New Sounds–Ancient Resonances

Re/presenting Lal Lal Falls in Music for Flute and Electronics

Article by Jean Penny
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Western Victoria, in south-eastern Australia, is the place of my childhood, where I took for granted the sharp fresh air, the hills and dales of farmland, waterfalls and meandering creeks, mountain ranges and open plains, before moving to the city where life, for me, became exciting and inspiring. Music filled my life from birth, through school, university, professional performance and academia, but the notion of exploring place through music only arose a few years ago after returning to Australia from living overseas. It has dominated my work ever since. This article presents an account of creating and performing a semi-improvised work for flute and electronics devised as a response to a particular landscape in Victoria: The Lal Lal Falls. The writing takes my stance as instrumentalist (flautist), drawing together artistic processes and reflections that evolved from de-coding phenomena, sensation transferral, score and performative systems development, thoughts on the role and power of technology, the importance of multiple histories and interconnections of the land, and experiential knowledge arising from undertaking the work. Unfolding trajectories of visits to the site, concept development, rehearsals, and reflections lead towards performance: the curated space for this imagined re/presentation of place.
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Lal Lal Falls for flute and electronics.

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This personal account of music making is centred around ­the creation of a semi-improvised composition for flute and electronics, intended as a response to landscape, an abstract re/presentation of an experience of place. Live flute performance interacting with sound recordings and electronic technologies–Max (https://cycling74.com/products...)–combine with processed images of landscape linked to interactive processes through Jitter. The underlining premise of the project is the achievement of experiential knowledge through composition and performance. Investigations and discussions encompass creating a mode of engagement with place, identifying and de-coding phenomena of landscape, sensation transferral, and exploring the role of technology in approaches to the piece.

The capacity of electronics to augment, vivify and diversify instrumental sounds and particular ideas is exploited in this work. The modern Western flute provides sound source material, using techniques that reflect the player’s response to place. Breath tones (open embouchure–across the aperture, closed embouchure–directly into the flute, pizzicato, and so on), unstable multiphonics, key clicks, held notes, and wavering tremolos are crafted to suggest dispersion, openness, compression, instabilities, uncertainties and undercurrents. The digital technologies re-position, multiply and extend these sounds, recreating sensations of the peacefulness of the Lal Lal Falls area, the openness of the countryside, the flow of the water, and the reverberant spaces of the gorge. Environmental recordings of wind, birds, and water provide a structural basis to the piece, but maintain an understated background presence. The potential of landscape to arouse understanding is tapped, spurring an alteration in thinking about this place, of increased appreciation for wide ranging perspectives, and for creating an individual artistic response.

Place contains events, things, symbiotic relationships, histories, visual shapes and sounds. It can be situated as a “carrier” of phenomena, of inscription, of sensation. Landscape can be seen, heard, and felt; it is a place of making, a place of inhabiting; it is perhaps “the world as it is known to those who dwell therein, who inhabit its places and journey along the paths connecting them” (Ingold 2000, 193). Cultural landscapes may concern indigenous peoples’ relationship with land and cultures, or power structures and authority (Bradley 2011); artistic interconnections may include visual artworks as “the re-presentation of a relatedness to place, a re-presentation of a mode of ‘emplacement’” (Malpas 2011, 7). This work revolves around a particular landscape in southeast Australia. Sounds encountered there precipitated sensations, intensities, memories, stillness, and flow; visual encounters evoked spaces, structures, and shape. Elsewhere I have discussed the place and space of performances as heterotopian space, intercultural space, and as a liminal in-between (s)p(l)ace of “sensations, imagination, memories, emotions, and the physicality of performance” (Penny forthcoming). Aspects of the physical space and place at Lal Lal Falls converged, transitioning into memories of sensations, imagination and materials for artistic expression that aligned with Georgina Born’s description of space “…as an element of the creative imagination and as an artefact of musical or artistic practice: space is both produced and transformed…space is conceived as multiple and constellatory, as mediated and mediating” (Born 2013, 20). Here place begins as a geographic site, re/presented as a curated space which is “spatial, temporal and conceptual” (Molitor and Magnussen 2021, para 11).

