»Decolonial Frequencies Festival« (2021-2022)

Familiar sounds and terrifying noises. The fleeting fragments of remembered melodies, favorite songs, the noise in our home street. We live in our sound world, it gives us orientation, feeling, and energy. Subjective, intimate – and yet the acoustic perception is the result of history, of the colonial formation. What we understand as “music”, as “beautiful”, “harmonious”, “contemporary”, as “literary”, “relevant” or “true” is formed by a history of appreciation and depreciation of sounds, practices, and bodies. Our hearing, understanding, and sound creation were shaped in long frequencies, but stubbornness creates friction, waves of resistance, and echoes of solidarity. Can these clashing interferences register or yield sonic confrontations? Can changes in hearing, understanding, and appreciation be shaped?

»Decolonial Frequencies« is a series of events over the entire 2021/22 theatre season. More than 20 artists, black perspectives, queer approaches, Asian-diasporic occupations, post-migrant traditions, and voices of color, create numerous performances, lectures, and concerts in their constructed acoustic spaces – with critical amplitude, in gyrating oscillation, and in uncontrollable interference.

Decolonial Frequencies is curated by meLê yamomo at the Theater Ballhaus Naunynstrasse. The autumn edition of Decolonial Frequencies features four premieres:

Festival Opening:
The Sound of Misunderstanding – Dhvanivala’s Sonic Explorations

In the early 1960s a young Indian student comes to Darmstadt to do a PhD in physics. Cold War era – atomic physics is popular. It’s the time of post-colonial aspirations for sovereignty. And what’s going on in Darmstadt? After the atrocities of National Socialism there is an effort to regain face internationally. Experimentation with New Music is happening using technical equipment to generate sounds. How does this new electronic music sound in the ears of the Indian physicist?

In The Sound of Misunderstanding – Dhvanivala‘s Sonic Explorations, composer, theatre maker and conductor, Sandeep Bhagwati, is in search of the traces of this student. These instantly lead to the contradictions of that epoch – a conflict-ridden time, oversaturated with repulsive structures and energies. The young man returns to India as a doctor of physics, but also as a sound tinkerer, inspired by his experience in Darmstadt. To be able to live this plural identity requires several names. For Bollywood his name is Dhvanivala, the Sound Supplier.

Dhvanivala as a radio art piece was  realized in 2015  for Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

Decolonial Frequencies is a series of events throughout the season 2021 / 22. More than 20 artists*, Black perspectives, queer approaches, Asian-diasporic settings, post-migrant traditions and voices of color, create their own acoustic spaces for six months with numerous performances, lectures and concerts – with critical amplitude, in dancing inherent vibration, in uncontrollable interference.

Sandeep Bhagwati (composer, conductor, and musician)

Premiere: 19 September 2021.

Gaung – Unpredictable Resonance

Before the first note sounds, the room is already filled. Even the gods expect a special sound. We see an instrument and imagine its sound, we desire the first note, the beginning of the concert. We fill the room with our expectations.
Expectations of what? The gamelan is at the centre of Bilawa Respati und Ariel Orah’s performance.

It is an instrument of power. The tradition is royal and religious. The Indonesian government uses the gamelan as a messenger on festive, national occasions. Numerous musicians in strict costumes create the powerful vibration of a hierarchical society and a national identity. Bilawa Respati and Ariel Orah have grown up with this tradition. They know about the powerful expectations of this spiritual, political and – from the other side – exoticizing style of play. But their own experiences call for a different play. Can sound sequences be found that elude the hegemonic setting? Can one use the complexity of the gamelan, which disperse the European categories of music, to have self-determined effects? Can the community-creating function of the instrument be utilized for a self-chosen gathering?

Bilawa Respati is trained in playing the gamelan. Ariel Orah’s focus is on electronic music. Their own experience of crossing borders and crossing cultural structures allow them to look for a new way of playing, a new approach to their instruments, as part of the Festival Decolonial Frequencies. They experiment with decolonial vibrations, sample the unheard of, produce self-created loops and work on a self-determined GAUNG.

Bilawa Respati (musician)
Ariel William Orah (musician and visual artist)

Premiere: 17 October 2021.
Reprise: 12-13 February 2022.

sonus — the sound within us

What is the sound of memory? How do we listen to memory in its multitude – to histories? The sound of history is ephemeral. And yet it persists.

Electronic music, piano, lecture performance: in sonus ‒ the sound within us the performance artist and sound scholar meLê yamomo invites us as an audience to immerse ourselves in the sentimentality of his childhood hometown and the soundtrack of his youth. He links his story with the history of imperialism, post-colonial nationalism and the migration of musicians rendered subaltern. He directs our ears to listen closely to the permeation of individual memory and translocal histories. He invites us to follow the echo of a globalized history and the accompanying migration of sound and its multiple repositionings.

