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.
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.
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.
Tom Melick is the co-editor of Slug and part of the Rosa Press collective.
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).
You hear a protest long before you see it. The noise of the chants, chatter from participants or, sometimes, the sound of clashes with police. Yet the aural is curiously neglected, with more attention focused on the visual spectacle of protests and less attention paid to the aural texture that underwrites the visual.
Even so, the infrastructure of cities may swallow up the sound of protests; it hardly matters how large a protest is. Even the noise produced by thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people. It doesn’t take too long for you to wander out of earshot of being able to hear any protest. The noise of the city, of rhythmic everyday life, devours the noise of a protest just a short walk away.
Certain images of movements can become iconic. Certain colour schemes are associated with demonstrations, or motifs recur in protest artwork. In the same way, movements of sufficient scale can often generate theme songs as a form of aestheticised self-representation. Take, for example, the Sunflower Movement and their image of the blooming sunflower — yellow rays bursting from a central disk — integral to the movement’s positioning of itself as a successor to previous protests movements, such as the 1990 Wild Lily Movement or the 2008 Wild Strawberry Movement. But, for the purposes of this article, I will defer from the image of the sunflower for the sake of the aurality at play behind this yellow disk.
Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement of March 2014 was a month-long student-led occupation of the Taiwanese legislature, the Legislative Yuan, and the city streets that surrounded it. The occupation opposed a free trade agreement that was to be signed with China, allowing for Chinese investment in Taiwan’s service sector industry. It was feared that this trade bill, the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), could be deleterious to Taiwan’s political freedoms, and that this was being advanced by the pro-China Kuomintang, the authoritarian party that held power during Taiwan’s martial law period, as a strategy to facilitate the political unification of Taiwan and China. Many criticisms were directed against the Kuomintang for circumventing legislative oversight processes to push the bill through the legislature in a ‘black box’ manner that lacked in transparency — an action reminiscent of the Kuomintang’s past authoritarianism.
The sunflower became an iconic early image of the movement in the news media after sunflowers were discovered by demonstrators on the speaker’s podium in the Legislative Yuan and were handed out among demonstrators. The song ‘Island’s Sunrise’, sung in Taiwanese, emerged out of these protests, it reflected the movement’s concerns regarding identity, and suggested an ethos of youthful self-sacrifice. The song’s title, conjured image, and lyrics draw on visual tropes that associated the movement with sun and light.
This was not the only project to aspire towards creating an anthem for the Sunflower Movement. Noise and performance artist Betty Apple, who herself had a role in the production of ‘Island’s Sunrise’, carried out a project inviting participants to sing the Republic of China national anthem during the movement, with the notion of creating something like a new national anthem for Taiwan. Within other movements in Taiwan, the exact question of the anthem of the Sunflower Movement has become contested between different visions of what the movement is considered to be, and is reflected in the different aural representations of the movement.
What the aural reveals is what is usually occluded by the visual spectacle. The aural amplifies the hidden dimensions of a protest movement, and points to politically constitutive absences. For example, in the Sunflower Movement, the political differences between factions in the occupation were reflected in their musical sensibilities. The ‘mainstream’ occupiers within the Legislative Yuan — seen as the leaders of the movement, whom the majority of media attention focused on and whose politics were somewhere left-of-centre — oriented toward musical genres such as indie rock and hip hop. Not exactly commercial genres or ones which were ‘independent’, but which were still variations on broadly commercial genres. Bands favoured by activists included Fire EX, Tizzy Bac, Frandé, Community Service, Kou Chou Ching, and others, allowing for the sounding of a resistance beyond the optical.
The ‘fringe’ splinter occupation, such as the Untouchable’s Liberation Area, gravitated toward radical left politics and viewed the mainstream leaders of the movement as having failed to extend its critique of a Chinese trade deal to the critique of capitalism itself. This splinter group tended toward electronic music and heavy metal. Notably, constituent elements of the Untouchable’s Liberation Area included a number of heavy metal bands, such as The Deposers and The Accomplices, and members of the Electronic Music Anti-Nuclear Front. At anti-nuclear demonstrations in the years prior to the Sunflower Movement, the Electronic Music Anti-Nuclear Front would often drive a speaker truck playing electronic music through the streets, with performers including Betty Apple, Psychiatrist, Blackbells, and other DJs and producers. Such performances of sound provided another layer within this concept of protest.
Music therefore came to constitute an element of the ‘sociality’ of both groups in the years leading up to the Sunflower Movement. Shows and concerts were, for example, events that activists gathered at, socialised at, and came to form the networks which were later mobilised during the Sunflower Movement.
