Exploring Cultural Diversity in Experimental Sound

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: Creative Prof. & Digital Arts, FACH


The Black Lives Matter movement has thrown into sharp relief many examples of institutional Whiteness which demand investigation and critical reflection. Experimental Sound practices - creativity in which sound is the basis of the artform, including: noise, sound art, electroacoustic music, soundscape and improvisation - are overwhelmingly dominated by White affluent male practitioners, leaving very little space for alternative experiences or diverse role models.

Much recent work in diversifying the field has focussed on gender representation, and while this work is laudable and absolutely vital, there is need to address other instances of poor diversity, such as ethnicity. Black and South Asian artists are some of the least represented within the genre of experimental sound. Their experiences, therefore, provide a valuable counterpoint to the normalised White majority. This research will engage directly with practitioners as key informants, commissioning them to develop compositions which act as sites of critical reflection, enabling the researchers to draw out and unpack understandings of diverse experiences within experimental sound. As Tim Ingold argues, there is a distinction to be made between 'knowing about and knowing through' (Ingold 2013, Making). Thus, six practitioners, representing a diversity of aesthetic styles, career positions, age, genders and backgrounds will be commissioned as key informants to develop works and to share their practices, accessed longitudinally through a range of complimentary methodologies (including anthropological participant observation, practice research, interviews and focus group discussion). Key informants will provide access to additional diverse practitioners and informants who will be interviewed on a one-by-one basis.

We will also engage key stakeholders and partners from industry (Musicians Union; Punch Records; Ammo Talwar, Chair of UK Music's Equality and Diversity Taskforce), arts charities (Sound and Music; Usurp Arts), and UK HEIs (British Electroacoustic Network), to expand these individual experiences into the wider context of arts and cultural policy. Outcomes from this research will inform the development of a white paper policy document highlighting the challenges inherent for practitioners of diverse cultural backgrounds as they seek to navigate an artform that is institutionally White.

This research has potential to inform UK policy in diversity for arts, culture and music education, creating social and cultural impact by enabling our society to become more enriched, resilient, and enabling diverse communities to play equal roles within contemporary artistic practices.

Culture contributes £11billion to the UK economy each year, and British pre-eminence in this area is founded on the contributions made by all of the UK's diverse cultures. Empowering diversity of creativity, the independence of alternative voices and the potential for new ideas and innovation has the potential to benefit not just individuals involved in Experimental Sound practices, but the wider artistic and cultural sector of the UK economy.

In engaging with this vital topic, we have the opportunity to catalyse action which can bring about positive change in the artform. Outputs can inform policies which will guide the actions of both universities, educating and providing opportunities for new practitioners, and cultural organisations fostering contemporary music practices in the UK.


10 25 50