Fugitive Frequency on CoLaboRadio in 2021.

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Fugitive Radio: Fugitive Frequency will be broadcasting on the first Tuesday every month at 17.00 CET on CoLaboRadio, Freie Radios – Berlin Brandenburg: 88,4 MHz in Berlin, 90,7 MHz in Potsdam and streaming on https://fr-bb.org/

Episode 01, ‘Born to be Wireless’ is an audio essay of sorts, sketching out some of the issues and themes that will be explored in the coming year, such as: feminist and anticolonial network infrastructures, politics of remix, antiracist media activism. It features the voices of Fernanda Monteira, Gilberto Gil, Amoc, Ailu Valle, Jenni Laiti and Suohpanterror! amongst others.

Northern Anticolonial Remix

I met with artist, journalist and activist Jari Tamminen at his exhibition and workshop series, Spektaakkeliakatemia, currently on at Stoa, Helsinki (30.10.2020—13.12.2020). He explained to me his ideas about how the language advertising is the lingua-franca of the globalised world. In his art-activist practice and workshops Tamminen considers ‘classic advertising’, such as the manipulation of text and image as seen on billboards and bus shelters, as a form of communication that is recognisable and understood internationally and across cultures. This is evident in the exhibition at Stoa, where a series of ‘subvertisements’ are rendered in languages that reflect those commonly spoken by teenagers who attended his workshops in East Helsinki, an area notable for its migrant communities and ‘cultural diversity’. Aside from Finnish, Swedish and English the posters featured texts in Russian, Turkish and French (a language commonly spoken amongst West African communities).

Tamminen, who studied marketing, further claims that as a modern and subliminal means of communication (and manipulation), advertising takes advantage of an innate awareness that we humans have about our surroundings. He has observed that when his students analyse advertising in his workshops they are often surprised at how many brands and trademarks they can recognise, even if they have never directly engaged with the commodities or services they represent.

I first met Tamminen at an exhibition he curated, Rájágeassin Demarkation, about Sámi art-activism at Sinne gallery Helsinki, August 2020. Here I was introduced to the work of Suohpanterror!, a Sámi collective using the tools of subvertising and meme propaganda to challenge the state and corporate marginalisation of Sámi people and their interests.

To think a little about the power dynamics of (visual) appropriation and remix: The ‘classic’ argument is that advertising is an invasive takeover of public space by private commercial interests. Culture jamming, ad-busting, subvertising and other similar strategies intervene and disrupt these processes, often with satire, and arguably speak truth back to power. To use Tamminen’s words these practices ‘punch up’, especially when people and communities are invisibilised, marginalised or misrepresented in the media and by the dominant narratives they uphold.

Tamminen discusses his work with Suohpanterror! on a campaign to confront Disney’s Frozen franchise. Disney’s production crew had visited Sámi lands late in 2016 as part of their research for the second animated feature, but had not properly consulted or sought permission from Sámi people. As Tamminen writes in Voima, a magazine freely distributed in Helsinki, Sámi clothing, jewellery and other artifacts were viewed and used, irritating historical and ongoing tensions about the appropriation and misrepresentation of Sámi culture.

Suohpanterror! and Tamminen’s poster campaign sustained a public debate about Disney taking more than just inspiration from the peoples of the North. Tamminen draws attention to the ‘Hat of Four Winds’, an example of traditional attire that has been appropriated and commodified in Finland, (notable by the tourism industry). One of the characters wears such a hat their Stolen campaign poster as a satirical speculation as to how Disney might also appropriate Sámi culture. Tamminen explains that when Disney were made aware these and other complaints they quickly responded. The producers sought to consult with a Sámi expert committee during the development of the animation, signing a contract as a commitment to portray their culture respectfully. Disney also dubbed the film into a Northern Sámi language. Jikŋon 2, was released in cinemas conjunction with the original language version of the film in Norway, December 2019.

Tamminen alerted me to a popular TV show Hymyhuulet (Smiling Lips) from the 1980s that featured ‘Nunnuka Nunnuka’ racist and derogatory caricatures of Sámi people. (Question: Why are they in Black-face?):

Sámi rapper, Ailu Valle responds to this racist media-cultural slur:

It’s worth noting that strategies of remix need not only be weaponised. For example fan-fiction and Karaoke employ methods of cut, copy, modify and paste to pay tributes, elaborate on fantasies and find affinities with characters, celebrities and other ‘public figures’. (As this project veers towards remix in music, I’m curious as to what is the tension between appropriation, admiration and meme-like acceleration of cultural productions).

