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 teacher 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). Her third collection of poetry is forthcoming with Giramondo Publishing in 2021.
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.
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.
If you were to apply an anglophone conceptual frame to give an account of Lucreccia Quintanilla’s practice you could refer to it as characteristically ‘inter/multi-disciplinary’. Lucreccia dwells in multiple fields: as DJ (DJ General Feelings), writer and researcher (currently a PhD candidate at Monash University), installation artist, a mother, a co-conspirator in interrogations of race, culture and patriarchal dominance. However, her processes cannot easily be placed within disciplinary fields that are treated as parallel lines; lines that only intersect as a consequence of willing a connection across institutional boundaries and partitioned thought. Each discipline is like a fragment of a system within a body: always embedded, isolatable in theory but not in practice, fused together as a holistic vision. Lucreccia’s approach is not tied to honouring cultural production as a form of individuated exploration of ‘universal’ concepts, nor does it imbue the object of production with a representational or material quality that can be experienced as abstracted from its cultural imaginary. It is a practice that invites a form of autonomy in deliberating place and historicity, by respecting the specificity of artefact.
Lucreccia describes her research of late as an investigation into how sound can be thought of as a mode of knowledge transference.1 This begins from the idea that sound is a conduit of information, containing disparate traces of complex histories, and communal bonds that are not bound by the transience of time. From this perspective the timelessness and boundlessness of sound becomes apparent in the sense that, in order to decipher when a sound’s life as an echo commences and dissipates, it is necessary to consider the contingencies of space — you might pull the plug on the sound source, but the vibration rings on, bounding off surfaces and feeding back, confronting its fractured permutations of self, neither forgetting nor replicating its source. The echo is an active, alive connection to its original utterance filling up the room and creating space. This conceptualisation of sound is also a reminder that a ‘conduit’ like a ‘sound system speaker’ simultaneously sends and receives signals, despite which action we might privilege as its central function. The dual function of a sound system speaker can be analogised or thought of as a metaphor for how information proliferates, mainly in terms of how significance is created, resonates, but also feeds back, altering while referencing origin. An output signal of a speaker may at times be the most audible/visible/dominant sensorial aspect of a sound system, however it is not representative of the totality of the sound system in terms of its function, in terms of its potential, and in terms of both the signal’s and the sound system’s socio-cultural significance. As a sound system simultaneously absorbs while it outputs, rogue frequencies are not just a contingency but a property. A sound system’s signal can inevitably project beyond the intended parameters of its meaning, resonating and accumulating multiple significances, intersecting worlds and thus placing pressure on the points at which structures are joined at points of difference. Further, the escalation of a signal into feedback and sustained resonance does not nullify its source, but beckons it. Thus, an echo is not a sign of static individuation or a property that can be grasped and possessed. Receiving, listening, sensing, emitting are complex and shared experiences — a collaboration. That is why Lucreccia ended our conversation so eloquently by stating ‘understanding is a task you do together’.
Lucreccia’s research thus aims to challenge the fundamentals of anglophone ontologies and epistemologies that attempt to confine the mutable nature of space, time, and place to a calculable experience and fixed truth. Her research has become aligned with the work of Louis Chude-Sokei and Julian Henriques, both of whom write from their experience of sound system culture as a springboard for analysing how sound culture produces a non-linear and multi-directional signal. Chude-Sokei and Henriques’ work, like Lucreccia’s, is also always dedicated to unveiling how sound system culture emerged, emerges, and exists as a deeply specific cultural and political form.
I spoke to Lucreccia about her research into, and experience of sound system culture, and what it means for such a culture to take place in the settler colonial occupation referred to as Australia.
Lucreccia Quintanilla, ‘Other Planes of Here: Sound, Multiplicity and the Social’, (2015), iv. ↩
Research tends to commence from a weird love affair with a voice that finds you and a path that opens up — what has been your story?Lucreccia Quintanilla
I found out about Louis Chude-Sokei in the South African culture magazine called Chimurenga Chronic1 — I just went ‘who the fuck is this person!?’ Unlike a lot of theorists, he thinks about tradition and begins from another epistemological tradition, one that is much more relevant to the way things function rather than the way things can be thought of or could be. In my own research I had already decided to skip Gilles Deleuze, so I went straight to Henri Bergson because — Deleuze is Bergson. I looked at these books from the 1920s, but I had to refrain from delving in to Bergson’s work and using him, or justify anything that I am doing through him because you end up having to refer to the fact that Bergson wrote an amazing book about humour. In this collection of essays entitled Laughter he introduces humour and muses as to why ‘sometimes you laugh at things in a way that’s so unpredictable, and your body just reacts to things’, for example in the way that your body wants to laugh at ‘the sight of a Negro dressed in European fashion’.2 I understand for example that so much writing around sound and sensation/immersion goes back to Bergson. And I really appreciate how the Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica’s writing refers to Bergson, but my reading took me elsewhere and I was happy I didn’t have to reconcile these contradictions so that I could keep engaging with the ideas I hold.FB
There are people that will take that comment with a grain of salt and contextualise it historically as being of its time. However, such a strategy assumes a severance between the racialisation of folk at the start of the 20th century and today’s context. This severance is purely an imaginary one. Such a statement can also be viewed as an indication of a foundational and structural element in Bergson’s thinking and not just as an indicator of the role of racism as an infra-political structure of his place and life, which makes his voice audible for us now. For one, it contours his work in terms of where he would apply an exception (one that is biopolitical).LQ
Many feel they can just categorise such a statement as a theoretical flaw and put it to one side. But I thought, well, if I’m going to talk about Bergson then I am going to have to talk about Deleuze and if I talk about Deleuze I’ll have to talk about Lyotard, and thus pay my dues to the entire western canon before I get to my point.
Chude-Sokei and Julian Henriquez and others bypass all those thinkers and traditions. When speaking to a philosophy inherent in sound system culture, how it is absorbed through the body and is thus embodied knowledge, they refer to Platonic traditions, including feminist critiques. This is where they commence from to ask the question of how an embodied sound culture functions to support and foster culture in diasporic communities.
Henriquez is heading a research cluster at Goldsmiths that’s all about sound systems –– it’s about the philosophy for him, but the amazing thing is how it is open to disciplinary crossovers. Chude-Sokei’s work is also like this, where there’s a crossover between thinking about how culture functions, watching and documenting and responding to it, and then directing the outcomes of those enquiries to question how philosophy functions.
Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people trying to re-insert a bracket between what a DJ is and what a producer or sound artist is. These arguments seem to be trying to diminish the creative role of a DJ or define what a DJ does in a manner that distinguishes what they do from a creative practice. In your description of your sound system project you prioritise the DJ and surrounding social worlds as aspects, or fragments, of a whole creative practice.LQ
There is an antagonism. But I realise that there is no point in engaging with that kind of manufactured dichotomy. I became really obsessed with watching Youtube videos of Grandmaster Flash recently and it was sheer creativity that propelled him to invent techniques and sounds. We forget this creativity as well as the larger creative conversations. It’s interesting to me because when I started DJing it was assumed that I would play Latin Music, though I was really into Dancehall. However, I noticed the similarities between the styles and I was thinking about their connections. And then Reggaeton hit and I was like, what the fuck has just happened, did I predict this? Or was it already in development and I have heard its embryonic stages? At this time, I was hanging out with lots of Reggae people in the early 2000s who were really into Roots. We would order music packages from Ernie B together, the Jamaican distributor from Los Angeles, I’d always be purchasing Dancehall and they were like ‘what are you doing, that’s not Roots, there’s no meaning in that!’ And I’m like … there is meaning, there’s meaning for me in it. And I don’t know what you get out of Roots! Like, it’s called ‘Roots’ and I found some of mine in there! And I, of course, get the appeal but there was no need for such disdain! Ha ha! It was a particular time and place, and what I liked was very dirty. But then I think of Lady Saw and how revolutionary she is, and of course Ivy Queen, saying the things no one else was saying –– there is something to making your own place, sound and voice, rather than trying to create a space for yourself in a world that’s already has its own rules, structure, and place for you.FB
The meaning in your story is perhaps about finding a new way to connect with your own roots. And that was instigated through Dancehall?LQ
I’m all about the story and I’m all about the connections — why is it through Jamaican music that I became closer to Reggaeton, and what is African music doing in there? I wanted to find out what all these layers in the music were!
