Allanah Stewart is an artist from Aotearoa/New Zealand, currently living in Melbourne, Australia. As well as her work in various experimental music projects, she is the presenter of a monthly podcast radio programme called Enquiring Minds, hosted by Noods radio, which explores old and new, lesser known and well known sounds that loosely fit under the banner of experimental music.
Jen Callaway is a Melbourne musician, sound and performance artist, photographer, and community services worker raised in various parts of Tasmania. Current projects include bands Is There a Hotline?, Propolis, Snacks and Hi God People; and upcoming film Here at the End, by Campbell Walker, as actor/co-writer.
Isha Ram Das is a composer and sound artist primarily concerned with ecologies of environment and culture. He works with experimental sound techniques to produce performances, installations and recordings. He was the 2019 recipient of the Lionel Gell Award for Composition, and has scored feature-length films and nationally-touring theatre installations. He has performed at institutions such as the Sydney Opera House; Black Dot Gallery, Melbourne; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Metro Arts, Brisbane; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and Boxcopy, Brisbane.
Dylan Robinson is a xwélméxw (Stó:lō) writer, artist, scholar and curator, He is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts, and associate professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is author of Hungry Listening, Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, published by University of Minnesota Press.
Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman (North Stradbroke Island) in South East Queensland. Her site-specific sculptural installations, video work and paintings investigate issues relating to identity, the environment and mapping practices. Cope’s work often resists prescribed notions of Aboriginality and becomes psychogeographies across various material outcomes that challenge the grand narrative of ‘Australia’ as well as our sense of time and ownership in a settler colonial state.
Australian musician Sean Baxter died on 15 March 2020. Part of Melbourne's improv scene, he is described by musician Anthony Pateras as possessing “a unique aesthetic vision and intellectual depth, mixing highbrow philosophical concepts with punk sensibilities in how he lived, spoke and played. He was pure energy.”
Drumkit and percussionist, Sean was an Australian improviser who forged an international reputation as a bold explorer of percussive possibilities both as a soloist and through his work with the acclaimed avant-garde trio, Pateras/Baxter/Brown. Focusing on the use of extended techniques applied to the conventional drum kit, he utilised an arsenal of metallic junk and other percussive detritus to expand the sonic palette of the percussion tradition. In addition to Pateras/Baxter/Brown, he was involved in many collaborations and was drummer for groups The Throwaways, Bucketrider, Lazy, SxSxSx and Terminal Hz.
Thomas Ragnar is an artist based in Singapore. His work is often underpinned by collaborations, affinities and research with experiential methodologies.
Alessandro Bosetti is an Italian composer, performer and sound artist, currently based in Marseille. His work delves into the musicality of spoken language, utilising misunderstandings, translations and interviews as compositional tools. His works for voice and electronics blur the line between electro-acoustic composition, aural writing and performance.
Lin Chi-Wei is a legend of Taiwanese sonic art, whose practice incorporates folklore culture, noise, ritual, and audience participation.
Mat Dryhurst is an artist who releases music and artworks solo and in conjunction with Holly Herndon and the record label PAN. Dryhurst developed the decentralised publishing framework Saga, which enables creators to claim ownership of each space in which their work appears online, and a number of audio plays that derive their narrative from the personal information of listeners. He lectures on issues of music, technology, and ideology at NYU, and advises the blockchain-based platform co-operative Resonate.is.
Sean Dockray is an artist, writer, and programmer living in Melbourne whose work explores the politics of technology, with a particular emphasis on artificial intelligences and the algorithmic web. He is also the founding director of the Los Angeles non-profit Telic Arts Exchange, and initiator of knowledge-sharing platforms, The Public School and Aaaaarg.
Author of Hearing the Cloud (Zero Books), Emile Frankel is a writer and composer researching the changing conditions of online listening. In his spare time he runs the Sci-Fi and critical fantasy publisher Formling.
Bridget Chappell is a raver and theory bro currently living on the unceded nations of the Latji Latji and Nyeri Nyeri people. They make music as Hextape and organise parties in drains, observatories, and other natural amphitheatres. They founded and run Sound School, work with young musicians behind bars, and make experimental sound technologies to challenge police sirens.
Holly Herndon experiments at the outer reaches of dance music and pop. Born in Tennessee, Herndon spent her formative years in Berlin’s techno scene and repatriated to San Francisco, where she completed her PhD at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Her albums include Platform (2015) and Proto (2019).
Candice Hopkins is a curator, writer and researcher interested in history, art and indigeneity, and their intersections. Originally from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Hopkins is a citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation. She was senior curator for the 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art, and worked on the curatorial teams for the Canadian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, and documenta 14.
Raven Chacon is a composer, performer and artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. His work ranges from chamber music to experimental noise, to large scale installations, produced solo and with the Indigenous art collective Postcommodity. At California Institute of the Arts, Chacon studied with James Tenney, Morton Subotnick, Michael Pisaro and Wadada Leo Smith developing a compositional language steeped in both the modernist avant-garde and Indigenous cosmologies and subjectivities. He has written for ensembles, musicians and non-musicians, and for social and educational situations, and toured the world as a noise artist.
Lisa Lerkenfeldt is a multi-disciplinary artist working in sound, gesture and performance. Central to her practice is languages of improvisation and intimacy with technology. Traces of a personal discipline and form of graphic notation are introduced in the online exhibition 14 Gestures. The associated recorded work Collagen (Shelter Press, 2020) disrupts the role of the common hair comb through gesture and sound.
Haroon Mirza is an artist who intertwines his practice with the role of composer. Mirza considers electricity his main medium and creates atmospheric environments through the linking together of light, sound, music, videos and elements of architecture. Regularly showing internationally in group and solo exhibitions, Mirza’s work has also been included in the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, China (2012) and the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy (2011), where he was awarded the Silver Lion.
Shanghai native 33EMYBW (Wu Shanmin) has been an active member in the Chinese music scene for over a decade. She has also performed at CTM and Sinotronics in Germany, China Drifting Festival in Switzerland, and SXSW. Her 2018 album Golem, released on SVBKVLT, was met with critical acclaim and voted one of the best electronic albums of 2018 by Bandcamp. In 2019 she released DONG2 EP under Merrie Records Beijing, and will premiere her sophomore album Arthropods (SVBKVLT) at Unsound 2019.
Alexander Garsden is a Melbourne-based composer, guitarist and electroacoustic musician, working across multiple exploratory musical disciplines. Recent work includes commissions from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Speak Percussion, Michael Kieran Harvey and Eugene Ughetti; alongside performances with artists including Tetuzi Akiyama (Japan), Oren Ambarchi, Radu Malfatti (Austria), Julia Reidy, David Stackenäs (Sweden), and with Erkki Veltheim and Rohan Drape. From 2014 to 2019 Garsden was Co-Director of the INLAND Concert Series. He has taught through RMIT University and the University of Melbourne.
Annika Kristensen is Senior Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Arben Dzika is an artist whose practice involves working with various media including, but not limited to: sound, image, word, and performance. His work primarily seeks to reflect on, interrogate, and play with technologies, systems, and human senses. Within his practice, he works as a producer and DJ under the moniker, Dilae.
Audrey Schmidt is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. She is a regular contributor to Memo Review, co-editor the third issue of Dissect Journal, and has written for various publications including Art Monthly, Art + Australia and un Magazine. She co-founded Minority Report with Adam Hammad in 2018 and released one online issue that was available until the domain expired in 2019. Audrey sits on the FYTA (GR) Board of Advisors.
Autumn Royal is a poet, researcher, and educator based in Narrm/Melbourne. Autumn’s current research examines elegiac expression in contemporary poetry. Autumn is the interviews editor for Cordite Poetry Review, and author of the poetry collections She Woke & Rose (Cordite Books, 2016) and Liquidation (Incendium Radical Library, 2019).
Bianca Winataputri is a Melbourne-based independent curator and writer researching contemporary practice in Southeast Asia, and relationships between individuals and collectives in relation to history, globalisation, identity and community building. Currently working at Regional Arts Victoria, Bianca was previously Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the NGA. She holds a BA (University of Melbourne), and BA Honours from the ANU where she received the Janet Wilkie Prize for Art. In 2018 Bianca was selected for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art’s Curators’ Intensive.
Brian Hioe was one of the founding editors of New Bloom, an online magazine covering activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific, founded in 2014 in the wake of the Sunflower Movement. Hioe is a freelance writer on social movements and politics, as well as an occasional translator.
Chi Tran is a writer, editor, and an artist who makes poems that may be text, video, object, sound, or drawing. Chi is primarily interested in working with language as a means of coming-to-terms. Their work has been published by Incendium Radical Library Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Australian Poetry and Liminal Magazine and exhibited at galleries including Firstdraft, Sydney; Punk Café, Melbourne; and ACCA, Melbourne. In 2019, as a recipient of The Ian Potter Cultural Trust Fund, Chi spent three months in New York developing their practice with renowned poets including Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Fred Moten, and Jackie Wang.
Chun Yin Rainbow Chan is a Hong Kong–Australian artist, living in Sydney. Working across music, performance and installation, Rainbow is interested in the copy and how the ways in which it can disrupt Western notions of ownership. Central to Rainbow's work is the circulation of knock-off objects, sounds and images in global media. Her work positions the counterfeit as a complex sign that shapes new myths, values and contemporary commodity production.
Dale Gorfinkel is a musician-artist whose stylefree improvisational approach informs his performances, instrument-building, and kinetic sound installations. Aiming to reflect an awareness of the dynamic nature of culture and the value of listening as a mode of knowing people and places, Dale is interested in bringing creative communities together and shifting perceived boundaries. Current projects include Prophets, Sounds Like Movement, and Music Yared as well as facilitating Art Day South, an inclusive arts studio with Arts Access Victoria.
