Guest Curator: Jenny Graf Sheppard

From the Her Noise Archive, I have chosen Frances Dyson’s book, Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in Arts and Culture. Though not the central focus of her book, she addresses two things that have always intrigued me about sound; that it provokes a listening experience that is ontologically profound and that it is married to space, to corporeality while not needing to adhere to realism at all. Through a discussion of this and other characteristics of New Media Art, Dyson discusses the various ways in which we experience it.

Immersion and embodiment, characteristics of New Media and our engagement with it, are, according to Dyson present in the phenomenology of sound. She suggests that it was audio and its associated technologies and uses that “paved the way” for considerations of how New Media similarly constructs the embodied subject.

Dyson: “It is no coincidence then that the diverse technologies we associate with New Media reconstitute experiences characteristic of the aural, for sound is the immersive media par excellence”

She begins by examining immersion, a term meant to describe the process or condition by which the viewer is enveloped and transformed by the environment. Take as an example sound, which is all surrounding, multi-directional and touches you. Immersion presupposes space, even if that space exists solely within the imagination. This kind of immersion can lead to new modes of perception. Immersion can also lead to embodiment where the subject is in a sense not distinct from the piece. This can be seen in the fact that sound is us as much as it is distinct from us. It is exciting to see how such an analysis of New Media leads to a break up of elements of narrative, subject object -even rules of grammar. In her final chapter she discusses the really compelling work of Catherine Richards, who herself explores the idea of resonance, a characteristic which eliminates the distinction between electronic machine and human. Dyson quotes Richards, “If you are immersed in a signal, you start to resonate, in a way, to the system. So for me the question is, ‘who has the power of the pulse —whose pulse is everybody syncing to?’”

Regardless of how much I am inspired by the writing of both Dyson and Richards, my tendency is to look at New Media in quite a different way. Most “immersive” work contains a considerable amount of noise and ultimately rupture, of states of being. I am interested in the moment of rupture that for most of us is the reality of our world (with New Media). We experience daily a rupture of attention, data, image, connectivity, cheapo electronics, disease, noise, rupture of the streamlined narrative, and multiple screens of conflicting information. I think this lacuna is felt on a large scale in mass media culture when, for example, people fixate on whether Beyonce’s liquid, seamless performance is lip-synced or when the lights go out at the Superdome stadium in New Orleans interrupting the 2013 Superbowl for 30 minutes. There is this feeling of being pulled in many directions at once. Of having to continually situate our selves in new contexts. This for me, is the reality for most of us when experiencing what is billed as “immersive” media- periodic, abruptly shifting, and competing “pulses”.

Recently, I read The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, a book that may possibly be out of date or out of sync with current dominant neurological theory on left right brain-function as some critics have claimed. Regardless, Leonard Schlain presents a really fascinating theory about the impact on cultures as they transition from an image-dominated culture, to one that employs the abstraction and linearity inherent in the modern alphabet. Through the book he weaves evolution, neurology, and the history of adoption of the modern alphabet by dozens of cultures, to make his central argument: that the technology of writing changed the brain in ways that lead to the expulsion of the goddess and the feminine (and all she has represented in cultural belief systems) from cultures all over the world. According to Schlain, monotheism, which the written alphabetic word encodes, is prohibitive of plurality and insists on a type of linearity that trumps a more spatial knowledge. He ends the book, written in 1998, by looking at the implications of the shift to a visually dominant, rather than word based culture that he saw happening at that time due to electronic media. He argues that this has opened up the possibility for different neurological functions, ones, that again embrace what the goddess signifies.

Although this book is not about sound, it is about technology, neurology and gender, which I think has a place in thinking about mapping the female presence within the experimental music landscape. My hope is that someone will follow this book up with a more current one that addresses immersion, embodiment and something Dyson briefly touches on in her book: resonance as it relates to a gender.

I had hoped to select Algerian born Cheikha Rimitti, the Mother of Rai music, as someone who would be interviewed. Her lyrics reflect her bravery and badass stance as a woman defiant of cultural mores. Writing hundreds of songs (and she was illiterate) about female desire, sex and social issues she was ultimately banned from the radio. She performed continuously throughout her life, taking part in several waves of music scenes in Algeria, France and finally around the world. I saw her perform at the HotHouse in Chicago in 2002, when she was 81 years of age. Dressed like Glinda the witch (in a floor length sequenced gown but with a guellal) she performed for over an hour.

BUT, in lieu of not being able to interview her (the Mother of Rai passed away in 2006), I’d like to suggest SUSAN ALCORN, pedal steel player and composer of some of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. My favorite album is And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar, on Old English Spelling Bee.

I would like to contribute a record of my own, an LP that came out of The Guitars Project, to the Archive. For six months I collaborated with 6 women with Alzheimer’s to find ways in generating sounds and compositions despite memory and dexterity loss. The vinyl picture disc contains two compositions edited from recordings I made of the group plucking, dusting strings, fumbling and generating raw sounds. As a component of the project the women created their own guitar playing persona that were then photographed (two of them are used on either side of the picture disc).


— Jenny Graf, 2013

Jenny Graf is a sound, video and performance artist who explores peripheral places and states through composition, improvisation and participatory works. Graf uses the Tranoe, an analogue, touch sensitive instrument designed for her by Peter Blasser, to process live vocals, guitar and percussion and to re-organize sound to present mutations of dominant themes in music. Since 1996 she has been performing with MV Carbon as Metalux. Using processed sounds and open-ended scores, their music is experienced as a kind of sonic fiction. Other music collaborations include those with John Wiese, Twig Harper, Marcia Bassett and Chiara Giovando and have included the projects, The Guitars Project (2002), Threshold for Action and Sound (2008), The Stone Carving Oraclestra (2009) and Proud Flesh (2009) among others.

Since 2011, she has worked with the Greenpants collective and began the Luminous Intervention Project which uses large scale projection and performance to open up conversations around Unfair Development, the School to Prison Pipeline, Guantanamo and Rape Culture.

Jenny Graf’s work has been performed and screened at venues such as The Stone, PS 1, Issue Project Room, D’Amelio Terras Gallery in New York, High Zero Festival, Carrie Secrest and Vedanta Galleries in Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Maryland Film Festival, Brown’s Granoff Center for the Arts, Mukha Museum in Antwerp, CCA in Glasgow, Arnolfi in Bristol, MOFFOM Festival In Prague, Ladies Fest in Copenhagen, and the Director’s Lounge in Berlin. Her recordings appear on labels such as Atavistic, Ehse, BoxMedia, Load, Wachsender Prozess, Hanson, No Fun, Utech and 5rc. (coming soon)

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