Daniel Blinkhorn - MusicNSW

Daniel Blinkhorn is a highly acclaimed Australian experimental composer who works within electroacoustic music, acousmatic and environmental sounds. Blinkhorn recently was nominated as a finalist in the 2012 Art Music Awards happening at The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House on Aprl 3rd.

Congratulations on being selected as a finalist in the 2012 APRA Art Music Awards for the Excellence in Experimental Music category!  The award recognizes your outstanding compositional achievements in 2011. How does it feel to be nominated?

It was certainly a surprise to be nominated for the award. What’s nice for me is that having your efforts recognised (in particular in any type of formal capacity, such as this) is always the last thing on your mind when you’re undertaking new projects/ composing new works etc. I tend to focus on the task at hand, often totally immersed in the creative process (regardless of the outcome) and so receiving acknowledgment in such a fashion is largely unanticipated, but very much appreciated!

Your music explores electroacoustic music, environmental sound and the cross-fertilisation of image, sound and performance space. What was it that first sparked your interest in working within this musical field?

I began to develop a strong interest in electroacoustic music after hearing works by composers within the field from the UK, France and Canada. Over a short space of time I started to realise that many of the composers whom I really favoured were often using recordings of the environment in their pieces. Whilst at times the recordings were highly transformed via DSP and other studio-based sound transformation techniques, for me it seemed to provide a uniquely expansive and sensuous palate of sound that was at once entirely extra-musical (or outside the providence of conventional music) yet somehow it seemed to make musical sense. The video/ image-based work I do actually came about from my explorations into various video editing and generative environments, where I noticed certain analogies between the transformation of image and that of sound. I found I could apply similar techniques to either in order to provide a more synaesthetic end result, so am increasingly drawn toward this type of working process. lastly, I’ve always had a strong interest in composing music for live performance, so it kind of made sense to try to put it all together to more fully explore a wide variety of outcomes.

Can you give us an example of your most recent musical project that explored one or more of these elements?

I think it would probably be my recent expedition throughout the Arctic Archipelago of Spitsbergen (Svalbard) within the North Pole region. It involved practice-led research into developing a variety of ways in which composers can interpret the environment within their musical works.  I did a great deal of field recording within the region, as well as lots of filming etc, all of which is designed to be drawn upon when I’m putting together new creative works of the type mentioned above. As far as musical projects go, examples from this initiative include a work for a dance company, a large-scale suite of audiovisual, instrumental and multichannel sound pieces and the creation of a website (www.bookofsand.com.au/frostbYte ) that shares some of the sounds recorded from both the Arctic trip, and that of previous field recording projects.

You have studied at large number and interesting variety of universities including the University of New England, University of Griffith, Australian Institute of Music, College of Fine Arts ?University of New South Wales, and the University of Wollongong ? where you received your doctoral degree. How have your studies contributed to and shaped your creative output?

What’s interesting for me is that, whilst I have studied at a number of universities, the work I’m now doing is probably the last thing I ever imagined I would be doing, and is something I didn’t study formally! Some of the universities were helpful, others not so, however I did learn quite a bit about traditional compositional and musical environments through my formalised studies, and am trained as a composer and performer in that regard, but never undertook studies in any of my current interests until I was completing my doctorate. Even then, it was kind of a carte blanche arrangement, where-by I was pretty much left to my own devices regarding the content, which is when I really began to develop an interest in the kinds of things I’m exploring now. In that regard I’m entirely auto-didactic, and have had to cobble together an understanding of working within electroacoustic, acousmatic, environmental and in fact all manner of digital and time-based media independently. Of course when you stitch it all together it needs to be pretty cogent academically in order to make an original contribution to the field your working in, but until that point it was kind-of touch and go, and I still feel I have a great deal to learn (not just contribute) when working within the field.

You were born in the Blue Mountains. Do you think this had a positive impact on your exploration of environmental sounds? What other natural and/or urban environments do you enjoy exploring?

That’s a very good question and yes definitely…! Growing-up in a place like Leura in the Blue Mountains (back when it was a small, virtually arcadian village) meant I was able to have free-run of all the surrounding bush land. It definitely left an indelible imprint on me, teaching me about the wonders of the natural environment, whilst also developing a healthy respect for it. To this end, I’m always champing at the bit to spend time in wilderness environments, and try to do so as much as possible. In relation to urban environments, given I know live in a city, where there are all types of fascinating sonic environments to be encountered, it can be lots of fun to take a recorder out and see what comes of it. I would say however I seem to be drawn to some areas more than others and (probably because of my earlier days) I tend to gravitate toward harbor, parkland and beachside areas where I find the soundscapes more diffuse, less cluttered or contrived and more naturally redolent and evocative when looking for inspiration.

What advice can you give to other emerging experimental artists who would like to delve into unexplored territories of sound and electroacoustic music?  

The realm of electroacoustic (EA) music and soundart can be extremely rewarding, enriching and engaging and has the capacity to straddle genres and seemingly disparate sound-based disciplines very successfully. Whilst its roots come from a more formalised, European art music heritage, there are more and more artists using sensibilities derived either directly, or indirectly from EA within all manner of disciplines (both in non commercial and even mainstream commercial music). As such, the general awareness, by non musicians, of experimental sounds in (and as) music is becoming increasingly evolved and accommodating. This has resulted in an incredibly diverse and often intrepid audience, so I feel it’s a great time to be working within the medium! Regardless of the type of artistic practice you have, I tend to believe that the most important thing when considering the creation of sound art and EA is to keep an open mind, spend a lot of time and effort on your craft, and try to observe and learn as much as possible from other practitioners within the field (both here, and as importantly abroad). I’m certain that, in doing so you will be well on your way to developing your own compositional voice, or musical language; A language that you can then share with others, contributing back to something you are passionate about, all of which will in-turn provide you with a great deal of joy, and satisfaction, not to mention innumerable challenges along the way!

Are there any local Sydney experimental artists, bands, labels and/or spaces that inspire you?

In relation to local artists, bands and labels…that’s a little difficult for me to answer as traditionally there isn’t too much of an electroacoustic scene here in Sydney. I know a few of the universities teach aspects of EA, and that there are individuals within that context who are actively making and sharing it. There’s also certainly no shortage of performers who are active in this area, so there are various ensembles, collectives and events around that foster lots of improvising and performing (with and without interactivity, computers, electronics etc). There are also some very interesting sound installation artists whose work you see out and about, however by-and-large (and I could be wrong) but it doesn’t strike me as a city that really thrives (at least historically) on soundart, irrespective of its orientation. There are definitely some beautiful spaces around that provide a great deal of inspiration, in particular from an acoustic perspective. Sadly many are not for use as musical venues, so from a performative view they are inaccessible, however to simply sit and listen as sounds interact within the spaces, there’s certainly no shortage of those in the CBD alone, and that can be inspiring!

Do you have any new projects in the works or on the horizon?

As mentioned a little earlier, from a musical perspective I am involved in a variety of initiatives, (creation of a work for a dance company, a large-scale suite of audiovisual and multichannel sound pieces, some instrumental music and the creation of a website as a resource for interested artists etc). In relation to location recording, I will be undertaking a field recording trip throughout Tanzania later in the year, and hope to get to a couple of different parts of Europe as well. I’ve also been asked to give a number of presentations (on my music and about what I do) at events both here and overseas, as well as performances of my work as part of the upcoming Aurora Festival (May, in Sydney), and the New Music Network series (November). Typically, things present themselves throughout a given year, so I hope to keep fairly busy!