Exploring place through environmental sound and music has produced a vast number of electroacoustic works as well as notated works and improvised performances. Significant work in the field includes that of Australian violinist/composer Jon Rose, whose multi-media works such as Ghan Tracks (2014) for instruments, sound, video, and 2 actors that follows the rail route from Adelaide through central Australia to Darwin (http://www.jonroseweb.com/f_pr...), and his Great Fences of Australia project with Hollis Taylor (2002-5) crossing the vast areas of the outback (http://www.jonroseweb.com/f_pr...) vividly explore relationships between Australian sites and sound. Listening to these works provokes intense visceral responses, powerful feelings of immersion, and engagement in explorations of terrain and machinery. British violinist and sound artist Bennett Hogg has created similarly powerful works that delve into intersections of place, memories, and sound that seem to capture essences of existence. Some of Hogg’s works can be quite confronting for instrumentalists (for example, the act of moving a violin through the river in Devil’s Water (2013) or dragging the violin along a pathway (Hogg 2013)) but materialise as undeniably affecting and provoking. Examples of works exploring environment with flute include compositions such as Natasha Barrett’s Traversing a Small Town at Night for flutes, spatialised electroacoustic sound and live electronics, 2015, rev 2018), Tristan Coelho’s Daybreak for flute and live electronics (2018), Keyna Wilkins’ Star Trance for alto flute with star and nebula sounds (2018), this author’s versions of Katharine Norman’s Making Place for instrument/s with live electronics (2013/16), which combines recorded sounds, images, text, live interactive processing and instrumental music performance (see https://www.jeanpenny.com/maki...), and on-site improvisations such as those of Sabine Vogel (https://sabvog.de). The flute has always lent itself to atmospheric music making and intimate performance associations. Amplified breath, breath tones, half-breath tones, whispers and intensified articulations on the flute can completely change the balance of interior/exterior expectation. Performative relations with spaces may change as well, through sound diffusion, unexpected sound movement and placement, or acute consciousness of surroundings and spatial implications. David Toop reflected on breath in a recent podcast with Charlie Morrow. “I’m a flute player so I’m very conscious of this process that you are inhaling sound when you inhale air, and you’re exhaling sound if you play a flute. If you are playing a flute, then you are inhaling sounds that are already happening in the space and you’re exhaling them along with the flute sound...it’s a kind of miraculous process but it’s also very ordinary somehow” (Morrow 2022). This describes a rather magical state of performative flow, highly recognizable to wind players experimenting with multiple interactions, locations and breath techniques. Drawing this awareness of location and relationships into the context of this project proposes a trajectory of embodied performance that absorbs, transforms and re/presents place.

As a flautist, my principal artistic practice has evolved across decades from entirely notation based classical music performance to encompassing notated contemporary music, semi-improvised /notated works, and mixed original and collaborative projects. A large part of my work has been performing and researching music for flute with electronics, including explorations of electroacoustic performance practices and spaces (2009, forthcoming), intercultural music spaces (2016, 2017), responses to environment and place (2022), and connections to visual art (2021). This project draws on this experience, blending the dimensions of acoustic flute, electronics, imagery, and live performance, interweaving artistic practice and reflection, personal experience and response, sounds, images, and technologies. I am collaborating with organist/technologist Andrew Blackburn, who has simultaneously worked within the organ and electronics field, developing his work to encompass electroacoustic, technologist praxis (for more information see https://www.andrewblackburn.org). After initial conceptual discussions and visits to the site, we worked individually, coming together later to experiment with processing of sounds, triggering, timeline, and ideas for imagery. My perspective as an acoustic musician will show bias in this article in my emphasis on concept, imagining, flute playing, and the influences of technology, rather than in-depth analyses of how the technology was formulated and activated.

File 2 Lal Lal trace with photos
File 3 Lal Lal Falls background box

The Lal Lal Falls are situated at a spectacular basalt gorge located in Western Victoria, Australia, 25 kilometres southeast of the goldfields city of Ballarat. Lal Lal, meaning “the dashing of waters” in the indigenous language of the Wathawurrung people, is a significant ancient site of multiple geological, indigenous, colonial, and present-day interconnections. Today the location is surrounded by open pastoral land, across from distant mountains and wind farms visible on the horizon. Walking along the path towards the falls through long grass and old gumtrees, there is only a faintly visible impression of the vegetation along the creek, a slight change of colour and texture, and no sense of the dramatic drop to the gorge ahead. Our visits in winter anticipate a plentiful water flow, not always reliable in this fragile land of droughts and floods. At the top of the falls on these visits, the Lal Lal Creek (Yarkmyowing) is flowing; nearing the falls it forms swirling rock pools and carries rushing water towards the precipice, cascading down the ravine 34.16 metres below. The sound of the water is sensational as the ancient basalt columns in the gorge create a deep amphitheatre, filling the space with multiple shadows, resonances, and textures. The waterway then continues on, cutting and twisting through the landscape before disappearing around corners into the distance. A later visit in autumn found little water in the creek, none at the waterfall, and just a few small rock pools along the river’s path.

