David Bowie is… well, David Bowie

Yesterday I went to see the David Bowie exhibition at ACMI with my mum, and while she primarily brought me along so that she could attempt to bring me back into the same nostalgia she felt when she listened to one of his songs or saw a Ziggy Stardust costume, I had a completely separate, encompassing and profound experience. I felt as though I was meeting a fellow creative who on the surface seemed to be a strange and surreal figure, but underneath was constantly engineering and manipulating that visage for his own creative design and expression. And the only reason I felt encompassed by the experience, by his creativity and genius was because of another genius – a sound designer.

The entire exhibition, with all of its memorabilia scrounged from collectors from all corners of the earth, accompanied by in depth notes and writing about the stories of each piece, was quite honestly not about any of that. That all felt like window dressing. Much like a costume or a character was a message or an overall aura Bowie himself was trying to project through the ether, the mementos were only a small element in creating the world of the exhibition. They, coupled with VJ displays of interpretations of his work (playing along with the music), as well as the video clips themselves, the music and interviews cut into radio features with unique sounds creating a distorting aura all of their own, gave you a sense of the true type of artist Bowie was, rather than treating him like an artifact or exhibit. It really showed you the world he had created, and for someone who had never really experienced Bowie in depth and only from afar, it felt like a very personal experience, like getting to know the individual artist behind the persona and the music, and not just the colourful persona itself.

The most interesting part about the experience was the way that they used location. The headsets were designed so that when you enter the space, the area around a certain part of the exhibit, a specific sound piece will start to play, working perfectly with the visual elements around you and creating a unique cocoon of intriguing sounds and interesting exhibits, coinciding in a beautiful sensory way and creating an incredibly individualised experience, which, for an exhibition about the artist David Bowie, seems only fitting.

The idea of creating sound to coincide with a fixed visual stimulus, that encourages you to explore both visually and physically through touch, creates a very intimate, overall more encompassing and satisfactory experience. It’s also interesting through the idea of guiding the way one of the five senses perceives an environment, which in turn leads the others, especially since there is no such thing as ‘ear lids’, it seems all the more fitting to play with the way we experience location aurally, rather than visually necessarily. After all, cafe’s and elevators play music as though it were a comforting yellow wallpaper.


According to Wikipedia, foley is “the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film, video, and other media in post-production to enhance audio quality. These reproduced sounds can be anything from the swishing of clothing and footsteps to squeaky doors and breaking glass.”

Foley comes from the man Jack Foley who was the first person to utilise sound effects in radio dramas, then transferring them to film later on. People who use these techniques, of purposely creating sounds in a studio to images (as it is now used in film as opposed to radio) are known as foley artists.

Foley is a very interesting art-form, as it involves taking a sound that is well known, and therefore has a very important connotative value, and then reproducing it out of context in a way that is often completely separate to the actual origin of the sound.

As some of the objects foley artists create sound for don’t necessarily make sounds, or are very difficult to capture, the sounds aren’t only captured out of context, separately from the image, but in a completely different environment, often from something that sounds similar, or some feel would sound like that object, creating a simulacra (Beaudrillard, 1981) of that objects sound in popular culture, but not that objects actual sound, all for the enhanced dramatic, emotional and connotative value.

This is a video about the foley artist behind a show marketed as a “live graphic novel”, The Intergalactic Nemesis. As the performance is half radio play, half comic book, the foley is performed live using various machines, instruments and day to day objects to create the sounds needed to immerse the viewer in the world. Immersion is vital  in this type of performance (as they are in any), as you are essentially creating the world around the audience, and the sounds in particular achieve that through developing the atmosphere. The visual stimuli is the window into the world, but the soundscape creates the world, with all the auditory cues allowing you to gain a sense of place in this new world.

– Baudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Simulation.” 1981. Available at: http://www.cigarrvagen12.org/cirkulera/pdf/texter/Jean_Baudrillard-Simulacra_and_Simulation_s1-31.pdf

Assignment Two: ’24 Hour Folio Part 1.’ The Sounds of Theatre: A Finite Existence

For my second piece in my ’24 Hour’ folio, I chose to go to Fortyfivedownstairs and interview the artistic director there: Mary Lou Jelbart.

In the space she helped mold and shape, Mary Lou Jelbart, the artistic director of fortyfivedownstairs, an independent, not-for-profit theatre and gallery space in Melbourne’s CBD, shares what she prizes most, as well as some hard truths, about the business she fell in love with so long ago and has stayed involved in for so many more reasons.

Through this piece I really wanted to create a space and draw the listener into that space, as, as we discussed in class, the listener can perceive even the smallest auditory cue, such as the sound a tram makes when it turns a corner or stops, the sound the lights make when the green man starts walking or even a construction site. Because of these auditory cues I decided to record my walk, or at least small sections of my walk towards and down into the space in order to recreate that walk and atmosphere for the listener, allowing them to imagine the same space that Mary Lou and so many (myself included) have come to love. While I used this at the beginning to help establish place, using classical music to give the air of theatre once in the space, I continued the classical music at the end, creating a sort of wistfulness, and then suddenly the classical piano fades out to be replaced by the sound of the lights as you wait to cross. This sound takes over and becomes very alienating as you wait for the green man to appear, and when he does you know it’s time to go home (as this same sound was used at the beginning of the piece, symbolising the sound coming full circle). This full circle of sound, to me shows the true finite nature of theatre, as it only exists in that one moment in that single space, as it does at Fortyfivedownstairs, and then it doesn’t exist anymore and you go home.

I also used a piece of classical piano throughout to add breath to and bring focus to certain parts of the piece. I got the idea to use a piece of classical music from one of the interviews in “The Letter S” as they layered classical piano underneath it simply for textural reasons. However, I feel adding the classical piano adds an air off high culture, which theatre naturally has, but also adds a sadness to it as, as the interview progresses more is revealed about the hard truths and realities of the world of theatre, and the divide of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture is no longer what matters.

While this piece was broadly about theatre, in terms of the questions I asked, I managed to find chunks of interview that related specifically to place as well as theatre itself, allowing for the piece to become routed in its ultimate focus.

Through the process of creating this piece I feel I have learnt a lot more about how to cleanly cut audio in Adobe Audition, as well as how to create flow and ‘breath’ for a piece.

Assignment Two: ’24 Hour Folio Part 1.’ The Sounds of Theatre: A Vivid Image

For our second assignment we had to choose a location as an inspiration for a ’24 Hour’ folio. For my location I chose Fortyfivedownstairs, an independent theatre in Flinders Lane that I regularly volunteer at and has been open and producing works with emerging and established artists since 2002. Since this folio’s location is meant to simply inspire our pieces, my pieces are centered around the concept of theatre, which I’ll admit is a little broad, but I feel as though I at least managed to capture some of it:

Theatre is a finite medium, it only exists in that singular space, in that one moment and then it’s gone. It has an unequivocal way of inspiring its audience through evoking not only powerful and enveloping emotions, but life changing thoughts as well.

I seek to find the essence of theatre’s vivid image, through the interviews of Mary Lou Jelbart, Philippa Jelbart and Sophie Kahl,all intricate parts of the creative team at the independent, not-for-profit, theatre and gallery space – fortyfivedownstairs.

In creating this piece I was really inspired by the pieces ‘Poetry Texas’ (Pejk Malinovski), ‘The Letter S’ (Chris Brookes), ‘Tupperware’ (The Kitchen Sisters) and ‘If’ (Sherre DeLys and John Jacobs).

I tried to create observations like those of Malinovski in ‘Poetry Texas’, and while they were of a different style, I feel that my musings did add another dimension and layer to the piece, allowing for the audience to develop new thoughts.

Both ‘The Letter S’ and ‘If’ use the voice of the producer heavily through actors as well as through creating phrases relevant to the material and separate to narration, observations and interviews. This use of unique statements repeated throughout ‘The Letter S’ to give a different meaning, such as “are we on the air?” and the use of unique sounds created by the young girl in ‘If’ really create and add new sound textures that add meaning as the piece progresses. I tried to do something similar through my use of acting exercises, such as tongue twisters, constantly repeated underneath the sections of interview, and then faded to silence at the point in the interviews where focus was needed most. I also tried to make the tongue twisters relevant to the content of the interview, such as the tone and the literal words in “she sells sea shells by the sea shore” relating to no one donating any money to the performers in the ballet performance.

I also drew inspiration from ‘Tupperware’ as I layered the tongue twisters underneath the interviews with no music or other sounds, just voice on voice, trying to really get across the intangible feeling that theatre creates.

I started the piece with a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which I feel sums up the finite nature of theatre. For this piece I really wanted to play with focus, so I made this section silent to make it prominent, bringing in the tongue twister over the last word “nothing”, emphasising the words own innateness. For each interview I layered in an acting exercise underneath and faded it out as the interviewees description reached its peak. The first two chunks of interview relate to each other well, as they both speak about the emotional vividness of theatre, but the third chunk speaks of a performance which is instead more ideological as the interviewee talks about how theatre may be enriching for the audience, but those who create it get very little in return. This then connects to the ending of the piece, another acting exercise, vowels being shouted out, layered over with “Do, Re, me” allowing the audience to ponder whether or not acting is the ultimate form of selfishness or selflessness. The final quote, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” reiterates this idea, as it allows the listener to ponder whether it is simply a stage direction or whether the audience is the bear.

During the creation of this piece I quickly learnt about how to clean up a sound file (wind noise) and how not to (handling noise masking audio). I have learnt a lot more about sound frequency and cleaning audio through the process of making this piece. I also feel that my recording skills have improved, as I went into the multi-track studio to record all of my material other than interviews.

The Connotations of Sound

Sound emphasises the importance of codes, conventions and the connotations that develop meaning and story. Certain things are expressed most clearly through different mediums as each medium creates a different aura, just as different languages have different words for different things. Radiogenic is used to describe things that are best conveyed using the language of music, language itself, voice, field sounds and other such sounds that can bring texture to a piece.

Connotation is vital in sound, as we glean so much information from it without realising it. For instance, we can hear the physical distance from a microphone, creating space in the sound’s texture. We also glean other kinds of information, such as generalisations relative to our own life and reality, allowing for an easy transition between our world and the sound-created one, as we are using objects and other such things from our own lives to help construct and give meaning to it. In this way, depending upon our own experiences, when we hear an English accent, that isn’t cockney, we may think that that person is posh or high culture due to certain connotations that come with an English accent (or at least a particular type of English accent). Due to such generalisations which most people’s minds will automatically construct without them realising, creating a sort of aura as opposed to a conscious realisation of the fact, connotation can be used really well to create the right kind of tone and emotion needed for a piece, even if it is a very slight cue, like a word or phrase referencing something, or even saying something in a particular way to create the right aura, such as emotive tone or through scripted, semi-scripted and improvised dialogue (all of which we can actually hear the textural differences between).

Due to sound’s complex, layered textural qualities, we gain so much information and meaning from each second, so it’s worth spending the time to find the right sound, the right way to express your piece through the various languages used, in order to achieve the aura you want and need. Remember, perception is a fickle thing…