Video Excerpts

PORTAL (UNDERCOVER) -- 1min -- https://vimeo.com/72222764

Kelvin Grove Urban Village car park Brisbane

PORTAL (JAM) -- 30secs -- https://vimeo.com/72192691

Studio experiment

PORTAL (GREY 2) -- 1min -- https://vimeo.com/72192690

Ex-granary in industrial precinct Brisbane

PORTAL (GREEN) -- 1min -- https://vimeo.com/72192688

In situ experiment, Backyard Bus residency Newcastle

PORTAL (BLOCK) -- 2mins -- https://vimeo.com/72192687

Building 140, Cockatoo Island Sydney



PORTAL (red) PORTAL (blue) - text by Stephen Russell

Luke Jaaniste's practice operates across sound, image making, writing and conversation, and there is an openness to his practice that leads to multiple collaborative projects. Across these various forms the emphasis for Jaaniste is placed firmly on the social. This is in an effort to bring to the fore what the artist defines as 'liveliness'—a fundamental, dynamic and generative experience of being in the world.

For BEAF2013, Jaaniste presents two works that are instances of his ongoing PORTAL project. Deploying sets of portable music keyboards within a range of sites, Jaaniste sets up sonic fields that incorporate elements of party, performance and installation. The effect is transporting, otherworldly and complex, but not over-embellished. The first work, PORTAL (red), transforms a workaday boardroom into a spatialised drone-scape that unfolds in subtlety over time and space. The second, PORTAL (blue), incorporates live performers in the creation of a performative sound installation across the multiple, reverberant levels of the Judith Wright stairwell.

Despite its ambient timelessness, PORTAL is still traceable to a specific origin of the cultural confluence of technological and consumer rationales—namely the portability and affordability of now outmoded technology (specifically Yamaha Portasounds, from the early 1980s). Jaaniste's retrieval and use of these 'synths' from the recent past positions the work within a specific relation to the flows and mechanisms of consumer society, reveal a creative ethics based in the second-hand consumer economy that can be seen as interstitial, positively exploitative of late capitalist market shifts.

Both works use a simple set of musical and spatial parameters that paradoxically lead to  a highly variegated set of potential responses and experiential modes. In their enveloping and intimate site-specificity, each work offers us a different mode of address to spectatorship, performative witness, fire escape thoroughfare and meeting room manners. They take us into, and through, experiences as diverse as social self-reflective engagement and quit individual experience. Through PORTAL red and blue you at a space only to then depart from it.

Text by Stephen Russell
for visual art exhibition of BEAF2013
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts



PORTAL is an ongoing series. It involves a few basic parameters, which get re-worked and varied in each new addition to the series. 

Most of my practice operates in terms of ongoing series. It’s rare I just make single works or one-off events, or once-only project. Sure there’s lots of tests and trials that don’t get past one or two goes at it. But for anything that turns up as a shared practice (in public, with communities etc) it seems like it nearly always comes already as an ongoing project. 

For me, ongoing projects allow for a conscious investigation of a particular area/issue/material/problem/opportunity, testing out a whole range of variations and approaches. This is a kind of practice-wide serialism (although I also work serially within each work/event itself!). The practitioners I admire tend to work like this too. 

For all these ongoing series, if we think of them as theme-and-variations, the ‘theme’ is very simple. Everything unfolds out of one generative gesture. That’s also something I’ve especially attracted to in my own work and in the work of others. From one ‘seed’, everything emerges. Each work, and each series, grows out from a single embryo, rather than grows by agglomeration (different stuff stuck together). 

So each series is a generative schema (theme), that generates all the particular additional works (variations).  What’s curious here is that in its generative, gestural simplicity, so much more comes. And thus so much can be spoken of and from it, as I’m doing in these notes. 


The common elements (ingredients) of PORTAL, which vary in each of its renditions, are: 

* Multiple keyboards, of the same ‘model’.
* Ongoing-tones (drones) set on the keyboards, each keyboard the same or very similar sounds.
* Spatialised arrangement of keyboards.
* A space.
* A way of being with this drone-field. 


The generative schema (recipe) could be put like so: 
* make a drone-field with multiple keyboards of the same models, each keyboard having the same, or very similar, sounds – of either held-down notes (using sticky tape) or auto-arpeggios (pressing the right buttons) – with keyboards simply spatialised within the selected place. I could call this the formal schema: the form of the work. 
* choose sonic and spatial configurations that induce some kind of increased, evocative bodily awakening. I could call this the functional schema: how the work is functioning and operating on me (as maker in situ) and others (as participants/public in situ). 

Some ‘optional’ extras (that apply to some of the variations): 
* present one model of keyboard, or create an installation using several ‘clusters’ of keyboard models. 

And extras, regarding the ways of being with the drone field: 
* Add musicians improvising within the drone-field, themselves as spatialised, minimal and visceral as the sounds coming from the keyboards. I am calling these works PORTAL PLUS, of which PORTAL (blue) is the first public iteration: five singers improvising along with the keyboards in the stairwell of the Judith Wright centre. 
* Develop your own bodily-movement gestures within the drone-field, as a whole-body focusing/meditating/active-awareness process. This is what is practiced in what we know call DRO FO (DROne Focusing), with my collaborators Lynette Lancini (composer, musicians, Wholebody Focuser) and James Cunningham (choreographer, dancer, new media artist) and often other participants too. 


The keyboards are models from the Yamaha Portasound series, in particular those manufactured and sold in the early 1980s, mostly 1981 to 1984. 

The choice of keyboards is very pertinent to this project. These keyboards bring together several qualities. 

Firstly, they are battery powered, and this makes then useful as easily-moveable objects. Occasionally I will patch them up to power leads (especially for ongoing installations) but in experimenting with then, and in most presentations of them having the batteries makes them extremely portable and where they can ‘slot into’ a space becomes very open. On the ground. Leaning on the wall. Hidden away. Amongst the furnishings. Etc. 

Secondly, the keyboards have a very ‘neat’ look, that is more architectural and rectilinear in style, than subsequent models of portable keyboards. That they are so modular works for me visually – as close to a Carl Rudd brick as a manufactured keyboard can come. 

Thirdly, the sounds of the keyboards are rather primitive, in terms of what’s possible for electronic synthesis of sounds. Besides the ‘organ’ tone, none of them really sound like what the button says. “Trumpet” is not so brass like! Etc. I’ve tried making the PORTAL work with keyboards that have more sophisticated sounds, and it seems like the ‘cheap, 8-bit-like’ sounds actually work in favour of the kind of drone-fields I’m making. 


The (relatively) cheap manufacturing of the keyboards meant all keyboards of the same model are fractionally out of tune (pitch-wise) and out of synch (rhythm-wise) with each other. And this provides me with a pivotal opportunity for PORTAL. By getting multiple keyboards of the same model to do the ‘same’ thing, I end up wit a field of micro-tonal and micro-temporal differences. And this has some really amazing spatial-acoustic-bodily results! 

With ever-so-slightly out of tune notes, comes audible ‘beating’. Technically, it’s called wave propagation, which I won’t go into here. But basically the end result, especially when the keyboards are distributed in space or exist in a rather ambient space, is of a drone-field that ‘wobbles’. And the wobbles change depending on the location of your ears within the space – further or closer to all the different keyboards and acoustically-reflective surfaces such as walls. 

I’ve come to learn that the wave propagation is even more emphasized in the simplest geometry of sound waves: the sine wave. That was makes the cheaper, early sound synthesis of the early 1980s keyboards so fitting for PORTAL. These cheap tones are less complex in their overtones and partials – some are very much like sine waves -- and so the wobbles of the tones-in-space are more pronounced. 

With ever-so-slightly out of time rhythms (arpeggios), what we get is a range of ‘sub-rhythms’ and ‘cross-pulses’ that keep on changing as the slightly different tempos of multiple keyboards phase in and out of synch with one another. It’s an effect that sometimes takes a while to notice, but one we do if can become a very present ever-re-generating pattern to notice. 


