NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Limited Hangout: in the field: composers, performers and the environment

By Lindsay Vickery — The Limited Hangout: in the field project, was a series of site-specific long form compositions for performers, and optionally electronic sounds in the environment.

Six composers: Sage Pbbbt, Lindsay Vickery, Olivia Davies, Josten Myburgh, Pippin Kenworthy and Vanessa Tomlinson were asked to create works for the project with the following brief:

“It is intended that the site-specific performances respond to the sonic/physical environment of the chosen locale. You will determine the locale and create the materials/pretext/process etc for the performers. Ideally the materials would be realisable on location without rehearsal. The location would need to be legally, publicly accessible and we are happy to seek permission if necessary. The location could be any non-performance venue for example including bushland, beach, freeway overpass, tunnel etc.”

Composers were also offered statistical data for their chosen location, for example: field recordings of the location (and) physical and acoustic measurements/analysis (i.e. resonant frequencies, spectral niches of environmental sound, etc.) As the brief suggests, the composers were free to choose the location, duration and time of the performance. Performers were sought for each project as necessitated, but it was suggested that groups larger than 10 players might be difficult to coordinate. A list of seven example locations was provided.

Figure 1. Sage Pbbbt Narrows / Expands / Elides [2018] photograph by Lindsay Vickery

A potential drawback of offering so much freedom to the composers was of course that they might take it. However, despite the example locations being up to 230km apart, the six chosen locations fell within about 16 km of one another. Indeed, while none of the suggested locations were used, those chosen by the composers were quite interestingly varied on a continuum between man-made and natural environments. Five of the works were performed in 2018/19. The final work by Vanessa Tomlinson was delayed due to poor weather and has yet to be rescheduled, due to the long border closure of Western Australia. Table 1. summarises the details of each work.

Table 1: Details of the works in the Limited Hangout: in the field project.
Composer Title Composed Duration Performance Location No. of performers
Sage Pbbbt  Narrows / Expands / Elides  2018  52m54s  29.07.18 5pm below freeway bridge  12
Lindsay Vickery njookenbooro  2018  27m 02.09.18 8pm on isthmuth in Lake  12
Olivia Davies  Tunnel Music  2018  22m40s  30.09.18 5pm Pedestrian underpass  2
Josten Myburgh Shaking small tambourines like afterthoughts  2018  36m8s 28.10.18 2pm River Foreshore  4
Pippin Kenworthy Cyclic Chaos   2010/19 15m9s 19.05.19 5:15pm Bird Sanctuary Wetland  40
Vanessa Tomlinson The Tropics  2019 19.06.19 5pm Tropical Grove  16

Given an (almost literally) open field available, the six works varied greatly in both execution and intent. Table 2. provides a summary of composers’ diverse approaches to score, structure, media, compositional framework and techniques.

Table 2: Summary of the compositional approaches taken in the Limited Hangout: in the field works.
Title Score type Structure Field recording Electronics Audio transcription Acoustic measurement & analysis Topographical mapping Use of physical structures Mobile spatialisation Interaction with environmental sounds
Narrows / Expands / Elides  text/map  linear/open      X     X     X     X
njookenbooro   scrolling notated & graphic score linear     X     X     X     X     X
Tunnel Music   notated score  linear     X
Shaking small tambourines like afterthoughts  text  open     X     X     X     X     X
Cyclic Chaos notated score/text cyclic/game     X     X
The Tropics text score open     X     X     X     X

The project permitted at least the beginnings of an interrogation of the distinctive spaces of the region, in addition to the composers distinctive voices. As the convenor of the Limited Hangout project, I found the range of relationships between the composers and their chosen environments surprising. Pbbbt and Tomlinson approached their sites principally at a symbolic level, representing “ideas of (non)striated space and (de)colonisation” in the former and “sonic transplantation” in the latter; Davies and Myburgh both interrogated the acoustical properties of their spaces; while Kenworthy and I attempted to transcribe the sounds of “almost” wild places in the middle of the suburbs, perhaps in an effort to coexist.

Figure 2. Olivia Davies Tunnel Music [2018] photograph by Olivia Davies

After the long hiatus of the pandemic lockdowns, I am hopeful that the process of bringing creative attention and sound to places as part of the Limited Hangout project will be able to continue. Although the concept of site-specific music performance is by no means new and has a strong tradition in Australian through the work of Jon Rose, Vanessa Tomlinson, Jim Denley and others, each venture into a new space is unique and as can be seen by the richness of the responses to environment by natural and man-made in the Limited Hangout project can be highly rewarding.

Composer/performer Lindsay Vickery’s music includes works for acoustic and electronic instruments in interactive-electronic, improvised or fully notated settings, ranging from solo pieces to opera and has been commissioned by numerous groups for concert, dance and theatre. He is a founder member of iconic new music ensembles GreyWing, Decibel and Magnetic Pig and has performed throughout Australia, Europe, Asia and the USA. His current compositional preoccupations include the relationship between modes of presentation of the musical score and musical structure, between electronic/acoustic, composed/interactive and interpretative/improvisational approaches.

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