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Celebrating Diversity and Building New Community in Electronic Music on Campus

By Michelle Cyca

Posted on July 25, 2018 | Updated August 06, 2019, 9:07AM

Check out CURRENT, a feminist music and electronic art symposium happening this week at ECU.

The New Media + Sound Arts (NMSA) program and the Basically Good Media Lab have partnered with CURRENT, a multidisciplinary, intersectional music and electronic art symposium, to bring exciting events to the ECU community.

Kicking off Wednesday, July 25 and continuing through Sunday, July 29, CURRENT will feature live musical performances, gallery exhibitions, film screenings, workshops, panels, and presentations, by local and international artists and guest speakers at multiple venues in Vancouver, with many of these events happening right on campus. CURRENT is co-produced by alumna Soledad Muñoz and features work by alumni Gabi Dao and Zandi Dandizette.

Caroline Park, a faculty member in NMSA, shares what ECU can look forward to with CURRENT.

What is the New Media + Sound Arts major?

New Media + Sound Arts (NMSA) is a new program at ECU, which just launched in Fall 2017. Our first cohort of students will begin their work this coming September. It’s very exciting because many of our students wish to create their own unique trajectories and become their own trailblazers, or that our students are quite curious and open-minded to discover something completely new for themselves in this major.

NMSA explores relationships between technology and sound, live visuals, time-based media, and electronic systems, offering ways to artistically and critically engage with technologies beyond what is prescribed in today’s technocultures. Our program is not geared toward specific outcomes or products, but instead seeks to provide students with tools or approaches that they can choose to use for artistic expression through experimentation.

Students are not required to come into NMSA with a specific technical background; they will have the opportunity to learn everything from the ground up: how to listen deeply, how to code their own software, how to build circuits, how to create new musical instruments, how to build interactive art installations, and more. Critical engagement, play, and curiosity are all key.

What’s unique about the program?

ECU is one of the only art institutions I’ve come across that directly supports an undergraduate major in sound – recognizing that sound itself is an artistic medium.

It’s also a program that centers listening, on many levels, and seeks to amplify underrepresented voices and perspectives in technologically-based art practices: BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of colour), womxn and femmes, transgender/gender non-conforming/non-binary/genderqueer folks, folks of different socioeconomic statuses and different abilities, and more than human creativity.

How does CURRENT align with NMSA?

There are a lot of resonances with CURRENT and NMSA. This symposium showcases how sound can be an experimental art form in itself, ranging from abstract turntablism, DJ-ing, sound art installation, electronic music production. Sound, while invisible, is very physical, and in the past it has been perceived more as a supportive accompaniment to other art forms, like as a film soundtrack, or as an “effect”, as opposed to its own legitimate art form. The symposium also puts into practice what an intersectional, experimental arts community can be like, and can feel like.

To see workshops and panels that center and celebrate diversity, and that reflect diverse representation (aka, reality), is still rare to see in electronic music – not because it is hard to do, but in fact it’s actually a major shift in perspective, to center underrepresented communities. This is something that more people need to be aware of, and actually do something about, and I am stoked that CURRENT brings all of this to the surface and invites everyone to this important conversation.

Also, there’s been incredible momentum in community growth of womxn and non-binary electronic musicians, but I think that growth and sense of community isn’t yet visible or felt at Emily Carr, and so CURRENT is happening at an important time for all of us at ECU. I think this symposium can help to build that community here on campus for our queer, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks.

Besides NMSA students, who should check out CURRENT programming?

Any and all students who are interested in experimental arts, live electronic performance, sound and technology, learning how to code or how to DJ, anyone interested in learning about and participating in accountable culture creation, grant funding for the arts, communicating through social media on a global level, anyone interested in intersectionality in electronic music and art, and anyone who wants to dream of a new future.

What are you most excited for?

All the events are going to be incredible, and it’s awesome that everything is free/by donation and accessible. The first thing on my mind is the kickoff event on Wednesday evening, with the Coast Salish welcome by Cease Wyss, and keynote and live performance by abstract turntablist Maria Chavez. Everything in this symposium is highly recommended.

It’s also exciting and important that CURRENT is led and organized by womxn and nonbinary people and people of colour. I’m very inspired by the CURRENT organizers – Nancy Lee, Soledad Muñoz, Alexandra Chen, Ashlee Luk – they are total powerhouses.

For non-white and non-binary attendees to see themselves reflected in the programming, celebrated, uplifted, and amplified, is huge.

What’s next for NMSA and CURRENT?

I hope the partnership with CURRENT can continue in the future. I’d love to collaborate on more workshops, performances, panels and events centering intersectional communities in experimental music and electronic arts in the future, perhaps leading up to another symposium.

How can people participate?

You can register for events on Eventbrite. A few are now sold out but there is still space to register. All events are free and by donation.