Unlocking Sounds

Activate Project | 2016-2017

To bring attention to Tropenmuseum’s diverse sound collections and the knowledge and histories that are embedded in these collections, Research Center for Material Culture and RE:VIVE announce their Unlocking Sounds collaboration featuring new EPs from three leading contemporary artists.

What new perspectives arise when ethnographic sound collections are shared with contemporary artists?

Unlocking Sounds invited Parrish Smith, Ash Koosha and Clap! Clap! to revive Tropenmuseum’s sound archive, now preserved at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, which features thousands of original field recordings from around the globe dating back to the 1920s. This collection was started by Dutch conservationist J.C. Lamster and Jaap Kunst, who would eventually coin the term ‘ethnomusicology’: the study of music in its cultural and social context. The archives do not only include recordings of music, but also stories, narratives, languages, rituals, dance and other auditory signals from the past.

Sound archives are not neutral historical repositories, they reflect the political climate and specific power relations at play at the time of recording practices. In case of the Tropenmuseum collection, it is – at least in part - a result of colonial regimes, politics and practices. It is important to be aware of the circumstances in which these archives were created and question what knowledge, whose memories and what hierarchies they represent. To connect with the source material and explore the multitude of intricacies that accompany topics like ethnomusicology, colonial archives, anthropology and cultural appropriation, all the artists visited the Netherlands where they conferred with leading researchers from the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Leiden University, and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. They discussed questions such as: how do colonial pasts echo through these archives? How can ethnographic sound archives act as sites of imagination, creativity, and disturbance? What are the ethical implications when artists activate, re-contextualize and distort recordings from the archives?

Different musical visions

The artists were specifically chosen for their distinct musical styles, approaches to composition and different backgrounds. They have each produced an EP that refracts the Tropenmuseum collection through entirely different musical visions. All three EPs are being digitally released for free by three different labels who have agreed to support the initiative. Every Friday of July a new EP will be released.

  • Clap! Clap! - DIG! DELVE! DAMN! (Dutch Archive Edition) strips down his bombastic, multilayered take on global rhythms, jazz, and footwork, letting the samples take center stage. Drawing on the archive's recordings from Afghanistan, Suriname, Zambia, Bali, Libya, India, Uzbekistan & Morocco, accompanying and accentuating them with his singular voice.
  • Ash Koosha - Chimera offers a completely different take on sound and traditional music, modulating the sounds to fit his lively futuristic sound, with the entire EP representing a seamless journey through digital worlds of his imaginative creation.
  • Parrish Smith - GENESIS BLACK dives deep into his Surinamese roots reflecting upon the writings of Surinamese resistance fighter and anti-colonialist author Anton de Kom to deliver an impassioned, heavy narrative whose social commentary is strengthened by every dark rhythm and drone.

RE:VIVE and Activate

RE:VIVE is the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s initiative that specifically brings together archives and electronic music. RE:VIVE has commissioned past works from Lakker, Fis, Roly Porter, Hatti Vatti, Bas Mooy and more. Here RE:VIVE is tying in with RCMC’s Activate program.

Activate is a series of projects intended to uncover the contemporary meanings of the Tropenmuseum’s collections for different local and global stakeholders. Activate is focused specifically on working with artists, poets, writers and performers to interpret the collections in new ways and to create new works inspired by them.

Beeld en Geluid    RE VIVE