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.


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Title Avartan 
Description Avartan explores how noise and sound induced music should be felt as vibration, rather than heard with the cochlear. Low frequencies, harsh recurrences, repetitions and cyclical motifs exist in entanglements within this studio work. Lower tones are not often a key part of the discourse when it comes to experimental music. Avartan challenges this neglect of bass and sub frequencies in most existing works. As such, the piece is a call to arms to address the lack of diversity and representation within the broader fields of the arts, academic, experimental, electronic music, and sound circles, in terms of both aural and cultural diversity with Black and South Asian artists. Avartan poignantly allows for varying volume and different modes of listening with a nod to hearing differences, whether it be through vibrating floors, dub soundsystems, loudspeakers or headphones. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact We are yet to see notable public impacts until the composition is released as part of vinyl "Disruptive Frequencies" on Nonclassical Records in July 2023. 
Title Boo Su 
Description Boo Su is a fictional cog as part of a system that lives in a futuristic subterranean world of stuttered magnetic rhythms coalescing in a tapestry of harsh brutal noise and architecture. It is where dark cold machines conjure up resistance to bass and unwanted sounds. The DIY glitch compass faces towards a place where aesthetics and operations of failure are embraced - North. This piece formed part of an research study creating ideas in the studio whilst talking to the key participants about their practice and work. In many ways, this early composition has influenced Lasurnii, as well as the pieces "Chakria" and "Avartan" that formed later and are included in the submission as the main compositions that will feature in Disruptive Frequencies vinyl released by Nonclassical. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact The piece "Boo Su" (2021) - 05:10 had its world premiere at this competition, and was a finalist alongside six other artists as part of this submission for the BMS International Composition Competition. The new music competition had a "North" based theme with high-quality entries from sound artists across the UK and Abroad. The Watchtower Gallery, Tweedmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 2HE. Date: 24th October 2021. The Berwick Music Series was held between September and October in 2021. It was also exhibited as part of a Noise Exhibition as part of a sound installation at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich. "Boo Su" was played as part of a suite every half hour during the exhibition opening between 30th November and 18th December 2021. The exhibition allowed attendees to listen to the visceral textures of the tones and deep bass of the sound materials. 
URL https://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/37074/
Title Chakria 
Description Chakria asks many questions about the traditional fields of electroacoustic music, and the studio work moves in improvised irregular loops and iterations by immersing brutal noise, bass, and embracing soundsystem culture in an entanglement. The duration of the piece is an ode to the Technics 1210 turntable, which, with its rotations, has brought joy to many, and has been an instrument of choice by DJs globally. Rotations is a theme that emerges in this studio work, highlighting the narratives of systematic racism, heightening the need for increased electronic music diversity. Black and South Asian artists are some of the least represented ethnicities within the broader field of Experimental sound and music practice. This studio work reflects on the lack of diversity and underrepresentation, and has been cultivated and harvested as part of a new AHRC funded project "Exploring Cultural Diversity in Experimental Sound". 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact We are yet to see notable public impacts until the composition is released as part of vinyl "Disruptive Frequencies" on Nonclassical Records in July 2023. 
Title Disruptive Frequencies - 12 Compositions 
Description As part of the research, each of the five participants and the PI have develop two compositions as practice research sites of enquiry. These compositions are a manifestation of the composers' diverse experiences and unique snapshot into their practices'. 1. Poulomi Desai - The Vichitra, Queer conjurations from us 2. Bantu - Dark Energy Live Stream Track 1 3. Dushume - Chakria 4. Nikki Sheth - Sandwell Valley 5. Dhangsha - Mahapralay 6. NikNak - Combative Embers 7. Bantu - Dark Energy Live Stream Track 2 8. Nikki sheth - Pemberton Gardens 9. Dhangsha - Germinate 10. Dushume - Avartan 11. NikNak - Swirls 12. Poulomi Desai - Electromagnetic signals from our raging Black Earth, all our flora and fauna are burning. These compositions will be released on vinyl through Nonclassical Records in July 2023. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2023 
