I was drawn to Found Sound Nation for many reasons: a chance to combine an interest in social justice with a lifelong background as a musician; an interest in breaking down hierarchies in music creation; a shared recognition of music and sound-making as an intrinsic human trait, to be celebrated in all people as a means to build our collective voices and to understand one another more deeply. This week I think back to some core elements in a few early (and recent) projects:
1. Storytelling & Voice: NY2NO
This was an early project, one in which we were still experimenting with forms, but i appreciate how it reflects an early interest in storytelling, putting mics in the hands of young people, encouraging creative and narrative expression. Thanks to the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, we accompanied a group of high school students from Philadelphia & NYC to Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans for their Food Justice Summer, a trip where they learned first-hand about urban gardening, food security, systemic economic inequities, and the enduring legacy of Hurricane Katrina. The trip was organized entirely by young people, the oldest being around 19 at the time. Our involvement represented, for me, an effort to encourage reflection, self expression, and critical inquiry in these students in real time, in the moment, through creative documentation of this unique experience through conversation and sound.
2. Communal Music: Street Studio Lucerne, Switzerland
We ran our first mobile street studio in 2011 at the Lucerne Festival Academy in Switzerland. I had been going to Lucerne for three consecutive summers as a violinist in the orchestra — a role that I struggled with in several ways, as a lapsed classical violinist — and all i had really experienced of the town was its rich and fancy concert hall, center city streets full of elegant tourism, and some absurdly picturesque mountains. When we introduced the street studio in 2011, my fourth summer in Lucerne, I suddenly and surprisingly discovered a different world. Just by setting up a simple mobile recording rig & a mic in town — outside of the train station, across the street from the concert hall, in a park by the lake — a decidedly new world blossomed, full of fascinating characters.
We met interesting people hailing from Tibet and Senegal and Hungary, side by side with locals who had been living in these mountains for generations. We met wandering musicians, politically-charged MCs, curious kids, Hungarian scientists, alpine horn-playing farmers, refugee families. We learned bits and pieces of their stories through the shared mic, creating our very first tunes of the collective unconscious… and through their sounds and songs, this place I had thought i’d known transformed in front of my eyes.
3. Interdependence & Exchange: OneBeat 2012
We really had no idea what we were in for during our first year of OneBeat — the explosion of energy & sound & music & personalities on day one, the pure excitement of gathering people from such different backgrounds — geographically, linguistically, musically, stylistically — in one place. I remember the music that erupted on the very first night, everyone packed into a small studio space at ACA, electronic noises in one corner, MCing in another, foot percussion in a third. We all plunged into this experiment together, fellows and staff, questioning what this thing was, what it could be, discovering what it meant to each of our lives. It seems to impact each individual differently, challenging us to our core, and (hopefully) creating bonds and memories that last a lifetime.
Our final show that year, held in a run-down warehouse in Greenpoint, and featuring this eclectic group of musicians performing in a round underneath a gigantic floating triangular orb, still lingers in my memory — from spontaneous improvised collaborations (eg. MC Blitz the Ambassador in a duo with gayageum player Kyungso Park) to the resilient ensemble that battled it out over four weeks to deliver a sensitive, soulful, stirring piece that, to me, represented all of the joys and struggles and beauty and pain of the month.
4. Artistic Expression & Beauty: Mosaic Interactive
After many years of facilitating creative exchanges, and after meeting so many great artists, we wanted to find time and space to create collaborative art ourselves, and to dive in deeper with some of the outstanding musicians we’d met over the years. This led us to Mosaic Interactive — a chance for our team to approach artistic creation in the ways that move us, building works that celebrate traditions, perspectives and imaginations of people, young and old, who are both bearers and visionaries of culture, and to create these works inspired by and in collaboration with them.
Without knowing exactly what we were making, we ended up creating pieces with our collaborators that amaze and humble me — the humanity and creativity in the works, the voices of elders, children, old songwriters and storytellers presented with such reverence and imagination, and the magical beauty of each piece. It feels like a visual and aural journey into the very spirit of these stories and songs, these artists, and our imaginations, one that I hope we can continue to build and deepen.
5. Social Justice
To close my week of FSN reflection, here are some pics from a recent trip to Highlander Research & Education Center in TN, one of many organizations in the Southeast i admire from afar.
At the core of my love for this work is the occasional privilege of connecting with and supporting individuals and communities of people doing the slow, arduous, meaningful work of creating change in the name of social and racial justice in the United States. I realized early on in my life that, when it comes down to it, I just really like the people I’ve met who do this work — I enjoy talking with them, brainstorming with them, learning lessons and philosophies from them, supporting them, hanging with them.
Lately I’ve been particularly inspired by the words of artists and activists who have long been doing the work of rethinking/remaking systems of all kinds such that resilience, compassion, empathy, self & communal care are deeply incorporated into the process of movements for justice, healing and repair. Also, for obvious reasons, I’ve always held a special respect for racial and social justice actions happening in the Southeast, where I grew up.