Composer | Sound Artist
Kevan Atkins is a composer, sound artist, and engineer. His practice has grown out of an interest in the intersections between technology, stories, ideas, materials, and process, realised through diverse collaborations, new works and supporting work within the community.
Drawing on his theatrical background, his concert works are often centred around physicality and space, often leveraging the deformation of bodies and instruments, such as in Legionnaire (2014) for solo contrabass. His fixed-media works have been presented in across a variety of mediums including radio broadcast, digital distribution and installations, including the two-hour work, Band-Pass Love Poem presented at the artist-run festival, Love/City III: The PLANETARY in 2016. These works frequently draw on his software development and electronics background involving bespoke software and hardware.
Kevan carries this practice into his collaborations with a diverse range of performers and composers, drawing on his background to help them realise often unusual ideas that might be difficult or impossible with conventional, off-the-shelf means. His work within the music community also includes live concert recording, web development, building installations, teaching, curation, and organising events, including his work as production manager for the festival and academy Tilde New Music and Sound Art, in which he has been able to engage with many of his interests.
Earthquakes Behind Closed Doors
Inharmonicity Study 1
Down Dangerous Passes Road
The Fence In Its Thousandth Year
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestComposer/Sound Designer | La Trobe Student Theatre
2012 production directed by Jessica Zoch.
Bed FortComposer/Sound Designer | Michael Liparota
Written and Directed by Michael Liparota.
After one too many sleepless nights, an insomniac man discovers a portal to his own imagination. But, his reliance on using the Bed Fort begins to negatively affect his day to day life.
Cast Zac Lombardo Hilary Cole
The Fence In Its Thousandth YearComposer/Sound Designer | La Trobe Student Theatre
Written by Howard Barker
Directed by Bob Pavlich
As part of the Northcote Town Hall 2012 season
The Fence is a violent, comic, sexually provocative epic about scandal in a ruling monarchy and its subsequent fall from power.
Set in a world of rising frontiers and illegal immigration, the fence of the title is both a physical barrier between peoples and also a metaphor for the forbidden with all its transgressive attraction.
Written by one of England’s most provocative dramatists, The Fence makes a thought-provoking contribution to the debates surrounding one of the great social crises of our times.
Down Dangerous Passes RoadComposer/Sound Designer | Grounded Astronaut Theatre
Written by Michel Marc Bouchard
Directed by Sean Scanlon
Assistant Director: Libbee King
Three estranged brothers are brought together by tragedy. What happened to their father fifteen years ago, and why does it plague the siblings still? A look at the cruelness, brutality and tenderness that we’re capable of.
EdmundComposer/Sound Designer | Glynn Cathcart
Writer/Director: Glynn Cathcart
Stars: Damian Hill, Seán Scanlon, Madeline Ferme
A delicate look at a young man with a body complex and his inability to change.
The GateMusic Consultant/Sound Designer | Monash University Performing Arts
Bachelor of Performing Arts: Second Year Production @ Drama Centre, Monash University
Directed by Anne Browning
Written by Peter Houghton
A city teeters on the verge of anarchy. Inside, authorities attempt to tighten their control against the threat of foreign invasion. Outside, a motley group of criminals and dissidents wait for a trial that never comes – but of what are they guilty? If these outcasts can infiltrate the city walls, they can destroy the record of their crimes and perhaps, begin again. A comedy about legacy, guilt and honour in a world on the edge of darkness, The Gate reunites an award-winning writer-director team for the premiere of a new Australian play.
Anne Browning has directed several shows for MTC, Malthouse Theatre and Red Stitch, including the 2012 tour of Melissa Bubnic‘s Stop. Rewind. In 2013, she will direct Dorothy Hewett’s Man from Mukinupinfor La Trobe University and A Guide to Unhappiness by Sunny Leunig and Jono Burns for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
The piece explores the idea of recursion by taking a recording of a sound, performing with it, recording that performance in the space and then performing with that recording. At the centre of the piece is a MaxMSP patch which takes the sound, chops it into smaller slices that can be played back individually and treats them with formant filters. Those slices can in-turn be chopped and manipulated as well. All of these actions are performed according to directions given by the performance score.
This concept has itself gone through many iterations, although the patch has not changed that much. Inspired by Alvin Lucier’s work, I’m Sitting in a Room (1969), this piece expands on the idea of using recursive processes to transform a sound by obscuring the original sound more aggressively and quickly with alterations to rhythm, duration, pitch and the use of the filters. The duration of the piece can be anywhere between a minute and however long the performer desires. As each iteration of the piece comes around, the sound is completely transformed as the new sound being manipulated is extracted from the performance of the previous sound.
For solo contrabass. ‘Légionnaires, vous êtes faits pour mourir, je vous envoie là où on meurt’, which translates to: ‘Legionnaires, you are made for dying, I will send you where you can die’; the infamous words of French Foreign Legion general, Oscar de Négrier as he addressed his troops in 1894. The character of the legionnaire has become synonymous with extreme resilience in the face the most unforgiving and cruel circumstances. Among the ranks, De Négrier’s words are not considered fatalistic but are issued as a challenge to the legionnaire. The piece explores both the character of the legionnaire and the cruel conditions of war by drawing parallels with not only through the sound of the instrument but also the performer themselves.
Legionnaire is a glimpse into the gruesome demise of a soldier as he loses his limbs one by one in battle, which is portrayed through the loss of strings on the instrument as the performer detunes each string completely throughout the piece until ultimately one remains for the final section. But in true legion spirit, both the solider and the performer must fight on, no matter how hard it becomes, right to the end. A number of techniques are employed to evoke the front. Some are more direct, such as the use of snap pizzicato for gunshots and bow overpressure for the roar of fighter jets overhead. While some are more metaphorical, such as the quiet molto sul. ponticello tremolo and the use of temporal silence to evoke the stillness between the episodes of unrelenting brutality.
- Solo violoncello
- Analogue dictaphone
- Loop recording and playback system
Duration: Four minutes
- Keaghan Kennedy (cello)
- David Weaver (electronics)
In the most intimate recesses of the mind, desires, impulses and fears stir and unsettle. They can collectively propel us forward with ambition or they pull us inward to find comfort. At their extremes, they can be positively transformative but they can also be devastatingly destructive. Part 1 of the trilogy, Body Turned Traitor explores this latter extreme through the eyes of a young woman battling severe depression.
Desperate for help, she is prescribed stronger medication, but it only makes it worse. In the sound world of this work, the strings groan and fluctuate rapidly between pitches and timbres, often unintentionally, as her body revolts. The image is distorted further as she struggles to hold onto the last thread of reality, sounds come and go, superimpose on one another and become alien as they are stretched and compressed. The others become disembodied. Even the most re-assuring voices become static emanating from a plastic box. The work reflects the internal dissonance as the cello is pitted against the live looping and the Dictaphone.
Every sound aside from the voices recorded on the Dictaphone is produced either live or as a manipulation of live material that has been recorded earlier in the performance. Beyond playback speed and volume, no other parameters are manipulated.
Inharmonicity Study 1Composer
It began as an ongoing study into physical objects and their imperfections when they produce sound. However, naturally as a part of the process of exploration, I did not entirely adhere to that brief and the piece has expanded into exploring frontier between synthetic sounding sounds and natural sounding sounds as well as indeterminate processes.
This particular version is was built in Supercollider, which allowed me to create procedure-based, dynamic signal flows using standard programming control structures. This granted me a great deal of flexibility when it came to exploring the emergent complexities that arise from physical sound sources, which are the result of many events happening at once inside an object.
This study was initially based on the sound of gongs from the Gamelan tradition, both struck and bowed. The first version was all one texture and was actually written to help put my two year old niece to sleep. The piece is never the same in terms of its micro structures, yet the character of gesture is very clearly defined by specific parameters that determine durational ranges, frequency ranges, levels of inharmonicity between partials, spatialisation, volume and envelope.
Earthquakes Behind Closed DoorsComposer/Performer
An improvisation for piano and live electronics. This track is entirely live. The only editing is the courtesy top and tail.
I had a blocked nose and it felt like my brain was trying to escape. So I tried to push it back in with sound. Then it kind of grew in to a work.
