Kim V. Goldsmith‘s interdisciplinary practice is informed by her former professional life as a print/radio journalist, farmer, and communications specialist. She has a deep love for the land and the life forms that depend upon it. Kim’s creative practice over the past two decades has consistently explored the complexities and nuances of human relationships with the environment.
Goldsmith has exhibited at contemporary art festivals, including Cementa, Vivid Sydney’s Curve Ball event and Artlands. She has also been part of international exhibitions with (Arts) Territory Exchange, and more recently has shown a range of sound and video works as part of the Mosses and Marshes project.
She discussed the role of sound in her creative practice with Cyclic Defrost’s Jason Richardson.
Cyclic Defrost: Were you one of those kids who took the tape recorder to your room and captured stuff?
Kim V. Goldsmith: My earliest experiences of sound were as a listener, without the technology. I had an isolated childhood on the family farm, 60km from the nearest town. I spent much of my early years exploring creeks and the wide, shaded laneway that ran through the centre of our property, or roaming the paddocks and stock routes on the back of my horses. Those childhood memories are really vivid as much for the sounds as the visuals. I remember riding my horses home with my eyes shut, listening to the sound of hooves in the soft sand that would bank up on the edges of the road, or the crushing sounds of crossing a gravel causeway, the jangling of the bit, a tail swatting flies, the magpies and mudpie larks, ravens and kookaburras. I remember the different trees too as much for their sound in the wind as for their shape, colour and foliage—casuarinas whisper loudly, box trees clatter, and wilga trees have a light cardboard rustling sound.
I think I was about 1978, the year Grease came out on the big screen, that I received my first portable cassette recorder. I was eight years old. I can’t remember the brand, but it was heavy and clunky. I didn’t know that blank tapes existed until the 80s, so I wasn’t using it to record on. My mother had given me tapes of the soundtrack to Grease and Dave Edmunds album from that time, so they were both on high rotation until the player ‘ate’ them. We didn’t play much music in our house though, but the radio was set to the ABC in the mornings for the news and at lunchtime for the Country Hour and Blue Hills. That probably had a bigger influence on my entry into the world of sound than anything else.
Cyclic Defrost: Were you always interested in radio or did that develop through wanting to share stories and news?
Kim V. Goldsmith: I was an incredibly shy kid and teenager, probably because of the geographical and social isolation. When I went to high school, I couldn’t read out loud in class, and the thought of standing in front of a crowd and talking was the stuff of nightmares. I’d always wanted to be a vet and farm, so journalism didn’t come into play until the final years of high school when I realised that maths, chemistry and physics just weren’t going to result in the marks I needed for vet science. I’d always had incredible English teachers and it was one of them who encouraged me to consider journalism, more because of my writing than anything else. I was teased at school for speaking slowly, so the thought of sharing my voice to the masses was never a consideration.
Determined to go into agriculture in some way, I decided to become a specialist reporter and studied systems agriculture (an applied science degree) as a way of getting into the industry and the marketing communications side of the business. It was a very rocky road through a male dominated course and industry where I was constantly being told what to do and how to do it, but I was learning to like challenges by this stage. Withdrawing from my agriculture degree six months before graduation, I took some time out before going on to do a diploma of journalism, where I was introduced to radio, TV, print and photojournalism. I fell in love with radio and had a lecturer who taught me how to really use my voice for the first time. Having been a freelance print journalist from the first year of my ag degree when I joined the campus newspaper, I loved the word economy of writing for radio and the gathering of sound effects to help tell the story and give immediacy to it.
I was now 21 and my sights were now set on becoming an ABC Radio rural reporter, bringing all my loves together. I still struggled with public speaking or even speaking in front of a class, but I learned in radio that as long as you don’t think about how many listeners you’re speaking to, it’s OK. I applied for dozens of jobs with radio stations up and down the eastern seaboard after I graduated with a distinction in radio, but I had very little response. Most didn’t bother to respond at all. Eventually after months of searching I packed my bags for Armidale in the New England region of NSW, to volunteer at the community radio station, 2ARM FM. I became their news director and helped in the office. Having picked up a data entry day job at an agribusiness based at the University of New England (UNE), I also took on training Indigenous on-air presenters after hours. By the end of that year, my dream ABC Radio job was advertised and I was offered a position that took me to Dubbo as the first rural reporter in what was the newest ABC Radio station in Australia, under the management of David Hill.
