di Luisa Santacesaria e Giulia Sarno
[Lo scorso 5 maggio, all’interno della rassegna Hand Signed di OOH-sounds e Musicus Concentus con Disco_nnect, il compositore e musicista Sam Kidel ha proposto dal vivo alla Sala Vanni di Firenze il suo Disruptive Muzak. Gli abbiamo fatto qualche domanda.]
Disruptive Muzak is an ambient work that addresses call centres in a critical way. How was this idea born? Did you have a direct experience with jobs like that?
Yes, I worked in a call centre for nine years on and off. So yes, this work was born after that experience. In particular, the piece came about a time when I was working in a call centre and writing my music in the evenings. It’s just not a critique of that job, it’s also a critique of ambient music, because ambient music – if you follow it back to Brian Eno – was all about a better version of “muzak”, which is music made for office environments, for work places, and for making people more productive. So, it was a way of bringing those two things back together, to say “well, actually ambient music isn’t so cool, and it came from this place that was about making people more productive workers”. So yes, I was working in a call centre and thinking about these things, and kind of organically this idea came that I could call up call centres and play ambient music down the phone to the people answering the calls, and see what their responses were, because if you call up those numbers you usually have to listen to that ambient music. But, reversing that situation I thought might create something interesting and so I recorded it and that’s what the record became.
Disruptive Muzak comes in three different versions. It’s an album, released in 2016 by The Death of Rave label – so, it’s a composed piece –, and then it’s also a sound installation that you presented at Unsound Festival. The version you will present tonight is a performative one.
Yes, this performative version is very new. I started by trying to just perform the work as it is recorded, but actually it’s very boring for the audience members to just go and listen to the piece as it is on record. And there’s not very much to do for me up there and I don’t really engage with the audience, so I had to rewrite it. So, I had to break apart the piece as it was, because the piece on record is like a very tight idea that is just realised, so it doesn’t really work, I couldn’t really do another version of it, so I had to break it apart, and actually the performance is a combination of the various parts that went into the piece rather than a direct performance of it. It might sound a little different but the aesthetics is the same, the ideas are all the same, it’s just a different way of looking at the same idea.
But you also do something “live”, right?
Yes, I read a text that I wrote. So I intersperse bits of the text with bits of the calls sometimes, but it’s more about me performing as a kind of customer service agent. So, I wrote the text from the position of being a customer service agent, it is kind of a reflection on what that job is like, but it’s also looking up the tiny bits of good that are in that job and amplifying those and seeing whether there’s something that calls centres could fulfil in the future that might be useful.
The last call centre I worked in was for an organisation that was the organization for carers, so people who care for a neighbour or a relative. So you call up and actually the conversations that you have with people are very deep and very intimate, because they are talking about their caring relationship which is a very intimate relationship with either a family member or a friend, or a loved one. It was a relief compared to the other call centre experiences that I had were it was just about selling insurance or trying to get someone to buy something. So actually I am thinking about the possibility for call centres to be more intimate and to be more caring.
Do you also make live calls during performative version of Disruptive Muzak?
When I am away from the UK I can’t because the call centres would be closed. When I perform in the UK this is something I might do. In this piece Disruptive Muzak I am only calling two call centres, very specific ones, the piece was actually kind of a protest against those two places, which is two government offices.
Do they know?
No, I don’t think they know. I got contacted by people who work in those organisations, but not on the phone, so I don’t think anyone who’s in the piece knows that they are in the piece. But the two organisations are the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions, which have both recently implemented really horrible policies that cause lots of suffering. So the piece is very specifically targeted at those two offices which are closed now, so I can’t call them this evening.
You are doing research music, using technology and various compositional tools to address social issues in a very direct way. This makes your work understandable by almost anyone. Is this something interesting for you, to be able to make something as powerful as pop music, conjugating accessibility and research?
Yes, I try very hard in all of my pieces… I do a lot of research in my artistic practice, I am really interested in ideas, I read a lot. I want to do complex things with my work, ideally, I want to create situations where people think more deeply about the environment where they are in or the world that they live in. But I am also really keen to make it as accessible as possible, that’s a really difficult thing to do, to do something that gets people to think, but also that they can enjoy on an emotional level. This is something I try to do every time I make a piece. Sometimes I fail, but that’s the ideal situation: that you can both listen to it and enjoy it and take something from it emotionally, but also there’s a kind of thinking process that goes along with that, that maybe makes people think critically about the materials that I am presenting.
There are very recognisable sounds in your pieces, for instance the Primavera by Vivaldi, something that really everybody can relate to, but there is also a very powerful critique, so it’s really an ideal combination.
I think that’s one of the advantages of art over writing. So I could do the research and write about the things that I am reading about, but there’s a whole load of people who don’t really read, or who don’t engage with those ideas if they see them written on a piece of paper, they think “Oh no, I can’t be bothered, this is not for me”. Academic writing is certainly not for everyone, it’s written for a very small elite who can understand the language. So I think that the power of art is that you can open the door by giving a kind of sensory experience that’s enjoyable, and then once the person’s sat there enjoying it, then maybe they can start to think about the ideas that you are trying to communicate through the work.
Are you planning to make other works about social issues?
Yes, I will carry on. I think I am going to continue working with call centres for a while, because I feel like there is more that I can explore through working with them. And then I’ll have to see what comes after that, but I suspect it will always be kind social or political in some way.
img: © Giulia Sarno