About the Project

Pictured from left to right: Thembi Soddell, Kim Le, Amrita Dasvarma, Melis Layik and Hassaan Memon.

Image description: A row of five separate square shaped bio photos. First, a dark, moody photo of a white person in their early 40s with short brown hair, shaved at the sides and longer on top, with a black top on and headphones around their neck; second, a black and white photo of a bespectacled, light-skinned Asian person in their 20s with a grown-out mullet, fringe falling over the left side of their face, wearing a dark collared shirt and wired earphones; third, a brown skinned woman in her late 40s with black hair, wearing a red woollen beret and black top, standing in front of a canopy of green leaves, smiling; forth, a vibrant, colourful photo of a white woman in her 20s standing in front of a yellow background with hands on her head, staring into the camera, wearing brightly coloured clothes and clown inspired make up; fifth, a South Asian man in his early 30s with trimmed facial hair facing the camera, green foliage in the background, eyes squinting in bright daylight

UnKnowing Madness is a composition resulting from an online workshop series conceived by sound artist Thembi Soddell. These workshops invited four participants with complex trauma who did not have their own experimental sound art practice into Soddell’s process of composing. These participants were Amrita Dasvarma, Melis Layik, Kim Le and Hassaan Memon. They were found via an Australia wide callout for expressions of interest.

Soddell’s process involves recording real-world sounds such as field recordings, played objects and voice, sampling and shaping them into acousmatic compositions that reflect on lived experiences of trauma. Rather than telling explicit narratives or details of trauma, the focus was on exploring felt-senses that remain in its aftermath, through the affective impact of abstract sound. 

Over August-October 2022 Soddell ran seven workshops, with three co-facilitated by Mehak Sheikh, one led by media and performance artist Dr Vanessa Godden and another by voice artist and experiential therapist Alice Hui-Sheng Chang. Music producer Mufeez Al Haq also supported participants in learning sound recording technology, so recordings could be made during workshops and in people’s home environments.

The sounds and ideas developed through this period were then used by Soddell to compose UnKnowing Madness, with the aim of embodying aspects of everyone’s individual yet entangled lived experiences of trauma. The resulting composition traverses themes of grief, pain of isolation versus strength in walking alone, anxiety, mood swings, and the lingering impacts of trauma on our relationship to everyday sounds. More on what inspired the work can be found on the Inspiration and Process page.

The composition was premiered in concert at The Big Anxiety festival’s two-day lived experience forum in October 2022, followed by an audience discussion led by Soddell, Sheikh and Chang. More information on that can be found on the Presentations page, which also documents subsequent presentations. Biographies of participants, facilitators and consultants can be found on the People page.

Background

The idea for these workshops grew from Soddell’s practice-based PhD research, “A Dense Mass of Indecipherable Fear: The Experiential (Non)Narration of Trauma and Madness through Acousmatic Sound” (RMIT University 2019), through which they developed a novel approach to understanding their own lived experiences of mental illness using a medium (abstract sound) with a unique ability to reflect the intangibility of the inner world. 

The workshops were an experiment in adapting this approach to working with people who had little or no exposure to sound art or experience using sound technology. They were developed by Soddell through extensive consultation with Dr Vanessa Godden and Alice Hui-Sheng Chang. Further input into the project’s design was also provided by racial justice and social change consultant Erfan Daliri, photographer and ex-mental health GP, Dr Kelvin Lau, and Scientia Professor Jill Bennett, founder of the Felt Experience and Empathy Lab (fEEL) at UNSW. 

Researchers Dr Lydia Gitau and Rebecca Moran from fEEL are conducting research on the impact of the program on participants and facilitators. Once the research has been published it will be linked to here. They were also available during the project period to offer one-on-one support to participants and facilitators if needed.

Soddell’s PhD dissertation can be downloaded from their website.

Acknowledgement Of Country

Soddell acknowledges and extends their appreciation for the Dja Dja Wurrung People, the Traditional Custodians of the land upon which they live and work. They recognise that the arrival of Europeans caused a violent rupture in the spiritual, environmental, political and economic order of Dja Dja Wurrung People. They pay their respects to leaders and Elders past and present for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and the hopes of all Dja Dja Wurrung People. Soddell commits to paying ongoing reparations, and challenging the settler-colonial systems that continue to cause harm to First Peoples today.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Thank you to Liquid Architecture and Yamaha for the supply of headphones for the workshops.

Australia Council for the Arts and Australian Government logos