'Gesture 7.2a' from 'The Joy of Loss'

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Performance Documentation

Improvised performance lays at the centre of The Joy of Loss. Featuring dancer Penny Mullen, musician Grant Johansen and me, this showreel (around eight minutes) shows the performance in action.

Best listened to with headphones or dedicated speakers...password is Fellowship14

Silent Interviews Documentation

The Joy of Loss features 'silent interviews' projected onto fluid, dynamic fabric.

This video documents these projections in the space.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New, reflective posts to come

In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about my reflections on the season The Joy of Loss.

Taking pride of place will be the documentation of the performances and installation, and the great work done by my fellow artists from the Queensland Academy of Creative Industries.

In the meantime, here is a couple of snaps from the space...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Opening night beckons

The Joy of Loss opens in just a couple of days, and I have been finalising a range of components as well as preparing for the opening performance...

Not just practicing and rehearsing, but moving into the right spirit for the piece...

One of the ways I do this is revisit a piece that I used to perform reasonably often, one which puts me in the space, helps me be present. 

The piece is Karlheinz Stockhausen's  Aus den seiben tagen. These are works of words that explore what is within - an intuitive music for ensemble. There are 'text instructions' - though I use that term very loosely - operating as pathways to musical intuition, another realm of sound, an intersection of the spirit and the body.

You can find these text instructions here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Catalogue essay...

The Joy of Loss?

The rite of our springtime is nurtured by physical and emotional privation manifesting wholistically.  It is an all or nothing equation, an essential absolute.

What joy could possibly come from this? 

Perhaps there is no joy in loss, ‘only [the] hope that what one feels will eventually go away, that “time will heal”, [that] one will be able to “rise above” and won’t sink and die. That instead, one will become a bottom-of-the-abyss feeder, the dweller feeding on crumbs of other peoples’ losses…[each] loss creating an abyss between oneself and the others, those lucky ones, still naïve and untouched’ (Kucharova, 2011).

But surely to live it, to taste it, to feel it, to hear it is a spiritual awakening, not the tolling of a nearing bell. It is not what it is, it is how it is dealt with; it is the unexpected, as is our resilience, our stamina, our compass travelling an unsteady difficult path through an intense but finite wilderness. And whilst it invades every thought and corrupts every action, the measure is in one’s ability to practice the ‘art of losing gracefully’ (Silva, 2011), emerging more complete than thought possible.

The Joy of Loss is not a treatise on fortitude. It is an exploration of the silences that embody loss: the unheard sounds, the unseen faces, the unspoken words. It is breath and it is pulse – and it continues long after the source of loss has faded into fluid, uncertain, grainy, disputable memory. Here it lives – perhaps transformed into a muted strength, perhaps existing as a living excuse – layering the ice, and cracking it when the great thaw succeeds in grasping a lungful of fresh air...

- David Sudmalis

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vale Aneel Silva

My friend Aneel Silva completed his journey last night, passing on after an intense battle with his own body. We will celebrate his life on Friday.

Aneel wrote a short contribution for The Joy of Loss in his last weeks, which was posted on The Joy of Loss blog.  The link to his contribution is at

Our shared love of test cricket and banter around Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar was a highlight of our relationship, and one that will remain dear to me.

To his beloved Shar and Tiddles, our thoughts and love are with you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Some images from the rehearsal during tech week

Photographer Keith Novak came by the rehearsals on Thursday and Friday of the technical/development week at The Block and captured some stunning moments of Penny Mullen, Grant Johansen and me as we worked through the performance of The Joy of Loss.

I have shared some of the images here. I will post more soon...

Image credits:
David Sudmalis, The Joy of Loss, 2011, installation image. Photo by Keith Novak.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sue Kucharova - the joy of loss?

Continuing the process of soliciting short written pieces around 'the joy of loss', I approached my friend Dr Sue Kucharova to contribute some words around the theme.  In her usual pull-no-punches style, Sue has composed a direct, straightforward piece that draws on her own experience, offering her own uncompromising perspective...

Thanks Sue!


