Museum of Unrealised Proposals
After finally accepting that I am a transgender person after years of struggling with my mental health, it became important to me to find art, literature and music that I could identify with. Unable to see myself in more mainstream depictions of queer and trans culture, I was drawn to non-binary and transgender artists working on the fringes of black metal, punk and hardcore dance, such as Liturgy’s Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix, Genital Shame’s Erin Dawson, G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) and Kilbourne.
Inspired by their examples, I began looking for a way to explore my own gender identity through sound work that combined my interests in computer music, algorithmic composition, the transformation of the human voice, harsh noise, grindcore and losing myself on the dancefloor.
My love for the ‘faster, louder, harder’ end of extreme music led me to extratone, touted on Bandcamp as ‘the world’s fastest music genre.’ Extratone is a form of electronic music that operates at tempos of over 1,000 beats per minute, occasionally reaching the absurd heights of 10,000 BPM. Often dismissed as a joke, extratone is anything but; it has a story, history and lineage in what the writer Simon Reynolds calls the hardcore continuum. It has a community, a DIY punk-like ethos and a singular aesthetic that sets it apart from other genres.
But what really drew me to extratone was the fact that something so extreme—often rightly pigeonholed as hypermasculine and aggressive—was still thought of as, essentially, dance music, and dance music has deep roots in queer and trans culture. Here was a space where I could combine all of my interests and explore the tension between sonic intensity and fragile intimacy. By queering the sonic traditions and musical form of extratone, my sound work could become an exploration of gender identity and a kind of joyful introspection performed at a bewildering tempo and volume.
I began by experimenting with algorithmically generated “extratone_studies” (2020): brief bursts of hyper-speed, distorted, ‘gabber-style’ kick drums created in the visual programming language Pure Data. More studies followed (“sucker_variations” (2020) and “hardcore_dysphoria” (2021)), adding ‘hoover-style’ synths and vocal samples into the mix, but it wasn’t until I began adding my own pitch-shifted and transformed vocals (“vocal_feminisation_techniques” (2021) and “mtf_vocal_exercise_05” (2022)) that the music began to approach the combination of sonic intensity and fragile intimacy I was looking for.
It is extremely important to me that I get my work out there and for it to ‘be seen.’ I hope that something that feels so far outside of mainstream queer and trans culture can help others struggling with their gender identity and mental health, in much the same way that the work of Liturgy, Genital Shame, G.L.O.S.S. and Kilbourne helped me.
What remains, 2020
As an artist, I have long been interested in the idea of sound as a ghostly presence, a haunting, a fading/faded memory…
Nine years ago I watched the dancer Joe Moran perform “At Once” by the choreographer Deborah Hay at Toynbee Studios, London. While watching the performance, I suddenly became aware of the squeaking of Joe’s shoes as he moved across the stage. I began to ask myself, ‘What would happen if I closed my eyes for the remainder of the performance and just listened? Would I still be able to follow Joe’s movements? If I choose to ignore the visual elements of a dance performance, what remains?’
Reflecting on the experience later that night, I wondered if it was possible to capture the physical presence of a dance performance in an audio recording? Dance has long been known as an ephemeral art form, with most attempts to document it—text, photographs, video recordings, et cetera—focusing primarily on the visual. As part of the course I was studying at the time, I was introduced to a technique known as binaural recording. This technique mimics the natural hearing cues created by our head and ears, creating the impression of three-dimensional sound when listened to on headphones. Immersed in the experience, the listener feels like they are there at the moment of recording. This, to me, felt like the perfect technique for capturing the fleeting and elusive physical presence of dance.
At first, I thought I would ask Joe if I could make a binaural recording of his performance of “At Once.” Then I thought, ‘Why work with an existing piece of choreography, especially one that was meant to be experienced visually? Why not collaborate with a choreographer and dancer, and develop a dance piece designed solely to be listened to?’ Therefore, I began to look for artistic collaborators from the world of dance and choreography interested in helping me develop this idea further.
After posting a call on Dance Info Finland’s notice board, I was contacted by the dance artist Vera Nevanlinna. Vera was inspired to get in touch by my reference to the choreographer Deborah Hay. Having worked with Deborah since 2006, Vera told me that she ‘totally understood’ how I ‘got the idea to make an audible dance piece from HER [Deborah’s] work. She really is working with time and space, and that IS music.’
