For our interview, it would be really great if we could revise what we’ve already discussed… We had that meeting all the way back in January and I have some notes, but if we could talk through some of that stuff again, it would be great to have it transcribed.
RS: Gosh, that has gone fast, all of that time!
SL: It has, hasn't it!
With Reuben Derrick, it was good to chat but we expect that there will be further exchanges via email or instant messaging. I've sent him the transcript, but the actual conversation was good, 'cause, you know, conversation can go in different unexpected directions.
And, so, to pick up what we were talking about in January, we started with your background and how you came to be working with environmental sounds… Could you refresh me as to how that came about…
RS: You know what, I actually have no memory at all as to what I said, so I'll just come up with what I'm thinking today…
SL: I can try to jog you a little bit…
RS: …yeah go on!
SL: You had spoken a little bit about your time in Frankfurt…
RS: Ah? Köln…?
SL: …excuse me! In Köln! Where you had been working as a sound engineer..
RS: Cool, that is where I was thinking I would start now. I am remembering my own memories! *laughs* So, yes, during the 90s I went and lived in Köln. A friend of mine ran a PA company over there. I had already been working quite a lot with sound in bands and also in expanded cinema type situations. I'd gone through the Intermedia Department which Phil Dadson led at Elam School of Fine Arts..
So, I had this opportunity to go over and live in Köln with David, who had a PA company over there; he taught me sound engineering. And just before I went there, I'd won basically a basic studio at an audio trade fair. You just had to answer questions, you know, What's the secret ingredient in Shure's new microphone?, and then you get pulled out of a hat. I had won $4000 of musical equipment, so I was able to set myself up: I had a Mirage sampling keyboard, a cassette four-track, and a microphone, and bits and pieces, and I took it all with me to Germany.
And, I guess because I didn't know anybody over there, only him David, there was a bit of social isolation as well: I had always been used to making music being surrounded by a peer group. So there I was, learning about Sound Engineering. So acoustics. And it wasn't formal, it was a bit of a rock and roll education. But that was my introduction into frequencies and acoustics, and thinking about sound as this material that responds to space and to other materials. And I was also working with these ideas in the studio with the Lovely Midget project, working in my little home studio. And it really changed my thinking about sound, from being a means of emotional and social expression, to being about a material that could be shaped, moulded, sculpted, et cetera.
SL: And is it fair to say that this shift in your way of thinking about sound also affected the way that… sorry let me get this right…
So you're thinking about sound shifts, from something that is a product of interacting with your peer group in a band context, to something that is more about interactions happening outside of you, that you as an individual that can feed into and participate with…?
RS: Yeah, it is about sound being an independent entity. It is an emission of materials from the environment. But it becomes its own material from that.
SL: And it exists separately to you as an agent interacting with it…?
RS: Absolutely! I guess there is all that thinking around the copy. That once something is copied it is not necessarily a mere shadow of the original, rather it becomes its own thing, you know, as opposed to it being attached to the original. I mean you can look at recordings in both ways – as being attached or detached from an original place and time – and both are creative methods of considering what sort of thing a sound recording is, if that makes sense.
SL: Yeah, totally.
And in your work do you find that you lean more towards the copy maintaining a relationship with an original, situated, sound, or toward it being its own unique entity?
And just so we’re clear, if we're talking about a “copy” in relation to an “original”, when we apply that to thinking about environmental sound recording, to field recording, the “copy” is the recording in that sense, right?
RS: Absolutely. And carrying on from that, coming back to Aotearoa and working in the environment and with field recordings – and it is exactly that; it's making these “copies” of these environments – but in many ways not wanting to perfectly capture the environment, but making these kind of references to it in some way.
There are a couple of ways I like to work with recordings, a couple of methods. One is capturing that material, these emissions from the environment, and then searching for elements that are interesting and that can be recombined to create a new entity, whether or not that entity makes reference to the original environment, or, if it is purely about texture, creates some kind of sensation, or some kind of effect.
