City Frequencies performances & installations

City Frequencies were never a regularly gigging band. We were more of a conceptual art project and had intended to create sound installations more than get on a stage. But we liked playing live so we moved back and forth between live performances and installations. Sometimes this worked well, sometimes it was an unsatisfactory compromise.

Melbourne Town Hall: 23rd, 24th & 25th of May, 2000
The first City Frequencies performance was at the Lower Melbourne Town Hall in 2000, as part of the Next Wave Festival.

Over six months leading up to this event, Matt and I spent days and nights wandering around the Melbourne CBD recording all kinds of sounds with portable DAT recorders and minidisc recorders. At the time we were living in Curtin House in Swanston St (prior to its present gentrification) so we were well placed to pop out at any time to capture an elusive sound. We began with buskers but soon broadened our approach to record all kinds of noises, including tram sounds, fountains, pots and pans banging in restaurant kitchens, garbage being collected, etc. We even found that we had captured bits of conversation as people in the street happened to wander by while recording. From this grew the ambitious idea to completely capture the sounds of 24 hours in the CBD.

Narelle Wilson and Jeremy Dillon joined the team to produce a visual component for the peformance by similarly documenting the city in photos. Jane Adair joined to help out with photos and Dianne Janes filmed video footage, such as lengthy shots of the Flinders St Station steps.

This all turned into a surround live performance. The projections were made onto different screens in the space, and our music was produced in quadraphonic surround-sound format, with one speaker in each corner of the room.

We performed the set live with an overall structure and compositions somewhat planned out around the “24 hours of the city” concept, but our performance style left room for improvisation. The quadraphonic aspect was handled by using the sub outputs on a Mackie 16-channel mixer, so that I could select different stereo pair groupings on the fly for different channels on the desk and utilise the pan knobs to move things between whichever two speakers I had selected.

Matt’s sounds were generated from a Yamaha A3000 sampler. I had managed to secure some equipment from Electric Factory as sponsorship so they lent me the latest version of Logic (I think this was version 4 at the time) and an E-Mu E6400 Ultra sampler, both of which I used for the show, as well as some hardware effects.

Alia Bar: 30th of September, 2001
This was our first City Frequencies performance at a regular venue. We played a set at Alia Bar for Clan Analogue‘s monthly night Ether. To translate our music into a format appropriate for this venue, we loaded up our various recorded city sounds into our samplers and did a live remix version using elements from the original Next Wave Festival show. Despite our efforts, the set must have still come across as too experimental for the venue, as Alia cancelled the Clan Analogue residency straight afterwards!

Victorian College of the Arts: March, 2003
As part of the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology, the Hearing Place Exhibitions and Audiotheque took place at the Victorian College of the Arts. We contributed a piece called “Tram Tracks” and had our work included with sounds from some great artists including Ros Bandt, Lawrence Harvey and Scanner. Take a listen!

Kent Street: October, 2004
We presented our Café Voyeur in its first iteration from Thursday the 7th to Sunday the 10th of October, 2004, at Kent Street Café in Smith St, Fitzroy. The project was funded by the City of Yarra and presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Café Voyeur was produced in 6.1 surround sound using the recordings of conversations we had recorded in the same cafe in June 2004. The overall work went for one hour. I’ve explained this project in a little more detail on the Café Voyeur page. There are also some interesting technical detail on the City Frequencies website.

We created some interesting material for the installation, sitting somewhere between music and sound art. But our intention of having the work blend with the conversations of the cafe punters wasn’t entirely successful. Once there were a sizeable number of listeners in the venue, the installation couldn’t be heard above everyone’s talking. So the practicalities of real-world listening didn’t support the concept particularly well.

The 6.1 format wasn’t the most practical choice either. This was derived from a trip to JB Hi-Fi to purchase an amplifier I could use for the installation. I didn’t know much about surround formats and a 6.1 amp seemed better value than a 5.1 amp as it could manage one speaker more. Makes sense right? But when we looked into releasing the completed installation as a DVD to play on home systems we realised that 5.1 was actually the industry standard.

Here’s a stereo mix of an excerpt from Café Voyeur:

Kent Street: June, 2005
The year after the original Café Voyeur installation I decided to present the work again in a space where it could be heard properly. I was still keen to maintain the connection with the café where we had recorded the original conversations used to create the work. Kent Street now had an upstairs gallery space so I booked it out so that we could present Café Voyeur in a space where anyone interested could go to listen with more focused listening.

This presentation format was still not particularly successful. Firstly, I scheduled specific presentation times for people to hear the entire hour-long work, like a theatre work or concert. This discouraged a drop-in approach which would have been more appropriate for gallery installations. The second problem was the realisation that the work was quite experimental and not necessarily what a casual listener wanted to listen to!

Loop Bar: 2nd of December, 2007
This performance was a live “remix” of our Café Voyeur installation, performed as part of the Electundra festival which took place annually at Loop for several years. Here’s a video from the night, filmed by Derek Supryka:

Grumpy’s Green, 5th of November, 2015
We had some music included on Clan Analogue‘s Intone: Voice Abstractions album so we took the opportunity to play live again for the album launch night at Grumpy’s Green in Fitzroy. Our contribution to the Intone album, “The Most Beautiful Walk”, was derived from our Café Voyeur installation so we also performed a live set based on the Café Voyeur material. Luckily, the entire set was recorded, thanks to Jack Barton from Automatic Teller Machine Machine!

Café Gummo, 20th of February, 2021
Our most recent City Frequencies collaboration is the track “The Interests of Entities”, included on the Clan Analogue compilation Distance: Sounds for an Empty Space. We played at the launch at Café Gummo, performing an extended improvised drone set based on our album contribution.

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