I have a few strategies for this. It depends so much on the space I’m working in. 

The types of spaces I’ve conducted my research in, for this PORTAL project, include both indoors and outdoor settings: homes, cafes, art spaces, community halls, and parklands. Each has it’s own particular acoustic and social properties. 

It’s become really important to me, that the PORTAL project turns up in whatever space it can, either based on an invitation or by spontaneous stealth. In this sense, it’s not an art project. Sometimes it intersects with the art world, via its placement in art venue and art event contexts (as if the case with my work in BEAF) but it also intersects with home-life, spiritual and bodily awareness traditions, the music world and chill culture. 

What’s more important than where it is, how we might be, within and via it. 


In my doctoral research (completed 2007) I wrote about ambience, our possible experiences of the ambience around us, and in particular, a way of being I called ‘the ambient mode of being in our surroundings’. This stuff is still very important to me. I don’t think my practice means much – actually I don’t think any practice means much – if it is not seeking out, researching and trying on more-preferable ways of being in the world. 

What’s more preferable? 

Well, for starters, a more preferable way of being is to be given the opportunity, resources and freedom to explore our ways of being – to re-examine our existing ways of being, to re-imagine older ways of being, to play with and create new ways of being. 

This is a kind of political and personally agency I want for myself, my kids, my community and the whole world. Well, as long any of explorations-of-ways-of-being don’t prevent our further explorations. A way of being that kills others’ ways of being is not sustainable nor preferable to me at all. 

The mode of address is crucial here. A way of being includes the way we address each other, address a site, and create sites and objects and events that address us. 

A practice that explores its mode of address (and there are plenty of examples in the myriad histories of world culture, and something thematised by various critical strands of contemporary art) is not just ‘about’ something, but changes the very way of interacting with it. Changing the content but keeping the interaction the same (same frame, same display-mode, just different image etc) can be a way to achieve many things but one things it doesn’t do is change our address with and of the world. 

PORTAL offers an exploration of an ambient mode of address – one that is immersive, enveloping, and calls on a range of modes of engagement – form relaxed chill, to active movement and body swaying, deep listening to a complete abandonment of attention, something very personal but often it’s an individual experience within a strange togetherness. 

What’s crucial to me, is to find any way I can to invoke the humble, the informal, the homely. As I’ve taken PORTAL to people’s homes, I’ve discovered we come to say so much more about the experience, whilst in the experience, than I am ever used to saying/thinking or hear been said in the institutional formalities of art spaces. We’ve got to get our groove on, to think into our personal-together body situations. 

Interesting that ‘the homely’ is understood as something informal, but also lacking in fashion, good looks and social status. If there’s where my practice hangs out, so be it. We can’t think so much when we are worried about our airs and graces. What I want is a speaking and thinking and experiencing from a body that is relaxed and loose and available to be open to all manner of subtle body cues and body sensations and bodily knowing. 


I’ve been collecting these keyboards for several years. But it was only late last year that the PORTAL project arose. 

Before that, I was just collecting keyboards, knowing somehow intuitively that getting more than one version of a model was going to be useful. My general attitude has been: Why have one, when you can have two, why two when four, or eight, twelve, sixteen? 

But then, just at the point of attempting to set up the keyboards in a neat stack in my office, something shifted. I had unintentionally laid out (strewn) four of the cheesiest of my keyboards (the PSS20 model) across the full width of my long-office bench, each set to the same basic arpeggio. And as I started to listen and take it in, it became so beguiling and captivating for me. The spatialisation was so exciting for my body; sound coming from across my field of perception. And the phasing of the keyboards meant there was always so subtly to listen to, always more and more to hear the longer I was with those sounds. 

From my bench, I started to take the keyboards into the living room, and then my whole house. It drove some of my family mad. But for me it was a blaze of ecstasy. 

And then from early this year, I started taking the keyboards out and about into people’s homes, parks, art spaces etc. 


