In November 2022, Laima Leyton and Lexy Morvaridi, as InnerSwell, debuted the ambisonic live performance pLayPlAyplAY at IKLECTIK, Lambeth, London to a very specific audience: a group of kids from a local playground.
pLayPlAyplAY is InnerSwell’s restitution to the community who had not only informed the piece, but recorded it together with them. In a series of workshops throughout their 18-month residency at Gasworks, they invited young participants from the surrounding neighbourhoods to explore the playground and generate their sounds in response to objects, environment, and peers.
Informing InnerSwell’s practice is the capability of sonic experiences to allow people to expand in the space and time they inhabit, recontextualising memory and sharing the present through a newly articulated language, welcomed in its rawness and playfulness. It aims at a new occasion of understanding and acceptance of the other through means that both evade and inhabit the everyday.
Innerswell is many things: An art duo, a communal laboratory, a raving resonant box, and a political apparatus. Even with the important gains sound has made over the last decade as an art form in its own right–and not just a medium–your practice urges the occupation of the transdisciplinarity that has made sonic practices the outlier of the art world. One that remains difficult to seize through the machine of liberal cultural values. By working with methodologies that have long foregrounded the path of sonic artists, such as Deep Listening by Pauline Oliveros, you further an ethos that speaks as much about sound as about the communities it inextricably relates to, in this case, the Triangle Adventure Playground. Could we start by briefly sharing Innerswell´s understanding of transdisciplinary, collectivity and art?
In our practice we try to keep in mind that making space for others is a form of collective creativity, and in that way, the art practice can nurture social change. Our function as artists ends up being much more of creating a vessel, a container, a safe space for exchange between others and us. In this scenario, as both of us are musicians, producers, have been working with sound in other projects and have sound, music and performance as means of survival, it’s inevitable that sound becomes our starting point, but we are open to expand and explore other disciplines. It's important to remember that Lexy and I met in a very similar scenario, at the time we were both part of a delegation invited to go to Palestine to meet and find ways of supporting local artists. The ethos of InnerSwell really started there. In regards to TAP there was the idea of collective discovery of possible sounds of the environment and then of creating something together with it. It was a very playful and a free process, very alike how the kids are when using that space.
Central to our work is that creativity should be accessible to all and we see our role in InnerSwell as opening this up to as many people as possible to engage in a collective collaborative process. In our own ways the creative process and communal experience of sound has been fundamental to transcending societal realities out of our control, more often than not an outcome of colonial legacies and capitalist structures. We see the potential for individual and collective agency to be found in the creative process and sound is the access point to try and realise this radical potential through the weaving of narrative.
The process is always informed and lead by the participants we are working with - our function is to nurture a space that makes it easy for creative impulses to manifest - we are never lead by the outcome, the process will get us to what that might be, sometimes this is sonic sometimes it is not but sound is the place we start from - I think this allows for a transdisciplinary approach to organically develop. Art is process - we just facilitate this in a communal setting with the aim of sharing that collectively - this is what we call localised politics when working in the community, especially when places like TAP are under threat from staying open.
For TAP we followed the participants' lead in how they use the space and interact - this was how we started documenting, generating and playing with sound in the playground with the young people. TAP is a chaotic, energetic and playful environment - it nurtures a sense of freedom, empowerment and playfulness, encompassed by collective spirit and this became the source of the work at every stage in the process from the first sessions in the playground to the studio. With the young people we recorded sounds, we wrote sonic poems, processed field recordings, and weaved narratives always through a transdisciplinary lens.
Your comments on community and sound as a methodology of engagement strongly resonate with the idea of acoustemology; a term coined by anthropologist Steven Feld. Sound, rather than being a representation of the world, becomes world(s); it manifests community and enables social encounters. Would you tell us a little more about your creative process? Especially about how you transform a polyphonic constellation of collective-induced sounds into a performance or a sonic piece, such as the one we are listening to now. What are the criteria and what would you say is the role of music in all of this?
Thanks a lot for sharing the idea of acoustemology. When I read Feld’s term as “a sonic experience as a way of knowing” or “an accumulated set of hearing, listening and sounding practices consolidated as culture” I can relate it to our work as InnerSwell. As InnerSwell, our creative process is informed by working with community groups; we become a container of creation, guiding the participants’ discoveries and allowing space for experimentation and decision-making. From there, we position ourselves as artists becoming a big collective and making space for possible outcomes.
Music is essential to both of us, but in InnerSwell, the creative process often goes beyond music and, frequently, back to music. Music can eventually happen from weaving a blanket of sounds or it can be a tool for building narratives.
Acoustemology really resonates with how we have worked with TAP as we focused the process on the sonic engagement with the environment that the young people occupied to create a piece that embodied the cultural significance of the space. As artists we allow room for ourselves to express and explore what we have made with the groups in our own way - the aesthetic is informed by the place we both come from which is music, but it is not limited by the structure and form that is integral to music. By using music as a tool rather than a format we open up a space and dialogue that is not restricted. This also goes the other way as we anchor ourselves from getting lost in only concept by allowing ourselves to explore freely the musicality of what we have to work with. For TAP we could take what was made with the participants and work with those narratives and field recordings in a musical way in the studio, the process was still informed by the playground as we imbued the playful nature of the space in the creation process between us - we had fun in the same way they did and music allowed us to ‘play’.