Impact We are yet to see the notable public impacts, but by analysing their compositions we have learnt that their experimental music and sound practices does have a distinctive voice and aesthetic, and this is further articulated in the accompanying book "Disruptive Frequencies in Experimental Sound: Black and South Asian artists in their own words". 
Title Dushume Live 
Description A live version of " Chakria" was performed at Diverse Frequencies an evening of diverse experimental sounds at Iklectik, it was a collective celebration of music produced and created as part of the project "Exploring Cultural Diversity in Experimental Sound". It featured an array of Black and South Asian Artists including NikNak, Nikki Sheth, Poulomi Desai, Gary Stewart and Dhangsha. Wednesday 15th June 2022 - 7.30 - 11.30pm. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact This illicit behaviour of having a biased diverse Black and South Asian line up of mixed genders and ages gave a positive creative outcome that in some ways sits with the argument of making experimental music more diverse, this performance and the accompanying artists played a part in effecting change, occupying and making in what is usually a White male dominated space. 
URL https://www.gre.ac.uk/research/activity/las/exploring-cultural-diversity-in-experimental-sound2
Title Feast or Famine - Control Voltage 16 Feast or Famine - Control Voltage 16 
Description A question of stasis where the visceral and physical connections and the war of attrition is a thing. The sound tones of Deep Bass and harsh noise beats into submission there is feast or there is famine. This live electronics performance was performed at Control Voltage 16 at the Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester on the 18th August 2022, and will eventually be presented as a recorded Extended Play (EP) later in 2023/24 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact The notable impact was exposing audience members to this project through music and raising awareness of the lack of Black and South Asian artists in the the experimental sound space. Many of the public audiences were engaged and keen to find out more about Exploring Cultural Diversity in Experimental Sound and specifically keen to read the recommendation report and also hear the music from its associated artists. 
URL https://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/37171/
Title Lasurnii 
Description Lasurnii explores and extends the Radical Nails Sound(-Making) Object intertwined with various other electronica fauna. Sounds are expressed through various forms of live electronics, gesture, performance, and investigation. A noise entanglement of sort exists colliding harsh high glitch tones with heavy deep bass, and sound system culture. The sound work has been performed as an interrogation analysing the need for a reductive performance situation. The music also lives as a recorded version, and the piece has been performed in a series of events through improvisation. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact Due to the success of this composition being further developed as live performance BEAST - Centrala, Birmingham - 12th March Runt of the Litter - Hackney Wick, London - 21st April Skronktronic - New River Studios, London - 11th May It has led to the composition being released on a digital label, this piece also works as a pre-release to the Disruptive Frequencies Vinyl on Nonclassical 
URL https://slightlyoffkilter.bandcamp.com/track/dushume-lasurnii
Title Lasurnii - BEAST @ Centrala 
Description Lasurnii explores and extends the Radical Nails Sound(-Making) Object intertwined with various other electronica fauna. Sounds are expressed through various forms of live electronics, gesture, performance, and investigation. A noise entanglement of sort exists colliding harsh high glitch tones with heavy deep bass, and sound system culture. The sound work has been performed as an interrogation analysing the need for a reductive performance situation. This piece was the first in a series of events at various locations and the performance at BEAST was the first to realise this concept whereby two sound(-making) objects or instruments are collided to conjure up and mash-up two varying sources to create some harsh experimental sounds. I was invited by Dr Annie Mahtani from BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) a concert sound system from the University of Brimingham's Electroacoustic Music Studios, this particular concert and sound system was hosted at Centrala in Digbeth, Birmingham. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact The impact of this performance, draw new audiences whereby members of the public attend Diverse Frequencies, which relates to this project. 
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/lcahm/departments/music/events/2022/spring-22/beast-at-centrala...
Description Overall findings & recommendations