Joy of loss?
What joy? There is no joy in loss, only hope that what one feels will eventually go away, that ‘time will heal’, one will be able to ‘rise above’ and won’t sink and die. That instead, one will become a bottom-of-the-abyss feeder, the dweller feeding on crumbs of other peoples’ loses. Every loss creates an abyss between oneself and the others, those lucky ones, still naïve and untouched.
I know all about loss. To start with, I am Czech. We have invented a national trait that publically accepts and even celebrates loss – we call it litost and the concept is untranslatable into the English language…it is a complex emotion that contains elements of sadness, loss and grief but it can never be simply identified as one or the other.  At the centre of it lies a profound lack of self worth, a form of passivity that hands over to some other person/nation the right to govern, show off and be successful, while we retreat behind the notion of maly cesky clovicek  -  that roughly translates as ‘little Czech person’ – someone who is always at the mercy of others, hence the litost.  Many Czech writers have made their careers out of exploring it in their works, the rest of us live with it in our DNA.
The second claim that gives me the right to pontificate on the nature of loss is my credential of having been an asylum seeker. These days I am a reasonably successful Australian but 40 years ago I arrived here as a political refugee with no functional English.
Like all refugees, I will forever carry with me everything that happened before and after I left home, hidden deep inside, malformed into a profound sense of loss that will never leave me. Surprisingly, this particular sense of loss is perfectly compatible with and lives side by side with feelings of happiness and contentment, but, as every refugee will testify, we know it’s always there, waiting to inflict itself on those we love.
The loss of one’s shared history, mother’s tongue, the smell and sound of one’s homeland, the taste of the food, the understanding and acceptance of litost, is all part and parcel of the way refugees process everything else that follows: the fear of authorities, the never-ending battle with new language, the loss of continuation of family connections. These and a myriad of other instances of loss are inside a baggage that every refugee grabs hold of when crossing the line between being a citizen and becoming a refugee, a stateless person, an asylum seeker.  With approaching age, aspects of this loss start leaking out in various ways – need to visit ‘home’ gets stronger, the dreams in the original language suddenly return, the past family links take on greater significance. Even the paths created in the brain in the mother’s tongue seem to resist the onset of senility better than those created in the new tongue.  The older we get, the baggage we carry gets heavier. The only change we can inflict upon it, is in the way we handle it, the way we swap it from one hand to another or to stop and take a little rest. From time to time we can even drop it, but never ever can we leave it behind us and walk away.
Profound loss is always part of us. We can only find different ways to handle it, manage to distance ourselves from it, learn ways to hide it or pretend that it doesn’t exist, but there never is a joy of loss.
- Dr Sue Kucharova
Unedited contribution from Dr Sue Kucharova

Monday, July 18, 2011

IDA Projects and Sudmalis

I have enjoyed a really productive personal and professional relationship with IDA Projects since way back in 2004. At that time, I was working at the School of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Tasmania, and had - in a short time - became firm friends with one of my colleagues at the university, Malcom Bywaters who was the Director of the Academy Gallery.

Early in 2004, the gallery had a show going up that was part of the IDA touring program.  A collection of predominantly print-based works as I recall, it shook my understanding of the visual arts to the core. Admittedly, my understanding was fairly limited coming exclusively from a music perspective, but nonetheless, it shattered whatever pre-conceptions I might have had...

Up to that time, I was narrowly focussed on writing music for instruments and the concert hall, a fair portion of which involved live or pre-determined electonics.  In the IDA show going up in the gallery at that time, I saw distinct parallels between some of the conceptual, technical and methodological issues I was trying to solve reflected in the work laid out in front of me. I turned to the Director of IDA to talk about it.

And that is where my relationship with Steve Danzig began.

We discussed what it is to change something, what it is to meld, what it is to re-orient.  Steve asked me to compose a work for the opening of the exhibition.  I did.  I composed 'ENKI' for flute, digital fixed audio and live electronics. It was performed at the opening by Daynor Missingham, who could really play. 

This is the piece here:

Following ENKI, the connection between IDA Projects and me became solid, visiting Beijing in 2005, hooking up in Japan in 2007, in Australia in 2008, and the UK twice in 2011.  I also wrote some conference papers; Steve plugged me away to anyone who would listen and we generally had an interesting and enjoyable time doing it. We've also worked together on a few pieces, including the rather fantastic Un_Place animation and soundscape, and something interesting yet to emerge from the vaults...

And now that relationship continues, as Steve and IDA Projects supports The Joy of Loss at QUT. As he always does, Steve has given me something of carte blanche in terms of concept and method - certainly something I am grateful for, as it allows me the time and space to consider, re-consider, reject, re-work, or even start from scratch.

In many ways, The Joy of Loss is something of a summative statement of our relationship - how strength and resilience can arise from difficult situations.  Both personally and professionally, Steve has never been far away...and whilst we might not always agree on the best way to proceed, the strength of the relationship which has survived respective health problems and relationship breakdowns, is rooted in truth... 

...which is just another joy made profound forged in the fire of loss.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Catalogue Essay - Introduction; Aneel Silva

Recently, I have turned my attention to the issue of the catalogue essay.

I have determined to maintain the thread of stories and perceptions of loss in the writing.  This provides another pathway for considering the dynamics of overcoming and transcending loss - at the same time using language as the window for sharing experience.

I have asked several people to write short episodes about their experiences of loss, in same the way that interview subjects relate their stories in silent interviews.  In those interviews, words are removed and only the play of the face remains.  In the essay, the visage is removed and only the words remain.

I will not be using the stories provided for this as material dropped into the essay. I plan to extract key phrases and themes, and co-opt them into a weaving text that is fluid and experiential instead of fixed and analytical.

The first piece I would like to share comes from my friend Aneel Silva.  Aneel is a young man with a family, and is currently living with leukemia. I'd like to thank Aneel for writing such a brutally honest and personal appraisal of the subject.  It is difficult to read, but it is Aneel's truth. 

In the end, we all lose. It is a part of growing, a part of living, and a part of dying. It is a part of maturing and coming of age. We cannot control the cards we are dealt, we can only control our response to them. It is an experience – something you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Loss brings to mind a whole range of emotions that are self-destructive: guilt, regret, lost opportunities, disempowerment. These emotions are not useful to hold onto in the longer term - though they are possibly useful in the process of grieving or coming-to-terms-with - but to hold on them for too long is disabling.

What I want to consider is the transmission of loss. I am a husband and a father and I love my wife and I love my daughter. But I have been given an experience that will not allow me to see my daughter realise her potential, be happy as a woman, control her own destiny, laugh as a woman laughs, cry as a woman cries.  I will not see her finish school, go to university, meet the person that gives her happiness.

For my daughter, I must concentrate on living now and in the small moments so that when these events in her life happen, she can remember the supportive and happy father, not the one who was a crying poor victim of the uncontrollable.  I cannot allow the negative aspects of loss pollute the most joyful moments of her life.  I may not be there, but I know I will always be there. And I know that she will always feel me there.

We can control loss for ourselves, but can we control our loss on others?  I know that my loss will be her loss too, but I must minimize the negative impact on her.  She will grow without me, but that is not enough.  She should blossom into the full person that she is.  Perhaps my loss will help her do that – I am determined not to let it stop her growth as far as I can. I am no martyr, but my love for her is greater than my feeling of self-pity.

Loss is a challenge. And I will lose.  But I must perfect the art of losing gracefully so that my darling daughter can experience the joy of life…indeed, the joy of my loss.

- Aneel Silva

Unedited contribution of Aneel Silva.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Introducing Rick McCullock

I've known Rick for many years - way back since our shared time at the University of Tasmania in Launceston.  They were heady days indeed.

Back then, Rick was running computer labs, solving all manner of tech problems, and generally being enigmatic.  At the same time, Rick was also undertaking a investigation of the acoustic properties of heritage sites - a form of acoustic conservation - and developing tools for measuring and replicating those properties for use in digital audio workstations as plug-ins. One of the highlights of my time at UTAS was his balloon popping demonstration as he explained the principles of reverberation and sound reflection to a generally unenthused group of fine arts postgraduates and academics.

Rick eventually moved on to the Tasmanian Qualifications Authority in Hobart, Tasmania where he seems to have been wreaking havoc ever since.

Rick joins The Joy of Loss team to lead the iPad Orchestra project.  An experienced app developer, Rick has already brought to bear his expertise on the problem and demonstrated the elegant simplicity of the design and functionality in our meetings late last week.

We're looking forward to sharing the fruits of this development here soon.

The iPad Orchestra is one of the interactive elements of The Joy of Loss, where audiences can produce sound and music in real-time in the immersive space. As a first step into iPad music making in this way, it holds much promise for this - and future - projects.

Very exciting!!

Image supplied by Rick McCullock.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Genine Larin - Guest author

Genine is a key person in the QUT curatorial team for The Joy of Loss.  Following the tech week, I asked if she might be interested in contributing to the blog. In this entry, Genine writes about her observations and perceptions of the week...

Thanks Genine!


Observations of The Joy of Loss Tech/Development week

We started the week by working through the material practicalities of David’s primarily ethereal work, namely, the fabric surfaces that capture the silent interview projections.  I cut the polysheen into six metre drops, fixed these to hanging devices. Then David, Blair and I spent the afternoon lowering the rig, arranging the drops, raising the rig, observing, contemplating, discussing and then re-arranging.

The fabric drops are 120cm wide and are positioned in a way that is meant to fragment but not interfere with the 5 metre projected imagery. The fabric is translucent so that the projected image can be seen from both sides. Since the polysheen is not transparent, any overlapping of fabric casts a shadow on the drop behind.  Eventually, we found that the best configuration was to align the drops side by side whilst staggering them in distance from the projector.  This added an additional three dimensionality to the faces of the silent speakers.  It was interesting to observe that the reflective nature of the fabric revealed light waves from the black and white projection as colour frequencies.  In a similar way David’s sound work reveals sound vibration frequencies.

While David and Jason installed all the technical gear for the sound work, I meditated on literally fragmenting the edges of one of the six metre drops.  I accomplished this by fraying the raw edges of the polysheen with a metal pet grooming brush which, to my delight, made the job so much easier than I had anticipated!  As it turned out, even though the frayed edges themselves looked amazing, in the context of the darkened projection area, they were not very noticeable along the outside edges of the projection.  Unfortunately, it also cast fuzzy shadows onto the fabric drop behind, in the middle of the silent interview projection, so we opted not to use it. 

There was a buzz of excitement in the air once the sound installation was up and running alongside the video projection.  It was amazing to see the space in the block transformed and filled with the vibrations of sound and light while the performance part of the work began to be resolved.  I really began to feel the work.  Literally.  There was a throbbing in the air that could be felt through my whole body.  It was like the feeling of my heart beating during a rest interval after a period of physical exertion ... or like the pounding of a headache that didn’t hurt.  The emotional expressions of the individuals in the silent interviews were open, honest; vulnerable yet strong.  Intellectually, I knew they were talking about personal losses but in this space of imposed aphasia I could only perceive what they were saying by observing their body language. It made me think about similar feelings of my own.  

At the rehearsal, with the backdrop of video and sound, David and Grant performed musically, with great technical skill, along with a powerful performance of movement by Penny.  It was quite a moving experience for me to watch the dual 40 minute improvisation of movement in response to sound, and sound in response to movement.  Penny’s performance was like a slow and controlled writhing ... as if she could slow a painful experience down to carefully contemplate each moment of it.  This was such a beautiful, even spiritual, response.  As opposed to what one might expect in an instinctive reaction to loss which would be to fight and resist it ... or to run away.

I had the opportunity to see some of David’s visual journal which contained all the conceptual and emotional inspiration for The Joy of Loss.  I felt like an intruder looking a such a personal document ... but it was beautiful ... and I thought that it could be exhibited as a work itself.  It goes to show how little one consciously knows about how much goes into a work like this.  On the other hand, when one can experience it in this way, with one's entire being, the body knows even when the mind doesn’t. 

In joy and in pain there is need to express.  Difficulties can be bonding experiences.  Being present, in empathy with another, is a form of connection.  And true connection with another is a joy.  A problem shared is a problem halved.  And I feel privileged to have been involved, in some small way, in the development of this work. 

- Genine Larin

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Penny Mullen - Collaborating Artist

I am delighted to be working with Penny Mullen in the realisation of The Joy of Loss.

Penny is a dancer, educator, choreographer and thinker.  In working with Penny last week, I was constantly amazed by the powerful repertoire of small, precise gestures that Penny brought to bear on the piece; I’ve a new appreciation for the communicative energy of the body. During rehearsal, Penny’s performances transcended expressive physicality, they were securely located in the visceral – emotionally articulate, subtle, from a place within…
Currently Head of Dance and choreographer for the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts, Penny’s career remains truly international having worked throughout Australia, Europe, the USA and Brazil.  And yet, Penny is more than open to the challenge of the new, embracing the spiritual connectivity of improvising ensembles, and trusting in the process of real-time artistic uncovering.

