A feminist activist project, Women’s Labor repurposes domestic tools to become new musical instruments. Using embedded technologies, these domestic-tools-turned instruments are explored in interactive installations, commissioned compositions, and performances. Traditionally relegated to the private sphere, we interrogate domesticity through public engagement and performative spectacle.
The new instruments are based on laundering tools that highlight gender performativity through clothing. The first instrument featured in installation/performance is Embedded Iron, based on an early-20th century wooden ironing board and antique iron. Both the public and musicians can “iron” fabrics, including their own pieces of clothing, to make music.
Using spectroscopy and machine learning, the Embedded Iron has a color-sensing ability—‘seeing’ the color of the fabric to play different timbres. The iron’s placement on the XY-axis of the ironing board determines pitch using LIDAR and ultrasonic technology.
The Embedded Iron is an Embedded Acoustic Instrument which means it includes all necessary components for performer interaction, data-mapping, synthesis, and sound generation in a single self-contained body. A Raspberry Pi, speaker and a transducer are attached to the underside of the wooden ironing board acting as a resonator. Because it is not dependent on computers or speakers that are used for other tasks, it gains more agency and identity.
• DATES: Aug 28 – Oct 31
• PERFORMANCE: September 18, 2021
• LOCATION: The Workings of Media [art and artists] at the Harvestworks Art and Technology House. Building 10a, Nolan Park, Governors Island
The Embedded Iron is both a stand-alone, participant-driven installation as well as a robust, virtuosic instrument for new compositions. In the installation, the public is invited to iron different gendered clothing as well as bring personal items of clothing to iron as sonic meditations on housework. Democratizing and de-naturalizing housework as belonging exclusively to women, people from all walks of life engage musically with domestic activities. The movement-sonic experience foregrounds invisible domestic labor and disrupts the audience’s preconceived notions about gendered norms, provoking reflection upon their own house-working roles in relation to others in the installation space.
New Composition and Performances
Two works that have been written for four Embedded Irons will be performed on September 18, 2021:
Housework Lock (her) Down (2021) by Jocelyn Ho and Margaret Schedel by highlights the unequal burden of housework and expectations on women that have been especially spotlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. We explore the gestures and frustrations of housework, elicited by the different gesture-sound mappings of items of clothing. Text chosen from oppressive 19th-century marriage manual are mapped to a special “white apron” for ironing. While the text may seem ludicrous and outdated, the intentions behind the text is still eeriely prevalent today. The interaction and listening between the players are an intersection between choreographic gestural performance and Deep Listening Practice, inspired by Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations (1974) for ♀ Ensemble as a continuation of her feminist creative work through music activism. Housework Lock (Her) Down has had telematic performances at Nownet Arts Conference, the UCLA Music Performance Studies Today Symposium, and will appear in Women and Music Journal, vol. 25 (2021).
Newly commissioned multi-movement work called Ladan, by Niloufar Nourbakhsh and Chelsea Loew explores the various relationships that people develop with domestic work/chores depending on their upbringing, societal expectations, and their relationship with others in their home. Domestic work is often a “labor of love” or a resented task. This work not only focuses on the purely positive or negative aspects, but also on the “grey area” that exists for many. The composer’s mother, for example, studied physics and had aspirations to become an architect in Iran one year before the revolution. Circumstances after the revolution prevented her from continuing her education and having a career, though her personal life was able to blossom into marriage and motherhood. Even though she was robbed of building her own identity outside of being a wife and mother, she was able to find a way to show affection towards her loved ones through housework. Though the circumstances forced her into being a housewife, she was able to find contentment and love with what she had through family.
While public policies have made strides in promoting workplace gender equality, women continue to shoulder the majority of unpaid domestic work in opposite-sex households. Women’s Labor strives to challenge persistent gendered social norms through musical instruments, music making, and performance.
Jocelyn Ho- Creative Director, UX/Sound designer, composer
Jocelyn Ho’s artistic practice involves the exploration of the relationship between sound, bodily gesture, and culture, as well as the rethinking of the classical music genre through multimedia technologies, inter-disciplinarity, and audience interactivity. She directs inter-disciplinary performance projects involving collaborators from vastly different fields. Ho is the artistic director and performer of the sold-out music-art-tech concert project Synaesthesia Playground, in which she leads fifteen composers, visual artists, technologists, and fashion designers from all around the world to create an interactive, multimedia experience. Her ongoing project Women’s Labor that interrogates domesticity through sound installations and performance has won the Hellman Fellowship and Harvestworks Residency, and has been featured at the UCLA Art|Sci Gallery, ISEA 2020, the 2020 New Interfaces for Music Expression Conference, the 2019 Alliance of Women in Media Arts and Technology Conference, and CCRMA at Stanford.
As an internationally-acclaimed award-winning pianist, Ho is a Steinway Artist, and her ground-breaking concert programs have taken her to both traditional and unconventional performances spaces around the world including Radio France, the Sydney Opera House, Berlin’s Radialsystem V, the Melbourne Recital Centre, New York Symphony Space, Spectrum NYC, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Spotify’s NYC Headquarters, NSW Parliament House, Victorian Governor’s House, and the Boston Isabella Gardner Museum. Ho’s compositions have been featured internationally, including in France, Germany, Australia, and the USA. Her most recent works have been featured at the NYC Electroacoustic Music Festival, Stony Brook Faculty Art Exhibition, and the University of Florida Art Gallery. As a performing scholar, Ho has published and presented papers at international conferences in the area of performance analysis, embodiment theory, Debussy studies, and mathematics and music. Ho is an Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at UCLA.
