fixed media including spoken word fragments from Uma Menon's poem, "The Universe, A Woman" alongside vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar harmonics, and electronics. Videography includes audio-reactive TouchDesigner code and found footage of thematic imagery. Premiered December 4, 2020 as part of the UNT Electronics Ensemble showcase
Creation and Commentary
“Dust” (2020) is a fixed audio and video piece based on the poem “The Universe, A Woman” by Uma Menon. Not only do the words of Menon’s poem evoke powerful and symbolic feminine imagery, but they strike a particular resonance with my feminist beliefs in the balance of both celebration and power of femininity and maternity. See full poem below:
They say the universe formed with one big bang but
we all know it must have a mother.
Listen to the theory of maternal relativity,
find power to expand. The blood
of the universe has turned cold in search
of its mother.
There was a time when my path was enshrined,
when you worshipped my footsteps, gravitating
towards each of my movements. Call it a galaxy.
There was a time when you savored the milk I spilled
and bottled it up like a genie for posterity to stare
and wonder at.
There was a time when you looked up at the sky
& saw only my light. You prayed to me
They say that when woman is angry
she devours the whole world.
They are wrong, of course –
she devours the entire universe.
All that is left is dust,
dust in more colors than emotions felt
when I swallow you whole.
My fingers are the pillars of creation
that give you this life. I birth the stars you sing of.
Orbit me. Feel ego dissipate into dust,
This piece represents my feminist art interest through an autobiographical lens twofold. Firstly, the words like “divinity” and “worship” and the directive voice “orbit me” exude a feminine confidence, boldness, and empowerment that I am attracted to because of my personal development in those areas. Secondly, my multimedia piece, “Dust,” created out of this poem is built upon the literal voices of women who have empowered me in my life.
I recorded 20 women reciting Menon’s poem, each with her own tone, accent, range, and inflection, as unique to her as the role she has played in my life. From my own mother, to my collegiate flute professors, to my friends and colleagues, old and new, these women have woven the fabric of my own being. To hear my own mother’s voice read Menon’s line, “the universe has grown cold in search of its mother,” carries extra meaning, just for me.
With the recorded poem recitations, I fragmented, layered, juxtaposed, repeated, and manipulated the speech patterns in service of the dubstep-inspired electronic track. This creates a collage effect while retaining the individualism of the pacing, accents, and inflections of each woman’s reading. Even layering the same word or line retains that individualism rather than becoming chant-like, had I recorded everyone speaking together, similar to the spoken chants or songs we recite together. Amidst the collective chant, the individual is lost. That may be the goal for the Pledge of Allegiance or a religious recitation in a church setting. But here, I wanted to preserve the individual voices, as a means of paying homage to the separate intersections from which we each recited these powerful feminist words. It also allowed me to reach out to women outside of Denton to participate. I got recordings from influential women in my life from Texas, Florida, Missouri, Virginia—further contributing to the multi-intersectional community I was able to sonify through the collage of their voices.
Along with the recorded spoken word and dubstep-inspired electronics, I added my own sung vocals and acoustic guitar harmonics. To emphasize the autobiographical nature of this piece even further, the acoustic guitar I played is my father’s guitar that I began playing when I was eight years old. Some of the electronic bass and effects samples were produced in Logic Pro, then I constructed, mixed, and mastered the track in Pro Tools.
The video element was created in Adobe PremierePro using a render from my TouchDesigner audio-reactive particle cloud code, originally used for “a beautiful reckoning,” with the addition of an amplitude response parameter that affects the brightness of the primary particles in direct relationship to the amplitude of the audio. This color-changing, audio-reactive, spinning particle world is used as the foundation for the visuals of my piece, “Dust,” upon which I added effects and additional found footage. I overlaid abstract female faces, lips, and eyes as well as lunar and astral imagery in juxtaposition or combination with the particle cloud. Menon’s allusions and assertions of the women’s galactic power come through not only in the title and stanza titles of the poem but also in lines like, “I birth the stars you sing of,” and “Orbit me.” The particles in the TouchDesigner code visually mapped well onto galaxy imagery, which solidified the audio, visual, and poetic connections.
I applied additional visual and aural text-painting to the words “blood” and “dust.” In Menon’s line, “the blood of the universe has grown cold in search of its mother,” I extracted multiple voices speaking the word “blood” and repeated it with varying EQ effects. In the video, I created a harsh cut to an abstract, slow-motion black and white liquid with the TouchDesigner particle cloud underlaid in an undulating blood red presence as the dynamics in the audio rise and fall.
I used a similarly abstract black and white slow-motion scene of dust particles to create a visual connection to Menon’s repetition of the word “dust” in the third and final stanza of the poem. Menon repeats the word “dust” four times—more than any other noun in the poem. This emphasis by repetition is what inspired my decision to title my multimedia piece, “Dust.”
The full list of voices heard in “Dust” includes those of the following women from my life:
Jennifer Brown, Eva Amsler, Ayça Çetin, Julia Lauren Baumanis, Eboni Johnson, Tse Nok Kiu, Adele Fuqua, Jordan N. C. Morrison, Anne Dearth Maker, Anne Linebarger, Rachel Lanik Whelan, Elizabeth McNutt, Alexandra Taggart, Jamie Leacock, Libby Reeder, Hannah Ottinger, Morgan Wareing, Christina Emanuel , and Alaina Clarice.