I started in Dubbo in late 1992, but while we were waiting for the station’s transmitter to be turned on, I worked with the NSW Country Hour team in Sydney, as well as in Muswellbrook and Orange. Once we were on air, I had a Monday to Friday on-air breakfast program presenting rural markets and stories, contributing to the ABC’s rural network and Radio National. I travelled across two-thirds of NSW, from Dubbo towards Broken Hill, and north to the Queensland border, and did many outdoor broadcasts, radio packages and live crosses—even a disastrous one interviewing Paul Keating live into the Country Hour! The ABC had a great training department back then and I learned so much about voice and on-air presentation and field reporting technique from some of the greats, like Peter Cave, who was a foreign correspondent and editor.
I left the ABC after four years because of mental health issues relating to the type of stories I’d been covering during that time. Most of the region was in severe drought and there were some incredibly traumatic things happening within rural and regional communities. It had a huge impact on me. I don’t think I knew it at the time, but those four years most definitely shaped who I am today. It’s 30 years this month since I moved to Dubbo in 1992 to take up that role, and in some ways I feel I’ve come full circle, except I’m now having much more fun and doing it on my terms.
Cyclic Defrost: How does the storytelling practice of journalism inform your current practice?
Kim V. Goldsmith: First-person storytelling was what always interested me the most. Maybe it started with the shy introvert who was self-conscious about my voice, not wanting to be part of someone else’s story. My favourite part of radio journalism was putting together packages, using sound effects and grabs to structure the story, along with voiceovers. I’ve found this process becoming increasingly part of my unspoken word sound mixes, as I work to create longer soundscapes that still carry a narrative. The voiceover part of the package now tends to be in a written form as context for the work.
I also collect audio stories as part of my process, so I still get the opportunity to do interviews and cut them together into first person stories. Sometimes grabs weave their way into soundscapes, but less so recently. These recordings are relatively simple and rely heavily on preparation and interview technique to get the best responses.
Cyclic Defrost: Why audio? What aspects appeal to you as a medium and what are the strengths?
Kim V. Goldsmith: Why audio? That’s a great question and not one I’ve ever really been asked before despite having had a more traditional art practice for several years before I turned my focus to digital mediums and sound. It was probably during my time in radio that I started to appreciate that I perhaps heard things differently. I find in today’s visually over-stimulated world that turning my focus to listening alone is a grounding and calming thing to do. I often say my happy place is outside somewhere with headphones and microphone. There’s no room for all the shitty things in the world when you’re tuned into water bugs in the river or the gurglings inside a tree out in the middle of nowhere.
I’m really interested in the value of eco-acoustics not just as a source of sound to be creative with but as a way of monitoring the health of natural environments. Things are changing so rapidly in the world and we really don’t notice it in our busyness. Soundscapes are changing, which is often the first sign there’s something wrong. One example is the absence of birdsong from small native birds, as landscapes and urbanscapes are cleared, pruned or manicured, removing vital dense vegetation or understoreys. I love the idea that I’m tapping into this and perhaps bringing it to the attention of people who wouldn’t otherwise notice. Sub-surface or hidden sounds in natural and man-made environments are the things I particularly enjoy. These often can’t be heard without the use of technology. At the moment I’m exploring man-made structures across rivers as anthropogenic conduits for sounds of the riverine corridor. Again, these are sounds that we generate but are often not heard or considered.
Cyclic Defrost: Were there specific lightbulb moments for you that helped to shape your current work?
Kim V. Goldsmith: I don’t know if there’s been any one lightbulb moment, just a gradual acquiring of knowledge and ideas as I’ve experimented, and listened more widely to what others in the field recording and sound art world are doing. One of the defining experiences of recent years though has been a two-month residency I did in Iceland in a rural town in the north, called Skagaströnd. It was almost familiar in terms of its rural and remoteness, but I was hearing new things for the first time and that changes how you listen and what you listen for. I feel like I’m chasing that now. I’m heading to the Isle of Skye next year, and I’m conscious now that’s what I’ll be doing there.
Cyclic Defrost: What have you been producing over the past year?
Kim V. Goldsmith: 2022 has been a very busy year for producing and presenting work, some of which had developed over several years. I’ve had four exhibitions, a few online releases, and a live performance of work, as well as two residencies this year. The projects have been really varied, from series of wetland soundscapes and soundtracks to videos, to multi-track mixes including spoken word that pay tribute to riverine environments, audio stories and various writings that accompany the sound works, and lots and lots of field recordings. Many of these projects will run into 2023. I’ve also been doing some extension work throughout the year to create greater accessibility to the sound works—such as sound wave videos, publishing and recording text descriptors for spoken word works for use in online accessibility support…and there are some exciting things in development on this front for the year ahead.
