Ros Bandt is an internationally recognised Australian composer and sound
artist who has pioneered spatial music, sound sculpture and audience-interactive
sound installation through her original works and writings.
Her radiophonic works have been commissioned by the Studio of Akustische
Kunst, WDR, Koln, the ORF, Vienna, and the Australian Broadcasting Company.
Her many awards include the inaugaral Benjamin Cohen Peace Prize for innovation,
Ball State University, USA, and the prestigous Australian Don Banks Composers
She has recently been working on endangered sounds and electronic sound
archaeologies for new media installation and was awarded an Australian Research
Council grant to develop multi-channel sound sites in virtual space. She
also curated 'Beaming the Theremin' for the Melbourne International Festival,
installing the entire Grainger Museum in sound and light.
Ros Bandt's works are recorded on New Albion, Wergo, EMI and Move records.
She has a PhD in Music from Monash University, Melbourne, and performs,
recordss and tours with many artists and ensembles including the early music
ensermble, La Romanesca.
The point at which sound objects become machines mechanical or digital
depends on the degree to which they can be made to run automatically.
The forms of power may be electrical, mechanical or electronic. Machines
and automata are self-running, three-dimensional systems which emit sound
without the aid of a human performer. As the physical power is supplied
by mechanical or electrical forces, or both, their automatic function allows
the artist to program the operation over long periods. In the case of kinetic
systems, gravity, levers, wind or winding torques may also play a part,
and these can be more indeterminate in their behaviour and less reliable
but at the same time attractive to artists because of these in-built discrepancies.
Computer systems have considerably increased the possibilities for programming
sound design. The degree of self-containment varies from work to work,
as does the type of sound and the visual and sculptural sophistication.
When motion is added to a sounding object, the
passage of time seems to be made more visible, particularly if there
are contingencies of sound and sight. The listening process can be
facilitated by watching the parts moving at different times. The distinctions
between kinetic sound sculptures, automata and playable machines are
far from clear, and there are examples of many types and hybrids since
Percy Graingers great range of
free music machines and inventions. Grainger had a keen interest in all
available forms of mechanical and electrical sound devices, such as the
typewriter, Chinese zither, theremins, pianolas and electric pianos.
He became dissatisfied, however, with adapting available instruments,
a result of his unsuccessful attempts to modify three electronic solovoxes
connected by strings. What he couldnt find but could imagine, he
made with the help of US scientist and engineer, Burnett Cross, his long-time
friend and collaborator.
early fascination with mechanical sound-emitting objects and machines
began as early as 1890 when he was inspired by the lapping of the water
at Albert Park Lake and Brighton Beach in Melbourne and by the wind in
the Adelaide Hills. He heard the environment and wanted to translate
it into music, music which could embrace continuous sliding tones, microtonal
glissandi, the hills and dales, and difficult rhythms which musically
were beyond the human performer. Machines (if properly constructed
and properly written for) are capable of niceties of emotional expression
impossible to a human performer.
His Sketch for Sea-Songs Style, written in 1907 [fig. 3] for piano
and then in 1922 for pianola, was a short piece calling for a different metre
in every bar for example, 11/64, 15/32, 3/4, 7/64. Grainger cut the piano
roll himself, in 1928, and it enjoyed a limited commercial release. This is his
first example of beatless music, music he believed was best performed by machines.
It was a music of complexity, pre-dating the rhythmic complexities of Stravinsky
and Stockhausen and using piano-roll technology while Conlon Nancarrow, to whom
these innovations are attributed, was still a boy. This seminal piece redefines
music as sound design which can embrace all pitch and rhythmic systems without
the limitations of the human performer. The recording, included on the audio
CD, was made from Graingers original roll (which is in the Grainger Museum),
direct from the player piano, so that Graingers idiosyncratic performance
style can still be heard in the acoustic space he designed and gave to the nation
[Audio CD Track 12].
The need to liberate music from the conventional constraints of pitch,
counterpoint and rhythm, described by Grainger in his Free Music Statement
of 1938, was realised by the invention of composing machines, starting
with the early slide whistle experiments and culminating in three major
mechanical sculptures designed to compose and emit sound directly. These
machines used carefully prepared paper or plastic rolls with undulations
cut to control the pitch and duration of the tones. This is audible and
kinetic space notation.
most famous machine, The Kangaroo Pouch Free Music Machine, 1952, was
built by Grainger with the help of Burnett Cross, and was essentially
a method of playing and synchronising eight oscillators. Each oscillator
can produce a pitch range of three octaves. The pitch and volume are
varied by control rods which follow a moving track caused by the movement
of the curved brown paper scroll notation as it passes over the oscillators
[Audio CD Track 13].
Physical measurement in inches translated into duration, time and pitch space,
but there were problems with rests, small intervals, and fluidity of the speed
or tempo of the machine.
The Reed Box Tone Tool was another device designed to handle these problems.
A large, air-powered reed box enabled unlimited voices, sliding tones and intervals
of very small magnitude to be realised what we today call microtones,
intervals smaller than a semitone, common since the advent of electronic music.
The reeds in this harmonica-like box were tuned in eighth tones.
The third machine, never fully assembled in Australia due to the loss
of some parts in shipping, used a clear plastic roll. The undulating
hills and dales markings could be simply inked onto the plastic. These
markings could be read by light beams projected onto photocells which,
in turn, controlled the pitch of the oscillators. Unlike the valves of
The Kangaroo Pouch Free Music Machine, Grainger used transistors, which
would have meant greater stability and therefore more control had it
been fully realised before his death. Graingers composing
machines pre-dated synthesisers and computers which similarly control the audible
sound directly by machine. From the beginning of this century, Grainger was already
crafting the pitch, rhythm, duration, speed and volume of the sound mechanically
and electronically. Before The Kangaroo Pouch Free Music Machine, Grainger and
Cross had experimented with and built many free music machines and free music
devices, many of which can still be seen in their original form in the Grainger
Museum at The University of Melbourne. Percy Grainger remains Australias
seminal figure in the world history of sound art and electronic music.
1994 [Plate 22], by sculptor Jonathan Lawrence, is a completely mechanical
percussion machine. The frame is welded from a hand-bent, D-form reinforcing
rod. The six suspended recycled oxygen cylinders have been transformed
into bells by cutting them to different lengths. The hammers are made
from recycled red-gum fenceposts and the bearings are bronze.
This music machine emits slow, resonant tones tuned from left to right Ddgf#aD.
They are struck in a repeated sequence by beaters that are powered by a windscreen-wiper
sequence played is 1265354, emitting the notes in the order notated in
Fig. 5 (see left) DdDagaf#. The tonality of D major gradually
fills the acoustic space as the harmonics and long resonances collide,
ring on and decay as the tones are struck [Audio CD Track 14].
Not all machines are as engaging as these to watch and listen to. Electrical
and computerised machines tend to be more static, designed for their sound-programming
qualities. Rainer Linzs electronic circuit board with speaker, (Dis)continuous
Music, 1978 [Plate 25], is an example of a simple and direct sound-emitting object,
a self-contained sound machine, programmed for Sound in Space, a
two-week exhibition at Sydneys Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). In correspondence
with the author, Linz described the piece as an electronic circuit board
which spits random bursts of noise through a two-inch loudspeaker [Discography
degree to which mechanical and digital controllers are engaged in the
design of sound sculptures varies considerably. Howard Dillons
Cantus Filorum (Singing Wires or Threads), 1992 [Plate 23], is a computer-controlled
string sculpture. It can be played either automatically (controlled by
a computer) or manually from a synthesiser keyboard. Dillon describes
its construction: Sound is generated by vibrating strings which
is then amplified by a wooden resonator box based on the same principles
as a piano, guitar or violin. There are twenty-four strings attached
to these boxes and stretched up to the wooden frame. The wires are activated
electronically by electromagnets attached by copper pipes to the frame
beneath the wooden boxes. Each string is tuned to a particular note.
Because of the limitations of the electronic system only four strings
can sound at any one time.2
Dillon has composed several major musical works using this machine, which can
be classified as real-time realisations of its many capabilities. The Shape of
Light, 1992, is a two-hour composition [Audio CD Track 15].
In the case of the Cantus Filorum installation at Linden Gallery, the
music was prerecorded and stored within the computer as digital code
defining note lengths, note position, loudness and other aspects of music.
This code can be sent to synthesisers and other equipment which turns
this information into sound. This code, designed specifically for electronic
musical instruments, is called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).