SL: And if we consider that way of working, we’re thinking about quite an abstracted version or approach to the environment that you have recorded.
RS: Absolutely. So I'm not always seeking to reference the environment necessarily.
And then there is the other way of working, which is to kind of think about the original place, the source of the recording. So let's say for an example some kind of water-type sound, and getting hydrophones and burying that into where the water comes in, and you hear all the stones and things all coming past. So it definitely sounds linked to some kind of water or earth-type process. So, yeah, trying to maintain that organic feel of an earthly process and in doing so, also maintaining a reference to that type of environment.
SL: And in both modes of working, you’re always, really, thinking about the recording as its own entity, aren’t you?
Has it ever been of interest to you to accentuate a recording’s relationship with a specific location? Or has it always been more interesting to you to be working in a more abstracted, textural way, with sections of sound taken from a type of environment but not necessarily in reference to a particular place?
RS: Yeah. I think in many ways I would think about that particular place, or might like to reference it, perhaps in terms of a title or something like that. But no, my work isn’t about a particular place.
For the last number of years, my interest in environmental sound has been more about an idea of earthly processes, and processes of the land. And I specifically like it when a recording connects to other types of earthly processes. Here I'm thinking of an example, again using a hydrophone, going out into the Waitematā and putting a hydrophone down 15 meters into the channel there. And then of course you get all of that *click click click click click* of the bi-valve shrimp and the fish and various sounds. And that is fun material to play with, and to make shimmer and resonate and do different things. But what is really nice about it is that it sounds like radio waves, you know? So there is that sound in the water that also sounds like scanning the radio waves as well.
SL: And while you’re working with earthly processes, at that point you're really more interested in energy and transformation that sound per se…
SL: …and I guess it becomes a… what would be the analogy?
I mean you could probably explain better than I can how sound functions in the context of that kind of artwork, and within that kind of thinking, but to me it seems that it ends up as a kind of… I am struggling to find the word… Like an example of…
RS: …transformation, or 'becoming', to use a Deleuzian word, the idea being that we are all constantly becoming something else, just as nature is constantly transforming and changing. And I guess also I had been thinking about the Māori concept of tangata whenua, that we are people of the earth, and that we all originally come from the earth. I don't know if you've read any Manuel DeLanda, but he has this lovely section in one book where he talks about how, at some point 50 million years ago, fleshy matter calcified, and this was when this new material, bones, was made. And how this is also the material that easily becomes fossilized and turns back into stone or rock and just this kind of…
SL: …the idea that a material might hold a certain state, but only temporarily before…?
RS: Absolutely! But also that human connection to the earth: thinking about our bones as having this relationship to rocks or minerals… So yeah, us, and our processes as an extension of the earth described through sound. And the work is really trying to capture the kind of motion of those earthly processes and go into a kind of macro-level, I guess; going inside the earth and our bodies and the processes.
SL: You'd mentioned Gillies Deleuze and Manuel DeLanda, and some concepts from Māori philosophies. Where does all of the conceptual thinking which informs your work sit in relation to the actual work?
Are the concepts in parallel with it? Or do they precede the working?
RS: No, I think the working came first. And all the reading, that just kind of sharpened the work I think. But it also meant that I would produce things that were perhaps more neatly packaged… And probably it is something that I am moving away from now as well.
After having worked like that for a period of time during my doctoral research, I am kind of looking differently at what I am trying to do for the BLINDSIDE project, another approach to the sonification of data.
SL: And sonifying data is already another step removed from the environment itself? Another degree of abstraction.
RS: Absolutely, yeah. Sonification is a process that is used a lot in various ways in the arts and the sciences, and in medicine, and whatever, and I am slowly working out how I might aestheticise that, though I haven’t quite cracked it yet. I haven't quite settled. You often see work about plants singing, but of course it's always the settings of the synthesizer, or whatever tools that you're using and the choices of the artist that determine what the work sounds like. It’s the tools that dictate the aesthetics, and I am still settling on what my aesthetic choices are at this stage, in terms of sonifying that data and how that effectively tells a story or creates a pattern…
SL: You're trying to work out what will be a meaningful means of sonification?
RD: Yeah, trying to work out what might be effective. Do you keep the data shifts clean – as in can you find reference free sounds or something that sounds ‘like’ data? Or do you use some recordings from the environment, or other abstracted sounds, that might help tell the story, or bring it closer to what the data is actually talking about?
SL: Which I guess goes back to what we were talking about before; the abstracted / referential kind of tension…
RS: Yeah… I guess a little balancing act, especially when you're working with environmental recording: it's always like, when do I pull back, Oooh that's getting a bit referential, perhaps I'd better step back a little here.
SL: And I suppose these questions are all the more relevant in an environment that is significant in and of itself, for you, or culturally significant…
RS: I've often stayed away from stories of sites that have some well-known historical significance and resonance. I've avoided that and have gone really more for that kind of process…
SL: More generic?
RS: More generic. Or more about movement of elements in the environment, rather than trying to tell stories of a specific space.
SL: I have a note here from January that says “cow choir”? *laughs*
RS: “Cow choir”? Oh yeah! I guess that is what I am talking about being referential, even though cows sound awesome! They have such an amazing timbre to their voices. But no, I haven't decided on that. I am glad you reminded me of that, because I had forgotten. I might just put that back on my little experimental pallet – try it out.
So there are some other references from January… At one point you were talking about connective thinking and listening for patterns. My handwriting is so poor and I am really struggling to decipher it, but I think you were talking about the way you would listen to recorded material…?
RS: I guess that idea of connective thinking goes back to the concept of whakapapa as a way to think about the world.
Whakapapa is a Māori concept about how we are connected out to our families but also into a history of materiality, so that we are related to trees through these really complex genealogies which go way back. That we are related to the natural environment is a different way of talking about the Manuel DeLanda example, kind of saying something similar but through a different ontology. The DeLanda example is going through a kind of Deleuzian thinking and incorporates the science that DeLanda is into. So it is taking a different route, but in many ways Māori genealogies can be rendered into a purely scientific way of understanding as well. And that is an example of one way of connective thinking, but there are of course lots of other ways, too.
SL: So is connective thinking and listening for patterns a sort of mode that you try to exist in as you listen to things that increases the likelihood that they will resonate with other conceptual points of interest…?
RS: Absolutely, and it is a practice, as well. Because, I mean, I was brought up in an urban, Pākehā culture, and that culture was really a lot more disconnected – didn’t overtly recognise connected ways of thinking. And this type of thinking isn't unfamiliar once you get into it, but it is a practice of remembering that everything is connected to everything else. And so when you're listening, it allows you to listen a bit more carefully, and to open your mind to hear some of those connections, physical and conceptual, and see what comes.
SL: And with that sort of whakapapa-thinking, as you listen to material that you have, does that also apply when you're generating the material, making the recordings? Or do you listen in a different way in that context?
RS: I'll listen in two different ways. I'll listen in the field, as such, which is a very specific kind of listening. Especially when you are listening with headphones on, you start hearing the environment so differently, and as you start moving and kind of zoning in on different parts, you find yourself listening to these different textures and different things that come up…
SL: …and with directional microphones and headphones on, that creates a very different aural relationship with the world, right? It is very different than when listening with your ears.
RS: Yeah! Absolutely…
So I guess there's listening for anything that is interesting. But also making those decisions when you're recording, how things might connect to each other, you know? So you hear a certain texture, and then as you carry on, you go, Oh that's a good texture, I'll get some more of that. Or, that sound connects to an idea I could build on…
SL: And in that respect, in one way you're very present, but also, at the same time, you're thinking elsewhere, perhaps to recordings you've already made or…?