School of Infinite Rehearsals Movement I on Movement Radio

Onassis AiR

Over September and October 2020 I was fortunate enough to participate in Onassis AiR ‘School of Infinite Rehearsals, Movement I’, convened by Hypatia Vourloumis in Athens. Alongside Federica Bueti, Anastasia Diavasti, Moriah Evans, Daniel Hui and Kostas Tsioukas we produced three podcasts for Movement Radio.

Episode I: Refusal (aired 5 November 2020)

Episode II: Refusal Against (aired 12 November 2020)

Episode III: Sound Is Migrant (aired 26 November 2020)

Radio Wok Helsinki

Samba Carnival Helsinki

Fugitive Radio presented its first live ‘radio fanzine’, Radio Wok Helsinki (initially title Radiowalk Helsinki) for Nepantlas#4, Akademie Schloss Solitude curated by Daphne Dragona. Produced by myself, Sumugan Sivanesan, and Irina Mutt with the support of Sophea Lerner, the fanzine featured the multimedia artist Suva.

Notions of the ‘audio fanzine’ and of ‘performance as publishing’ were initially raised by Irina, which we developed as an experimental processes, circling around the themes of displacement, vulnerability, solidarity and self-defence. We arrived at narrative formats that referenced the printed zine, such as comics, recipes, interviews and a centrefold.

The performance occurred on Schloss Solitude’s video conferencing platform from which an audio stream was broadcast on {openradio}. Those who registered and attended the event online, were privy to extra visual and text elements and were also invited to participate or intervene. (Noone took up the offer, but we understand it could take a while to get familiar with the process!). There was also a discussion afterwards, which was also not part of the radio fanzine.

A recording of the stream is below.

Nepantlas #04 »Fugitive Radio: Radiowalk Helsinki«

»Nepantlas« is an online program curated by Daphne Dragona. It focuses on projects that introduce social and technological infrastructures based on relationships of care, respect, and interdependence.

For Nepantlas #4 Irina Mutt and I will be performing an ‘audio fanzine’ live online for Akademie Schloss Solitude. Our performance will be followed by a Q&A. Attendance is limited and prior registration is required to participate. Please register until November 17, 2020 with signup@akademie-solitude.de

Our performative zine will also be ‘published’ / broadcast on {openradio} via Fugitive Radio’s stream: https://play.openradio.in/public/fugitive-radio

Nepantlas #04 »Fugitive Radio: Radiowalk Helsinki«
Sumugan Sivanesan & Irina Mutt

Curated by Daphne Dragona
November 19, 2020, 2–3:30 pm (CET)

Guests of the fourth online edition of »Nepantlas« are Sumugan Sivanesan and Irina Mutt. Both run »Fugitive Radio« : an urban artistic research project on radio as a social practice, which is designed as a platform for migrant voices and experiences. »Radiowalk Helsinki« is a live radio fanzine developed as part of »Fugitive Radio«.

»Fugitive Radio« is an urban artistic-research project about radio as a social practice. It proposes to be a platform for migrant voices and experiences and is aligned with anticolonial trajectories. »Radiowalk Helsinki« is a live radio-fanzine that is developed as part of »Fugitive Radio«. As with Gloria Anzaldúa’s ideas about »mestiza«, it is an inclusive, accumulative and elastic structure, operating between thresholds as a way to embrace contradictions and ambiguity. It approaches the means and infrastructures of online radio as instruments of dispersal and play. Drawing on the ephemeral qualities of micropublishing and (online) performance, it employs strategies of replication, disruption and distribution.

»Radiowalk Helsinki« listens into urban environments and network processes, weaving through fragments of texture, text, voice and music. It links listening to haptic experiences of scrolling, browsing and clicking to accentuate experiences of migration, fugitivity, surveillance, precariousness and interdependence. For this special »Nepantlas« session, the audience will experience a »radio-fanzine« and explore how performance can become a means of publishing. Shifting across platforms and navigating collectively, »Radiowalk Helsinki« will examine the possibilities and impact of performative distribution when it comes to addressing urgent topics of our times.