File 4 Project structure and summary

The following aims underpin this project:

  • To undertake a creative, performative, multidimensional project;
  • To de-code the landscape and embrace the imaginary as a means of understanding;
  • To describe and reflect upon processes, choices, negotiations and influences;
  • To reflect on the role and power of technology in the evolving approaches to the piece;
  • To achieve experiential knowledge transfer through performance;
  • To implicitly demonstrate the potential of artistic practice to articulate research.

Methodologies for this project were self-generative and discrete, leading from concept to field work to creative work development to rehearsals, and performance. Written documentation accompanied these processes throughout. A summary of the project and research structures can be seen in the diagram below. This article follows this structure, beginning with descriptions of and reflections on field work encounters–the collections of materials, interactions with the environment and temporalities of place. Studio processes are then presented as lived experience–including the establishment of a sound aesthetic, choice of techniques, shaping and structures, use of narrative, score writing, rehearsals, and an emerging reflective consciousness. Next, contemplation of ideas arising during the project and responses to artistic and research aims are reflected upon, as the trajectory towards performance clarified. As I write I am aware of certain tensions and vagaries of verbal or written representations of music practice but remain compelled by the importance and excitement of articulating insiders’ perspectives. Enduring clarifications of thinking arise from this endeavour, and inspiration to venture into a renewed and transformed practice of creative performance and reflection.

Creating this musical work as a re/presentation of place involved foundational acknowledgement of multiple subtexts, both implied and explicit, which melded together with personal responses to the air, the vegetation, rocks, water, sounds, and space. Throughout the project I have been deeply mindful of the intermingling histories and stories associated with Lal Lal Falls and the landscape. The geological histories, of a volcanic basalt tunnel collapse within the Pleistocene basaltic plains formed about 1.8 million years ago are well documented and the colonial narrative surrounding Lal Lal since 1840 is easily verified (see, for example, Clarke 2014), maintained in modern day land use structures and occupation, abandoned mines and railways. In general, word of mouth and storytelling, dependent on societal structures and engagements, is where most information on indigenous histories has been gained. I heard recently, for example, about the probable existence of ancient indigenous eel trap constructions near Lal Lal, now on private land. Clarifying histories such as this, however, outside various goldrush documentations (see, for example, Cahir 2012)­, can still be shrouded in mystery, veiled and indistinct. We learn general tenets about landscape as lines of ancestral travel (Ingold 2000, 141), and as the “owner of us” as explained by the late Yankuntjatjara elder and traditional owner of Uluru, Bob Randall (Randall 2005); of dreamtime stories “preserved in the land, seas, skies and atmosphere” and “storylines that extend from Victoria to northern Australia” (Wright 2019, paras 1 and 2). We learn about how the Australian Aborigines think of the land as part of themselves, and vice versa. Alexis Wright also recounts a story about the Yidaki, “an ancient and sacred instrument that comes from the ground and represents sacred ground” (ibid. para 21). She writes that the storyteller, Djalli Gurruwiwi, explained that the Yidaki “could heal you because it knows how to sing the land, the sea, the sky, and that he could ‘blow the Yidaki right through you…it will be going everywhere…inside memory…it calms people down…gives people this understanding…makes people think’” (ibid.). The traditional music of indigenous Southern Australia is largely percussive and vocal, also imbued with deep cultural law and meaning. We are also only just beginning to learn about the extent of the frontier wars in Australia between Aboriginal people and British colonists (Perkins 2022), of massacres (see https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/map.php), of unjust treatment, and resistance to recognition­–knowledge that is extremely confronting for us all. These stories all contribute to perception and understanding of this place and the human connections to it and underline our approach to the whole project.

1a2 Grass and blue sky
2a Pools at precipice
6b across gorge to west
File 7 basalt columns south gorge crop copy
Lal Lal cascade and basalt columns

On site at Lal Lal: Materials, narratives, sensations

Driving along Harris Road on the approach to Lal Lal Falls we cross a minor waterway on a small bridge leading to a carpark at the start of the Moorabool Falls track. The track, we note, heads on past Lal Lal Falls to reach further along the creek to Moorabool Falls and reservoir. Swaying tall grass and a few ancient gum trees spread out across open land; bark on the track crackles underfoot; a few birds fly overhead. In the distance, the familiar shape of Mt Buninyong and the turbines of the Lal Lal wind farm are visible. Along the way we observe and collect photos and sounds, wrapped up in the feelings and memories of country, landscape, and auditory immersion. Shortly a narrow track leads off to the top of the falls; the sound of rushing water dominates the air as we descend to the rock pools at the edge of the precipice. From here we can see the opposite side of the falls area, towards a picnic ground and shelter; we cannot yet see the falls or gorge below. Walking further along the main track it is possible to glimpse the waterfalls, and later we will also see the gorge with its spectacular basalt columns and shadowy, enigmatic rock formations.