PORTAL combines musical and spatial techniques and vocabularies developed in the 1960s, music technology developed in the 1980s, and a second-hand consumer economy developed in the 2000s. 

* Musical and spatial techniques and vocabularies developed in the 1960s… 

I didn’t set out for PORTAL to sound like anything in particular. I developed the project out of a simple ‘found object’ and ‘spatialisation’ approach to the keyboards. 

As found objects, what is the simplest thing I can do? Just hold down one or several notes (actually, tape them down). Or, just activate one of the simple auto-arpeggio/auto-chord settings. And then let them run. Thus, we have drones, either of long-tones or repeating arpeggios. As physical objects, and ones that can be moved about easily given they are battery-powered, I can place them in different parts of a room, at different distances from each other and in relation to the acoustic surfaces and volumes of the space they are in. 

However, I think it’s obvious that in approaching the keyboards like this, PORTAL is pretty clearly connected to the 1960s/70s minimalist traditions. In fact, I like to think of PORTAL as combining what I consider to be the best elements of the ‘big four’ in New York minimalist music: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. 

It has the long-tone droniness of La Monte Young and especially his interest in the way sine waves and other simple tones, when spaitalised, can cause waves propagations (eg, Dream House). 

It can have the incessant ecstasy and harmonic stasis of Riley, especially when I’m using auto-arpeggios (eg, his saxophone improves and In C). 

It has the phasing of Reich when I’m using the arpeggios (eg, his tape, piano and violion phase music), and it has his compositional, music-as-process coolness. 

And it can have the orchestral timbres and richness of Glass, especially when I am mixing a few different groups of keyboards together (eg Glass’s Music in Twelve Parts, and various film scores). 

In a way, PORTAL is even more minimal than the minimalists, in its mode of production. I mean, I just set up some keyboards, turn them on, stick down some tones, and that’s it. Sonic bliss out, at the press of a few buttons. No performers to rehearse, no big technical set up, no scores, stands etc. But that’s only possible because of portable, battery-powered keyboards, which didn’t exist in the world in the 60/70s. 

* Music technology developed in the 1980s… 

Portal, battery-powered music keyboards did not exist before the early 1980s. 1980 was an epoch year in bringing music keyboards into the portable, take-anywhere future. The early advertisements showed people even taking them to bed. Nothing like a Bosa Nova Auto Bass Chord to get things rolling ;-) 

Anyways, these keyboards of the 1980s – due to the slight out-of-tuneness and out-of-synch-ness with each other (see above) were set up to now make possible, in simple means, the phasing and minimalist drone techniques previously developed by the 1960s minimalists with their tape-loops, expensive electronics and acoustic musicians. 

But, I don’t think this was likely to happen in the 1980s. It’s not likely so many simple portable keyboards could have come together in multiples, until the 2010s for economic reasons. 

* Second-hand consumer economy developed in the 2000s… 

Professionals would be spending much more, on units that were big, and usually far less portable. They’d also be doing much more of them, than holding down one or two notes, or activating one auto-arpeggiator (given the cost, why spend $2000 of today’s money for a single note?). 

The mums-and-dads market would likely be buying just one of these, given the cost. And the kind of music culture the keyboards were sold into was one of melody and accompaniment (songs and classical tunes, perhaps some rock and pop) and not anything modernist nor minimalist. 

So where did that leave the experimental sound artist, and drone-loving minimalist? Probably without a lot of portable keyboards at their disposal. 

But that was the 1980s. 

Fast Forward to the 2000s, when ebay and other online second-hand trading sites kick off, and suddenly the world’s second-hand goods at one’s fingertips. Because so many use ebay to sell their unwanted goods, including keyboards that have been lying around the house or shed for several decades, I can now come to collect the 1980s Yamaha Portasounds, for a fraction of their original asking price. In collecting these keyboards, from around Australia and around the world (although US postal prices are a killer!), I am bringing them ‘back together’ so to speak; the last time that many keyboards of the same model were together was probably at the factory, retailers’ shop, and perhaps a fortunate school or two.