»Fugitive Radio« is a project by Sumugan Sivanesan. In collaboration with Irina Mutt, the project will evolve over the coming year across a series of workshops, productions, podcasts and events in Helsinki. »Fugitive Radio« is being developed in collaboration with Pixelache and is supported by the Kone Foundation. It will culminate as a series of live broadcasts/interventions at Pixelache Festival #Burn____, June 2021.

Outside Broadcast

Cosmo[s]politan Radiophonic Picnic
Saturday 29/8, 12.00–16.00 (EEST/UTC+3)
Venue: In front of Pixelache office, Kaasutehtaankatu 1/21 Suvilahti (Bldg. 7), 00540 Helsinki

Hallo Helsinki and beyond! This Saturday marks the inaugural ‘official’ broadcast from fugitive-radio.net. We’re celebrating by throwing a ‘radiophonic picnic’. ‘What’s that’, you say? It’s a bit like a ‘teddy bears’ picnic’ for signal surfers, acoustic astronauts, crystal radio cultivators, outside(r) broadcasters and anyone with a penchant for experimental offbeat radio.

There will be an open mic/line, so feel free to bring your set-ups. Also bring snacks, your devices and portable speakers to listen to. If you have a bluetooth JBL we can ‘connect’ for a roaming broadcast or ‘Sound Swarm’.

The event will be streamed live, thanks to Open Radio:
https://play.openradio.in/public/fugitive-radio [web]
https://play.openradio.in:8050/radio.mp3 [media players]

If you would like to beam in from elsewhere, please contact: sumugan@protonmail.com

We will meet in front of Pixelache office at 12.00. Kahvila Katarsis opens at 14.00 if you need refreshments. We might go wandering later, so stay tuned for updates!

Cosmo[s]politan Radiophonic Picnic is initiated by Sumugan Sivanesan, a Berlin-based artist and writer who will be in Helsinki over the coming year to develop ‘Fugitive Radio’ in collaboration with Pixelache and with support from the Kone Foundation.

Radio as a Self-reflexive Medium

Given the recent trend of radio in Contemporary Art I have been thinking about radio as performance and installation. Indeed, I’ve been thinking about how people come together to make radio, rather than listen to it. Juxtaposed to the ‘golden era’ trope of families huddled around the wireless to listen to the latest news of the world or radio play, my emphasis on radio as a social practice concerns how community forms around sound, equipment and the notion of broadcasting (to whom?). For me, this suggests an aspect of ‘gear fetishism’ — I do happen to think that sound equipment can be quite fascinating and obtuse and I enjoy the process of playing such technology as one would a toy or instrument. It reminds of some discussion about the postcolonial deployment of scientific or technical apparatus, the classic example being the turntable in early hip hop, and leads me to think about cultures of pleasure (indeed pleasure activism) and the libidinal qualities of technology and sound. This is arguably most apparent in a kind of commodity fetishism attached to consumer audio gear designed for leisure. I am not immune.

With this in mind, I’ll be hosting a Cosmo[s]politan Radiophonic Picnic in conjunction with Pixelache, Helsinki. I think of it as a ‘teddybears’ picnic’ but for radio lovers and broadcast ‘freques’. I’m hoping to connect with some of the radiophonic community here to share and learn about a diversity of practices, set-ups and approaches; from crystal radios, biosignals, pirate radio, parasite radio, outside(r) broadcasters and more…

Here’s a little (ghetto) blast from the past to whet your ears!

Crisis Coronacast: Live Mourning Radio

An email sent to some partners on this project in April, that seems worth revisiting as I prepare the first podcast that marks the beginning of ‘Fugitive Radio’ (it could be that Barraca do Sound System becomes one aspect of Fugitive Radio…let’s see how things pan out).