• KEY COLLABORATORS
Margaret Schedel- UX/Sound designer, composer, technical consultant
With an interdisciplinary career blending classical training, sound/audio data research, and innovative computational arts education, Margaret Anne Schedel transcends the boundaries of disparate fields to produce integrated work at the nexus of computation and the arts. She has a diverse creative output with works spanning interactive multimedia operas, virtual reality experiences, sound art, video games, and compositions for a wide variety of classical instruments and custom controllers. She is internationally recognized for the creation and performance of ferociously interactive media. Her research focuses on gesture in music, the sustainability of technology in art, and sonification of data; she co-authored a paper published in Frontiers of Neuroscience on using familiar music to sonify the gaits of people with Parkinson’s Disease. She serves as a regional editor for Organised Sound and served as an editor for the open access journal Cogent Arts and Humanities. As an Associate Professor of Music with a core appointment in the Institute at Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University, she serves as the co-director of computer music and is the Chair of Art while teaching computer music composition at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the co-founder of www.arts.codes, a platform and artist collective celebrating art with computational underpinnings.
Robert Cosgrove — engineer/fabricator/performer for Embedded Iron
Rob Cosgrove is a percussionist, composer, and technologist interested in creating situations for embodied sounding. His works explore the feeling of a sound as a tactile, visual, and visceral entity by investigating the peripheries of sonic experience and the ways these contexts affect our perception. Recent projects include an interactive robotic installation that morphs remote users’ inputs through artificial intelligence, a gesture-controlled instrument that allows for real-time composition by a dancer, and a four-hour telematic radio broadcast and sound sculpture. Over the last year, Rob has received the SUNY PACC Prize for Performing Arts, Creation, and Curation to commission and record 10 new pieces for electroacoustic ensemble, a seed grant by the Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation for continued research in Music Information Retrieval, and a USArtists International Grant for a European tour in Fall 2021. Rob has performed/exhibited at Fridman Gallery (New York), Eastern Bloc (Montreal), National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), DOX Center for Contemporary Art (Prague), KM28 (Berlin), and OZ Arts (Nashville). Rob is the current Artist-In-Residence at Practice Gallery (Philadelphia) and Technical Director for Yarn/Wire and Ensemble Decipher. He has a Doctorate of Musical Arts (Percussion Performance) from Stony Brook University.
Omkar Bhatt —engineer/fabricator for Embedded Iron
Omkar Bhatt is a computer scientist and researcher with a focus in machine learning, data science, visualization and human computer interaction. His current work focuses on blending various computer science concepts with music, experimenting with algorithmic composition and generative music, alongside integrating them with available Digital Audio Workstations for better accessibility. In 2020, Omkar alongside two composers received a seed grant from the Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation; their work combines artificial intelligence applications such as computer vision and machine learning to identify gestures from a dancer’s live performance to produce generative music. His previous work around music includes developing custom mappings to a virtual MIDI keyboard with focus on better human computer interaction. With interest in game development, he has worked on building a galaxy adventure game in VR, to designing a framework for text-based browser based games. With previous industry experience in data analysis, he has worked on projects to mapping NYC’s night life with its safety and also created a system to calculate and rank happiness by countries. Bhatt is also interested to understand the social impact due to the current state of computers and technology. Bhatt is currently completing a Master degree in Computer Science at Stony Brook University.
Matthew Blessing- engineer/fabricator for Embedded Iron
Described as “stark” by WNPR and “darkly lyrical” by the New York Times, a winner of the Second International Hildegard commission award, a 2019 recipient of Opera America’s Discovery Grant, and a Finalist for Beth Morrison Projects Next Generation competition, Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s music has been performed at numerous festivals and venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center. A founding member and co-director of Iranian Female Composers Association, Nourbakhsh is a strong advocate of music education and equal opportunities. She is currently a Teaching Artist at Brooklyn Music School, an adjunct faculty at Molloy College, and a co-director of Peabody Conservatory Laptop Ensemble. Niloufar holds a doctoral degree from Stony Brook University and regularly performs with her Ensemble Decipher.
Composer/performer Chelsea Loew is a Fulbright research grant recipient in composition and is Composer-in-Residence for the Taylor Festival Choir. Her work is emotional and personal and often explores the relationship, both constructive and damaging, between language, communication, and intended expression. Her music has been performed by Chór Narodowy Forum Muzyki, Yarn|Wire, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, members of Talea Ensemble, Popebama, Tony Arnold, and others. Festivals featuring her music include Sacrum Profanum at Play Kraków, the Composer’s Conference at Brandeis, the National SCI Composers Conference, the Ball State New Music Festival, New Music on the Point, the Oregon Bach Festival, Southern Division ACDA, and Piccolo Spoleto. As a performer, Chelsea is a member of the modular, technologically-focused experimental music group Ensemble Decipher and a core member of the Taylor Festival Choir. She holds degrees from Stony Brook University (Ph.D.), Eastman School of Music (M.A.), and College of Charleston (B.A.).
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