Week 39: Ultra-red

Hi Everyone,

This Tuesday is another event in a year-long series of weekly conversations and exhibits in 2010 shedding light on examples of Plausible Artworlds.

This week we’ll be talking with Janna Graham and Robert Sember of the sound art collective ultra-red.


Founded in Los Angeles in 1994 by two AIDS activists, ultra-red has since expanded across Europe and North America its membership of artists and activists in such social movements as struggles of migration, anti-racism, participatory community development, and the politics of HIV/AIDS. Over the years, ultra-red has developed a kind of ambient sound activism combining situationist radicalism with the sound research techniques of the acoustic ecology movement.

“Exploring acoustic space as enunciative of social relations,” as the group puts it, ultra-red develops uncompromisingly political art projects sometimes in the form of radio broadcasts, performances, installations or recordings — including two albums “Second Nature: An Electroacoustic Pastoral” (1999) and “Structural Adjustments” (2000). They have conducted “militant sound investigations” of the spaces of needle exchange (Soundtrax, 1992 – 1996), public sex (Second Nature, 1995 – 199smiley, public housing (Structural Adjustments, 1997 – 2003), resistance to global capital (Value System, 1998 – 2003), labor (Social Factory, 1997 – 2002), education (School of Echoes, 2001 – Present), anti-racism and migration struggles (Surveying The Future, 2001 – Present), and HIV/AIDS (SILENT|LISTEN, 2005 – Present). Just to round this sonic world off, the group also runs the fair-use online record label, Public Record.

The acoustic dimension is obviously constituent of any plausible, sentient world — as much as, perhaps more than the visual realm, given that we don’t have “earlids” allowing us to naturally filter sonic experience. But it is something that we have yet to really address in Plausible Artworlds. What dynamics are at work — or at play — in the relationship between acoustics and political organizing? Between conceptual art and the sonic realm? What kind of sound-based research will help us map out the acoustic space of contested spaces and favor the emergence of more plausible (art)worlds?