RS: Yeah, you're in and out…
But taking it back to the studio, there are a lot of possibilities that unfold. As I've said, I don't necessarily need to keep it clean, so there's a lot of playing; zooming in and pulling apart and flipping around and pairing it with a keyboard or a sample that goes through a, you know, 8-bit sampler or something like that, and you might put that through a few pedals and just see the type of textures… And it can go on and on as well. But…
SL: So once you’re in the studio, the recordings are very much moldable, malleable, material, right?
RS: Yeah, and I guess it is kind of going back and forth between the original and the processed sound. And sometimes you might move a long way from the original. I mean I have sounds from over the years… They're a bit like, I don't know, stock, or even a sour-dough or something like that. *laughs* Sour-dough is not a good example because that pretty much keeps its same form, but you have a bit of it and you keep on kind of changing it. And then some of them I can't even remember actually from where they originally came from.
SL: Wow, I find that an incredibly beautiful idea! That you pick up or generate a recording in response to a particular environment and then it becomes something that you live with over a period of time, that you manipulate and further engage with. And maybe it is a stretch, but poetically you might say that this is a continued engagement with the environment it is from (even if you're perhaps not cognitively connected)…
RS: But I guess, if you think of it, you are never unconnected from the environment. I'm always already deeply connected, even if it's mediated through technology.
SL: So what I think I am understanding is that, for you, the work you do in the studio is extremely significant, and almost equal to, even more significant than the work in the field…?
RS: I think it also depends on the situation. There are some recordings that sound great. They might have some minimal intervention, or they become part of some sort of maximal intervention. So it does depend on what's happening, but just playing is fun as well. And the studio is kind of a happy place to see where things go to. But at the same time, when you mix too many colours they all start to turn into the same thing, so you always need to make sure that you avoid going there, while also testing those limits, I guess.
And prior to entering the studio, what sort of considerations do you make when you're thinking about where you'll go in the world? How does that process play out for you? How do you choose where to go to make recordings?
RS: Well, where I live there is actually quite a lot of potential recording material. Just where I am there are trees and water and things like that, so my immediate surroundings are really good. I would probably choose not to go to a space that might be, as you said, a controversial place in terms of its history or something like that.
It is not that I am against doing that, but I am just really aware that there would be a protocol as part of that, and then there would be a protocol around managing the recordings, and it becomes part of the story of that place you may need to reference. I like site-specific work and do it sometimes, but I’m just trying out some other approaches.
SL: You'd only want to go to a place like that for a specific reason, and if you don't have those reasons, why would you? I suppose that's the crux of it, right…?
RS: Yes, I remember years and years ago being really interested in the idea of raudive voices – EVP Electronic Voice Phenomenon, supposed spirit voices from the dead being picked up in electronic recordings – and setting up microphones at night in specific places and waiting to see if something came out.
SL: Some poetry?
RS: *laughs* I mean there was. If you listen closely enough to those quiet places at night, and turn up the gain there's always textures you can make, spaces that you can create out of the noise.
SL: And so, you're frequently working in a very localized field. Has it always been like that, even prior to living where you do now? Have you always had quite a small radius, geographically, that you inhabit while making recordings?
RS: Ahh, yeah. I mean sometimes I will go on a specific mission, like that recording in the Waitematā, where I went out in the kayak at night, doing those recordings. It was terrifying *laughs*
SL: I can imagine! Bobbing around on the dark water at night!
RS: And it's all black underneath you! It was spooky!
But it was actually quite funny – I don't know if I've told you the story? But I thought, Shit, I better have someone around so I don't drown, and so I signed up for this kayak trip where you go from St. Heliers to Motukorea – Brown’s Island, but in between is the deepest part of the channel in the Waitematā Harbor. But what I didn't realise, because I don't really observe Valentine's Day, was that it was on Valentine's Day that I’d signed up! And so all these couples turned up as well, and most of them seemed to be on their second marriage. There were four or five other couples, and these women were dressed up because they thought they were going for dinner, like in heels and everything, and these new partners, I guess they were trying to put some spice into the new relationship, and it's like, Surprise honey!, and all their faces dropped! But they were obviously trying to make these new relationships work, so they were trying to be good sports.