I’m now in Berlin, and the conversations I’ve had with people here in the time of Corona often acknowledge just how privileged we are. After checking the stats and listening to the popular Coronacast with Christian Drosten with my housemates (and keeping an appropriate distance), I spent some time yesterday exchanging messages with friends around the world. I’m self-quarantining and I noticed Berliners seem pretty at ease with it. Maybe it’s the weather? The last couple of days have been superb. After dealing with my health care paperwork and applying for some emergency funds, I had an exchange with some friends in Bangladesh. A Channel 4 news report circulating on Facebook discussed a leaked government document that projected up to 2 million COVID-related deaths there. It mentioned poor but vibrant neighbourhoods that I visited when I was in Dhaka in February, and where friends are running long-term community-focused projects. A dear friend, A, an artist, activist and journalist, told me the city has been evacuated. Many of the businesses are closed, but not all, and some people are forced to keep working. His office is closed but he continues to work long hours from his apartment because people rely on the news. Him and K, another friend in the chat, were both alarmed by the Channel 4 segment, and we scheduled a conference call later in the week. I checked in with a Bangladeshi friend in Berlin and asked her how I could support and she replied that she is simply collecting money and donating regularly to organisations there that she trusts.

Later in the evening a friend in Colombia checked in on me. C wanted to know if I’d arrived in Berlin OK. She was visiting family when the pandemic hit. The state went into total lockdown, even citizens were not allowed back in. C and her family were at that time visiting relatives in Mexico and had to rush back. All seventeen of them were forced to stay in a small apartment where they could register on arrival. Police perform regular check-ups so they have to remain there. She said it was better to do so, because when people get scared and anxious the violence also escalates. Last night she messaged to say she had moved to another apartment that was free for a fortnight. Her brother drove her across town but she had to hide in the back of the car because they would otherwise be pulled over. In Bogotá the lockdown laws are strict. Other than accessing medical services, people were only allowed out to shop for groceries, to walk a dog or for short bursts of exercise. Furthermore, the days you are allowed out are determined by your ID card number. This had proven to difficult to manage, and the mayor recently announced that this process would be from now on determined by gender: females on one day, males on another, couples on a third. Obviously, this significantly affects gender non-conforming people, who were already the target of police harassment and violence. C said aside from those working in essential services, people with press passes were also relatively mobile. Many of them were now organising food drops and running errands. C brother’s drug dealer is also a bus driver and thus an essential worker. He could get you anything and then would deliver it to your door in uniform.

I fell asleep thinking of other friends around the world with whom I’ve been checking in lately; folks in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brazil, Spain and Australia. All of them in lockdown and often trying to get to places with better infrastructure or facilities, or isolating away from urban centres. My mind kept re-working that well worn cliché: ‘the pandemic is everywhere, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ Before waking I dreamed about ‘Kimberly Crenshaw’ — not the Kimberlé Crenshaw — but the host of a popular Canadian talkshow, ‘The Crenshaw Connection’. Friends were sharing her live webcast on social media. I’d never watched her program or even knew what she looked like. Her partner had suddenly died in the last 24 hours from the Coronavirus. He was not a celebrity and he was Black. She was broadcasting her breakdown live and people were sharing it as a kind of collective grieving.

I woke up and wrote down what I could recall and began to think about a live radio project that would connect and collect these different experiences of the virus. I made a list of people I know, making connection across much of Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia.

Protest Aesthetics

Last week I attended a rally in Berlin to draw attention to the longstanding issue of Aboriginal deaths in police custody in (so-called) Australia. It followed on from mass protests in Australia in affiliation with Black Lives Matter. At Platz der Republik, directly in front of the Reichstag, the organisers had set up a small but effective sound system, consisting of a self-powered speaker on wheels, above which was raised an Aboriginal flag. Coincidentally, the colours of the Aboriginal flag are also those of the flag of the Bundesrepublik. A placard proclaiming ‘Stop Adani’, a mining giant planning set to build one of the world’s largest coal ports on the Great Barrier reef, was strapped to the bamboo flag pole. Two soundbwoys (soundboize, to be gender non-specific?) hunched behind the speakers, fiddling with smart phones and wireless microphones shielded from the light rain under a lime green umbrella.

The ad-hoc quality of this installation was reminiscent of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. The make-shift embassy was first established under a beach umbrella on the grounds in front of Parliament House in 1972 by a group of young activists, many of whom were part of the Black Theatre in Redfern, Sydney. Artist Richard Bell, who is of that generation claims, it is possibly the first and longest-standing piece of durational performance art in Australia. So it seems apt that its envoy in Berlin would be compact, portable, and also expandable—taking up space as material (flag) and as sound; piquing my interest in sound as ‘public address’ in making space, and indeed in taking space.