I just wanted to play Reggaeton but apart from Ms Butt (artist, Eleanor Butt), who got me my first gig playing at a night she was running where she encouraged young women DJs to play, back then no one was interested. I found how music was being received was a mess. On the other hand, I had arguments with people who thought what I played was ‘too culturally specific’ and not ‘universally accessible’. People still tend to believe that music should be universal and understood by everyone. Having these experiences forced me to spend a lot of time to think about what my role in playing music was. In order to do this, I first needed to find my own space because I didn’t want to be DJing to people who would perceive the music I played as exotica. Because I would then also get questions like ‘why are you playing this music, how long have you been here for?’ I’d been in Melbourne for thirteen years, which is not a long time, but it made me realise the scenario was political. It’s funny that things have changed quite a bit now. Yet also it’s interesting that unless you have a very well-defined sense of self you will get these conflicting things flying your way!FB
They are literally asking why you haven’t adapted your whole repertoire to suit the tastes of the dominant local community, and not assimilated.LQ
Yes, assimilate! So, I got people from that community who I knew liked reggae but I also decided to keep playing whatever the fuck I wanted. Funnily, the more ‘fuck you’ I became about just pushing the thing I wanted, the more people responded. I’ve now found people who are really into Dembow and Reggaeton. So, I decided to just keep DJing my music, but then I had a house fire and all my records burned! Prior to the fire a friend got in touch about putting on a night called ‘Collectors Set’ at the Recorded Music Salon, on Collins Street, Narrm (Melbourne). I had stopped buying vinyl, so began collecting music again via MP3s and I took on the role of a selector. I didn’t worry about the trickery like mixing, I figured that if I could maintain my rhythm, then I could trust myself to mix visually. I didn’t have any programs, I didn’t have money, and I had an eight-month-old — I just wanted to make money and play the music I loved and get my friends to get paid to play what they loved.FB
In your work you talk about the difference between mythology and fetish, between representation and immersion — you put these terms into a relation that doesn’t affirm one term at the expense of the other. The relation you put any two terms in is generally presented in terms of trying to understand their in-between. For example, the difference between creation as a shared and thus social praxis, and the artist as a producer that shoots signals out into the world for the purpose of attaining an immediate and calculable form of currency.LQ
The way I have been thinking through this is as an irresolute thing. I know community needs to be founded in an actual functioning space that first activates something within that community in order to go somewhere, manifest. There are cultural genealogies contained in sound; they are immersive, sensorial pedagogies that transfer knowledge through sensation — impacting the body not through representation, signs, images or fantasies, but through energy, rhythm, and resonance. So, sound systems relate to the diaspora, they developed out of that. They articulate the diaspora, and they continue to do so. Also, its irresolute because it never stops growing, learning, changing, exchanging. This is how culture functions.
How do you think a diasporic culture can activate and respond to space, while also experiencing a disconnect from familiar space and familiar imaginaries/ways of thinking?LQ
I have been thinking about how that may apply to the Latin American experience as a diasporic culture. It’s a culture that is not purely about geographic space but also about ancestral space. When King Tubby speaks to the African ancestor and African voice in dub, I recognised that the way it is presented in his music, is not dissimilar to what goes on in Cumbia, but there’s also a Middle Eastern influence, as well as Indigenous sounds and rhythmic structures. Take for example the similarity in the beat of Cumbia and African beats, and even the way instruments weave in and out in Cumbia.