Danni Zuvela is a curator and writer based in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Her research is informed by interests in feminism, activism, ecology, language and performance. With Joel Stern, Danni has led Liquid Architecture as Artistic Director, and continues to develop curatorial projects for the organisation.
Eric Avery is a Ngiyampaa, Yuin, Bandjalang and Gumbangirr artist. As part of his practice Eric plays the violin, dances and composes music. Working with his family’s custodial songs he seeks to revive and continue on an age old legacy – continuing the tradition of singing in his tribe – utilising his talents to combine and create an experience of his peoples culture.
Fjorn Butler is an artist, researcher, and event organiser. As an artist, she works primarily in sound and performance under the name Papaphilia. As a researcher, she interrogates how biological discourses are used in neoliberal/colonial governance structures to shape the political. Fjorn's research informs her writing on sound-poetics and the challenges this framework poses to anglophone notions of property. She is also co-director of Future Tense and co-curator of Writing and Concepts.
Freya Schack-Arnott is an Australian/Danish cellist who enjoys a multi-faceted career as a soloist and ensemble performer of classical and contemporary repertoire, curator and improviser within experimental music, electronics, popular and cross-disciplinary art forms. Schack-Arnott regularly performs with Australia's leading new music ensembles, including ELISION Ensemble (as core member) and Ensemble Offspring. Her curatorial roles include co-curator/founder of the regular 'Opus Now' music series and previous curator of the NOW Now festival and Rosenberg Museum.
Gooooose (Han Han) is an electronic music producer, visual artist and software developer based in Shanghai, China. His current releases include They (D Force, 2017), Dong 1 (D Force, 2018), Pro Rata (ANTE-RASA, 2019). Gooooose's 2019 SVBKVLT–released RUSTED SILICON received positive reviews from media including boomkat, Resident Advisor, Dusted Magazine, and The Wire. Gooooose has performed live at CTM (Berlin, 2018), Nyege Nyege (Kampala, 2019), Soft Centre (Sydney, 2019), Unsound (Kraków, 2019) and Recombinant (San Francisco, 2019).
Harmony Holiday is a writer, dancer, archivist, director, and the author of four collections of poetry, Negro League Baseball, Go Find Your Father/A Famous Blues, Hollywood Forever, and A Jazz Funeral for Uncle Tom. She lives in New York and Los Angeles.
James Rushford is an Australian composer-performer who holds a doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts, and was a 2018 fellow at Academy Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. His work is drawn from a familiarity with specific concrète, improvised, avant-garde and collagist languages. Currently, his work deals with the aesthetic concept of musical shadow. James has been commissioned as a composer by ensembles including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Glasgow), and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and regularly performs in Australia and internationally.
Jessica Aszodi is an Australian-born, London-based vocalist who has premiered many new pieces, performed work that has lain dormant for centuries, and sung roles ranging from standard operatic repertoire to artistic collaborations. She has been a soloist with ensembles including ICE; the Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras; and San Diego and Chicago Symphony Orchestras’ chamber series. Aszodi can be heard on numerous recordings and has sung in festivals around the world. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Queensland Conservatorium, an MFA from the University of California, and is co-director of the Resonant Bodies Festival (Australia), and artistic associate of BIFEM.
Kt Spit (Katie Collins) is an artist and musician based in Narrm (Melbourne). Lyrically and visually her work explores subcultural narratives and challenges dominant representations of loss, grief, and true love. In 2015 Kt independently released her debut album, Combluotion, and in 2019 will release a visual album entitled Kill the King.
The Convoy conjure illustrious soundscapes from the abyss of chaos, revealing hidden worlds of the imagination as the performance takes form and infuses with subjective experience. Using instruments of sound, light and smell, The Convoy enchant space with themes of tension, evolution, entropy and regeneration. Sensorial immersion transports audiences through highly dynamic environments that shift and blend into one single, breathing moment. As entity, rather than singular, Immy Chuah is a guest within The Convoy on unceded land.
I’m interested in what can be done with one’s identity and the space around it. Both my body and mind, touching everyday feelings between the rational, the playful and the political. Of course, this is often to do with my disability and my sexuality. My work has been focused on access, and the lack of it — to places, people’s minds and opportunities. I find plasticine is a great subverter of space and potentially of people’s minds. And the continued flexibility of it is something I am really enjoying — covering or filling up gaps and playing with crevices. But I’m finding that my work is drawing more and more to spoken word as a powerful format.
Sarah McCauley is a Melbourne-based music producer, editor and writer.
Neil Morris is a Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung man. He is well known in Narrm/Birraranga for his musical project DRMNGNOW, a project built on subject matter tackling the colonial nature of the Australian construct and how that affects contemporary society upon this land. The work is unapologetic, clear, and deeply poetic. It hints toward Morris's extensive experience as a spoken word artist in Narrm since 2015. Morris's work is triumphant in the face of severe adversity often imbued in a quite fortified melancholy, a powerful marker of the survival of First Nations peoples in the now.
Natasha Tontey is an artist and graphic designer based in Yogyakarta. She is interested in exploring the concept of fiction as a method of speculative thinking. Through her artistic practice she investigates the idea of how fear, horror, and terror could be manifested in order to control the public and how fictional accounts of the history and myth surrounding ‘manufactured fear’ might operate as a method of speculative fiction that determines expectations for the future.
Mat Spisbah is a New Media curator with a unique portfolio of programming that seeks to integrate non-traditional artistic methods and emerging technologies. Having lived in Hong Kong for 14 years, he is connected to the region’s art and culture, and has created professional networks with artists, curators, galleries, promoters and industry professionals across Australasia. Portfolio highlights include the debut Australian performances of north Asian artists including: Howie Lee, Rui Ho, Meuko Meuko, Pan Daijing, Alex Zhang Hungtai, Tzusing, and Gabber Modus Operandi.
Mandy Nicholson is a Wurundjeri-willam (Wurundjeri-baluk patriline) artist and Traditional Custodian of Melbourne and surrounds. Mandy also has connections to the Dja Dja wurrung and Ngurai illam wurrung language groups of the Central/Eastern Kulin Nation. Mandy gained a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Aboriginal Archaeology in 2011, worked for the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages for six years and is now a PhD candidate studying how Aboriginal people connect to Country, Off Country.
Lucreccia Quintanilla is an artist, writer, DJ and PhD candidate researcher at Monash University. Her writing and art have been published and exhibited both within Australia and internationally. Quintanilla’s practice is a collaborative one that manifests into outcomes within galleries and also as events and performances outside of that context. She regularly speaks at panels and symposiums on themes within her research, has received grants for her projects and residencies, and has taught at university level.
Amanda Stewart is a poet, author, and vocal artist. She has created a diverse range of publications, performances, film and radio productions in Australia, Europe, Japan, and the USA, working in literature, new music, broadcasting, theatre, dance, and new media environments. Amanda collaborated with Chris Mann for many years in the Australian ensemble, Machine For Making Sense (with Jim Denley, Rik Rue, and Stevie Wishart), as well as in other contexts. Her poem ‘ta’ was written in honour of Chris Mann’s extraordinary vision and work.
Holly Childs is an artist and writer. Her research involves filtering stories of computation through frames of ecology, earth, memory, poetry, and light. She is the author of two books: No Limit (Hologram, Melbourne) and Danklands (Arcadia Missa, London), and she collaborates with Gediminas Žygus on ‘Hydrangea’. She is currently writing her third book, What Causes Flowers Not to Bloom?.
Ivy Alvarez’s poetry collections include The Everyday English Dictionary, Disturbance, and Mortal. Her latest is Diaspora: Volume L (Paloma Press, 2019). A Fellow of MacDowell Colony (US), and Hawthornden (UK), her work is widely published and anthologised (twice in Best Australian Poems), with poems translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, she lived in Wales for almost a decade, before arriving in New Zealand in 2014.
Nick Ashwood is a guitarist, composer, improviser and performer from Nipaluna/Tasmania now residing in Sydney. His focuses have been exploring deep listening, harmonic space and the possibilities of the steel-string acoustic guitar by means of preparations, just intonation, objects and bowing.
Berlin-based composer-performer Johnny Chang engages in extended explorations surrounding the relationships of sound/listening and the in-between areas of improvisation, composition and performance. Johnny is part of the Wandelweiser composers collective and currently collaborates with: Catherine Lamb (Viola Torros project), Mike Majkowski (illogical harmonies), Phill Niblock, Samuel Dunscombe, Derek Shirley and others.
Megan Alice Clune shifts between musician, composer and artist. Primarily, her work explores both the concept and aesthetics of ambient music through sound installation, collaboration and performance. Megan is the founding member of the Alaska Orchestra, and has presented work and undertaken residencies across Australia, Asia, Europe and North America, including the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival (MA), Next Wave Festival, Underbelly Arts Festival, Performa 15 (NYC) and VividLIVE at the Sydney Opera House.
Andrew Fedorovitch is compos mentis. Andrew Fedorovitch embodies professionalism in every aspect of his life, including music.
Shota is an artist working in Australia. He makes sound-based works for varying contexts. He has had the opportunity to collaborate with a multitude of artists from varying disciplines. Shota is currently an honours student who is associated with the Plant ecophysiology and Ecosystem processes lab at the University of Sydney.
Sonya Holowell is a Dharawal woman, vocalist, composer and writer working across new and experimental genres. The contexts for her work, and the forms they take, are diverse and deeply questioning. Her practice comprises interdisciplinary collaboration, improvisation, multi-form writing and conceptual composition. She is also a workshop facilitator; a curator of the Now Now Festival; lecturer in experimental vocal practice; and a co-founder/editor of online arts publication ADSR Zine.
