Polyphonies of Belonging: Listening-Singing Aotearoa
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This thesis is located across the transdisciplinary fields of performance, media arts and music. Attending to the ways a performance practice intersects and shifts amongst these fields, this research engages voice, sound, listening, collaboration and installation – along with relevant research in musicology and ethnomusicology – as a means of exploring and understanding a social and cultural soundscape of Aotearoa New Zealand. The artworks produced for this thesis operate within an expanded field of ‘post-studio’ art, where people constitute the central artistic medium and material. The project explores performance, participatory and community-based modalities, focussing on notions of art practice as rehearsal. The exegesis discusses scholarship relating to modes of participation in both art and music. This includes critiques of participatory art/social practice by Claire Bishop, Hal Foster, Grant Kester and Miwon Kwon, as well as accounts of ethnomusicological fieldwork practices which underscore the social and cultural importance of group music making. Scholars such as Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter, R. Murray Schafer, Pauline Oliveros, and Brandon LaBelle, aid in conceptualising and understanding the sonic world this thesis resides within. In my art practice, sound and music sing out the intricate relationships and connections between performer/s, participants, audiences, environments and places of belonging. The sung voice ushers forth silent traditions and experiences embodied in place and space. Phenomenological aspects of the voice, as discussed by Mladen Dolar, Don Ihde, Brandon LaBelle, and Jacques Derrida, questions how the process of singing might embody, relay and resonate between people and place. Additionally, resonances of people and place, voice and listening, sound and silence, are discussed via Karen Barad’s diffraction methodology which entangles the researcher within the world of research. Furthermore, through engaging polyphonies of voices and soundscapes, a practice and ethics of listening is a vital rhythm in this research. Listening is primarily explored through the work of Pauline Oliveros and the writing of Lisbeth Lipari. Through Emmanuel Levinas’s notion of ethical subjectivity, listening is understood as fundamentally entangled with the voices of others. This study arises from my own personal identity and experience as an artist, performer, musician and choral singer who specialises in Early Sacred Music. Drawing from my personal music practice and engagement with many musical communities – and sound and performance based artworks by artists such as Janet Cardiff, Susan Philipsz, Pauline Oliveros, Sam Hamilton, Shigeyuki Kihara, Jeremy Leatinu’u and Angelica Mesiti – I present a series of sound and performance based artworks, questioning how we understand ourselves, both individually and collectively within society. At a time of increased migration, and as the cultural fabric of countries like Aotearoa New Zealand changes, this project asks what a participatory experience of art and music can teach us about wider possibilities of listening across cultures and social boundaries. In this context, the project engages art and music as alternative languages used to embody broader socio-political issues, as well as exploring how we express ourselves in a culturally diverse place and space.