundscape. The first is through the conflation of two locations into one; the second is through the intermingling of digitally-processed and unaltered sounds. On first hearing, the listener can distinguish certain ‘landmarks’ as belonging to one realm or the other, while other details remain disorientating or misleading.

A bit more about the history of Third City: Walking on Red and Blue is on the main web site. The new remix will be in the Sonic Lab, Queen’s University, Belfast on Thursday 25 April, starting at noon.

The Richter Variations – III

Wednesday 27 March 2013

I’ve spent a couple of rootless months while finding a new permanent home in London, hence the lack of updates to the blog and the website. Some major bits of news will be going up over the Easter break, both about my own work and other people’s stuff I’ve seen. In particular, I need to set down my experiences from a couple of weeks ago, when I had the privilege of meeting R. Andrew Lee and hearing him give a spellbinding performance of Dennis Johnson’s incredible piece November.

In the meantime please enjoy some more blurry photographs of Berlin.

How I make my work

Tuesday 8 January 2013

I was going to say ‘disinterestedly’ but that’s too self-aggrandising. ‘Distractedly’ is probably more apt. Write a sentence, pace around the house. Look up a reference, end up rereading half of Vainglory. As I think I’ve mentioned before, figuring out all the details is OK, but the execution is where I start to lose interest. Once I see it’s going to do what I hoped for, I get sidetracked again and start working on something else.

After that, work progresses in infrequent dribs and drabs. Even trivial pieces can have a longer gestation period than Ulysses. There’s no sense of anticipation when a piece is nearing completion, either to hasten or delay the end. The work continues indifferently, in small increments until, quite unexpectedly, there’s no more to do. Like absent-mindedly munching on crisps until you dip your hand in one more time and realise you’ve finished the bag. You weren’t even all that hungry.

The Richter Variations – II

Saturday 15 December 2012

The Richter Variations – I

Sunday 4 November 2012

Australian Cover Versions

Thursday 13 September 2012


This is the fourth version of this painting I’ve made and I’m starting to get the hang of it. The process is more efficient, I’m getting better control of the colour, and doing just enough to completely obscure the original cover art. I always wanted a series, to show up differences created by human fallibility and indiscriminate entropy.

The bottom right image above shows the “finished” painting, although it won’t be complete until it has been sufficiently “matured”. The first one I painted is starting to wear out nicely.

I Am The President Of Capitalists Inc.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

“Would you like to join a society called Capitalists Inc.? (Just so no one would think we were Communists.) Anyone joining automatically becomes president. To join you must show you’ve destroyed at least one hundred records…”

— John Cage, Lecture on Nothing, 1949.

It’s John Cage’s 100th birthday today, and like everyone else I think I’m the only person who gets what Cage was really about and it just happens to align exactly with my own way of thinking.

I can’t remember if it was Cage himself or someone he was quoting who made the Sphinx-like statement that the opposite of every idea is another good idea. For all my infatuation with Cage’s music, I still like to take the kill-the-Buddha approach to his ideas and see what happens when they are deliberately opposed or misinterpreted.

I Am The President Of Capitalists Inc. was a performance and art exhibition I made in 2003. Its premise was to misunderstand Cage’s intellectual teasing quoted above and interpret it as a literal instruction for some sort of expressionist, confrontational, bourgeoisie-titillating aktion – all of which are opposed to Cage’s aesthetics.

To add insult to injury, my performance was conducted with the air of a re-enactment of a once-vital artistic statement which has since been embraced by the regime it once opposed and stripped of all subversive potency.

The golf club was a last minute idea, as I found it in a cupboard in a back room of the gallery. I now understand why golfers wear gloves.

Once all the records were smashed, I handed out business cards commemorating my new status. The room was left in that state for the rest of the exhibition: broken records, beer bottles and sundry detritus. A television was placed in the back corner playing the video of the performance, with the screen angled away so punters had to walk over the pile of rubbish to see what was going on.

During the exhibition some unexpected events took place in that room, but I’ll save that for another time, soon.

Origin Myths

Tuesday 14 August 2012

I guess everyone has got a story in their head about how and why they came to hold their present aesthetic and cultural values. When Robert Hughes died last week it reminded me that my own formative experience was when I was a little kid and happened to see an early episode of The Shock of the New. I was sufficiently absorbed by it that my parents let me stay up late once each week to watch the rest of the series.

I’ve never owned a copy of the book or rewatched the series on video; in fact I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen the first episode or two. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the images and ideas from that show were imprinted in my memory, and formed the mould into which all my subsequent thinking about art have been poured.

Up until then, my understanding of art was no deeper than the popular caricature of High Culture. I wondered why every artist seemed to be dead. My folks had a Time-Life book of Great Artists I’d flip through, which had Picasso, Matisse and Chagall in it, but I couldn’t understand why their paintings were weird and kind of ugly. When Robert Hughes talked about Dada, I suddenly found a type of modern art where I “got” what they were saying about the world. It had a point which seemed clear but which couldn’t easily be put into words – and that’s how I learned what art was about.

Similar formative experiences came later in my mid-teens, but then I was on the lookout for equivalent models of modernity in music and literature. My parents had another series of books about artists which ended with Duchamp, so that became my supplement guidebook to what I’d seen on TV. In writing, I read a bit of Pound and Eliot in school and then searched out more for myself, finding Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era, which opened up an entire alternative history of twentieth-century culture. Almost by coincidence, I got hold of Guy Davenport’s essays in The Geography of the Imagination, which set out a wider set of orientation points for modern writing and beyond. In one essay he observes that “all true education is unconscious seduction.”