In El Salvador we love Cumbia, and where I’m from there’s been a history of African slavery. At some point that was dismantled and that whole history was covered up, and the whole dialogue became really racist. Yet, the national instrument is the Marimba, which is an African instrument, it originated in West Africa in Ghana, Mali and other West African regions. So, I was wondering, why is it that El Salvador has forgotten about our African heritage? The Marimba, and an instrument which is called the Caramba but is very much like the Berimbau, have come to be known as Indigenous instruments. The Berimbau is a bowed stick with a string on it and half a gourd on the end of it. The most important part of it is the amplification, which echoes out of the gourd. Take note that this is a sound system!FB
So, these instruments are evidence of the diaspora, evidence of the connection between cultures whose connection came out of the slave trade. However, this connection is not articulated as a historical narrative of national or collective belonging?LQ
It’s not, but the connection and the history is inscribed in the music, and it’s exactly the same thing that King Tubby was doing through the use of production techniques — this music is inherently speaking about a particular context and heritage, and for me it is a better avenue to think about decolonisation than just applying a theory to a context like it’s static or romantic. These connections between the African slave trade, Indigenous peoples and the Latin diaspora, are still functioning. When someone says, ‘the last Mayan has spoken’ — well, there’s no such thing as an end to Mayan culture. There are so many Black folk in Honduras and Guatemala, and even though there’s no strong narrative to articulate this presence in El Salvador, the music speaks to the existence and intersections of people and continues to speak to people even when they don’t want to speak to it outright, although there is a movement growing.FB
In public discourse here, in so-called Australia, there is very little out there that specifically details and upholds the important role of cultural engagement and communal creative practice in maintaining the trace of complex, ignored, or even silenced histories and worlds of knowledge.LQ
Yes, you are right. I guess perhaps it’s the flattening effect social media may have. At the same time there are some great things going on too. But there are musicians who work and rework what they are doing according to how culture appears to intuitively operate — with culturally meaningful content. For all the talk about sampling, I think all contemporary writing on sampling is detracting from the fact that this action is something that has always gone on! One song can be carried on from one generation to the next, not through nostalgia, but with actual additions, changes. A new lyric changed to get rid of the misogyny here; a BPM that is only possible as a result of new technologies in instrumentation and production, there; even a change of genre, so that Cumbia in a 1920s song becomes a Reggaeton song of 2019.FB
Sampling is not that different from the action of sharing. It is very much analogous to talking, or forms of intercultural exchange and dialogue.LQ
And it’s like — people are trying to articulate how sampling could be something new. It’s not new at all. Yet there are so many books about sampling that came out in the 90s talking about it like it’s this recently formed incredible language.
I lived in Brisbane when I first migrated to Australia and there’s a Dutch lullaby that is a part of an Indigenous ceremony there. This is one of the ways that we know the Dutch came here — it’s a record of cultural contact and sharing, without having to look at a map. The fact that this lullaby exists betrays the dominant Western ‘rationale’ for understanding cultural groupings and how humans function in the world. This is why the language of identity politics can really let this process down, culture functions outside of identity politics and racial denominations, like those set up by the Spanish which created the Mulatos and the Mestizos for example, it is beyond that.
You’ve said before that the thing about sound is that it’s not particularly representational, at least when it comes to how the body experiences it. This notion is evident in your installation-based work, where the presentation of aspects of sound culture — in their somewhat material forms — escape being purely bound by visual modes of representation and interpretation. I see it in your exploration of the amplification of cultural knowledge through cultural objects, like in the piece entitled ‘If you close your eyes you will see what is really there’ that was part of the 2017 group exhibition Everything Spring. Of course, there are visual aspects that shape how one engages with this piece; you have put an iPhone in a ceramic conch shell, painted black and lying on a bed of weeds.LQ
I made those conches in Banff while I was reading The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and I was in the ceramics department wanting to make something that could carry sound or was involved with amplification. My favourite objects at the museum in El Salvador were the pre-Columbian conches made out of clay. They were often made to be played as instruments; some have holes so they can be played as flutes. So, I endeavoured to make a ceramic conch. During this time I had told my child Ruben that when I was a child I believed that stars were tiny windows into light. Like a mantle, the night was pierced to let the light on the other side come through.