I am thrilled that Penny brings her experience and soul to the performance ensemble for The Joy of Loss.
Thanks Penny!!
Images provided by Penny Mullen.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shots of the projections

During the tech week, I took many shots of the projections on the layered and fragmented fabric, and I've selected five to share in this update.

Previously, I've written about the way that the polysheen refracts certain colours of the spectrum, and this is evident in some of the images in this entry.

For scale, the size of the head is approximately five metres high...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tech week - Day 5

Today was the final day of the tech and development week - and what a week it was!

Together with the impressive team at QUT (Lubi, Genine, Olivia, Blair and Jason) and the collaborating artists in the performative element (Penny and Grant) we turned ideas, sketches and possibilities into potent moments of emotional realisation.  It was a powerful process and experience; one that seemed to have an emotional resonance with those who saw some elements of it.

The Joy of Loss came together beautifully in the final rehearsal of the performative installation this afternoon. This session was documented by Keith and Genine, and I'm really looking forward to sharing some of those images and clips with you.

A big thank you to the team at QUT and 'The Block' who worked tirelessly alongside and with me for the week, and to Penny and Grant for looking within and giving so completely of themselves in performance.

A really great week!

Now the drive back to Sydney, the continual refinement of elements developed during the week, and the development of the iPad orchestra, the Twitter element, and the live streaming.

And some more 'silent interviews' too!

Section 5: Text

Shukov went to sleep fully content. He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent the team to the settlement; he’d pinched a bowl of kasha at dinner; the team-leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed it; he’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through…he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d got over it.

A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.

There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.

The three extra days were for leap years.

-          Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
                   excerpt from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tech week - Day 4

Today was a fantastic day in rehearsing the performative component of the installation.

Grant Johansen (musician) and Penny Mullen (dance) brought an unfettered emotional depth to The Joy of Loss which has really brought the piece to life.  By looking within, Grant and Penny communicated the essence of loss and its transformative, cathartic power.

The performative component is 40 minutes long and upon arriving at the end point, we were physically and emotionally exhausted.  The impact of the infrasonics had us at turns feeling elated, disturbed and peaceful...completely in tune with the non-linear emotional journey that is The Joy of Loss. In working within the eight-channel surround sound installation, a sense of in-the-moment improvisational ensemble developed where moments and gestures were passed from performer to performer, reflected in the fixed audio installation(s), then re-visited in the improvised setting.

Tomorrow, we work in dress for our final rehearsal of the week.  I'm looking forward to seeing the documentation (photo and video) of today and tomorrow in the coming week.

I snapped a few shots of Grant in preparation today and have posted a few here...


Section 4: Text

I don’t know where I am

but I am at the centre.

Swimming towards the light.

Near death

near sex

-          Claire Gaskin

     excerpt from One Moment

Tech week - Day 3

Today was a day of working through detail with some significant loose ends being tied up.

In the morning session, I revisited the eight-channel surround sound installation and reworked some sections that did not 'speak' quite so well in the space.  This was particularly prevalent in sections using material at the boundary of the range of human hearing.

Additionally, Jason and I troubleshot the performance rig and determined the source of the digital interference - the power shielding on my laptop.  A simple and effective work around was found and we were back in business.

Once the interference issue was sorted, I spent some time re-editing the X-Pand patches and Garritan instruments, and placing the soft-synth outputs in the stereo field.

In the afternoon, curator Lubi Thomas and I met in interview and worked through the drivers of The Joy of Loss, and how the discrete gestural components interact and are related to the theme of loss, transcendence and joy.

At the mid-point of the development and tech week the workplan has been productively adhered to, with all technical elements relating to sound and image resolved.  The outstanding items - the live performance components - will be resolved in the coming two days.

Tomorrow, my colleague Grant Johansen arrives from North Queensland to work with me on the musical performance, and Penny Mullen joins us in the afternoon to work through the movement component.

Issues around the Twitter feed, the iPad orchestra and the live streaming of the performance installation will be addressed when Rick McCullock comes to Sydney in July and August.

