Found Sound Nation Presents Socially-Minded Music from Appalachia to Ramallah at MATA 2023

A gently glowing fabric cube radiated a campfire-like comfort from the center of Roulette. People circled around it, clustered in small groups of chairs, or on the pillows scattered haphazardly across the floor. At first, I stood at the entrance of the Brooklyn venue, transfixed by a video projection of sunlight playing slowly on one side of the cube. Eventually, I made my way across the room to sit on one of the pillows, my back against the stage, as Kurdish melodies and ethnographic audio recordings from Turkey and central Appalachia began wafting through the space.

The immersive work Mosaic: Memories was created by artists Kyla-Rose Smith, Eva Salina, and Alexia Webster and presented as part of Found Sound Nation’s residency at MATA 2023. This year, the annual New York City festival celebrated 25 years as an incubator and launchpad for emerging experimental composers with four concerts that embraced the various ways in which new music is created, shared, and transmitted.

As its second Artist-In-Residence, MATA tapped Found Sound Nation, the Brooklyn-based creative agency that connects people across cultural divides through hyper-local music intensives. Found Sound Nation’s ambitious program, OneBeat, sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is a gathering place for musical leaders from around the world to meet, create original music, and develop strategies for arts-based social engagement that they can take back to their home countries.

"Mosaic: Memories" at MATA 2023 -- Photo by Robin Michals

“Mosaic: Memories” at MATA 2023 — Photo by Robin Michals

Those values permeated MATA’s final evening on June 3. Salina’s unfurling vocals and Smith’s whispering violin allowed recordings of gorgeous Appalachian vocal inflections to soar from the texture as they spun stories of family, hardship, and the joy of singing. Over a faintly humming drone, Smith recited a poetic onboarding into womanhood:

Remember if you feel tired, you still have to do it.
Remember if you suddenly feel joy, don’t resist it.

As I stared at the eight-foot cube made of homespun curtains and watched videos of Kurdish women in Turkey, I found myself admiring their courage and remembering my female forebears; in the unhurried pace of the piece, and the extended silence before intermission, I felt that folks on the other side of the room were inspired to reflect, too.

Jess Tsang and Xuan at MATA 2023 -- Photo by Robin Michals

Jess Tsang and Xuan at MATA 2023 — Photo by Robin Michals

After Mosaic: Memories was dismantled during intermission and the chairs reshuffled to face the stage, the second half began with visual musician Xuan and percussionist Jess Tsang’s playful work Orbiting Topographies. Using what looked like a typical experimental percussion setup — a bass drum angled toward the audience, a collection of cymbals and found objects, and a laptop — Xuan and Tsang, former OneBeat fellows, made sound visible. While projecting her starry animations onto the bass-drum head, Xuan modulated rumbling electronics at an almost deafening volume while Tsang bounced tinfoil balls on the drumhead. A shell shaker bounced and rattled with sympathetic vibrations when it was drawn across the surface of the drum. Tsang tossed a piece of dark cloth over the drum to end the projections, and the piece, with flair.

It was the perfect precursor to Mosaic: Dreams, Found Sound Nation’s whimsical piece of light and shadow that was teased from the moment guests entered Roulette. Viewmaster toys were scattered on tables in the entryway, encouraging people to wander near the light and click through slides of children playing in outer space. At another table, a digital musical device invited me to type text into a computer and hear the sounds that came out. In Mosaic: Dreams, this device transmitted the dreams of children living near the Qalandia checkpoint in Ramallah, Palestine.

Found Sound Nation performs at MATA 2023 -- Photo by Robin Michals

Found Sound Nation performs at MATA 2023 — Photo by Robin Michals

Chris Marianetti, who co-created the piece with Webster and Asma Ghanem, provided live supertitles as fantastical film and animation blended children’s imagination and daily life. The software responded to each dream text with gently humming harmony, augmented by Gideon Crevoshay’s improvisatory synth. Elena Moon Park’s violin provided luscious orchestral bursts, and Zafer Tawil spun delicate tendrils on oud, with a distinct sense of place. The showstopping Peni Candra Rini voiced both the children’s murmuring innocence and heartrending bursts of nightmarish violence.

Darius Jones, MATA’s inaugural Artist-In-Residence, set a precedent for the residency with his Colored School No. 3 (Extra Credit), a riveting music-theater piece rooted in predominantly American music styles that retells local stories of lives cut short by racial violence. Found Sound Nation honored that localized approach this year by expanding it, zooming out from the American context and presenting multimedia stories from communities around the world. The polished, cohesive performances moved beyond the purely sonic experimentation that MATA is known for; their residency invited artists and contemporary composers to imagine new methods, collaborators, and intentions for working with sound.


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