Who am I as an artist? Well, yes, I am an artist. I am an artist specifically for the space that such a way of living gives a person to think, to consider and to move in the world. It is a privileged position, one that I am often at odds with. But yes, I am an artist. My primary interest is sound, but not for sound’s sake, rather as a medium by which to move in the world.
I travelled from my birthplace in Australia to London with a pirate radio cassette of acid house on constant replay and I bought my first rave records, Illuminatae’s XVX and Black Acid/Ariella on Rabbit City Records in the early 1990s. My first turntables were Disco 2000s, no belt drive and a wonky pitch control. Here began the torturing of many a flatmate and neighbor as I put in the hours learning to beat mix, spending every penny a young, often strung-out, waitress could earn, on records. The first club I played at was The Gardening Club in Covent Garden at the new talent night. House parties led to club parties and the first club night I produced with dear friends and lovers was Naked Butt Famous at The Point in Tottenham Court Road with their sprung dancefloor and dodgy mafia bosses. In London, as Harry in the Harrynjane deejay spectacular, I played at The End, Herbal, Traffik, Uridium and for two years co-promoted and played at WANG at The Premises in Hackney. I was lucky to travel and DJ in Eastern Europe in the late 90s, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Hungary and Bosnia. The music was such a force for us then, connecting people across nationality, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. What a world.
My first foray into a music studio was to sign up for classes at Point Blank, which was then operating out of a small studio in Greenwich. Surrounded by now-classic synths and Akai samplers, our small class was walked through the basics of 1990s audio production. But I couldn’t get my hands on the kit enough, the classes came to an end and the studio door closed. My interest was piqued, not for audio engineering, but for more esoteric and weird sonic worlds and so I found my way to a Sonic Arts BA at Middlesex University. I think this was one of the few remaining undergraduate degrees where you were warned upon enrollment that this wasn’t a vocational degree and that you were unlikely to get a job upon graduation. It was learning, playing, exploring for learning’s sake, such a privilege and lost utopia in the mid 21st century. Here, as someone with barely any computer literacy, I delved into programming, Max/MSP, AudioSculpt, Midi, algorithmic composition, soundscape, field recording, installation, feminist art theory, performance and sound for theater.
Partly as a response to the straight, white, male insularity I experienced both in the dance music (not so straight-white!) and sound arts/experimental music worlds (super straight-white!) up to this point, I thought to push sound toward a more social engagement as a way to open the space of possibility for me, so I undertook a Master’s in Public Art back in Melbourne, Australia. In Melbourne I got involved in sound for theatre, sound art installation in public spaces and with Jane from the Harrynjane days, produced Plateau_589, a year long interventionist artist run initiative (ARI) in an old run-down shopfront which we used to explore arts and social form. At this time we received an RMIT Public Art commission to produce P.I.A.N.O. – an interventionist installation of an old pianola into a weird non-place square in Brunswick, contributed to an Architects for Peace commission examining the gentrification of Melbourne’s inner city waterfront and participated in the C.E.R.E.S. Community Environment Park public art events. But as a queer, weird, anarchic, second-generation immigrant mixed-race kid, I never really felt at home in Australia and so, with the lure of a scholarship, I returned to London to undertake a PhD in Music.
In 2010 I started both a doctorate at City University and an internship cataloguing and repairing media from the Her Noise Project and Archive in its move from Electra to CRiSAP. This was an odd and exciting time, it felt like a kind of growing feminist (re)awakening, but also a continuing backlash, in the small world of sound arts and experimental musics in London. On the one hand, I’d finally found some people invested in soundwork made by women, in pushing boundaries, in taking up space in the male dominated environment of sound and electronic music. On the other hand, I had to fight through seven supervisors (Katharine Norman, Karen Seago, Alex Blah, Chris Whiley, Cathy Lane, Laudan Nooshin, Newton Armstrong) in the first year of a PhD on feminism and sound, fighting tooth and nail just to keep my seat at the table (and the scholarship money). Katharine, Karen, Cathy and Laudan, thank you for being there. Finally they left me just to get on with it and I emerged with the thesis Composing Paradoxes: Feminist process in sound arts and experimental musics, some of which can be found at feministfrequencies.org.