Drawing on some thoughts in his last book, Sounding Modernities, onstage meLê yamomo reflects about the colonized bodies as an archive of sound memory and histories. To this end, he speaks about his journeys, his encounters with post-migrant artists and academics, about the sound that is archived in colonized bodies. And he presents sound. For it is precisely the ephemerality of sound and the transience of vocal expression, the sounding longing of Filipino immigrants in Europe in music and language, that evokes memory and demonstrates the everyday relevance and political, often resistant force of the body archive.

meLê yamomo
Pepe Dayaw
Ariel Orah
Karlene Moreno Hayworth
Katherine Oliver

Premiere: 25 October 2019
Reprise: 22-25 October 2021

Eigenschwingungen – Forces Of Overtones

The encounter: there is no sound without a second, third, fourth one. Something always resonates. But what? European music history prefers fundamental tones; they are considered “harmonious”. Bells, claves, gongs, flutes…most bodies of sound outside of Europe respond to different aesthetic needs.

The specialist in sound studies and composer meLê yamomo and the cellist Eurico Ferreira Mathias are coming together at Ballhaus Naunynstraße on this evening. The classical repertoire of European music history has shaped their education. The musical landscape of their everyday life was shaped by other frequencies. By meeting here, they will explore the limits of the two sound worlds, pierce them, interfuse them, in order to generate decolonial waves and forms of listening.

There is no sound without a second, third, fourth one. Something always resonates. We want to say something, hit the right note. But even the cheekbones, the skin on our face, yes even our whole body resonates. Our voice is what defines us – but there is a lot that resonates. And if we take up an instrument, the matter becomes even clearer. Because not only the instrument and your own body, but also the room and the bodies of those listening contribute to the sound in the room. Multiple natural vibrations rub against each other and if someone screams in fear they can shatter glass. Some cultures reduce the fundamental tone to increase the diversity of the overtones.

The European definition of “harmonic” is entirely local. With Eigenschwingungen – Forces of Overtones, meLê yamomo and Eurico Ferreira Mathias bet on the expansion of listening habits, an experience and appreciation of migrating sounds and on transforming vibrations for the happy encounter of “disharmonious” tones, for new concurrencies.

meLê yamomo (sound scholar, composer, and performer)
Eurico Ferreira Mathias (cellist)

Premiere: 11 November 2021.
Reprise: 27-28 May 2022.

Remix Almanya – A Post-Migrant Hip-Hop Narrative

We put together a story. A story which has become a remix of rap, migration and empowerment, in which the ambivalent echo of four decades of Almanya reverberates.

What does the music of the so-called “guest workers” of the 1960s and 1970s and the expatriates of the 1980s have to do the with the actual German “gangsta rap”? What connection is there between the political and cultural empowerment of the first generation, the struggles for citizenship rights in the 1990s and the current dazzling pop culture?

In our reading we remix images, texts, songs and films from 40 years of Almanya with personal experiences and social debates. We traverse the forgotten years of old-school hip-hop, shed light on the impact of reunification on the birth of German rap and question the sound of gangsta rap – and we ask about class, race and gender in this story of empowerment.

Murat Güngör, ex-rapper and co-founder of anti-racist network “Kanak Attak” and Hannes Loh, former rapper of the group “Anarchist Academy” recall the beginnings of German hip-hop from the post-migrant scene in their lecture performance at Ballhaus Naunynstraße – with tracks by Metin Türköz, Advanced Chemistry, Eko Fresh, Haftbefehl or SXTN, amongst others.

Murat Güngör
Hannes Loh

Premiere: 12 March 2022.

Overlapping Waves

The continental, imperial thinking covers the landscape. Hills and valleys are measured. Sounds and relationships are measured. But is that even possible? What happens if the landscape is mostly made up of water, if the in-between and the fluid rule life? If the currents get confused and one’s own position is constantly shifted? Can one create one’s own resistance art from this experience?

Mo’ong is a composer and instrument maker, Pepe Dayaw is a performer and fashion designer. Both of them grew up in an island country – Indonesia and the Philippines. The Philippines consists of 7102 islands, Indonesia of 17.508 islands. Both use “leftovers” as their foundation in their artforms. What is perceived as leftovers through the logic of consumption and status, turns into new media through their hands: Mo’ong creates instruments and new sounds, and Pepe transforms them into clothes, costumes and performances. With what is available, through improvisation and experimentation, they leave the “standard” behind, in order to create new bodies of sound, media of expression and resonances. The “standard” is an imperial framework, not only in Indonesia and the Philippines. Working with leftovers is politically resistant, the composition of “leftovers” and their sounds is a search for free spaces.

In Overlapping Waves J. Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi and Pepe Dayaw are collaborating together for the first time at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Sound composition and performance art: The fluid, the archipelagic in-between is key; the encounter, the complementing from different directions. Together they create their composition from things and sounds, from artefacts and rhythms – always on the lookout for a liquification of the imperial order, for an opening to a self-determined unpredictability.

J. Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi
Pepe Dayaw

Premiere: 14-15 April 2022.

Unknown Frequencies

We live in a noisy place. We live in the city. Because here the simultaneity of voices prevails.  In Unknown Frequencies, Marque-Lin, performance artist, and Emilio Cordero Checa, sound and light designer, look for the political power of noise, for the comfort within noise. Because the opposite of “music” isn’t silence.

Noise is only ever made by others. “Music” is a hierarchical system, differentiated into “genres”, “styles”, marked by prefixes such as “folk” and “pop”. “Music” is exclusive. “Music” has a boundary. Anything beyond it is “noise”. One can’t decipher noise and yet recognize it. Every crossroads has its sound. That’s how we recognize our home. Noise penetrates our body before we even know what has happened to us. We live within noise. It is a part of us. It is the song of the city. Noise is the resistance of the unheard.

Emilio Cordero Checa studied music and sound design at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador) before turning to lighting design. Marque-Lin studied sociology, dramaturgy and performance art. Now they are collaborating for the first time at Ballhaus Naunynstraße: Unknown Frequencies is a communication of the respective paths of the Eurocentrically formed world of sound and a demonstration of own sound structures, sound barricades and sound capsules. Ultimately, it is important to convert one’s own needs into sound, so that they are transformed into vibrations which are carried on and amplified, until they achieve resonance. Unknown Frequencies is the search for shared frequencies beyond the norm. Because, there where music ends, something new begins.

Emilio Cordero Checa

Premiere: 21-22 April 2022.

Tuning In To Resonances

It’s a contemporary survival technique: one checks websites and articles, in order to create a picture of someone before meeting them. Especially before flying 10,000km to meet a person for the first time, with whom one will publicly perform three days later. But this common practice is risky. After all, these articles and portrayals might be written for commercial, white contexts. Wouldn’t this picture, this optic be distorting? Wouldn’t one miss the real encounter?

The composer, performer and video director, Isabel Gonzalez Toro and the cultural geographer and singer, Anjeline de Dios are coming together for the first time at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Unprepared. With several years of experience. They create spaces with their own art, open spaces in which the usual hierarchies of judgment and exploitation are suspended for the moment. What they have in common, is that they understand sound as an act of decolonial and feminist power. Because sound doesn’t just exist on its own, it is a shared endeavour. Only who engages with it, will tune in – whilst listening and producing – and be able to move away from the dominant, familiar patterns.

Because what are we actually hearing? The sound? The frequency? Do we hear the body making the sound? Do we hear – in the case of Anjeline de Dios – the family in which she learnt to sing? The classical training? Do we hear our own eardrum and the hollow shape of our body? Do we hear Isabel Gonzalez Toro’s self-taught musical approach? Do we hear the community, in which Anjeline de Dios raises her voice and which is structured by the beats of Isabel Gonzalez Toro? Do we hear the community which she is building for the LatinX diaspora in Berlin? Do we hear the space in which the sound spreads? Or the one created by the sound? With Tuning In To Resonances, Anjeline de Dios and Isabel Gonzalez Toro risk an encounter, in order to be carried away by the sound of the other, into the indefinite, the open, into something that can be determined together.

Anjeline de Dios
Isabel Gonzalez Toro

Premiere: 13-14 May 2022.

Synthesized Planet

Is it possible to travel with the help of sound? To unknown places? We know, since the sound events of Sun Ra, that sound has a driving energy. It is an energy that can transport us away from all earthly borders to other planets. And when we speak of earthly borders, we mean the man-made hierarchies, exclusions, arrangements of bodies and roles, of thought patterns and patterns of behaviour. Sound is the energy that propels us into open space.

Sky Deep and Pisitakun Kuantalaeng are masters of this sound technology. When asked about their musical influences, Pisitakun refers to the traditional sounds of Thailand. Sky Deep grew up in a family history of American jazz. Today she calls herself a sound artist, a multimedia artist, a poet. Pisitakun initially worked in the visual arts, moved on to installation and then to electronic composition. Boundaries of discipline were crossed; new spaces were entered. Her works are driven by the desire to leave the prescribed and assigned setting and to come up with new connections through creative expansion. Now they are coming together for the first time, to create a common space: synthesized planet.

Sky Deep and Pisitakun Kuantalaeng have a shared and special understanding of sound as space. It is an occurrence that expands in space. That itself creates spaces. That is of different temperatures and structures and is full of unpredictability. Sound is the open space – it is also up to us, how we meet each other and connect in it.

Sky Deep
Pisitakun Kuantalaeng

Premiere: 20-21 May 2022.

For more information you can visit the Theater Ballhaus Naunynstrasse website.

Many many thanks to the unwavering support of Ballhaus Naunynstrasse artistic director, Wagner Carvalho and head dramaturg, Fabian Larsson. The spring 2022 edition was enriched by the artistic support of Julien Enzanza and TRVΛNIΛ. The festival was made possible through the production management of Rita Ventura and Camila de Abreu, technical direction of Jens Schneider, sound engineering by Rotem Yaniv, lighting design by Nicolás Russi Andretta, costume design and management by Elke Keil, and with the support of the stage crew: Ingo König and Ronald Smith Paul. The poster was fabulously designed by Marcelo Vilela Da Silva.

»Decolonial Frequencies« is funded by the Berlin Senate for Culture and Europe.