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Audition <=> Exchange

Anthropologist and musician Georgina Born suggests an alternative term to Alejandro Madrid’s ‘performance complex’, what she instead calls a “musical assemblage” (Born 2010: 88). For Born this is “a series or network of relations between musical sounds, human and other subjects, practices, performances, cosmologies, discourses and representations, technologies, spaces, and social relations” (Born 2010: 88). Connecting Madrid’s ‘performance complexes’ – concerts, media footage, activism – with Born’s “musical assemblages” is intended to explicitly provide a means for connecting social processes and social relations1. Additionally, queer theorist Jasbir Puar, in a reworking of the concept of intersectionality through a “frictional interplay between subject oriented philosophies” and “non-representational, non-subject-oriented politics” re-translates the term assemblage back into its original French as agencement, so as to retain the original meaning of the term as it appeared in the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (Puar 2012: 7). Assemblage translated from ‘agencement’ is, according to Puar, “a term which means design, layout, organisation, arrangement, and relations – the focus being not on content but on relations, relations of patterns” (Puar 2012: 7). This is in contrast to an assemblage understood as a bricolage, collection or combination of objects whereby the focus of analysis then shifts from a collection of objects to patterns, processes and relations. Combining these concepts, for me, helps to both clarify and to understand in a more complex way, Hedditch’s stated interest in connecting objects in the archive with their histories and the people who made them and who listened to them. For it is We’re Alive, Let’s Meet!, as a musical assemblage that traces the patterns of social processes and relations, that is in itself the performative musical content of this installation. The processes as patterns of relation emerge through the durational composition of the installation – the ‘get-togethers’ – processes that an ontology of mediation would otherwise erase and which are tuned into and transmitted along a queer feminist frequency.

Hedditch explains how the collection of materials for the archive was informed by and in turn informed her own creative process, which occurred through the exchanges of the first get-together;

Somehow we would think about collecting materials but we would also think about what it meant to collect materials, from all the different kinds of places and the ways that you can do that. We wanted to think about the archive as something that, it’s not just objects that are just there without any history, but that they are objects that have attachments to people and to that person’s history. So the idea was to not separate the objects from the people that they come from and that we would try and record those journeys that those objects had made somehow (transcribed Hedditch South London Gallery, Her Noise Archive, 2005).

We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! then, is not simply a site where people may gather to talk about or even produce music, but is a situation of the exchange based upon a specific performance of audition. It is a kind of direct action that takes the archive as a starting point where the composer as activist engages affective experiences that can provide the basis for alternative collective memories and cultures. Instead of analysing traditional musical patterns, Hedditch as the composer in this instance, composes through a deciphering of social patterns as the sounding elements of the composition which are materialised through the political economy of this work which is that of the exchange. In an effort to further sound out the ‘exchange’ in We’re Alive, Let’s Meet!, Madrid’s ‘performance complexes’, Born’s ‘musical assemblages’ and Puar’s ‘agencement’ read through an explicitly political articulation connects these processes with the Foucauldian concept of the apparatus – the disciplinary laws, norms and conventions that govern discourses and institutions through “the said as much as the unsaid” (Foucault 1980: 194).

A tracing of histories and objects as processes and relations, rather than a focus upon a work as a finished product bracketed from the social milieu in which it circulates, is a political practice that necessarily shifts the meaning of composition. The exchange in We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! is the interpellative “system of relations that can be established between these elements” (Foucault 1980: 194), between “we’re alive” and “let’s meet”, between survival and desire. As a performance that sounds out the “apparatus”, the get-togethers of We’re Alive, Let’s Meet! are the means by which “specific connections with other concepts” are precisely the point in the exchange that “gives concepts their meaning” (Puar 2012: 7). In other words, it is through the exchange that identities and socialities, however fleeting they may be, are materialised. In this sense then the concept of performative composition as a sounding out of the exchange presents a way to reconsider and “broaden the understanding of what performance can mean in music” enabling a “creative practice of performance as a way of knowing, the critical analysis of culture from the perspective of performance, and activism as performance” (Madrid 2009: 4). As Hedditch relates,

What I do care about is that there is some kind of exchange. The idea of this archive is that it is a database, but also, the idea is, if we’ve got the six weeks for the exhibition period, it’s really nice to meet people and to not have that impersonal collecting mentality, that we don’t just want to collect anything, but that it’s more interesting to find out a bit more about people who have stuff and who produced it and why and how they made it. Those kinds of stories that are trying to break down the traditional archiving and collecting mentalities (transcribed Hedditch SLG-2005).

Connecting the objects and ‘herstories’ of the Her Noise Archive with their social histories amplifies the regions of and between public and private experience through noise as an emotional attachment that seeks to connect memory and history in spaces of historical erasure. It is a scene in which the development of performance cultures are combined with queer publics as mutually constituting and where “an exploration of cultural texts as repositories of feelings and emotions” such as the zines, DIY strategies of production and distribution, interviews, queer feminist cinema, records, CDs, books, DVDs, magazines and personal stories “are encoded not only in the context of the texts themselves but in the practices that surround their production and reception” (Cvetkovich 2003: 7). It is in the exchange of the ‘get-togethers’ that the alternative practices of ‘production and reception’ that have historically seemed to be inaudible may be momentarily tuned into. These exchanges which are the political economy of this work are not a permanent economy but are fleeting, ephemeral and temporal.

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  1. What I’m really trying to do here is to queer Born’s musicological theorising, which in-part emerges through her readings of Pierre Bourdieu and his concept of field and habitus. I am searching for connections and divergences between this theoretical milieu and queer performativity (Bourdieu 1986).
Published inAudition ExchangeChapter 2 | Unspeakable Noise