Composer Ben Talbot-Dunn on creating 'Of Blue - Paint + Sound'

Suzie Wyllie had a chat with fellow Lighthouse Arts Collective member Ben Talbot-Dunn about his recent collaboration with artist David Beaumont and their upcoming show on 12 October.

Suzie: Your background is in songwriting and composition for media, have you ever collaborated on a project with a visual artist like this?

Ben: No. Never. I like the idea of it feeling like a “collaboration” though David’s work and my work are separate entities. It’s more like they are complementary to each other. Though I’ve drawn inspiration from his work and conversations we’ve had about it. 

S: Can you tell us a little about your process for creating this work?

B: I recently bought an old piano so I’ve been playing that a lot. The first thing I did was play around with some chords that gave me a feeling similar to the blue in the paintings. I found one chord and I played it over and over again like a loop. I then started singing a melody. I didn’t think there would be lyrics in this piece but the chord just tempted me to try and now there’s lyrics. Woops. 
After a while I started hearing other sounds in my head but I wanted to keep the piano and voice quite stark because they’re creating this meditative, chant-like element. I ended up using some field recordings I’ve made around Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff. I love how field recordings are just sounds we hear all the time and hardly notice but when you put them in a listening context you start hearing the music in them. I get excited by that kind of thing. 
I was talking to David about what the paintings mean to him and he mentioned it being partly to do with living in this area; the coastal environment. I’m a surfer so the ocean is a big inspiration for me. I’ve kind of made this music about three big, blue, changing waves. How they start somewhere deep in the ocean and end their life by breaking and disappearing on the sand. The birth and death of them. Also, waves are connected to the whole ocean and all the water that covers the world. 
It’s meant to be kind of otherworldly but then the field recordings are a reminder of human life.

S: What creative surprises have you discovered when composing in response to David’s Of Blue?

B: There’s something about the quality of the blue David uses in those paintings that makes me really slow down and get quiet. When beginning to write in response to that feeling I realised I like hypnotic, repetitive music with lots of space in it and I know not everyone likes that so I’m approaching it as more of an experiential bit of music rather than classic entertainment.

S: How is writing for this project different from other projects you’ve worked on?

B: It’s different because there’s no moving image to work to and it’s not a song in the traditional sense. It’s a long-form version of a song I guess. It’s like a song in super slow motion. I’ve made quite a lot of electronic music using loops and samples in the past and I love that stuff but this is like a more organic and slowed down version of that.

S: What do you think of when you think of the colour blue?

B: The ocean. Joni Mitchel. Blue wrens.