SL: Awww… I hope they went out for dinner afterwards, or something!
RS: *laughs* Yeah!
So we all paddled over to Brown's Island, which was fine. And they got there and all went off and had their Champagne, and they gave you a bit of a picnic. And the woman who led the whole tour, she was this really strong woman, I was like, Can I go back out in a two-seater with you? And so we paddled together. And that was good. She was into the idea of recording. So when the couples were off, disappearing, having their romantic whatever in private on Brown's Island, her and I went back out. And by this stage it was dark. And we went out, back into the centre of the deepest part of the channel, and did the recordings.
SL: I imagine that the currents can be very strong through the centre of that channel!
RS: Yeah. It wasn't too bad, but we did drift a little bit, 'cause I'd say, Okay we’ve got to stop paddling 'cause the mic is very sensitive. At that time of the night, all the ferries and boats had stopped. If you're recording out there at other times, you're getting all the sounds of all the boats. But at night we were getting just the sounds of the channel picked up by the microphone drifting in the water there.
SL: I’d guess that this happened during your trip, but it is an amazing thing when you're with somebody who doesn't spend much time actively listening to the environment, especially through headphones, and then you're using something such as a hydrophone, and they can experience a set of sounds, possibly for the first time. And you observe little miniature mind-explosions happening, like new means of engaging with the world are opening. It is a very special thing. I've only had that experience once. It was two Russian children, and I was next to a large metal pylon on an island in the harbor of Vladivostok recording with a contact microphone and headphones. And these kids were obviously curious about what I was doing, so I beckoned them over and they put the headphones on. And one of them sort of waited for the other to have their turn scratching and knocking on this big pylon. It was great!
SL: Did your kayak-friend get to do some listening?
RS: Yeah, she did some listening. She was into it.
It was good, but it was also spooky being out there on the water at night. And then it was really hard going back because the wind had picked up. It seemed to take hours because we were all kind of tired. It was a bit of an adventure!
But carrying on about what you'd asked, about going to special places, like, I'd go to the beach if I wanted to get specific sounds. And I guess, part of that connective listening is asking yourself, Does this feel alright around here? Feeling out benign sorts of spaces…
SL: That are, *gestures air quotes*, “benign”…
RS: …benign as far as I know… They feel benign, and I don't know of any controversial histories or events, and I do try to look that up if I am going somewhere.
SL: Do you have memories that stand out as really special recording experiences, for whatever reasons, good or bad?
RS: Often when you're doing film-sound recording, you record atmospheres, and I have had some really nice times where I went and had these extended listening experiences. A part of recording atmospheres for film is once you arrive you need to wait for the environment to settle down and get used to you again. You've gone clomping in there and there are all these things that are aware of you and you're not aware of them; birds and lizards, insects and whatever else. So you stay for a while until you're normalized back into that space, and then you record a nice piece of atmosphere, a nice chunk that is going to be 'loop-able' to recreate that space for an extended period of time.
So, that is thinking about it in terms of a the listening required for a location-recording,
but then, also thinking about it in terms of a kind of listening practice – being in the space and listening for its own sake – there's a really beautiful tohunga – a possessor of deep knowledge – Hōhepa Kereopa who is from Ngāi Tūhoe, and there is this book in which he talks about gardening, and he talks about this practice, that is about going into nature just listening, and then you hear what the trees are telling you. It may not necessarily be that the trees are literally talking to you, but you get to understand what is happening to the tree, and what it needs and what you can learn from it. And obviously the more you do it, the more attuned you become, and more aware you are of the environment and its responsiveness, or what's happening at that time of year, or what are the factors that are in that space.
