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25 February 2021

Clocked Out - now and then

Clocked Out: Erik Griswold and Vanessa Tomlinson. Image: Clocked Out: Erik Griswold and Vanessa Tomlinson.  

Clocked Out's Vanessa Tomlinson looks back at the 12 years the Duo has served as Ensemble in Residence at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. This period was brought to conclusion last October, with a stocktake revealing an impressive breadth and depth of activity.

On 9 October 2020, Clocked Out performed our 41st and final concert as Ensemble in Residence (EiR) at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University: Lonely Hearts Pandemic Band, an online collaboration with Mexican percussionist Evaristo Aguilar. Our first in-residence concert was back in 2008, an event called All Vinko: The Theatre of Music, which examined the performative sound world of Vinko Globokar, with wind quintet, solos, percussion quartet; engaging with students, staff and Brisbane-based musicians. Over the intervening twelve years, on the lands of the Jagera and Turrbul peoples, we produced over 30 world premieres, made collaborative concerts with 13 Australian composer/improvisers, 10 international artists, 2 international ensembles and 7 Australian ensembles; Australian Art Orchestra, Topology, Speak Percussion, The Australian Voices, Kurilpa String Quartet, Continuum Sax and Early Warning System. It is hard to quantify, but I believe we brought to life over 1,500 minutes of new never-before-heard music.

Co-directors Erik Griswold and I are both doctoral graduates of the University of California, San Diego music department, notable in this context because, in that institution, art mirrors science. The role of art at UCSD is to look forward, to research into the unknown and to take risks. It is probably no surprise that Clocked Out chose to use the EiR platform to try out new ideas, make lots of new music, and take risks, while embedding activities to enhance student learning experiences. This was then shared for the benefit of Brisbane audiences, with ripple effects across the country and, indeed, the world.

Clocked Out have enormous local, national and international reach through presentation of festivals, tours, collaborations and their signature events Easter at the Piano Mill, The Listening Museum, Amazing Women plus the EiR program. The following reflections focus only on the 41 concerts presented at Queensland Conservatorium, a small but important part of how we generate ideas and maintain creativity. Making these events has served as the creative engine room of our individual and ensemble practice. With the benefit of hindsight, this article will look back over these events, identifying themes in our work, changes in approach as we explore presentation of pre-composed work, collaborations with performers, collaborations with composers, collaboration with improvisers, and collaborations with performer/composer/improvisers.

Clocked Out Duo

Central to this series is the ongoing sonic investigations of Clocked Out Duo; exploring intersections of rhythm and timbre, primarily through prepared piano, percussion and toy instruments. In 2015 Time Crystals received its Brisbane premiere, and has gone on to have a recording released, international tours and international airplay over the past six years. Other duo world premieres such as Dingo Kisses, Wake Up! (featured in the 2011 Art Music Awards ceremony) and Restless Times have generated new musical directions, recording opportunities and performance outlets. Wake Up! - the concert - was an opportunity to collaborate with some of our favourite Brisbane artists - Joel Stern, Lawrence English, Nicolas Ng and movement artist Jan Baker-Finch.

The Duo arranged and extended work for a collaborative recording with Topology, featuring the album launch From Small Things Grow, and performed Tomlinson's work Sonic Dreams using experimental improvisational practices to explore imagined sounds of now-extinct soundscapes.

Found Objects

Since the mid-2000s I have had a particular and deep interest in found objects, drawing upon and extending the well-documented principles of John Cage and various folk music traditions. My performance practice refined playing techniques and nuance with these objects, first documented in Foreign Objects, where the prepared piano is actually tuned to the found objects, creating a kind of hyper-extended singular instrument. A performance called Dedications, was poetically reviewed by Janet Mackay, who was also a featured guest artist In Patterns of Shade (2015). Dingo Kisses, and Fish Boast of Fishing benefited from this found object language, and the use of prepared instruments and found objects with Jim Denley was beautifully captured in our collaboration.

Opera of Objects excerpts - Clocked Out with Cathy Milliken (2018).

