Sense of the City Update: Creating music through household objects!

For the past couple of weeks, Mai-Wel Creative Arts participants have been hard at work travelling around Newcastle to find the best noises for Mai-Wel’s multimedia art installation project, ‘A Sense of the City,’ hosted at Newcastle City Hall.

The 12 week program has been taking place every Tuesday, with the end goal to create a series of works that will be held for installation. One of these collaborative works is an audio composition that will be used as part of a 23 minute looping soundscape.

Using a digital audio workstation and microphones, participants have been capturing and creating cohesive percussion rhythms using everyday objects like a basketball, shoe box, fly swatter, margarine tub, bamboo sushi roller, drinking glasses, ring of keys, steel measuring cups and spoons. The participants have chosen objects with the most enjoyable sound and recorded them as part of a layering process where these sounds will be combined to make the sounds traditionally produced on a drum kit. Using the deep kick drum-like sound of the basketball, other object sounds will be added on top to take place of the snare, toms, cymbals and most importantly the cowbell.

The participants are learning all about audio techniques using computer based software, such as looping, signal modulation and equalisation. With a demonstration of the software by the Creative Arts Mentors, the participants have learnt to turn the sounds of the everyday objects into a groovy percussion track reminiscent of those created by traditional musical instruments.

In the next stage of the composition it was decided that something more was needed to add to the sound; a café-like atmosphere. To create this, the group used their imagination and personal memories of what kinds of noises you would hear in a café in Newcastle city and thought about how they could create them in a studio environment. To recreate the cafe noises, the Mentors and participants surrounded the microphone in a circle and mimicked the sound of calling orders, conversations, clinking glasses, moving chairs and feet, even the sound of the coffee machine busily operating in the background!

The intention behind this activity, in particular as part of a broader goal of the multimedia installation, was to inspire the participants to think creatively about how different sounds in their environments could be used both musically and abstractly. This was also a chance to discuss how these sounds make people feel, and expanding their musical and creative vocabulary by putting descriptive words to the sounds, otherwise known as the ‘timbre’.

Fun fact: timbre is defined as the character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity.

The Creative Arts Mentors and participants are currently still in the process of capturing and creating different audio and visual elements to be utilised within the installation and will move to different locations to broaden the potential of source material. The group have most recently visited Fort Scratchley and obtained some more natural sound elements like waves and birds at the beaches along Newcastle’s coastline.

At the project’s end, the audio and visuals will be collated into an abstract sensory experience following the chronology of Newcastle’s rich history, including acknowledgment of the Awabakal traditional owners of the land, the BHP Steelworks era, the sporting culture, ending with the present day in which the participants find themselves now.

The city of Newcastle has been described by Mai-Wel Creative Arts participant Kane as ‘The Phoenix Rising’ or ‘The city that has risen from the ashes’, referring to its former glory days as home to one of the largest steel working industries Australia has ever known. This idea will be used as the centrepiece of the installation in the form of a paper based sculpture of a golden phoenix created by the participants.

The Sense of the City program is just one of the amazing and unique opportunities that Mai-Wel offers as part of its Creative Arts services.


Pictured: Isaiah banging mallets on a metal pole of a building in Newcastle city to test out the sound it makes. 

Pictured: Isaiah sitting on a brick fence in front of a grassy area in Newcastle city, with his mallets in hand. 

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