Our first meeting raised some interesting questions that left us both feeling very excited about the creative potential of this idea. For example, how do we ignore the visual bias inherent in choreographing movement and train our ears for dancing? How will concentrating on the sound of our movement affect the way we move? What type of movement or figure will be aesthetically appealing to the ear?
We plan to get into a dance studio as soon as we can, so we can begin to listen closely to the sound of Vera’s body moving in space and discover what it means to choreograph a dance meant solely for the ears.
Throughout the development process, we will both make exploratory recordings using a set of in-ear binaural microphones. As an artist who works primarily with sound, I am interested in the shifts of perspective one can achieve with recording and editing techniques. I am particularly curious to see and hear how the simple act of swapping the aural point of view from the audience to the dancer and back again will affect the listener.
To gain valuable feedback, we plan to hold open rehearsals, research presentations and try-outs throughout the development of this piece.
Presented to the public, “What remains” will be a haunting, a spectral trace, rather than a conventional dance performance.
My initial idea was that a single audience member would enter the performance space, empty but for a pair of headphones hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room. Upon donning the headphones, the audience member would become aware of the sound of someone moving around them, a ghostly echo of a former performance in that very space. The recording would be on a loop and would last as long as the performance space was available, but only one audience member would be allowed in at a time.
However, Vera feels that the piece also has the potential to be presented on stage in front of an audience. The thought of a large group of people, listening intently to an invisible dance emanating from an empty stage, has us both incredibly excited!
As an artist, my primary interest is in sound, but I first fell in love with the art forms of dance and choreography at Siobhan Davies Studios back in 2011, when I took part in Lucy Cash's “Dance and Beyond: Expanding the Choreographic Field” elective as part of my BA (Hons) in Sound Arts and Design at the London College of Communication. We were lucky enough to have a short class with Siobhan herself based around her “ROTOR” piece, and since then I have taken part in Joe Moran's “Points of Departure” workshop, Straybird's short film “Walker,” and Matthias Sperling's “Walking Piece” performance installation.
Magnetic tape is a technology often used in the recording, storage and playback of music and sound. However, for this work, I want to treat magnetic tape not as a technical object, but as a geological one.
Magnetic tape is basically crushed rock—the mineral hematite—pressed onto a narrow ribbon: tiny magnetic iron oxide particles embedded in a plastic binder on a polyester film. In much the same way as the molten iron rotating at the earth’s core tugs at the hematite embedded in the earth’s crust, the iron oxide particles in tape have their magnetic domains reoriented by the tape head’s magnetic field.
About 2.4 billion years ago, a group of cyanobacteria became capable of photosynthesis and released the first free oxygen into the iron-rich oceans. This new oxygen immediately combined with the iron to form hematite, which sank to the bottom of the seafloor and became the rock units that we now know today as the banded iron formations. This means that the iron oxide particles in magnetic tape could date back 2.4 billion years to the dawn of photosynthesis and the beginning of life on earth as we know it.
What sort of music and sound could embody that kind of deep time?
If a human lives 100 years it is considered a long life, therefore it is only natural to consider our observations on that sort of time scale. Processes that take millions of years to transform the physical world are almost incomprehensible to us. We presume the earth is stable, and in a human lifetime that is generally true, but, in a geologic sense, the earth is in constant motion.
In a tape loop, sound is recorded on a section of magnetic tape which is then cut and spliced end-to-end. This creates a circle or loop which can be played continuously, usually on a vintage reel-to-reel machine. This gives us a sound that at first appears to be fairly stationary, yet it progresses slowly. This is because every time the tape goes around it seems to change, or at least the relationship of your consciousness to the tape changes. There is also the physical change—the ageing—at the heart of vintage audio equipment to consider. These machines are always in the process of failing: drive belts loosen, tape speeds vary, magnetic tape disintegrates, and so on. Each successive wobble of the looping tape becomes a compositional change. What at first appears to be stationary shows itself to be in constant motion.
I will explore these themes through a series of experimental magnetic tape loop compositions. By attempting to compose a piece of music that embodies deep time, I will question traditional ideas about composition, sound, time and duration. At a time of quick fix and in a culture of short change, I want to help orientate the listener toward long-term thinking and survival strategies.