Paper and performance conceived and live performed at the isaSCIENCE Symposium, August 2021
lecture with bass recorder, video, and electronic track
To develop a conception of a musical ecosystem as alternative systemic model, I intersect theoretical explorations with an autoethnographic account of recent feminist actions around the ZKM Karlsruhe. A major concert and symposium ‘Einklang freier Wesen’ was planned by this institution in January 2021, featuring some the most prominent ensembles, a composer as well as an array of speakers – all white men. We – the people who are active in the music world – need more inclusive and global models for the future. Regarding the ZKM event, the uproar in the community culminated in collaborative online protest. Quickly planned actions were conducted by a network of women under #ZKMfreecritters, backed by institutions such as the Archiv Frau und Musik, GRiNM, Musica Femina München, the artistic research project ‘On the Fragility of Sounds’, and the female:pressure network. While the news platform SWR2 joined in to publish about the feminist campaign, the event was officially cancelled, followed by an apology announcing ZKM’s decision to rethink their event. My exploration mixes elements from autoethnography, artistic research, and ecosystem ecology to discuss recent developments in the field of contemporary music. As composer and artistic researcher I explain my practice alongside a description of my relationship with the canon. Sketching out how the canon is surrounded by a much larger, dynamic system, I position my practice as innovative agency within a bigger musical dimension. The discourse about the necessity of this paradigmatic change intensifies considering the pandemic crisis and the state of the Earth. To conclude, I describe how the canon appears to be a tree among others, while I prefer to explore the forest via listening and study its ecology, instead.
My lecture brings together two separate threads. One thread investigates a feminist campaign that took place in January this year. It was directed towards the ZKM—Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe—and took action against a particular event: the showcase Einklang freier Wesen—a symposium plus streaming concert featuring the composer Georg Friedrich Haas, with several music ensembles and venues participating. The composer plus all speakers on the panel were men, white men. The ZKM is one of leading institutions in the field of music and media. Therefore, feminist activists organised protest—I was one of them. Our campaign succeeded, the event was cancelled, we entered into a dialogue with the curators and after that, the symposium was re-planned. The ZKM installed a person who takes care of issues of diversity and gender, in their institution. That is why I use the term feministing in the title: a critical and creative action was initiated, resulting in a process that brought about change.
The other thread explores musical canons—from a personal standpoint—and moves further into ecosystem ecology. Ecology is a systemic tool that I find helpful for my practice, as a method to raise awareness about interactions and interrelations in the field of music. Both threads in my presentation converge upon the topic of the canon. Basically, what the idea of a canon does is that it sets a model for interrelations. It is a historical model that builds on the notion of power and favours a particular curatorial style and aesthetic manifestation. The event at ZKM was criticised for being undemocratic, patriarchal, sexist, racist, white supremacist. Ecology offers a conception that foregrounds equity and interdependence in relationships. I propose that a shift towards ecology not only affects the environment around music; it also changes the way we listen into music, it changes the compositional practice and the performance process.
The two parts of my exploration unfold in counterpoint. I invite you to walk with me through this discourse.
Composition and decomposition dance with each other in my practice. Every sound—or noise—that I perceive/perform/imagine/notate/explore comes into being, grows, develops, and decays. The sounds interweave and interfere with each other, with the environment, with myself. A polyphony of coming-going. I listen into, and belong with, an ecosystem. Every one of my pieces surfaces, and then lives through a process of growth and maturation. And, finally, my works decompose. Their afterlives continue—as memories in peoples’ minds, in documentations, on websites, in financial calculations.
The term feministing comes from the art historian Gill Park, who uses it to describe a practice that combines art, theory, and political action (Park, 2020, p. 290).
Park, G. (2020). Feministing photography. The Pavilion Women’s Photography Centre – Looking back to act forwards. In Deepwell, K. (Ed.). Feminist Art Activisms and Artivisms (pp. 286-301). Amsterdam: Valiz.
Autoethnography, artistic research, ecosystem ecology, critical art theory, feminism, perception theory, storytelling