Alexa Dexa Dreams of Transformative and Accessible Spaces

An adventurous electroacoustic composer, facilitator of sound-based meditation, and radical queer dreamer, Alexa Dexa is using music as a tool for manifesting change. Alexa’s unique sound combines toy instruments, live-coding, and MaxMSP processing, culminating in the creation of their “toychestra” performances. As a disabled artist based in a strong DIY-ethos, community is centered in their work. Their love of play and positive self-transformation gave way to Bewitch Yourself, a virtual workshop using Alexa’s Sacrosanct Oracle//Composition Deck, a collection of oracle card-graphic scores, in an attempt to offer an inclusive and accessible digital space that combats oppressive forces. 

Yaz: How did you build this “toychestra” sound world?

Alexa: Ever since I was really little, I loved miniatures. I was obsessed with them! When I was studying at college, I found this video of Margaret Leng Tan playing the toy piano and a sand block, and just my whole entire life changed. It was like love at first sight. I love their sound worlds, and I love how they just allow for this playful mentality. So after I saw Margaret playing, I immediately got a toy piano and then sort of found my way into Phyllis Chen’s work, and especially her work with music boxes. They just bring me so much joy.

Yaz: Toys and toy sounds have such a youthful quality to them… is that something you think about at all? Youthfulness or calling on childhood memories or nostalgia in any sort of way?

Alexa: Prior to 2018, I was mostly doing toychestral electronic pop, and the songs were pretty dark, pretty deep, and not necessarily for children or childlike. But I started with my electroacoustic toy opera Be a Doll. [It] was very specific to play routines and the idea of how toys and childhood games are just another piece in the puzzle of overarching “gender norms” and how that can affect your growth and your mental health; even just from the toys that you’re designated to be able to play with and the routines that they elicit that you should be growing into adulthood with.

I think that was the first piece that I had envisioned that was really both about the sound world, but also about the messaging behind, like, who are these toys for? What are they made to do? What are the instructions that are engrained into you as you’re playing with them that are just sort of replicating these very binary gender roles that are social constructs, that aren’t real, and that are really limiting instead of allowing for a broader spectrum of what gender can actually be?

Alexa Dexa's toy piano--Photo courtesy of the artist

Alexa Dexa’s toy piano–Photo courtesy of the artist

Yaz: Yeah, I think something that came up for me was that, as a queer person, but also as a POC, that I really find myself drawn to art and media that is sort of labeled as for teenagers, or specifically for teenage girls, and I feel like when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities that are presented in a lot media today.

I’m thinking about Euphoria… or even certain artists, like WILLOW, and Olivia Rodrigo. I wasn’t “allowed” to have those sorts of experiences that are depicted in a lot of this media, or experience teen heartbreak even, because I wasn’t seen as desirable at that time. So, I feel like now the media that I’m really drawn to or interested in has this sort of pull towards youthfulness. And I think there’s really this sense of freedom in having those experiences be more useful or relatable I guess, in a way, now. Sort of like a second puberty!

Alexa: I feel like even regardless of what something is made for or the demographic or what the message is behind it, if you love it and you find something from it, like, love it, you know?! 

Alexa Dexa--Photo by Coachella Magazine

Alexa Dexa–Photo by Coachella Magazine

Yaz: Yeah, for sure. I feel like your project Bewitch Yourself ties into these ideas and aspects of play and interaction, but I was wondering if you can talk a little bit more about that?

Alexa: Bewitch Yourself started as an electroacoustic toy opera, and it’s virtual and interactive. What I really wanted to do with this piece was to be able to co-create an intimate, online, communal space.

I want to be able to have a conversation with someone and it’s like we’re co-crafting. This is for anybody, so you don’t have to be a musician. We just have a conversation, and you tell me what you want to be anchoring yourself in, what centers you, what grounds you.

So, we’ll pull a card, get some extra insight on something, just to consider and hold onto, and then using the graphic score for what I’ll be playing on the toy instruments and using the chat that we’ve had as the libretto or the lyrics, I’ll play out a little — I call them songspells — and I’ll play them and invite whoever’s with me to join in the sound-making with any kind of mechanism for generating sounds.

I gift the recording afterwards to whoever is with me so they can keep it and listen to it, and have that as a positive listening space that they can open up to other dream spaces.

Alexa Dexa's Sacrosanct Oracle//Composition Deck--Photo courtesy of the artist

Alexa Dexa’s Sacrosanct Oracle//Composition Deck–Photo courtesy of the artist

Yaz: It’s just so great that you provide this space online because I feel like, right now, there’s all of this talk of whether in-person or virtual learning or collaboration or communication is better [but] they offer a completely different amount of accessibility for so many people.

Alexa: For me and for my disabled community, we’re on the internet. This is how we’re connecting, and this is the space that’s accessible for us, and so, really just trying to reimagine my compositions and my performances for this — like, intimate, online co-creation of communal space just as a survival mechanism, as a coping strategy, as a source of joy. 

I think that’s so important just in general, but especially as your access to physical spaces dwindles, having a really vast imaginative space, and having that dream space became infinitely more important for me. So, yeah, just holding that space for dreaming and reimagining what that looks like for me and what I want to be creating and co-creating that’s safe and that is life-affirming. 

Yaz: What are some ways that you would like to see the music and arts community do better in terms of dreaming, but also accessibility and disability justice?

Alexa: We can just be doing so much better in terms of accessibility, even if it’s something as simple as putting the accessibility information. Is there going to be closed captioning? Is it going to be live? Is there going to be ASL? You know, if it’s a physical space, how do people get there? What does it look like to be able to get inside the building? 

And when we dream bigger from that, it’s hiring a disabled consultant to come in for your event space or to come in for your project to work on increasing accessibility from the ground up.

If there’s music playing, what does it actually sound like? Let’s describe those things. Let’s talk about, does it remind you of an emotion? What are the instrument sounds? I can hear the sounds, but I love being able to read about what they sound like, and I feel like that’s its own poetry. I’m very interested in creating accessibility wherever it’s possible to create accessibility, because there’s just an entire population of people that are like, we want to be experiencing these things. We want to be included, because nobody is disposable.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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