So over a period of time, actually when I was doing those surround-sound recordings, that listening practice was something I was often doing at that time: going and sitting amongst the trees with a Zoom H4n, and having listening practice like that. That was really memorable… I tried to be quite disciplined about it, as well.
SL: This gets me thinking a little about Henri Lefebrve, who is one of my favourite authors. Are you familiar with his ideas about the rhythms of everyday life, and scales of rhythm and pattern, and timescale? The ideas around rhythm and timescale seem like they could be relevant to the listening practice you take from Kereopa…
RS: Non-linear conceptions of space and time – yes, but beyond that I am not familiar with the details of his Rhythmanalysis. Keen to learn more though!
SL: So were you doing this at regular times? You know, twice a week, or…?
RS: I'd try and do it, at least for a little while, every day. And on some days for much longer. So as much up to, if I could – you know I've got family and other things to manage – up to an hour or a couple of hours. I think quite a few times I managed to do a three hour block. And observing how you start noticing all the details. The deepening of your listening. I guess it is a kind of meditation practice as well…
SL: Yeah, tied into the idea of being attentive and present in the moment…
RS: Exactly. To all the things that are around you.It was memorable in terms of the things that I would notice and hear, over a period of time as well.
SL: It is interesting. So it is much more about a process than it is about a specific place or series of places. I'm not sure why that is surprising, but it is really interesting.
So that's how you're thinking while working in the field. And then once you're back in the studio it's more playful?
RS: It's more playful, but all that listening sort of affects how you're listening to the recordings, too. It sharpens it.
It is also listening for those things that jump out. I sometimes think of it as the art of recognizing it… So I'm looking for something, and then it's like, Oh, okay, there it is! And it is almost like a recognition of a moment, and not second-guessing that, just following that impulse. And I can't even say exactly what I mean by recognizing it right now, but you know it when you hear it! And I think, when doing that regular listening practice, that would influence what I might listen for in the studio.
SL: And are there any recurring modes of play? I’d guess that your process is not totally fixed or consistent throughout time, but have you found yourself tending towards one treatment, for example, or a set of steps, perhaps, or a series of things that you would try, at various times?
Or do you try to avoid that, and be more spontaneous?
RS: I mean, a little bit of both.
Sometimes there might be a certain sound that I just really want a single element of, but I might want for it to be a bit more unrecognizable from the original, so that it becomes a hint, or a resonance rather than an echo. A resonance of the original achieved by taking away other elements. And yeah, mostly I use digital tools, like I'll go between Protools and Ableton Live, and play with stretching and adding maybe EQ to bring out certain elements, and then it's like, Ahhhh, it needs to be softened a bit, or, Now it needs to be pulled apart or slowed up, or even taking out little shards of the sound and recombining them in some new way.
I quite like that obsessive process. It is almost a bit like knitting or something – it is quite relaxing - or a mosaic.
SL: And are you ever considering an audience? I assume you are considering the way the work is going to be presented, whether that is in an installation, or a performance, or whatever it may be. But is there an audience figuring in, or is that not so important at these sorts of stages?
RS: I figure, if it makes me go, *gasps*, at any point, then it will work for an audience as well. But I definitely want it to be affective, so it is finding techniques that make it affective. And then it's good to bring in someone else to listen, because you hear it really differently when someone else is listening. And it's not even that they have to say anything. You're immediately like, Oh okay, yeah, no, you can hear all the holes.
SL: I don't know why that happens! It is such a thing, eh!
Perhaps you have some ideas about that?
RS: I don't know. Is it that you're empathizing? At first you probably get in someone you know that might be sympathetic, and so maybe there is a bit of that? You might know a little about how they listen?