We listen, record, and photograph; we feel the wind, touch the trees, the rocks and earth; we observe the shapes and phenomena as they appear, ponder the traces of history, the invisible and immersive. A narrative unfolds in my mind as multiple layers of this ancient terrain seem to converge – histories and associations of indigenous, colonial, and present communities; myths, geologies, and notions of layered temporalities; the sensations and textures of the place, densities, openness, and fragilities. I begin to imagine music that might explore these layers along a meandering line of unfolding trajectories, stillness, and flow, looking back and ahead. Structural ideas begin to formulate based on these trajectories, as yet just impressions and ambiguous. Central to this re-presented space will be sensations of distance and proximity, grass texture and movement, old gum trees, stories, wind and water, cascading transitions, compression in the gorge, continuum in the river, and the reflective space of reality and imagination.

In the Studio: Composition and Performance Processes

Back at home in the studio a strategy for designing structures, de-coding phenomena, score and patch writing, technology, and imagery was gradually formulated. Framing the composition as re-imagined space precipitated a multitude of questions: How can we re/present intangible sensations of place? Could we structure the piece to follow the path as we walked it, the shape of the river and ravine, the various views, the ecology, the sounds, air flow, and the layers of histories associated with the place? Could sensations of touch (grass, earth, wood, stone, water) or scents be de-coded and transformed? What is this de-coding, and how might it merge with intuition and impromptu response? Is it the same thing? How might the recorded sounds balance with overlaying and interventions of electronic technologies, as well as the live flute? A narrative and structure emerged from these thoughts leading to selection of an overall design following the contours of the land, at this point filled with dream-like, imaginary dimensions.

A structure of five blocks of time shaped to five sections of the walk (grassy plains, river and top of falls, cascade, gorge and river, and grassy plains) became the fundamental form of the piece. I imagined a continuum of the sounds of wind and water, intermingled with flute and electronic effects such as harmonisation, filtering, delay, reverb, looping, and so on. I imagined fragmentation and intermittency in the flute part, with the use of distinct, expressive techniques such as breath tones, undulating multiphonics, intermittent keyclicks, pizzicato, tongue rams, varied volumes, and pitches. I imagined the shifting positions of live and recorded sound, and processing; polyphonies and correspondences of flute with electronics to represent the resonance and boundaries of the gorge, and the openness of the plains; timbres that might match or contrast with environmental sound or evoke the call of the mythical eagle; the location as spatialised sound, and the capturing of a sense of the histories embedded in the place.

Central to de-coding phenomena was the establishment of an imagined sound aesthetic and a consciousness of the impact of technology in every aspect of this work. The “boundless” possibilities afforded by electronic procedures presents the flautist with new freedoms of expression, shifts of exteriority/interiority balances, and enhanced intensities and space. This blending of flute and electronics creates a new space for imagination, where the beauty inside and outside the instrument can be explored and expressed in myriad ways. I had a choice of using my concert flute, alto flute, piccolo, and/or bamboo flutes at seven different pitches. Initially at least, the concert flute emerged as favourite with its malleable sound palette, ease of projection, and stability. Possibilities of interchanging flutes in performance remain open, a freedom granting permission for change and re-setting.

File 8 Max Screen Shot 2022 08 26

Choices of sound technology were based on what devices and systems were to hand and how they might best contribute to the intensions of the work. From my perspective, technologies that expanded, transformed, and corresponded/interacted well with my flute playing were crucial. To begin, Max patch development occurred that would activate recorded environmental sound, live flute sound, amplification, reverb, delay, filtering, granulation, polyphonies and looping, and harmonisation. These techniques specifically related to re/presenting sensations experienced at the site–openness, immersion, flow, multiple layering, and reflection (see in-progress screen shot). 

File 9 Lal Lal Falls score 1 copy

I embarked upon exploratory playing amidst self-interrogation about the place of improvisation in this piece. “Improvisation is source material, a laboratory where things are worked out’…a ‘dwelling’...where the musician is ‘within something’” says David Toop (Morrow 2022). This sounds attractive and enticing, but could I leave so much to chance? Or could I combine chance with some notated ideas­–create a space where sound aesthetics have been suggested but would follow the live performance situation as it unfolded? I opted to make a score, with permission to alter at will, and wrote three preliminary pages filled with written instructions and suggestions. This descriptive score initiated a rehearsal period in which ideas of sound, structure, sensation translation, flow and the creation of a reflective musical space were confirmed and developed. An unfolding of awareness, artistic decision making, and responses to the various layers of the work as it progressed occurred through rehearsals and reappraisals along the path to completion.