Returning to the rising feminist moment in sound arts in the teenage years of the 21st century, the Her Noise Project opened space for conversations that heretofore had been pretty tightly suppressed. We began teaching the Her Noise Archive on the London College of Communication Sound Arts BA and MA, produced the Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic Symposium at Tate Modern, launched hernoise.org and began the Sound::Gender::Feminism::Activism (SGFA) events. Whilst the Her Noise Symposium in 2012 was a celebration of prominent Euro-American composers, theorists and artists working in the field, SGFA emerged as a means by which to seek out peers and new talent coming up through the ranks. The first SGFA in 2012 was an open call to find new people working contemporarily in sound, gender and feminism. The second in 2014 focused on queer politics and sexuality and the third in 2016 sought to question race and the production of whiteness as an overarching sonic protocol. In 2019 SGFA returned to the original open call from 2012, but this time taking place in Tokyo, Japan.
After all this collective work, finally, we had some history to explore, critique and learn from and a growing network of peers. During this time I gave many talks on the conference circuit, took up posts as associate lecturer and researcher and published in international sound and music journals. With Cathy Lane and Irene Revell, I was commissioned through the Arts Council Creative Vouchers scheme to produce and deliver the Here are some scores for you to do workshop at Electra, was blessed to perform in Pauline Oliveros’ To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation at Tate Modern, contributed the composition Femifesto to the ICA’s Soundworks exhibition, composed Crisis Ordinary for the MuseRuole Radio Edition, produced Our Word Is Our Bond with Ain Bailey and Johnny Pavlatos commissioned by Electra and the Women’s Art Register Australia and composed Belonging To for Feeling Emotional at the Wellcome Collection.
By 2017 I had been teaching and seriously campaigning for change at UAL’s London College of Communication for seven years, and though it really felt like we had made some gains confronting sexism and homophobia within the field, the push to confront racism and transphobia proved to be too much for the moment. It felt like feminism and queer politics were okay as long as they were more along the lines of lean-in white feminism and largely homonormative and assimilative queer politics. The backlash by the pale, stale and male brigade moved into overdrive, effectively silencing any push for actual change and bringing my institutional academic career to a standstill. I felt like I was in the front of the firing line and I took a beating. But I was so lucky to have been able to work with others who also showed great courage. Looking back now, I am inspired by the bravery, especially of some of the students I worked with – big shout out to the Still Waiting Discussion Group! Around this time I held a residency at the Women’s Revolutions Per Minute Archive housed at Goldsmiths University, resulting in The WRPM Game created in collaboration with Lisa Busby.
In 2017 I decamped to Athens, Greece, to build upon a network that had emerged through the SGFA 2014 & 2016 events, co-curating with Sound Acts and the Athens Museum of Queer Arts (AMOQA). I got involved with grassroots activist work, contributing to the LGBT Refugee Welcome in Athens group and Gender Panic, a collective of LGBTQIA+ displaced and nomadic folx coming together, supporting each other and raising awareness. I began to develop a new creative base with the AveloSpace project, a creative social makerspace and home for Gender Panic and the weird and wonderful folx that I’ve had the privilege to hang out and work with and who are all now family in some weird and wonderful way.
Its taken me three years to recover from the beating I received toward the end of my academic tenure in London. I’ve travelled some dark corners and done a lot of emotional labour and I think I’m stronger now and finding my way back to my creative self. I recently composed a new commission for A Thousand Channels, the radio platform of the ColomboScope Interdisciplinary Arts Festival in Sri Lanka and I’m beginning a new body of work developing sonic processes through black feminist sound arts, tracing my own mixed-race heritage as a Sri Lankan-Australian in sound and living and working in Athens and London. The future sounds way more interesting these days.
Dr Lee H. Ingleton