Hang on, I am still technic-ing.
Why is that coming out of…? No…
Ahhhh, just give me a sec, I'm just trying to get the audio so you're not shouting across my house. Hang on. It's just that there are settings in two places. The camera has to be up on the shelf anyway, so I'm actually over here. So I don't care if it is on or off. *laughs* Cool. Alright.
Yeah, I’m much better! I just had a day at home yesterday, and didn't have to go out into the crazy, crazy world, out there. So that definitely helps. Just to have a day where your head isn't kind of like worrying about putting a mask on everywhere you go, and stuff. Yeah.
SL: I'm pleased that you're feeling a bit better. It all takes a toll, huh. And having a day at home makes a huge difference.
ES: Get in to it?
It would be great if you could talk a little bit about how you first came to be interested in making recordings. The sort of environment you grew up in and what you were doing around that time, and, yeah, that sort of background information would be really interesting to hear about.
ES: Yeah. Umm, I've actually said various things to you before, but I can't really pinpoint, exactly, the actual origin of the recording side of things, but I think that how we grow up has a large part in it, and I think that growing up rurally gave me a lot of space to listen to what was around me, mainly because there just wasn't necessarily someone talking, or there wasn’t strong signifiers that would pull you away from listening to other environmental sounds. I was surrounded by different sounds, not those more urban sounds. Sounds of wind, the sounds of wind coming into contact with other things, all sorts of sounds. I think that a lot of my upbringing laid that foundational appreciation for environmental sounds, but there would be times in my life when I wouldn't think about it, life pulls you away in all sorts of ways. But I think, overall, I had an attraction to audio-visual, so the relationship between the two, and I used to make a lot of videos. So then the sound side of things just became part of that, and fed into it.
I was also a part of the experimental-noise scene in Dunedin, so that really changed my ideas around how you listen, or how you can listen, and what is a sound, and what constitutes the worth of listening. I remember being pushed in that way, through that scene, to listen differently.
So it was a mix of things.
SL: And in that scene in Dunedin in the early 2000s… There was always, if unspoken, a questioning of what sort of, in air-quotes, “legitimates” certain sounds or certain sonic-contexts, or performances, or what is worth listening to, in a certain way. That comes out of the practice of that community – for me, anyway – or, it was very much involved in that community in Dunedin, who were doing amazing things.
I think, now, of the many things which I mightn't consider musical if it weren't for coming into contact with that scene as a young person.
ES: Yep, I remember you coming to None Gallery! *laughs*
SL: *laughs* It was very… It was wonderful, if somewhat intimidating! Not because of anyone's behavior or anything, just because I was so fresh!
ES: *laughs* You were very… It was fine. I think you were quite underage, but no one cared! No one cared at all. It was great!
SL: So, you grew up rurally? Where exactly were you?
ES: I grew up on the Taieri Plains, so out past Mosgiel, in Ōtepoti – Dunedin. Out over the hill, over Saddle Hill, and then it goes down to this big river-plain where the town is, but then you keep going to the opposite side of the plain. So, if you're on Saddle Hill, and you're looking… ohhhh from my memory… and you're looking West, there is another set of hills quite far away on the other side of the plain, and we were just at the bottom of those hills looking back toward Saddle Hill.
SL: On the Taieri Plain, on one side you've got a ridge, on the other side of which there is the coastline, right? And then inland there's another bordering ridge of hills…?
ES: If you keep going, maybe?
Taieri Mouth is where the coast comes in on that side of the plain. Where we were was probably about a 35minute drive from the coast. So we were more inland. The plain would occasionally get flooded, but it was very far away from the coast, and flooded very rarely – I think it only happened once in the ten years that I lived there. I lived there until I was about ten, and then we moved into town, closer to Dunedin.
SL: And how frequently was it that you were going into the city? And what was that like?
ES: I'd go in every day for school. I went to school in the city from when I was five. Mum worked at another school, so I could just go with her. It was about an hour traveling each way to get into the city at that time. They didn't have the freeway. The highway. The motorway. They didn’t have the motorway, so you had to go up over this hill road, and that road occasionally got closed. If it was snowing or icey there was no way through, so it was somewhat isolated then, before they built that big road. And I remember that road going in, and feeling sad about being more accessible. *laughs* Everyone was really pro- it, but I don't know… I was disappointed… Feeling a bit disappointed…
SL: So, I was assuming that, probably, as a child you weren't thinking all that much about the specifics of being remote or removed and the subtle kind of differences, but perhaps you were?! If you were feeling disappointed at the diminishing of that remoteness, and lamenting as the new road went in…
ES: Yeah, and the bypassing of other little places along the way. 'Cause they just sort of cut the road pretty much in a straight line all the way through… And it went around all the little towns… Although, they weren't… Well, they were towns at that time, 'cause they weren't all that connected… They're suburbs, but they weren't actually really connected – there would be quite large gaps of farmland – these communities. I remember feeling sad for them, and that I wasn't going to go through those places any more and stop at the dairy. Traveling to the city, it just turned into this big road. Just a long broad road.
Because I was an only child, I think that, ummm, spending a lot of time on your own is, you know, everyone has different experiences of what their family relationships are, but I was always pretty fine. I never really felt lonely, I never really felt anything bad, but I definitely knew that I liked the feeling of being on my own, and of being isolated and distanced. However I remember being excited when we moved into the city, and being excited about the change! And being in the city eventually afforded me the connections to the experimental sound community which was thriving at that time. But as you get older you look back, and you go, I know where the more genuine feeling is here, for me anyway.
