Audiosketch S1 EP2

An art date with Dr Ros Bandt

Listen to the episode here

Credits and notes

To learn more about Dr Ros Bandt’s extensive body of work and hear samples of her audio, visit her website here.

The field recording organization that assisted Dr Ros Bandt in collecting wildlife recordings for the Currawong project she references was the Australia Wildlife Sound Recording Group.

Dr Ros Bandt’s wheat silo & water tank recording, Improvisation in Acoustic Chambers (1981), can be found here

The book about time Dr Ros Bandt recommended is Time, the Familiar Stranger by J.T.Fraser.

You can read the essay titled Designing with Chaos, Allowing the Unprogrammable to Occur by Dr here.

You can learn more about the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology here.

You can learn more about the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and become a member, here.

The Hearing Places project founded by Dr Ros Bandt and Leah Barclay, can be accessed here.

You can learn more about the Federation Bells public sound-art project and the Federation Bells app that Dr Ros Bandt references in her audio sketch here.

You can see images of the incredible underground Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici, Istanbul) Dr Ros Bandt speaks about performing in and ‘sounding’ here.

Dr Ros Bandt’s Tarhu Connections CD (which includes several recordings from the Yerebatan Cistern) and other releases can be found here.

You can read more about Dr Ros Bandt’s famous father, Lewis Bandt, here.

Our Audiosketch podcast title music is by Fia Fiell. This piece, All in the Same Room, is from Fia Fiell’s 2018 album of the same name, which you can find on bandcamp here.

Full transcript

RosO: So, what we might do to start is do a clap together so I can synchronise the claps after. So, I want you to close your eyes for this because we might be in slightly different, um-

RosB: There might be a latency. Yeah, yeah.

RosO: So we’ll go, three two one clap.

Ros B: Okay.

Ros O: Ready? Three, two, one, clap

{Clap – signature title music by Fia Fiell begins}

RosO: Great. Weird. It’s weird that we’re not quite in the same moment in time, isn’t it? We’re out of time… And in time.

RosB: There’s no such thing as time.

RosO: Yes, I know it’s dissolved.

RosB: Don’t get me onto this argument. You’ll be here all night! [Laughs]

RosO: Welcome to Audio Sketch. A Chamber Made podcast dedicated to innovative artists working across performance, art and music. I’m Roslyn Oades and I’m joining you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne. In this episode of Audio Sketch, I’m excited to be on a virtual art date with internationally acclaimed sound artist, composer, musician and scholar, Dr Ros Band. Ros was recently honoured with the Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music. And if you’re not familiar with her pioneering audio works, I strongly recommend a visit to her website.

{Signature title music by Fia Fiell}

RosO: Hi, Ros.

RosB: Hi Ros.


RosB: I love this.

RosO: I know. I feel a bit weird about us both having the same name.

RosB: Oh, it’s really lovely. And I wanted to meet you face to face for ages. So, I think it’s really great that you invited me to do this.

RosO: Oh, it’s so lovely to have you here. So, Ros, if you were to be a sound right now, what sound would you be?

RosB: I would be the Currawong. In my fountain.

RosO: I love that. Why Currawong?

RosB: I’ve been totally obsessed with them during COVID lockdown here because we’ve got one that visits. And I imitate back to it. And I’ve made thousands of recordings. This morning I got up and I really couldn’t get my Zoom recorder together in time. And the acoustic was magnificent because it was really warm and sunny very early, at about quarter to six. And it’s just got to be in my head. So now that Currawong sound is in me.

RosO: Can you give me a sample of your Currawong?

RosB: Um, I could probably play it on an instrument. Would that be…?

RosO: Oh my gosh, I’d love that.

RosB: I’ve been transcribing them for about six months. Um…

 {RosB plays a sample of her Currawong composition}

RosO: Oh, wow. That makes my heart sing.

RosB: Oh, good, because I’ve been struggling with these, all these pitches for some time now. And, you know, the resonance of the different weathers and everything. They tend to fly over right above the window in this room. And I’ve had the big, bold man, the beautiful woman teaching the baby to preen its feathers, to… oh, learn to sing. It’s making this sound like errrrr at the moment. [laughs] So it’s a very beautiful discovery. And I never felt so attached to a currawong in my whole path. Done pieces about magpies and pelicans and rectors and all kinds of birds. I even play in a baroque group called Trio Avium. So, you know, I’m pretty birdie.