Alexandra Spence is an artist and musician living on Gadigal country in Sydney, Australia. She makes installations, compositions and performances based on (everyday) sound and listening. Through her practice she attempts to reimagine the intricate relationships between the listener, the object, and the surrounding environment as a kind of communion or conversation. She has a current, near-spiritual, obsession with the animation of material and object through sound. Alex has performed and presented work on radio, in concerts, festivals, symposiums and galleries worldwide, and has two releases: Waking, She Heard The Fluttering, with Room40, and Immaterial, with Longform Editions.
MP Hopkins is an artist based in Sydney, Australia, that is concerned with how to record voices that are not really there, and ways to make voices that are there not sound like voices. He makes audio recordings, performances, and texts.
Joel Stern is a curator, researcher, and artist living and working on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne, Australia. He has been Artistic Director of Liquid Architecture since 2013. In 2018, with critical legal scholar James Parker, Stern curated Eavesdropping, an expansive project addressing the ‘politics of listening’ through work by artists, researchers, writers, detainees and activists from Australia and around the world.
Georgia Hutchison is a cultural development practitioner and arts executive in Naarm/Melbourne, and Executive Director/CEO of Liquid Architecture. Her practice as an artist, educator, organiser and strategist crosses contemporary art, music, design and social justice.
Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu) is a new and original voice in the evolving journey of Taonga Puoro. His debut album Whāia te Māramatanga (Rattle Records) is a deeply felt and highly concentrated conversation between the past and the present—a musical passage of identity and connection. Using modern loop technology and traditional Māori flutes and horns made from stone, bone, shell and wood, Thorne creates a transcendent aural experience that touches the soul with timeless beauty. Every performance of Whāia te Māramatanga is a stunning and very personal exploration of the spiritual and healing qualities of an ancient practice.
Michiko Ogawa is a performer-composer specialising in the clarinet, born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She performs not only classical repertoire but also contemporary and experimental music, including free improvisation and film soundtrack work. In 2019 she was awarded a doctorate (DMA) from the University of California San Diego, with a dissertation focusing on the film music of Teiji Ito. She is in the beginning stages of writing a biography of Ito’s life.
Curious about the tender intersections between art, life and friendships, Emma Nixon is an emerging curator and writer. In 2018 she completed a Bachelor of Art History and Curating at Monash University and co-founded Cathedral Cabinet ARI in the Nicholas Building. In Melbourne she has curated and written about exhibitions that investigate subjects such as abstraction, the domestic, care and collage within contemporary art.
Fayen d’Evie is an artist and writer, based in Muckleford, Australia. Her projects are often conversational and collaborative, and resist spectatorship by inviting audiences into sensorial readings of artworks. Fayen advocates the radical potential for blindness, arguing that blindness offers critical positions and methods attuned to sensory translations, ephemerality, the tangible and the intangible, concealment, uncertainty, the precarious, and the invisible. With artist Katie West, Fayen co-founded the Museum Incognita, which revisits neglected or obscured histories through scores that activate embodied readings. Fayen is also the founder of 3-ply, which investigates artist-led publishing as an experimental site for the creation, dispersal, translation, and archiving of texts.
Debris Facility Pty Ltd is a para-corporate entity who engages im/material contexts with the view to highlight and disrupt administrative forms and their embedded power relations. Deploying print, design, installation, and wearables as the most visible parts of operations, they also work in experimental pedagogy and perforated performance of labour. They are a white-settler parasite with theft and dispossession as the implicated ground from which they work. They currently hold contracts with Liquid Architecture, Victorian College of the Arts, Monash University and Debris Facility Pty Ltd.
Timmah Ball is a writer and urban researcher of Ballardong Noongar descent. She has written for The Griffith Review, Right Now, Meanjin, Overland, Westerly, Art Guide Australia, Assemble Papers, The Big Issue, The Lifted Brow, the Victorian Writer magazine and won the Westerly Patricia Hackett Prize for writing.
Jessie Scott is a practising video artist, writer, programmer and producer who works across the spectrum of screen culture in Melbourne. She is a founding member of audiovisual art collective Tape Projects, and co-directed and founded the inaugural Channels Video Art Festival in 2013.
Christopher L G Hill is an artist, poet, anarchist, collaborator, facilitator, lover, friend, DJ, performer, sound pervader, publisher of Endless Lonely Planet, co-label boss; Bunyip trax, traveller, homebody, dancer, considerate participator, dishwasher, writer, bencher, eater, exhibitor: Sydney, Physics Room, Westspace, TCB, BUS, Punk Cafe,100 Grand street, Lismore Regional Gallery, Good Press, Gambia Castle, Conical, GCAS, NGV, VCA, Mission Comics, Slopes, Art Beat, Papakura Gallery, Neon Parc, UQ Gallery, Tate Modern, Connors Connors, Glasgow International, Sandy Brown, OFLUXO, New Scenarios, Margaret Lawrence, Flake, Utopian Slumps, World Food Books, Sutton, Rearview, Joint Hassles, a basement, a tree, Innen publications, SAM, Chateau 2F, etc, and tweeter, twitcher, sleeper, Biennale director (‘Melbourne Artist initiated’ 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018-20), DJ, retired gallerist Y3K, conversationalist who represents them self and others, born Melbourne/Narrm 1980c.e, lives World.
Iliass Saoud was born in Halba, Lebanon in 1960 as the sixth of eight children of Wakim and Nadima Saoud. Escaping the Lebanese Civil War in 1977, Iliass migrated to Canada pursued a BA in Mathematics from Dalhouse University in 1982. In 1987 he married Janice Joseph (Fakhry) before settling in Australia to raise his family in 1997, owning a variety of small businesses including the Gaffney Street post office across from the Lincoln Mill’s Centre in Coburg from 2005-2011. Currently, Iliass works part time at a local newsagency and is an avid Bridge player and a dedicated grandfather of one.
Dimitri Troaditis works in the Greek-Australian media. As a poet he has been extensively published in Greece and in Australia in numerous literary journals, websites, blogs and anthologies. He has published six poetry collections and two social history books so far. He has organised poetry readings in Melbourne for years and translates others’ poetry. He runs poetry website To Koskino and was a resident of Coburg for 19 years.
Luisa Lana was born in Australia in 1953. Her mother Nannina had arrived in Australia in 1950 with a 3 month old son, and worked for many years on the sewing room floors and her father Angelo worked on the docks where he helped unionise the Italian workforce. Luisa and her brother were latchkey kids, as they looked after themselves in the morning and ran the ‘Continental’ deli in the evenings. Luisa attained a teaching degree, then a postgrad in Social Sciences, and twice studied Italian at The University for Foreigners in Perugia, Italy. Luisa married Luigino Lana, a Venetian migrant who operated a mechanic business in Brunswick for over 30 years. She devoted her life to being an educator and a mother, teaching Italian to English speakers and English to generations of migrants from around the world. Currently Luisa is translating her father's memoirs from Italian to English, and enjoying being a Nonna.
Anabelle Lacroix is a French-Australian curator, writer and radio contributor. Working independently in Paris, she is based at Fondation Fiminco for a year-long residency focused on the politics of sleeplessness (2020). She has a broad practice, and a current interest in experimental practice, working with performance, sound, discourse and publishing. She is a PhD candidate at UNSW Art & Design.
Geoff Robinson is a Melbourne-based artist working on Wurundjeri country. Robinson creates event-based artworks that utilise the temporal qualities of sound and performance and the spatial conditions of physical sites to unravel the durational layers of place. Robinson has presented projects with Titanik, Turku; Bus Projects, Melbourne; Liquid Architecture, Melbourne; and MoKS, Mooste, Estonia. He was awarded the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014 and completed the PhD project Durational Situation at MADA, Monash University, Melbourne, 2018.
Mattin is a cross disciplinary artist working with noise, improvisation and dissonance. His work Social Dissonance was presented at documenta 14 in 2017 in Kassel and Athens.
Elena Biserna is a scholar and independent curator based in Marseille (France), working at the intersection of social, political and public spheres.
Tobi Maier is the director of Lisbon’s Municipal Galleries, and recently presented Mattin’s Expanding Concert (2019–2023) a four year long concert distributed in time and space through different media: 5 public interventions in 5 different galleries in Lisbon, and 5 texts published within the city.
Clare Milledge is an artist and academic, she lives and works between the lands of the Arakwal people in Bundjalung country (Broken Head, Northern NSW) and the lands of the Bidjigal and Gadigal people (Paddington, Sydney). She is a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Art & Design and is represented by STATION gallery.
Alexander Powers is a choreographer, performer and DJ from Naarm. In 2019 they premiered their first full length choreographic work Time Loop at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, receiving the Temperance Hall Award at the Fringe Awards. Under the moniker Female Wizard, they are known internationally for their forward-thinking DJ sets. They’ve performed at Golden Plains, Dark Mofo, Boiler Room, Hybrid Festival and Soft Centre and held a four year residency at Le Fag.
Zoe Scoglio’s (often collaborative) practice explores the space of art as a site of study and sociality to engage the radical imagination towards alternative ways of being, knowing and relating. Current research takes critical and collective somatic approaches towards response-ability in these times of ecological collapse, within settler colonial conditions. Past projects have taken place within varied contexts, on top of mountains and under full moons, as large collective choreographies and intimate encounters.
Tricky Walsh is a non-binary artist working in New Norfolk, Tasmania, who works both collaboratively and in a solo capacity. Their projects focus on both spatial and communication concerns in an increasingly speculative manner and while they use a diversity of media (architecture, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, sound, film, comics, radio) it is foremost the concept at hand that determines which form of material experimentation occurs within these broader themes.
Kengné Téguia is a Black Deaf HIV+ cyborg artist, who works from sound deafinitely. #TheBLACKRevolutionwillbeDEAFinitelyLoud
Angela Goh is a dancer and choreographer. Her work poses possibilities for disruption and transformation inside the aesthetics and conditions of technocapitalism, planetarity, and the post-anthropocene. She lives and works in Sydney, and has toured her work across Australia, Europe, the UK, the USA and Asia. She received the 2020 Keir Choreographic Award and the inaugural Sydney Dance Company Beyond the Studio Fellowship 2020-21.
Jannah Quill’s deconstructive exploration of electronic instruments and technologies manifests in electronic music production and experimental audio-visual performance and installation. Jannah modifies existing technologies (such as solar panels) into innovative light-to-audio systems, used with software/hardware experimentation and modular synthesis to carve a distinct voice in electronic music and art.
Tom Smith is a Melbourne-based artist, musician and researcher whose work combines video assemblages, experimental performance, speculative fiction, electronic music, websites and critical writing. Tom’s work is concerned with the politics and poetics of computational systems, the contradictions of creative economies, generic digital aesthetics and music as a mode of critical inquiry. Tom is also one half of music production duo Utility, and runs an independent record label called Sumactrac with Jarred Beeler (DJ Plead) and Jon Watts.
Pris Roos grew up in Rhenen, the Netherlands. Her family migrated from Bogor, Indonesia, to start their own toko in the Netherlands. Toko is the Indonesian word for shop, and they sell non-Western food (products). Roos grew up in the toko, a space of being together, and full of colours, smells, food, stories and images of immigrants. The toko is a source of inspiration for her artistic practices. Stories that are normally not heard find their way in her works. Roos makes portraits of immigrants that she meets in the toko, on the streets or in her surroundings of the South of Rotterdam. She visits them at home or invites them to her atelier. The stories are translated into painted portraits, videos, installations and spoken word performances.
Winnie Dunn is a Tongan-Australian writer and arts worker from Mt Druitt. She is the general manager of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Sydney University. Winnie’s work has been published in the HuffPost Australia, The Saturday Paper, Griffith Review, Meanjin Quarterly, SBS Voices and Cordite. She is the editor of several anthologies including Sweatshop Women, The Big Black Thing and Bent Not Broken. Winnie is currently completing her debut novel as the recipient of a 2019 CAL Ignite Grant.
Jon Watts is a Melbourne/Naarm based musician, designer, 3D artist and animator. His music has been released through cult labels SUMAC and Butter Sessions, and he is currently Senior Multimedia Installer at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Pan-Pan Kolektiva was established in March 2020, as a research group on listening. Pan-Pan is a standard emergency call based on the acronym Pan which stands for Pay Attention Now.
Nathan Gray is an artist whose recent works use voice as their medium, taking form as lecture-performances, radio-plays and documentaries, DJ sets, narrative and rumour.
makik markie yammamoroto
Leighton Craig is an artist living in Meanjin/Brisbane. He has been in a number of bands (The Lost Domain, G55, The Deadnotes et al) and is currently a member of the duo Primitive Motion with Sandra Selig.
Anne Zeitz is associate professor at University Rennes 2. Her research focuses on aural attention, the inaudible, the unheard, and the polyphony in contemporary art. She directed the research project 'Sound Unheard' and she co-organised the eponymous exhibition at the Goethe-Institut Paris, Paris and exhibition 'Échos magnétiques” at the MBA Rennes, Rennes in 2019.
Melissa Johnson is Associate Professor of Art History & Visual Culture at Illinois State University (Normal, IL). Her scholarly research focuses on the histories of craft and its intersections with modern and contemporary art. She is currently working on a project that explores artists making work in response to the writings of Virginia Woolf. She’s deeply interested in situating her academic writing and her textile-based work as parallel practices, and is working on two writing and textile projects, “Woolf Words” and “Haptic Investigations,” and a project on mending and repair.
Diego Ramirez makes art, writes about culture, and labours in the arts. In 2018, he showed his video work in a solo screening by ACCA x ACMI and he performed in Lifenessless at West Space x Gertrude Contemporary in 2019. His work has been shown locally and internationally at MARS Gallery, ACMI, Westspace, Torrance Art Museum, Hong-Gah Museum, Careof Milan, Buxton Cotntemporary, WRO Media Art Biennale, Human Resources LA, Art Central HK, Sydney Contemporary, and Deslave. His words feature in Art and Australia, NECSUS, un Projects, Runway Journal, Art Collector, and Australian Book Review. He is represented by MARS Gallery, Editor-at-large at Running Dog and Gallery Manager at SEVENTH.
Noemie Cecilia Huttner-Koros is a queer Jewish performance-maker, writer, dramaturg, poet, teaching artist and community organiser living and working on Whadjuk Noongar country in Boorloo (Perth). Her practice is driven by a deep belief in the social, political and communal role of art and performance and in engaging with sites and histories where queer culture, composting and ecological crisis occur.
Josten Myburgh is a musician based on Whadjuk Noongar boodja country who plays with techniques from the worlds of electro-acoustic music, radio art, free improvisation, field recording and experimental composition. He co-directs exploratory music label Tone List and the Audible Edge festival. He has performed in South Africa, the United States, and throughout South East Asia, Europe and Australia. He is a Schenberg Fellow and a student of Antoine Beuger and Michael Pisaro.
Aisyah Aaqil Sumito is an artist and writer living near Derbarl Yerrigan on Whadjuk Noongar Bibbulmun lands. Their work reflects mostly on personal intersections of disability, queerness and diasporic ancestry in so-called 'australia'. They have recently made text-based contributions to Runway Journal and HERE&NOW20: Perfectly Queer, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.
Michael Terren is a musician and educator from Boorloo/Perth. Grounded in experimental studio-based practice, his work explores the social construction of the technologies of music’s creation and distribution. He is a sessional academic teaching music at two Boorloo universities, and in 2019 finished a PhD thesis entitled 'The grain of the digital audio workstation'.
Joee Mejias is a musician and video artist from Manila. She is co-producer of WSK, the first and only international festival of digital arts and new media in the Philippines and co-founder of HERESY, a new platform for women in sound and multimedia. She performs as Joee & I: her avant-pop electronica solo project.
Myriad Sun are an experimental audio/visual/rap trio from Walyalup (Fremantle), Australia, composed of electronic producer Ben Aguero, Mc POW! Negro, and Limit Bashr. Additional performers: Mali Jose, Billy Jack Narkle and Polly-Pearl Greenhalgh.
Jasmine Guffond is an artist and composer working at the interface of social, political, and technical infrastructures. Focused on electronic composition across music and art contexts her practice spans live performance, recording, installation and custom made browser add-ons. Through the sonification of data she addresses the potential of sound to engage with contemporary political questions and engages listening as a situated-knowledge practice.
Sounding Together comprise of the following performers: Rhys Butler (alto saxophone); Simon Charles (soprano saxophone, shakuhachi); Eduardo Cossio (electronics, writing); Luke Cuerel (alto saxophone); Jim Denley (flute, writing); Julia Drouhin (voice, electronics, objects, images); Jameson Feakes (mandolin); Be Gosper (voice, objects); Noemie Huttner-Koros (voice, writing); Lenny Jacobs (percussion); Annette Krebs (amplified string instrument); Annika Moses (voice, images); Josten Myburgh (clarinet, alto saxophone, editing); Dan O’Connor (mastering); Stuart Orchard (guitar, objects, editing); Daisy Sanders (voice, movement).
Yan Jun, a musician based in Beijing uses a wide range of materials such as field recording, body, noise and concept. Yan Jun: “I wish I was a piece of field recording.”
Katie West is a multi-disciplinary artist who lives on Noongar Ballardong boodja and belongs to the Yindjibarndi people of the Pilbara tablelands in Western Australia. The process and notion of naturally dyeing fabric underpin her practice – the rhythm of walking, gathering, bundling, boiling up water and infusing materials with plant matter. The objects, installations and happenings that Katie creates invite attention to the ways we weave our stories, places, histories, and futures.
Simon Charles is a composer and performer based in Noongar Ballardong Country (Western Australia). His practice reflects an interest in the instability of compositional structures; as friction between musical notation and perception and interactions with place. He has performed at Serralvés Festival (Porto), The Wulf (Los Angeles) Studio Rotor (Berlin), Vigeland Mausoleum (Oslo), Avantwhatever Festival (Melbourne), DATA (Marseille), ANAM Quarttethaus and the Melbourne Recital Centre.
Tiarney Miekus is a writer, editor and musician based in Naarm/Melbourne. Her writing has appeared in The Age, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow (Online), Overland, Memo Review, un Magazine, Art Guide Australia, Swampland and RealTime. She is currently editor and podcast producer at Art Guide Australia.
Liang Luscombe is a Naarm/Melbourne-based visual artist whose practice encompasses painting, sculpture and moving image that engage in a process of generative questioning of how media and film affect audiences.
Thembi Soddell is a sound artist best known for their powerful acousmatic performances and installations in darkness. In 2019 they were awarded a PhD from RMIT University for their practice-based research titled, A Dense Mass of Indecipherable Fear: The Experiential (Non)Narration of Trauma and Madness through Acousmatic Sound. This research developed a novel approach to understanding lived experiences of anxiety, depression and trauma using a medium (abstract sound) with the unique ability to reflect the intangible nature of the inner world.
James Parker is an academic at Melbourne Law School and long-time associate curator with Liquid Architecture. His work explores the many relations between law, sound and listening. He is currently working on machine listening with Joel Stern and Sean Dockray.