Cyclic Defrost: Do your listeners get a similar experience as you have while capturing the material?
Kim V. Goldsmith: Probably not. I think audiences of my work are hearing the post-production outcome and probably listening for different things to what I am when I’m recording and mixing. There’s nothing quite like the raw sound in situ. In truth, I probably over complicate my sound mixes in the effort to tell a story, and I am actively thinking of paring things right back in future works. I have been sharing some of the single source sounds with participants in sound walks I’ve been doing this year. This is particularly useful for sharing those sub-surface sounds you can’t hear without technology.
Cyclic Defrost: Thinking of technology do you want to share the tools you’re using to capture the landscape?
Kim V. Goldsmith: It depends on the job as to what I look to use but it’s usually recorded with Zoom F-series audio recorders. I’ve got a collection of RODE lav mics and piezo mics—JrF contacts and hydrophones, an Aquarian Audio hydrophone, and a RODE NGT2 in a blimp. As back-up I have a couple of Zoom H-series audio recorders that I use for MS recordings or atmos. I recently bought a LOM geofón, which has been great for those subsurface recordings. Of all my mics, the lav mics are probably the most versatile. I use them for interviewing, to capture atmos, but then I’m also known to stick them into places they probably weren’t designed for, like ant nests or into the hollow of trees. They’re remarkably rugged. Over the past 18 months I’ve also been using an AudioMoth data logger. While I’m fully aware of active and passive recording opinions and the need to be present, this has been invaluable for getting those sounds that you wouldn’t get if you were present in the environment.
I also use my mobile more than I should, often because it’s the only thing I have on me at the time. I got caught out once on a field trip to a wetland where I discovered the bag with my hydrophones was still at home—1200km away. I had a couple of capsule mics on my backup Zoom H6, in built mics on the underwater cameras I had brought for the trip—that was it. I always carry mobile compatible mics—a RODE SmartLav or two, and a Sennheiser Ambeo Smart headset. I made up waterproof housing with plastic shopping bags and duct tape, and sacrificed one of my mobile lavs to attempt underwater recordings on my phone. It worked for about 5 minutes. I got a somewhat interesting recording of writhing carp (fish) in a shallow channels on the floodplain, and killed the mic. Let’s just say, waterproofing in the field is not my forte.
Cyclic Defrost: And, as for accessibility for sound, I see you’re working to create opportunities for people to experience the environment in new ways. Do you think sound is under-appreciated as a medium?
Kim V. Goldsmith: Sound is most definitely an under-appreciated medium. We just don’t think about what we hear and how much that shapes our memories, understanding of place and connection with the world. Our busy world is so very congested by visuals, we often don’t take the time to sit quietly, blocking out the visuals to just listen. I believe it’s part of the general disconnect with the natural world felt by so many.
When you think that in Australia alone, one in five people have a disability—also known to be under-reported, there are many people in our midst—maybe even you and me, whose experience and understanding of the world is different just because of what we can or can’t access of it. It struck me during a talk I was part of last year that there’s an entire community of people who can’t enjoy my work because of hearing impairment of some sort. I knew then, that there was a need in my practice for creating multiple points of connection with an environment or an artwork, with sound at its core, but that can be accessed in alternative ways. I’ve been playing around with using sound wave videos alongside my sound work, responsive text and visual work descriptions, even a haptic strap for whole body experiences. There’s still much more to be done in this area and I’m now working with an engineer and sound sculptor on a new sound work that will take this one step further.
Cyclic Defrost: What is the value of audio recording to understanding ecology?
Kim V. Goldsmith: Critical. Audio recordings will often pick up changes in an environment long before other forms of sampling or visual monitoring. Academic acoustic ecology research, here and internationally, is already showing how critically endangered some environments. Our oceans are probably one of the most concerning areas in this regard, thanks to the noise pollution of shipping and resource exploration activities. But even in our inland communities, where most of my work takes place, there’s been massive changes in our soundscapes as more areas are cleared and urban development sprawls. I often hear people say they don’t hear the little birds anymore, or frog song. The habitat they required just isn’t there anymore. On the flip side, some species of birds are adapting to urban living very well—like ravens, cockatoos and magpies. The issues people have living alongside these birds largely exists because of the imbalance in species within that urban environment. It’s fascinating and disturbing at the same time.