I'm talking here about if the process is going well, and it doesn't always go well…
SL: I think you want someone who you have faith in their feedback, who you trust or admire, and have respect for what they might be able to tell you about what you're working on. And in relation to that, and I can only speak for myself, but maybe you want to impress them – you want them to like it!
RS: Totally! You want it to be good!
SL: Exactly, you want it to be good!
RS: So there is also that compositional aspect of it for sure, once you get the sounds and those textures, and then it's kind of like, How do I make this listenable over a period of time? Am I going to make an environment to be in for twenty minutes? A space to be in?, or, Is this going to be a little journey to capture and move people along for this period of time? So those are all those little micro-decisions along the way.
And it depends on the format as well. And it is helpful to have deadlines, and to be invited to do something...
SL: Are there formats that you really enjoy working in? For example, is it more enjoyable or stimulating to be making an audio-environment, an installation as opposed to a performance? Or a shorter work as opposed to a longer work?
RS: I think twenty minutes is good. *laughs* It's like a side of a record, it's a performance… But then often that length will be made up of pieces that are, you know, four to five minutes long. So I think often I will have twenty minutes which will be made up of a series of ‘songs’, of a sort, that in combination make up a kind of experiential journey.
SL: Do you work with 'pieces' transitioning from one to the next like that even in the instance of an installation?
RS: Yeah, I have found that I have done that in the past, the pieces are loop-able because people don't always stay for the same amount of time.
SL: Of course. And you have no control over the start and finish, or at what point of the work they enter…
RS: So it needs to have a form that easily loops like incantations.
SL: And obviously there are many differences between the way you're working now, which is more-or-less entirely individually, perhaps save for your interacting with the environment, but are there any similarities with how you remember working with groups and bands?
Is there anything from that way of working that has sustained throughout or recurred back into your way of working?
RS: I think of that way of working really fondly because I love that way of socializing, but back then it was very much about writing songs, and I'd write *singing* A song about 'fuck you', or *singing* You know, or *singing* I feel like that, or some kind of subject, and it was working with drums and guitar and bass. It was really fun trying to make things work in that specific format.
SL: Was it more literal, maybe? By contrast, at least?
RS: Yeah, and just playing with that combination of instruments.
I still listen to music with those combinations of instruments, and appreciate expanded approaches to genre, but sort of out of necessity, in some ways, because of having children, and parenting, and working, and doing other things, it became more efficient to work alone. I think it suits my temperament in many ways too.
But I have enjoyed playing in a couple of collaborations in the last while, with Beth Dawson, a.k.a. Ducklingmonster, and recording, those were fun. And in the odd instances of playing with Richard Francis and Rosy Parlane, which in many ways is us bringing all our own textures and putting them alongside each other and tweaking our processes in response to each other.
SL: And I'm assuming that is quite similar to how it was with guitars and drums, aside from the instrumentation of it?
RS: Yeah. Just trying to listen for the part when you can fit in. Except with the guitar and drum band projects, I would try and write songs, or workshop songs, rather than – I guess I never really got to that point because I'd moved on to Lovely Midget and moved overseas – so hadn't done so much improvisational playing within those groups.
SL: I suppose another difference, even if you're playing electronic music within a group, is that degree of sonic overlap – if you're playing with Rosy and Richard, in terms of instrumentation, there is a lot more overlap compared to a drum-kit and electric guitar, right?
RS: Yeah, fuzzier edges.
SL: *laughs* Yeah, yeah. But you've all got your own, as you said, textures.
There was one more thing from January that I was hoping that we would wind back to somehow, and it was where you were talking about the way you imagine what you were trying to do with sound as you manipulate it. And I can’t remember if it was a sort of a dream that you recounted, or something you had discussed with somebody else, but it was about pounamu becoming crystal. And you were talking about using the manipulation of recorded material as a means to create something that was unrecordable or evoke an unrecordable process. And I just thought that, yeah, the lyrical quality of the idea of pounamu becoming crystal was very beautiful.