I've taken some photos of the keyboard performance rig and posted a few here...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Section 3: Text

Back in the same old black hole

                where Possibility closes the

                                last door

                and the Great void remains

                                …a glass

in the dust reflecting the sun,

                                fragment of a bottle

                that never knew it existed

-          Allen Ginsberg

      excerpt from Laughing Gas

Tech week - Day 2

Today was spent installing the eight-channel surround installation with Jason and Blair.  Eight Mackie SR450s are now suspended from the three grids in The Block, running out of a PT8 session.

After some fairly minor adjustments and tweaks, I am really pleased with the way audible and infrasonic sound is travelling within the space.  In conjunction with the sound from the air and fire installations, and the live music performance (which will be in rehearsal from day 4 - Thursday), the sound component will be rich, layered and spatialised in the way I had envisaged. I am entranced by the behaviours of carrier waves within the space as they constantly shift and collide resulting in a changing pulsation that is sometimes heard, but more often felt.

Genine spent much of the day fraying the edges of the polysheen, softening the edges of the machine-cut fabric. Whilst this added warmth to the interlocking layers of the projection, the artefacts of the frayed edges proved distracting, so we have gone with the relative purity of the straight edge.

The marketing meeting scheduled for today has been moved to tomorrow, giving me a chance to start setting up the performance rig for final troubleshooting in preparation for the rehearsals on Thursday and Friday.

Again, I've taken a few photos of the work as it unfolded during the day...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tech week - Day 1

The first day of the tech week was spent with Genine and Blair working through options for presenting Gesture 7: the silent interviews.

These interviews are presented in The Block on three projection stations, with the projection surface three six-metre drops of staggered and layered polysheen each. The fabric moves and sways gently, providing fluidity to what might ordinarily be a static flat surface.  The refractive qualities of the polysheen provide a constantly shifting punctuation of the fourth and seventh terms of the Newtonian colour spectrum: green and violet and - in concert with the moving fabric - give rise to something akin to a water-memory only half-remembered.
I took a few images in the space and have posted some here. The faces of interview subjects Ray and Krystal are around five metres high…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Air and silence


A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will upon unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.
- Frank Zappa

The Joy of Loss uses two simple materials: air and silence. 

One is universal and ever-present; the other does not exist.

It took a long time for me to appreciate the point Frank Zappa was making in the quote that begins this blog entry. My music composition education, whilst comprehensive and detailed and thorough, concentrated almost exclusively on the handling of materials defined by parametric development (pitch, rhythm, harmony, texture, timbre and so on). That is fine enough but I became increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated by the approach, likening it to seeking the secrets of a splendid butterfly by killing it and dissecting it to examine its constituent parts.

This frustration was mainly because I was writing music that was technically proficient and rigorous in its developmental narratives, but – to be honest – I just didn’t like the sound of it…admittedly that probably says more about my own limitations rather than that of the techniques I was employing, but I became determined to find the methodology that satisfied my ear (by transcending it) and my intellect (through conceptualising it).

It was at that point I became fixated on gesture: an aurally identifiable building block that is described and identified in its totality and through its behaviours (personality).  I also became keenly aware that sound was not about the instruments making it or the machines generating it, but the air carrying it.  Not exactly a great revelation to everyone around me, but something that provided something of the missing piece of the musical puzzle for me. It was the spark that led to many sonic investigations and a move into complementary visualisation.

In thinking about air rather than sound, I started to investigate music and sound outside of the audible range. That isn’t to say it is imperceptible, but that it is experienced differently.  Not via the aural sense, but by the sense of touch as the physicality of the wave through air impacts the physiology of the body.  I particularly like the infrasonic range: that range below 20Hz, considered the lowest point of the range of human hearing. I doubly like manipulating beats in this range through the use of contiguous or proximate sine waves to ‘force my will on unsuspecting air molecules’.

In The Joy of Loss, the infrasonic range features in Gesture 1: the fire installation (as a solitary candle flame flickers and moves in sympathy with the movement of the air being pushed by infrasonic beating); Gesture 2: the air and infrasonic installation (constantly shifting infrasonic beats at high pressure through two subwoofers); and Gesture 3: the eight channel surround sound installation. Testing the inaudible physicality of the activated air in The Block is something I am looking forward to in the tech week.

