Flux Density: analogue media in the digital age

Social Interiors (Julian Knowles, Rik Rue, Shane Fahey) are currently developing a major sound art project entitled Flux Density, in collaboration with a team of artists, focused on investigating the changing relationships between emerging digital technologies and traditional ‘obsolete’ analogue media. The project has two main components. – a curated compilation and a live performance,

Curated compilation component

This part of the project will consist of an online curated compilation of Australian sound work from the 1980s ‘cassette networking’ scene, new digital remixes by Social Interiors of some key works from this period, and recent works from the catalogues of underground DIY cassette labels established by young practitioners who have grown up in the digital age, but who are now exploring and revamping the ‘obsolete’ cassette format and re-contextualising it in a digital world. We intend to interrogate the notion of technological obsolescence within the sound art scenes and illuminate the complex and dynamic network of relationships between electronic media of different periods.

The curatorial project will be one of only a handful of surveys of early cassette based Australian sound and experimental music practice and will constitute a landmark survey of international significance for ISEA. It harkens back to the Terse Tapes compilation ‘One Stop Shopping’ of the early 1980s – a landmark 3 cassette release which compiled a diverse range of underground musics from the Australian cassette scenes at the time. The major difference is that this survey views this work in the context of the developments that have unfolded in the last 30 years, most notably the shift to the digital technologies and the rise of the internet. Whilst these critical perspectives can be established through analysis with the benefit of elapsed time, they will also be established through practice, in that Social Interiors propose to create some new works which explore the dialogue between old and new media, bringing cassette and analogue tape technologies (and their attendant sonic and gestural markers) into direct contact with the latest digital technologies in sound production. The members of Social Interiors all have critical solo practices around hybrid media technologies (see support materials). The overarching aim of the project is to re-evaluate the relationship between lo-fi analogue electronic media of the past and how it has been re-contextualised in the past 30 years through the emergence of digital production technologies and the internet.

As such, it can be seen as an unprecedented ethnographic survey of the creative practices around analogue media, as viewed through the lens of the digital age, which brought with it a succession of significant paradigm shifts around ‘old’ media. It will illuminate how media technologies shape practice at the deepest level, not just in a technical sense, but in an conceptual/artistic sense. The cassette networking scene, in which a number of Australian artists were heavily active, consisted of an informal global network of artists who exchanged cassettes (of their own home realised compositions) and correspondence through the international postal system. Like the mail art scene, the cassette networking scene represented a proto-internet global artist network with strong connections to the world wide web based artist/label sites and peer to peer networks that would unfold 20 years later and upon which current practice is based for both distribution and community/audience building. This project therefore provides a platform to uncover the shifting systems for building recognition and reward networks between like-minded artists and enthusiasts in the face of a fundamentally conservative pre-internet mainstream broadcast media network and industry.

The compilation will be delivered through a project website which will also contain artist supplied materials (original cover scans, notes etc.) and a curatorial essay. Social Interiors will play the role as lead curators but will work with specialist sub curators, such as Shannon O’Neill (John Watermann’s work), Joel Stern (new underground cassette labels) and Alessio Cavallaro (80s cut up and radiophonics).

Live performance component

The second part of the project consists of a performance by Social Interiors in collaboration with a selection of 80s and current emerging practitioners presenting a program of works which focus on the de/re-contextualisation of analogue media in a digital context. Various members of Social Interiors have been working with hybrid media in recent years, exemplified by Knowles work with Tristate (computer reprocessed tape loops and ‘destroyed media’), Fahey’s solo work with analogue tape machines, cut up procedures and analogue synths; and Rue’s continuance of the ‘pause button’ cassette edit compositional approach in the digital realm.

Active for some 20 years, Social Interiors have a strong international reputation as a studio project with an established audience. Over the years, we have presented special live projects for major events, such as Australian Perspecta, SoundCulture and Liquid Architecture. These live events have a strong sense of occasion and involve sophisticated production including a purpose designed multichannel audio projection system. It has been some 7 years since Social Interiors have performed live and more than a decade since all three members have played together. ISEA therefore presents a timely and appropriate opportunity to present a substantial new live project. We anticipate that a new release may be timed for launch at the event.

Critical contexts

This project opens up the question of how new technologies change our understanding of older technologies and enables a close examination of the creative dialogue that unfolds between technologies of different eras. The project proposes that specific creative practices unfold in response to technological shifts – these practices, have aesthetic, social and physical/gestural dimensions. When we see technologies made ‘obsolete’, we also see a range of associated practices challenged lest they also become obsolete. The project strongly challenges notions of technological ‘progress’ and invites the audience to think more deeply about the unfolding set of relationships between humans and the technological landscape.  We would argue the bleeding edge is not the technology itself, which in some ways has become so pervasive as to be almost unremarkable – rather it is the complex network of relationships that unfold in artistic practice and the broader range of practices around technology as a result of the shift in context that new technologies can and frequently effect. Lastly the project strongly presents electronic art as a form with a rich history that in many cases has been un-accounted for in official/institutional histories.

