sound art

tamara montenegro - naka naka oka aina


Naka Naka Oka Aina was produced and composed by Tamara Montenegro, and features poetry by Violet Witt.


Tamara says:

This piece sounds unheard and repressed voices in our society. Behind the laughter of children playing, we can hear the solemn chanting of a lost Roma woman walking the streets of Barcelona. Violet Witt’s sung poem “All I am is a woman" explores the incongruence of being read as a woman, when experiencing a far more complex relationship with gender. The last part of the piece is inspired by another poem by Witt in which they write of taking action rather than only thinking, n order to heal and co-create a more inclusive world.


Born in the lush lands of Nicaragua, Tamara Montenegro’s work was birthed from their engagement with the electronic music scene. Tamara’s sound work now also extends to sound art, soundtrack composition, field recording, and psychoacoustic research. They understand the power of sound and music to bring about social development, healing, action, and change and see DJing as an act of shamanism. Their music and research seek to touch the human psyche and incite social change by building roots and networks through dance and integrative listening, weaving together their vision of global community for a new culture of conscious living. More of their music is available here.

myra al-rahim - and the sea gave up the dead which were in it


And the Sea Gave Up the Dead Which Were In It was produced by Myra Al-Rahim. It airs for the first time here on Constellations.

A clip from Samuel Beckett's, Not I performed by Billy Whitelaw (1973) was used in this piece as well as a clip from ITV's Sci-Fi drama tv show, Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982). Featuring music by Ilia Belorukov and Nonhorse from the Free Music Archive.

Myra would like to thank Georgia Graham, Caily Herbert, John Estona and Terrence Arjoon for coming in at the 11th hour and helping voice the last section of this piece. Thanks to Mohammed Wafa for his mastery of the Arabic language and Melaney Portillo for her critical feedback. And a big, big thank you to Jess and Michelle from the Constellations team for soliciting this work and their willingness to collaborate. 


Myra says:

I started making this piece in the summer of 2017. That year marked 15 years since the US invasion of Iraq. From the piece’s conception, my plan was to create a sonic eulogy commemorating this anniversary; to construct an audioverse where I could reflect on the hubris of the United States and its acolytes. Propelled by ruthless arrogance, bolstered by intelligence that was categorically false, their decision to act preemptively against the non-threat that was Saddam’s Regime, thrust the region into years of destabilization and bloodshed the shock waves of which continue to reverberate to this day. The grievous damage the war caused to the sovereign nation of Iraq, the lasting impact it would have on the rest of the region and the world, and my deeply complicated feelings toward my own Iraqi family members who, in 2003, welcomed the invasion with open arms, are all factors that informed the creation of this work.

I wanted to explore the idea of broken sounds. I certainly feel as if many of the clips I used sustained a good amount of abuse throughout the process of creating the piece. Time, specifically, the past, also plays a central role in this piece. I wanted to cast the Past as this penetrative force that was breaking in and colonizing the present moment, preventing the course of progress into the future. My goal was to achieve a state where the space time continuum had effectively ruptured and all the ghosts of history, uninhibited by the walls protecting the flow of progress, would come to haunt the present we occupy.


Inspiring Myra in the world of sound:

The British electronic musician Burial, for inspiring me to channel the energy of the sonic spectres that haunt us. Delia Derbyshire and the team that comprised the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop for encouraging me to engage with the materiality of sound and elevating my understanding of sound making as a craft, much like pottery or carpentry. Electronic music pioneer, Suzanne Ciani. My Korg MS 20 synthesizer, for rewarding my curiosity as opposed to my virtuosity.

And outside of it:

The writing of the late Mark Fischer has had an incalculable impact on my sound work as well as my politics and understanding of the world around me. His work always makes me feel less alone. Walter Benjamin’s, Theses on the Philosophy of History without which this piece would have never been made. The BBC documentarian, Adam Curtis for his ability to leave no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. The hours I’ve spent on the dance floor with my friends in spaces that elevate the talent of QTPOC electronic musicians.


Constellations Says by Amita Kirpalani:

The incident and the echo: these are the two propositions for engagement with And the Sea Gave Up the Dead Which Were In It. The exposition of the piece features worn tape of George W. Bush as he casually muses on a justification for the invasion of Iraq. The sound of a tape deck rewinding over this over-exposed rhetoric marks the  15 year anniversary of the invasion. Myra sets his words against the sound of soldiers in combat, in panic, calling out for each other, breathing. With her hands on this history, the sound of a bouncing ball becomes cross-fire, becomes wailing, then distortion, a Call to Prayer and again, tape.

Inspired by this piece I re-watched Watch this drive - also featured in Fahrenheit 9/11 - where Dubya is speaking to the press on a golf course. He says “We must stop the terror. I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.  Now, watch this drive.” And then we watch that drive. In golf - an arena heavily associated with the current -occupant of the White House - ‘a shotgun start’ is when all players simultaneously tee off, with the goal that all players finish the game at the same time. Each set of four players begins at a different hole, together in the game, but really they could be anywhere.

In this piece, laughter and crying are indistinguishable; they are both distorted and sonically collaged. My own limitations were really clear where I couldn’t ‘read’ the short sections of the work in Arabic. But amongst the many layers of speech was a recognisable section from Samuel Beckett’s Not I (1973) which felt like a union of the listener and the artist. Stage directions at specific intervals for the third person ‘Auditor’ of Beckett’s work instruct the actor to undertake “simple sideways raising of arms from side and then falling back, in a gesture of helpless compassion.” So, here we both sit in a gesture of helpless compassion, alert to the fact of an unnecessary war with its unnecessary trauma as we watch another president do another drive.


