The soundscape of the Great South West Walk portrays a personal impressionist experience of the environments encountered along the route; Cobboboonee, Moleside, Glenelg, and Discovery Bay. Sounds in many areas of Australia are now almost impossible to capture in their natural state due to noise pollution such as trail bikes, aeroplanes, vehicles, non-native animals and even tourists. I sought to capture the sounds that are the characteristics of the region, making it different to any other.
To record these sounds I had to remain in one place for several hours. Listening instead of looking. Much of the area encompassed by the Great South West Walk trail still retains a feeling of wilderness barely touched for thousands of years, and as such its recording and preservation is of major importance to our understanding of the greater environment.
Brian Laurence's compositions reproduce all the subtle and delicate sounds of the pristine natural environment to create an emotional understanding of the surrounds. The distilled quality of telescoped sound offers an unexpected sense of intimacy and resonance. As if transported into the landscape, we hear bird songs and insect drones - in the forest a bird shakes out its feathers as gentle drops of rain begin to fall - and along the windswept coast we discern occasional footsteps in the sand. Able to recognise the familiar patterns of sounds that signal particular times of day and weathers, we immediately become aware of the spatiality of sound and its strong link with imagination and body memory - the way in which we commonly use sound to navigate and position ourselves in the world.
Interview with Brian Laurence
Why did you choose to be involved in the Great South West Walk Art Project?
The Walk was an opportunity to carry my sound production work in a new direction, exploring an aspect of sound recording and mixing that is more usually commissioned for commercial purposes. Did you have any preconceived ideas or plans for your work before embarking on the Walk?
I had many ideas, mainly centred on stylising real sounds to present an abstract but recognisable depiction of nature, taking aspects of my previous work in soundscapes wherever they might lead me. I kept some elements of this in my final work but backed away from heavy manipulation of the real sounds, as almost everything I tried became jarring and awful to listen to. It seems nature has its sounds just right, and my art was to highlight them by ‘magnifying’ them and presenting them in a way that focuses attention on the subtle layers of sound interacting in a multitude of ways.
How would you describe your artistic practice from concept to making?
My work is dependent on the capture through field recordings of the pure sounds of nature, unpolluted by man-made noises such as cars, aeroplanes, trail bikes, people talking, dogs barking, etc. Often this raw material can only be caught in brief intervals between other unwanted sounds. It requires a lot of time and patience, as well as luck in getting just the right conditions – that is, not too windy, as rustling tree leaves mask just about every other sound, or not raining, for the same reasons. From the ‘raw’ recordings I work for many hours to select, edit and process the material, then mix it together to produce the final result.
What is it about the Great South West Walk that inspired you?
The Walk is through one of the last remaining large wilderness areas of Victoria where you can get so far away from ‘civilization’ that man-made intrusions can be avoided. It was the perfect opportunity to capture some of these, in a way making an inventory of it as it exists at this point in time. In many places around Australia I have gone back 10 or more years after originally recording to find that it is now impossible to capture the pristine sounds of the area.
What did you hope to capture in your work?
My ultimate aim is to present the natural environment as a pure, unadulterated sound ‘landscape’ as it has existed long before manmade intrusion. I have used ‘sonic magnification’ techniques to highlight and emphasize these sounds, in the isolation of a gallery space to say to audiences that beauty, harmony and interaction in art can be as much a sound experience as a visual one.
What equipment did you use?
I use highly specialised field location recording equipment to capture the sounds in as high quality as possible. A six track digital recorder is linked to six directional microphones with fuzzy wind protectors to capture full 360° sound fields. I also use a portable DAT recorder with stereo microphone. The recordings are then transferred to computer to be processed and mixed as required. What were the major challenges you faced on the Walk?
My biggest challenge was timing. I returned to the Walk several times during the year to get the best recording conditions, and to get sounds that are almost impossible while walking with a group of other artists focused on the looks rather than the sounds of each area.
What do you hope the viewer will take away from your work and the exhibition?
If the viewer also becomes the listener, I will be more than pleased. Our visual sense often dominates our hearing, yet we subconsciously rely to a greater extent on our hearing than our eyes to tell us about the world. If we block our hearing we are trapped in a world we can see in one direction but struggle to understand. If we close our eyes, we still know what’s going on around us. We can hear conversations, approaching sounds, even from behind us. The natural music of our environment is all around us, and never more so than on the Great South West Walk.