Bridget Chappell announces new album ‘Undertow’ made from water colonisation data

Performed on cello and the Federation Bells

Melbourne sound artist Bridget Chappell has announced a new album, entitled ‘Undertow’, made from historical data on water colonisation.

Chappell used the City of Melbourne’s Open Data Platform to collate contemporary and historical data on local water management and water colonisation. They then put it through the complex process of “sonification” – the musical representation of visual data – to create the music of ‘Undertow’.

The first single, ‘Elizabeth Street’, is out now – listen to it below.

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The data used by Chappell relates specifically to the water colonisation of the Birrarung River and Naarm Bay – the original Indigenous names for the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay respectively.

The resulting music is composed and recorded for cello, and The Federation Bells, the installation in Birrarung Marr, Melbourne. In a press statement, Chappell explained the use of the Bells.

The pitch of the Bells follows the latitude (or north-south axis) of its flow. Because water in the catchment generally flows north-south, you’ll hear quite a few descending melodies,” they said.

“But when expressing a 2D object on a map – like a wetland – the melody moves from west to east along the body’s longitudinal axis, and I have used an arpeggiator to move between the northern and southernmost points of the object.”

Chappell also noted that the best form of sonification remains Indigenous songlines.

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“[Indigenous songlines are] a musical method of both navigation over vast distances, and reflection on the creation histories of the landscape,” they wrote.

“My method of sonification is nowhere near as sophisticated. Nor is it my place as a settler to try and sonify the landscape, as though it could be objectively represented by me.

“I set out to develop a process of sonification as a compositional tool, for discussing histories of the Birrarung River that are not talked about very much in settler Australian narratives. They are all things that have been done to the River since European settlers began colonising it.”

Chappell first performed the music of ‘Undertow’ in May last year at the Federation Bells. The recorded album is set for release on October 30, via Heavy Machinery Records.

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