File 10 Lal Lal score excerpt flute copy

Rehearsal 1

Varying degrees of reverberation, spatialisation, harmonisation, looping, proximity effects, pitch changes and intensities occupied our first sound rehearsal. We tested sound sources on the flute: varieties of full tone, Breath Tones (open, closed), PizzicatoKey Clicks, Unstable Multiphonics,  references to the Eagle and so on, along with electronic sound generation of field recordings and effects with flute (amplification, reverb, harmonisation, looping, harmonic filter, vocoder).

Flute timbre choices mirrored sensations suggested to me on site at Lal Lal. I sought delicacy and nuance in the first instance, amid intuitive correspondences to place: breath tones and the wind; sustained tones and open plains; pizzicatos and fluttering leaves, grass and feathers; a bird call and the eagle myth; playful motifs and water flow; resonant tone and the enclosure of the gorge. The electronic effects expanded and altered these sounds, adding new emphases and voices, and provoking questions of sound production and relationships. We would work together in the next phase to further explore and balance the sounds, and to incorporate interactivity and smooth functionality. New awareness had been generated already, and new imagining of sensations of place.

I created a more detailed flute score inclusive of possible timings–­sketches really, but useful memory prompts (see image of Lal Lal score, opening). This inscription process enabled a further clarification of sound aesthetic, and the emerging shapes and flow of the piece. I found that jotting down ideas that had worked or showed potential in rehearsal was liberating rather than restrictive. Additionally, permission to change anything, to innovate or surprise in any way in situ was re-iterated and assumed. Some previously ubiquitous notation-based barriers were dissolving, and new possibilities arising.

Rehearsal 2

Our second rehearsal focussed on playing with the new flute score and working on sound manipulations and functionality of the electronics. The recorded sounds and effects felt very natural, creating a sense of freedom in playing and easy interactive correspondence. Playing within this context the ephemerality of breath sounds seemed to correspond to the fragility of the land and water, intermittency to uncertainties and ambiguities, the building of layers of sounds to movement and flow as well as referencing histories and multiple interpretations of the place. Forward propulsion of the work related to the presence and absence of wind, rushing water and echoes of the gorge. Delays came and went, adding layers and echoes here and there; pitch bends intervened occasionally, suggesting sporadic instabilities. Harmonisations added depth and texture to flute sounds, either through close or sparse clustering. Granulation of recorded and live sound reflected varying textures of materials, the properties of earth, rocks, grass and water and also suggesting a feeling of otherness and complexity. Six concurrent loops at the gorge section combined with extended flute pitches and increased activity in flute lines added to the sense of dramatic immersion, enclosure and reflection.

The score became a repository for ideas, a conduit to clarification and performative iteration. Small modules of materials emerged, short gestures and blocks of sound intended to be freely shifted around, shaping and driving the work on. Nevertheless, I felt the piece was underplaying the intensities of the site. The peacefulness encountered there was expressed in the quietness, the static ambience of held notes, and shadowy breath sounds; the drama of the landscape seemed somewhat concealed. We determined to augment the material, to increase agency through extended looping, reverberation, and pitch changing to better create distinction between proximity and distance and the dramatic sound environment at the gorge–immersive, complex, reverberant. The electronics collected many flute sounds, re-played them, and modified them as elaborated sensations, and my score accumulated more and more notes for effects to be transferred into electronic actions. I imagined precariousness and risk too, and began mulling over how to bring this in. Memory and imagination were beginning to mingle; as I wrote, words were inspiring sounds, and sounds were inspiring words. Leaving some sound issues unresolved, incorporation of imagery became the next idea to explore.

We had collected many photos and a few videos at Lal Lal and these were intended as a prominent but secondary part of the piece, possibly as pointers to the progression through the piece (and site) and possibly as extracted colour and shapes highlighting sensations, both visual and physical, triggered through sound. A particular perspective, and consolidation of abstract ideas, came from our view from outside, looking in. Going down into the gorge is not allowed due to dangerously unstable rocks and cliffs (and the deaths from falling of two school children there that precipitated the banning of access). We can walk around the top, looking across, looking down, experiencing from the edge.

