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

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

But what is 'The Joy of Loss'?

The Joy of Loss is my investigation of the emotional terrain sculpted through loss, transformation, transcendence and overcoming.

It presents as an audio-visual landscape...not didactic - but an emotional response that is invigilated both physiologically and psychologically.

Sound, image, performance, space, metaphor, language, silence and virtual communities come together to develop a shared emotional understanding of loss and its joyous cathartic qualities.

Loss is but the starting point - the moment of departure. It is in the dealing with loss and the journey that this entails which drives this work.  It is that porous membrane of experience, memory, emotion and physicality through which we all must pass.

Almost an initiation, certainly a ritualised experience of what it is to be human.


Welcome friends to The Joy of Loss blog.

This blog will document the process as I move closer to the showing of The Joy of Loss installation at The Block, Queensland University of Technology, in September 2011.

The installation includes sound, moving image, performance (live performance) and audience interactivity in a work that addresses notions of embracing and transcending loss.

This project is supported by the able team at the QUT Creative Industries Precinct under the leadership of curatorial genius Lubi Thomas, and International Digital Art Projects under the directorship of Stephen Danzig.