Eloise Sweetman loves art, misses her home in Western Australia, all the time loving Rotterdam where she became friends with Pris Roos whose artwork Sweetman speaks of. Sweetman is a curator, artist, writer and teacher working in intimacy, not knowing and material relation. She started Shimmer with Dutch-Australian artist Jason Hendrik Hansma in 2017.
Cecilia Vicuña's work dwells in the not yet, the future potential of the unformed, where sound, weaving, and language interact to create new meanings.
'In January 1966, I began creating precarios (precarious) installations and basuritas, objects composed of debris, structures that disappear, along with quipus and other weaving metaphors. I called these works 'Arte Precario', creating a new independent category, a non-colonized name for them. The precarios soon evolved into collective rituals and oral performances based on dissonant sound and the shamanic voice. The fluid, multi-dimensional quality of these works allowed them to exist in many media and languages at once. Created in and for the moment, they reflect ancient spiritual technologies—a knowledge of the power of individual and communal intention to heal us and the earth.'
Camila Marambio is a private investigator, amateur dancer, permaculture enthusiast, and sporadic writer, but first and foremost, she is a curator and the founder/director of Ensayos, a nomadic interdisciplinary research program in Tierra del Fuego.
Las Chinas is the cosmic coincidences led to the meeting of Chileans Sarita Gálvez and Camila Marambio in Melbourne. Their shared reverence for the ancestral flautón chino from the Andes Mountains lead to playful explorations of its unique dissonant sounds and thereafter to experimenting with atonal signing and other technologies of the spirit.
Influenced by Chilean feminist poet Cecilia Vicuña, the now deceased poet Fidel Sepúlveda, the musical ensemble La Chimuchina and the chino bands from the townships of La Canela and Andacollo, Las Chinas honours the ancestral tradition by enacting the principle of tearing each other apart.
Bryan Phillips A.K.A. Galambo is a Chilean/Australian artist working in community arts, music and performance, using sound as a means to facilitate engagement with others. His practice has mainly been developed in Chile, but after completing his Masters in Community Cultural Development (VCA-2013) he has become involved in projects with artists from Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Australia.
Douglas Kahn is an historian and theorist of energies in the arts, sound in the arts and sound studies, and media arts, from the late-nineteenth century to the present. His books include Energies in the Arts (MIT Press, 2019); Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts (University of California Press, 2013); Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (MIT Press, 1999); Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of Digital Arts, edited with Hannah Higgins (University of California Press, 2012); and Source: Music of the Avant-garde, edited with Larry Austin (University of California Press, 2011).
André Dao is a writer, editor, researcher, and artist. His debut novel, Anam, won the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. He is also the co-founder of Behind the Wire, an oral history project documenting people’s experience of immigration detention and a producer of the Walkley-award winning podcast, The Messenger. He is a member of the Manus Recording Project Collective.
Poppy de Souza is a Meanjin (Brisbane) based researcher affiliated with Griffith University and UNSW. Her work focuses on the politics of voice and listening—broadly defined—in conditions of inequality and injustice, including the relationship between sound, race, and conditions of (not) being heard. Poppy has previously worked in community arts and cultural development (CACD), and with the national Film and Sound Archive as a curator on australianscreen.
Andrew Brooks is an artist, writer, and teacher who lives on unceded Wangal land. He is a lecturer in media cultures at UNSW, one half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate, and a member of the Rosa Press Collective. Homework, a book of essays co-written with Astrid Lorange, was recently published by Discipline.
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate and filmmaker. He was writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya. He writes regularly for The Guardian and several other publications. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, and author of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. He was held on Manus Island from 2013 until 2019.
Emma Russell is a critical carceral studies scholar and senior lecturer in crime, justice and legal studies at La Trobe University, Australia. She researches and writes on policing and criminalisation, prisons, detention, and activism. Emma is the author of Queer Histories and the Politics of Policing (2020) and co-author of Resisting Carceral Violence: Women’s Imprisonment and the Politics of Abolition (2018).
Dylan Martorell is an artist and musician based in Narrm/Melbourne Victoria. He is a founding member of Slow Art Collective, Snawklor, Hi God People, and Forum of Sensory Motion. He has performed and exhibited internationally, including projects with; Art Dubai, Asian Art Biennale, Tarrawarra Biennale, Jakarta Biennale and Kochi Muzirus Biennale. His work often combines site-specific materiality and music to create temporary sites for improvised community engagement.
Jim Denley is one of Australia's foremost improvisers. Over a career spanning four decades his work has emphasised the use of recording technologies, collaboration, and a concern with site-specificity.
Noah Simblist works as a curator, writer, and artist with a focus on art and politics, specifically the ways in which contemporary artists address history. He has contributed to Art in America, Terremoto, Art Journal and other publications.
He is also an Associate Professor of Art at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Jacqui Shelton is an artist and writer born on Barada Barna land, central QLD, and based in Narrm, Melbourne. Her work uses text, performance, film-making and photography to explore the complications of performance and presence, and how voice, language, and image can collaborate or undermine one another. She is especially interested in how emotion and embodied experience can be made public and activated to reveal a complex politics of living-together, and the tensions this makes visible. She has produced exhibitions and performance works in association with institutions including Gertrude Contemporary, the Institute of Modern Art, West Space, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Tarrawarra Museum, and with Channels Festival and Liquid Architecture. Shelton has shown work internationally in Milan at Care-Of, and at NARS Inc in New York City. She teaches photography at Monash University and in the Masters of Media program at RMIT, and holds a PhD from Monash University.
A Hanley is an artist currently living on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne, Australia. Their practice uses sound and media to explore relations among queer ecologies, attunement, situatedness, and speculative practices. Engaging forms of performance, installation, and collaboration, Hanley's work is interested in audition as an affective practice and the possibilities of sound and technology to support and alter the sonic expressions of humans and non-humans.
Patrick Hase is a digital media artist and researcher, focusing on work that often involves digital interfaces, experimental web design, and collaborative a/v. The entwined practical and theoretical aspects of his work are interested in exploring the embedded cultural and emotional impacts of how people are extended into the virtual via digital processes and designs.
Xen Nhà is a documentary maker and artist with a background in creating intimate dialogues and storytelling across sound, film, and texts. Their work explores the confluence between personal and collective narratives and the cultural politics and responsibility of listening. They are currently living in Melbourne on unceded Wurundjeri Country.
Philip Brophy writes on music, among other things.
Jason De Santolo (Garrwa and Barunggam) is a researcher & creative producer based in the School of Design, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. He has worked with his own communities as an activist and advocate using film and performance, protest and education to bring attention to injustices and design solutions using Indigenous knowledge.
Kynan Tan is an artist interested in the relations and conditions of computational systems, with a focus on data, algorithm, networks, materiality, control, and affect. These areas are explored using computer-generated artworks that take the form of simulations, video, sound, 3d prints, text, code, and generative algorithms.
Snack Syndicate, two rats (Andrew Brooks and Astrid Lorange) living on unceded Wangal land; texts, objects, events, meals, and publics.
Spence Messih is an artist living and working on Gadigal land. Their practice speaks broadly to sites of pressure, power structures, materiality, and language, and more specifically about these things in relation to their own trans experience.
Tina Stefanou born of Sophia and Yorgios Stefanou is a first/second generation Greek-Australian. Emerging from an East Melbourne hospital on 21 November 1986. She is thirty-four years old. Now based on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri people in Wattle Glen, Victoria. With a background as a vocalist, she works undisciplined, with and across a diverse range of mediums, practices, approaches, and labours: an embodied practice that she calls, 'voice in the expanded field'.
Tom Melick is the co-editor of Slug and part of the Rosa Press Collective and Stolon Press.
Trisha Low is a writer living in the East Bay. She is the author of The Compleat Purge (Kenning Editions, 2013) and Socialist Realism (Emily Books/Coffee House Press, 2019).
What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist…In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. ‘Social problems’ aren’t ‘a matter of concern’ when there’s a strike, they are intolerable twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.1
I know that for the audience, it is quite hard to just sit down and listen to the jungle for ten minutes. And I witnessed that, in Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland. Some people just couldn’t stay, they left the gallery, and tried to listen to another voice. But that is the reality. We were in that prison, in those circumstances, for more than six years. People in the gallery couldn’t listen, couldn’t even make it ten minutes…Another thing really that is very important, is that this system treats us in a way where we do not exist. But we do exist. Sometimes we exist in Australia, through these artworks, you know… That is the important thing about this work. That it allows us to say: here we are.2
This essay stages a hearing of the first seven recordings (the first seventy minutes, or the first week) of how are you today. In each case, the hearing is actually a re-hearing, or a re-re-hearing, and so on. As one of the Melbourne-based members of the Manus Recording Project Collective, I first heard these recordings on my phone when Samad or Shamindan – whose recordings I was responsible for uploading to Dropbox – had made a new recording; or on my computer when the other Melbourne-based members – Jon and Michael – had uploaded a new recording from Kazem or Farhad or Behrouz or Aziz to the Dropbox folder which was the digital home of the work; or in the gallery in which they were exhibited. In the case of Samad and Shamindan’s recordings, I also discussed with them over WhatsApp ideas for sounds to record, such that I also pre-heard their recordings. In fact, it could be said that I pre-heard all the recordings – through my conversations with Jon and Michael about the other men’s ideas; through the titles of the recording, which provide some description of what is to come; and finally through all the articles, reports and media I have consumed about Manus over the years.