Object investigation was most deeply integrated in a performative and compositional sense in the Clocked Out and Cathy Milliken collaboration Opera of Objects. Using 15 objects as the principal material, and text by Craig Foltz, the evolutionary sonic and storied language of these particular objects became the musical energy for the composition. This ongoing project has challenged ideas of single authorship, text-based scores, and open-ended compositional frameworks.


Beyond the specific world of found objects, Clocked Out have an enduring interest in percussion more generally, evidenced in many of the EiR programs. Early Warning System - a Brisbane-based percussion group co-directed by me - presented the Australian premiere of John Luther Adam's Strange and Sacred Noise, connecting Clocked Out's interest in place and percussion. Early Warning System were also the feature ensemble in the collaboration Tim Munro with Clocked Out, playing Anthony Pateras's The Lost Compass, and in Clocked Out & Anthony Pateras collaboration All your Nightmares at Once. These works were recorded and released on Immediata. Also exploring percussion with Anthony Pateras was, Tamtam+ (a co-composition Pateras/Tomlinson), and performances by BaDaBoom Percussion of Transmutations.

The largest single contribution to percussion in the EiR series was 8 Hits, featuring the world premiere of eight new solo percussion works I commissioned as part of an Australia Council Project Fellowship from Rosemary Joy, Peter Knight, Kate Neal, Vanessa Tomlinson, Lindsay Vickery, Cat Hope, Natasha Anderson and Erik Griswold.

Percussion students at the institution had opportunities to play in many of these concerts, memorably the percussion quartet of Nicole Lizée (2016) with the composer herself on turntables, the world premiere of Terry Longshore's Kangaroopak (2015), 1,000 Gongs (2010) curated by Michael Askill, performing with pianist Lisa Moore (A wolfe in the mangroves), and developing new work with composer Erkki Veltheim (2017).

The Piano

Exploring outer possibilities of the piano has been a major theme of the EiR series over the years. Michael Kieran Harvey, Arabella Teniswood-Harvey, and Clocked Out (2019) worked to create a program full of new works for various combinations of three pianos, toy piano and percussion. Our 2016 collaboration with Anthony Pateras saw the premiere of Out of heart of light for two pianos, exploring acoustical phenomena of the medium.

Prepared piano has been an elemental sound of Clocked Out for so long that 'unprepared' piano now sounds somehow out of place, or even subversive. Our program, in 2016, with Lisa Moore highlighted this striking contrast by alternating prepared and unprepared works. Four Places in Queensland (2009), a series of musical landscapes for ''unprepared' piano that Griswold composed for Stephen Emmerson, Anna Grinberg, and Liam Viney, relies instead on the diverse styles of the pianists to create colour and contrast. Certainly the most ambitious exploration was 84 Pianos (2017), in which we simultaneously sounded every piano in the Queensland Conservatorium, in-situ, to explore the acoustics of the building, highlight the architecture and density of instruments. This work was transformed during Covid to 84 Pianos - Pandemic Edition (2020 - read also article on Resonate) with pianists performing from their home studios around Australia and the world, sounding the wires that connect us, live-mixed by Leah Barclay with live video mix from Greg Harm.

The Environment

Place-based investigations of sound have been important to Clocked Out since their first site-based work Sounding Wivenhoe (2007) - which preceded the EiR performances. Sounding the Condamine (2008) was a site-based community event made as part of the Q150 celebration near the town of Condamine on Dogwood Creek, celebrating one of the icons of Queensland, the Condamine Bell. It was re-staged in the Ian Hanger Recital Hall at QCGU, attempting to evoke the landscape by incorporating, among other things, a giant pool of water, large tree stumps, and a cast of vocalists and instrumentalists acoustically spatialising sound. Grevilleas of Myall Park (2012) was also the re-staging of a bush project. Collaborating with The Australian Voices, Griswold composed 15 miniatures celebrating the particularities of different species of grevilleas at Myall Park Botanic Gardens, out near Roma, 4 hours west of Brisbane.