The controlling mechanism for Cantus Filorum consists of a sequencer
which records and replays MIDI information, a synthesiser which turns
digital information into sound modules, and amplifiers and switches to
amplify the sound and send it to one of the strings. In long-term installations,
the sequencer controls the installation in one of two ways by
replaying the stream of purely musical information, or by sending information
to a switch box in which MIDI code turns the switches on and off so that electrical
signals can be sent to the various magnets and strings. This is a very musical
automatic music machine which can also be played.
composer Rodney Berry has created computer-controlled kinetic instruments,
the Rotary Zithers, 1993 [Plate 24], which use cyclical motion to drive
a series of pitches through different sequences. Each instrument
is a soundbox with thirty strings along the length of it. The whole thing
spins around so that the plectra can move into the path of the moving
strings when fed signals from the computer. It is never certain which
of the thirty strings will sound when an individual plectrum is activated.
The fixed speed of rotation means that by varying the rate at which the
strings are plucked, local areas of relative predictability appear and
disappear. For example, the first note cant be determined but you
can determine the next note or the one near it. Another feature is the
Doppler effect created by the motion of the sound source and the sound
waves bouncing off the nearby walls before recombining with the original
sound. This kind of work comes out of the desire to feed some of the
concepts normally associated with computer music, particularly the use
of algorithms, back into acoustically produced music. The rotary zither
could be seen as a hardware algorithm for pseudo-random note generation.
The appeal here for me is that the algorithm is visible and a long look
at the thing can tell you whats going on. Software algorithms are
by contrast intangible and invisible.3 Berry composed Hackn
Hocked for two rotary zithers in 1994 [Audio CD track 16].
Kinetic sound sculpture is capable of becoming a moving sound tracer, a tracking
device for creating a living audible composition, selecting the sounds and making
the music as it goes.
Such is the case in many works by Ernie Althoff, who over the years has built
his sounding compositional machines which deliver delightful dances of sounds
through a clever juxtaposition of mechanical and kinetic devices. These have
included suspended acoustic sounds, recycled turntables and cassette machines
used as rotating mallets, flexible bamboos as balancing beams, and the torque
of twisted threads and ribbons.
large-scale installation such as Althoffs Balanced Beams, 1993
[Plate 26], (see far left) could be said to dance continually through
its sound-designed elements which are choreographed through time for
their sonic and visual outcome. A slightly indeterminate funky rhythmic
style spreads out the narrow pitch bands of carefully selected percussion
timbres within the confines of Althoffs concept. The location of
each sound is intrinsic to each piece and the overall sound and space
are shaped with the whole composition in mind, just as in an orchestral
symphony. In Balanced Beams, there are two layers of contrasting sonorities the
pitched steel bowls played by shells suspended from the flexible bamboo
rods, and the automatic drum machines played by cassette-driven rotary
mallets. The audience is free to turn these rhythm machines on or off,
which considerably affects the music heard [Audio CD Track 17].
The visual and audible then play out over the extended timeframes of these pieces,
with variations emanating from the speed discrepancies of the turning devices
in relation to each other, often forming subtle phasing effects. A special kinetic
music results. These works are site-specific, designed to the physical conditions
of the particular acoustic space, its size and resonance.
The sculptor Filomena Renzi has always incorporated kinetic, ephemeral and temporal
elements in her installations. In The Forest of Repeated Action, 1992/94 [Plate
27], (see above right) she implants her individually adapted clock mechanisms
on stands with fragile newspaper and ageing paper fronds. Some twenty of these
units form a forest through which the perceiver can wander. The clocks in the
trees are set to a time scheme devised for each performance period. When an alarm
goes off, a tree shakes and makes a mechanical sound from the wire arms attached
to it. In walking through the forest for a ten-minute period, for example, one
might hear the quiet ticking of all the clocks in varying proximity. When close
enough to observe the tiny moving parts inside the clocks, the ticking is audible.
After a while, one begins to hear the soft ticking rhythms all through the room.
Time is needed to focus. One becomes aware of the changing spatial configuration
of the sounds, and when a tree alarm goes off, the fragile, vulnerable forest
becomes unnervingly animate, due to the unpredictable movement and sound. This
is a subtle composition harnessing the unknown and unpredictable, while addressing
time as object in the sculptural sense.
In these works, time and movement become contingencies, controlling what is heard,
how long it is heard and how soon it is repeated. The artist plans the system
and designs the interplay.
other sound sculptural works in the same exhibition, Sound Sculpture in
the Bagging Room, at The Malthouse, South Melbourne, were audience-interactive.
Irit Caspis mechanical door, Awakening, 1994 [foreground, Plate 28], (see
right) when opened, set off other contingent chimes to ring throughout the space.
The physicality of the piece was overwhelming, requiring great strength to play
the door. Manic loud sounds would ensue from the wobble steel sheet and large
In the background of Plate 28 (see above) can be seen Ros Bandts
Trio Peligroso, 1994, three dangerous black deities of alchemy, goddesses
of glass, money and fire. Each figure contains a sound loop relating
to one of these substances which is turned on or off as the audience
passes the infrared sensors implanted in the figures. In each of these
works, the prepared sound is shaped in the space by the listener/perceiver.
In the Caspi piece, the duration, pitch and loudness are under the hand
of the single person. In the Bandt piece, the three sensors may be activated
separately or together, by one or many people. The different combinations
alter the position of the sounding cycles. Each cycle is of different
length, so that their rotations phase the vertical connections in the composition.
The sensors can induce space or silence between the three deities. Their
sounds of crashing glass, water, money machines and fireworks come and
go, which gives them a living feeling, as if engaged in dialogue with
each other, as well as with the observer. The perceivers have individual
sound experiences, depending on their position and when they arrive in
relation to other people. Trio Peligroso is a mobile sound composition
designed to be programmed by the audience, who trigger a part of the
chaotic eight-track playback system, changing the configuration so that
the sounds always change in relation to each other. Bandts system,
the SSIIPP (Sound Sculpture Interactive Installation Performance Playback), which
interfaces two lots of four-track machines with altered sensors, has been used
in some twenty installations in Australia, Europe and the US since 1985. It resembles
a mobile sonic chess game with in-built indeterminacy. With interactivity, the
audience can be a part of the automatic control or, in other works, exercise
a choice about whether or not to play, and if so, for how long and in what style.
systems and machines have been built with interactivity as an important
component. The machine or system may be intended to be played, as in
the case of Iain Motts The Talking Chair, 1993 [Plate 29], which
he made in collaboration with sculptor Marc Raszewski. The individual
perceiver/ listener is invited to sit in the chair and is able to control
all the spatial movement of sound from the surrounding speakers built
into the chair. The listener can call up the various preprogrammed configurations
of prepared sounds through the use of a wand, rather like a conductor.
One can control the spatial aspects of the composed music in real time.
The sculpture is the furniture. Electronic devices behind the scenes
make it possible through the use of an Atari computer (with MIDI, synthesisers
and effects boxes) powered by Motts own software.
this piece, the auditor is asked to perform a discreet action moving
a wand to enable the task to be completed. Other simple playable
machines include Noel Essexs adapted sewing machine, Untitled,
c. 1980 [Plate 30], which is reminiscent of Graingers from many
decades before. Working the treadle activates the sound, thereby controlling
the speed of the rhythm and its duration.
Chris Pendleburys Beethovens Hearing Aid, 1990 [Plate 31], is a sound
sculpture which the auditor pushes along like a shopping trolley or pram. It
squeaks as it hoots and blows party whistles as it wheels,
said the Ballarat Courier.
whimsical sculpture is a delight to the eye and the ear as it perambulates
through spaces, carefully steered from the front. As the five-wheeled
structure moves, the velvet-covered bicycle pumps mounted on the wheels
blow air into the horns and whistles which are mounted on the sides of
the sculpture. The bells and trumpets of these sounding objects protrude
from the sides. The tiny seat on the fifth wheel rises up and down, producing
a clackety-clack sound, the tempo of which depends on the speed of the
wheeling. A small child could sit on the seat while the sculpture is
in motion. Other sound sources that have been incorporated include three
Balinese ceremonial cymbals, a cello which may be plucked or bowed, a
toy piano and a functionless ornamental music stand, intentionally positioned
so that it cannot be viewed while making the sounds. The artists
diary entry for the sonic intention of the piece reads: Whizz,
bang, click, woo, sizz, puff.
The novelty of the motion causing the sounds is visually enticing and adds to
the musical phrase, but there is also the possibility of playing the piano and
cello while the sculpture is stationary. This piece is very versatile, in the
spirit of the busker. It is mechanical, automatic, kinetic and playable.