In the staging that follows, those re-hearings and pre-hearings are condensed into a single hearing. The staging also condenses some of the many meanings of the word ‘hearing’. As Jonathan Sterne writes, ‘[t]he simple act of hearing implies a medium for sound, a body with ears to hear, a frame of mind to do the same, and a dynamic relation between hearer and heard that allows for the possibility of mutual effects.’3 ‘Hearing’, as it appears below, shifts between the sonic and the metaphoric, and between the ear and the mind. As a staged hearing, the essay itself gestures to another meaning of the word – to the trial or the scene of judgment – which is not to say that the hearer in this case has the authority of the judge. To be clear, nothing in this hearing can alter the material circumstances of the six men making the recordings. But, as I have argued elsewhere, we cannot reduce the purpose of the trial to its outcome: guilty/innocent, granted/dismissed, and so on.4 Rather, we best understand the purpose of the trial by looking at the right to be heard, which evinces a shared commitment to paying attention to the views of others – to hearing others.5 It is one of the ways we have of communally making something matter or, to paraphrase both Perec and Boochani, of acknowledging that someone exists. Where the present hearing differs from a legal hearing is that the latter is concerned only with hearing others in the cognitive sense – that is, in hearing someone’s logical arguments, or indeed, in hearing the logical arguments made on their behalf by some professional. In contrast, the present hearing is concerned not so much, or not only, with hearing others, but as Sterne puts it, with ‘hearing the hearing of others’.6 Such a politics of hearing, Sterne suggests, ‘hold[s] onto the idea that the ways people can hear, the limits of that hearing, and the conditions of possibility for hearing all provide points of entry into what it means to be a person at a given time or place.’7 To put it another way, the present hearing is concerned with the question: what is the nature of the relation between the hearer and the one whose hearing is heard?
I am grateful to Ellena Savage for bringing this reading to my attention; Georges Perec, Species of Places and Other Pieces, trans. John Sturrock (London: Penguin Classics, 2008), 209. ↩
Andre Dao and Behrouz Boochani, ‘Interview: Andre Dao and Behrouz Boochani,’ Disclaimer (December 3, 2019). https://disclaimer.org.au/contents/manus-recording-project-collective/interview-andre-dao-and-behrouz-boochani ↩
I am grateful to James Parker for bringing my attention to this reading, and also for his helpful comments on this piece more generally; Jonathan Sterne, ‘Hearing,’ in Keywords of sound, eds. David Novak & Matt Sakakeeny (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 65-77. ↩
André Dao, ‘Human Dignity, the Right to Be Heard, and Algorithmic Judges;’ in Jeremy Waldron, Dignity, rank, and rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 55. ↩
Jonathan Sterne, ‘Hearing,’ in Keywords of sound, David Novak & Matt Sakakeeny (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 74. ↩
Jonathan Sterne, ‘Hearing,’ 65-73. See also James Parker and Joel Stern, ‘Eavesdropping’ in James Parker and Joel Stern, ed., Eavesdropping: A Reader (Melbourne: Liquid Architecture, 2019), 24, on Australia’s regime of offshore detention itself (and not sound, or technical infrastructure like Dropbox or WhatsApp) being the medium or the ‘condition of possibility’ of how are you today. ↩
I heard an English commentator saying, Modric in! And a series of male voices speaking what I thought was Arabic. I heard the rain falling outside and the many-layered voices of the crowd in Moscow rising and falling. The men speaking Arabic sounded closely packed, as if they were sitting and standing all around the microphone that was recording them.
I heard a goal going in and the men shouting in joy and triumph, their voices raised and their speech becoming suddenly more rapid. When the immediate excitement subsided, I could hear the English commentator speaking rapidly. I heard the shrill of a referee’s whistle.
I could hear the men speaking to each other but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I didn’t know if they were talking about the game, which I knew was the World Cup Final between France and Croatia (a game that I myself had been watching at the very same time as the men in the recording). Perhaps they were talking about Manus, the Pacific island off the coast of Papua New Guinea where they have been detained for nearly five years. Perhaps they were talking about home, which I guessed – drawing upon what I knew already about Aziz, the man who had placed the microphone in the room in the middle of these voices – for most of them was Sudan.
I heard another goal go in, and this time the joy was less expressive: there was more clapping, some whooping, but the sound was not deafening – it didn’t distort in the headphones I was listening through. I thought that perhaps there were more Croatian fans than French fans in the room. I thought about how what I heard in this recording (which I knew had been made somewhere in Lorengau, the main town on Manus Island) and what I had heard about Manus Island were completely different. I thought that perhaps it was this word, to hear, that was misleading me, for I was using the same word to describe two distinct acts.
I thought of the first act as a physiological one: I used my ears to hear ten minutes’ worth of sound made in a room in Lorengau, in the early hours of 16 July 2018. These were sounds that sounded to my ear indistinguishable from the sounds that I would have heard at that time in any of the late night cafés and pool rooms of my home suburb of Footscray, had I been in those cafés and pool rooms. I thought of the second act as cognitive: when I said that I had heard things about Manus Island, I meant that I had somehow absorbed a body of information over an undefined period of time concerning that place (through reading, watching television, listening to other people talking), much in the same way that Eliot Weinberger learned things about Iraq in two essays for the London Review of Books, ‘What I Heard About Iraq’ and ‘What I Heard About Iraq in 2005’.1
In Weinberg’s essays, hearing is used as a metaphor for a kind of politics – a politics that might be summed up as listening back to power (though even that is a metaphor, one that exploits listening’s connotations of intention and attention – as if power might be countered by an effort of will and perception).2 Many of the things Weinberger ‘hears’ are words said by the president, the vice-president, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and so on. And when he does ‘hear’ the voices of Iraqis, it is not clear to me in what sense he hears them. For instance, when I read that Weinberger heard ‘Muhammad Abboud tell how, unable to leave his house to go to a hospital, he had watched his nine-year-old son bleed to death, and how, unable to leave his house to go to the cemetery, he had buried his son in the garden’, I wondered how Weinberger had heard Abboud’s story.3 Had he sat down with the grieving father over a hot beverage? Or had he listened, from his office in New York City, to a recording made in Fallujah? Or had he seen Abboud on one of the cable news networks? Or had he read about Abboud in the newspaper? And what language would Abboud have spoken in anyway? Surely not English – but then, who translated?
None of these questions is relevant to Weinberger’s project – or, at least, my understanding of his project. For the purposes of listening back to power, it is sufficient that Abboud’s story is there in the essay – however it got there – a couple of paragraphs below Donald Rumsfeld saying, ‘Innocent civilians in that city have all the guidance they need as to how they can avoid getting into trouble. There aren’t going to be large numbers of civilians killed and certainly not by US forces.’4 Listening back to power is about putting the disempowered (Abboud) and the empowered (Rumsfeld) into their proper relation.5 To do that, one does not need to hear in the first, physiological sense – only the second, cognitive sense of hearing is required. But that is not what I am trying to do. At least, that is not what I can do yet. Because first I have to examine – or create – a relation between six men on Manus Island and myself. To do that, I have to pay attention to the quality of the relation between us – and to do that, I have to pay attention to the kind of hearing I am doing, for those different forms of hearing are constitutive of the relation.
So, the sounds I heard on Manus Island and the things I heard about Manus Island were very different. The things I had heard about Manus Island were not the kinds of things I expected to find in my home suburb of Footscray; the things I had heard about Manus Island did not include gatherings of men around a television, watching the World Cup Final. Rather, the things I had heard – cognitively speaking – about Manus Island included: that offshore processing was necessary for Australia’s border security;6 that human rights groups, including the UN special rapporteur on torture, had condemned indefinite detention on the island as a violation of the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;7 that eight of the detainees had died since 2013;8 that the detention centre had been closed since October 2017 and that the men were no longer detained;9 that genuine refugees would be processed and resettled in the US;10 that the US were not taking any refugees from a list of suspect countries, including Sudan.11
Elliot Weinberger, ‘What I Heard About Iraq,’ London Review of Books 27(3): (3 February 2005). https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v27/n03/eliotweinberger/what-i-heard-about-iraq;
Elliot Weinberger, ‘What I Heard About Iraq in 2005,’ London Review of Books published online 28(1): (5 January 2006). https://www.lrb.co.uk/ the-paper/v28/n01/eliot-weinberger/what-i-heard-about-iraq-in-2005. ↩
I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer who reminded me that listening generally denotes attentive and purposeful aural perception. ↩
Elliot Weinberger, ‘What I Heard About Iraq.’ ↩
Elliot Weinberger, ‘What I Heard About Iraq.’ ↩
Elliot Weinberger, ‘What I Heard About Iraq.’ ↩
Judith Ireland, ‘Coalition’s resolve on asylum seekers ‘stronger than before’: Scott Morrison,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 2013. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/coalitions-resolve-on-asylum-seekers-stronger-than-ever-before-scott-morrison-20131004-2uz44.html. ↩
Juan Méndez, ‘Observations by the Special Rapporteur on Australia,’ in Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman treatment or punishment, UN Doc (6 March 2015), 16-31. A/HRC/28/68/Add. 1. ↩
The eight detainees and the dates of their deaths were Reza Barati (17 February 2014), Hamid Kehazaei (5 September 2014), Fazel Chegani (8 November 2015), Kamil Hussain (2 August 2016), Faysal Ishak (24 December 2016), Hamed Shamshiripour (7 August 2017), Rajeev Rajendran (2 October 2017), Salim (22 May 2018): Australian Border Deaths Database, https://www.monash.edu/arts/border-crossingobservatory/research-agenda/australian-border-deaths-database. ↩
Michael Koziol and James Massola, ‘Manus refugees given ultimatum as Turnbull government comes under pressure,’ The Age, 30 August 2017. https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/manus-refugees-given-final-ultimatum-as-turnbull-government-comes-under-pressure-20170830-gy715b.html. ↩
Calla Wahlquist, ‘First Manus Island refugees flown to US under resettlement deal,’ The Guardian, 26 September 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/26/first-manus-island-held-refugees-flown-to-us-under-resettlement-deal. ↩
Khanh Hoang, ‘US-Australia Resettlement Deal,’ ILA Reporter, 6 March 2017. http://ilareporter.org.au/2017/03/us-australia-resettlement-deal-khanh-hoang/. ↩
I heard Samad’s voice saying, twice: ‘we don’t have anything to do here’. I heard him saying that he has one friend, and that friend is music. I heard the muffled sound of another voice – perhaps a neighbour in West Haus, where he has been living since the men were evicted from the detention centre that they had made their home. Samad’s voice sounded close, direct. He was speaking straight to me. But his voice also sounded distorted, as if he were too close to the microphone, or as if the levels on the recorder were set too high. I heard him saying that his favourite music was slow music. I heard three piano notes, very loud, creating a sentimental melody. I heard a man’s voice singing in a language I didn’t understand or recognise, backed by syrupy strings. I imagined Samad sitting in his room in West Haus, listening to this saccharine love song on his own.
