An archaeology of recorded action
Between 2005-2010 I spent a lot of time investigating historical audio recordings relating to Sydney’s urban development. I came to develop a specific focus on the BLF Green Bans and the work of people like Mick Fowler, Juanita Neilsen, Wendy Bacon and Jack Mundey, whose opposition to large scale development proved to have a lasting impact on Sydney’s built environment.
Partly driven by an interest in telling this Sydney story, this sound research & practice was also driven by my interest in integrating a more resonant, experiential approach to navigating digital cities – a kind of reaction to the proliferating spaces of data visualisation I saw ‘accurately representing’ urban spaces.
I came to establish a way of working with sound designed to take listeners back to historical moments and events, enabling listeners ‘visit’ moments in time in much the same way that one might visit a monument or landmark.
Often the sounds weren’t particularly attached to visible landmarks. And so I thought of them as ‘sound marks’. You can listen to many of them over on Soundcloud, and read a short synopsis below.
Each piece was intended as a site-specific experience, to be accessed using your own listening device. Compositionally, they are not designed to structure your physical navigation of an environment. They simply to mark a space-time, or series of space-times. When you listen, you”ll hear no instructions as to which way you should walk, or which way you should look. You might find yourself a bit surprised by the sense of listening in to what happened, right here, at another point in time.
Here’s a selection of the locations featured in these soundmarks.
Sydney’s pro-development culture has provoked radical opposition by residents and activists wanting to protect their homes and suburbs from high-rise development. In the 1970s the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) offered their support to resident groups opposing new development, producing a unique alliance between unionists and environmentalists which held back more than $300m of development work in inner city Sydney. Listen in to the sounds of these protest movements at key sites, on Victoria St, Potts Point and in The Rocks.
Kings Cross has always been a place to party. It’s also been the muse of many a documentary maker, artist and musician over the years. This collection of audio archives compiles both street and studio recordings about the Cross from television, film and radio sources. Listen in for GI’s partying in Whiskey-a-Go-Go in the 1960s, a street fight from the 1980s and Dulcie Deamer’s recollection of her life and times there in the 1930s.
Designed by American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin, the Pyrmont Incinerator was considered to be the high point of Griffins’ work in Australia. As proclaimed by Mahoney Griffin:
“The Sydney Incinerator erected on the high rock promontory of Piermont [sic] will stand we think as an historical record of 20th century architecture. It is as beautiful, as majestic as unique as any of the historical records of the past. Historically it records the basic fact of the 19th Century civilisation later emphasised by the smashing of the atom.”
Demolished in 1992.
Listen in to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Talbot Duckmanton in Martin Place on the day Japan surrendered from its battle in the Pacific. You can hear him describe to his audience some of the finer details of the setting â?? a Hitler effigy being hung from the windows of one of the banks, circles of dancing women before him (‘lovely looking ladies, too’), the din of a mosquito zooming around maniacally over head…
When the MLC Insurance group bought the ‘hotel of the commonwealth’ at auction in 1968 they promised to look after it. But two years later they demolished it. Listen in to the sounds of Sydney’s development boom of the 1960s. Also featured are the sounds of Shirley Abicair interviewing LJ Hooker in Martin Place about his vision for a prosperous urban Australia, an American being interviewed about his love of ‘tall buildings’, and the sounds of the auctioneers hammer going down on the sale of the Hotel Australia in 1968.