A small crowd lingered on from a rally for gender justice and trans rights that had just taken place on the other side of the Platz. When given the OK by the police, the organisers turned on the music, signalling that the demonstration would soon begin. I was curious to observe how music calls people together; sounds out, signals, perhaps interpellates and certainly corrals those gathered into a temporary attentive community. The music that came out of the speaker was a track that I could not name, or could not honestly say that I had heard before, but was nevertheless familiar. A thumping four-on-the-floor dance rhythm underpinned a swirling didgeridoo or yidaki sample, that mingled in the same frequency range of a looped sample of people chanting in a language I cold not recognise. The track was punctuated by a startling sample of a kookaburra laughing, quantized to the beat the bird call rings the alarm, like police sirens might do on productions composed of more ‘urban’ sound palettes. It’s a kind of music I associate with ‘bush doofs’; outdoor dance parties often held in remarkable and often secret locations in Australia. Part of cultural phenomena I associate with movements that emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s like ‘Reclaim the Streets’, psy-trance parties (often organised by Israeli expats who had spent some time after their compulsory military service decompressing in Goa) and Rainbow Festivals, alongside blockades such as Jabiluka. It’s a sound that on reflection brings together a number of interests that have informed my politics; right to the city activism, Aboriginal land rights and anticolonial activism, Blak and Green solidarity and psychedelic hedonism (and associated interests such as neuroplasticity, trauma and transformation).

I was video-documenting the event at the Reichstag, and some days later Shazaamed the track, turning up Kookaburra (2014) by the Coober Pedy University Band, a duo of Tom Wallace and William Paxton. The first release of the Animals Dancing label, it is listed under the genre of ‘tribal house’ with the endorsement of being ‘a bit too mental for me’. The Melbourne-based producers describe their collaboration as Krautback (I suppose a reference to Krautrock), so there is some sense of completion when bringing their bush aesthetics (or a simulacra of the bush) to the German (cultural) capital.

While the track brought a knowing smile to my face, and I shared some knowing glances with others at the protest, it left me wondering about its politics. Who are the voices chanting? What are they chanting? Isn’t the track ultimately a kind of kitsch — Aboriginalia?

Arguably to a DJ, such music are not songs per se, but tracks; DJ tools to be mixed and potentially subverted (depending on context). Kookaburra also brings to mind Yothu Yindi’s Treaty (Filthy Lucre remix) (1991), yet without, at least explicitly, making the same political demand. Nevertheless, here in Berlin it was put to use to call attention to Aboriginal rights and ongoing colonial genocide.

Thinking about it further brought up a memory of a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs with some friends from an inner-city warehouse community. We bought a second-hand station wagon and drove for three days west and then north, where we met up with some friends just south of Uluru. We transferred across to a fleet of ‘troopies’, former army-service four-wheel-drives, and drove to the edge of the Simpson desert, where three states meet. Amongst the crew were Izzy and Marc from activist hip-hop outfit Combat Wombat. I learned on that trip that Izzy and Marc first attempted to escape Melbourne in a reconditioned army tank powered on bio-diesel. Their second album Unsound System (2005) was recorded on the road using solar-power.

One night, it might have been a full moon, we camped out near a water hole and danced to rock ‘n roll under a desert sky. Chuck Berry and Little Richard blared out from the troopie’s speakers, and probably not so far from a US military base. The vehicle was parked on a road of loose pebbles, which we kicked up as we danced. They would scatter and collide, sparking off each; bright, brilliant flashes about the troopie’s twin beams of light.

To think further about DJing as a political practice, I want to turn attention to Berlin-based ‘post-club’ producer Ziúr, and specifically a mix from the 2018 Soft Centre Festival at Casula Powerhouse in Sydney. Clearing the space with a sequence of juddering digital noise and tweaked urban field recordings, Ziúr then raises the voice of actress Rosalie Kunoth-Monks (star of Jedda (1955)) lifted from John Pilger’s documentary Utopia (2013), punctuating the elder’s jeremiad with bursts of arrhythmic digital percussion.

