Tura New Music Artist in Residence Dampier Peninsula 2014 & 2015
In both 2014 and 2015 I worked as musician in residence for Tura New Music based on the Dampier Peninsula north west of Broome in the Kimberley, WA. In the first residency, my work was mainly schools-based, working between two schools, one in Lombadina the other, just a few kilometres up the road at One Arm Point. There is little access in this region for formalised music lessons, nor a regular music teacher, so my approach was to introduce ways of listening and playing together within a compact time period (a little over a week at each school).
In addition to the instruments I brought with me and the very limited music resources available, I was able to pursue simple rhythmic and melodic ideas, playing in small groups and exploring composition through stories offered by the students. I ran a few instrument making sessions too making tuned "ground tubes"(different lengths of rainwater pipe stuck against the ground, "fufu pipes" (film canister clarinets), "strawboes" (oboe made from a plastic straw and panpipes (made from 13mm polypipe with endcaps). At OAP school with staff and student support we also built a thongophone using the metal frame of a disused library book trolley - a one-of-a-kind mobile thongy!
At the culmination of my residency students at both schools performed as part of the visiting Tura Resonance Kimberley Tour (featuring William Barton and Mark Atkins).
In my 2015 Tura residency in neighbouring Lombadina and Djarindjin communities, my focus was to build a musical instrument playground to be based at the Catholic primary school in Lombadina. As this was a community music project, I worked alongside indigenous trainees at the Kullari Regional Communities Inc (KRCI) workshop in Djaradjin where we had access to welders, cutters, drills and hand tools. The materials for this project (aluminium tube and strap, steel cross-section and pvc pipe) was donated by KRCI, but we also used scrap materials from the local dump when needed. We had a month to design, construct and install on-site our sound playground and we started from scratch. This was a fantastic collaborative project in which the key was the sense of ownership all the participants (the makers and the students) felt at having created something unique in their school and in the Kimberley.
As well as building instruments, I also worked with local musicians and bands and on NAIDOC Day a couple of those bands featured in the festivities, as did children from the local school I had been working with. An amazing project that I will look back on with great fondness!
Dryandra Primary School Thongo Duo
My residency at Dryandra Primary School in 2015 was facilitated through The Song Room, an organisation that promotes music and arts in less privileged schools. The idea of this thongophone, resembling a rib cage or boat hull, came out of a meeting with interested parents. This installation is located in the school's early childhood area.
Wheel Rim Zumbalaphone
The Glades is a community near Armadale, south east metro Perth. The Awesome Festival contracted me to do a series of instrument making workshops in 2014 with children over 6 consecutive weekends and to also devise a concept for a sound installation to be located in a local community recreation area. I began first making a few sketches of what I thought could be a "wheel rim marimba" or, in more simple terms, a large metal xylophone. In sourcing out the wheel rims from a local tyre repairer, I quickly discovered that most of the rims I tapped had discreetly different pitches, so I sources the widest range of sounds I could find.
I also liked the idea of the wheel rims on metal stems resembling a poppy field, so I then took my rudimentary sketches to my friend and welder, Robbie Lang (Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle), who then took on the welding of the stems to the base plate. With Robbie I worked out the best way to isolate the rims from the stems using rubber washers in order for the rims to best resonate. He also gave me the name of this instrument.
Belmay Primary Sound Garden, 2012
In 2012 visual artist,Calvin Chee and I were commissioned by Musica Viva to design and construct an interactive sound garden featuring six different sound installations within an interactive playground space at Belmay Primary School, Belmont, WA as part of a federal and state-funded AIR Grant project. As musician and instrument maker, my part not only involved the making of large musical instruments, but also engaging students in both the design and playability of those instruments.
So whilst the project
resulted in a clearly tangible outcome – a set of six sound sculpture
installations located in the grounds of the school, there was an equally
important parallel process of classroom musical development that underpinned
this project and shaped the manner in which the resulting instruments were designed, constructed and located in the school grounds.
For much of 2012 I was was based at the school working with students developing a framework around to how this sound garden would take shape and how student visual and imaginative ideas might inform the outcome. Over two terms each student kept a "sound diary" of ideas and sketches. Combining a group of primary and high schools students, Calvin gave them each the challenge of creating a small maquette, based on chosen student sketches. These small models then became the basis of our designs.
Over this project Calvin and I worked with students from four school campuses in the area, including special needs education, students from a language learning centre and manual arts students and staff at the local high school. The high school manual arts students contributed hugely in cutting and welding sturdy instrument frames, tweaking design ideas and helping with site preparation and installation. This was great collaborative project.
Sound Sculpture, Gravity Discovery Centre, Gingin
Time Coils 1 & 2 | Mark Cain
The Gravity Discovery Centre: www.gdc.asn.au
Scale is always a challenge to art. For
years I've been exploring the sound potential inherent in industrial plastic
tubing or polypipe, the kind used by plumbers, electricians, agrarians and
budding high jumpers. In the early days a colleague and I flirted with the
fantasy of playing Perth's underground sewerage system - a bold and
avante-garde, if utterly improbable notion! Undaunted, the fascination with
designing vast or outsized instruments has remained with me. In this project I
had the opportunity to work with a 1.2 kilometer coiled length of 110mm
diameter polyethylene pipe [perhaps enough tubing to service the sewerage
needs of a small housing precinct].
In its simplest conception, a tube of
this length acts as a kind of time capsule. A noise made at one end of the tube
will, travelling at the speed of sound [nominally 330 meters/second], take just
under 4 seconds to be heard at the other end of the tube. So in effect, at the
far end of the tube, one is listening back to the past. The resultant acoustic
delay elegantly illustrates the notion of travelling backward in time and has
parallels with the ripples made by a stone thrown into a still pond. In physics
there are many examples of "cause and delayed effect", including, of
course, Einstein's yet to be manifestly proven theory of gravity waves themselves.
To accentuate these delay effects, I have
located along the length of this vast coil a series of regularly spaced tiny
microphones that pickup and transmit to amplified speakers, sounds as they
pass through the tube. The listener will hear multiple repeats as his or her
original sound source 'pingpongs' from one speaker to the next in a series of
graduated delays, finishing with the original unamplified sound at the other
end of the coil. A 'miniature' version of this instrument comprising a 200
meter coiled length of 65mm polyethylene tubing is also on display as an
accompanying exhibit inside the Gravity Discovery Centre in Gingin. Its shorter delay cycle offers an
interesting point of comparison with the larger instrument. The two coils can
be 'played' interactively or independently of each other.
As a child I'd put my ear to a conch
shell and listened with amazement to that mysterious 'sound of the sea'...now I
can put my ear at one end of an unfathomable hollow coil and listen with equal
incredulity into the past.
Time Coil 1
materials: 110mm [pn 8]
length: 1.2 kilometres [coiled]
Time Coil 2
polyethylene pipe Time Coil 2:
length: 200 metres [coiled]
"Doing more for Music than Bach did for Plumbing"
In the three brief years of AC/PVC's existence [1987-1990], the group made
quite an impact on the Perth contemporary music scene. Founded by Broken Hill born, Peter Keelan and I to present a new work for the 1987 Evos New Music Series, AC/PVC
was in every sense, an experiment. I played reeds and together with Peter, a specialist in
Andean flutes and panpipes, we collaborated to build a virtual orchestra of
instruments made exclusively from pvc plumbing and electrical pipe and accessory fittings, ABS
airconditioning ducting and other industrial plastics.
Why PVC pipe?
At first glance, an odd choice,
perhaps. In many ways the material is rather bland and something we tend to bury or hide away in houses
or underground. From a musical perspective however, pvc pipe is like an analogue of bamboo or the wooden or metal tubing used in conventional instrument making
around the world for aeons. It's recyclable, relatively cheap, versatile, in that there are many different diameters and comes with
a seemingly endless range of auxiliary fittings, many of which are fancifully
sculptural. It is also extruded in different colours. Pvc tubing's essential cylindrical shape is its core musical asset, an internal characteristic of many wind and
percussion instruments both past and present. But perhaps, most importantly for
AC/PVC, it was the leggo-like construction of this pipe into the imposing sculptural shapes of our instruments which added an
otherworldly, visual and theatrical dimension that captivated audiences. These were bits of
humble plastic pipe transformed. The architecture and sound palette of these
instruments confounded their origins... and it was the audience inner-child that
reveled in this musical playground of new possibilities and imaginings.
AC/PVC was an intended one-off event that just took off...
quite unexpectedly. A concert in a rarified new music series presented by Evos Music in 1987 led headlong into
to a hectic schedule of community residencies and regional schools and festival
touring that lasted three years. It was an idea that caught the imagination and
generated its own momentum.
For Peter Keelan and I the challenge had been how far
we could take the idea of pvc pipe and plumbing paraphanalia as a performance concept? Appearance is one thing, making good music is another. Each
instrument presented its own challenges. How to extend the range of wind
instruments, how to achieve the best timbre, how to adapt factory mould
fittings to the instruments and still keep them in tune, whilst trying to
maintain a visual whimsy that we both shared.
On that subject, Peter was an inveterate illustrator. He and his sketchbook were inseparable and many of AC/PVC's visual ideas had their genesis in his drawings. Many an entertaining and occasionally blasphemous caricature of a band member (inordinately often, me) found it's way into that sketchbook!
Back to the issue of tuning and how to build adjustable tuning
mechanisms to deal with temperature change. Sometimes a great visual idea would
throw up a whole set of unexpected playing challenges. For instance, in
building our trigeridu (see photo at lower right) we did not expect that each player
would receive air back-pressure as a result of players blowing down a three-way
inlet fitting. This instrument sorely tested our endurance in performance, but
it did captivate audiences! It was just such an absurdly fanciful idea... In a show at Turkey Creek (Warmun) during our Kimberley Pipedreams Tour in '89, our audience - children and adults alike - were so surprised and initially disquieted by entrance of the trigeriu that they laughed heartily with embarrassment at their own reaction. The absurdity of this instrument spoke its own language to a culture already deeply imersed in a digeridu tradition.
Over time other challenges arose. How to make tuned
percussion instruments to meet the skills of new players who joined us with
keyboad percussion skills to burn. For marimbist, Paul Tanner,we experimented with four-mallet thongophone
facility and building a three octave xyllophone in which each note, a varying
length of thin-walled pressure pipe, was compressed in profile to an ovular
shape in order to improve its resonance. There was no text book to explain
this or many other discoveries we made. The were just accidental eureka moments that worked. Or the trombone made
from clear polycarbonate pipe, replete with funnel bell. Not a eureka moment
this one, but entertaining to watch a fine, trained trombonist like Andrew Raymond challenged (if not humbled)
by a less than scientifically accurate instrument - apologies, Andrew!
And then there's a story
about a crumhorn workshop in Albany. Local musician and farmer, a white bearded avuncular, John Bush, entered the first morning of our residency workshop sessions with the intention of making a... crumhorn... I think it's fair to say not everyday you get a request like this in a community workshop. To compress the story, after much nashing of teeth, we didn't run with the crumhorn idea. But we did stay rather left field by making we made a consort of three pvc clarinets to perform a renaissance pavanne and galliard in our Albany concert. In later years I did make a crumhorn of sorts - not a terribly distinguished instrument, but then again that could be said of the the crumhorn, I think. Nonetheless, I think JB would have approved the outcome.
The glue for AC/PVC was humour. Often it ran thick
and fast in our surburban Innaloo (a pun in itself, given the nature of our
instruments) workshop with liberal doses of the absurd. Peter and I shared complimentary, if different, skills and it was a mix of the practical and the
instinctual that generated sustained creative bursts. Humour and practicality
were to the fore in our 1989s Feats Underground concert at the Fly By Night Club, Fremanle. it was Peter's delightfully preposterous idea to
construct a transparent waterproof tent on stage with an internal sprinkler
system (inspired by his sketches). In our finale, the musicians entered the tent dressed in raincoats and
caps to play an ensemble of already water soaked instruments, including a
two-meter high bass drum with transparent plastic head and the all-pvc A-Frame marimba
(see opposite), as well as a miscellany of small plastic wind instruments. The
combination of the lighting and water ricochetting off the large drum and
marimba was truly startling! Water music at its best - if you can Handel that...
Because of a busy touring schedule, in sometimes
remote areas, we set ourselves other challenges, such as, how to create locking
mechanisms to assist with assembling and disassembling some of our larger
instruments. We needed durability, so we engaged engineer colleague, Clive
Jarman, to design tensioning, clamping and quick-release mechanisms. These are
the challenges you face when turning a one-off event into a touring show. Clive's inventions, adaptations and tweaking were seminal to this latter phase of our instrument building.
AC/PVC staged four major concerts events during its short tenure. The opening two Evos concerts, AC/PVC in Concert, were staged at the Princess May
Theatre, Fremantle, November 6 & 7, 1987. Cain & Keelan were supported
by Indian percussionist, Raman, and contemporary dancer/choreographer, Jean
Tally. The second, New Executions, comprised a week long season at the historic
Roundhouse, Fremantle, April 5 -10, 1988, in collaboration with Still Moves
Dance Company and percussionist, Ron Reeves. The third concert series, Feats
Underground, was held
at the Fly By Night Club, Fremantle, September 29 to October 2, 1998. This was
an augmented group with Reeves, singer, Kerry Fletcher, percussionist, Aiden D'Adhemar
and Broken Hill painter, Clark Barrett, creating real time Hokusai canvasses
and Blue Poles revisions. The concert stage also featured the
aforementioned transparent waterproof tent and overhead sprinkler system. The
final concert, AC/PVC at the Ozone, December 9, 1990 presented an augmented lineup
with members of Nova Ensemble:
David Pye, Neil Craig, Paul Tanner, Amanda Dean and trombonist (yes, that
trombone!), Andrew Raymond.
AC/PVC held artist in residency projects in
Albany/Denmark, 1988; Wanneroo [Limestone Connection] 1989, Northam 1988 &
1989 and toured the Pilbara & Kimberley, Pipe Dreams Tour, 1989, including a performance at the Kulan Island mine. The group also performed at the Darwin Bouganvillea Festival, 1990. Between 1987 & 1990 AC/PVC performed in
many, many schools and communities around the state.
It seems apocryphal these days that vastly more
people know/knew of AC/PVC than ever saw the shows... "I remember AC/PVC
!!"... It's comforting to know that those memories linger, but there
is also something in a good name, I think!
What reviewers said:
"In all my long years
of concert going, I have rarely come across a group like AC/PVC, who not only
clearly derive immense pleasure from their performance but succeed in
communicating that to their listeners"
Neville Cohn, The West Australian, July
"...an enegetic and rhythmically vital
Lindsay Vickery, The West Australian, September 1988"In the skilled and imaginative hands of Peter Keelan, Mark Cain
and Ron Reeves, the orchestra of PVC tubing has an astonishing range of mood
Terry Owen, The West Australian, April 1988
"It was a wonderful array of imaginative
sound by three musicians who were as entertaining as they were technically
David Hough, The Australian, April 1988
Visit Peter Keelan's website