SL: The feelings or experiences that made the strongest or most sustained impression on you?
ES: Yeah, that comes out in your work, or in your ethos, or morals and perspectives, and your wishes for environmental change, perhaps.
SL: And it was a farm that you grew up on? Is that right?
ES: Yeah, a sheep farm. My family are all from rural backgrounds. We were one of the only families to really move away from doing that, we were sort of the last lot. All those generations of people have passed away now…
SL: And it is all dairy farming out that way, now, right?
ES: …it's just sort of… ummm. So they came here on one of the first ships and settled in the bottom of New Zealand and, you know, stole some land…
SL: …and never looked back!
ES: …and set up farms, and kind of treated the landscape differently, and put their practices and perspectives upon things. This is something that is quite important, I've discovered *laughs*, more so in the work that I make now, which is that relationship between colonial settler people and the land – that they are really connected to it; they watch it, and look at it, and they are on it all the time, relating elementally, materially, temporally, the pattern-recognition involved, all these sorts of things – but my work as been questioning these relationships between landscape and colonial perspectives on place, especially on language and terms used, practices from elsewhere transposed onto land. It has become more and more important to me, because I have always sort of struggled with this idea of, Well, but I feel connected but I'm not. This isn't my deeper connection. Six generations is the full colonial spectrum, but it's a scratch on the surface of genealogy and history. My deeper connection is overseas in an Anglo-European history. It is through colonial movement and mythology that we seem to believe we start over here. There is a grasping and control that comes out of that insecurity, and I am just sort of slowly, awkwardly trying to pull that apart, pulling apart my own brain and my own perspectives on land use and boundaries reflecting on my experience within that way of living, amongst those people and what they say and think and how they act.
Now I'm trying to translate that to where I live here in Narrm – Melbourne, to translate it to a more urban context where issues of ownership, boundaries, ‘real’ estate, the land lying underneath, etcetera.
These colonial perspectives… they're harder to distinguish in urban contexts with all the distraction and apparent solidity of it, but they are almost more telling sometimes, because in terms of living in Australia it’s like… the energy here is so different. It is so old, the connection to people here, especially. So there is another perspective where country lies underneath, at all times, which surfaces in many ways if you are open to it, and Ti Kouka, the work that I'm showing as part of this project, and expanding during this time, it's the start of that.
It's not about death or endings. It's more open and in front of you, and it is based on signifiers, and things within myself that also feed into my methodology of noticing a moment and going with it and not having too much of an agenda in the first place.
That was a bit of a rant, so…
SL: It was rant while the internet was doing some strange things, but I'm sure we will solve the problem as I transcribe it!
ES: Yeah, you'll get the gist.
SL: So, you grew up in a pretty remote area and would spend quite a lot of time by yourself, or with your parents as they were working, I assume. Is that right?
ES: Mum worked in the city, but Dad was a sheep farmer. I was with him until I started attending school. I was with him all the time, and I was either sitting in a truck, or in a tussock, or sitting by a fence, 'cause, you know, you can't really be wandering off when you're two years old. It is too dangerous, but I was often left to look and listen. I'd get stuck in a tussock with a blanket over me, and just look up at the sky. I have really nice memories of the grass and the tussock moving in my peripheral vision, and the clouds going over the top, and hearing Dad not too far away all the time – he was never very far away – with the dogs and all that sort of thing.
So I think that experience was… I was really lucky to have that, and that I was able to have it because there was no such thing as a baby-sitter, and there was no such thing as a creche. It was just, You go in the truck, and you're just there. I went to school when I was about four – I went quite early – and that changed that, but yeah…
SL: It is a very different sort of upbringing… I guess people think about the formative years of life, and have a certain idea of a typical kind of idea of – it's questionable, maybe, the notion “typical” – but what most children probably experience now, like you say, is a creche or a kindergarten, whereas you were hanging out in the tussock, by the sounds of it! *laughs*
I guess all of the things that your child-brain would be thinking about and noticing and imagining would stick with you in some way?
ES: I think it is a lot more relaxing. People seem to think that stimulation has to be brightly coloured and dancing around singing some kind of tacky song, but I don't think it's the case at all. You can learn a lot from just listening and watching, playing with objects.
But maybe I sort of shot myself in the… *laughs* Well, I didn't, but the scenario has kind of shot me in the foot where I really struggle with urban environments sometimes. And it is really coming out right now during lock down, 'cause I'm stuck here. I can't get out. Can't go anywhere. And you can just see that my reaction is quite telling of my upbringing. *laughs*
SL: A lot of the projects that you do, I think you've described them online as ‘self-initiated residencies’ – which I thought was a really nice turn of phrase that you'd used – where you go away from these centers of populations and spend time in environments that are by degrees more similar to the tussock that you were chilling out in as a sprogg. Perhaps you could expand a little on some of those trips and projects and how they've been related, or unrelated, to that time as well, as a child?
ES: Well, the first thing that springs to mind is another project that I have, Eves.
I'm a little hesitant to call it 'music', but it is musical. And it is definitely based around… It's more of a compositional approach, but it is also about place, and feelings of place, when you're there and remaining open to things as much as you can, a bit closer to, ummm, realities outside of urban environments. So in terms of the “self-made residency” sort of thing, it is just to take yourself out of the context that you're currently in, whatever that might be, or to shift the perspective, you know? One example is, I went to make a self-release, and it, ummm, was a track-a-day, and I went away for five or six days to Beech Forest, which is about three hours away from here, it is a really wild place, you know? Regional Victoria is wild in its own way, but this is more like, it's really challenging in this particular place. It is so wet, and you're constantly faced with the damp and the insects, and then there's birds everywhere so it gets really noisy. It's a rainforest, so it's all these big old trees and it's more encompassing.
You have to break your days down into this routine. I had this really nice routine where I'd get up and just be in the place. I'd go for a walk, or I’d just be sitting outside for a bit, or I'd do something around the place, and I'd have this routine in the late afternoon when I'd sit down and start recording, and it would just be whatever happened, my transmutation of the place where I was. It was a fully improvised series of takes. I'd do one take and then overlay another responding to the previous one, and then another, and some peripheral recordings, more ambient recordings, were incorporated into these compositions as well. I think that is where some of the first examples of doing that self-made residency.
SL: And in an instance like this, would you be sleeping in a tent or a caravan, or is there a hut or something there?
ES: It’s these two geodesic domes which were built in the 70s by some RMIT [Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology] students, and they're quite shit, they've sort of fallen apart. They're quite old now and haven't been maintained very well, 'cause you’d have to be there all the time in that environment because it is so intense. Once the damp gets in, it's over! Which had happened some time ago. It's sort of in ruins a bit now, but it was still usable then. I slept in some smaller rooms, and there was this big geodesic dome room with big windows out into the trees and a fire. I could just set up everything in this dome and just leave it set up 'cause I was the only one there. I didn't talk to anyone for about a week, it was really good!
So that release is called, disrhythms. And this is sort of something, this 'disrhythmic' thing, and I'm not really sure where it came from… It just emerged somehow and…
SL: You'd mentioned “pattern recognition” just a moment ago, as a child, and it's sort of… I mean, we've spoken together about your conception of disrhythms before, and it seems somewhat related to pattern recognition, to the extent that it is to with recognizing the absence of patterns, or rhythms, right?
Or perhaps that is a slightly crude way of formulating it?
ES: Thank you for connecting those two, because that's exactly it. It's nice to know that someone is listening, you know what I mean? *laughs*
Pattern recognition within listening allows you to hear different rhythms, even when they're not overt. The concept of disrhythm, to me, is related to recognising that, ultimately, something or some-place has its own agenda and exists according to a rhythm that shifts and adapts outside of us expressing a “rhythm” that is not necessarily evenly timed and fateful like how we usually consider a rhythm. Different perspectives and realities operate on different scales of time, and a disrhythm could be present in overlapping time scales, or in the interruption of one rhythm by another, or in a shape-shifting moment. Whatever it is, it's doing its own thing. It's signifying. It's watching. It's looking. It's listening. Everything is doing its own thing of its own accord, regardless of us, according to a “rhythmic” pattern that is in everything, with shifts and allowing for the off-rhythms that happen, which are an especially organic trait, an organic process.
For me this feeds into compositional ideas around sound, because it is just there anyway in ambient sound. And it's also present in noise music, and linked to improvisation and experimentation. It also expands into ideas around how to represent place, and how to pull apart your own thinking or your own perceptions and perspectives of place. It is to go with the disrhythms. To go with the… To let things fuck out, you know? It's a comment on the relinquishing of control and agenda I suppose. And that also comes from the experimental scene, you know? Just fall over. Just let it all fall over. Just see what happens, sort of thing. Just step back and relinquish control and agenda, and your trajectory. To just try to release that, because that is really quite a colonial behavior, that's really destructive and has a very narrow perspective.
SL: Sure. And, I mean, in a way, in most improvised performance and experimental contexts, this idea of going with the disrhythm in the field, as it were, it seems more about attending to a moment than trying to dictate the nature of the moment. It’s about accepting or embracing the way that, if you're in the middle of a performance or a recording, and things are fucking out, that can be interesting, right? And instead of trying to do everything you can to prevent that, or to go against the trajectory that the performance or recording seems to want be on, instead to just go with it, and embrace it, and see where it leads. It’s about not presupposing what is “correct”, right?
ES: I think it also comes from… I'm quite an anxious person in this sort of urban environment. I think that, when you try to control things too much, it is just an absolute struggle. It is ridiculous and a waste of energy. I think that I also use it as a coping strategy, but then it also really excites me, and really inspires me, and motivates me to make work and listen, and to keep going.
SL: And I guess when we're thinking about patterns and rhythms and things, it's like, sure, there's this macro- kind of rhythm or pattern that unfolds, but it is at a scale that is very difficult, or possibly impossible, for us to really comprehend or respond to in a meaningful way. And below that, at tiers of scale below that, we have micro-rhythms, some of which are natural, others of which are human-made, and I suppose, like, yeah, the disrhythm might appear to be going against the anthropocentric rhythms that we're used to, or conformable with or responsible for, but is in fact a part of the more macro-level rhythm or pattern that keeps unfolding regardless of whether we embrace it or respect it or not…
SL: I wonder, so, you know, there are some places that you've gone to, and you'd said that Beech Forest was very noisy, right? Very Loud?
ES: In a different way, yeah…
SL: In a different way to the noise a big city such as Melbourne. And I wonder, yeah, how those… I imagine that Melbourne is probably, in terms of decibels, a little bit louder than Beech Forest, but, probably in terms of sound sources, maybe the forest has more sound sources, right?
SL: And I wonder why you feel so much more at ease amidst a natural cacophony than an urban cacophony…?
ES: It's funny, because when I moved here, the first thing I noticed was that the birds sounded like the people here. So the birds are quite – I'm just going to say it like it is, the people are loud, talking all the time, quite dramatic… Not necessarily in a negative, it is just how it is. And the birds, equally, occupied that sort of space, in terms of vocalization and interruption and they have these sort of very loud, very clear, pitches and certain timbres of vocalization. All that gets me thinking quite a lot about New Zealand… How the birds are a lot quieter, they are muted colours, and it all that kind of relates to the people. But that's a whole other thing, a whole other story…
Sorry, I've gotten a bit distracted…
SL: You were musing on the way in which nature or the environment conditions or reflects how people and birds behave, and you were talking about how the birds…
ES: I actually found the sound of the birds really difficult to deal with at first. I found them really quite scary, I was quite afraid of them. Crows, and Galahs, and different birds, but I've gotten to know them a lot better now. Currawongs especially are a favorite but when I first moved here, during that time when I was first getting out of the city I still wasn't used to it. These birds would come out of the forest in a big group, 'cause I guess it’s where they live , and they're more noticeable, perhaps, in those areas. But they were deafening, and really dominating. But dominating in terms of the sonic space because that's their space, and the whole point of them vocalizing is to communicate with other ones that are far away. You know, it has got nothing to do with me, nothing at all. But it is one of those moments where you go, *pauses*
Being out there and hearing them doing their own thing is a really nice way to let go of your own nonsense.
SL: Sorry, continue…
ES: No, no…
SL: The magpies, are they called ‘Currawongs’?
ES: No, the Currawong are sort of like a Crow. I shouldn't call them a Crow, but it's kind of like a Raven or a Crow, but it's a native one. It's got white under its wings, so it can look like a Magpie if someone is far away, but they sound very different, the Magpie and the Currawong. And then there's a Crow, as well, so…
SL: Magpies have that sort of yodeling sort of call, almost, eh?
ES: Yeah, *imitates a magpie call*, that sort of sound. And the Currawong sort have a call that’s an in-between that kind of Magpie sound and Crow, so the 'Rahh' is like, *imitates a Crow call*, but really slow and drawn out, you know, really brooding a lot of the time. And then the Currawong sits somewhere in between. It's really beautiful. I didn't notice them for a long time, but eventually I realized that they're always around, even in the kind of urban areas, but even more so now during lockdown. The birds have come in more. They've come closer. I live quite close to Merri Creek.
SL: Yeah, that was noticeable there in Tāmaki Makaurau, too. Like the way that, in the absence of the excessive traffic noise, the way that the Tuis especially… I don't know if they actually were more active, or if it was just more noticeable, but they definitely were having great yarns together. *laughs*
But to go back to what you were saying about the Australian birds being a bit scary or intimidating, I feel like it is only every six months or so that, on my facebook-feed or whatever, I see a video of these Magpies swooping on people on bicycles in some Australian suburb. Terrifying! *laughs*
ES: Oh yeah… But, you know, you're going through their space.
SL: Oh totally!
ES: But I just want to talk about that a little bit more, about being afraid, and relate that back to… Well, not being afraid, but it was just like, That's intense. That’s… I'm a little bit unsure, and unsettled. And relating that back to the attempts, very small attempts at dismantling my colonial brain…
So that fear, that fear of the unknown, and ideas around the forest and how a lot of European folk-tales around the 'scary forests', and the creatures, and the witches and that – I mean essentially I'm a witch out in the forests, Lone. Female. Very dangerous. Doing weird things late at night *laughs* – that fear is very real , and is something that I am possibly trying to address in the expansion of this Ti Kouka work, for the next stage of which I’ll be making a second video channel.
The single channel work as it is at the moment is based in Aotearoa. It's in Clutha, on farmland that has just absolutely had the crap farmed out of it. I am hoping to have some sort of conversation with myself about the safety of this sort of designed, agro-pastoral existences, and that fear of the unknown, as to why the forest has to be cleared; as to why these things have to change. It is obviously really complicated and I am sort of butchering that, but do you know what I mean?
Beech Forest also has a lot of introduced forest due to its colonial history, and next time I can get out there again I’m wanting to explore that more visually and sonically.
Wherever I go, I want to see what surfaces.
SL: And are you looking for deeper motivations, behind the greed factor, that are maybe a little bit more, ahhhh, yeah, deeper?
ES: Ahhhh, yes and no, but definitely related, or relatable.
I do think that a lot of people just absolutely have no idea, and they don't even connect with that side of themselves. But maybe. I think that, ummm, it's a complicated one… I want to dig up my fear somehow and see how that can translate audio-visually…
SL: So, as you were kind of becoming more accustomed to your new surroundings in Melbourne, and sort of processing the discomfort of the new and strange and loaded, and thinking about your relation to “new” places that are new to you, but not to everybody, and how that relates to a colonial kind of mindset, how was that affecting your thinking and working? How did that manifest in your artwork and affect your thinking about sound and the environment and what it means to participate and to make recordings in that context?
