Phil Dadson: Digital Resonances


Gentle and unassuming, Phil’s presentation began with a tale from the Upanishads of a man, his son, some water and some salt. That physical substance which dissolves into transparency yet can be tasted in everything it touches. As analogous to a principle of the physical essence of being, it demonstrates that often strangely ephemeral sense we can tend to have of ourselves. This and other concepts of immateriality, apparent or otherwise, would echo through later discussions and questions – always haunted in some way by the question of how we see ourselves in the so-called ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ worlds.

Phil’s spoke of his work as being grounded in the physical. Yet his fascination with sound began with that most ephemeral of mediums, radio. As a boy buried beneath the bed covers, listening out for transmissions across the ocean from aliens and God, apparitions were provided in the form of the strangely remote voices of an American gospel outpost in the South American Andes, amongst others. Shortwave radio made it possible to grasp that there was a whole world out there, without leaving home.

Early works such as Earthworks experimented with global communication in realtime. Subsequent radio communication works, A.R.T. (amateur radio transmissions) for 8 ham radio stations, and Short & Medium Waves, a short-wave listening performance, struck collaborations with ham operators world wide, as well as with local artists such as performers Keiron Lyons, Bruce Barber and others. Around the same time as Earthworks (1971), he developed graphic score charts such as Blood & Bone and Play, both of which set the stage for investigations into rhythm. Works which I read as incorporating an in-built perception of our physical realities – tied to a rhythm of action and rest periods.

In what seems to have been a significant moment for Phil, another set of natural rhythms revealed itself during a quiet walk while visiting a lighthouse keeper friend. Coming across the croaking and clicking choruses of frogs, Phil listened to hear the waves grow louder and louder and then quiet – each time renewed by a single croak before the responses would build and bounce into a new cacophony. Nature signalling it’s need and attraction for it’s own kind. After a period of quiet, Dadson began adding his own croaks, initiating new waves of amphibian communications into what would soon become the evening air.

From these sensitivities to these natural rhythmic phenomena grew an interest in similar principles – different parts sounded by different players, performed so as to create a continuous line. A principle of rhythmic sound-making that Phil would later come to be able to name as ‘hocketing’. A system found throughout nature it is also therefore found in sound practices of cultures around the world.

Works shown included Footstep Hocket, the addictive rhythmic splicing of foot, shoe, gumboot and flipper stomping across a grid of a six monitor video monitor display in 1998 at Te Papa. Several video excerpts Global Hockets, as performed (also in 1998), at the Te Papa Theatre before the work travelled to many international sound and media art festivals. Something of an extravaganza media piece, the work was developed over approximately 18 months, and brought together collaborators such as the visual animation work of a Michael Saup of Supreme Particles and later Mike Hodgeson was brought in to assist on  refining the sampling and triggering technology involved. A German artist whose SGI-based animation work was co-joined with the audio performance only 3 weeks before it’s premiere. In an investigation of finding an interface between, humourous, noise and electronics, radio-controlled ‘scuttlebugs’ whizzed around the floor creating sounds from their little hardwired backpacks of CD players and speakers, while the four From Scratch musicians bopped and swayed about amongst a somewhat pre-industrial-looking set of drum-type of instruments. Included there were instruments viewable on Dadson’s sonicsfromscratch site such as the Drum Station, the Nunndrum as well as many others from Phil’s rich repertoire of unusual and invented instruments. These finely honed hocket-based performances had something of a shamanistic quality to them in the ecstatic energy, concentration, and stamina with which their alternating rhythmic consistencies are carried out. Accompanied by various visuals including details of images of slices through human bodies, Michael Saup’s graphics amongst others. A complex work, more details of this performance and those involved can be found here: <;.

Born from Stratch Orchestra, consisting of about 50 members, From Scratch usually consisted of about 3 to 4 members, and based many works around this nature-based principle of hocketing. Written on the whiteboard, Phil had inscribed the terms ‘Radiation, Reception and Reflection’. A rumination which in my current frame of mind I like to think about as a reflection on a way of relating to life within the biosphere of our shared planet. As Julian Priest had pointed out to me once, “All energy comes from the sun”. A striking realisation in terms of it’s ensuing provision of a relatively simple angle from which to understand the otherwise extremely complex webs of life, and our place in those systemic ecologies.

During final questions a current and ongoing work called BODYTOK was quietly revealed. In a refreshingly human and humorous approach, Phil has been gathering recordings from volunteers for some years now, of sounds unique to that person’s body. It might be the creak of a neck, a click of an elbow, a rattling jaw. Or maybe you have found you have resonating or radio-receptive teeth? Whatever specialties you have been developing, sign up now and gain your chance to be weaved into a rhythmic weft of bodily joy. With 80 recordings and the project already demonstration mode he may not be so far away so don’t be slow!

Trudy Lane

Phil Dadson / Sonics from Scratch

One Response to “Phil Dadson: Digital Resonances”

  1. 1 The SLENZ Update – No 111, July 08, 2009 « Second Life Education in New Zealand

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