I heard the song finish, and in the quiet before the next bit of slow music, I heard the sound of a distant door slamming. I heard – and this is a metaphor now, for this was not a sound that I heard with my ears but the contours of an idea that I perceived with my mind (hearing, then, as a metaphor for imagination, or projection, or empathy) – I heard his terrible loneliness, which is to say: I heard my own loneliness, if I were in his position, listening to sentimental music about love. I heard how my own desires – sexual and spiritual and materialistic and human – would be suffocated beneath all that loneliness, if it had been me, not Samad, on Manus Island for the last five years.
I heard a kettle boiling and water being poured into a cup. I heard the creak of a chair as weight shifted, the first pluck of an acoustic guitar string. I heard the plucking take on a melody and a rhythm.
I heard the rustle of a packet of some unknown snack (crisps? biscuits?); the crunch of Farhad eating. I heard a song being played through tinny speakers, a singer singing in a language I didn’t understand. I heard Farhad singing along in the voice we use when no one else is around.
I heard the song – in its indecipherable language and unfamiliar tune – go on, and I found my attention wavering. I found myself thinking about our dinner plans, about how my daughter had been up all night the night before, vomiting, about holding her small warm body against me as she slept between rounds of vomiting.
And then I was thinking about how I couldn’t give a whole ten minutes of my time to this recording. A whole ten minutes – by that I meant not just sitting as I had done for the duration of the ten-minute recording while it played through headphones on my ears and as my mind wandered, but hearing what there was to hear in each of the 600 seconds of the recording. It was not – should not have been – a difficult task. There are, I thought, still 85,800 seconds left in the day for everything else.
I heard, then – metaphor again (hearing as metaphor for remembering having read or, more precisely, repeating in my mind lines that I had once read) – I heard Sheila Heti asking (writing), in a very different context, whether attention is soul. I heard (said to myself) her saying (writing): ‘if I pay attention to my mother’s sorrow, does that give it soul? If I pay attention to her unhappiness – if I put it into words, transform it, and make it into something new – can I be like the alchemists, turning lead into gold’?1
I wondered, then, with Heti’s words still ringing in my ears (metaphorically speaking), what it was I was doing by paying attention to – through hearing – Farhad’s sorrow. Was I giving it soul? Was I giving soul to Aziz’s sorrow? To Samad’s and Behrouz’s and Shamindan’s and Kazem’s? Was I transforming their sorrow (bad) into something else (good)?
But what could that good ‘something’ be? I had long ago given up on the illusion that such individual acts of attention could transform their sorrow into what the men themselves most wanted – that is, into freedom, where freedom means being free of the Australian government’s immigration system, free to live lawfully in a safe country, free to pursue their life plans in the same way that I have been free to pursue mine. No, I was not under the impression that this act of listening could change the material situation of these men; I did not believe, as I remembered Julian Burnside once saying he had believed (long ago in 2001), that the problem of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees was a problem of awareness.2 We Australians know what’s being done in our name – or at least, we know enough to know better. It is not that we haven’t heard (cognitively speaking) enough about Manus Island.
Could it be that it’s the hearing that’s the thing, not the hearing about? Maybe the kind of attention that gives soul to sorrow isn’t the kind of attention we give when we hear about something (i.e. when we read a book about, listen to a podcast about, watch a documentary about). Maybe our attention only gives soul when we hear (or touch or smell or taste or see) someone.
But that still leaves the question: what does it mean to give soul to sorrow? What am I transforming sorrow into? What happens to sorrow if it isn’t given soul? And how does any of this relate to this recording Farhad made in July of 2018, the recording I was struggling to pay attention to?
I wondered – not for the first time – whether all my thoughts weren’t simply self-serving. Of course Heti wants to believe that writing about her mother’s sorrow could be transformative. She had already committed herself to being a writer, and it is in the shadow of that commitment – a commitment that might have been made for any number of reasons (viz. ego, training, romanticism, a lack of viable alternatives) – that she concludes that writing gives soul. The argument is structurally self-justificatory. And so it is here: I have already, clearly, committed myself to this hearing, for reasons that precede and prefigure the reasons I am putting down in this essay. I mean that I am a member of a collective, the Manus Recording Project Collective. But I am not a recorder. So what am I? A discussant, a mixer, an uploader. But mostly I am a hearer. True, the audience in the gallery or online is a hearer too. But where their hearing is casual, my membership in the collective commits me to a different kind of hearing. This commitment casts a heavy shadow over all these musings about attention and sorrow.
If only I could escape that shadow, then I could see more clearly whether this hearing is worthwhile. But to escape the shadow of one’s own commitments is to escape – to reject, to deny, to disavow – one’s self entirely. And how would one go about doing that?
So I remain in the shadows, where it seems inevitable that I will conclude that paying attention to sorrow – as I believe myself to be doing now – gives that sorrow soul. Perhaps, then, I should ask another question: does the soul given to sorrow take on different forms for different people? Does my hearing what there is to hear in this recording matter only for me (because it makes me feel righteous, or better informed, or artistic) – or does it matter to Farhad too (because someone is listening to his music, which is to say that they are paying the kind of purposive aural attention to his artistry that is commonly meant when we say we listen to music, or because the listener might somehow agitate for his release, or simply because someone is hearing – in a sense less imbued with the attentiveness of musical listening – the sounds he has chosen to record)? Is the soul given to his sorrow for my benefit, or his – or is it independent of both of us, a good-thing-in-itself in the cosmic order of the universe?
I heard the sound of a man walking in thongs, the steady rhythm of his feet. I heard Behrouz saying what sounded to me like, ‘Hello, poku’ (later I heard – as in, I was told, by someone who had been to Manus – that it was probably Papu, a kinship term in the Manus languages). I heard the whirr of air-conditioning units. I heard insects, as loud as the cicadas outside my parents’ home in Mt Waverley in the summer, a place I associate with the middlest of middle-class suburbia. I heard the call of a bird – like an electronic pulse – and wondered if this was the chauka, that brown and white bird endemic to Manus, which I’d heard. And this, once again, is hearing as a metaphor for remembering, as the following information about the chauka was information that I had gleaned somewhere, a somewhere now lost in the recesses of my memory. It thus seems more fitting to say that I heard this unsourced information – hearing being somehow suitably imprecise (as opposed, for example, to reading), as in hearsay: I’d heard that the chauka occupies a central place in the spiritual mythology of Manusians, that the bird is thought to sit in judgment over the desires of the islanders, that its call marks each birth and death on the island.
I heard Behrouz saying, ‘Salaam’. I heard him saying, ‘Hello, good morning’. I did not hear who he was speaking to. I heard the pace of his steps, quite fast, so that his walking did not seem to me to be leisurely.
I heard a beauty in this recording that I had not heard the first time I had heard it, when it had been playing in the gallery. (I don’t know if that was a metaphor – in what sense does one hear beauty? Perhaps it is a metaphor for judgment: to hear beauty is to have come to an aesthetic judgment, even if it is so fundamental, so primal, that we don’t experience it cognitively at all – we don’t measure what we hear against our standards of beauty and find that it passes. We just hear it, as if it were a natural category.) Listening to this recording for the second time, I felt like I was alone in the jungle, though really I was on a bus: I could hear the rumble of the bus engine, the whoosh of the cars passing on their way to – work, school, normal life – wherever it is that people are driving to in Melbourne mid-morning on a Monday. I could hear the elderly women behind me talking about the maniacs on the roads, how something really ought to be done about them.
I wondered, is giving soul to sorrow just another way of saying empathy? I did not think it was. I did not think that what I was trying to do was empathise with Behrouz. I was not trying to put myself in his shoes (or his thongs, for that matter). Admittedly, my training in literature and the other humanities meant that my consciousness was primed for empathy, so that inevitably, part of what was going on was empathetic, just as I had empathised with Samad’s loneliness. But empathy was not my true goal. There are, after all, much more effective ways of empathising than by listening to a ten-minute recording of a lone man walking. I wanted to go beyond empathy.
I heard – metaphor for remembering having read – Behrouz saying (writing) that Australian civil society had been defeated.1 He meant that Australian civil society had failed the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus. I wondered then whether at the heart of this failure was civil society’s reliance on empathy. I heard – metaphor for imagining – civil society saying, ‘These boat people, they are just like you, the Australian citizen.’ Except they are not, in small and big ways. Perhaps that is why campaigns to get kids out of detention are relatively successful. Maybe one baby is more or less the same as another. But as soon as the infant grows up, difference – through culture, personality, social setting, life experience – begins.
I wanted to believe that it’s possible to give soul to sorrow without
erasing that difference.
I heard Behrouz’s breathing, heavy for the first time in this
recording. I heard him handling the recorder, turning it off.