Or are they sort of parallel things, and the artwork and approach to sound and recording is developing in its own way while you as a person are becoming more acclimated or comfortable?
ES: Mmmmm. If anything, I'm not necessarily becoming more comfortable, because it is horrendous. It's so horrendous. Like the more you find out, and the more that you sort of pull things apart, the more that it is really, ummmm, intense. And it's really, you know… the more that you think about all these issues about, like, settler complexes, settler guilt, white guilt, all these things, and you start really going into yourself, being like, We're so fucked, this kind thing. But it's really… It feels good in that at least I feel like there is a possibility for me to understand something that is within the context of where I grew up that some people just push away, they just go, Nah! Didn't happen! Doesn't Happen! We belong here! This is fine! Ever since I was younger, I've always been like, There's something really creepy about this, there's something really daarrrrk about this, and I don't know what it is. And it wasn't until moving to Australia, and maybe it was to do with my age as well at that time, I'm not sure, and the people I was connecting with, and the people here being louder and more vocalized, they really talk about stuff. It was definitely more political here in terms of these things, so it really pushed me to start questioning place, and this place that I've just been born into, from my own perspective and from colonial perspectives, and to question why it's so normalised and entrenched.
When I go out to these places, I can't help but think, Why can't they just give it back? If people really cared, and you own something and you want to do something, give it back! I mean you're allowed to stay on it, but give the title back! Relinquish this thing! But no one does this, and it really blows my mind, like it's some totally crazy idea. Boundaries. Real Estate. Ownership. And all these levels of things – and this is what I mean about dismantling that colonial brain, that fearful brain that needs a place to be a certain distorted way. The brain that says, We need to belong. This is our place, grasping, sort of thing.
It's insipid, and it is within everyone who has very well-meaning ideas and things to say about politics, but it is still hypocritical a lot of the time.
SL: It is perhaps a little backwards to formulate the colonial relationship in this way, but I can't help but think that people would feel a lot better, that Pākehā and other colonial populations which have come from the outside and settled in these places, I can't help but think and wonder about whether we would feel a lot better about ourselves and our place – that we might feel more at home, rightly or wrongly, or that we'd feel more comfortable – if we addressed these issues and our individual responsibilities and individual capacity to take meaningful action, properly and honestly and took some tangible steps to rectify some of the many colonial injustices, even if they are small, or seemingly symbolic.
ES: Totally. It's like some people think that certain things don't apply to them, or that things only apply to them in certain contexts.
SL: Or in discussion.
ES: Something that I am really nervous about is, when you or I are a colonial settler's contingent, and we continue operating within a structure that oppresses the rightful owners, the continuing owners – the owners! – of the land we occupy… It's scary, because I don't want to make (colonial) people around me feel uncomfortable, and I don't want to sound like, I'm better than this, but you sort of have to be an asshole sometimes as part of the process of understanding. Being cautious of not upsetting people though feeds from the Tall Poppy Syndrome is some Christian-based thing… This dogmatic intensity, it's so ingrained and as some kind of antidote to these false realities of ownership I just wish to gently bring things down to a simple action, like, listening or looking, and really seeing, not just looking. And that's why the lack-of-agenda methodology is so important to my work, because that's essentially what we're doing all the time, is trying to get ahead, planning, you know? See my work. Listen to my concepts around my work.
I don't know, it’s messy. I think the most important thing at this stage is to speak from my lived experience to the people I understand, in terms of issues that affect us all, coloniser and colonised, human and otherwise.
SL: How do you… How is it possible… In what ways do these ideas manifest in the work you do? Is it in the process of making it? Or is it possible, or is it also present in the final, ahhhh…? How can it also be present in the final work itself, as it gets experienced by someone who doesn't have… who is not necessarily privy to the things that were going into the making of it?
ES: There are some things that I end up recording that don't work. And I don't… I just put them aside, because they don't quite come together…
To me, the Ti Kouka work is a really good example, but a lot of people might just look at it and just see these stark trees in a field, and that's fine. Ummmm, because it's the methodology at first, because what it is the recognition of a moment. That's all it is. I was driving between places, and looked up, and I saw these two trees far away on the horizon up this muddy paddock. Cows had just been all over it, and it was a really messed up paddock, and these trees were sticking out oddly, like figures. I don't know what that thing is, but it grabs me and I change course, these moments come up and you go with them. I get the camera and the tripod and the sound recorder out of the back and go up towards these trees. I walked up, and I hopped over the fence. I'm walking on someone's property as soon as I do that. If they see me, you know, they'll tell me to get out, What are you doing?, sort of thing. But I just started walking and looking and just considering, Why did I stop? Why am I here? What is it about this? And it takes so long for it to unfold, so I just start recording in that moment. I don't know what I am doing, or why. And sort of just framing it up and listening. So I put the sound recorder down, and it's just rolling, and I'm trying to consider my purpose and my agenda and continually challenge it, try to drop it and throw myself off course, which draws on the improvised thing in performance, 'cause if you're doing a noise show or anything, as soon as you start thinking about it too much, you're done for; that's the end of it, the genuineness is lost, you know?