Additionally, air is also audibly present throughout the space through recorded and sampled breathing (in Gesture 2 and 3), and in the instrumentation used in the live music performance (Gesture 6). My fellow musician Grant Johansen will be using wind/brass instruments, with something of an instruction to use ‘coloured air’ in the performance…

Recently, I spent some time in the anechoic chamber at the University of Salford, thanks to my friend and colleague Professor Paul Haywood. The university has a number of anechoic chambers. I spent time in one that is unofficially the quietest in the world with a measurement of −12.4 dBA. It was amazing and revelatory.  A reflectionless, simulated quiet open-space of infinite dimension…

The visit was an acute reminder of the visit to the anechoic chamber at Harvard University by John Cage in 1951 – the place that led Cage to the realisation of the impossibility of silence.  As Cage describes it:

I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.

The realm of impossible silence is reflected in The Joy of Loss in a few ways. The aforementioned infrasonic register composition in several of the gestures references sound outside of the nominal audible range…aurally silent yet physically present.

Gesture 7 uses ‘silent interviews’, where individuals are interviewed but then have their words stripped away, leaving only the emotional imprint of the interview on the face.

There may be no sound emanating from the interview, but the message is loud and precise. No sound, but intently communicative…

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stereo Mix of the Eight Channel Installation

This is the stereo mix of the first section of the eight channel surround installation for The Joy of Loss.

Note that the composition uses infrasonic registers at numerous points, and the track will be inaudible for periods of time.  At other points, beating from contiguous infrasonic sines result due to the stereo mix.  These would not be apparent in the space, as waves will travel through the air discretely through dedicated, not mixed down into composite waves emanating from the same speaker source (as occurs in the stereo mix). It is also heavily compressed...but it gives something of an idea.

The track is best listened to through dedicated speakers or headphones.  Computer/laptop speakers probably just won't cut it...

Silent interview - LP

In this interview, LP shares a story of loss.

The words are not important...

Silent interview - LP

The performance rig

A few people have emailed me asking about the performance rig, so I thought I'd post up some detail about it.  Pictures of the rig will be taken during the tech week, so I'll be sure to post them.

Essentially, I'll be using two keyboards and a variety of supplementary instruments.

One of the keyboards is a Kawai MP5 stage piano, which has a great action.  I'll be doing simple real-time envelope shaping during the performance as well as some filter tweaking...

The other keyboard is an M-Audio Keystation ES-88 controlling a Pro-Tools 8 session.  Within the session, I have two X-Pand softsynths running, each mapped into four interlocking keyzones.  I'm also running Garritan World Instruments within the session, and have Record re-wired in for some granular synthesis (Maelstrom), a bank of sines (NN-19), and some 'arhythmic' patches in Thor and Subtractor.

The supplementary instruments includes some small LP hand percussion, an mbira, and a melodion.

Joining me in performance will be Grant Johansen on flugelhorn, trumpet, trombone and live electronics.

The performance takes place during the time of the eight-channel surround installation, which is composed using sines (both audible and infrasonic), and other generated material dispersed octaphonically.

Pictures to come!!

Silent interview - NK

In this interview, NK shares a story of loss

The words are not important...

Silent interview - NK

Section 2: Text

Oh life spun around me alright

with all its attendant wrappings but never so tenderly

as the word glory speaks

-          Lucy Dougan

excerpt from The Chest

Tech week

Preparations are well and truly underway for a week of technical runs at The Block, QUT from June 27. While I am up, I'm hoping to catch up with a few Queenslander friends too.

My long time friend Grant Johansen will be flying into Brisbane on Thursday for two days of music rehearsal for The Joy of Loss.  I am excited to be working once again with Grant.  He will bring a deliciously internalized process of improvisation and performance to the work (specifically for Gesture 6: the live musical performance).

On those same two days, Penny Mullen will be joining us in working through and considering Gesture 5: the live dance/movement component of the performance.  I am really looking forward to the intensive sectionals on Thursday and Friday.

The remainder of the time will be working through the technical considerations of the eight-channel installation, the fire installation, the air and infrasonic installation, and the projection of the silent interviews.  The iPad orchestra continues its own seperate development, not helped in anyway by the postponement of the iPad intensive due to the ash cloud that has stopped air traffic into and out of Tasmania for the last little while. My colleague Rick McCullock is the chief developer of the iPad Orchestra application for The Joy of Loss, and his ideas are really pushing the limits! Nice one Rick!

