Leah Barclay | TRANSIENT LANDSCAPES (2010)
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5021648_origTransient Landscapes is a live performance adaptation of the installation Sound Mirrors, an immersive sonic environment that responds to significant rivers across the world. Throughout 2009 – 2012, Leah Barclay travelled through Australia, India, Korea, China and Brazil capturing the sound of rivers and their surrounding communities. The resulting work is an ephemeral experience that slides through vivid landscapes and rich cultural traditions.

During this performance, Leah Barclay mixes the river soundscapes in real-time, creating a different experience for each show. The works are also performed as stand alone compositions and have featured in various festivals including Ear to the Earth (New York) and the Global Composition (Germany). Transient Landscapes was released as a limited edition CD in 2010 with eleven of the compositions that feature during the live performance.



1. RIVER OF MIRRORS is a collaboration with Lyndon Davis, a indigenous artist raised on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland and a direct descendant of the local Gubbi Gubbi traditional custodians. The work explores memories of the Noosa River and the mirror like reflections in the tannin stained upper waters.

2. The EVERGLADES is an evocative environment located deep within the Noosa rivers wetlands, this work uses hydrophone recordings and features Anthony Garcia on guitar.

3. NAKSHATRA is a Sanskrit astrology term referring to the divisions of the sky. Opening with the shimmering surface of the Pamba river in Kerala, South India, Nakshatra journeys down the river and deep beneath its surface.

4. RITUAL BELLS follows three Indian temple elephants as they make their journey past the river with large bells draped around their necks.

5. TRILOKA (three worlds) is an Aryan conception of the world having three layers (earth, atmosphere, and sky). This explores a confluence of these worlds through the water, and the Indian Monsoon.

6. BACKWATERS is a phonographic journey through the Keralan backwaters at dawn. This unique ecosystem is fed by 38 rivers and meets the tidal waters of the Arabian Sea.

7. The HAN RIVER flows through the city of Seoul, South Korea and has played a vital role in Korean history. This work explores the contentious history of the area intertwining with the surging energy of the city. The source material ranges from the serenity of the Buddhist temple bells to the unnerving civil defense drill siren, a monthly reminder the country is still at war. Historically the river was a thriving trade route to China, however the estuary is now barred, sadly located at the guarded borders of North and South Korea.

8. RED CLIFFS features a short except from Jeokbyeokga (Song of the Red Cliffs), one of the five surviving stories of the Korean pansori storytelling tradition. This is a retelling of the Chinese historical legend of the Battle of Red Cliffs, a decisive conflict at the end of the Han Dynasty that ended on the banks of the Yangtze, the longest river in Asia.

9. SHIMMER is an abstract exploration of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China. The river comes alive at night, with shimmering reflections of the city lining the river. This intense surface of light covers a river rich in history.

10. LIQUID BORDERS begins on the sheltered waters of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong and explores the city that sits at the heart of the Pearl River Delta.

11. CONFLUENCE returns to Australia venturing deep into the ocean near the Colored Sands on the Cooloola Coast of Australia. The work revolves around Wolf Rock, one of Australia’s most distinctive and diverse aquatic landscapes and home to a large population of endangered Grey Nurse sharks. This draws on the concept of all rivers ultimately leading to the same body of water.


Sound Mirrors / Transient Landscapes was selected as one of four national projects for the HELM-Arts Award. HELM is an initiative of the Queensland Conservation Council that recognises innovative work at the intersection of art, science, technology and the environment.

Artist Notes

“This project grew out of a life long connection with rivers. My childhood memories of growing up on rivers across Australia and living in countries such as India fuelled a desire to explore rivers as the lifeblood of communities. I wanted to find a voice for the rivers at a time where it is becoming increasingly important to listen to the environment.

The Noosa River positioned in a UNESCO listed Biosphere of Australia, the historic Han River flowing through the city of Seoul, South Korea and the Pamba River in the evocative backwaters of Kerala, South India formed the core of Sound Mirrors and Transient Landscapes. The process has varied from sculpting and layering sounds recorded on location to directly responding to the environment. The source materials range from hydrophone recordings deep in the Noosa River to pilgrims chanting at dusk on the banks of the Pamba in South India. I have worked intuitively with these materials, exploring new forms on an ephemeral sonic canvas that dissolves into the natural environment.

I prefer the authenticity of sound that truly captures a living aspect of culture. The inherent rawness that is prevalent throughout this work has a powerful ability to instantaneously transport you to the place and time. The use of natural sounds, enhanced by technology offers “an acoustic palette as wide as that of the environment itself”. This is incredibly liberating, and while technology does play a vital role in the production of my work, it is simply an extension of my practice. A tool that enables me to reveal sounds inaudible to the human ear, and sculpt sonic landscapes in real time.

The cultural context became a vital element in the realisation of this project. Many of my initial intentions were underpinned with a desire to find ways to work with sensitive sound materials in an intercultural context. This project has been produced on the road, in makeshift studios on boats, trains, river banks and in hotel rooms drawing further inspiration from the environment. For me, working in cultural context provides insight into the layers of tradition that are impossible to penetrate without first hand experience. Although these rich webs of history and heritage raise issues of possible cultural appropriation, every effort has been made to approach this material in a culturally sensitive way. Gathering permission from the appropriate custodians and building strong relationships with the river’s community have all been integral to this process.

Sound Mirrors has been an opportunity to solidify a number of aspects in my creative practice. The intention to develop a methodology for intercultural collaborations has been met with some significant realisations, though there are ultimately more questions than answers. The process itself has been of most value, the unpredictable chaos, the inspiring musicians, and the entrancing moments of insight into life as experienced by another culture. The intrapersonal dynamics and synergies arising from this process have been pivotal in my artistic development. Transient Landscapes offers a brief glimpse of these synergies, but ultimately highlights the fact that this is actually just the beginning of the project rather than the end.”

Emmerson, S. (1986). The language of electroacoustic music. Basingstoke, UK: The Macmillan Press.