In the Parable of the Sower Octavia E. Butler writes: ‘When I was your age my mother told me that the stars — the few stars we could see — were windows into heaven. Windows for God to look through to keep an eye on us’.1 These words were said by Corazon, the stepmother of the central character, who like me is from Latin America. In the book her son’s name is Ruben Quintanilla! Ruben is my son’s first name!
Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower, (New York: Warner Books, 1993), 5. ↩
Something from your past connecting with another history, that emerges from a memory while you are engaged with an aspect of it thematically in another mode. In a way, it is an analogy for the echo, or delay — the repetition of a motif running over a loop, feeding back and moving through cerebral space over time — eventually becoming audible because it is reverberating off something in your immediate state.LQ
That’s it. What is also amazing is, usually conches are played from the tip and you blow, but I tried to make it so you could put the phone into the space where the shell opens. So, when you put a sound source in the shell, it not only amplifies the sound from the phone — it echoes! It echoes more like reverb but in a gallery space it also echoes because it’s in an empty space, so the sound goes into the pipe, it goes around and bounces out the tip.FJ
With your practice there’s a strong element of having to trust yourself, your process, and work through what comes to you regardless of whether its relevance is immediately clear. That sort of process means that you allow something to connect and grow, which is just as much about the people in it as it is the product that may be birthed.LQ
When you’re in that zone you just let all the things that you are thinking about take over the creative process. Well, that’s never really happened to me before, and this time it happened. This is especially difficult in the academic world where things have to be empirical. But there is an actual rational, intellectual basis in the creative act of aggregating lived knowledge, which is a crucial ingredient in making culture.FJ
The entire paradigm of ‘objectivity’ and ‘universality’ is extremely flawed. But the most destructive element of objectivity is the way that western or anglophone imaginaries frame cultural production that stems from figures of alterity, in terms of objecthood. Here I refer mainly to the idea that you can transform a form of cultural production into an object of consumption, thus in the process severing cultural production from its socio-cultural and historical specificity.LQ
There’s just no arguing for the case of universality and objecthood. I think this is why I have gone into academia — this is where you talk about universality and so this is where you also get to challenge it. And this is why I have talked about Sun Ra instead of going to the continental philosophers.FJ
Sun Ra is one artist who was not only trying to break conceptual barriers to imagine a possible future, but he was culture forming — by bringing all these musicians into his world, playing with them but also teaching and directing them to embrace improvisation and free form expression.LQ
And that is radical! Sun Ra was rustling paper and making all this wild stuff that is radical and academic institutions still, decades later, don’t want to touch it because it shakes up the canon so much. I gave a lecture about this stuff in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and I put up a picture of Sun Ra in full regalia and everyone just burst out laughing. I was so offended on behalf on Sun Ra, and for a second I had an insight into what it would have been like for him to get up on stage. Despite him knowing he was on to something, even though he got called crazy, even though the only technical language he had, the most ‘universal’ and palatable language, was Christianity through the bible. Sun Ra didn’t go to university, he read the bible instead!
However, in his time Sun Ra, was talking about the difference between being a slave and assimilating. Instead of accepting the assimilationist notion of freedom that was tied to the civil rights movement at the time, he searched for this ‘out there’ space — an entirely new place where imagining a way of living that could be otherwise, and the space and energy to really put it into fruition, would be possible. Emancipation, really imagining freedom, is only truly possible when you can create beyond reference to those frameworks that govern your oppression.
The pressure to assimilate is something that I assume has been an aspect of your reality and I want to bring this notion back to thinking about how sound system culture is strongly associated with diasporic culture. You have previously stated that there’s a strong sound system culture in so-called Australia, which you interrogate in your research. You have also expressed the necessity to employ a decolonising methodology in your research. Given that a decolonising methodology demands we challenge fixed or definitional forms of heteronomy, say typical of the master/slave relation, it requires we confront the structures, systems and rationales that ultimately maintain colonial forms of governing power, in their socio-historical specificity.
How do you engage socially, culturally, politically, and historically to the specific colonial context/reality you are situated in, that is, how do you respond to the ‘Australian’ settler-colonial occupation context? And has this informed how decolonising methodologies feature in your praxis?LQ
In terms of the academy, it is difficult to pursue academia given that its institutions are predominantly governed and framed to serve what you called anglophone-oriented societies, to serve and uphold white supremacy. The ‘natural’ order of things within that space is that I must speak from the voice of victimhood, which I find boring. But theorising is part of culture, everyday culture, even. Culture has an element of theorising to it in order to understand itself in a self-reflexive manner. It’s when this process is separated from the way that we live, when it’s divided into something, it then becomes intimidating to those who aren’t embedded in that world.
The work ‘If you close your eyes you will see what is really there’, 2017, was a creative engagement with how I walk to my studio via Merri Creek. It is based on a realisation that I can’t just walk down this path and be romantic about it. I cannot be oblivious to the way settler culture aestheticises what it refers to as ‘the natural world’ or ‘nature’. I bumped into a lot of council workers that were cleaning up the introduced species, and I started to realise that all the plants weren’t native. So, I thought I’d engage with the place in this way because there is a lack of the sounds of native birds, there’s so many introduced birds, but when you use a sharp microphone you don’t pick up what your eyes tell your brain to see. This is important because I had to force myself to not see some of the ‘beautiful Australian landscape’: most of the blooms that were hip-high, which had beautiful flowers, and herbs like rocket. I could say I am just foraging, but I need to account for the fact that they are an introduced species encroaching on the habitat and that needs to be accounted for. So, I collected the introduced plant species and then made a sound piece just recording all the layers of the things immediately — you do hear some native birds in the work, but they are hard to pick out amongst all the Miner birds. This, so far, has been my way of engaging with my surroundings and space around me.FJ
Your engagement with, and experience of the Merri Creek habitat, while decontextualising it from the horizontal aesthetic of landscape that is typical of the settler-colonial visual canon, also allows the elements involved to be containers of multifaceted narratives.LQ
Technically the piece is very basic. Like my DJing, it’s not like I am using amazing equipment. It’s all very simple, which is part of my method and thinking too. To be able to hear something for what it is is a simple gesture. There are no native plants in that piece — the rule was they had to be things that I could pick out, and thus it couldn’t be native. If I picked it up, I had to take the root out so it wouldn’t grow again, because it would eventually seed given that it was spring. As a rule, I could not create more seeds for the growth of an invasive species. It was a small gesture as obviously I had left more behind that I had not picked and I am aware of this but also art is all about gestures in my opinion. During the exhibition the weeds tangled into each other as they dried, forming a type of wreath around the sculpture, and also, because they had been uprooted, they flowered in a panic.