Clocked Out's collaboration with Richard Nunns (2008) included site-based daily improvisations in Nudgee, Mt Coot-tha and Coombabah Wetlands as preparation for performance. Clocked Out with Ecosono (Matthew Burtner and Glenn Whitehead USA - 2016) saw the musicians travel to Lake Cootharaba for a week-long immersion in the sound of place. Together we made new compositions - individually and collectively - premiered the work at QCGU and then toured the concert to Vivid Festival, COMA series in Adelaide and on to MONA.

Fairweather - The Raft.

Jim Denley's visit piqued the interest of a number of improvising musicians through both environmental and found object/extended instrument investigations, and we took the collaboration inside and outside in more ways than one. Preparation for our trio concert the essential thing is the breath involved daily improvisation in our home studio, as well as sessions at Mt. Coot-tha nature reserve and a nearby cemetery. All three of us were somewhat surprised to discover many striking parallels between Jim's work (both solo and with the Splinter Orchestra) and our own Clocked Out projects in terms of site-specific music making.

Our place-led work included projects like Fairweather, a musical portrait of artist Ian Fairweather, for whom environment was paramount. He famously set off on a raft from Darwin, and later lived out his life in a bush shack on Bribie Island, just north of Brisbane. This work was composed by Griswold for string quartet and koto, with libretto and narration by Rodney Hall. A working methodology for Soundings evolved out of many of these collaborative ventures, providing the curatorial tools to be able to mount The Piano Mill events - a central and ongoing part of the Clocked Out calendar.

Rethinking Place

The intersection of sound, movement and acoustic space is another theme in Clocked Out's EiR output. Vibrations in an Architecture (2016) for 15 percussionists was presented as the opening of the Australian Percussion Gathering and sought to investigate visual qualities of sound in the foyer of QCGU. Using rolls of fabric, lengths of ropes tethering bass drummers together over 15 metres, swinging gongs and a sea of cymbals, this collaborative composition (Tomlinson/Griswold) sounded the space. Clocked Out and Simone De Haan (2017) sought to sound the same space in a very different way, juxtaposing ideas about proximity, intimacy, and communication. Working with De Haan was a dream come true, bringing a musical sensibility of listening and community that was incredibly rewarding. Together we created an immersive sonic experience in the large space of the conservatorium foyer, mobilising trombonists around the foyer balconies, music boxes playing into audience ears, a play-off between solo trombone and tamtam, and choir of bowed cymbals.

Triangle Heaven also fits into this series of exploring site. This work invited the audience on to the Conservatorium Theatre stage and used the theatre infrastructure as the set for the piece - marimbas and xylophones scattered on fly towers, the rope mechanisms of the theatre used as vibrations and sounds, the lighting croft used to house 10 triangle players over 20 metres above the audience. These kinds of experiments are not readily accessible without the infrastructure of an institution like QCGU. Head Technical Officer Cameron Hipwell was actively involved with the development of the work, and is credited as co-composer.

Art - Science - Technology

Another ongoing theme sits between sound, science and technology. Beginning with David Chesworth (2010), we began examining performative interfaces between sonic phenomena and technology. I remember swinging large speakers around my head to create different speed sound dispersement, something that we further developed with Erkki Veltheim in Waves and particles (2017), exploring the perceptual boundary between pitch and rhythm.

Conjuring Sound with Erkki Veltheim (2017).

In that concert we also began looking more closely at kinetic phenomena, introducing bass drum vibration systems in Drifting Sand and Liquid Amber. This again was building on my early work Practice, and Peter Knight's composition for 8 Hits Make Them Dance, all using the bass drum as a sympathetic resonant surface. Thinking about vibrations unfurled one step further, leading to the Hidden Sounds project, funded by the Australia Council, which sought to automate spinning speakers in Scatter, extend contact mic/metal vibrations and highlight the beauty of moving sand on bass drums. This project then toured to World Science Festival, Tyalgum Festival and the Listening Museum - another ongoing Clocked Out celebration of sound that began in the laboratory of the Ensemble-in-Residence program.

Composer Portraits

Composer portrait concerts were a feature of the early in-residence events including the Globokar event, After the Kingfishers Wing (the music of Erik Griswold for various ensembles), Nicole Lizee and The Australian Art Orchestra (including a world premiere) and the Anthony Pateras portrait concert. Each of these concerts gave the broader conservatorium staff and student body a chance to engage with the composers, their music and their approach over a week of open rehearsals, lectures and workshops.

In more recent years we refined our collaborative process, choosing to work with musicians who, like us, straddle the composer, performer, improviser boundaries. Collaboration with Lindsay Vickery explored the Decibel Scoreplayer, re-mounted compositions from 8 Hits, and new site-inspired works Kurui and Willsons Downfall. With Mary Oliver (violin/viola) we were introduced to compositions of Misha Mengelberg known to Mary through 20+ years performing with Instant Composers Pool in the Netherlands. The set list evolved from a week of immersion, exploring and extending our individual practice until we found a collective voice. Similarly, Cat Hope came to our collaboration with sketches of a new work Our House is on Fire, workshopped and premiered alongside my new work Heavy Stop and a new extended band piece by Griswold, Carcasses of Angels. Together we developed a new sound world, approaches to playing and generated new repertoire. Likewise, The Lost Art of Listening with Hilary Kleinig featured the world premiere of Eulogy for a sea star (2020).

Double In-Residence

For the 2018-2020 seasons, Clocked Out were fortunate to be able to mount repeat performances of every QCGU collaboration at Lagavulin - the concert venue at The Piano Mill, Willsons Downfall, NSW, where Clocked Out are also ensemble-in-residence. Each collaborative concert in Brisbane had Lagavulin performances the following day, bringing new, cutting-edge collaborations to the Granite Belt audiences. With seating limited to 30, these events had a very relaxed vibe, making room for informal Q&A sessions after the concerts, and giving the musicians a second outing for the works. Notable world premieres that reflected the specificity of place included Linsday Vickery's work Willson's Downfall, using a topographical map of the Boonoo Boonoo River as a score which was projected for the audience to experience.

In Covid Times

Like everyone else, we had to navigate through new territory in 2020 - but we forged on with our in-residence series, continuing our experimental methodology by using these opportunities as professional development and making two very unique works.

Lonely Hearts Pandemic Band - Clocked Out with Evaristo Aguilar (2020).

Scissors Paper Revox is a work made with Peter Knight, using Audio Movers, and a mixture of live performance and pre-recorded materials, realised in a real-time livestream of the event. The Lonely Hearts Pandemic Band was made with Evaristo Aguilar (with guest composer Rosemary Joy), and was pre-made for broadcast, drawing on a series of additive recordings and challenges mounted by different members of the ensemble, e.g. 'Record yourself walking 100 metres away from and toward your house. Find a yellow object and photograph that object to the N, S, E, W outside your house.'

Drawing on new technologies and new collaborative practices, the blurring of individual roles entangled composition, interpretation and improvisation. Both works used iterative working processes, starting with a single idea and being transformed through additive processes. Because of time delays and distance these projects were less about consensus moderation and more about acceptance and creative challenges.

The Documentation Team

From 2008 - 2013 Clocked Out were fortunate to work with the amazing photographer, set designer and costume designer Sharka Bosakova who contributed much to the documentation of Clocked Out events. Simon Wearne provided cinematography in 2008-2014, and, from 2015 onwards, the team at Tangible Media, led by Greg Harm, have become integral to the workings of Clocked Out. This has led to a series of concert-length videos of many of the performances - using YouTube and Vimeo as the primary source of documentation and dissemination of work. This body of work is available on the Clocked Out YouTube Channel.

In Conclusion

The remit of the ensemble-in-residence, mutually agreed upon by various school and Clocked Out directors, was to enhance the QCGU concert calendar and the curriculum, bridging the sometimes siloed music education streams of Western art music, composition, jazz and technology. From Clocked Out's perspective we celebrated experimenting with sound, using the opportunity to set up a laboratory of learning, constantly setting new challenges, changing formats for the dissemination of ideas, and keeping a constant flow of national and international guests. Being in-residence provided a platform to bring into the institution ideas and collaborators and contribute out something special to Brisbane and beyond. Related to all this, Clocked Out would like to acknowledge the support of former QCGU Directors Professor Peter Roennfeldt, Professor Huib Schippers and Professor Scott Harrison, and their amazing Board, chaired by Dr Jocelyn Wolfe.