Rehearsal 3

After a period of developing the sound technology for the piece, we came together for our third rehearsal. Focus was on the first and fourth sections of the piece, working within the emergent electronic sound environment for luminescence, flow, functionality, and balance. As usually occurs at this stage, the sounds, to me, were thrilling and inspiring. My flute sound swung from whisps of breathy sound, to highly resonant tone, to thickly textured and “other” and often seemed to dart all over the place; the recorded sounds of wind and water ranged from simple to highly complex and textured. New ideas emerged as we played with timbres and layering, reflecting our thoughts of place and immersion and at the same time shifting our perceptions of the work as it was materialising. The timeline became somewhat elastic too, as we took time to “feel” the space, to enjoy it and become immersed in it. We recorded, played back, adjusted, and repeated. My expanded performative role, including activation of the LEAP device at a couple of places during the piece, intended to increase layering and complexity. The LEAP tested our patience in this rehearsal, as inconsistent responses occurred, and we agreed to defer this work to another day, possibly even abandon it. Imagery manipulations did begin and ideas of interactivity from sound and intensity of the flute playing were initiated. Automation of timeline and some effects as well as images would possibly become crucial.

Reflecting on the use of imagery in the work, we considered ways of achieving an effective fusion of artistic modes and a performance-ready outcome. I envisioned imagery that would reveal different aspects of response to place, using video to create abstract colour and form reflective of the landscape. Image effects that responded to the flute sounds (the intensity, pitch or volume) would ideally augment notions of sensations and create dialogue with the soundscape, merging and diverging during the piece. I became aware that these dreams for projection may not eventuate in the venue set for the first performance­–a basilica with multiple but small video screens.

Rehearsal 4

A run of the whole piece revealed challenges with balancing flute with replayed motifs and the need for some decision making. Eighteen presets (such as combined vocoder and harmoniser), looping of flute motifs, and setting and transitions of audio files (wind on the plains, wind and water, water at the falls and gorge) were made. Moving effects in and out, such as the vocoder or harmoniser, implied intermittency of the wind, the movement of birds, leaves, grass, and water. By altering foci of flute sounds from, for example, crackling whispers (with the vocoder), to full resonance (with reverb), to cluster effects and multiple voices (with the harmoniser), evocations of the sensations of place were heightened. Simply amplifying some effects, such as pizzicato and breath sounds, sought to re-position and empower the flute. Adjustments were made throughout. In the opening section harmonisation was reduced from 1 semitone above, 1 semitone below, 5 semitones above, and 4 semitones below to 1 and 2 above and below, to create a clearer, quieter opening. Harmonisation was brought in an out. It was added to the “feather like pizzicatos” to add colour and depth; removed for some multiphonics and tremolos to create contrasted stillness or simplicity of lines (Tremolo no harmoniser); added along with reverb and extended pitch ranges in the Gorge section to emulate feelings of enclosure and immersion (Reverb harmoniser and ext pitch);  added with vocoder at the opening of the final section to suggest whispers, other voices and unsettling historical undercurrents (Harmoniser and vocoder) then removed (No harmoniser). Looping and delay added further complexity, augmenting textures, polyphonies, and echo, and increasing the sensations of inherent energy and playfulness of the swirling, cascading, and flowing water. The sections from Presets 3 to 9 were set to gradually build up texture with additional looping, until six loops operated concurrently from Presets 9 to 14. The speed of loop playback was varied to achieve an expansion of the pitch range (low) and melodic material (by reversing playback). Peeling these effects back towards the ending enhanced the return to a sensation of sparseness, reflection, and of elapsing time, along with an easing of tempo, the addition of a few distant bird call references, ambiguous and unstable multiphonics, and fading held tones. Just a little added reverb here helped to navigate the end.

Screen Shot 2022 11 03 at 10 14 42 am
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Images and videos from visits to the falls chosen for projection followed our approach across the grassland, views of the river, falls, gorge, and departure, aiming to convey a visual impression of place. Avoiding pre-packaged sound/image treatment, a specific process created through Jitter (part of the Max software) is producing images that are recognizable as landscape, abstractly articulated and contingent upon interactions with the live sound of the flute for activation. A continuum of experiments is extending this phase of the work as ideas unfold, are tested and modified. The images here show screen shots of 'audio becomes video' in progress and various configurations from some of these trials, all activated by the sounds of the piece. 

Reflective Commentary

The reflective space created by this imaginary, abstract work offered a space to contemplate aspects of landscape and place as well as aspects of creation and performance. An intensified awareness of the land and its layered history, its fragility and our collective responsibilities for its protection and sustainability, the enrichment of familiarity, engagement, and enjoyment of place, all contributed to a strengthened attachment and sense of belonging. The project materialised as a necessity, a dynamic artistic response to place, and a compulsion to share and communicate ideas of interconnection through artistic practice and response. This work developed at a time of increased interest in, and interaction with, neighbourhood–the COVID-19 era. I had recently looked inward in several projects exploring place and connections found in the quotidian–projects that have been forming a continuum of explorations from varying perspectives of practice. Over time, extensions and new approaches have transpired, renewing ideas of practice and stimulating particular ways of recounting artistic experience. My flute playing has diversified from the reproduction of scores to sound sculpting and expressive responding on my own terms; creating the piece with electronics has challenged and expanded possibilities of sound and structures as well as ways of thinking and inventing sound; and writing has provided a space from which to reflect and research. The writing, in fact, becomes equally revealing of insight and process; as Max Van Manen states, “In writing we may deepen and change ourselves in ways we cannot predict. We objectify the moment–the now that is already past or absent (through writing–as we dwell in the story” (2014, 20).

De-coding the landscape began with identification of diverse layers, temporalities, sensations, sounds and sights. The materials of the site, phenomena such as the wind, water, grass, rocks, and vegetation, became artefacts along with our own media and instruments that framed the work and generated particular digital and musical exploration. “The artefacts of music”, posits Impett “…exist in a unique state of materiality/immateriality: while they are intensely bound to direct experience to technologies, techniques, and materials, this physicality can exist in multiple instantiations; they can be manipulated, engaged with, and acted upon as cultural abstractions” (2021, 8). The multiple histories of the site and the overlaying of our work raised questioning around artefacts (both performative and environmental) and new levels of awareness and perception that we abstracted as multiple porous layers of sound and uneven trajectories. Patterns of sounds evolved that carried us along this imagined journey; perceived vibrations were repositioned and digitally transformed; colours of the landscape were converted into modified forms on the screen, activated through interactions with sounds of the piece. Sensations of flow, immersion, and enclosure were enabled by electronic processing of wind, water, echoes, and polyphonies. Movement was interspersed with static non-evolving sound materials (single notes, sound units), unsettling and ambiguous in effect. Flute timbres reflected actual bodily sensations, mingled with breath, exteriority, and interiority.

Lal Lal Falls was conceived as a technologically mediated piece in which elements of place were drawn together as a re-imagined experience. The vision for the work assumed the transformational power of technologies as information gatherer, processor, and activator. The imagined “endless” possibilities of sounds, altered dimensions, and expanded parameters were integral to the entire approach and journey of this work. “Our digital instruments…are hybrid systems whose histories, ideologies, embodied performance, musicologies, aesthetics, and styles originate in practices that are pre-digital,” states Thor Magnussen, “often with cultural patterns that can be traced back centuries into our musical past” (Magnussen 2019, xi). In our work, embedded music practices were equally used with the electronics as with the flute and applied to this project, just as in any music performance project, with curiosity, intuition and intentionality. Electronic technologies brought flute sounds to life, giving them expanded resonance and context, drama and playfulness, dialogue and intensity. The altered timbres created by the vocoder and multiple voices produced by harmoniser effects, for example, implied complex perspectives, presences, and commentaries; the looping suggested discourse, flow, and disruption; pitch changes gave impressions of otherness and augmentation; reverberation evoked openness as well as echoing from the confined edges of rock walls in the gorge. This electronic mediation was integral to creative thinking from the very beginning, potentially enabling and transforming sound as well as activating image connections and immersion. According to Laura Zattra, when composers and technologists work together “Dialogue, empathy, planning, and time are the keys to collaboration” (2021). The same can be said from the performer’s perspective. As sounds suggested electronic effects, and effects suggested new sound structures; as sounds suggested image processes and images suggested other sounds; as all of these came together and suggested new lines for flute, the processes drew out into seeming infinity. “The practice of composing is the practice of framing spaces for instrumental exploration”, said Claudia Molitor, “…a technology of framing, of organising sonic activity”, and further, “we can think of compositions as systems that create spaces within which things can occur” (Molitor and Magnussen 2021, para 7). This is the lived experience of art making as these “things” deeply connect the creative, performative experience as layers of responses, processes, and understandings emerge, flow, and evolve.

The act of writing descriptions and scores teased out and clarified thoughts and inspired processes of sensation capture, transformation, and structure. I viewed the score as an enabler, an iterative process, perhaps a “coded artifact” that organises performative action (Coessens 2013, 178). It was and is meant for myself, and was initially full of freedoms and few constraints. In fact, as the project continued, the score had become highly annotated and far more precise than formerly intended, full of notes of electronic effects, valuable memory prompts and navigation tools. I became completely comfortable with this.

Written descriptions cannot fully convey thoughts and feelings that occur in situ, and as I search around looking for inventive expression, or new syntax that might better reflect all those perceptual, emotional, and physical responses, I am tempted to deviate, to ramble; to leave the explanations to the performance, to articulate through the art. This is a precarious situation; I remind myself of the importance of documenting experiences from the performer/researcher’s perspective, of the excitement of re-thinking practice and approaches to presentation, and the desire to communicate these. These thoughts meld with artistic aims, and somehow it seems urgent to try to capture the feelings and intentions of performance, to transmit meaning in any way possible, to explain the experience of a curated space, and to convey some of the “things” that occur within it. We might ask, as Christoph Cox states in relation to sound, “what it does, how it operates, what changes it effectuates” (Cox 2011, 157) and we might also ask what we (as musicians) do, how we operate, and what changes we effectuate. We may write in order to think (McEnerney 2014), we certainly create and perform in order to learn, to experience, and to evolve our practice.

[SUMMATIONS] Towards Performance

The Lal Lal Falls project has drawn on accumulated performance experience, knowledge gained from a lifetime of skill development and presentation combined with extended practice and dissemination. It is part of a trajectory of work intended to enable a resurgence of personal creative development along with explorations and documentation of processes and thought. Recently, this work has concerned connections to places, both nearby and far away, and is serving to expand awareness through creating and performing music as a space to experience and transmit unfolding ideas and responses, and knowledge. Shaping instrumental sounds, extending parameters with electronics, forging new connections and inventing ways to articulate and frame experience has been fundamental. “The subject matter”, stated Jeffery Smart, “is only the hinge that opens the door, the hook on which one hangs a coat” (Smart cited by Edwards 2021, 51). It is the doing, the making, the interrogation, transferral and outcome, and the sharing that become the most valuable and significant. As performers we might have the presentation outcome front of mind, but know in ourselves the value of process, the dreaming, creating and rehearsing phases that are most enriching and enjoyable. Australian Aboriginal painting has been described as performance that, unlike in Western art, privileges process over form or finished art (Ingold 2000, 198). This knowledge informed our work as well, as we notated and improvised, exchanging different dimensions and modes of involvement to imagine, invent and reflect on process.

As we head towards various performances, functionality and devising ways to present the piece in differing venues will direct our work. These negotiations will call for discrete curations contingent upon sound diffusion, image projection and live performance conditions. We aim in this for a public re/presentation of place corresponding to Simon Emmerson’s “reclaiming for the performer the physical and aesthetic (hence expressive) control of the technology”, (Emmerson 2021, 436) whilst also feeling David Toop’s question: “why do any of us embark on this path that is so difficult and so precarious in many ways?” (Morrow 2022). Foreseeing compromise, the need for audience familiarisations, and challenges with set up usually go with the territory–it is the existent experience of art making and performance, with its transience, questioning, and fragility, that provides the impetus and motivation to complete the project.

Earlier investigations of the impact of electronics on my own practice have included probing of spatialisation techniques, interactive live electronics and flute, awareness of sound, body, meta-instrument perceptions and identity. This research revealed “an evolving, enactive performance practice…a transformed and transformative entity incorporating musician, instruments, electronic devices, spaces, interconnections, and sounds” (Penny 2009, 177). Subsequent projects have focussed on experiential performance analyses of flute and electronics works, highlighting perspectives associated with diverse topics–such as performance space heterotopias, interculturality and intersemiotic translations–as focal points of personal performance practice. These investigations have been generative, leading to and from multiple pathways and juxtapositions. Lal Lal Falls extends this work, merging creative and performance practice and research, and expanding environmental and personal awareness whilst reaching for exchange and the ephemerality of musical place.


I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Andrew Blackburn to this project–as musician, technologist, creator and facilitator of electronics, advisor, field recordist, recording engineer, and supporter. Thank you!

The Lal Lal Falls area is located within the ancient lands of the Wathawurrung people. I acknowledge all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of this land, and pay my respects to ancestors and Elders, past, present, and emerging, and the unique cultural and spiritual relationships they have nurtured. As a fourth and fifth generation Australian of Irish, Scottish and English descent, I also acknowledge the struggles of First Nations people since colonisation and support efforts to address this and promote deeper understandings.


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15 February 2023
Review status
Double-blind peer review
Cite as
Penny, Jean. 2023. "New Sounds–Ancient Resonances." ECHO, a journal of music, thought and technology 4. doi: 10.47041/EMHV4304

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