1) Exposure to music from a young age and familial support:

All of the artists we interviewed were exposed to music and encouraged to be creative at home, by parent(s) or another family member. This took many forms including: recorded music played regularly in the house, access to record collections, musical instruments and music-themed games, and often, access to radios, turntables and other devices. Interestingly, all participants played a keyboard instrument in their childhood: four out of five had piano lessons, one learnt harmonium.

2) Significance of teachers:

Teachers and institutions played a significant role in all participants' lives and future careers, both positively and negatively. Several participants talked about particularly supportive teachers or institutions, and others highlighted racist teachers, racism in institutions, or teachers who were not empathetic to particular learning needs e.g. difficulties with reading music.

3) Structural racism:

The lives of all participants and their families have been shaped by colonial and postcolonial migratory routes, UK immigration policies, intergenerational trauma and hostility from the 'host' population. These stories, at once fascinating and painful, provide a snapshot in microcosm of the barriers to inclusion that Black and Brown composers and musicians in the UK face. Instances of institutional and societal racism, which often took place in day-to-day interactions with neighbours, teachers or even members of the same community, illuminate our knowledge of how artists face marginalisation and exclusion in their own locales long before they embark upon their careers.

All participants referred to experiences of both societal and institutional racism during their childhoods. Although there were clear commonalities between their stories, they all experienced racism differently depending on various factors, including the demographic makeup of their geographical location, their educational settings and the institutions they encountered. Although most of the racist incidents recalled by participants were perpetrated by white people, interestingly, some participants addressed prejudiced behaviour within their own communities, and some experienced prejudice from other people of colour. Significantly, several participants referenced different types of trauma which affected their ability to recall memories from their childhoods.

Participants expressed different levels of openness when discussing these topics: some were very outspoken, whereas others were more reticent. These participants had varying reasons for this: some were happy to discuss racist experiences but strongly intimated that they were keen to prioritise talking about their practice, whereas some had suppressed their memories of such incidents, and others were concerned with maintaining their family's privacy.

Likewise, the attitudes of the parents and wider families of participants towards race and racism shaped how racism was discussed, dealt with and experienced. A common strategy amongst some parents of participants was the desire to shield and protect their children from racism, if at all possible. Attitudes towards racism and interpretations of Britain's colonial history can be strikingly different between first-generation migrants and second- or third-generation migrant-origin individuals to the UK: many participants expressed a greater degree of anger, and stronger feelings of disillusion and injustice than older generations.

4) Mentors and community:

Most - but not all - participants had significant mentors, whether these were musicians, educators, employers or community leaders. Others emphasised the importance of peer group support. We noted a generational gap between older and younger participants: the former highlighted the significance of grassroots, peer-driven and interdisciplinary artistic networks, whereas younger participants did not have the same experience. We deduce that there are two possible reasons for this: firstly, young composers may be faced with less hostility and professional barriers (although hostility and barriers still very much exist) than their predecessors, making community networks feel less urgent. Secondly, the insularisation of 'laptop' musicians and rise of online and virtual spaces has reduced physical, communal interaction.

5) Interdisciplinary approach to practice:

Participants revealed an interdisciplinary approach to their music and practices which adopted a diverse and multifaceted approach to achieve their results. This was a non-conformist approach and more open to access alternative inspirations and influences ranging from a wide range of diverse musical genres (including Motown, Rock, Metal, Dub and Soundsystem Culture) in addition to the normalised electroacoustic music cannon.

The resultant musical aesthetic tends to a greater extent towards field recordings, soundscapes, low frequencies, rhythms, harsh noises, with very subtle nuanced pop sensibilities. As a result, the infrastructure of traditional contemporary music performance systems is inherently not designed or fit for purpose to accommodate the unique features of these aesthetic styles. As such the very mechanical systems of presentation automatically marginalise these forms of music (being geared traditionally towards the mid-range and top end frequencies).

6) Experimental Sound and Music networks for Black and South Asian Artists:

The experimental field of music and sound and its fringes needs to do more work to showcase Black and South Asian artists. In talking to our five key participants, we have unlocked a wider music network for artists and performers of colour that exist outside of the canon of these traditional fields. A network of sorts needs to exist where making, collaborations and partnerships can evolve to cultivate new novel ideas in experimental sound and music practices from their perspectives.

