ninthWavesound: Feminism Low-Frequency Sound and Empleasurement

Marsh, Laura Catherine
Randerson, Janine
Gallagher, Sue
Braddock, Chris
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The ninthWavesound project fuses feminist activism and a DJ practice to generate an installation and participatory art practice aimed at corporeal, low-frequency, sound- oriented experiences. Drawing from sound system, rave and music festival cultures, feminist events are facilitated as environments for shared listening and activism. ninthWavesound, a sound system designed for powerfully amplifying low-end frequencies, is the first system of her kind in Aotearoa to be built, owned and operated by women∞. (In this exegesis, woman/women is extended to ‘woman∞/women∞’, utilising the infinity symbol to signal an indefinite expansion of the meaning of woman∞ beyond the limits of heteropatriarchal experience). ninthWave performs as an active collaborator alongside DJs, producers and lovers of sound and electronic music, hosting a variety of participatory events such as DJ club nights, Lazy Susan Listening Sessions and immersive meditative sound experiences. Events strategically foreground women∞ (and often include all genders) with the intention of creating safer and less hierarchical spaces. The project affirms the potential of individual and collective feminist imaginaries through the pleasure of low-frequency sound vibrations, proposing an emergent empleasured sonic bodie.

This practice-orientated research draws on a feminist paradigm of embodiment (Rosi Braidotti; Elizabeth Grosz; Donna Haraway), the concept of ‘sonic logos’ (Julian Henriques) and low-end frequency sound theory (Paul Jasen). The vibrational space created around ninthWavesound intertwines human and non-human bodies, sound technologies, and feminist subjectivities. Feminist and low-frequency sound theories converge in bass-enhanced sound practices highlighting the knowledge of the body and enabling knowing through sound. This knowledge is realised as feelings, sensations and intuitive responses. The neologism ‘empleasurement’ expresses how the pleasurable sensations of powerful low-frequency sound foreground the matter of the bodie in collective experiences. The shortened plural ‘bodie’ signals the multiplicity of the collective body, building on the phrase sonic bodies (Henriques).

The methodology of low-end empleasurement is driven by pleasure activism, where orientating towards pleasure is subversive, radical, life affirming and liberating, and is a baseline for personal and collective well-being (adrienne brown; Audre Lorde). Pleasure, oppressed and distorted for women∞ through patriarchal power structures, is re-imagined through the embodied experiences of low-frequency sound. Immersed in the vibratorium (Nicholas Ridout) of a ninthWavesound event, the vibe or affective collective energy facilitates joyous feelings of potential, through which new possibilities and ways of being otherwise can be imagined and felt in an expanded imaginary. As an act of experimental feminist empowerment, ninthWavesound offers opportunities for women∞ to participate in sound events as DJs, dancers, MCs and sound meditators. The affective scope of these research events is extended through a feminist approach to event promotion and invitation, which subverts the normative structures and male-dominated practices of these activities within the music and sound art scenes. ninthWavesound forms the foundation of a nomadic social platform (Braidotti) upon which a community of bass-music loving women∞ is formed.

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