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Updated: January 31, 2013 20:24 IST

Sounds are found

Shailaja Tripathi
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Means are the end: South African sound artist Malose. Photo: Shailaja Tripathi
The Hindu
Means are the end: South African sound artist Malose. Photo: Shailaja Tripathi

South African artist Malose Malahlela, in India for a sound residency, feels that sound is everywhere. A sound piece requires an artist to just contextualise it

Were it not for time and language barrier, we would probably have had a new musical instrument added to our already rich repository. South African sound artist Malose Malahlela, during his exploration of the city to develop his piece, met a folk musician so customarily found in Dilli Haat playing the ektara. Malose wanted to collaborate with the musician and create a new instrument and he could have, only if he had more time. “There was no interpreter along, so language was another problem,” says Malose as he works on his sound piece “Blossomed in String” at Khoj. He is one of the participants at the ongoing sound residency at Khoj studios, which will culminate on February 2 with their performance.

He ended up buying a few ektaras for his work at the Khoj residency.

An array of different version of ektaras are displayed on a wall and connected to the phonograph tubes, which will be planted upright in the small courtyard. All the ektaras will play simultaneously, their sound emanating from the connected tubes. “My artistic process was to dislocate the instruments in the context they were designed in and contextualise them to produce unintended sound that conveys the innate mood of the instruments,” explains the co-founder of an interesting Keleketla Library in Johannesburg — an artist-run inter-disciplinary, independent library and media arts project space focusing on participation and collaboration.

This is Malose’s first visit to India, and to produce a work on its soil it was necessary to absorb the environment. Deeply aware and probably hurt by the phenomenon of dying instruments in his own culture, together with the knowledge that India is as rich in indigenous instruments, he was fascinated by the idea of working around the theme. “The medium of a one-string violin got me interested but the guy selling it at Dilli Haat was a very touristy thing. I needed a week with him to create ideas because he was selling with a view of selling it, but he doesn’t know what he is creating. And it doesn’t have to be just a one-string violin; it can be more than that, so me taking it out of his hands and contextualising it the way I put it could have resulted in another instrument, but we didn’t have much time.”

Malose is surprised that the discipline of sound art is still so nascent in a country that is replete with sounds. “I am surprised by the existence of sound in the space outside the gallery space… like the other day I was working in the studio and there was a celebration. The sounds from the mosques really captured me. They were a bit high but enveloped the entire area. That was an exhibition but probably people didn’t know that there was an exhibition.”

For Malose, sound art exists everywhere. “For me sound is amplified. It’s only a matter of how you contextualise it — what harmony you can create with sound apart from a musical structure of things, how sounds can communicate with each other in a public space, how you take different sounds and concentrate it in a minimal space…”

Back home, as a genre, Malose informs us, sound art has a pronounced existence. In South Africa the scene is vibrant with a lot of practitioners. “We include bands, found toys and, basically, make it into more performance-based art. Artists collect a lot of trash and create sound out of it. There are experimental producers and you will find curators who put together different musicians to not make regular melody but who will find different ways of playing a guitar.”

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