Scroll Top
Regional Arts Development Central West NSW

CASP stories: Building a Song in Portland


Funded by the Country Arts Support Program (CASP), Gabrielle Bates was joined by regional artists, vocalists and performers activating The Foundations in Portland through this extraordinary experiment in sound.

The project’s question: “Does a building have a voice?” aimed to draw out the social histories and contentions within the Foundations’ buildings, and experimented with different combinations of sound, voice and architecture.

Peter Swain, Michael Petchkovsky, WeiZen Ho and vocalists from Voices from the Vacant Lot joined Gab to share and workshop their diverse skills and knowledges in storytelling, song writing/composition and sonic/vocal resonance. Tracey Callinan and Eclectica Choir from Bathurst also collaborated with the artists for greater impact and amplification. The NSW Govt CASP funding through Arts Outwest covered the creative contributions from Dabee Wiradjuri Elder Peter Swain and Bathurst’s Eclectica choir.

A free one hour public performance of the artists’ outcomes was presented at 3pm on Sunday, 1 October 2023 at The Foundations. 80 people attended.

“Eerie, moving, captivating and rhythmic sounds echoed within the space conversing with the wild winds battering the outside. One could not help but think of the layers of history of the site on this Wiradjuri land.” Nic Mason, Arts OutWest.

“It was fabulous – loved the sensitive attention to the details of the building – and that magical moment when the door opened.” Ann Finnegan, Curator, Sydney/Kandos.

“Really enjoyed this experience. More a Factory Symphony than a song! [It] was visually impressive as well as moving and haunting. Also really like the effect of the roller door, musically being opened, the cooperation of the wind to form a will-o-the-wisp before the ethereal entrance of the squeaky wheel. I loved the drumming of the girders under the roof, making the building itself sing.” Pierre Fromager, Sydney.

“Went to [Building Song] on Sunday and it was a really fabulous event, an industrial symphony of ghostly work site noises isolated and emphasised, an entire huge building played as a musical instrument with choral accompaniment. It had intense personal resonance because Portland is my family hometown, several generations on both sides lived there right back to the town’s foundation in the late 19th century… my paternal grandfather was a foreman so in a sense this was his building, its sounds and sights the background to his life… It was so good to see it and to see so many friends participating, Gabrielle Bates did an amazing job getting it all together, congratulations to everyone involved.” Ian Milliss, Artist, Theorist and Writer, Blue Mountains.

Organisers reported the following successes from the project:

  • extensive in-kind support and time given by artists and performers
  • deep knowledge sharing about culture, time and place from Indigenous Elder Peter Swain
  •  sensitive sharing of knowledge, skills and performance techniques between artists and performers
  • development of a performance framework that can be delivered in different buildings
  • identification and development of performance modalities that can be shared through workshops
  • generous knowledge imparted by Ian Milliss, Wendy Carlson and Rich Evans through group talks about the history of Portland
  • successful delivery of research outcomes
  • the Portland community was engaged through their attendance at the public presentation
  • interest and attendance from arts networks from Sydney, Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Bathurst, Kandos and Mudgee.

Just one of 10 CASP projects supported in 2023, CASP has just opened this October for 2024 offering grants of up to $3,000 closing 9 November at 5pm.

Watch: video of the public showing, created by Gus Armstrong.


Image credit: 1 & 3 Alan Sadleir and 2 & 4 Nicola Mason, Building Song at The Foundations in Portland