7) Policies and recommendations:

Policies and recommendations need to be fully active and engage all people in participation. There is a danger that unconsidered policies and recommendations on access and inclusion end up placing the onus on Black and South Asian artists to support and deliver on the inclusion action.
Exploitation Route More better inclusive programming, and diversity policies overall with genuine robust plans for inclusion.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Title Additional Participants 
Description Eight additional research subjects were interviewed these were enlisted through our partners and other participants with the emphasis on widening reach and representation. These interviews on average were 1 hour with a focus on professional careers, and any obstacles pertaining to 'race' and ethnicity that they face in their professional careers. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact These particular datasets are in important as they have aided the development of the recommendation report, and some of their input has been included this original research has the opportunity to seed potential in delivering future impact. 
Title Key Participant Interviews 
Description Bringing together key participants in the study Poulomi Desai , Aniruddha Das, Gary Stewart, Nicole Raymond and Nikki Sheth. We conducted one-to-one open ended interviews with each key informant over the course of 12 months. Key topics included biography, compositional processes and practice, their professional careers holistically exploring wider social and cultural issues which impact artist. This is considered as a significant data collection component for this AHRC Exploring Cultural Diversity in Experimental Sound grant. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Original findings and knowledge have been created and will be disseminated within a book publication. This has the potential to deliver impact in the future once shared. 
Description Diverse Frequencies - Concert 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Loudspeaker Orchestra Concert Series: Diverse Frequencies

This event allowed for the opportunity to disseminate the artists (NikNak (Nicole Raymond), Dhangsha (Aniruddha Das), Nikki Sheth, Poulomi Desai, and Gary Stewart, Dushume (Amit Dinesh Patel) compositions and perform them live to the public as part of a curated concert from the Principal investigator giving an opportunity to further promote the project to a general audience outside of academia. The event was at IKLECTIK arts venue in London and was sold out, and this was also streamed to a further 200 people, therefore having significant impact in-person and online, fundamentally after the performances, the public enquired about the project and its roles to the wider sector, with members of the public discussing how they could get involved to help effect change. Fundamentally, those working in the fields of music and arts organisations sought interest in how they could make their events diverse in terms of participants as well as audience members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mDPuwGo6-U
Description Focus Groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Due to participants shielding, we only had the opportunity to meet in-person as a group once with the key participants and research team on the 15th june 2022, prior to the Diverse Frequencies gig.

This was conducted in a neutral space. New perspectives, ideals were discovered and nurtured as a group. This discussion and observation of the participants in one space has allowed outcomes to be unpacked with the sharing of common experiences as well as individual lived experiences. This discussion had also informed contributions to the book publication and recommendation report.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Sound programme: the sounds that bring us together - Boo Su. In: EASA2022: Transformation, Hope and the Commons: Sound Programme: The Sounds that Bring us Together. Panel P122b at conference, 27th July 2022, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen's University Belfast. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Works were shared and music played as part of a panel of 14 participants, there was significant discussion around the discourse and aesthetics of the pieces, and this gave me an opportunity to share the background of how the piece was made, and its importance and significant element as part of this project as this composition was the pre-cursor to the official two compositional outcomes.

I have been asked to contribute to a paper for the Canadian Anthropology Society journal, by providing further commentary about this piece and its processes, as well as the implications of the work as part of this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://easaonline.org/conferences/easa2022/
Description Soundings: Assemblies of Listening and Voices Across the Souths - Keynote/ Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact SOUNDINGS was a 5-day gathering at Akademie der Künste Berlin on 21 - 25 August 2022.

The principal investigator was invited to give a keynote "Throwing a stone into the pond" about their background navigating artistry into experimental sound practices in a White male dominated space. A synthesis of discussion occurred surrounding the issues of marrying different cultures together and also addressing the visible Whiteness in music technology areas. The Exploring Cultural Diversity in Experimental Sound project was also introduced and a synthesis of discussion arose with many members interested in adopting the recommendation report in their art and music organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://soundacross.org/soundings/