Choreography of Sound

Carlo Mombelli will be leading a day-long exploration of sound and music-making as part of the 2013 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival on Sunday 10 February at King Kong in Doornfontein. Seven musical sets will be interspersed with discussion panels. For more information visit:

Pose and Repose’: a musical haunting from the Ginsburg brothers

THE HAUNTED sounds of a bamboo saxophone drifted through the half-open door of the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios this morning in an unannounced art intervention conceived by sibling duo Jared Ginsburg and Josh Ginsburg and performed by Stompie Selibe.

Pose and Repose, approximately 10 minutes in duration, was improvised on Thursday morning in the gallery of the Bag Factory by Selibe in response to a minimalist score composed by the Ginsburg brothers. This followed weeks of long-distance collaboration between the artists, exchanging ideas between Johannesburg and Cape Town about how the play might unfold. The work forms part of the group exhibition ‘Sounding Out’, which runs at the Bag Factory until July 18 to broadly explore the intersection of contemporary music and visual art.

Selibe entered the gallery space as a ghost-like character, an echo of ‘The Brotherhood of Breath’, a famous band formed in the 1960s that fluidly comprised free jazz musicians based in London at the time. Selibe stood on a case fashioned as a plinth and performed Pose and Repose - essentially a riff on a composition in which direction relates to orientation in space and breathwork rather than musical notation. The piece began at a measured pace but picked up melody as the performer inhabited the work and made the score his own. When he considered the score complete, he picked up his plinth and exited the gallery.

Pose and Repose was facilitated by the curator but occurred unannounced as per the artists’ intent. It was documented by the gallery’s internal security cameras and the curator’s audio equipment. It forms the first in a series of new work for the Ginsburg brothers.

Imagining a new world: Neo Muyanga and ‘The Flower of Shembe’

THE IMAGINING of a new world is imperative and is a revolutionary strategy that we must apply with vigour, according to composer-librettist Neo Muyanga.

Muyanga was addressing a Wits University audience in a presentation on July 7 about his operetta The Flower of Shembe. This mythic tale about faith and destiny, loosely based on the lives of various messiahs, made its Johannesburg debut on July 6 at the Dance Factory in Newtown, after opening in Cape Town in May.

Muyanga elaborated, in response to a question about funding: “Artists always think we are especially oppressed but physicists have the same problem. The response from business is often how will it feed the hungry and [its value is] not immediately apparent.” But this was no reason to stop imagining a new world. The Flower of Shembe even embraces a sort of ‘art povera’ aesthetic with a set that includes oversize flowers created from scrap. “How much money do you need? Shouldn’t it be different from a glitzy operatic tradition? The question of funding also impacts on [our] design, which is made from organic found objects,” he added.

Muyanga said he was fascinated by the link music establishes in the world, alikening notation to a kind of journalistic shorthand. He spoke about the storyline of the operetta, demonstrating the fusion of musical principles on which it hinges, aided by members of the cast.

It’s a story about how difficult it is to love because we are wired to self-preserve, which is a barrier to love,” Muyanga said, in response to a question by Wits academic Liz Gunner. “We live in a very cynical time - this is both frightening and wonderfully open.” Referring to battles between the ruling party and the ANC Youth League about who should be directing policy, he added: “I do wonder whether we need a messiah so our messiah asks this question. The proposal is perhaps we can be the messiah - to transcend the self-preservation sense and to give to the world.”

Questioned by Gunner about what kind of leader might be proposed, Muyanga said: “We have become wired to expect certain talented erudite individuals to have answers so we give them a mandate. I don’t know what the new proposal is. My thinking is circumscribed by the environment. The process is trying to find a clearer question that leads to another paradigm.”

And why call it an operetta, came a question from the floor. “It’s a little bit tongue in cheek,” said Muyanga. “Opera actually started as a working class tradition. We’re interested in working in different styles and aesthetics and interested in allowing people to come along with us … So we give you this definition [as an appeal] to get you in the door and do the rest of the work with you in the situation.” Elaborating about composing between different genres and how discernible they were, Muyanga added: “If you’re not tuned to it, it’s invisible but it is proposed.”

Muyanga currently exhibits characterisation sketches created for The Flower of Shembe on ‘Sounding Out’, a group exhibition at the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, which runs until July 18.

James Webb gets the world to listen

Artist James Webb yesterday marked the vernissage of ‘Sounding Out’, a group exhibition at the Bag Factory in Fordsburg, by briefly cutting the gallery’s electricity supply.

In an artwork entitled The World Will Listen, the gallery staff tripped the main switch of the Bag Factory building at a predetermined time Wednesday evening, killing the lights and all electrical current for a period of four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

The intervention instigated by Webb was neither announced nor apologised for, as per the artist’s intent.

The World Will Listen (2005) was created by Webb during a period of rolling blackouts in the Western Cape and has previously been staged unnoticed at another gallery’s exhibition opening. The duration is the key: it echoes the well-known composition 4‘33” by John Cage of silence, whereby a musical score instructs the performer not to play for the duration of the piece.

The World Will Listen shifted the dynamics of ‘Sounding Out’ opening night. Most of the audience congregated outside to continue their conversations, where the ambient sounds of the city became apparent. Others braved the darkness until the lights resumed, some finding alternative light sources from their cellphones, and a few took it as a cue to depart. Most of the audiovisual work had to be restarted afterwards but a couple of battery-powered pieces defied the electricity cut.

Unannounced interventions form part of Webb’s practice and often concern an interest in displacement.

