Benton Ching
Entry #3


I acknowledge I am on stolen Jaithmathang country and pay respects to their elders past and present. I also acknowledge the other traditional owners of the Alpine region the Bidawal, Dhuduroa, Gunai/Kurnai, Mitambuta, Monero-Ngarigo and Taungurung, whose unceded lands I have been exploring.

Unlike the previous two entries, this week’s will be a little less exploratory. This week features a lot less exploring. Instead, most of it was spent in the studio making two works in time for the end of my residency on Saturday. I’ll spend most of this entry talking about the two site-specific projects I ended up with.

The first piece is called Snowmelt Transmission, and it is encountered by picking up the lone village payphone which I’ve programmed to ring around 5.30 in the evenings. It’s a five minute audio work, narrated by my friend Emma Payne who did a stellar job. The piece is composed of sounds I’ve recorded while here, in combination with recordings from the Bogong High Plains Sound Map. The work traces the transformation of snow into water and then electricity down from the alps through the high plains into Bogong Village, highlighting its centrality to life up in the high country. I tried to use the samples to convey a sense of the contours of the area, and these changes in altitude are marked by overlaid samples of bird and insect species from different biomes from alpine down to montane.

A really interesting recording I found trawling through the High Plains sound map, which I sample twice in the piece is one of Philip walking through the snow and catching the voices of people in the ski resort in Falls Creek as he walks past. One voice that comes out so clearly in the recording is of a Chinese woman saying: “诰诉我,你的地方叫什么名子?” Which translates to “Tell me, what is the place where you are called?”. This bit of the recording kind of jumped out at me. As a Chinese speaker I wasn’t expecting to hear that, but I suppose that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of Australia and tourism up in the snow. The phrase is also particularly interesting for me for a few other reasons, such as the historical role of Chinese labor in the goldfields around here and the power of naming, particularly in a place where names of mountains have had to be changed in recent years, and one which lacks a lot of the indigenous place names.

I first thought of using the village payphone on a walk back from junction dam through the village one evening. The village is pretty empty at the minute, and I was thinking how eerie it would be to hear the phone ring. The idea started out as a short script, where the payphone is the set and the person walking by is the protagonist. The call comes as a kind of sentimental message/warning from an undisclosed time when snow cover on the high plains has shrunk drastically, drawing on some of the research I mentioned in the last entry around sonic fiction and ecosystem movements. Conceptually, I was thinking about David Abram writing about rediscovering face-to-face/face-to- place encounters with the natural environment in The Spell of the Sensuous, and whether an artwork might be able to provoke that. This is obviously a mediated encounter but I was thinking about whether the shock of receiving a call like this might spur one to desire further encounters with the alpine regions. I hope some of you will get to visit the village when the piece is running.

The challenges of making this piece were twofold: the first was getting the payphone to ring at the right time and finding the right combination of software to do it easily. This didn’t turn out to be too tricky in the end especially with the amount of documentation online, but I now know a bit too much about setting up call centre voice response systems (if anyone’s hiring!). The second challenge was actually mixing and mastering the audio recordings for the payphone, which is something I wasn’t expecting to be massively different from the iPhone I tested the work on. The payphone is much lower-fi, and beautiful details in recordings like wind, water and insects very quickly become a wash of static, while distinct tones in voices, bird song and percussion come out really well which informed the choice of samples used (e.g. replacing a waterfall with water droplets, placing more bird sounds in the piece). Mixing in this context becomes a lot trickier as you can’t really follow the conventions you normally would for an optimal listening situation.

The second piece I made is a time capsule responding to the landslip near the village in the form of a polished Japanese mud-ball, or dorodango. Originally a children’s activity, these balls are made from just dirt and water and polished to a shine. The dorodango I made used only materials from the surroundings: dirt from the landslip, water from lake guy and pigments made from charcoal and dust from the village. Encased in the Dorodango is a USB containing images, prints and audio from my residency, as well as two recordings from the sound map relating to the construction. I thought this would be an interesting project to do, given the landslip was the reason why I had to delay this residency for a year. Another symmetry is the fact that the landslip, and its subsequent repair, are human-made. Although when it’s done someone driving might think the mountain always looked that way. The dorodango is an apt object for this piece as its a human construction using same bits of loosened soil compacted back together, though if one were to see it they might not think that was the case. It’s also a children’s activity which parallel’s the building’s history as the old primary school.

Having never made one of these before, I spent the first part of the week making different samples, experimenting with the consistency of the water/dirt mix and trying out different sizes and finishes. As a lot of people online have mentioned, it's quite a laborious process although very satisfying. The dirt from the landslip is actually really interesting – it’s quite a sandy/tan colour when you get it dry and loose, but it turns into a caramel with reddish tones when you compress and polish it into a ball. There are also beautiful flecks of maybe mica and iron in it which sparkle on the finished balls.

A new audio work that features one the USB is called Alpine Dreamer, which is based on a chapter
in Einstein’s Dreams and an idea that I mentioned in the previous entry. In this chapter, which happens on 26 April 1905, time moves slower the higher up you go. On the same day, I went up to Basalt Temple peak on the high plains. For this work I used recordings I took that day, ordered by altitude and slowed down based on how high they were. It’s interesting because something as gentle as a breeze becomes heavy and menacing when time stretched.

I buried the dorodango somewhere in the village, and I really hope someone finds it in the future.
It's interesting that both the projects I ended up with are sort of memory-oriented/future-looking. I think it might be a symptom of being at the village at a time of big transition with the changing of owners, the construction and the general lack of people around. I am really stoked I got the two pieces done in time for the end of the residency, although they weren’t what I was intending to make when I came up three weeks ago. In fact most, if not all, of the initial ideas I had thought of based on desk research/prep somehow weren’t pursued due to either technical or administrative hurdles very early on. I think this freed me up to do work solely based on my experience of the place, which turned out to be really useful. Coming to this residency, I was hoping for three things: getting back into shape as a practitioner (having been away for a little bit prior), producing some work that steers in an interesting new direction and finally to be open to ideas from the environment around. Based on these, I think the residency was very much a successful one for me, and an experience I really enjoyed. What really worked for me was coming up with small activities/exercises to do everyday and journalling consistently. There’s certainly lots of ideas brewing that weren’t able to be developed in the time here, and it would be great to come back to the high country to explore these in future.

Big thanks to Madelynne and Philip at the Bogong CSC for having me at the centre.