The EiR program was one arm of Clocked Out's annual activities, which has now ended, after 12 years. I hope this article highlights the huge contribution to creativity and imagination that one ensemble can offer to both our immediate community and to Australian music, given resources, access to rehearsal spaces, instruments, expertise, technology and trust.

For now, Clocked Out continues. We are busy putting finishing touches on Easter at the Piano Mill 2021, planning a new project, Strange Art After Dark, combining rare and unusual wines with rare and unusual sounds. Erik Griswold continues composing - heading to Ukaria with Hilary Kleinig, working with Australian Art Orchestra on 1988, and watching from afar as Margaret Leng Tan performs Dragon Ladies at Singapore Festival. And I am busy composing for the world's largest-ever acoustic guitar (The Immersive Guitar) for Curiocity, putting finishing touches on a new site-specific collaboration with Lawrence English (Bleach Festival), continuing my fulltime job as Professor of New Music at Queensland Conservatorium, and so much more.

Clocked Out will continue to make, create, advocate and contribute to the Australian music scene.

Clocked Out timeline

The Art of Listening - with Hilary Kleinig (SA)
Rock, Paper, Revox - with Peter Knight (Vic)
The Lonely Hearts Pandemic Band - with Evaristo Aguilar (Mexico)

Clocked Out with Michael Kieran-Harvey and Arabella Teniswood Harvey (Tas)
Carcasses of Angels with Cat Hope (Vic)
Clocked Out with Mary Oliver (The Netherlands)
Triangle Heaven (Tomlinson, Griswold, Hipwell)

Opera of Objects with Cathy Milliken (Germany)
Delicious Ironies with Lindsay Vickery (Perth)
The essential gesture is the breath with Jim Denley (NSW)
Sonic Dreams (Tomlinson)

Clocked Out with Simone de Haan (Perth) and Anne LeBAron (USA)
Clocked Out with EcoSono (USA)
Conjuring Sound with Erkki Veltheim (Vic)
84 Pianos world premiere

Clocked Out with Nicole Lizée & Australian Art Orchestra (Canada/Aus)
Clocked Out with Lisa Moore (NY)
Clocked Out with Anthony Pateras (Germany)
Vibration in the Architecture

In Patterns of Shade with Janet McKay (QLD)
New Music of the Pacific Rim with Terry Longshore (USA)
Time Crystals (Clocked Out Duo)

8 Hits (solo percussion works by Rosemary Joy, Natasha Anderson, Cat Hope, Lindsay Vickery, Peter Knight, Erik Griswold, Kate Neal, Vanessa Tomlinson)
Dingo Kisses (Clocked Out Duo)
New York-Montreal Quartet (USA/Canada)

Fairweather (for Narrator, String Quartet and koto) Kurilpa String Quartet (QLD), Rodney Hall and Satsuki Odamura (NSW)
The Trilling Wire Mini-Fest with Peter Knight, Fish Boast of Fishing, Speak Percussion and Quadratic Contingency (Vic/QLD)
Coming Together with Early Warning System (QLD)

Strange and Sacred Noises with Early Warning System (QLD)
Grevilleas of Myall Park with The Australian Voices (QLD)
From Small Things Grow with Topology (QLD)
Prestidigitation with Adam Simmons (Vic)

Wake Up! with Jan Baker-Finch, Lawrence English, Nicholas Ng, and Joel Stern (QLD)
Dreams you might not come back from with Continuum Sax (NSW)
An Idyll of the Misbegotten with Timothy Munro (USA)

After the Kingfisher's Wing with Liam Viney, Janet Mackay, Rianne Wilshut, Graeme Jennings, John Addison, Vanessa Tomlinson (QLD)
1,000 Gongs
Touch Pause Engage with David Chesworth (Vic)

Mutant Theatre with Anthony Pateras (Germany)
Sounding the Condamine (QLD)
Four Places in Queensland - Stephen Emmerson, Anna Grinberg, Liam Viney (QLD)

All Vinko: The Theatre of Music
Clocked Out with Richard Nunns (NZ)
Foreign Objects - (Clocked Out Duo)


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