Ziúr’s mix points to issues for further investigation concomitant with the ‘decolonial turn’ in art and about curatorial practice as activism. Are such practices another trend of aestheticising or performing politics, including discursive trends, or evidence of the politicisation of the arts. If so, towards what ends?

Black Power / White Noise

I used to daydream about releasing a 7″ vinyl record split between a free noise band I infrequently play in, Antipan, and the Aboriginal ‘postcolonial death metal’ band Dispossessed. Antipan is made up of a group of settlers in so-called Australia (white and first and second generation immigrants) that emerged out of Sydney’s improv/experimental music scene around 2004. Dispossessed were labeled as ‘Fanon’s children’ by Daniel Browning, the long-standing host of AWAYE! on Australia’s Radio National. The band have described themselves as as ‘vessels carrying our ancestor’s wrath, sorrow and vengeance’ and as a platform for a wider movement of Aboriginal resistance and struggles for justice. While Antipan arguably take great pleasure in loud, unbridled sound. These bands have little in common in terms of life experience and are positioned differently along the matrix of settler-colonialism, but they both extend a genealogy of punk rock, hardcore and metal. Given the uncompromisingly sensibilities of several influential groups in these genres, I imagine that our release would be a material-sonic testament to anticolonial solidarity.

At the risk of over-emphasising binaries, my fantasy split 7″ raises a number of ideas concerned with sound: signal/noise, meaning/message (medium), didactics/aesthetics, which lead me to think about noise in relation to politics.

Tuesday 2 June 2020 was declared ‘Black Out Tuesday’ by USA workers in the music industry, ‘a moment of solidarity that unites the music industry against racism, injustice and inequality experienced by the Black community’ according to a statement on Soundcloud.

While many on social media replaced their profile pictures with black squares, others on were critical of the initiative, claiming that social media was a crucial source information for those resisting racism and fascism in the USA. There were also concerns that as people uploaded black squares they were using the hashtags associated with the Movement for Black Lives and thus obfuscating the flow of important information.

A surprising intervention came from legions of K-Pop fans, who over the week of protests and uprisings following the public lynching of George Floyd, refrained from Tweeting not insignificant news about their idols, such as the release of BLACKPINK’s collaboration with Lady Gaga, Sour Candy. Instead, they turned their social media savvy to take on those opposed to Black Lives Matter (eg #whitelivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter) and went on to flood US police and FBI channels had called for evidence of the protestors’ violence with K-pop content. Music scholar and critic Josh Kun described these actions as an act of solidarity and acknowledgement of the influence of Black performers on Korean popular music.

On Saturday 6 June 2020 a anti-racist gathering occurred at Alexanderplatz, Berlin, promoted as a ‘silent protest demo’. In the morning I was arranging to meet with friends from the Black Earth climate justice collective, who were critical of the premise of the demonstration given that Black people had been silenced for centuries and they had no intention of suppressing their outrage. Soon after I received this pamphlet from another friend:

Noise demos, casserolado … Noise can be thought of as dissonance, an undesirable or disagreeable sound that must be filtered out from the message (as medium) in order to discern meaning. Noise might also be that which is not ‘on message’, drawing attention to the affective, material and textural qualities of what is being announced. Improvised noise as dissonance — dissensus — is arguably an opening; an attempt to break into an experience that is not predetermined. Free noise is potentially liberating, uninhibited by the strictures of formalised music or what is recognisably organised sound. Free noise might seem out of control, yet it can also be purposeful.

As I write, I am thinking about a report describing members of a Latinx punk band Vandalize, who mounted a generator, drum kit and guitar and into the back of a pick-up truck to play a ‘literal soundtrack for the oppressed’ during Black Lives Matter protests in downtown LA.

I’m also reminded of Steve Reich’s tape collage Come Out (1966), built from a four second loop taken from hours of recordings of interviews and testimonies about the Little Fruit Stand Riot in Harlem, New York, 1964. The incident occurred when a group of school children started to throw around the spilled contents from an overturned fruit stand. The vendor whistled for them to stop, alerting the police who allegedly descended viciously upon the children. Daniel Hamm, an eighteen-year-old local Black resident intervened upon hearing the children’s screams, as recalled in a 1966 report filed by James Baldwin:

…we heard children scream. We turned around and walked back to see what happened. I saw this policeman with his gun out and with his billy in his hand I like put myself in the way to keep him from shooting the kids. Because first of all he was shaking like a leaf and jumping all over the place. And I thought he might shoot one of them.

Hamm and another Black resident Wallace Baker were taken to a police station for their efforts to stop the violence, where groups of police took shifts to beat them for several hours. It is Hamm’s voice around which Come Out is composed. Severely bruised, the police refused to take him to hospital because he was not bleeding. Hamm speaks to tape: ‘I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.’

Hamm and Wallace were eventually released, pending charges over the fruit stand riot, despite the vendor testifying they had nothing to do with it. Then ten days later, Hamm alongside five other Harlem youth were charged with the murder of Margit Sugar, a local used-clothing merchant. The group became known as the Harlem Six and Hamm served nine years despite a ‘paucity of evidence’, according to Andy Beta in his essay marking the 50th anniversary of Come Out.

Beta notes that despite the Civil Rights movement in US being one of the biggest issues of the time, Reich by his own admission ‘wasn’t doing anything about it really’. By chance he was contacted by a civil rights activist, Truman Neslon, who had recorded interviews with the Harlem Six and their mothers for a book, The Torture of Mothers (1965), to raise awareness about their case. Nelson asked Reich to edit a story out of the recordings to played at a benefit, which Reich agreed to do pro bono on the proviso that he would be able to use the recordings for his own compositions.

I keep re-reading this paragraph from Beta’s text, in which he asks Reich:

Was Come Out made as a piece of agitprop? ‘I think a lot of ‘political pieces’ are, to put it kindly, a waste of time,’ Reich says. ‘If it’s a really good piece of music, then the political purpose to which it’s put is betrayed by the sense in which music will just vaporize, and the theme will vaporize along with it.’

I’ve long been a fan of Reich’s piece and much of his oeuvre, yet there is something about his sentiments expressed in Beta’s essay, also published in 2016 in the midst of struggles to counter anti-Blackness, that makes me feel uncomfortable; that Black pain is the source for white/non-Black production and consumption and as the material upon which we leverage our careers. I’m disturbed by Reich’s claim that good music ‘vaporizes’ any political purpose to which it may be put, although as Beta emphasises immediately after, the history and context in which Come Out was made is often acknowledged by those who cite, sample or refer to it in their own practices.

Reich describes to Beta how Come Out was received as ‘pass-the-hat music’ when premiered at a benefit for the Harlem Six at Manhattan Town Hall:

I don’t think people paid a great deal of attention to the music. They just thought it was some kind of funny sound effect that was atmospheric to get them to contribute. It wasn’t a concert situation at all!

Arguably Come Out is the piece that broke Reich as an artist and has become a canonical work of process music and minimal art, yet Reich’s recollections make me wonder more about how music, sound, noise, performance, reception and discourse produce publics who perceive events in different ways. To me Come Out is not so much proof of good music ‘vaporizing’ political intent, but rather raises issues about historicisation (and specific bias or privileged perspectives that I could label ‘white noise’).

Beta concludes his essay by paraphrasing Reich discussing Picasso’s mural Guernica (1937), which depicts the bombing of a Basque village during the Spanish Civil War: ‘Good art preserves the stuff it’s about.’

Again this idea of preserving, embalming, fossilising history strikes me as quite odd, when police violence continues to shapes the lives of racialised people today. For me, Come Out serves as a portal into the Little Fruit Stand Riot and the case of the Harlem Six that it draws from, and the contesting understandings of this history. It rides on the political momentum of the Civil Rights movement, the ‘long hot summer of 1967’ and vividly bursts into the present as I read Baldwin’s words:

The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.

Come Out viscerally catapults Hamm’s voice into whatever situation it is being played in. I also note that Bexta managed to contact the now elderly Hamm who declined to comment for his commemorative essay. Bexta observes that the Harlem Six, once a significant flashpoint for the civil rights movement has disappeared from ‘popular culture’, yet Come Out still resounds; according to the music scholar Sumanth Gopinath as its ‘most prominent historical memorial’. Might the history of Daniel Hamm and the Harlem Six outlive Reich’s hagiography or will they remain irrevocably entwined?