I'm trying to play with that idea, without all these things that we do… Anthropomorphizing things, or trying to make it look pretty, or trying to make it look intense or dramatic in some way. And it is quite difficult to be constantly negotiating that line of imposing your aesthetic values or tastes on something and just letting it be what it is, for whatever reason. But you can't help it. You are there with the apparatus, doing something. There's no way to be a sort of floating entity, you know what I mean…
It's an exploratory thing, with place, and then to try and understand what it is that made me notice something which thousands of people would have driven past in a given month, and would never stop to consider. Then you think about it. I was thinking about these two trees. That they have been put to use. They're native Ti Kouka trees that have been used as markers by the farmer, so one has been left in one place, and one has been left in another, and the rest of it is pasture. They're on a boundary line on an electric fence. One side is this really mashed up turnip field. So turnips, you know? That's so colonial! Turnips, swedes, fodder beet. I grew up on turnips and swedes and now they're considered cow-feed. On the other side is this “beautiful” pasture, like the rolling hills of England, like, Dooodly doo. The grass is really long and it's blowing in the wind in a certain way, and I'm looking up at these trees and they look like they're struggling, but they're also not. They're fine. They're going fine but a piece of them has fallen off and a fence has fallen over nearby. And there's a water pump there – so that's what one of the trees is probably marking; that's where the water pump is – and then the other tree is marking the border-line, I think, just before it goes out of vision if you're sort of toward the house. So I understand this mentality, 'cause I grew up on a farm. And I know why you would do something like that. It took me a little while, but I figured it out eventually. That's what I spent a lot of my time there doing, considering why, while also trying to consider the reality of the trees
I've come up from the road, and I've come up this hill. I'm at the trees, I'm looking at them, I'm filming and listening and recording, and trying to stay out of the wind – it was really windy – listening to these small birds. I don't know… That process is definitely the most important part, but the video, trying to portray that, in a way, without too much Me, is quite difficult. But I think it is possible.
SL: It's another balancing act, hey?
I think it is possible, but I also don't care too much. Like, it is what it is. And this is the other thing, is that I can never go back and re-do anything. That's not an option. That's “cheating”. It's not how it works. I was only there for that moment. The recording that I have, that's it, you know? The next day I was like, Oh god, it would have been so good if I'd done blah blah blah, but that's just my little brain trying to make something else of it, orchestrate it, you know?
SL: Has this always been a kind of hard and fast part of your work? That's it's got to be that one, the first version?
ES: Yeah, it does. There's no such thing as a second version. It is definitely about that, 'cause it is about that initial noticing. As soon as I push past that, or start concocting things in my mind, it's no longer genuinely of that moment, to me. Yeah, it's got too much of an agenda by that point, and there's too much “design” going on.
I never want to really go somewhere for any particular reason to film or record. I just like to be prepared for when the opportunities arrive because the nature of the moment is that you can’t make it happen and it will never happen the same way again.
SL: So, it sounds to me like there are at least two things, two things that seem really apparent to me, that are going on in the making of a work like Ti Kouka. There is, on one hand, your being open to notice something, and then, as you're acting on your noticing it, being open, again, to reflect on the why, and to be considering your self-motivation. So it's being open in two directions, outwards and inwards.
ES: Yeah. I think that is something that the work, that the presented work, could hopefully show, is that there are moments all around us all of the time, and that it is about our openness. That it is not just about going to a gallery and seeing a work within that context, or going online to a specific website. You know, these moments, these “banal” looking moments, are deeply complex. Anything can be. It just depends on our willingness to listen and remain open.
SL: Is it fair to say, then, that if the work has an agenda, then it is to somewhat inspire and openness to appreciate this fact?
ES: Yeah… I can't let it go… But if I were to completely let go of having any agenda, I wouldn't be able to be there in the first place, perhaps. ‘Agenda’ as in an intention that is put upon something or someplace external to me. It's impossible to avoid it completely, just like we can't escape the bodies that we're in, but there are other ways of relating to the environment outside of colonial constructs.
SL: Do you remember where you were driving to when you pulled over to make Ti Kouka?
ES: I was driving between Riversdale and Lawrence which is a farming town where the remnants of my family live. My Dad passed away last year, and it was just after this… It was a couple of months after my Dad had died, and we'd gone back, and we were having a family get-together, scattering his ashes at the original family-farm in Balfour. I was driving back from that to my Mother's house in Lawrence. It was an interesting journey, really, going between points related to my parents. It was just before Edievale, on the way to Ray's Junction, which is where you turn off and head towards Ōtepoti that way, from South-Central Otago, if there is such a thing as that.
Yeah, so I know that area really well, as well. But you think you know it, and then… Yeah.
SL: You know it in a way that is specific to you, and then there are all the other ways that it can be known beyond that…
ES: That's right.
SL: So, just to go back a few steps, could you explain how sound functions in relation to vision in documenting, or in making documents? I mean, there are all of the sensory, phenomenological differences, with vision being more directed than hearing, or seeing being more directional compared to the omnidirectional nature of hearing…
ES: They're definitely synonymous, for me, anyway. Some people are more visual and some are more… No, sometimes it's just that people are more visual, isn't it? I suppose the relationship between the two is that any place is inescapably sensorial. A place is everything. And when you're making a work from your recordings, it's essentially like transmuting. Trying to transmute the experience at that time, because it is very emotional, for me. It's very heart-related, you know? Transmuting that feeling of being there, and that feeling is comprised of all the sensory input of my body and its past experiences as well. It's feeling the wind. It's the sound of the wind. It's also the sound of the other little things, the interactions. The intra-actions that are going on all around. It's your eyes. Its memory, its present, it's everything.
SL: So when you say that it's “synonymous”, it's just the fact that the visual recording and the audio recording are both part of a transposition of the place that you were at and the making of the recording?
ES: Yeah, so for sharing a work like this online, or showing it in general, I think that I prefer using headphones. So this online presentation is perfect because I'm getting a bit more into really considering how we listen and how we hear sound sources in a really practical way, outside of all the things that we do in terms of perception and understanding, semiotics and all that kind of stuff. But, I am trying to arrange and expand the recordings that I do have in an effort to really engage more, so that someone who the work is shared with can be there, at that place of the recording, through certain technological choices and arrangements and mixing techniques. I'm hoping to actually develop that a bit more.
This is also part of trying to remain passive… It's almost to just enhance the place, rather than to dominate it… I don't want to obscure it… I was thinking about making extra sounds that are sort of my transmutation of the experience of the place through synthesis, like through the ways that I generate my own sounds outside of field recording. But I'm not sure what is going to happen there. I am always tentative of doing that because then it feels like I am trying to control it too much, or trying to change it, but perhaps there is a middle ground.
I am just wanting to relate my own experience – and I am quite set on calling it “transmutation”, 'cause it is like I am trying to speak through it and I'm not trying to design a particular sound, in general. I'm just trying to think of the experience of being at the place, and I have this particular set up with this modular synth, where it is quite characteristic of exactly the kinds of sounds that I feel really portray what it is that I have experienced. So sounds like wind, and small textures, and more inorganic, disrhythmic ways of generating sound.
SL: Last time we spoke, you spoke a little about this exact thing, of using the modular synthesizer as a means to… Well, first we spoke about the process of using a modular synthesizer as being somewhat exploratory, and because of the nature of that process and type of equipment, you're almost… You're occupying a similar kind of openness as you might when you're listening in the world, waiting to find a particular sound or set of sounds.
And you'd also spoken, at least as far as I remember it , you were talking about, yeah, trying to replicate or translate, ummm…
ES: Transmute? Translate?
SL: …transmute your internal memory of a sound…
ES: Mmmm, yeah!
And a lot of the time it is incidental. It can eerily just sort of happen. I feel like I am storing these sounds, and sometimes they just come out, and the synthesizer is the best tool for that because it is so customisable and organic. You design it to incorporate the sounds that speak for you. Like, you can't make the exact same thing twice. It is a very interesting process.
There are so many things that I want to know more about. I feel like I am always talking about these very immediate and kind of malformed concepts that are probably quite easily explained *laughs*, but I'm just not sure.
SL: *laughs* But that's more interesting. A slightly less clear description… You might say, Oh, it's sending that voltage here, and setting that oscillator to this, but that's not so interesting, at least for me! Although I am myself extremely ignorant when it comes to modular synthesis and how it works!
ES: That's the best way to be. Stay in that zone. *laughs*
SL: And in an instance where you are – I mean you've said that sometimes you feel a bit reluctant to add in your own transmuted, remembered or non-remembered versions of a sound, or to pair those with recordings that you've made – but when you are pairing, or putting these two types of sound alongside each other, what sort of considerations are you making?
You've said already that you don't want to put too much of yourself in the mix, and I don't expect that it is necessarily that you have a set of consistent, or ever-present thoughts or things that you are trying to do, or are trying to avoid doing, but…
ES: Well, there's a work that is going to go up on CIRCUIT's website any day now, but this one, Neve, *looks up work online*.
Dad liked to take me places.. I would never do this *laughs*, but he took me in a helicopter up to the top of this glacier, what is known as the Neve of Te Moeka o Tuawe – Fox Glacier. He wanted to teach me some climbing techniques – he always had me doing something out of my comfort zone – and we ended up being up there for four days because we were shut in by a total white-out, which is just what happens when you're in these places. During the time that we were shut in, I recorded a bit of sound and took some photos – I didn't take any video and I made this work that's comprised of stills and sound recorded in the interior of the cabin where we were.
So there’s no one around. This is at like 8000 feet up. There's no people, and there's not many insects because of the nature of the climate, so it's really quiet. It's a very strange internal and exterior zone. Like when they say the silence is deafening, I couldn't sleep, the snow dampened most sound. The white-our itself meant that you could only see a few meters in front of you at some points, sometimes a bit further.
SL: So you're in this cabin, this bubble within these otherwise kinda inhospitable surroundings.
ES: And you're not going anywhere. You're staying there.
So those sounds that I recorded, they were of the crackling radio on the wall – which was the only sort of way of communicating – and this dripping sound outside as the ice outside was dripping into tins that we had put out to collect water , and just little sounds like that. Actually, there was one fly, which I thought was very strange, that was buzzing around. And then it’s just Dad sort of shuffling around. It was only the human presence that was generating any kind of sound. Occasionally you'd hear a thud from really far away as some snow fell. You'd need super fancy equipment to record the snow and ice etc , you'd have to be out there waiting, poised to “get” those sounds, and that's just not really my thing.