The project will be wrapped in a strong critical context. A series of panels and artist talk with explore the relationship between emerging and obsolete media,  opening out the themes of the project for some more detailed discussion. Catalogue essays will also be produced and delivered alongside the media compilation.


Artist biographies

Julian Knowles

Julian Knowles is a composer and performer and media artis, specialising in new and emerging music practices. His creative work and research spans the fields of composition for theatre, dance, film and television, electronic music, media arts, popular music and record production. In addition to working as a solo artist, he has been a member of the experimental sound art ensemble Social Interiors (Extreme Records) since the early 90s and has collaborated with a wide range of Australian and international artists (Rik Rue, Jim Denley, Jon Rose, Machine for Making Sense among many others).  In recent years, Julian’s music and audio/visual work has been curated into events and venues such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Experimental Intermedia in New York City, ICMC New Orleans and Belfast, the Seoul International Performance Art Festival, impermanent audio, What is Music?, Now Now, Liquid Architecture, Australian Perspecta, Melbourne International Film Festival, Brisbane Festival and the Sydney Opera House.

Rik Rue

For Rik Rue, one of Australia’s most prominent artists in the cut-up and field recording scenes, environmental sounds have always provided abstract and subconscious pleasure and an inner understanding of the physical. Since the early 1980’s, he has been involved in composing with environmental and found sounds. Utilising analogue and digital technology in a variety of recording techniques through a wide range of natural settings from bushland to urban areas, he transforms these recordings into soundscapes that have eventuated into radiophonic works, sound installation compositions and live performances that have achieved significant international recognition. Rik Rue also uses ‘live tape’ and digital manipulations in various performance projects with Jon Rose, Mind/Body/Split, Social Interiors and as a member of the contemporary Australian music group, Machine For Making Sense.

Shane Fahey

Shane Fahey is a musician, acoustician and sound engineer. Shane began his career in sound and music by forming experimental art-rock band, The Makers of the Dead Travel Fast (1979-1982) making a significant impression on the Sydney electronic and industrial music scene at the time. The band released a single, an EP & two albums on legendary post-punk label M Squared. Shane joined fellow M squared outfit Scattered Order (1982-1984) collaborating in the writing & recording of two albums.  Shane is a member with Rik Rue & Julian Knowles of the soundscape group Social Interiors who released 3 albums of unique environmental recordings and soundscapes on the Extreme label & 1 album on Endgame. His background in field recording evolved into composition and sound design work for installation, theatre and performance art works. Shane is currently working with Tegan Northwood in the environmental project Sounds Of Homes, doing extensive field recording in Kioloa State Forest.  Shane has a solo album of found/sound pieces called “The Slated Pines” that was released on Endgame in 2009 to very favourable reviews within the international sound art community. He is currently playing EMS VCS III synth with Mitch Jones & Michael Tee in Scattered Order and producing bands at Megaphon.

Joel Stern

Well known as a catalytic figure in the Australian experimental music and film scenes (organiser of Audiopollen, OtherFilm, Glee Club), Joel Stern cut his chops in the concept-heavy nonsense atmosphere of early 00’s London, collaborating with many of the Japanese and English artists connected to the ‘reductionist’ and ‘onkyo’ movements (let’s not name name’s) and attending workshops given by AMM legend Eddie Prevost. Since returning to Australia, Joel’s has collaborated widely, most notably in electro-acoustic duo form with Anthony Guerra (resulting in numerous cds on impermanent, absurd, pseudo arcana) and in expanded cinema form with 16mm filmmaker Sally Golding as Abject Leader (resulting in tours of NZ, USA and Australia). In recent years, Joel has been a central player in the burgeoning Brisbane underground scene, in bands such as no guru and sunshine has blown as well organising events and festivals with OtherFilm and Audiopollen and creating large scale chaotic sound sculptures as part of Watthaus for festivals like Brisbane International Arts Festival and Restrung. He currently holds an emerging curators fellowship from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.

Shannon O’Neill

Shannon O’Neill works across music, radio, Internet, performance, text, video and installation. He has collaborated with such artists as filmmaker Husein Alicajic, choreographer Tess de Quincey and new media artist Mari Velonaki. Shannon has directed Australian festivals including Electrofringe and Liquid Architecture and is the founder of Alias Frequencies, an organisation that promotes and publishes music and media art. He has written extensively on sound and media art for publications such as RealTime and Art Monthly Australia, and contributed a chapter to the recent book ‘Experimental Music: Audio Explorations in Australia’. Shannon is a lecturer in Media Arts at the University of Technology, Sydney