Ultra-red (Dont Rhine & Robert Sember)

“What did you hear?”

Abstract: For 20 years, Ultra-red members have work closely with activists, organizers, artists, and cultural workers committed to a range of struggles and accountable to diverse communities. We are regularly asked why we privilege sound as the object of inquiry over other mediums and forms, and why we emphasize listening as a political practice. The first question points to an interest in the phenomenological qualities and aesthetic operations particular to sound while the second question often presumes that listening is limited to reflection and therefore not central to doing politics, which privileges speech and action. In this presentation we take up the questions “why sound?” and “why listening?” in reference to specific investigations and theoretical propositions within the fields of sound art and music and particular histories and practices of listening within political movements. This exposition will raise and respond to a further set of questions concerning sound’s relevance to materialist politics. How is a political listening of liberatory organizing reflective, analytical, and present in direct political action? To help define these questions, we draw from Ultra-red’s two decades of investigations, specifically the current School of Echoes initiative, launched in 2009. This long-term, multi-site investigation into collective listening procedures to support community organizing is predicated on a shift from composing sound to organizing listening. The central practice of School of Echoes is the formulation and testing of protocols to organize collective listening, beginning with the questions, “What did you hear?” and “How did you listen?”

Additional resources: Ultra-red, “Practice Sessions,” three-part video and PDF workbook

Bio: Ultra-red is a sound art collective founded in 1994 by two Los Angeles AIDS activists. The collective’s current 12 members work as organizers and educators with community-based organizations and social justice movements in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. www.ultrared.org

Dont Rhine co-founded the sound art collective Ultra-red in 1994. As an AIDS activist since 1989, he has been involved in ACT UP Los Angeles (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and Clean Needles Now, recently renamed Los Angeles Community Health Project. He has lectured extensively at art schools across the United States and Europe and is faculty co-chair at Vermont College of Fine Arts where he has been a part-time instructor since 2007. He was a fellow with the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 1994-1995 and with the UCLA Community Scholars Program in 2000. He received his MFA from UCLA in 2006. He received mid-career artist fellowships from the California Community Foundation in 2007 and from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs in 2010. He and fellow Ultra-red member, Leonardo Vilchis, are currently research fellows with the Social Practice Art Research Center at UC Santa Cruz.

Robert Sember is a member of the international sound-art collective, Ultra-red. For 20 years, Ultra-red has investigated the contribution experimental sound art can make to political organizing. Robert brings to his work with Ultra-red training in cultural studies and medical anthropology. His ethnographic research in the US and South Africa has focused on governmental and non-governmental service sectors with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment concerns. He currently teaches at The New School’s Eugene Lang College in New York City. He was the recipient of a fellowship in 2009-2010 from the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School.