For that video I ended up bringing those photos back and using those interior recordings, the small, mundane, semi-domestic details – there's no talking or anything, just sort of textural sounds – and then I did respond, in a way, with the synthesizer, to sort of bring the atmosphere of being up there through a bit more. There's this hissing, tonal sound and the imagined sound you'd get if you were underneath the ice. Some people like to put microphones in the ice, but I'd prefer not to be doing that, and instead I kind of try to really transmute the experience, and what that kind of existence is outside of a human body, in this way, while still very much being a human body. And there were some small, almost digital type sounds, like, *imitates synthesizer* Bleep berp, glitchy, tiny things, but only really minimally. And sort of these swooping oscillating sounds from higher frequencies down to lower. And putting a couple of them on top of each other and letting them sort of interfere with each other. How they interfere when you put two quite similar frequencies together out of phase.
So these kinds of sounds were, for me, kind of like trying to understand this place where no human would otherwise be, unless it was for these touristic ventures that we do.
It was like, What am I doing up there? Why am I up there?
SL: So for that project, you were using the synthesizer to make the sounds that weren't necessarily sonic, in the world sounds, but were the sounds of something being something?
I don't really remember how I made those sounds. I don't remember the process. I don't know which synthesizer I used. I sort of did it in an afternoon, I sat down and did a couple of takes, and then arranged it a little bit then left it. So I still try to maintain that level of immediacy as much as I can, even in editing and composition. I can't spend a long time on something because I feel like I over-work it and it feels too forced. There can be quite a magic at times, when you just happen to fluke it, and you can never do it the same way again, that's where the energy lies in a moment.
SL: Does that apply to your approach to editing for anything that you've made? Are you always aiming for an immediacy, and to get it done? Not necessarily just for the sake of not spending much time on it, but in order to not over-work it.
ES: I just want to get my hands off it as soon as possible.*laughs* To get my ears off it as soon as possible. Sometimes I will make something and just leave it in a folder somewhere and then months later, I'll be like, Ohh, that thing, I'll watch that again. And I'll watch it again, and be like, I have no memory of doing this, even, because I feel like my consciousness is not very focused, so I might not recall something you remember just fine.
I don't know. It's quite a strange interaction with myself, almost an absent-mindedness, or wanting to loosen the grip. I just have this perspective, which I think also feeds into my thing about not having an agenda, or not wanting to grasp too much. It is all quite closely related, I think. Psychologically, I just don't want to hold on to things for very long, it freaks me out. It's a bit frustrating for some people and maybe the expectations of… this society you know?
SL: But not so much for yourself?
ES: No, I love it. It frees me. It frees me up quite a lot. And I don't mind myself being like this. I've always been like that.
SL: So far you have articulated a set of ideas and motivations that seem very consistent and typify the approach you have to making throughout all your work (even though you work toward a number of different ends), and I wonder to what degree (if at any) that the form that you're making for, or the context of presentation, or whatever the difference may be, affects those motivations, and how you respond to different presentation contexts?
Do you have any preferences for the end context, or, ummmm, how those differences might affect the way that you go about working on a work?
ES: I have a few outlets, and they all sort of alternate depending how I'm feeling, or what's going on. For example, the live performance thing, or if I'm responding or collaborating with someone, that's always different to if I am recording at home, or if I'm making audio-visual work like this, they all definitely have similar threads, but I don't really have a preference or a focus for anything. But I tend to want to… I love performing, but only in very specific contexts. Maybe it's about the audience, or place? I'm not sure, but because I find it, ultimately, absolutely terrifying, but it's also such a place where I can actually really embody sound and be there with people while they're listening. Like, performing as eves, because that's always improvised, it's never planned, it can go either way. It can be a massive flop, or it can really connect with people. I just like to connect with people as much as I can, but you can't always have that, so…
SL: I feel like if it were never a flop, then it would never be all that special when it wasn't, you know?
ES: Yeah, that's right.
You've just got to step back from the safety net of a constructed song. That's what I reckon, but really I shouldn’t say that, 'cause like, for example, The Aesthetics, that's kinda a… It's a semi-constructed thing, but it's a mess most of the time… *laughs*
But it's got a framework, you know what I mean? It’s got a bit of a safety net.
SL: In my memory of Aesthetics shows, it seemed that quite a lot was being left up to chance, and how you all and Matt were feeling.
But I don't know. My memory of those performances was probably different to yours, me being in the audience as compared to you who is playing.
But my memory… I mean even the most recent set, which is only two or three years ago, I think, there is a lot that happens in the moment, it seems. It's not note-for-note recitation!
ES: I do want to have more of an open dialogue or conversation with people that see or hear or come to things that I am doing, I really like to put myself in the place where people can question the value, *laughs*, and question the reasoning, and question these things, because I don't feel like… Living here especially, the fact that “The Artist”, and “The Curator”, and “The Gallery”, and all these things are yet more colonial constructs has become really apparent especially in these times of difficulty.
I like the idea of somehow, virtually or not, being able to have more open dialogues, and maybe having windows of time where I'm available. I don't really like the idea of these anonymous works that people… I don't know…
It would be ideal to make a connection
SL: Interpersonal connections?
ES: Yeah, interpersonal connections within things, and I think that's really important, but also to not make things too human-centric. So I don't know, it's a weird one!
*laughs* This is why I want to have more conversations, 'cause I can't just keep talking to myself in my head!
SL: You'll have to write a book! *laughs*
ES: I'm doing my Masters at the moment. It's been really difficult these last few months to get anything done. But I'm quitting a job which I've worked at for a long time. I'm just going to quit it, right in the middle of a pandemic where there's work precariousness, and just see what happens. I just don't even care anymore. *laughs*
I've got to put the energy into this, because this is what makes me feel like I have some kind of purpose.