But beyond this, the evident differing aesthetic sensibilities were also reflective of differing political sensibilities. It may be no mistake that the left-of-center occupiers within the Legislative Yuan drifted toward music which was not commercially mainstream, yet could still have mainstream appeal — much as with their politics — while more radical members of the Untouchable’s Liberation Area tended toward music which was, in many cases, more experimental and alienating, perhaps reflective of their more marginal politics. This latter group of occupiers drew on harsher sounds that one had to accustom one’s self to, and grow familiar with as a musical form, much as acclimatising to radical politics requires a gradual process of breaking with the assumptions about society held by members of the mainstream.
Such differences were far less reflected in the purely visual. Both sides, after all, were generally young people, and if the latter group was more prone to acts of protest which did involve more theatrical and carnivalesque forms of protest in the occupation space, the differences between various groups was not always the most visible. We live in a predominantly visual culture, after all, and we look to the visual for the most immediate markers of difference to grab onto, but these markers can be deceptive.
The roles that noise plays in a protest are manifold. For one, noise — and particularly the human voice — has a functional role in directing the crowd or serving as a means of communication among protesters. How this ‘noise of the voice’ manifests depends on the juridical context of a protest, that is to say, what the specific laws are within the context of the protest movement that is occurring. In Taiwan, electronic amplification of noise is usually permitted by the police, and so loudspeakers tend to be the norm for people expressing protest. Whereas, in many parts of America, electronic amplification is only permitted for demonstrations with a permit. As a result, adaptations such as the Occupy Wall Street–style ‘human mic’ have developed, involving demonstrators repeating a speaker’s words to themselves, rhythmically, in order for all members of the crowd to hear.
At the same time, such sounds likely affect the dynamics of protest spaces, particularly in occupation-style movements. The Occupy Wall Street–style ‘human mic’ was highly participatory in nature, involving all members of the crowd and not just a central speaker. Such an act of amplification lent itself to the view of the movement as a leaderless, decentralised one, becoming a symbol of the movement regardless of whether or not this was the ‘actual’ outcome from the demonstrations. It must be noted that the ‘human mic’ is not without connotations of romanticism with regard to the concept of a non-hierarchical amplification. The concept of ‘leaderlessness’ does veil many concepts regarding the actual power dynamics operating in the background. An echo is made by a first-and-foremost sound, and the act of channeling such a sound, regardless of how many people it’s passed on by, may still be the unidirectional projection of one voice outward, rather than a multitude of voices genuinely speaking together in unison.
On the other hand, protests in Taiwan tend to be much more centralised in nature, with leadership coalescing around whoever has the mic. This was the case even among radical groupings such as the Untouchable’s Liberation Area, which was critical of the central leadership within the Legislative Yuan but arguably had its own informal leadership structure around those with louder voices than others.
Oftentimes, the view among activists is that a microphone system must necessarily be present in order for the masses not to fall into chaos. Hence, during the initial charge into the Legislative Yuan, a microphone system was prepared ahead of time and brought into the legislature by occupiers. In other cases, the functional role of noise is emotive in nature. When the crowd became agitated at some points during the initial occupation of the Legislative Yuan, an organiser decided that the solution would be to find a singer he knew to sing calming songs to pacify the crowd.
Noise may also be a source of ‘fiction’ within movements — again, most strikingly, during occupation-style movements. This is perhaps reflective of differing political sensibilities or social mores, as differing groups within the occupation are either accepting or unaccepting of certain forms of noise, or certain levels of noise.
In the Sunflower Movement, for example, parents often slept in groups in the occupation site while their children grew frustrated with the noise from the Untouchable’s Liberation Area during the late-night hours around the Legislative Yuan, which had higher tolerance for noise at night. During Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, frustration eventually mounted because the drum circle were continually drumming, 24/7, and refused to stop during hours when other occupiers were sleeping. Some were fine with the 24/7 drumming, with the view that a liberated autonomous zone from capitalism should not have imposed noise ordinances, while many others could not accept this because it disrupted their rest.
In the current set of demonstrations in Hong Kong against a Beijing-backed extradition, ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ has become ubiquitously sung across the city. Originally this was a way of protestors claiming that demonstrations were ‘religious gatherings’ rather than ‘unlawful gatherings’ conducted without a permit, and so the police had no right to disperse them because this would infringe on basic freedoms of religion. This defense of the protests occurred so frequently that the sounds of such songs opened up a kind of humorous point of mockery against police, with demonstrators holding up signs stating: ‘Stop or we sing Hallelujah to the Lord’.
We might discuss how certain forms of noise are replicated mimetically in a movement, whether that be the human mic, constant drumming in Zuccotti Park, ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’, or electronic music around the Legislative Yuan.