I was looking around for “strange” music and picked up all sorts of odds and ends. The minimalists provided the most apparent style from outside the conventional tradition, but the real educational experience came from a series of radio programmes Edward Cowie made for the ABC, called Towards New Music. Later episodes focused on particular themes or composers, including one dedicated to John Cage and like-minded artists. At that time Cage was a person I’d heard of without really knowing anything about him other than that he seemed guaranteed to be fascinating. He was, and as a bonus Cowie played a few minutes of Paragraph 7 from Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning.

It was the first episodes, however, that got me hooked. Cowie attempted to start from first principles, discussing the nature and purpose of sound-making with an improvising orchestra of kindergarten kids, and critiquing how we are educated and socialised into a culture of music. It probably helped that Cowie is a painter as well as composer, allowing him to see a wider range of issues than the technical debates that clutter up too many histories of music.

However much I may have loved playing music, listening to it, reading or whatever, what truly caught up my imagination was these histories, showing how and why we had come to be doing what we do now, and how much more it is possible to do.

Can you tell what it is yet? Another painting update

Monday 30 July 2012

So what happened to that painting?

I finally added a (the) second colour. It didn’t go so well. Remedial steps were needed.

A few extra coats and things were about as good as they’d ever be.

Now comes the final step. I’ll just stick this under here.

It’ll have to age for a while down there. I’m not sure how long, but at least a few weeks. In the meantime I’ve started another two paintings, same as before… only better!

Or perhaps I’m just lazy

Tuesday 24 July 2012

I’m obsessed with the idea of making art and music in which 99% of the work is mental conceptualisation and preparation, with the actual execution being the finishing 1%. The idea that the ideal piece is a manifestation of thought, with the most minimal physical intervention. There is no need to rework, or change direction, strive for an effect or tell a story. Everything flows with an elegant logic as a neat series of consequences from a single point of origin, and may be appreciated for its substance and its surface without resort to aesthetic argument.

Basically, I like to sit around thinking about making stuff, but spend as little time as possible actually making it. The artistic challenge is to think up work that can sustain this half-assed method.

Painting update

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Thanks for asking how the painting’s coming along. The answer is, “not that great” but that’s because I’m not that great at painting. Some thoughts so far:

  • Who’d have thought that painting a flat surface a solid colour would be so hard?
  • More specifically, that so many aesthetic decisions are involved in painting a flat solid colour. What kind of surface finish do I want? How prominent do I want the brush strokes, flaws etc to appear?
  • Contingency plans for surface finish go out the window as soon as I apply paint with the brush.
  • I’m applying thin coats of a mixed colour. How many layers should I apply before it’s no longer worth it?
  • I’m enjoying repainting the same parts the same colour over and over, partly because it keeps me from having to decide how to do the next bit.

Redrawing Old Times, New Times

Monday 25 June 2012

I can’t put it off any longer. I’m going to talk a bit about the Collected Collaborations exhibition at MUMA last year.

My part of the show was an eight-page newspaper, compiled along with similar contributions by the rest of the Redrawing collective. This was the follow-up show to the original Redrawing exhibition back in 2008.

Redrawing included the audio-visual installation version of my String Quartet No. 2 (Canon in Beta). For the Collected Collaborations show I went into greater details discussing aspects of the piece’s creation, and the consequences of making the piece which had arisen from participating in the show.

At the end of my newspaper segment, I wrote a brief article about my future plans for works art and music which build on the lessons I learned from the exhibition. It’s a bit of a blur now, so let’s see what I wrote:

Besides the projected series of visual works based upon the spectrogram of String Quartet No. 2, two more musical compositions are planned in a similar vein. In one, following the principle of technical and conceptual distortion, an attempt will be made to reverse the process used to render the sound as a spectrogram. By producing a computer-synthesised soundfile that reproduces the frequency profile of the spectrogram as closely as possible, it is expected that the resulting music will diverge significantly from the original music on which the spectrogram is based. What this music may sound like is open to speculation.

Speculate no more! Here it is, with accompanying video.

The other composition is one which gets closer to the original conception to some aspects of the piece, and yet further away from others. The work in progress, titled Symphony, is based on a single pitch but uses a large array of different instruments. The sounds used will be subjected to the exact same processes as those used in String Quartet No. 2. This new piece will therefore have less harmony (and become closer to my original understanding of Niblock’s music) but greater timbral diversity (unlike Niblock’s pieces for multiples of the same instrument). For me, the interest in making this piece is to discover what is lost and gained in the trade-off between timbre and harmony, and to find out which of these two unfaithful copies is closer to the model they seek to imitate.

I just finished this piece on the weekend, and I’m pretty excited about it. I think I’m a bit tight on server space but will try to upload some more about this asap.

Both of these works are planned for completion in late 2011.

Close enough.

I intend them to form part of an ongoing series of compositions made with the aim of producing two or more works which are all but indistinguishable from each other, whether in relation to the music of another composer or not. Again, although this is an accepted practice in the visual arts, in music it has been confined to questions of execution and interpretation, and not of composition.