Listening to London on a Monday: Review of London Stories

Last Monday I attended the one-on-one festival at Battersea Arts Centre, London Stories. I could go on about how amazing Battersea Arts Centre is as a building and a site for performance, but I’ll leave that for another article.

This one is about listening to stories.

Unlike another well known one-on-one performance festival, Proximity, this is just about listening to stories. Sometimes that is shared with another person, sometimes just on your own. My initial reservation at having to ‘share’ my intimate experience passed very quickly, as the intimacy of listening with another person became actually quite delicious and, considering the kinds of stories we heard, also a bit of relief.

Toby, cancer and other bedtime stories
Sitting cosy on the back steps, the first story I heard was from artist Toby Peach, who, in his fairly young life, has managed to beat lymphoma twice. Although intense, this wasn’t a sob story – thankfully – but a heart-warming and honest appraisal of negativity, taking responsibility for health and the gob-smacking brilliance of the human body.

Amaara, her red shoe and other fairytales
In a sweet laundry setting, lit by candles (as were most of the rooms), dancer Amaara Raheem told an hilarious story about her relationship between London and her daily commute to work, through an upside-down extension of the Hans Christian Anderson story of the little red shoes. It was personal, engaging, humourous, without being facile or jokey mc joketown.

Jade, her escape from uganda and her “5-star” stay in Yarl’s Wood
This was a harrowing, but all-too-common story of Jade’s life and escape from Uganda, corruption, the military and the Lord’s Rebel Army.
It was a story of her husband, children, twin sister and nieces being killed.
It was a story of dehydration, hunger, deprivation and  hiding.
It was a story of kindness and eventual passage to London.
She spoke of her time in a detention centre as a ‘5-star hotel’ with 3 meals a day, doctor’s nurses and places to chat with others and children to play.
As a couple of naive white gyals sitting there, the disparity was as loud as a sub-woofer, but there was zero resentment, only gratitude at her story being heard.

It was the best use of storytelling and the arts in politics I’ve experienced to date.

Other stories of self-indulgence
Most of the other stories I heard – although I enjoyed them – felt, in comparison, a bit, well, whingey.

Love stories in London, stories of heartbreak and loss in London, homelessness (although that was actually a bit less-so) – they all felt a little self-indulgent. Pretty much the same kind of story we always hear. And sometimes more like therapy and catharsis, than a story.

I spend a lot of time listening to people’s personal stories each week and they find a lot of solace from sharing them. But they’re not art, or theatre, or even really very interesting to that person or me. Usually I’m only interested because I have similar problems and am looking for identification. It is more intimate than being an audience, but still relatively mundane.

Which is why i found the three I mentioned much more valuable as art.

Having said that, the act of listening to others was comforting.

The combination of being with another person, knowing that I was part of a whole group, but not ‘in’ that group and well-supported in my journeys (logistic, emotional and intellectual) by the staff at BAC – a really worthwhile sense of togetherness and community.

Some of the other trimmings of the evening were perhaps a little unneccessary, but overall, an excellent way to enrich your night.


word. sound. power: an exhibition review

A few weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny day in London, my fellow smart-lady, Zana, and I covered ourselves in wordiness along the southern bank of the Thames.

We sandwiched the BFI’s screening of Right On! between visits to the Tate Modern Project Space for their brilliant exhibition Word. Sound. Power.

Right On!

The Herbert Danska film is of the (original) Last Poets –  late-60s poets, performers, griots-if-you-will, from New York City. And crucial influences on the development of rap and hip-hop.

It was an amazing film, consisting of an 80-minute flow through eight pieces by the trio, backed by drums, costume changes and amazing black male power on a hot summer afternoon/evening.

The series of spoken word performances –  poems, matras, incantations –  were performed, spat and hand-delivered from the rooftop of a hot Harlem block on a sunny afternoon in 1970, to a dark soporific theatre in London.

As the sun tripped from east to west across the sky, the trio: Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, interchanged between lead performer. The different forms for each poets flow, their particular voice and rhythm were mesmerising and supported by a powerful drums, occasional dance and the uhs, ahas and energy of the other two artists.

Works like Poetry is Black, Jazz and James Brown were not so much choreographed, but embodied. As crucial element of the relationship between words and the body, between the themes of race, sexuality, white power and poverty, as they came spilling out.



Word. Sound. Power

Whenever I think about this show, lyrics from the Sub Swara ft Dead Prez song Speak My Language (Machinedrum Mix) comes flooding into my mind:

“This is word sound power, this is rebel soul.

