Sound matters.

Sound matters more than most people realise. Along with philosophy, I work with sound. I used to sit up all night, playing guitar along to the sounds and stories from the Lomax Archive. Have you tried this? You should. Much of the music with which we are familiar can have its origins traced back to the relationship between its practitioners, and their concrete environment. Consider the travelling blues musicians of early nineteen hundreds North America. The regular pairs of the boxcar's rhythm emerged fully formed in the swing beat of jazz, and the backbeat of Chicago blues.

Envirosonic relationships like these go back a lot further than twentieth century North America of course. Sonic forms expressing the change of seasons, the flow of the river, and the pace of the hunt, are older than the pharaohs. But the sonic footprint of the inner city, the modern metropolis, has its own rhythm, and makes its own gestures. Habitation and shelter are built here not by hands, but by machines. Machines that scream and howl and eat the Earth as it shakes. I took a field recorder down to construction sites at Clarence Street, Darling Harbour, and Barangaroo. (True to Sydney, at the latter, a supervisor worried that I was measuring sound levels for regulations compliance.) I transcribed the field recordings into graphic notation. I used these transcriptions as improvisation charts with Alexander Whillas, who reincarnated their sonic forms with supercollider next to me bashing away on prepared guitar.

The trains and buses of the modern city afford a different transportation experience to us than did the boxcars of North America to their adventurous travellers. If you stop and listen, the sound that they make is incredible. I wanted to be a part of that sound. I took a field recorder and a guitar to the Museum Station tunnel that connects the subway to Castlereagh Street, underneath the North end of the Downing Centre. The Downing Centre is named after my first cousin twice removed. I wonder what cousin Reg would have thought, at the age of eighty seven when they were naming it in his honour, if he had known that his little cousin would be in the subway tunnel underneath it with a five dollar guitar nearly twenty seven years later. I think that I am most happy with the piece Museum Station 3. The harmonics are in harmony with the sound of the squeals of the brakes of the buses on Castlereagh Street as they echo down the tunnel. It is a nice moment. Nice enough that I wanted to try to do something like it live.

Playing a field recording as a backing track to live noise guitar skronk would have been too canned, corny even. I started playing solo shows with sounds from the street outside the venue beamed in via a broadcast mic taped in place out front, connected to the mixing desk via a pile of daisychained mic leads. This was always a headache to set up, and I am lucky that the sound people at each venue have been patient enough with me to indulge the project. It was around this time that I met Kevin Wolfox Sheehan. Kevin and I played our first show together as OUTSIDE//INSIDE in late 2018 at In Alexandria. Jim was organising the event at Melanie and Scott's warehouse, and I am still grateful to them all for having us. Kevin brought an entire van load of home made instruments, including his electric harp that he had made out of the frame of an old Norton Commando motorcycle. It took all afternoon and most of the evening for everything to be set up and ready, but it was worth it.

I am interested with what happens when you drag the unsuspecting mainstream public, or their sonic footprint at least, into the traditional performance/art space. What does this even mean? Placing microphones on the street is part of a larger gesture that I hope helps to create an environment where embodying an answer to this question is easier than it might be otherwise. The people on the street do not consent to having their conversations transmitted into the performance space. This is the cavalier nature of the drift net. Can we weaponise indifference? An indiscriminate tractor beam that transports sonic artefacts to a different space? A space that, counterintuitively perhaps, demonstrates these artefacts but does not present them?

None of the sonic gestures I practice are representational. They are neither demonstrative nor performative. There is no statement. The process is an experiment in the specification of structures of non-representational meaning, and the goal is an experiential genesis. The actions of the people in the space and on the streets outside are as much a component of, a proper part of, the attempt to create this as I am. Misinterpretation is still possible. This is not a free for all. The meaning goes beyond the properties of the moment, whatever they are. Formalism might be dead, but postmodernism remains exhausted resignation. The thing here is this - if the gestures are non-representational, as they are, then the facts are unreportable. By their nature, these interpretations cannot have truth conditions, but they have conditions for success nonetheless. Failure is possible and not every interpretation is justifiable, let alone successful. With what then, are we left? We are left with this - interpretations of non-representational gestures are experiential states of mind. They are modes of being, as opposed to attributions of content. They are the manifestations of meanings themselves, as opposed to ascriptions of meaning. Success means that the manifestation is totalising, that the OUTSIDE becomes INSIDE.

2021/22 is a very exciting time project-wise. I am launching a sound-art label and production space! My collaborative project with French musician and sound designer Christian Vasseur is ready, and it is being released and distributed by a very exciting European label. For now I must say no more on this. The second Oblier concept album, Oblier II, has been mastered. The other half of Oblier, visual/sound artist Philip Curach, is working on a model of the album art as you read this. Ian Kubra, Russian sculpter of auditory superstructures and the mind behind Mpala Garoo, has invited me to take part in an ambitious trans-global project in psychoacoustic topographies. For my part here, with the help of a friend I am going to sneak into and record in the reverberation chamber at the acoustics facility of a large and well-known Australian university.

I am delighted to have had a piece of mine included in volume two of the five-volume series Walk My Way, collated by Nicolas Vander and released on 577 Records from Brooklyn New York. Excitingly, I have released a new tape! I played at Picnic On The Roof in Amsterdam a little while ago, which was lovely.

I play solo rather a lot, as well as collaboratively rather a lot. On the collaborative front, at the moment I am playing in five duos - Oblier (post-industrial sonic architectures with artist Phillip Curach), I Have Monica (duo guitar improvisations with Julia Reidy), Act for Birds (a marriage of improvised prepared guitar and analogue electronica with Mauri Edo, aka Subespai), OUTSIDE//INSIDE (abstract sound art with Kevin Wolfox), and Bi-Guignol (noise guitar and throat singing with Josh Shipton).

You can listen to some of my works on my bandcamp and soundcloud pages, or you may watch some things on my youtube channel, or you may come to a show, or all of the above!

Contact details

Department of Philosophy
Main Quadrangle A14
University of Sydney
NSW 2006
Australia

email seb: sebastian.sequoiah.grayson {at} sydney.edu.au

email inky: inkythewhiteboardmarker {at} gmail.com