Myra Al-Rahim is an audio producer currently working at BRIC Arts and Media in Brooklyn, NY where she edits their tri-weekly local news and culture show, 112BK. Her forays into the world of transmission arts are just beginning and she is very excited. You can find some of Myra’s other work here and here.

phil smith - the space between stories

phil smith.png

The Space Between Stories was produced by Phil Smith and airs for the first time here on Constellations.

It uses moments from an improvisation with violinist Alison Blunt, recorded in Phil’s kitchen in Berlin. The voices are from conversations with friends, and interviews recorded with poets and musicians and artists over the last few years. The rufous-and-white wren and the symphony of car horns were recorded in Colombia. The piece includes an extract from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, a translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.


Phil says:

This piece expresses the ongoing search for home and meaning in a time of ecological collapse and the disintegration of old ideas about our place in the world. It’s an expression of conversations I’m having with friends, and of things I’m reading. It's an attempt to make something spiritual and honest in sound! There are no facts or environmental insights in the piece. It's more about the internal flow of feelings and emotions that come from the desire to believe that we might be on the verge of something truly beautiful, despite (and perhaps also owing to) the health of the planet. I'm reading about the idea that personal traumas and feelings of disconnectedness might well be very much tied to the dominant civilization’s wider sense of separateness from, and superiority over, nature. As Krishnamurti writes, "It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." Joanna Macy describes how we are slowing unhooking ourselves from the "business as usual narrative" (the "world-destroying machine" in Charles Eisenstein's words) and that a "great turning" is underway. Sometimes I want to shout: "All this time we spend not marvelling at existence! All this time spent working, and drinking, and running away from death! All this time spent feeling negative about ourselves and each other! We all mean well! Now let's eat apples and go swimming!" Written down, I can't work out what that looks like. I often worry about that kind of thing. In any case, the piece is a call to ask ourselves the big questions, to “go there”, to contemplate, grieve and heal, and to commit to life and living and joy and mystery. It’s a big exasperated “I don’t know what to do!” and a “but I’m going to do this because it feels right” as well. I tried to bring that spirit into the editing process. It was fun to see how "but the factories needed people" could become "people need trees" with a bit of editing. The piece is imperfect, messy, chaotic, poorly mixed and confused and I quite like it that way.


Inspiring Phil in the world of sound:

I am recently returned to Europe after six months in Colombia. I loved being surrounded by the sound of Spanish and learning about how it's put together. It was incredible to encounter so many different styles of music and the instruments from different regions as I traveled around. (Here's a show I made in Cali: ) In the dry tropical forest in the north east of the country, I fell in love with (and recorded) the song of the rufous-and-white wren. You hear it whistling in this piece. I also loved the sound of the frogs at night; and in the morning, the bicolored wrens and the fruit sellers ("papaya! papaya! melón!")

And outside of it:

I'm reading Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows' translations of Rilke, and Ursula K. Le Guin's version of the Tao Te Ching. In the last year I've been exploring Thich Nhat Hanh's mindfulness practice and it's been incredible to acknowledge how much of my time on this earth is (and has been) spent in the past or the future rather than the present moment. I'm noticing and appreciating more and more people who do things well (with love) for the sake of it. They're usually quite a bit older than me. I'm finding Charles Eisenstein's book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible utterly inspiring and comforting and generous. I revisited it in the process of making this piece, using ideas and chapter headings as a way of generating the speech clips that I use (all the voices come from my archive of interviews). Eisenstein also has a podcast: A New And Ancient Story.

Here's a quote: “The more beautiful world my heart knows is possible is a world with a lot more pleasure: a lot more touch, a lot more lovemaking, a lot more hugging, a lot more deep gazing into each other’s eyes, a lot more fresh-ground tortillas and just-harvested tomatoes still warm from the sun, a lot more singing, a lot more dancing, a lot more timelessness, a lot more beauty in the built environment, a lot more pristine views, a lot more water fresh from the spring."


Constellations Says by Amita Kirpalani:

Phil’s piece begins with a spotlit moment of connectivity - a voice in a crowded bar singing about listening. His melodic and plaintive voice fixes us in an intimacy which leads us both inside and out.

This play with what might read as unaligned disciplines - song, instrumentation, first person spoken tape, field recordings - is absorbing, and this piece demonstrates a dexterity in and between these forms that relays both a fullness (in the world) and conflict (within the self). Voices of sincerity, panic, learned assurance and searching eventually find a resting place rather than a conclusion. The birdsong is a deliberately ironic grounding force, perhaps pointing to an instinctual finding-one’s-way.

The composition makes a metaphor of the audio artist as researcher: navigating a dogged line of enquiry whilst being ensorcelled, distracted and even thrown off course by other sounds. Time can’t help but be spent querying said labour, synthesizing (literally) and questioning the question: surely there are other more urgent or practical things to attend to? And so perhaps this piece is also querying a kind of productive passivity, or intellectual FOMO. Thinking or tinkering with the sound of thought?

This piece reflects a poet’s attention to form through symmetry, where for example a typewriter's clicks recur as crackles in a piece of tape. Phil deploys persuasive speech as an engine in the work, and so by  contrast a casual turn of phrase, spoken in a one-sided phone conversation, can be devastating. And finally we find unexpected comfort in the denouement, set against the whistle of a boiling kettle - that familiar referee who calls a stop to play.


Phil(ip Mark Christopher) Smith is an artist working with words, music, sound, and radio. Find him @jazzdisjunction.

And check out his piece A Very Different Time, here!