This phenomenal exhibition is rebel soul, curated by two amazing women in conjunction with the fantastic KHOJ artists collective from India. It features 6 artists making work about sound, the voice, the word and power (not that you needed my help in making that leap).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has two works in the show. His work with Janna Ullrich, Conflicted Phenomes (pictured, pinched from the Tate website) is visual research and data map of Somali spoken language tests enforced to ascertain cultural original, to satisfy criteria for refugee status. As a data excercise on its own, it’s quite beautiful – with its graphic keys to each person’s relationships and language connections

As a reflection of official policy on the business of people’s asylum and freedom implemented by outsourced agents, without checks or balances, it’s creepy.

I was originally suprised to see that Australia uses this for their immigration processes. Then I really remembered Australia’s immigration processes and was unsurprised again.

His other work in the show, The Whole Truth, shines a light on the relationship between the place in which the voice and power intersect: the Lie Detector; When the voice is used to support incarceration, the place in which a person’s (political) voice is removed – according to Foucault.

Caroline Bergvall‘s word drawing and spoken piece was quiet, but striking. A poem, with all of the letter o-s taken out, and placed on the opposite wall, creating a spacial relationship to the word and the sentiment, supported by the surround sound work. It was simple, but I felt things.

Zana and I went back twice to see Mithu Sen perform I am a Poet and both times we missed her – she cancelled one performance, as it was too much to do too many in the day, and then she must have finished the reading early, because it was already over by the time we arrived after the movie. We were both super disappointed because we wanted to hear her.

But her work in the gallery is interesting and engaging nonetheless. I loved her underlying premise of nonsense as resistence. The language is crucially human and that defying the technology of language, there is a core resistance of all that is human.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum and his videos Arise and Keep Evans Safe Tonight were seemingly a major focus for the exhibition. Although, to be honest, I didn’t feel like they were as crucial to the themes of the show as some of the other works, or the exhibition as a whole. Just my opinion.

The interviews in KEST were quite lovely, giving young men a voice and ability to speak out. I especially enjoyed the KEST boys speaking of the common diasporic experience of going back to the land of one’s parents and suddenly feeling the ease of a culture that is deep within.

Added to the work in the gallery, the essays in the catalogue were amazing.

Both women speak about the relationship between sound, power, culture in different, but equally engaging, ways. They provided second and third angles on the underlying themes of the show, providing a solid triumvirate, reflecting the title itself.

Hansi Momodu-Gorden from Tate Modern writes about the experience of sound, referencing Brandon La Belle and speaking about it as a means of creating an ‘aesthetic space’ and the apparatus of the vocal, quoting Louis Chude-Sokei.

Asmita Rangari – Andi from Khoj speaks about the privilege of using the voice (and other sound means) to speak out – the ability and agency to articulate and the place of silence in this privilege.

The place of words, sound and power in contemporary aesthetics, culture and politics are particularly present at this time and the exhibition is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in any of these things, as well as the ways in which political ideas can be presented aesthetically not didactically.

The exhibition is on until November 2013.

world listening day

Started by the excellent World Listening Project, the 18th July is a day to celebrate the aesthetics of listening – music, art practice and probably theatre works which encourage the act of listening.

Commemorating the birthday of R. Murray Schafer, a composer and writer who is crucial to the study of acoustic ecology, who coined the term ‘soundscape’, and is influential to contemporary artistic output of music and sound cultures. WLD has been slowly building over the last few years through autonomous actions around the world.

Last year I spent it doing one of my listening session artworks: 4 hours at Berlin Olympic Stadium. Specifically as the site of the Summer Olympics of the XI Olympiad: a complex sporting event in modern history.

On 1 August 1936, The grand aesthetics of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich were displayed in glorious spectacle – proof of its power and might – in the opening ceremony, and guided through the impressive film work of Danny Boyle Leni Riefenstahl.

Despite it being a conduit for Nationalist-Socialist Party propaganda, Jesse Owens – a fine, fit black man from the United States won the most medals, killing it on the athletics field, with the hyped ‘snub’ from the Chancellor on his victory in the 100m sprint.*

Reading the Wikipedia entry on the games and the efforts to ‘clean up’ Berlin including signs saying: “Jews Not Wanted” sent a chill through my spine. Especially in light of this going around town at the moment:

I digress.

World Listening Day.

