By Ming-Yuen S. Ma
Like many of you, when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading globally, all of my travel plans grounded to a halt. I have not left Los Angeles since March of this year. For someone with ailing parents who live across an ocean, this is certainly a problem. More relevant to this blog post, my book There is no soundtrack: Rethinking art, media, and the audio-visual contract was published over the summer. Like my family visits, all of my planned book tour, talks, and other in-person activities were canceled.
I had promised the many artists, musicians, and arts professionals I interviewed for the book that I would send them copies when it came out. So my first question was how to do that in a safe and accessible way when there is a deadly virus, for which there is no vaccine or cure, spreading through the population? Since both the printing and mailing of the book continue to be delayed due to the pandemic and its effects, I am grateful that the eBook version was published simultaneously with the hardcover. Now I have a touch-free and instantaneous option to make my book available to others!
In the process of sending the book to the interviewees, and in our many conversations and correspondences, updates on everyone’s health, families, mutual friends, communities, and how their lives and art practices have changed since the pandemic that followed, I was motivated to re-conceive my book tour for There is no soundtrack into a sound-based series. I was also inspired by a project one of my students created last semester, which documented many spontaneous as well as organized expressions of community and solidarity during the quarantines and lockdowns around the world. (For example, the 7pm nightly cheer for frontline workers in New York City during its first wave of coronavirus cases in March and April). It occurred to me that the soundscape, where many of these collective manifestations of community took place, is one of the few spaces left where it is safe to intermingle and even touch a stranger through our voices and the other sounds we make.
In that spirit, and also because sound is one of the main subjects of my book, I have conceptualized a book tour, remixed. In this series of sound-based programs that will be distributed for free online, I am inviting selected artists and groups who are discussed in There is no soundtrack to respond to it creatively and critically. This process has begun, and thus far, each collaboration is turning out to be quite unique, and the series continues to evolve. Below are the conceptual and logistical parameters I sent to the collaborators:
This series will be focused on the artists I discuss in the book, as well as its content and ideas. The structure of each program is a remixed book reading or talk, followed by a conversation between myself and the collaborating artist. The process begins when I send a copy of There is no soundtrack to the collaborating artist for them to read. The artist will select a passage from the book, which I will read for them. This reading will be the raw material for the remix. Here, I am thinking about “remix” in very broad terms. Obviously, a sound recording of my reading can be its basis. I am also open to more conceptual, critical, theoretical, experiential, and other ways of thinking about remixing. For me, this is a creative way that artists whose work and practice I discuss in the book can respond to it. What form this takes is part of the collaboration, and to be determined by myself and the collaborating artist. I am hoping for diverse approaches and results in the series. A conversation follows the remix, and is recorded as audio, video, and/or text for distribution. I aim to launch the series with about 4-6 collaborations, with the possibility of more to follow.
I am happy to announce that the first of these collaborations, with artist Richard Garet, will premiere at my book launch on Saturday, November 14. During this event, Richard and I will engage in a live conversation, which will be recorded and later distributed along with his sound work as a part of this series. hope you can join us for the book launch on November 14, and experience live the beginning of this exciting and evolving program. If not, you can look out for updates and postings on the program at my website, Richard’s website and on this blog post and social media channels.