RosO: You’re known as a pioneering international sound artist, and I know that you draw a lot of inspiration from the world around you. You’ve made some incredible site-responsive works in collaboration with water tanks, a giant chimney stack, underwater environments with the winds of Mungo Lake, wailing koalas, eagles in Arizona, sea whistles in Japan and in a dripping underground cistern in Turkey, which I loved. As an artist, you seem to be constantly moving. So, I’m really curious to know how you’ve adapted to this very restricted, localised moment in time during the age of COVID.

RosB: I think it’s been a gift in lots of ways. Cause we don’t have as many planes going around. People are listening to each other and they’re more aware of where they are in relation to each other. So, the selfishness of capitalism has been put on hold. And, I’ve enjoyed that part of it. And I’m never bored. I’ve always got so many ideas and I never have enough time to finish things off.

And, I’ve always been really quite obsessive about recording sound and having my own palette from all these strange instruments that I play like, you know, Ancient Greek lyres and the cross-cultural tarhu. And I’ve made a big glass flagon and I’ve made other kinds of music box contraptions that are amplified and wind-up rabbits and silly things. Anything to make a sound, you know? And this sort of adaptability is always given me really, really a lot of joy… I just see it as embracing everything that makes a sound and seeing the potential, if you can run with it and find out things that you don’t know from that first incidence.

I was lucky to get a little COVID grant, so that’s going to be Currawongs. On the day that we’re all allowed out, I am going to fill this whole room with all the Currawongs from all over Australia. And I appealed to the Australian Wildlife sound recordists, and they’ve all sent me their recordings of Currawongs. From Queensland, all over New South Wales. So, I am making this into a huge piece for an outburst. [Laughs] So that Currawong is going to have a very big journey.

{We hear a field recording of Currawong bird calls}

RosO: Ros, I love the black and white photos on your website of you as a young woman standing on top of a big water tank and I’m aware you’ve also done some collaborations with wheat silos. Can you tell me about the wheat silo project?

RosB The Voices of the Wheat Silos.

RosO: Mmm.

RosB I started in, whenever is was? 1980 something. I got a bit struck. I think it was because my mother, she taught me to drive in her snazzy automatic car on the Ouyen Highway. And I was 14. And y’know, that was sort of wild – because she was from the farm, and, you know, she wanted all of us to be able to drive and all this sort of thing. And so, I was out there and I was just so dumbstruck by this image of these clusters of these big silos. And in Geelong, we used to ride our bikes up the Deviation Road to the Geelong cement works where they were all made. Eighty-nine foot cement, big clusters of eight, that you see all over the landscape. So, I just decided that they were going to be my cathedrals of the landscape. Because that’s how it looks. You’re just driving forever. We don’t have churches. We have, we have silos. [laughs] This is what colonial Australia is celebrating. Wheat. Okay. I can tell you some horrendous environmental stories of what I found in all of those – arsenic and rat poison and dead animals. And, you know, and this is the wheat that we’re eating.

RosO: What did what did the farmers make of you coming along and falling in love with the sound of their silos?

RosB: Well, the first time I did it, it was really exciting. I was on a Musica Viva tour with La Romanesca Early Music Ensemble. And we were staying at one of the really modern farmers. And oh, they were young and spunky and gorgeous. And he had all these different kinds of silos on his property. It was at Young, Lambing Flat. And I said, Oh, I’d love to go and see the big cluster in town. And he said, I can arrange it. So, he just arranged for me to go in there. And of course, we had all of the ABC guys recording La Romanesca. So, I said, hey, where did you come down, and y’know, see if we can capture something? And it was just so spontaneous. Because after you’ve been up a ladder for 90 feet in the air and you’ve got your Nagra, and all your bits on your back, you know every molecule in your body. I was so terrified, I can’t tell you. I was just like, this buzzing thing. All these little terrifying… It was like I was photosynthesizing or something. It was just such an amazing experience. In the end, I realised there was not really a shelf where I could slide in through the door and put, catch myself from going down the funnel. So I didn’t think that was really a good idea. So, in the end, I was sort of over the door on my hip level, just waving my, top of my body inside and doing a test. And it really wasn’t all that great because the funnel, the top part… It’s all happening underneath, at the bottom of the funnel. Through these beautiful mediaeval cannon Bishop-hat style things. So, in the end, we put the microphones facing out into the far silos. And John and I played back-to-back without looking. And it was getting mixed as a result of us throwing it against the end walls and then coming back and making this confluence. So, in that first vinyl there’s no editing whatsoever. In the water tank or in the wheat silo. They’re just straight takes. I never set out to do that, it was just explorations of my curiosity, really.

RosO: Wow, that sounds exhilarating.

RosB Oh, it was amazing.

{We hear a soundbite from Dr Ros Bandt’s wheat silo recording: No.10 Fragment for bamboo flute and voice from the Album Improvisation in Acoustic Chambers}

RosO: And is that a signature creative process of yours? Like, are you quite spontaneous? Are you the sort of artist that just plays and discovers? Like, if you could describe your mode of work, where you get good flow, how would you articulate that?

RosB: I think I’m flowing in counterpoint the whole time and I can go off in any direction at any moment. So, watch it! [Laughs] And I think that that’s how life is. You know, we’re living in all these different temporalities of our reality, of what we think we’re doing.

And in my installation, in Time Warps, that I did in Adelaide, where I set eight anthropomorphic figures to represent J.T. Frasers categories of how he saw time from, you know, all these different layers…. I was talking about new temporality, the kind of consciousness of time that we can know all of our menstrual cycle, our lunar cycles, our seismic geographic… You know, frogs can only make sound when they can contact their mates. So, if they live outside the perimeter of the width of the pond, they won’t get to have that little froggy that they want. Because it’s acoustically determined sex…

So there’s all these different layers. Anyway, I commend that book Time, the Familiar Stranger by J.T. Fraser to everybody. I was totally mad about it. I buy copies of it for people. Because it’s it gets you to think about the plurality of the times…

So, I made this installation and each figure that I made had a speaker and a sensor… And this whole chaotic system of multi-channel. If you have a look at my website, it’s all explained in the article I wrote called Designing with Chaos, Allowing the Unprogrammable to Occur.

RosO: Ros, for those unfamiliar with the term, what is Acoustic Ecology?

RosB: Ah, acoustic ecology. Yeah, well, this term was coined in 1993 in Banff, where we had the first ever meeting of the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology. This was the studies of the soundscape and everything to do with sound in the environment and acoustic spaces and the relationship between species. And it was very much coming from Vancouver and the work of the Aesthetic Research Centre, in Canada there, in the 70s, headed up by Murray Schafer and his colleague Hildegard Westerkamp and also the father of Granulation, of course, wrote the Dictionary of Acoustic Ecology, Barry Truax…

And there were two people from Australia. Jonathan Mills and myself. I gave a paper and everybody laughed because I was writing my book on sound installation artists at the time, and I was trying to give everybody a guernsey. I wanted the whole world to see what Australia was doing… Now it’s a big club with all these little groups all over the world. And they have meets and it’s, they’re really exciting. And I encourage you all to be a member. Leah Barclay is the head of the Australian Acoustic Ecology Foundation at the moment. 

RosO: Ros, I’d now like to play the audio sketch you’ve brought along today. To let our listeners in on this, in the spirit of sharing practice, I invited Ros to bring along a soundbite that offers us a little insight into some of her current creative thinking. Before we have a listen, is there anything you wanted to say about this recent field recording you’ve made on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne?

RosB: Well, it’s just a documentation of the soundscape of a prominent sound signature in the middle of town. The next day, I was going to be working with architecture students in a master’s class with the Federation Bells App. And as that’s very beautifully documented, the whole of the Birrarung Marr site and everything, from the Federation period when those bells were made so beautifully by Anton Hasell and Neil McLachlan. They made these cross-cultural bells and I marked Anton’s PHD on his amazing journey researching the cross-cultural bell. Which I thought was a really fantastic piece of work. And I was teaching Advanced Improv at Box Hill this year, and I realised what a good thing this was, that they had this app. That we could all play the bells from wherever we were. And what a good thing this was in lockdown. So, one of my students had moved to Kalgoorlie. So here we are playing all these bells for the six months. You all have to download the Fed Bells App if you haven’t. Have a play. Your two-year old can play it, it’s really great. There’s thirty-nine bells, and you play the app however you want. But you can key up different kinds of scales. You can do it in meantone, you can do it in pentatonic. You can do it in whatever you want. And you can compose for it. And they play music that people have either been commissioned. At the beginning there was 10 legit composers. This is in 2001. But when I went down there this week, and I listened to it, this was my experience.

{We hear Ros Bandt’s audio sketch field recording of the Federation Bells}

RosB: The thing about this was that I was sitting there reinvestigating. And seeing my city after I hadn’t been in there for six months. And we sat on the river and I’m thinking, Yarra Yarra. Birrarung Marr. I’m listening to metal bells. Bang, bang, bang, bang. And something just didn’t sit right with me at all. As beautiful and all as it is. I’m walking around, in through the sculptures. If you actually listen to that recording on headphones, you can hear the spatial wandering. And, it’s a sound walk on a certain day. And, it’s very interesting from up there because you can see the river straight in front of you. And the riverbank is all gravel. That’s not the real riverbank. Why have we allowed that to happen? I’m sitting in a flat plain. I’m looking at 40 big screw bolts through tin. And everybody’s coming and being guided down this sheep run. Of where you allowed to go there. Every time we build a wall we change the acoustic space. And people have to take more responsibility for this.

RosO: So, what is it about that audio clip that you want to draw attention to?

RosB: I wanted to give everybody an invitation to go and sit in your city and think about what should be the sonic signature of Melbourne. Should it be that? That is a beautiful thing. And there’s nothing wrong with colonial music. I play it too. I tour and perform in concert halls. However, when we talk about hearing Australian identity, is that our representation? And okay, if this was the Federation. It’s a colonial thing. Federation is a confederation of colonial nations that have stolen the ground. And I just couldn’t really accept it twenty years later on. So, my question to everybody is, if you have a great idea for a sound signature for Melbourne, let’s hear it. I think it’s a really good story, the Federation Bells. The Melbourne city has done a great job curating it. They’ve made it accessible. There’s so many good things about it. I’m not canning it. But I’m putting it in the bigger picture. In Japan, they have 100 soundscapes of Japan and people go to these places to hear the sound of the something-a-rather, at the time when it occurs. How many people have seen a Brolga? What about all the things that aren’t there now? I’ve said in a lot of my writings on sound, sound is an amazing barometer of the health of a nation.

 {We hear a sting from the Audiosketch title music by Fia Fiell here}

RosO: Your career spans 40 years of working internationally. Looking back, is there a project in particular that stands out as a personal favourite, and why?

RosB: Oh look, I’m just totally immersed in what’s ahead in in a constant present. So, for me to do a comparative thing, um…

RosO: Is there one that lingers, even after you’ve put it to bed though?

RosB: Yeah, there are lots. But I have to say that in the Yerebatan Cistern in Istanbul in 2010 with Erdem Helvacioglu and the South North Ensemble that I got together. We ended up doing two concerts at the Yerebatan Cistern in Istanbul. Sixth Century Water Palace with Romanesque ceilings.

RosO: Which sounds beautiful

It was a site-specific electroacoustic symphony. First night we did a duet of sounding the basilica. And I put the live hydrophone feed in. You could hear the fish. So, the audience is sitting on these elevated little pathways that are over the water and they’re looking up at, like, a huge Romanesque cathedral. And illuminated faces of Medusa on the pylons. So, the whole thing has been a contested architectural collage. And it’s been a rubbish tip. But it’s been restored to become a venue. And I was so lucky to be able to get in there for two whole Saturday nights to do whatever I wanted. Can you imagine?

RosO: That sounds extraordinary. It sounds like the most beautiful performance venue.

RosB: And the second night, Erdem and I were doing this amazing sounding, bringing the acoustic spaces to life. The fish, the reverberation on the wall is sending the sound right down the corridor. And before we went in, Nat (Natalie Mann) and I went in there to do a bit of a sound check for our acoustic instruments. Because it’s really wet. And to get a full-sized concert harp in there and my tarhu could nearly kill ourselves, you know? And slip into the watery abyss. We needed to be a bit in control. And we’ve got four sound systems going and leads everywhere and I’m thinking we’re gonna electrocute the audience. We’d better have a bit more knowledge about this. So, Nat and I went in there and we just called to each other in the pitch dark. There was only one guy there to let us in, who clattered around with his chair and everything. And Nat and I just ran the open mic. I think it was an Eddieroll on a chair. And those recordings are on the Tarhu Connections CD, of her and my improvisations.

RosO: I heard a little excerpt on your website. It sounds like you can hear dripping, is that right?

RosB Yes. It all drips off the ceiling because the condensation. And the more people that are in there, the more drips. Yeah?

RosO: It sounded amazed amazing.

RosB: People have said I was born in a water tank…

{We hear a soundbite from Ros Bandt’s recordings at the Yerebaton Cistern, titled Yerebaton Sarnici II, from the album, Tarhu Connections}

The thing about these acoustic places is that when you make a sound, you’re puncturing a space. It’s a holy gift of listening and being in the sound. And when you’re in a place that’s got an amazing acoustic. Whether it’s a water tank, a wheat silo, a church, a Neolithic cave of ritual performance, a sacred oak tree in Dordogne where the first oracles were brought down, they are so totally special. You can feel not only the acoustic, but the life that’s gone before you. And this makes you do work that you can’t know you’re going to do. And you’ve got to completely trust and give over.

RosO: Wow beautiful. As an artist myself, I’m really inspired by the breadth of your body of work and how you’ve continued to experiment, take risks and evolve as an artist throughout your entire career. You’ve just kept moving. You’re clearly very curious and passionate. And, I’d love to ask you, who’s been your artistic role model?

Um… I’ve had lots of helpers along the way but I’m Lou Bandt’s daughter. He invented the ute and he told me in Geelong when I was about nine that I could do anything I wanted if I was clever enough. And if I wasn’t, ask someone who was. Such great advice. Because how do I know how to use a lath? I know how to use these things now. You know, I’ve made Aeolian harps. I’ve cut glass  . You know, as Chris Wallace Crabbe kept saying to me in the next room when we were at the Australia Centre, ‘Oh, Blue, you’re pretty good for a girl from Geelong.’ [Laughs]


My mother was a fantastic musician, too, and we had two pianos in our house and they’d have everybody in after church. We had something like twenty-five sets of angels’ wings in the in the attic. And he’d put on plays and I’d have to get up and do stuff. And you just did things. So, like, that was kind of like before community arts, you know? Just live with Lou Bandt.

And I guess I was very lucky in that because of his fame I lived all over the world at a very young age, and I was exposed to archaeological people digging in the Middle East when I was 12. And It had a huge impact on me… I wanted to go to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I so wanted to go when I was eight. I couldn’t stop drawing them. And all this sort of thing. So, it was no, no surprise, really then. You know, I was more interested in ideas than being a musician.

And I probably, if I could have done more science, I would have been some other kind of an alchemist because I’m really interested in gravitational fields and quantum theories and parallel universes and different kinds of nebulae and all of that sort of thing, in the simultaneity. And that’s what I’ve done with doing my chaotic system in the sip of all those installations. I’ve had multiple elements of sound confluencing, being triggered by the audience. The auditor. Which answers, if a tree is falling in the forest do you hear it? In my installations, you are the tree. However much time you spend there, that’s all you’ll hear. So tough. And I remember getting a critique from ArtLink, “Dr. Bandt expects so much of her listeners”. Bring it on. [laughs]

RosO: That’s great. Well you have an incredible mind. And it’s been so lovely to talk to you. It’s been a real honour. Thank you so much for your generous time and just for entering into the spirit of sharing your practice with us. I really appreciate it.

RosB: I really take my hat off to your generation. I think you’re doing great research. You’re getting terrific plasticity in the way you’re thinking around new ways of doing things. And I give you all my great support.

RosO: Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you so much. It’s been great.

{Signature title music by Fia Fiell begins}

RosO: You’ve been listening to Audiosketch, a Chamber Made podcast hosted and produced by Roslyn Oades, with title music by Fia Fiell. This episode’s art date with Dr Ros Bandt was recorded in Melbourne on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation.  All musical excerpts, specific to this episode were composed by Dr Ros Bandt and are provided courtesy of the artist. Please see our episode notes for links to these recordings as well as the other great resources Ros Bandt has mentioned. Audiosketch has been made possible by the Australia Council and was commissioned as part of Chamber Made’s Hi-Viz Practice Exchange. Hi-Viz is supported by the Helen Macpherson-Smith Trust and The Substation. Chamber Made receives multi-year funding from Creative Victoria. Thanks for listening.