So, on 18 July 2012, Berlin Olympic Stadium was the site of a few school tours, incessant rain and the miserable sound of a super-sopper on the blue track going around and around in circles. No birds, no traffic even and a smattering of sociality as teenagers flirted with each other in bleechers. It was the most depressing list/listening project I’ve done to date.

I didn’t realise that the sound such emptiness could exist on the site of such grand spectacle. It’s almost like the more image-focused a site is, the less connected it is to a sound of humanity.

Perhaps this year I should have listened at Queen Elizabeth Stadium as a comparison.

This year, World Listening Day 2013, however, I was unable to make a work for it.

But I have compiled a small list of recent listening-based shows to see:

Sounding the Body Electric
Experiments in art and music in eastern europe 1957 – 1984
Calvert 22

I hadn’t heard of any of these artists before – unsurprising because my understanding of experimental music (especially that which crosses over into art) is self-taught and mostly through the experience of seeing shows like this.

Highlights included the great reading section, which I wanted to just lounge around all day in, the proto-Marclay records and music by Milan Knižak (pictured), which made me want to spit rhymes all over it, and the graphic scores by Katalin Ladik and Milan Grygar.

Musically, I noticed my complacency, feeling like I’d heard a lot of the works on film soundtracks already, yet fascinated by the link between post-war Socialism/Iron Curtain and electronic music, obviously sanctioned by the State’s ideology through the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio.

Huw Hallam has written a great thesis on the link between post-totalitarianism and electronic music, and the works herein expanded my understanding of rejecting propaganda and a need for music that is without dramatic reference.

Calvert 22 is such a great gallery, especially for small theme-based shows and this one was no different.

At the moment of being heard
South London Gallery

I had heard about this show almost 6 weeks before it opened. as soon as any of the promo came out about it, I had tweets, FB posts and emails from everyone emailing me about it and I was looking forward to seeing it on my return from Australia.

Especially given that it featured some artists who I have admired for a while and some that I was looking forward to learning more about.

I enjoyed the exhibition – there were some typically subtle and gentle works that combined softness and tension – Rolf Julius’s pigment-filled speaker cones (pictured) and crys cole‘s salt speaker combination were beautiful. I really loved the photographic work of Reiner Ruthenbeck for the documentation of those daily sounds, without a sound.

Having said that, I thought it was going to be a little more about the act of listening – a more philosophical or even theatrical look at that moment of being heard – not just changing what is heard, but on a deeper level of how.

Granted, it’s not easy to make work about listening, (I know, as an artist I suck at it), but I was hoping for some guidance, from people who’d been doing it for years. It was a bittersweet show.

In the upstairs gallery Variations of Silence by Boudouin Oosterlynck was more about the action of listening, of the collection and pursuit of silence using the variety of ways one listens – a detailed dossier of quiet sites, on paper.

Aesthetically, I found it difficult to really enter into, possibly a language barrier, or a resistance to a particular aesthetic, but I still spent time hanging out with his journey.

Tom White’s Public Address is also a work that intrigured me, but because I went on a Thursday, wasn’t able to see it in the flesh – it’s installed in the housing estate that the gallery backs onto and only accessible on Saturdays.

The public programme for the exhibition is pretty exciting. I wish that I was a 12+ teenager, so that I could do Barby Asante‘s workshop at the end of August (I couldn’t get to do her DIY one as an adult either, so I just have to press my nose to the window for a while) and the Ambarchi and Umeda gigs, of course, look great.

Reading and Being list

Both of these exhibitions had supporting reading lists and publications, which I really appreciated. And I have some more to add – bits’n’pieces which relate to listening that I think are great:

The Hush at The Shed National Theatre
According to the blurb on the The Shed site, The Hush asks audiences to listen in a way they never have before. Performers interact with live foley and immersive sound design to recreate the past, imagine the future and give voice to The Shed itself.”

Again, I’m looking forward to seeing this work, to see how others create work about the action of listening. Sadly, I can’t make the Thursday Q& A (which looks great), but I’m going to see the show soon.

A Listening Mind: Sound Learning in a Literature Classroom by Nicole Furlonge on Sounding Out
When I read this post, I wanted to be Nicole. Her understanding and interesting in pushing pedagogy and teaching and experience of the world outside a dominant visual paradigm (yes, i just used that phrase) is inspiring, and exactly the kind of thing I’m into.

The way she speaks about it is amazing and a deeper undestanding of listening and why World Listening Day needs to keep existing.

