Thursday, September 20, 2007

Alastair Galbraith: Coordinated Universal Time

Alastair Galbraith is a musician based in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand.

One of the most admired musicians in the New Zealand underground, Galbraith began making music in Dunedin in the 1980s, with the group, The Rip. He later went on to play with Plagal Grind, before recording as a solo artist. He has released many albums, including Hurry On Down, Morse/Gaudylight, Mirrorwork, and Cry on labels such as Siltbreeze, Emperor Jones and Xpressway. Galbraith's sound is highly personal exquisitely intimate, and unerringly emotional. His employs violin, bagpipes, softly spoken lyrics, organ, and backwards-guitar to create what American writer Bill Meyer describes as 'otherworldly lyrical miniatures'. Galbraith also collaborates with Bruce Russell in the improvisational group, A Handful of Dust, and with Matt De Gennaro, with whom he creates distinctive 'wire music', using piano wires.

[ isol: transmission03 ]

Broadcast date: 10.03.02

This programme features a new commissioned sound work by Alastair Galbraith:

[ Coordinated Universal Time ]

The times of various events, particularly astronomical and weather phenomena, are often given in "Universal Time". In civil usage, Universal Time usually refers to "Coordinated Universal Time" - the system by which all the world's clocks are set. It is based upon the time on the 0 degree longitude passing through Greenwich, England, home of the now-closed Greenwich Observatory. Many radio stations broadcast Coordinated Universal Time signals, allowing listeners to accurately set their clocks. The BBC began transmitting time signals in 1924, and since this point a variety of specialist time broadcasters have been established, many broadcasting in the Shortwave range.

Alastair Galbraith has utilised these broadcasts as the basis for his project for i s o l. His piece incorporates three half hour Shortwave broadcasts of standard Coordinated Universal Time. Galbraith is fascinated by the way in which the broadcasts are decontextualised as soon as they are recorded - the time signals can only be accurate and relevant when heard 'live'. Once recorded and played back out of their live context, the chiming ticks can no longer be used to set watches and merely become rhythms.

Galbraith has also noted that it becomes obvious during prolonged listening, that these minute and hour announcements are prerecorded. When they were recorded the time signals were false, destined to only become accurate at a future point in history. Galbraith also ponders the accuracy of the time signals from a receiving perspective. Questions arise as to how long the shortwaves take to travel from the transmitter to the receiver - do the 'ticks' arrive fractionally late in remote locations?

Galbraith is also investigating the relativity of time. [ Coordinated Universal Time ] muses on the nature of the broadcasts intended purpose - to coordinate and standardise time itself.

Galbraith has utilised the Coordinated Universal Time broadcasts as a rhythmic backing track, to which he has aesthetically intervened by adding a droning loop of a vocal recording, and a range of other shortwave samples.

In relation to [ Coordinated Universal Time ], Alastair writes:

"i left it long for hypnotic reasons
i've loved playing with shortwave at night out here
at taieri mouth
waiting for the dark
when the tide of shortwaves comes rolling in
i love the ephemerality of the time announcements
the weather warnings
contrasted with the endless tick
the rhythmic atmospheric hiss see-saws."


Note to [ Coordinated Universal Time ]:

Intially Alastair Galbraith planned to hire or buy a very sensitive shortwave receiver and record non man-made sounds from a remote South Island location, such as Kaikoura. He planned to take the resulting tapes to the Physics Department at Otago University to discover exactly what caused each sonic blip, squeal or hum. The sun, and even the planets in our solar system create noises across quite wide bands of the shortwave spectrum. The object of Galbraith's intended project was to attempt to uncover the sounds which the planets in our solar system make.

Galbraith discovered that the the earth is one of the loudest sources of natural radio emissions in our solar system, broadcasting a tone that coincidentally is the same frequency as an un-earthed hum. He also discovered that what he had been planning to do was essentially to use a weak radio receiver as a radio telescope. Realising that a very large array, or some other multi-million dollar installation would do a much better job, he decided to change tack with his project.

Galbraith commented: "I read that radio telescopes were made to represent radio transmissions as visual material. I am left wondering if the great radio receiving telescopes have even been hooked up for sound in the last 50 years. Perhaps some astronomer will one day release the c.d. I would have loved to make."

Coincidentally, r a d i o q u a l i a's project for i s o l, Radio Astronomy, utilises sounds intercepted from our solar system using a large radio telescope based in Latvia.


[ isol: transmission03 ]
Broadcast date: 10.03.02

Broadcasted on ORF's Kunstradio, as part of their Curated By series.
Broadcasted on AM in Austria, and Shortwave globally.
Visit the ORF Shortwave page for SW frequencies in your area.

i s o l: transmission03 is a 52 minute acoustic navigation of New Zealand. It portrays an intimate and elliptical internal landscape, encompassing arcane electronics, backwards guitars, distant echoing squalls, alien vocal beauty and psychic morse code. The programme evokes rainy days in Taieri Mouth, the windswept expanse of the Canterbury Plains, hunkered afternoons with cups of milo, emotional yearning, dark clouds hovering, thoughts flowing, spirits tumbling and soaring. A bird dreams, the tide comes in, and time itself is audible on crest of a breaking wave. The transmission features a new work, Coordinated Universal Time by Alastair Galbraith. The programme also includes other tracks by Galbraith, including collaborative work with Matt De Gennaro, and a range of other sonic artifacts from New Zealand.

[ transmission substance ]:

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: In The Taieri (1:20)
Release: Cry
Date: 2000
Label: Emperor Jones

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: Anais (3:32)
Release: Introversion 7"
Date: 1994
Label: Roofbolt

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: Coordinated Universal Time (25:00)
Release: commissioned for i s o l
Label: unreleased
Date: 2002

Artist: Omit
Track: The Encompassing (4:32)
Release: Le Jazz Non
Date: 1997
Label: Corpus Hermeticum

Artist: Alastair Galbraith & Matt de Gennaro
Track: Two Wires (extract, 3:53)
Release: Wire Music
Date: 1998
Label: Corpus Hermeticum

Artist: Rain
Track: Invisible (4:46)
Release: Le Jazz Non
Date: 1997
Label: Corpus Hermeticum

Artist: Delire
Track: A Bunker Sympathy (extract, 1:26)
Release: Topographical Amnesia
Date: 1999
Label: Select Parks

Artist: Alastair Galbraith
Track: Milky Milo Man (1:00)
Release: I Hear The Devil Calling Me
Date: 1991
Label: Drag City

Artist: Roy Montgomery
Track: The Last Kakapo Dreams of Flying (6:38)
Release: Scenes from the South Island
Date: 1995
Label: Drunken Fish

[ please note that tracks breaks in this download are approximate due to crossfades on the original programme ]


This programme was commissioned for's i s o l program.

The preceeding notes are reproduced verbatim from the original i s o l pages.

Al Gal photo © Marty Perez.

The programme was originally presented as streaming RealAudio and is now offline via i s o l; it can now be downloaded in mp3 form here.



Willard said...

Hi Festus,

Want to say thanks for the NY you sent over and also thanks for this. I listened to ISOL III and downloaded the full program. Cool, weird stuff. Thanks for offering. Cheers.

Willard said...

Hi Festus,

I was just curious...what other songs are on the HK 3"? I saw it listed used at Amazon but it had no details. Thanks again.

QEF said...

a fascinating write up - look forward to hearing this show in its entirety. thank you uncle festus.