There’s not much to this one. Most of the sound comes from the resonant filters ran through various forms of granular processing. I also played with a bit of ambisonic binaural encoding to make it feel like some of the sounds were flying past the head. I use two sound sources to excite the filters and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
- Playing around with a contact mic by itself.
- Some low register noodling on the Rhodes Mk I.
Lullabies is a series fixed media works that I am releasing as an album. The project started from a generative ambient works which I put together to help myself get to sleep. This series of works explores my insomnia through different lenses. Initially the music served as a treatment, but then it grew into a reflection on the experience of insomnia and the kinds of things that would keep me awake.
Released June 2016.
I was going through my various field recordings that I’d collected over the past two years and I found a bunch from my trip to Geneva which brought back a lot of memories. So I thought I’d do a piece reflecting that time. Not all the samples are from that trip, in fact mostly not. This is more a reflection rather than a documentation of the trip through sound. I felt very welcome there and I was lucky enough to be put up in a composer friend’s apartment for the weekend. Amongst the knick knacks in the apartment were many scores and instruments. In the mornings I spent a lot of time on the harpsichord that he had in there to start the day, I’d roam around, go to concerts, meet people and end the day with a night out at Cave 12.
- A fire pit
- Harpischord plucked behind the bridge.
- Various outdoor atmos.
- A siren going off in the Paris Métro
FFT Grain Meditation
A looping granular texture generated from a small sample from a recorded improvisation. As the piece progresses the pitch is modulated very slowly with an increasing amplitude using a FFT-based pitch shift. Although the pitch material is the same relatively, the shifts across a four octave range effectively emphasize different pitches in the loop depending non-linearities in sound reproduction and perception.
- A single, struck singing bowl note
Awake in the Other Room
A nod to Brian Eno’s work in the late 70s, early 80s. The piece is a 25% speed version version of one of my piano improvisations, which has been stretched, compressed, pitch-shifted and resampled multiple times. I originally had it stretched out to over 4 hours. Finally I compressed it back to 30 minutes and used spectral treatments and distortion to shape it into a piece.
Band-Pass Love Poem
Band-pass Love Poem is a sound work that traces the evolution of the subject’s awareness amongst the chaos of an unforgiving and indifferent universe. As the conscious subjects evolve they fall in love with their surroundings. They find the hidden songs embedded in the what is fundamentally cosmic noise.
Over its two hour duration, the dense, chaotic texture of the wave-shaping and distortion treatments on a set of low sine tones is gradually transformed as though the narrow of a band-pass filter to isolate the high-order overtones of the sound, revealing the hidden melodies that are otherwise masked psycho-acoustically.
- Geneva (7’02”)
- FFT Grain Meditation (13’46”)
- Awake in the Other Room (29’04”)
- Band-Pass Love Poem (2h)
Composition, production, piano, singing bowl : Kevan Atkins
Mastering: Nick Di Lorenzo @ Panorama Mastering
I was in the hospital recently for 3 days while taking a part in medical research. Every corner of the place was filled with the cold white fluorescent light and all the features were stark and plain. I remember everything in my visual field demanding an equal amount of attention or apathy. I remember it putting my into this heightened state of unrelenting awareness, sometimes bordering on edginess while simultaneously feeling incredibly tired.
When I came in, it seemed to be just the right combination tiredness and nervousness to make me hyper productive. I would pass the time do lots of live coding and processing on my laptop while I was being tested. I remember manipulating the sounds of the hospital and laughing as I twisted the voice of the nurse telling me I need to lie flat to take my vitals and blood. I pulled it all together in one big session and in about 4 hours, I had this all chopped up, mixed and mastered.
Gisbert Watty - Guitar
Luciano Tristano - Flute
Performed at Monash University Prato Centre in 2016
The piece draws on the psychoanalytical concept of the gaze, a state of anxiety that a subject develops upon the realisation that one can be seen by others and with that too, the loss of autonomy, particularly with women in contemporary Western culture. Its distillation into media and literature has become its apparatus through to castrate women by presenting them, as Mulvey puts it “(passive) raw material for the (active) male gaze”.
The Tuscan ballads from the 14th century from Landini’s Ballata particularly strike me immediately as an early example of the male gaze passivating its female subject in this body of work, in this case quite aggressively. This piece is my tongue-in-cheek response, consisting of two sections. The first using material generated from a cipher of an English translation of Landini’s Non dò la colp’ a te, the second as a response, from a poem by Reddit user Poem for your Sprog. The ciphers were then divided at each word boundary and each word treated as its own pitch set.
Although the processes are similar in both sections, I tried to distort the materials to contrast the two sections and also match them better to the character of the underlying text. The first section, a distorted, lyrical send up of the ballad prolonging moments diatonicism and sparse phrasing; the second section, a loud, percussive, and callous.
Landini – Non dò la colp’
I do not blame you for the pain I feel,
only your eyes which have killed me.
Nature has given you the splendour of exceptional beauty,
which is to your great benefit,
but is also to the great torment of your servant,
who looks at you and dies for your loveliness.
From your beautiful eyes emanates the charm
which subtly has conquered my mind and heart.
I do not blame you
translation: Lucy E. Cross
Poem for your Sprog - Untitled
He stated his feelings.
I kindly declined.
‘What is it?’ he argued -
‘I’m nice,’ he opined.
‘I’m friendly. I’m funny.
I’m caring. I share.
I’m loyal and thoughtful,
And this isn’t fair.’
I nodded politely,
And looked for an out.
‘So why don’t you like me?’
He said with a pout.
‘You owe me an answer -
A text or a call -
You ought to be grateful
I asked you at all.’
‘You won’t get another -
Don’t throw this away.’
He smiled at me, selfless:
‘So what do you say?’
I pondered a moment
And thought with a sigh -
Then changed my answer
To ‘fuck off and die.’
Judith Hamann - Cello Lizzy Welsh - Viola Natasha Conrau - Violin II Graham Jennings - Violin I ____________
The recording of Escape To… was first performed by Argonaut Quartet at the fifth edition of Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music on September 2, 2017, www.bifem.com.au
Live Recording and Mix by Myles Mumford and Jem Savage
For other BIFEM recordings go to thebifemarchive.bandcamp.com
This work is part protest piece and part ode to the unique aesthetics and idiosyncrasies of the virtualised, digital hyperreality that we inhabit as contemporary subjects. With the death of John Perry Barlow in February of 2018, I felt even more compelled to create this piece.
On February 8th, 1996, John Perry Barlow, the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation published his seminal paper, A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. The paper was a direct response to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was the first legislation that sought, among other things, to regulate the Internet and its content. Barlow’s paper presents a revolutionary vision of the Internet, where ideas and information can be freely exchanged and that the Internet can self-regulate under its own sovereignty rather than through government. The paper opens:
“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”
22 years on, the digital landscape has changed significantly and the fight for online freedom continues as issues of copyright, net neutrality, data collection, privacy and regulation are fought out between governments, corporations and users alike.
Int_rf.renCe reflects these issues in its structures and processes. The primary material of this work is a recording of John Perry Barlow reading A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. The speech exists almost in its entirety in this piece and yet none of it is decipherable. The speech recording underwent a number of different processes to fragment the material and reorganise it, in effect censoring the speech through fragmentation and layering.
In the first section, the primarily voiced parts of syllables and words were edited out leaving only the sibilants, plosives, glottal stops and tails as well as breaths and background noise. Various thresholds were applied to retain different durations between the words and syllables which could be extracted. The removed material was gathered together, time-stretched and layered forming all of the pitch material in this section in the form of various drone-like textures. The speech plays a major role in every aspect of this section, not just in terms of the sound objects from it that furnish this section but also elements of the structure and the effects processing itself. Elements such as breaths and background noise from the recording were used as impulse responses to create the reverbs in this piece.
The second section starkly contrasts the material in the first section. Here glitch art methodologies of sonification and data-moshing contribute to its distinctly digital aesthetic. Various raw digital data was read as PCM audio to create a large library digital sounds which form the primary material of this section including a PDF of the entire text of the paper itself, which was also sonified and used in the piece. This section is also the only instance where sections of the recording are played in order without editing, but are distorted through spectral processing and aggressive downsampling as another form of censorship.
The final section combines materials of the first and second sections, reconciling the aggressively digital sound world with the distinctly human vocal sounds.
Tilde New Music Week
January 13 - 18