Much as I love the sun, surf and rampant bush hinterland of Sydney, those clever boffins in Melbourne keep giving me reasons for wishing I lived in their wave-challenged southern locale. Their latest is the Found Sound Project, an ongoing series of sound art events that highlight experimental instruments designed and built by Australian artists and musicians.
These events began in January this year and are held every month in a warehouse in Carlton. So far, they've featured the glass percussion, bicycle wheel and pipe ensembles of Ros Bandt and Albert Mishriki; the prepared vibraphone, modified trumpet, heat sinks and bowed cymbals of Dale Gorfinkel and Joe Talia; the light and turntable based sound contraptions of Rod Cooper and Ross Manning; and the PVC pipe organ and reinvented gamelan of Nathan Gray, Dylan Martorell & Dave Nelson.
If you're in Melbourne and want to keep abreast of these happenings, they have a Facebook group you can join. If you're not, keep an eye on their blog which is updated with videos of the performances whenever they're posted on YouTube.
That's right, this is a 1944 recording of the ninth greatest female star of all time performing Aloha Oe on the musical saw. The performance doesn't begin till 1:25 in but prior to that, you get a charming introductory exchange between The Smouldering One and a rather incredulous MC... It makes me long for a parallel universe where our current crop of screen sirens have similar singular talents and we are regularly treated to recitals featuring Cate Blanchett on theremin, Scarlett Johannsen on hurdy-gurdy, and Angelina Jolie on nose flute.
(This video was introduced to me by the devilishly diverting Coilhouse)
Sticking with the water theme, here's a classic song about its destructive power from the 80s/90s Siberian punk-folk scene, written and performed by a Yanka Dyagileva, a woman who's talent went sadly unrecognised outside that scene during her lifetime.
A native of Novosibirsk who began writing songs as a schoolgirl, Yanka drifted into the Siberian rock scene after meeting the Russian poet/rock musician, Alexander Bashlachev at a concert in 1985. Two years later, she met and fell in love with the godfather of Siberian punk-folk, Yegor Letev. The relationship that followed was creatively productive but ultimately rather toxic; with Letov acting as a petty tyrant at home and even going so far as to belittle her when they performed on stage together.
After her inspiration Bashlachev died in 1988, Yanka sank into a chronic depression. It didn't stop her from writing, but it no doubt contributed to the very dark cast of many of her songs. In 1991, she recorded her last song - Pridyot Voda - a wrenching 9 minute epic on the subject of drowning. The first half of the song consists of Yanka blurting out anguished tightly wound verses over racing rhythm guitar then, when it seems that a comfortable resolution has been reached, it's suddenly torn apart by a blistering dissonant organ solo that continues for 4 minutes.
Shortly after recording it, Yanka disappeared from her home and was found a week later drowned in the Ob River.
In 2006, sound artist Tomoko Sauvage attended a Terry Riley concert in Paris and heard an instrument that utterly entranced her - it was called the jalatharangam. As the name might suggest, it originally hails from Southern India and consists of a series of porcelain filled with water which are "played" by striking them with small bamboo rods.
Not long after the concert, Sauvage had constructed her own jalatharangam from bowls she picked up in the local Chinatown and set to work trying to replicate classical Indian ragas on them. As she immersed herself in this new instrument, however, her focus shifted and she became fixated on the sound of the water itself; using tiny underwater microphones to capture it dripping and rippling in the individual bowls.
The recorded results of this inspired take on an ancient instrument are available as mp3 excerpts on The Wire website and as streams on the artist's website, and they are truly spellbinding. (Also, for a substance as immaterial as water, the tones produced are surprisingly strong and resonant; sounding in places like detuned bells.)
If you'd like to see how she produces these sounds, here's a video of a performance from September last year:
And if you want to hear more, keep an ear out for her debut solo album, Ombrophilia, which means "love of rain" and is due out on either/OAR later this year.