The Sounding Out blog consistently posts stuff that I love reading about. They posted about the Afrika Bambaata record collection being catalogued at Gavin Brown Gallery and I almost wet myself. And through that I found out about..

Hip Hop Aesthetics Summer Course by Shante Paradigm
As if this wouldn’t be a RAD way to spend the summer…

I’ve been following the progress along of each day’s topics (including, unsurprisingly, the verdict on the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. What’s Hip Hop without Hoodies…).
They’ve covered some ace stuff like Big Freedia’s Azz Everywhere, Lil Mama’s Lip Gloss, Black Aesthetics, Feminist Aesthetics and Opposition Discourse, Total Chaos and Ian Maxwell‘s thesis about Hip Hop Aesthetics and the Will to Culture –  which I loved reading about, not just for the generic content, but because I knew some of the peeps mentioned in it; a bit of home-town pride and nostalgia for my time with Quiz and the writers and MCs of inner city of Sydney in the 90s.

Other links to cool listening works

Surfacenoise’s Peter Lenaerts
Dan Scott
Sam Underwood
Stan’s Cafe’s The Commentators and their Cult Listening
The Soundscape
Hearing Cultures
Audio Culture (which i’m ASHAMED to say I’ve not read nor do i own)
Resonance by Susie MacMurray at Fabrica, Brighton
This year’s Primavera featuring Kusum Normoyle

*Who needs that to be a ‘thing’, really, to highlight the gross racist antics of the regime – they only ‘allowed’ black and jewish competitors after a bunch of people pressured them into it, for goodness sake. Is Jesse Owens really that heartbroken over not having his hand shaken by that pariah? Surely not.

image credits:
Migrant Rights UK and Home Office YouTube
Milan Knižak, Destroyed Music, Calvert 22 website
Rolf Julius, Singing, 2000/2013, South London Gallery website

low visibility workwear

this kind of hi-visibility workwear is popular in the high-litigation contemporary workplace – half of Perth was covered in it.
but i’m interested in developing a uniform for a listener. 
what might be low-visibility workwear?
thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

Happy Listening!

Today is World Listening Day!  yay! started by, it’s to celebrate all things listening.

I’ll be doing a 6-hour listening marathon at the Berlin Olympic Stadium and posting the mammoth list of sounds heard somewhere secret on the streets of Berlin.

And, a special for those of you who haven’t bought a Give Me Something To Listen To Drawing yet they’re half price from the Etsy store, just for World Listening Day!

Happy Listening!

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

world listening day

last year i was too caught up in the end of a residency to mark world listening day on the 18th july.

this year, that’s not going to happen. i’ll be doing a 6-hour listening work in berlin and transcribing the outcome of that onto wall in public. a little like the listening to berlin works i did in 2010, or those done as part of the AURA project last year, a bit like all my works lately.

i’ll keep you posted, closer to the date.

and thanks to the world listening project twitter and the sound studies blog (also pushing sound studies into the red), i discovered a post by aaron trammell about transcription and embodiment of music into other forms.

he discusses the process of listening to lyrics (by The Fleshtones), transcribing them and the difficulty/slight unsatisfaction of completing that task thanks to the switch between modes of thinking.

oh how i can relate.

in my listening projects, i’m constantly transcribing the city’s ambient sounds from a listening action of sensation, to the domain of language and text.

like the Fleshtones track in aaron’s article, ambient sound is difficult to transcribe. although unlike music – with its cultural history of written lyrics and coded notation –  there is no language-based culture for, say, the sound of a car driving across cobblestones. the general public just hear those sounds, or respond to what they mean. very rarely to you explain those sounds, much less transcribe them.

so when i’m doing the work, i just have to write it how i hear it, without resorting to onomatopaea – switch between hearing and understanding and explaining and conveying.

which is part of the exciting thing (for me at least) about the action i undertake during those works, but also about the words that come from it:

they’re as universal as possible – explaining in plain terms the what of what’s being heard, almost like lyrics of the public space, but they’re still quite subjective, based on my particular translation of what’s being heard. the mondegreen of public space.

i can imagine aaron and i need to have a transcription battle 🙂

anyway, i digress, this year on world listening day, come and find me. i’ll be making a monument to the noble action in public. somewhere in berlin. and i’ll be doing some embodiment and transcribing. and standing around wearing headphones and writing.

it’ll be just like writing down lyrics, but to the world.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx