: the wired lab

taiga, 2012, taiga 19
www.taigarecords.com; http://wiredlab.org/

The WIRED Lab was established in 2007 on a rural property in Cootamundra in the Riverina district around 400 kms south west of Sydney. It serves both as a physical location as well as an artist collective comprising Sarah Last, David Burraston, Alan Lamb and Robin Fox. Initial impetus for the collaboration was to further explore the 'long wire' work that Lamb has developed over a number of decades (based on the sounds of telegraph wires), however the collective’s overall intention is rooted in broader investigations into connections between art, science and environment.

Several ‘wires’ have been erected on the property and over the last five years there have been a variety of residencies and workshops utilising them, as well as other field recording activities. This double LP set documents four live performances that took place at dusk on October 31, 2009 during an open day for the site, and features the key artists Lamb, Burraston and Fox along with associated artists Garry Bradbury and Oren Ambarchi who have also undertaken extensive residencies there.

The first album features two duos. Burraston and Lamb offer an introduction to the unique sound of the wires. The recurrent sonic element in this piece is a kind of ping or “p-schwing.” It’s curiously electronic, like the sound of guns in science fiction movies, yet it’s also very analogue. Lamb and Burraston have devised their own contact microphones to best pick up the vibrations and these allow us to hear the metallicness of the wire, the forces of tension acting upon it, the flick and release—oscillations carrying long distances. (In the sonic revelation of physical properties I’m reminded of Akio Suzuki’s intriguing long spring reverb instrument, the Analapos.

The piece has a dark, gothic feel, the wire flicks and taps underpinned by a quietly insistent moaning of wind. This is an altered Australian landscape, the vastness still there, but the sun low and the shadows ominous, a mood similarly evoked by the brooding black and white landscape panoramas that adorn the gate-fold cover. The piece shifts in density from quiet and spare—where we hear the full qualities of a single ping—to a veritable storm of sound, where we are aurally flayed by the wires. In the depth of the storm the work begins to sound like rain lashing a corrugated iron roof—both unnerving and beautiful. (See soundcapsule #4 for an example of Burraston's work.)

The duo of Lamb and Bradbury lets more of the figurative landscape into the mix with the buzz of flies and various bird tweets. These gradually morph, gaining organised harmonics to become a warm drone underpinning the increasingly insistent birdsong. Then the wire is introduced, played by, it seems, an electric razor, the speed-modulated vibrations creating swells and troughs of harsh yet still warm metallic tones. There is complex melodic play as the whistling wind is intertwined, drawing out eerie harmonics similar to those made by Sarah Hopkins’ whirlies. The piece develops a darker turn for the conclusion, the increasingly insistent drone like an oversized hurdy-gurdy.

Oren Ambarchi picks up on this and takes it to the next level. Known for his extended guitar works involving epic crescendos, Ambarchi employs a similar methodology with the wire, however here it is pared back with less reliance on layering effects, but without any loss of intensity. Ambarchi concentrates on the bass potentials of the wires and there’s a tangible sense of liveness, as well as gesture as he uses something like an ebow and direct bowing to draw out long, deep tones that swell in and out of smooth and burry vibration. The sound is big and cataclysmic, coming in waves with dramatic ruptures—at some point sounding like a piano being dropped from a window. And just when you think that descending bass line can go no lower, it does—and truly magnificent it is.

Perhaps it is strange to include Robin Fox’s piece in the LP set, as it was in fact an integrated audiovisual work in which the sound is symbiotically linked with a laser show, projected onto a hillside. However such is Fox’s skill, that while the piece makes you wish you had been there watching the full show, the sound does stand on its own. We get Fox’s harsh, rhythmic static assaults, with morsecoding micro melodies and an almost sculptural approach to structure. Occasional recordings of the wires are introduced but they seem strangely figurative in Fox’s highly abstracted aesthetic. (In email correspondence, Fox tells me that the wire recordings were fed through his data visualisation system and projected onto the hill.) So while not so “wirey” in its sound-only documentation, it’s still a pleasure to hear Fox’s brand of exact and exacting noise on vinyl.

The WIRED Open Day 2009 double LP is both deeply engaging listening and a comprehensive document of the Wires project. Each artist/collaboration offers distinctly different approaches: Burraston and Lamb present an extracted essence of the sonic phenomenon of the wires while Bradbury and Lamb offer a sense of the environment in which the wires are situated. Fox is more difficult to pinpoint, but if you listen with site-specifity in mind, there’s an intriguing tension between the man-made and natural environment. Considering the album as document, it’s Ambarchi’s performance that captures the idea of the wires not just as a sound source to be sampled, but as an instrument that can be tamed and played live, with fascinating results.

Gail Priest

See soundcapsule #4 for an excerpt by David Burraston utilising the wires.

17 July 2012