Arthur Cantrill – Chromatic Mysteries: Soundtracks 1963-2009 (Shame File Music)


Melbourne-based artists Arthur and Corinne Cantrill have been producing a wide array of experimental film and accompanying soundtracks since 1960. Clinton Green’ Shame File Music, which in 2007 released the expansive Artefacts of Australian Experimental Music 1930-1973, including a standout piece from Arthur Cantrill, has brought together a selection of his audio works for Chromatic Mysteries.

Something of a renaissance man, Arthur self-assuredly felt he was able to put his mind to a multitude of artistic endevours, but certainly did not see himself as a musician. When the Cantrill’ first films were given the narration and “canned’ music treatment by the ABC, Arthur decided that he could produce more sympathetic accompaniments to their filmic works. Improvising on a variety of toy instruments, a wooden xylophone received as a birthday gift, and prepared piano, Arthur and Corrine began to record environmental sounds, radiophonic experiments and especially bird-calls. These elements were combined in varying quantities, and utilised different recording processes. Arthur Cantrill has amassed an impressive body of work that capably stands divorced from the visual elements of the Cantrill’ work.

I must make mention of the bird-calls, as they are an integral part of Chromatic Mysteries. From the desiccated, echoic & despairing flatness of crows at Gosse Bluff in central Australia, to the chirrups of a backyard menagerie and a decidedly out-of-place South American bell bird (recorded at London Zoo), bird calls are a central motif in much of Arthur Cantrill’ soundtrack work. There are also a number of appearances of the lazy bass thrum of the humble Aussie blowfly, bringing to mind hot summers and the crushing expanse of the Australian continent.

“Meteor Crater – Gosse Bluff’ from 2009, opens Chromatic Mysteries, with the aforementioned strangled Crows, dry wind and bowed cymbals. This piece has an timeless sense of space to it, although it almost feels hemmed in by the sheer bulk of the walls of Gosse Bluff rising out of the seared semi arid landscape. “Mediations (Fast Disc)’ reminds me of the telemetry recordings of Tod Dockstader, or even the mysterious numbers stations recordings of The Conet Project. There’ no disembodied numerals being recited, but the loop of complex radio noise changes structure and emphasis with every iteration. I could only imagine the disorienting effect that the accompanying visuals of rapidly changing reds and blues would have on my already addled brain.

“9 Image Film’ from 1971 is equally disorienting, as violin strings and close-miked cardboard corrugations are snipped and manipulated into a heady montage. “Waterfall’ is more soothing. As time passes, this recording envelops you in its own powerful world. At times, “Waterfall’ could almost pass for some of the more restrained harsh noise (if this is not a distinct musical misnomer) of the contemporary scene, except for the peaceful and contented cries of the avian inhabitants of The Grampians. “Home Movie – A Day in the Bush’ comes over like the dada collage of Nurse With Wound, if Steven Stapleton had ever been for a picnic at Hanging Rock. Accompanying a three-colour separation film of Melbourne, “The City of Chromatic Dissolution’ layers the sounds of the city (complete with trams) and mixes them with various bowed glass objects.

Arthur Cantrill’ recordings have utilised a variety of devices and methodologies over the nearly 50-year span of Chromatic Mysteries. In all cases, he produced the sounds to fit film images that were already finalized, giving a framework of rhythm and texture to the recordings. Sound art, soundtrack or sonic expressionism, however you listen to these recordings; thrill to the fact that Australia’ experimental music history is getting the documentation it so richly deserves.

Oliver Laing

Arthur Cantrill at work, 1966 or 67


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Music Obsessive / DJ / Reviewer - I've been on the path of the obsessive ear since forever! Currently based in Perth, you can check out some radio shows I host at

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