RS: That was a really leading image through a lot of that work that I've just been talking about. This idea of processes, of transformation, or becoming, and of all those listening practices – connective listening, listening outward – over a much more expanded period of time.
That idea, I guess it is also there when I am playing around in the studio, and trying to get into those processes so that they still feel very organic, but maybe feel a little less immediately locatable. They might still sound like, you know, well, ‘pounamu becoming crystal’, or 'tectonic plates shifting against each other', or these other kinds of processes that aren't necessarily recordable. And I think I talked about the Hawai'i recording, which was another…
SL: You did, but I can't actually read my notes about it! It must have been very engrossing! *laughs*
RS: *laughs* So, when I went to Hawai'i with a Māori group to follow up on one of these stories of Ngātoroirangi who is a famous ancestor, a rangatira, a chief or leader, from Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and he called on his sisters from Hawaiki (the home and original land of Māori and Polynesian peoples in mythological and spiritual systems).
In the story, Ngātoroirangi was freezing at the Tongariro summit, and he called on his sisters from Hawaiki, and they sent volcanic power to him. And there is the Ring of Fire in the Pacific, and Auckland is on a hotspot, as was the place we went to, Hilo, which is on the Big Island.
So I went and talked to the local tangata whenua, the people of the land, guardians of the area, the Hawai'ian descendants of the volcanoes around there, and I was like, Is there anywhere I shouldn't go, in terms of recording?, because we were recording material to make educational publications for Kura Kaupapa, Māori-language immersion schools. And so we went to one particular field where there was lava coming out, and so they said to me, If you can't record it, you're not meant to, basically. Go for it, but your recording equipment won't work, or you won't be able to capture the sound if you're not meant to capture it!
SL: You won't get there?
So anyway, there was a spot where the lava comes up through the ground and then it hardens. And it sounds beautiful. It is like this kind of hissing, and then as it hardens it cracks! And so it is this really slow, Crrrack!, I can't really describe it with words, and because it was so hot, I couldn’t get close enough to record it. And also there were a few tourists around, so there was a bit of background noise. And of course, when you put something like that in a recording, it becomes equal with the rest of the environment. I couldn't record it. Even though I could hear it so clearly, it wasn’t usable in the recording. You know how your ears cancel out all of the stuff that you don't want…
SL: That function of hearing is incredible.
RS: So it was exactly what the tangata whenua had said to me. There was a lot of wind on the mic, and there were other tourists and different voices around, and it was just, you know unuseable for what I wanted… So that Crrrrack! has kind of been a sound a bit like ‘pounamu becoming crystal’, it is an idea of an elemental sound. It becomes a guide. And when I am talking about my ways of working – thanks for reminding me, because I had kind of forgotten about this – this is about that recognition of sounds, as well.
So there are certain ideas of sound, or embodied memories of sounds from the environment or nature, or special kinds of sounds that I guess I'm listening out for in the process of playing around in the studio and hoping to recognise when something makes me think of that cracking Hawai'ian lava field or the sound of pounamu becoming crystal. Of course, exactly what ‘pounamu becoming crystal’ sounds like is going to be different for everybody, the sound of that is going to be totally unique for each person who imagines it, so it is also a kind of sound that you can remake hundreds of times and maybe not ever quite get there!
SL: It is a beautiful concept.
You were also talking about having something become closer to its own essence, that was another phrase that you'd used. And I guess what that is also depends on what you imagine it to be, and how you conceptualize it… It was another concept I really apperciated but don’t fully understand.
Perhaps you could elaborate?
RS. That relates to the ‘sound images’ I mentioned, such as the cracking lava or pounamu becoming crystal. What is the essence of the ‘sound image’ and how can it affectively – as in create some kind of pre-lingual response – be communicated through sound. In terms of how that is integrated into my sound practice, it circles back to me talking about ‘recognising’ sounds which is responding to the potential affect you can hear within the sound or if it feels like it correlates to the idea.