That is, perhaps the precise point of demonstrations is to break apart the rhythms of the everyday and establish new rhythms, to point towards the repressed possibilities immanent to society. To resist being swallowed up by the rhythms of urban modernity requires making noise, being disruptive, and in this way establishing new rhythms.
Indeed, the rhythm which emerges from protest movements is often reflective of their politics. It may not be surprising that protests by Christian groups in Taiwan, primarily conservative demonstrations against gay marriage in recent years, involve singing not only hymns but also speaking in tongues. Or that demonstrations by Taiwanese indigenous groups, usually calling for the return of traditional territories, similarly include performing traditional songs. This gestures toward alternative modernities that movements hope to realise.
The noises of a movement are disseminated through society by the media, as paired with the images of a movement. The aural has come to play an increasingly important role in the means by which movements disseminate information, with the development of newer forms of media increasingly incorporating the aural as well as the visual.
One observes the gradual incorporation of the aural into media with the advancement of technology. Newspapers may be one of the oldest form of media in Taiwan and still, in many other places, remain widely disseminated. Noise, as paired with images, is incorporated into television and video, while radio consists solely of sound — and radio productions usually seek to capture snapshots of the aural environment of a protest for their broadcasts. There has become something of a regularity to the sounds of protest incorporated into Taiwanese television news reporting in recent years — one can usually hear the telltale format of a protest news segment without having to watch the television screen.
To this extent, in the age of the Internet, the aural dimension of sound from the movement also develops online, particularly through clips which circulate online and involve memorable statements or soundbites. The circulation of such sounds in truncated form likely contributes to the dissemination of noise and image from demonstrations, as a means of furthering public awareness of a demonstration.
In this way, another rhythm often emerges from the movement, as in continual chants during the Sunflower Movement like ‘Police! Back up!’ or ‘Journalists! Move away!’ or ‘Oppose the Black Box CSSTA!’ Namely, an aural language itself develops out of the movement. The movement becomes a sort of temporal life-world in itself, a world characterised by temporal, aural markers of tense moments during the protest, rather than simply pointing to a world beyond the current one. But in general, this social movement would be a life-world of long silences, with just the noise of the city, or the sound of gathering crowds punctuated by spectacular noise: protest chants, songs, and the noise of clashes with the police. Because while the most attention may go to the spectacular noise of protest movements, the truth is that the aural texture of protests more often consists of the absence of noise, or simply ambient noise.
While protests may appear to be constant activity, the majority of time is simply spent standing or sitting around, particularly in occupation-style movements. Whether you are alone or with others, conversation only goes so far, and usually dies out quickly. Protests are oftentimes quite boring. Protests are long and slow, and exciting, glorious moments of direct action are preceded and followed by long blocks of empty time. Not everyone is willing to spend such long periods just waiting around, knowing that this time might not lead to anything.
The sound texture of social movements, then, primarily consists of empty, ambient noise listened to in the process of whiling away empty, homogeneous time. Or, given that the majority of protests are an urban phenomenon, simply listening to the sounds of the city in silence. The moment that silence gives way to noise is charged with the urgency of a particular moment. These are moments with a sense of the now in social movements — moments of the spectacular in which homogeneous time becomes charged with a sense of the immanently possible, of the realisability of a different spatial, temporal, and aesthetic arrangement of reality. But such moments are few and far between, even if it is usually only these moments which are remembered in the recollection of a social movement.
Moments of this kind are usually at night. Day is when protests are respectable: when slogans are chanted and songs sung peacefully. It’s when night falls — when some demonstrators refuse to withdraw and instead engage in direct action, or police take more extreme measures against demonstrators –– that you have the shouts, yells, and screams of clashes with the police; the noise of police loudspeakers warning demonstrators to withdraw or they will use force; or police marching in with riot shields, batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas, of calls to make way for medics or ambulances.
When night falls, all expectations appear to tune off and enter into the necessary need for rest. But other nights, silence is not neutral and it still wins out. The night is not simply empty noise but a gesture that silence is possible and necessary when resistance requires rejuvenation. A protest, most protests, are an attempt to raise one’s voice (for the collective voice) in the face of overwhelming silence. In overwhelming white noise there is still a frequency of presence. Regardless of whether the capitalistic sounds of a city appear to win out — submerging the disruptive noise of protest in the sound of everyday traffic — the sounds of those present, the sounds of human voices raising themselves up to the city’s volume, will pass on meanings of resistance. Unlike the image, the sound of a movement, even if it appears transient or ephemeral, exists within the throats of those who will voice sound regardless of recognition.
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.