Photo and video documentation of the tech week will appear on the blog during the week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Section 1: Text

As noted in an earlier entry, text is used to focus the emotional energies of the improvising performers (musicians and dancer). 

This is the text for the opening section.

My Song





restless days




always fighting

with all your

heart and soul

so as not

to fail at


who could ask

for anything


-         Charles Bukowski

Silent interview - Willo

In this interview, Willo relates an episode of loss.

The words are not important...

Silent interview - Willo

Instructions for performance – context and improvisational stimulant

For some time now, I have been moving away from wholly notated scores, and moving more into the realm of graphic scores and instructions or directives for improvisations.
The Joy of Loss continues along this path, but now deploys text as the sole means for live performers to explore the environment of their own emotional experience as they present their experience in sound, and - in the case of another performative element – in dance and movement.
It is an improvisation, it is structured, it is embedded within the group dynamic, it approaches what Ornette Coleman sought to do – to “play pure emotion”. At the same time, it is liberation from the constraints of pulse and from linear and horizontal organisation and development, and embodies something of singular moment or proto-gesture…it is also potentially emancipation from instruments and a traditional music education too. Of course, all of these come to bear, but they do not drive.
Whilst there is a meta-structure present in an audible and infrasonic complement (the eight-channel surround sound installation that occupies the same space and time), the improvisational drivers are excerpts from literature.
In one case, it is a whole poem…
These words resonate within me. Some of these words I have known for a long time – some have come to me just recently, simply because perhaps only now I am ready to hear them, consider them, understand something of them, embrace them and allow them their own space.
There are five sections in the eight-channel installation, and these sections correspond to five texts that speak to me in very different ways.  These words will appear in their own blog entries in the near future.
But in performance they appear as an improvisational stimulant for the performers to reach inwards and share outwards…

Monday, June 20, 2011

Silent Interview - Bel

In this interview, Bel relates an experience of loss.

The words are not important...

Silent interview - Bel

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Silent interview - Krystal

In this interview, Krystal relates an experience of loss.

The words are not important...

Silent interview - Krystal


The Joy of Loss is a multi-disciplinary installation with seven distinct aspects that seek equilibrium in realising and expressing loss and transcendence.
I call these distinct aspects ‘gestures’.
For me, gesture is the basic, identifiable organisational unit. Gestures interact, have characteristics that can be shared and influence other gestures, and create hybrid gestural forms that exhibit qualities of its antecedent forms. If you like, you can read about it in Gesture in composition: A model of composition involving gesture, gestural and parametric development, and hybridisation as examined in six original compositions – the thesis that synthesised much of my compositional technique in instrumental music up to 2002.  It explores the area in some significant detail with sound and score examples.  And it is a great cure for insomnia too. Since that time, I’ve migrated the compositional methodology into other domains including electronic and electro-acoustic music, psychoacoustic music and infrasonics, video, improvisational praxis, noise and air.
For now, I’ll simply list the gestural forms within which the developmental processes will begin, and will delve into the methodology and how the gestures behave and interact throughout the course of future blog entries:
Gesture 1: Fire installation
Gesture 2: Air and infrasonic installation
Gesture 3: Eight-channel surround installation
Gesture 4: iPad orchestra
Gesture 5: Live dance/movement performance
Gesture 6: Live music performance
Gesture 7: Silent interviews
Some of the silent interviews are already populating the blog.  More will be up soon…

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carlingford Music Centre

A word of thanks to Ned and the team at Carlingford Music Centre for your support, advice and friendship over many years of music making!

I'll put up a picture of the performance rig pretty soon!

Thanks CMC - you guys rock.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Silent Interviews

Silence comforts and envelops.

I've never really been one for talking. Words are misconstrued, words deny the truth.

Words can be a blunt tool for expressing what is felt and what resides within.

In The Joy of Loss, I deploy silent interviews.

Words are torn away from the subject, leaving traces of emotion dancing across the face...the eyes silently imploring understanding...the curvature of the mouth twisting in an effort to conceal and censor...the lines on the face holding experience and wordly knowledge...

Projected in the space, the silent interviews emote the struggles of coming to terms with loss. Stories without words...stories with great personal significance...stories of the joy of loss...

Some silent interviews can be seen here:

Silent interview - Elizabeth

Silent interview - David

Silent interview - Ray