Curator and New Contemporaries Programme Assistant Sophie Bownes reflects on the recent Sounding Out Practice symposium.


12 March 2020

“These are scores for you to do. Please notify us of performances.”
Women’s Work, Alison Knowles

Thinking about the future of a sound, the Sounding out Practice programme provided me with volumes to ruminate about. A sound: something that reverberates over a fixed temporality, confined to a linear subscription of time. And yet, how might a sound look or point towards its own future? Subject to sampling or once out of copyright, yours for the commoning. Curator Irene Revell, one of the panel discussion contributors, shared her research into ‘Womens Work’ (1975) (a publication of performance scores and instructions by twenty-five artists, composers, and choreographers, including Alison Knowles, Simone Forti, and Annea Lockwood that aimed to highlight the overlooked work of female artists), providing an interesting starting place to discuss the topics, ancestry and the archive. Alongside Revell, artist Haroon Mirza, composer and electronic artist Shiva Feshareki, and musician and author David Toop, the panel discussed the past, present and future of sonic forms in relation to their own practices and research.

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Toop proposed the idea that one who might encounter an archive in its future state might thus be the ‘ancestor of the archive’. Can, therefore, an archive anticipate its ancestors? Revell’s research into ‘Womens Work’ offered up the idea that feminist methodologies might extend an invitation to inherit the future of a sound work as a collaborative proposition. Thinking about collaboration Mirza and Feshareki spoke about responsibility. Borrowing, appropriating or mixing is inevitable - but one must exercise a practice of openness, like Knowles suggests in her request for notification when using her material in ‘Womens Work’. Feshareki also noted that, from her research into Daphne Oram’s archive, Oram’s instructions for the future of her compositions detail that one might ‘Adjust and delete according to circumstances’. In approaching these forms we bring to them our current conditions.

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Following the panel, artist John Macedo performed an improvised piece, turning, sliding, clipping and unclipping electrical components to compose a variety of frequencies and rhythms. Macedo’s body, entangled within the wires connecting him to the instrument, appeared like something out of a sci-fi film. The sounds produced by the pair mirroring this. A collaboration between the pull and push of Macedo and the technology, it was unclear at points which was in control of the other.

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It felt fitting that Macedo open this instrument up to the bodies of participants in his subsequent workshop - bringing to it their own contemporary circumstance. Forming an interdependent, collaborative band of strangers, the group fluctuated between an open and closed circuit, creating electrical-current-formed music. Artist and composer, Mira Calix, led a workshop exploring the sculptural properties of sound. Inviting participants to photograph a noise, the room reverberated with the clatter of an iPhone-baring ensemble, snapping take after take, archiving sounds within the perfect shot.

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Writer and editor, Emily Bick, guided the group though Ben Ratliff’s analysis of music, using the song as a framework for sound art critique. Utilising criteria such as repetition, improvisation, virtuosity, density, speed, slowness and entrainment to delve into sound works, documenting them in language. Linking back to the idea of responsibility, discussed earlier in the day, one might be inspired by a sound work, but affect it in its future. Running parallel to this, rkss hosted a workshop examining the socio-political contexts of sampling and borrowing, considering accountability when upholding or resisting existing hierarchies.

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To finish the day, artists Marijn Ottenhof and Tim Spooner performed live works, which played with audio as an atmospheric backdrop for their compositions and choreographies. Ottenhof considered spirits and lost futures, borrowing from Mark Fisher and Paul Virilio: "Muted air horns flare like the ghosts of Raves past.”[1]; “like a political manifesto on the uneasiness of being together. Their significance comes from expressing the uneasiness of being together of mass individualism.”[2] Spooner performed with a pair of marionettes, their uncanny nature embodying life, death and immortality - much like the concurrent condition of the past, present and future of the sonic form.

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[1] Mark Fisher, ‘Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures’

[2] Paul Virilio, ‘The Administration of Fear’

Images by Sam Nightingale

Listen to the Panel Discussion: