Tura New Music Artist in Residence Dampier Peninsula 2014 & 2015                                                     


In both 2014 and 2015 I worked as musician in residence for Tura New Music based on the Dampier Peninsula north west of Broome in the Kimberley, WA. In the first residency, my work was mainly schools-based, working between two schools, one in Lombadina the other, just a few kilometres up the road at One Arm Point. There is little access in this region for formalised music lessons, nor a regular music teacher, so my approach was to introduce ways of listening and playing together within a compact time period (a little over a week at each school).    


In addition to the instruments I brought with me and the very limited music resources available, I was able to pursue simple rhythmic and melodic ideas, playing in small groups and exploring composition through stories offered by the students.  I ran a few instrument making sessions too making tuned "ground tubes"(different lengths of rainwater pipe stuck against the ground, "fufu pipes" (film canister clarinets), "strawboes" (oboe made from a plastic straw and panpipes (made from 13mm polypipe with endcaps). At OAP school with staff and student support we also built a thongophone using the metal frame of a disused library book trolley - a one-of-a-kind mobile thongy! 

At the culmination of my residency students at both schools performed as part of the visiting Tura Resonance Kimberley Tour (featuring William Barton and Mark Atkins).


In my 2015 Tura residency in neighbouring Lombadina and Djarindjin communities, my focus was to build a musical instrument playground to be based at the Catholic primary school in Lombadina. As this was a community music project, I worked alongside indigenous trainees at the Kullari Regional Communities Inc (KRCI) workshop in Djaradjin where we had access to welders, cutters, drills and hand tools. The materials for this project (aluminium tube and strap, steel cross-section and pvc pipe) was donated by KRCI, but we also used scrap materials from the local dump when needed. We had a month to design, construct and install on-site our sound playground and we started from scratch. This was a fantastic collaborative project in which the key was the sense of ownership all the participants (the makers and the students) felt at having created something unique in their school and in the Kimberley.


As well as building instruments, I also worked with local musicians and bands and on NAIDOC Day a couple of those bands featured in the festivities, as did children from the local school I had been working with. An amazing project that I will look back on with great fondness!

Dryandra Primary School Thongo Duo

My residency at Dryandra Primary School in 2015 was facilitated through The Song Room, an organisation that promotes music and arts in less privileged schools. The idea of this thongophone, resembling a rib cage or boat hull, came out of a meeting with interested parents. This installation is located in the school's early childhood area. 


        Wheel Rim Zumbalaphone           

The Glades is a community near Armadale, south east metro Perth. The Awesome Festival contracted me to do a series of instrument making workshops in 2014 with children over 6 consecutive weekends and to also devise a concept for a sound installation to be located in a local community recreation area. I began first making  a few sketches of what I thought could be a "wheel rim marimba" or, in more simple terms, a large metal xylophone.  In sourcing out the wheel rims from a local tyre repairer, I quickly discovered that most of the rims I tapped had discreetly different pitches, so I sources the widest range of sounds I could find.

I also liked the idea of the wheel rims on metal stems resembling a poppy field, so I then took my rudimentary sketches to my friend and welder, Robbie Lang (Fibonacci Centre, Fremantle), who then took on the welding of the stems to the base plate. With Robbie I worked out the best way to isolate the rims from the stems using rubber washers in order for the rims to best resonate.
  He also gave me the name of this instrument.

Belmay Primary Sound Garden, 2012                                        

(Youtube video)

In 2012 visual artist,Calvin Chee and I were commissioned by Musica Viva to design and construct an interactive sound garden featuring six different sound installations within an interactive playground space at Belmay Primary School, Belmont, WA as part of a federal and state-funded  AIR Grant project. As musician and instrument maker, my part not only involved the making of  large musical instruments, but also engaging students in both the design and playability of those instruments.  

So whilst the project resulted in a clearly tangible outcome – a set of six sound sculpture installations located in the grounds of the school, there was an equally important parallel process of classroom musical development that underpinned this project and shaped the manner in which the resulting instruments were designed, constructed and located in the school grounds.

For much of 2012 I was was based at the school working with students developing a framework around to how this sound garden would take shape and how student visual and imaginative ideas might inform the outcome. Over two terms each student kept a "sound diary" of ideas and sketches. Combining a group of primary and high schools students, Calvin gave them each the challenge of creating a small maquette, based on chosen student sketches. These small models then became the basis of our designs.


Over this project Calvin and I worked with students from four school campuses in the area, including special needs education, students from a language learning centre and manual arts students and staff at the local high school. The high school manual arts students contributed hugely in cutting and welding  sturdy instrument frames, tweaking design ideas and helping with site preparation and installation. This was great collaborative project.

Sound Sculpture, Gravity Discovery Centre, Gingin 
Time Coils 1 & 2 | Mark Cain
The Gravity Discovery Centre:

Scale is always a challenge in art. For years I've been exploring the sound potential inherent in industrial plastic tubing or polypipe, the kind used by plumbers, electricians, agrarians and budding high jumpers. In this project I had the opportunity to work with a 1.2 kilometer coiled length of 110mm diameter polyethylene pipe, which in its coil form became an imposing tubular entrance to the exhibition building at the Gravity Discovery Centre in Gingin, WA. The two ends of this giant coil meet within one meter inside the building.

In its simplest conception, a tube of this length acts as a kind of time capsule. A noise made by striking a membrane attached to one end of the tube will, travelling at the speed of sound [nominally 330 meters/second], take just under 4 seconds to be heard at the other end of the tube. So in effect, at the far end of the tube, one is listening back to the past. The resultant acoustic delay elegantly illustrates the notion of travelling backward in time and has parallels with the ripples made by a stone thrown into a still pond. In physics there are many examples of "cause and delayed effect", including, of course, Einstein's now recently proven theory of gravity waves themselves. 

To accentuate these delay effects, there are located along the length of this vast coil a series of regularly spaced tiny microphones that pickup and transmit to amplified speakers, sounds as they pass through the tube. The listener will hear multiple repeats as his or her original sound source 'pingpongs' from one speaker to the next in a series of graduated delays, finishing with the original unamplified sound at the other end of the coil. A 'miniature' version of this instrument comprising a 200 meter coiled length of 65mm polyethylene tubing is also on display as an accompanying exhibit inside the Gravity Discovery Centre in Gingin. Its shorter delay cycle offers an interesting point of comparison with the larger instrument. The two coils can be 'played' interactively or independently of each other.

As a child I'd put my ear to a conch shell and listened with amazement to that mysterious 'sound of the sea' I can put my ear at one end of an unfathomable hollow coil and listen with equal incredulity into the past.                 .


Time Coil 1
materials: 110mm [pn 8] polyethylene pipe 
length: 1.2 kilometres [coiled]

Time Coil 2
materials: 65mm polyethylene pipe Time Coil 2: 
length: 200 metres [coiled]

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    "Doing more for Music than Bach did for Plumbing"

In the three brief years of AC/PVC's existence [1987-1990], the group made quite an impact on the Perth contemporary music scene. Founded by Broken Hill born musician, builder and visual artist, Peter Keelan and I to present a new work for the 1987 Evos New Music Series, AC/PVC was in every sense, an experiment. I played reeds and flutes and together with Peter, who specialised in Andean flutes and panpipes, we collaborated to build a virtual orchestra of instruments made exclusively from pvc plumbing and electrical pipe and accessory fittings, ABS airconditioning ducting and other industrial plastics.

Why PVC pipe? 

At first glance, an odd choice, perhaps. In many ways the material is rather functional but unremarkable and something we tend to bury or hide away in houses or underground. From a musical perspective however, pvc pipe is like an analogue of bamboo or the wooden and metal tubing used in conventional instrument making around the world for aeons. It's recyclable, relatively cheap, versatile, in that there are many different diameters and a seemingly endless array of auxiliary fittings, many of which are fancifully sculptural when viewed in a musical context.  PVC is also extruded in different colours. Its essentially cylindrical in shape is its core musical asset - an internal characteristic shared by many wind and percussion instruments both past and present. But perhaps, most importantly for AC/PVC, it was the leggo-like construction of this pipe and its fitting into the imposing sculptural shapes of our instruments which added an otherworldly, visual and theatrical dimension that captivated audiences. These were bits of humble plastic pipe transformed. The architecture and sound palette of these instruments confounded their origins... and it was the audience inner-child that revelled in this musical playground of new possibilities and imaginings. 

AC/PVC was an intended one-off event that just took off... quite unexpectedly. A concert in a rarified new music series presented by Evos Music in 1987 led headlong into to a hectic schedule of community residencies and regional schools and festival touring that lasted three intense years of constant work. It was an idea that caught the imagination and generated its own momentum. 

For Peter Keelan and I the challenge had been how far we could take the idea of pvc pipe and plumbing paraphanalia as a performance concept? Appearance is one thing, making good music is another. Each instrument presented its own unique challenges. How to extend the range of wind instruments, how to achieve the best timbre possible from each, how to adapt factory mould fittings to the instruments and still keep them in tune, not to mention, how to devise exciting music from this very different sound palette, whilst trying to maintain a visual whimsy that we both shared. 

On that subject, Peter was an inveterate illustrator. He and his sketchbook were inseparable and many of AC/PVC's visual ideas had their genesis in his drawings. Many an entertaining and occasionally blasphemous caricature of a band member (inordinately often, me) found it's way into that sketchbook! 

Back to the issue of tuning and how to build adjustable tuning mechanisms to deal with temperature change. Sometimes a great visual idea would throw up a whole set of unexpected playing challenges. For instance, in building our trigeridu (see photo at lower right) we did not expect that each player would experience air back-pressure as a result of players blowing down a three-way inlet fitting. This instrument sorely tested our endurance in performance, but it did captivate audiences! It was just such an absurdly fanciful idea to have a didgeridoo played by three. In a show at Turkey Creek (Warmun) during our Kimberley Pipedreams Tour in '89, our audience - children and adults alike - were so surprised and initially disquieted by entrance of the trigeridu the literally began to flee their seats, only to return laughing heartily with embarrassment at their reaction. The absurdity of this instrument spoke its own language to a culture already so deeply imersed in a digeridu tradition.

Over time other challenges arose. How to make tuned percussion instruments to meet the skills of new players who joined us with keyboad percussion skills to burn. For marimbist, Paul Tanner, we experimented with four-mallet thongophone facility and building a three octave xyllophone in which each note, a varying length of thin-walled pressure pipe, was compressed in profile to an ovular shape in order to improve its resonance. Nonetheless, it took a percussionist with the unique skills of Ron Reeves to bring this instrument truly alive. There was no text book to explain this or many other discoveries we made. These were just accidental eureka moments that surprised us with their success. Or the trombone made from clear polycarbonate pipe, replete with funnel bell. Not a eureka moment this one, but entertaining to watch a fine trombonist like Andrew Raymond challenged (if not humbled) by a less than scientifically accurate instrument - apologies, Andrew!        

 And then there's a story about a "crumhorn" workshop in Albany. Local musician and farmer, a white bearded avuncular, John Bush, entered on the first morning of our residency workshop with the intention of making a... crumhorn... I think it's fair to say not everyday you get a request like this in a community workshop. To compress the story, after much nashing of teeth, we didn't run with the crumhorn idea. But we did stay rather left field by making we made a consort of three different sized pvc clarinets to perform a renaissance pavanne and galliard in our Albany concert (with John, his daughter, Caryn and Basil Schur). In later years I did manage to make a crumhorn of sorts - in truth not a terribly distinguished instrument. But then again, this could be said of the crumhorn itself - something of cut-de-sac of wind instrument invention, now consigned to the dustbin of history (almost).  Nonetheless, I think JB would have approved of my achievement.

The glue for AC/PVC was humour. Often it ran thick and fast in our surburban Innaloo (a pun in itself, given the nature of our instruments) workshop with liberal doses of the absurd. Peter and I shared complimentary, if different, skills and it was this heady mix of the practical and the instinctual that generated sustained creative bursts between us. The combination of humour,  imagination and Peter great construction skills came to the fore in our 1989 Feats Underground concert at the Fly By Night Club, Fremanle. it was his  preposterous idea to construct a transparent waterproof tent on stage housing an internal sprinkler system (inspired by his sketches) into which we would enter to play our grand finale piece. The musicians entered the tent dressed in raincoats and caps to play an ensemble of thoroughly water soaked instruments, including a two-meter high bass drum with transparent plastic head and the all-pvc A-Frame marimba (see opposite), as well as a miscellany of small plastic wind instruments. The combination of the skilfully located lighting and water ricochetting off the large drum and marimba as we played created a truly startling! This was Water music at its best... if you can Handel that.


Because of a busy touring schedule, in sometimes remote areas, we set ourselves other challenges, such as, how to create locking mechanisms to assist with assembling and disassembling some of our larger instruments. We needed durability, so we engaged engineer colleague, Clive Jarman, to design tensioning, clamping and quick-release mechanisms. These are the challenges you face when turning a one-off event into a touring show. Clive's inventions, adaptations and tweaking were seminal to this latter phase of our instrument building.

AC/PVC staged four major concerts events during its short tenure. The opening two Evos concerts, AC/PVC in Concert, were staged at the Princess May Theatre, Fremantle, November 6 & 7, 1987. Cain & Keelan were supported by Indian percussionist, Raman, and contemporary dancer/choreographer, Jean Tally. The second, New Executions, comprised a week long season at the historic Roundhouse, Fremantle, April 5 -10, 1988, in collaboration with Still Moves Dance Company and percussionist, Ron Reeves. 

This show almost didn't happen. During rehearsal two representatives from the Health Department did an inspection of our stage setup and insisted that we have a second exit in the building. The Roundhouse, being an historic jail, only has one entry and exit. Short of using the historic canon adjacent the building to create a second, this was an impossible demand that nigh threatened the closure of our shows. It was only thanks to Ken Posney, then Community Development Officer with the City of Fremantle, that a solution was found... wait for it... to create a scaffolding ladder over the 5-meter high Roundhouse wall - an absurd, costly (thanks again to KP for accessing the funds) and totally unnecessary fixture constructed to appease two power-drunk government officials. Happily, those shows were a great success, despite the occasional late night drunk seizing the opportunity to scale the scaffolding.

Our third concert series, Feats Underground, was held at the Fly By Night Club, Fremantle, September 29 to October 2, 1998. This was an augmented group with Reeves, singer and percussionist, Kerry Fletcher, drummer, Aiden D'Adhemar and Broken Hill painter, Clark Barrett, creating real time Hokusai canvasses and Blue Poles revisions during the concert. Our staging also  featured the aforementioned transparent waterproof tent and overhead sprinkler system designed by Peter.

The final concert, AC/PVC at the Ozone, December 9, 1990 presented an augmented lineup with members of Nova Ensemble: David Pye, Neil Craig, Paul Tanner, Amanda Dean and trombonist (yes, that trombone!), Andrew Raymond.


AC/PVC held artist in residency projects in Albany/Denmark, 1988; Wanneroo [Limestone Connection] 1989, Northam 1988 & 1989  and toured the Pilbara & Kimberley, Pipe Dreams Tour, 1989 with Still Moves Dance Company (Jean Tally, Beverley Greig and Claudia Alessi), including a performance at the Kulan Island. The group also performed at the Darwin Bouganvillea Festival, 1990. Between 1987 & 1990 AC/PVC performed in many, many schools and communities around the state. A huge thanks to all the musicians who performed with AC/PVC including Ron Reeves, Paul Tanner, Dipaunka Macredes, Andrew Raymond, Gary Ridge, Pepe Fiore, Kerry Fletcher, Aiden D'Adhemar and the many people who came to our workshops and participated in our community performances. 

It seems apocryphal these days that vastly more people know/knew of AC/PVC than ever saw our shows... "I remember AC/PVC !!"...  It's comforting to know that those memories linger, but there is also something in a good name, I think! 

AC/PVC: Doing more for music than Bach did for Plumbing!


What reviewers said:

"In all my long years of concert going, I have rarely come across a group like AC/PVC, who not only clearly derive immense pleasure from their performance but succeed in communicating that to their listeners"

Neville Cohn, The West Australian, July 1989

" enegetic and rhythmically vital performance" 

Lindsay Vickery, The West Australian, September 1988

"In the skilled and imaginative hands of Peter Keelan, Mark Cain and Ron Reeves, the orchestra of PVC tubing has an astonishing range of mood and sound"

Terry Owen, The West Australian, April 1988

"It was a wonderful array of imaginative sound by three musicians who were as entertaining as they were technically skilled" 

David Hough, The Australian, April 1988


Visit Peter Keelan's website

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time coil