Sound Art; critical mental health; first-person madness narratives; trauma; acousmatic sound
The work of Australian sound artist Thembi Soddell offers a distinct voice in Australian experimental music. Working across recording, composition, performance, installation, sound design and dramaturg, they are best known for their powerful, dynamic acousmatic compositions of “startling, even hallucinatory, intensity” (New Zealand Listener 2012). Drawing upon their own lived experiences of depression, anxiety, chronic illness, disability and trauma, their uncompromising artist voice reveals “just how personal laptop music can be” (Resonate Magazine 2014).
In 2019, Thembi completed a practice-based PhD at RMIT University, titled “A Dense Mass of Indecipherable Fear: The Experiential (Non)Narration of Trauma and Madness through Acousmatic Sound.” This research investigated the use of sound art practice as metaphor for understanding lived experiences of so-called mental illness, challenging many misconceptions prevalent in mental health fields. Their CD and book release, Love Songs (2018), which grew from this research, explored the affective impact of insidious abusive within intimate relationships. It has been praised for its “innovative approach to form” (Fluid Radio 2018) and “fearless conceptual framework” (Self-Titled Magazine 2018). Its launch at The SUBSTATION won the 2019 Green Room Award for Contemporary Sound Performance.
Thembi’s work has been presented at numerous Australian experimental arts and music festivals such as MONA FOMA, Liquid Architecture, Tura New Music, Festival of Live Arts, Gertrude Street Projection Festival, Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, The Now Now, Next Wave, Melbourne International Women’s Jazz Festival, and the Melbourne International Biennale of Exploratory Music. Presentations have also extended across major galleries, such as the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Institute of Modern Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Gallery of Modern Art, National Gallery of Australia, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thembi’s work also has firm international reach, including concerts at Audiorama (Sweden), Hoerkunstfestival (Germany), Instants Chavirés (France) and Mengi (Iceland), to name a small few. Their installation, Window (2008), was also curated into “Sound Full: Sound in Contemporary Australian and New Zealand Art,” by Caleb Kelly and Aaron Kreisler, touring to Dunedin Public Art Gallery (2012) and Wellington City Gallery (2013), New Zealand. They have also guest curated for the National Gallery of Victoria. Thembi lives on Dja Dja Wurrung land, in the rural Victorian town of Clunes. They are a second-generation Polish migrant with combined English/Irish colonial-settler descent.
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