'Diversifying' Sonic Circuits 2007

My improv group Pinko Communoids performed a set in the Warehouse at Sonic Circuits, an international festival of experimental music in DC this past weekend. My presence at the festival seemed to mean something - in fact, a number of different things - to both the participants and the audience there.

First, "the obligatory": I was asked if I'm from Tokyo once again this weekend at Sonic Circuits. I didn't reply with anything clever as I had thought of the last time this happened (see blog entry about "Are You Japanese?" posted on August 7, 2007 and September 17, 2007).

Second, my presence seemed empowering for women, especially women of color. As I was standing around the set list for the evening (there were 9 artists/groups booked for the evening), a number of women came up to me. Anxious about the performance and its delay, my obsession over the evening's schedule probably projected the fact that I was performing that night. These women were exhilarated that I was a part of the bill and were psyched to watch my performance. Among them were a few women of (South and East) Asian descent.

"I'm so excited that there are so many women here! It's not just all White men.." as one woman exclaimed to me. It's true. For once, I felt like I didn't stick out.

All of them made a point to share their excitement for the diversity among the performers and audience at the festival. To my knowledge, I was the only woman of color on the bill. But this definitely meant something (perhaps tremendous) to these women of color festival goers. We exchanged some small talk and even some contact information hoping to establish a social connection via our passion and participation in experimental arts.

Jeff, the festival organizer, indicated to me that diversity is one of his aims for the events. His awareness of bringing people of different walks together in the name of experimental music successfully manifest in थिस former-warehouse-now-gallery-space appropriately (perhaps ironically) named as the Warehouse. His intention even is reflected on the promo material made for the event. There are more women (all of whom are of Asian descent interestingly) than the over-represented White men on the poster.

Yet, story of diversity can be more complicated than representation. Despite the Warehouse being only 3 blocks away from Chinatown in DC, the artsy crowd didn't seem to intersect with Chinatown in more ways than consumption, ie. dinner at either one of the more historic Cantonese-owned restaurants or the faddish Asian fusion eateries there.

We are a little guilty of this division, of course. On our way to Chinatown for a quick bite, we ran into an African American man wearing a shirt that said "I make beats that break the house." He's a rapper. One of the sound engineers at the festival was trying to convince him to come to the show. He seemed amiable to the invitation. But his appearance would take more than just an invitation, I think. With the ticket price of $15 and the obscure nature of most of the music presented, the festival could not have seemed all that attractive to him. Certainly, this invitation didn't extend out to the residents of DC's Chinatown or downtown near-gentrified neighborhood. The Warehouse is technically out of commission because it simply can't afford the taxes involved in running the space.

Diversity takes shape in various forms depending on the social context and the social agents involved. It's not like my color of my skin and hair and my gender (distracted or enhanced by my near-punk haircut and checkered canvas Vans, a style I adopted from the hardcore/punk/alternative scene in RVA) directly translates into a token for Asian woman representation, although it can work that way in certain situations. In any case, it meant something to people - but the precise meaning of diversity projected by my being there is subject to the individuals' respective social position.

The truth is that inequality goes way beyond the issue of representation. The artists, performers, festival organizers and goers are more or less transient beings in this space. These people have the mobility of transcending spatial boundaries - particularly those invited artists from Europe - while occupying spaces with the prestige of or affiliation to "art". Already, the mobility associated with artistic identity or occupation surpasses the immobility or forced mobility of migrant workers or lower class urban dwellers whose spatial occupation is bound to work and not leisure. Right here - local gentrification and international avant-garde tours present a jarring effect in the local landscape of downtown DC around Chinatown in the post-industrial time, a time and space fraught with the South-of-the Border immigration polemic, economic issues related to transnational capital flows and multinational corporation, and international warfare.

Yet another twist: I'm not sure how much we as experimental improv musicians who travel and perform under the name of Pinko Communoids can do about the world's inequalities and violence. I guess we've done relatively well in representing in ways that defy the White-masculine norms of experimental music while sonically propagating the affect of peace and love through our restrained, non-violent 'noise', but I hope that there's more than just that. Any ideas?

[photos by Chia-chi Charlie Chang and Kevin Hsu]

1 comment:

gdeformer said...

Well.... i still don't like ur hair style... (:P)..but congratulations on your show.