In a recent Diagonal Culture article on MidEast Tunes, a website with over 7000 songs available for free streaming, Jose Rodríguez quotes Esra’a Al Shafei, the founder, who explains that the project was intended “to promote, through music, constructive discourse about the region.” Thus, the name: MidEast Tunes for Social Change. In his article, Rodríguez singles out Checkpoint 303 and their use of the “real sounds of the occupation, for example shots or footage of air strikes, to show how it really is.” Rodríguez recommends Checkpoint 303’s Streets of Ramallah.
I remember listening to Checkpoint 303’s Sidi Bouzid to Cairo several years back, and the dissonance of the interweaving of the sound of the reassuring voice in the propaganda narrative and the interruptions of the demonstrations captured something about that moment.
But Checkpoint 303 are not alone in experimentation with “real sounds,” as is explained in this interview on the MideastTunes blog, where Kuwaiti songwriter Aziz discusses working alongside ArteEast on a project entitled UNCOLLECTABLE:
Embracing sound art and broader sound archiving practices in the Middle East, UNCOLLECTABLE is packaged into literary and performance components that work together. They investigate the noticeable shift in the Middle East art world towards more performative and conceptual work (e.g. Hassan Khan, Magdi Mostafa, Hassan Hujairi, Tarek Atoui, Abdulnasser Gharem).
“Sound art” is a complex area to define as “many see sound art as being housed within a broader spectrum of performative and multimedia-based work.” Others who could fall within that broad spectrum and are not mentioned here include Mutamassik, who I first encountered during the 2010 Majaz Festival, and AboJar, an experimental Electronic Project Founded by Jebus Khoury and Jowan Safadi.
An ongoing initiative is “Echoes & Reverberations“, a group exhibition as part of the Shubbak festival which explores “performative approaches to aural culture and oral history through objects, performances, and videos.” Artists in the Echoes & Reverberations exhibition include: Jumana Emil Abboud, Anas Al-Shaikh, Basma Alsharif, Samah Hijawi, Magdi Mostafa, and Joe Namy.
Last year, there was an exhibition entitled Peace In An Open Space described as “an attempt to add local dialogue to the worldwide debate.” In this video, the curator Simon Coates notes that Peace In An Open Space is “the first ever exhibition of sound art” in the UAE, with the idea being to “introduce the concept of sound art to people here.” Coates explains sound art as “a piece of art made where the artist instead of paint uses sound…or music…without any of the structure.”
While Coates talks about the analogy between sound art and the layering involved in painting, another exhibition by Fari Bradley and Chris Weaver earlier this year involved interpreting patterns of Emirati weaves as graphic scores. It was also dubbed “the first show of its kind to foreground the region’s sound art scene.” See Systems for a Score to find out more.
First ever claims are kind of popular, it appears. Simon Coates, along with artist and curator Ram Nath are behind “the Middle East’s first ever sound art club night” Tse Tse Fly, described as “a night of sound art & experimental music.” Coates cites different motivations for the initiative, including “the lack of sound art locally” and the “urge to create an antidote to the overtly commercial club scene in Dubai.”
Tse Tse Fly is set to launch in September 2015. Find out more here.