Listening to Saltwater and Freshwater Country in the Sound Design of Kindred

Designing the sound for feature length documentary Kindred was a three year journey recording the voices of people and country with directors Adrian Russell Wills on Freshwater Country and Gillian Moody on Saltwater Country.

Port of Bourke, the Baaka in full flow 2021

Adrian’s shoot moved across Freshwater Country New South Wales following Adrian’s journey West from Sydney to Dubbo, Wilcannia, Broken Hill, Weilmoringle, Bourke and the ACT. From the outset the country was unusually wet, and as time progressed much of the country was in flood. On our last schedule the Barka (Darling River) was breaking it banks at Brewarrina and reaching its peak at Bourke and Wilcannia, the red sands around Broken Hill covered with grasses and flowers. I have worked in these areas before but I realised that the wet had transformed the sound of country. Previously the arid conditions had a particular sound like a soft white noise, the lack of vegetation meant that the wind had nothing to give it a voice, the birds also gathered around small areas where they could eat and drink. During the Kindred shoot I could not believe that I was listening to the same country, it was suddenly full of life, the wind howled through the leaves and grasses, and the bountiful birds sang with full voice.

Gillian’s shoot on Saltwater Country moved between Sydney’s Northern Beaches down through Nowra, Jervis Bay and Wreck Bay. The beaches and rugged coastlines of NSW have a sound which lies in contrast to the Western interiors. The unusually wet conditions brought out an abundance of bird and animal life during daylight hours. The dramatic topography of Wreck Bay means the community sits on-top of the cliffs and hills above the beaches and rocky coastline. The community’s lush forrest backdrop was buzzing with insects and birdlife creating a beautiful surround sound effect with the ocean below. The cemetery sits on top of the cliffs at the tip of the point, making it a prime nesting site for a pair of sea eagles which hover over Summercloud Bay below. Our last trip to Wreck Bay was at the end of a long wet summer which meant the daytime cicadas and nighttime crickets were overwhelming but glorious in their song.

I collected a range of stereo and ambisonic recording of the Saltwater and Freshwater Countries we travelled on which were invaluable for creating the Sound Design in post production. Although the real privilege was the process of recording these ambiences, a process which involves spending time sitting on country and listening with all of the senses. This intimate attention to Country reveals a quietness which amplifies subtle voices from plants and animals, revealing their connections to the land, the rivers, the oceans and the sky.

The country also revealed relations between Adrian and Gillian and their respective Saltwater and freshwater Countries. These relationships gave me the signature sounds for both of them. On Saltwater Country Gillian was enveloped by the sounds of cicadas and crickets in every shoot location, and in the Cemetery overlooking Summercloud Bay the Sea Eagles kept a watchful eye on mother and daughter as they sat and watched the whales. On Freshwater Country Adrian was followed by the sound of the nighttime active Plover Birds, who tracked our journey from Sydney through to Wilcannia. The Crows and Ravens made their presence felt around the cemeteries in Wilcannia and Weilmoringle and tracked Adrian all the way to Broken Hill.

It is a real privilege to work with Gillian and Adrian but also to be supported to do this important work by producers Gillian and Tom Zubrycki. Kindred embodies the actual sounds of Country which become a historical record, and in doing so it connects Adrian and Gillian to their Countries forever.

Kindred premieres at the Sydney Film Festival 2023

Launch of Kalaw Kawaw Ya Language Website and Children’s Book

The Saybalgaw Yangu Wakay team has launched a new website as part of the community driven program aimed at preserving, revitalising and sustaining the Torres Strait Island language Kalaw Kawaw Ya and Saibai culture in the Cape York communities of Bamaga and Seisia. The website features videos of fluent KKY speakers covering a range of topics, which feature English and KKY subtitles. The site is a living archive for language and culture which the communities will continue to build upon.

The ebook Aka the Crocodile is featured on the website and will be accompanied by an audio book read in English and KKY. The book is a first step in a series of books which we will produce as e-books, printed books and audio books.

Listening to Saibai Island in the Sound Design for Katele.

Capturing the sounds of Saibai Island in the Sound Design for ‘Katele” (Mudskipper) short film which recently took home the Best Australian Film at this year’s Flickerfest

Katele on location Saibai Island: L-R Andrew Belletty, Sound Recordist. Daniel McArthur, DoP. John Harvey, Director. Elma Kris, “Martha”.

I have worked as sound designer and recordist with Katele Director John Harvey and producer Gillan Moodie across multiple projects over the years, and they have always been richly rewarding experiences. Katele gave me the opportunity to record the amazing voices of Saibai Island’s Muyngu Koekaper dance troupe with multiple microphones including ambisonic, stereo and point mics. I love outdoor music recording as each situation presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Sedrick Waia sings and plays the ukulele, leading the singers tremendously powerful voices accompanied by multiple percussion instruments including the log drum- Warup. I also took the opportunity. to record some beautiful multi channel ambience tracks from around the island with the ambisonics recorder.

The mix for Katele was mastered in Dolby 7.1 channel specifically to do justice to the incredible music track. It is always fantastic working with John on the sound design as he really loves the way we can create immersive worlds for the film. John is adventurous and never plays it safe with the sound design, which makes it a lot of fun!

Katele – Mudskipper screens at the Sydney Film Festival 2023

Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay team join Saibai Dancers at Djarragun College 6 Sept 2022

Artist Vincent Babia (Right) and Jensen Warusam (Left) join the Saibai singers.
Jeffrey Aniba Waia ( Right) paints clan designs on Parry Waia

The Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay team joined Sedrick Waia’s Mens Dance Troupe for a Naidoc celebration performance at the Djarragun College 6 Sept 2022. The performance brought together Saibai elders and brothers, Sedrick and Jeffrey Waia who live in Saibai and Cairns respectively. Jensen Warusam and Vincent Babia lent their voices to the singers creating a powerful sound which brought the audience to their feet!

Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay Graphic Design Workshop Cairns Sept 2022

Jeffrey Aniba Waia and Jensen Warusam perform children’s stories.

I convened a workshop in Cairns 2-19th September 2022 with of the Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay team to work through some ideas for the project with Melbourne based graphic designer Dylan Buckee. Team lead Jeffrey Waia worked closely with our artist Vincent Babia on the logo design and ideas for children’s stories. Jeffrey also worked with Jensen Warusam on creating bilingual children’s stories which we can use in future work. Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay recognises that Saibai language and culture is preserved, maintained and revitalised through stories, songs and dance which drives the creative process.

MTNS MADE salon 20 August 2022

In August I was invited to speak at MTNS MADE salon, a forum for internationally acclaimed Blue Mountains based film-makers.

Blue Mountains Screen Hub is co-hosting the salon and has organised a stella line-up of speakers and screenings for the night. Speakers include Dr. Andrew Belletty, Louise C. Brandt, Genevieve Clay, Guy Edmonds, Me-Lee Hay, Kris Rowe.

Doors open at 6pm at the Baroque Room of The Carrington for a 6.30pm start. Drinks will be available for purchase at the bar.

Spaces are limited, so be sure to book in quick!

The MTNS MADE salon program celebrates the work of the local creative professionals each season and provides the opportunity of networking, sharing work and creating opportunities for collaboration.

King Stingray remixed in Dolby Atmos for Apple Spatial Audio

Yolŋu surf rockers are carrying on the legacy of Yothu Yindi with heartfelt, hooky songs about home, community and country.

I was asked by Yothu Yindi bandmate and King Stingray manager Stu Kellaway to remix for the bands’ release on 5th August 2022. I received the stems from three different studios and set about remixing the tracks in my 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos equiped Hazelbrook studio. I then mastered the Atmos mixes for Apple Spatial Audio delivery, which enable the listener to switch between standard and spatial sound on IOS devices. I was blown away when Stu called the day after the album released with news that Apple Music Australia claiming that the Album was the best sounding Spatial release they have heard!

Ambisonics recordings of Saibai Island Songs

Sedrick Waia leads the performance at Saibai in June 2022.

I was commissioned to record traditional songs on Saibai Island in June 2022 for inclusion in a forthcoming film directed by John Harvey. I used an ambisonics mic augmented by a range of spot mics to capture the music, singing and atmosphere of the performance. The results are breathtaking and will heard when the film is released later in 2022.

Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay May 2022

Workshops in Bamaga and Seisia May 2022 revitalising, documenting and maintaining Kalaw Kawaw Ya language and culture in Bamaga and Seisia.

Jensen Warusam & Jeff Aniba Waia teach KKY Language at Bamaga Ama Aukia Activity Centre May 2022.
Jensen Warusam & Jeff Aniba Waia teaching KKY Language at Seisia Fishing Club May 2022.

I am in the 4th year of producing Saybaylgaw Yangu Wakay, a community owned, community based and community driven project aimed at revitalising, documenting and maintaining Saibai language and culture with the Bamaga and Seisia communities. The team has develop workshops that are First Nations led, where artists, storytellers and creative practitioners share skills and industry expertise create the strongest outcomes. 

This project is about Saibai artists and storytellers determining the way stories and knowledge is shared and disseminated.There is an urgent need to revitalize, document and maintain the KKY language and culture through activities led by fluent speakers teaching children cultural knowledge in their mother tongue. 

Saibai is an island of 400 people which is threatened each month by rising tides, putting them on the frontline of Australia’s climate crisis in the 1950’s as Islanders were forced to migrate to the mainland. Saibai language and culture was threaten as younger generations grew up speaking dominant languages such as English and Creole. 

Saibai language and culture are inseparable, and are an integral part of culture and identity. Language embodies kinship, which connects Saibai people spiritually to the land, sea and sky environment. When Saibai language is used in speaking, singing and dancing it becomes a force which heals, empowers and strengthens health and wellbeing.

Teaching Saibai language and culture to children makes sense from a social, political, and economic perspective.