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Sara Retallick

Naarm based composer and MESS 2022 Artist in Residence Sara Retallick explores listening and human perceptions of sound through constructed sonic encounters.

How did you first get involved with synths and electronic sound?

I started dabbling in electronic sounds and computer-based music when I was in high school. I lived in a regional area that didn’t really have a music department let alone a synthesiser, so I didn’t get very far. Instead I pursued guitar, bass, and voice. I studied sound production in 2004, and started to get a little deeper into sound and electronically generated music then. I came back to synthesis in a more significant way when I started a music project called Golden Syrup in 2015 whilst studying Sound Art at RMIT and UAL. It was during this time that things really started to expand into experimental and electronic sound worlds for me.

How would you describe the sounds you make today?

I make a lot of different sound/s for different projects.

The sound/s I make are generally sonically dependant on what they’re being made for. My work is often made for particular places or listening situations, and these factors will inform the materials I use and how I use them. Things like acoustics, speaker arrays and sound systems will inform how I make, and present different sound works in different sound worlds.

At the moment, I am quite intrigued by warm drones, sparkly brittle textures, and non-lexical rhythmic voice as a combination of things in composition. I have recently been composing sound works to be listened to underwater. An acoustic environment such was that plays a large role in the composition process.

The music I make as Golden Syrup uses exploratory electronics that is bass and beat driven to a certain extent, it also incorporates folk, field recordings and ambient elements.

Where do you find inspiration, what motivates you?

I can be inspired by many things, all of my senses seem to inform my relationship with sound to a certain extent. It could be some kind of visual stimulus like a landscape, a colour or a visual texture, but also things like food, a smell, a conversation or a physical experience. What matters more is my state of mind while experiencing that thing. It’s more about the reception of the thing and if I am open to creative possibilities at that point in time. A lot of the work I make is directed by a possibility, a connection of things, or a way to use sound to explore something from a different perspective.

Listening is my main motivation for making sound and music work. Listening takes many forms in my life, and as I have grown as a sound maker as too has my relationship and appreciation for listening. Alongside listening a significant motivation for me to make sound is to explore the amazing potentials that sound possesses as a physical material – it’s ability to fill a space, to move people, to transport, and to be delicate, subtle, thick or powdery. My work is largely motivated by the experience of the listener, and how they might access the sound/music.

What’s been one of the most rewarding or satisfying moments of your journey so far?

Throughout my life as a artist and sound maker/musician, I have been privileged enough to have had many highlights and opportunities that have taken me to incredible places, and to meet amazing, generous and inspiring people. All of those things inform and direct me and my work ongoing. However, I think the most satisfying moments are always when you see / listen / experience the finished work and feel happy with it. It doesn’t always happen, so when the right conditions make a work successful and you’re able to recognise and celebrate that, then I feel like I am in the right place doing the right thing.

And the most challenging?

I find the most challenging moments are generally in the lead up to a work being finished or resolved; after the creative making stage, and before the resolution stage. I can often feel lost in the small changes required at the end of making something; the seemingly never-ending tweaks, small decision making, and reworking of an artwork or composition. The finishing is hardest! I guess it’s about trusting your instincts at this point, and allowing things to be as they are and let it go.

Do you have a current ‘go to’ set up at MESS? Any favourite machines or combos that you’re currently digging?

My current MESS set up is minimal. I decided for this residency to give myself parameters, and to focus on 1 or 2 machines so I didn’t get too lost in the learning/problem solving and rather focus on the sounds I can make. I have been using the ARP2600 primarily. I wouldn’t say I am new to synthesis, but I have never spent a lot of time with one analog machine like I have done during this residency. I still have a lot to learn about the instruments at MESS. Synths are funny like that, a lot of your time can be spent deep diving manuals and tutorials. I like the ARP because it’s quite intuitive, it was built for students to use, so as a long term synthesis student I thought it was a good fit.

Are there any machines in the MESS collection you’ve had your eye on but haven’t tried yet?

Yes, I haven’t tried the Fairlight, which I am curious about.

If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you first started what would it be?

When I first started making music/sound?

This is a funny question for me because I teach Sound Studies and Music Production, and there are many things that I suggest to my students based on my own experience. I would encourage my juvenile music making self to listen more, and to develop a sonic relationship, not only with what she is playing, but with all sounds around her. Once I discovered the vast palette of sounds that could be collected for creative uses my sound making world exploded. But I needed to be ready for that moment, which took time and the experiences I had.

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