Behrouz Boochani, ‘For six months I was Jesus: Behrouz,’ in They Cannot take the Sky, André Dao and Michael Green (Melbourne: Allen & Unwin, March 2017), 16. ↩
I heard water running and a knife chopping. I heard Shamindan asking Srirangan what he’s doing, and Srirangan replying that he’s chopping two fish. I heard what I thought might be a knife scaling the fish, a scraping kind of sound.
I heard the water running as if I was there next to the tap.
I heard Srirangan saying that they are in the laundry, that that is where he cleans his fish. I heard the muffled rumbling as Shamindan picks up the recorder, and their flip-flopping feet as they walk from the laundry to Srirangan’s room.
I heard Shamindan asking Srirangan why he bothers cooking when the mess hall serves them three meals a day. I heard Srirangan say, ‘I have been living in this camp almost five years. And I am really sick, I am tired. So this food, I used to cook by my own.’
I heard Shamindan saying, ‘Ok, ok, good’. I heard – and this isn’t metaphorical hearing so much as interpretative hearing, hearing attuned for meaning – I heard the staged quality of their conversation.
That interpretation came easily not just because of the stilted questions and replies, but because I had heard – metaphorically (hearing as metaphor for understanding) – that Shamindan and Srirangan were best friends who spent all their time together, and so had probably, despite Shamindan’s questions, prepared fish curries just like this one a dozen times.
I heard in the staged quality of their conversation a number of different things – which is to say, that the sounds that I heard were ambivalent, amenable to many different interpretations. I heard two friends cooking a curry. I heard a man awkwardly interviewing his friend while they cooked dinner. I heard two men trying to make a recording that would be interesting to an audience they could barely imagine. I heard two men from Sri Lanka speaking in English, for the benefit of that imagined audience. I heard (metaphor for remembering, for using my memory to imagine) the other men, in the other recordings, speaking in languages I did not understand. I heard two refugees trying to make their sorrow worthy of the attention of that audience. I heard – metaphor for remembering having read – Susan Sontag saying (writing) that, ‘People want to weep. Pathos, in the form of narrative, does not wear out.’1 But of all the things I heard from Shamindan and Srirangan, what I did not hear was a narrative that wanted me to weep. I did not hear any narrative at all.
I heard Srirangan saying, in an echo of Samad, I have nothing to
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Straus and Giroux, 2003), 65. ↩
I heard Kazem beginning with a greeting, ‘Salaam’. I heard the screeching of the insects again, as Kazem and Mansour speak in a language I do not understand.
I heard Kazem switching over to English, asking Mansour, ‘Ok, my brother Mansour, tell me about your day’. I heard Mansour replying, ‘When I wake up I make some food for myself, exercise, run and walk with my friends. I spend my time being busy with my friends. I do my best to be a good person, to be a positive person.’
I heard someone laughing in the background.
I heard a dull buzzing, some kind of electronic distortion, and I thought of the distance between us – the 3,983 km – and the technology we were using to bring each other into a kind of proximity: the Zoom H1 recorder with a fluffy wind sock (sent over by plane with a refugee advocate from Australia), the SD card on which the recording was written and stored, the laptop Kazem used to upload the recording, the international telecommunications network which allowed the recording to be sent, via WhatsApp, to Jon in Melbourne, who downloaded it on to his laptop, where he mastered the recording and uploaded it again, this time to our group Dropbox folder, which was where I downloaded the recording to listen to it on my phone while I sat in my kitchen-cum-office as my toddler daughter played on the floor at my feet.
I heard Mansour talking about buying lollies from the store to give away to local children, just to see them happy. I heard him saying, ‘I feel peace through my heart when I do this’. I heard – interpretatively – the kindness in Mansour’s voice. I heard him talking about converting from Islam to Christianity, about how the conversion happened after he watched The Last Temptation of Christ. I heard him saying, ‘We are living in a strange world – miracles bend us to our destiny.’
I heard – metaphor again, hearing as remembering – echoes of my Christian education. I heard what faith could be for someone who has been detained on Manus Island for five years. This metaphorical hearing made me think of another convert, Simone Weil, who wrote sceptically about the rights of man: ‘Words like “I have the right” or “you have no right to” evoke a latent war’, she said (wrote), ‘and awaken the spirit of contention’. She said (wrote): ‘If you say to someone who has ears to hear: “What you are doing to me is not just,” you may touch and awaken at its source the spirit of attention and love.’1
I have been thinking about those words for a long time – long before I started hearing recordings from Manus Island. I have been wondering what it means to have ears to hear. What kind of hearing does Weil mean? Not the kind of hearing I have been doing, or at least, not just that kind of hearing. It’s not enough just to hear the sounds that are there to be heard, even when those sounds are recorded and reproduced with sufficient fidelity to approximate proximity, to make you feel as if you are really there. You have to hear in a way that awakens the spirit of attention.
Ok, so it’s a metaphorical kind of hearing – but hearing as a metaphor for what? Elsewhere, Weil said (wrote) that ‘attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’.2 So perhaps Weil means for us to hear as a metaphor for generosity.
Could we say then, that if proximity alone is not enough, that what we need is an attentive proximity? A generous proximity?
I heard a couple of notes of a jangling guitar line and then Aziz’s voice saying, I’m sitting right next to one of my friends today and he’s actually trying to remember his country, so he got a little bit depressed and he thought that if he could listen to some of his country’s music it would help him calm down.
I thought about what it means to console someone. To console is not to solve or fix or empathise. It is not a verb, I thought, so much as the name for an active relation. I thought about the many ways in which we console someone: we sit with them, we put an arm around their shoulder, we drop off casseroles, we send cards or texts or make phone calls and say that we wish we could be there with them. Perhaps, I thought, that is what attention transforms sorrow into – consolation. But consolation for whom? I heard – metaphor for imagining, for self-reflective thought – my conscience saying, ‘As often as not, it is the consoler – the casserole-maker, the card-writer, the shoulder-holder – who is comforted.’ Which is another way of saying: what if this hearing is only meaningful for me (for us), the guilty one(s)? What if this relation only goes one way – so that with every recording I listen to, I declaim my responsibility for what I hear?
There is a part of my conscience – the part I was now hearing, metaphorically – that demands proofs. This part of my conscience has only instrumental ears, the kind of ears I used as a lawyer – ears that can only hear that which has utility. And there was a great comfort in that, for I knew that what I heard with those ears could help someone win their freedom, or a medical transfer, or a permanent visa, or a compensation payout. I did not have to worry that what I was doing had no benefit to the people I heard.
But if part of my conscience wishes for the certainty of instrumental ears, there is another part of me – still under the influence of Weil, no doubt – that hears (metaphor, for thinking) the difference between the language of rights and the language of justice. The professional lawyer hears in the register of rights. And that is good and fine – as far as it goes. By which I mean that even when we have all our rights, sorrow remains, and that those who have been trained to have instrumental ears have also been trained not to hear sorrow.
What happens, then, to unattended sorrow?
I thought of all that I had heard about – cognitively speaking – the mental health crisis on Manus Island: the steady drip of suicide attempts, the substance abuse, the despair. I thought that this is what unattended sorrow does: it separates us from each other – it corrodes the links between the sorrowful person and the world around them.
And so it must be that attending to sorrow does the opposite. It must be that consolation, in the form of paying attention to someone’s sorrow, reforges those corroded links. It must be that to give soul to sorrow is to create a community – a community of people responsible for each other’s sorrow.
For the duration of the recording, I didn’t hear Aziz and his friend talking. Instead, I heard the synthesised beat and reverb-heavy vocals of Somali pop music. I heard Aziz’s friend clicking his fingers and singing aloud to the choruses. I heard the sudden silences as the song was changed, or as a message was received on the phone that was playing the music. I heard two friends sitting in a room in Lorengau, one from Sudan and one from Somalia, listening to music while a recorder sat between them, so that I could listen too.
André Dao is a writer, editor, researcher, and artist. His debut novel, Anam, won the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. He is also the co-founder of Behind the Wire, an oral history project documenting people’s experience of immigration detention and a producer of the Walkley-award winning podcast, The Messenger. He is a member of the Manus Recording Project Collective.
The writings included in Sitting by the Fence near the Jungle: Reflections on the Manus Recording Project Collective were originally published in Law Text Culture, as part of a larger peer reviewed collection on the ‘Acoustics of Justice: Law, Listening, Sound’, edited by James Parker, Sara Ramshaw and Mehera San Roque. The collection is generously reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence (non-commercial) with the permission of the journal. The original PDFs can be downloaded here, along with fifteen other pieces (some of which are forthcoming in August 2021). We ask that you cite to the originals. But we hope this version of the dossier, which places the writing in direct conversation with the Manus Recording Project Collective’s original audio recordings, offers readers a different reading experience, as well as opening the work up to new audiences.
The editor would like to thank Joel Stern as co-curator of how are you today and where are you today, Liang Luscombe and Monet Jones for their amazing editorial support and Public Office for the beautiful design. The works discussed in this dossier were originally commissioned as part of the Eavesdropping exhibition, staged at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne in 2018 and City Gallery, Wellington in 2019. We thank these institutions for their support in the public stagings of the project. Most of all, sincere thanks to every member of the Manus Recording Project Collective — Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Farhad Bandesh, Behrouz Boochani, Kazem Kazemi, Shamindan Kanapathi, Samad Abdul, Farhad Rahmati, Thanush Selvraj, Yasin Abdallah, Michael Green, André Dao and Jon Tjhia. In solidarity for their ongoing struggles for freedom and justice.
This dossier was produced online, and across multiple unceded Indigenous Lands in so-called ‘Australia’ and Aetearoa, New Zealand. We acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nation as the custodians of the lands on which we work. We pay our respects to Indigenous Elders, past and present.