Sounding Out: opening night

Manipulated cellphone audio recordings from global social protests are transformed into a large-scale sonic installation by award-­winning composer Angie Mullins in a group exhibition that opens on Wednesday July 4 at 18h00 at the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios. ‘Mass Effect’ is a collaborative artwork by Mullins and visual artist Nathan Jansen van Vuuren that references mob mentality and mass hysteria. The Johannesburg? based artists share a fascination for the way in which human behaviour responds to exceptional social stimuli. The cellphone recordings sample protests in countries including South Africa, the UK, Canada and the North African region during the Arab Spring.

This work forms part of an interdisciplinary exhibition ‘Sounding Out’, which broadly concerns the intersection of contemporary music and visual art. Professor Achille Mbembe of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) will officially open the exhibition.

Other artworks include a sound installation by artist and musician João Orecchia of small objects transformed by technology to tell “quiet stories” of piano pieces by musician Jill Richards. A silent video of two hands in gold gloves performing a single clap on repeat, shot at 5000 frames a second, by artist Josh Ginsburg resonates with a violin sculpture by artist Lynette Bester rendered supposedly mute by a 10-­pound hammer. Yet ‘Medusa’ has apparently acquired a new voice: it is reassembled with horsehair and speaks eloquently of both violence and fragility. Brendon Bussy, meanwhile, literally alters the way we hear with ‘Ear Shells’ that in a more playful vein offer visitors to ‘Sounding Out’ the opportunity to re?engage with listening. And ‘Pose and Repose’, a collaborative performance piece by Josh Ginsburg and Jared Ginsburg, will take place in the gallery space during the second week of the exhibition run.

Composer?librettist Neo Muyanga, meanwhile, offers animated digital sketches with music and lithographs created in preparation for his new operetta ‘The Flower of Shembe’, a mythical tale about fate and destiny. His entire operetta comes up to Johannesburg for two nights to coincide with ‘Sounding Out’.

The exhibition also extends beyond the gallery walls through a radio art project where artists are invited to treat airtime as gallery space. This collaboration with Invisible Cities Pirate Radio (ICR) includes Bussy and Orecchia, Malose Malahlela, Jane Rademeyer, James Sey and James Webb. ICR will for the duration of the exhibition take up residence at the Bag Factory and broadcast the sound art in-between scheduled shows.

Exhibition run: Opens July 4; Closes July 18
Gallery hours: 09h30-16h30

The Flower of Shembe

An operetta about coming to terms with faith and destiny, through the metaphor of flight, makes its Johannesburg debut on Friday July 6 at the Dance Factory in Newtown.

The Flower of Shembe’, by Cape Town based composer-librettist Neo Muyanga, coincides with ‘Sounding Out’, a July group exhibition at the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios that broadly concerns the intersection of visual art and contemporary music.

Muyanga says: “It is true that we live in cynical times; times in which factionalism and war mongering prevail indiscriminately both in the secular and the spiritual worlds. Perhaps the act of making a work about hope and the possibility of transcendence feels a little anachronistic but I believe it is also necessary in order to power the collective imagination of now.”

Muyanga, who is also part of acclaimed acoustic duo Blk Sonshine and co-founder of Pan-African Space Station, an online archive of sound and art, is a participating artist on ‘Sounding Out’. He exhibits characterisation sketches created in preparation for ‘The Flower of Shembe’.

Muyanga is joined at the Bag Factory gallery by artists including Sanell Aggenbach, Brendon Bussy, Lynette Bester, Gordon Froud, Jared Ginsburg, Josh Ginsburg, Nathan Jansen van Vuuren, Angie Mullins and João Orecchia.

The exhibition also extends beyond the gallery walls through a collaboration with Invisible Cities Pirate Radio (ICR). For its two-week duration, ICR will broadcast from the Bag Factory on 102.2FM a series of sound artworks. Bussy and Orecchia are joined by Malose Malahlela, Jane Rademeyer, James Sey and James Webb in this radio art experiment.

Tracking Secret Sounds of the City

Brendon Bussy will run a participatory public workshop Tracking Secret Sounds of the City on Saturday July 7 at the Bag Factory as part of the Sounding Out programme. Subtitled, “Finding and using useful sound”, Brendon says cities can be overwhelmingly noisy but not all that you hear can be easily harvested. Knowing what to hear, how to hear and how to use what you hear, are skills which need to be developed and practised.

This workshop will explore a range of playful techniques aimed at improving listening skills, such as selective hearing and remembering sound (without electronic means). We will also engage with the conceptual skills needed for finding ways to use what we’ve discovered. And we will learn to use a few simple but useful tools such as sound maps, listening tubes and, depending on weather conditions, wind resonators (for tracking invisible sound sources),” he adds.

The workshop is suitable for: visual arts and sound practitioners and anyone interested in integrating sound into their creative practice; adults, young adults and creative practitioners.

Date: Saturday July 7
Time: 09h00 - 12h00
Duration: 3 hours
Venue: Bag Factory: 10 Mahlatini Street, Fordsburg
GPRS: -26° 12’ 13.65”, +28° 1’ 34.51”
Workshop convener: Brendon Bussy
Visit: for more on Brendon’s practice.

To reserve your place in this workshop, please email or call the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios on 011 834 9181 before Monday 02 July 2012. There is a participation fee of R150.00 which must be paid upfront in order for your place at the workshop to be confirmed.

Interesting link: ‘Radio Territories’

Review of ‘Radio Territories’ in Liminalities, a journal of performative art (Vol. 3, issue 3), 2007: