Artist Statement: James Howard

This is a transmission beamed to you from beyond the borderline. Stories are waiting to be heard. In this room sound is an aesthetic experience. The work is immaterial yet it takes up space and evokes movement in a way that is immeasurable and illogical.

Subterranean Frequencies 2023 invites you to focus on the fringes. The work exists at the meeting place between waves of the tangible and the intangible. It holds a microphone to the hidden places that are passed by each day.

Sounds were captured and composted from a network of tunnels located below the surface of the gallery to tell stories that are always present but rarely heard. Raw audio was recorded in the Mezzanine, a giant underground cavern located beneath ACCA’s building. The condenser microphones responded to the ambience of the underground space, activated by ventilation shaft hums and whistles reflecting off of high cement ceilings; the contact microphones were affixed to metal surfaces and machinery, which vibrate with the sympathetic resonance of cars passing through the nearby Burnley Tunnel; and wideband receivers snatched elements of electromagnetic radiation from the air.

Sound becomes malleable. Recordings are stretched and compressed. A single snapshot in time is reworked into an endless drone. A moment can last forever. The heard and the unheard are brought together in a collage — amplified into the industrial soundscapes within which we are constantly immersed.

Just as these hidden spaces dot our lives, so too do the stories of place dot the Country upon which we all walk. Stories that are still waiting to be heard.

Is anyone receiving them?

Are you a morning or a night person?


Is there a sound or song that prompts a where or when for you?

There is a field recording of birdsong I made out on Jaadwa Country in the northern Gariwerd back in 2019. The next year, when the city was living through the deepest stretch of the lockdown, I used to put it on and marvel at the way these recordings could transport me 300km away to that little patch of land.

Is there something you’ve always collected?

Music. I still can’t bring myself to stream music. I like to discover my music by rifling through record store racks, researching performers, discussing my latest finds with friends and family, and building a little library of albums that speak directly to me.

Where do you feel the most connected?

My favourite time of the week is when I’m going nowhere fast on a weekend morning. I’ll sit back with a fresh cup of coffee, and a slab of wax on the turntable. I would say that’s when I feel most connected to myself.

What scares you the most right now / what brings you hope and/or inspires?

Like most Millennials, I have been grappling with an ongoing existential crisis since I was a little fella, so there’s very little that scares me now that I haven’t previously considered. That said, working on this piece for Between Waves, at least I now know where to hide and restart society from when the bomb drops (hint: it’s about three-metres beneath the exhibition).

Through the process of making your new commission for Between Waves, what has been clear/revealed and/or become more complicated/obscured?

I don’t think I can answer this question until the exhibition is open to an audience. A lot of the work I do stems from a process of putting my thoughts and ideas on a public stage and getting a reaction. In that sense, I cannot know how the piece resolves until it is no longer just mine to enjoy.