This approach transposes to thinking about people and place as introduced species. I think a question that is being asked now is, as a settler-migrant, can you settle roots in a place that is not yours? This is a pertinent question when you are so preoccupied with questioning your inhabitation of space, resources and forms of capital here. What does, or can, putting down roots mean?LQ
I don’t think anyone here has been capable of really putting roots down. That’s why those neo-Nazis are always up in arms and so reactive, because they know they have very shallow roots. They may not know it intellectually but they can certainly feel it, and that’s why they are so defensive.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the sacrifices that first migrant generations make. They come here, have a family, but in order for that family to thrive they work their butts off. So that sort of talks about a temporality that involves more than one generation. Some have had to think in terms of the longevity of the lineage, for whatever that means to them. You have to think of the past, the future, and what you stand for at the present time in relation to both those things. So, if we were to think about that in terms of the migrant, and us right now as a generation of migrants that negotiate what making place is (and in a way that means not having roots, given that we are not invited to make roots), we are the generation through which place is being sorted out, we have to figure out what that means. Because I see mothering as a practice that draws from cultural practice, just like writing or music is, I am focused on my son attending various Indigenous ceremony and festivities, like Wominjeka Festival for example. It is important for Ruben to understand himself in terms of the impermanence of being here, it’s a state of being that requires cultivating. We are here, but it is just as much about how we live here. It’s about questions more than about answers for me. How do we proceed forward beyond self-serving or performative rhetoric or knee jerk outrage? I want to find this out.
There’s no echo in any of us being here until after colonisation, but there is for Indigenous people. I can’t have an echo here, I have an echo that belongs somewhere else but it resonates through here. We all have an echo but we are not part of, or grounded within this land. It is just being overlaid over something.FB
How then do you figure the sound system as a space-making conduit for diasporic cultural formation in the settler context?LQ
You can always interact with a sound system if you are able to be vulnerable with it and engage with it. In some ways the sound system is a bit like the Mayan pyramid dedicated to the/a bird called the Quetzal — all the little steps to this temple are amongst bigger steps that make up a pyramid shaped building. Some archeoacoustic researchers say the steps going up to the top chamber of this temple are designed so that when you clap underneath it the sound of your clapping ricochets from one step to another and is amplified by the chamber in a way that mimics the sound of the call of the Quetzal bird.FB
Another aspect, mainly concerning the technical aspect of speakers, is that they emit sound but they are also simultaneously microphones, they receive sound. I feel that the simultaneous emitting/receiving applies to how you understand the function and purpose of sound system parties.LQ
If you are just purely receiving, not worried about what you are emitting — you treat the sound system party and community purely as an object that serves you. In this sort of scenario, the DJ is speaking through the speaker, yet if the audience is just receiving and not also simultaneously emitting then there’s no feedback loop, no dialogue or conversation going on, no energy transference or accumulation — it’s just the pathways of consumerism.FB
Currently, there’s a lot of people now framing their questions of the political and politics in terms of interrogating what listening is, and what receiving is. Not only in terms of how you convey an idea, but also asking questions like: how do we listen? How do we perceive what is information or significant? What do we designate as noise or utterance and something that can be discarded or ignored?LQ
The things about engaging with ideas and philosophes around sound system culture itself, such as the work of Julian Henriques, is that one begins to perceive engaging with sound systems in a more wholistic manner. What the sound does, how it plays with the body, the sense of community in which it happens — I believe that if you consider these questions as a foundation to work from, and encourage a sense of experimentation when creating, then you don’t have to deal with paying your dues to these strict formulas of form, style and genre that determine what is noise and what is music.
I was talking to a friend about how I was described as a sound artist, and my feelings about it. He said that the reason this term came about is because people who made sound and engaged with it as an artistic practice (and yes you should just be called an artist) is because there was a need to differentiate sound exploration from the classical canon. For so long, sound art has been about creating a space beyond the classical-music-dominated canon, but that distinction is also false — sound art now is the canon.
Generally, in traditions where distinctions are enforced more prescriptively than descriptively — the boundaries in genre and history become viewed as strict principles. For example — that Igor Stravinsky song ‘Rite of Spring’ — when it was first performed, the audience left and were so angry, it was such a controversial piece at the time. However, now whole ballet compositions use it, people do their dishes to it.FB
Eventually ideas that are introduced and initially perceived as noise, upon cultural repetition, do become familiar, become social institutions and thus change social perceptions.LQ
The first time you hear the unfamiliar you have to work really hard to understand it. More importantly you need people around you to listen with you, understanding is a task you do together.
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.
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.
An earlier version of this text was previously published in Minority Report, 2018, edited by Audrey Schmidt.