Audium Listens: Makana Muanga S3E2

Makana: My name is Makana Muanga. Because I’ve lived in a bunch of different places, and I’m a Black man, a lot of what I was interested in was my relationship to society. Reflecting society in opposition to society, trying to move towards society, trying to be seen, trying to see. And so, it’s really important to be a part of the New Voices because I get to interact with society from a different place, an older place, a place of knowing my place in society and knowing that I am in society. It’s also just amazing to be with this cohort of people who all have a different skill set than me and are deeply involved in the artistic community here, which is something that is exciting to see and to be like, kind of dragged towards, again, you know, that’s so that’s just great. 

Oliver: Welcome to Season 3 of Audium Listens. I’m Oliver Mills, coming to you from inside Audium Theater, on the lands stewarded by the Ramaytush Ohlone people, otherwise known as San Francisco, California. This season, I’m inviting the resident artists of the third Audium New Voices Show to share about the process of creating pieces specifically for this one-of-a-kind, immersive sound space.

Today I’ll be speaking with Makana, whose sounds you’ll hear throughout the episode.

So, will you say the title of your piece and we talk a little bit about where it came from? 

Makana: Yes. It’s Kukusanyika Pamoja. Gathering Together. It’s Swahili. And my mom was, you know a Black activist hippie back in the day. And so she named my sister Atiyah Mariama and that means gift of God in Swahili. So anyway, but the point is that it’s Swahili. Growing up there was, you know, a real connection to Swahili, like as a symbol of us. I wanted to recognize, like, my heritage by naming it in Swahili, and the gather together. Is what I’m trying to create. What I’m hoping that people take. It’s like a gathering together like churches, you know, it has a more spiritual meaning.

And so hopefully that is imparted.

Oliver: Absolutely, yeah, I can see that and it resonates with me, that desire to find fellowship through art, right? 

Makana: Yes. 

Oliver: So what about the stories that you collected needed to be said? What about the questions that are guiding your process clamored at you and said, “I need to be said right now?”

Makana: I think that right now, we’re more alienated as a country than we ever have been before. Since COVID, it’s really important that people are seeing and meeting and interacting with other humans that they don’t know, you know? As a way of, of building empathy, you know?

Oliver: Finding home in, in others, maybe.

Makana: I like that. I like that, yeah. 

Oliver: That was a thought that I, I left with, I think, after hearing your piece about what it would take to, to do that. 

How does this residency fit within the context of your other artistic work? 

Makana: I’ve always been in relationship to society. There’s just been this preoccupation of like, “What is happening in this world socially?” you know, and socially of course is politically, and you know, that’s racially, and you know, like, it’s all, it’s all the things, right? But the individual human has like some kind of spirit and that spirit shines out.

And like, what are we doing not looking at that spirit? Right? Why aren’t you looking at my spirit? You know, how come I can’t see your spirit? Right? Like this has been the preoccupation. And I think that I get to now refine that through these, really small pieces of text, like, show people’s spirits.

“Oh, hey, look, there’s a spirit there, there’s a spirit there!” And that, I think that that’s what I’m trying to do. And I, I don’t think that I would have gotten to this place without this project, without the Audium. 

Audium for sound is like City Lights for books, right? Like, this is a historic venue that comes from like a radical past and it’s still here. Yeah, like, of course that was going to be inspiring. Of course Audium was going to be inspiring, just to have that, that history behind it. 

Oliver: It feels meaningful to be witnessing you and the other artists in the cohort interweaving your threads of your artistic history with what you’re naming as, as Audium’s radical past that has continued to today.

It’s a pretty cool looking braid.

Makana: One thing that happened in the, in the very beginning in our orientation, the very first thing that we did was sit down and, and be in the space and listen to a performance. And then that happened every day. And what an amazing way to be introduced to this space, you know?

And space is like not really enough of a word for it. This is a gem in the city, and I really hope that people take more advantage of this, like, nothing like this exists.

Oliver: It’s really its own pocket dimension, I totally agree. Yeah, yeah. You’re just walking down Bush Street, you know, you walk past the Japanese restaurant, and then you end up at the corner, at the laundromat, and then you turn around and look back, and you wonder, “What’s all that wood paneling?”

Makana: Right. 

Oliver: “What does it lead to?” Right? You open the door, and then you’re somewhere completely else. 

Makana: Absolutely.

Oliver: Yeah, yeah.

Makana: Stan thought of this as like, you walk from the outside into here, and you’re in a completely different world, right? And I think that that was, that was true. That’s still true. That’s always been true. But it was true that one artist would create that world for each show. And with the New Voices, it’s three artists. So for each of our pieces, we’re creating a different world that people get to interact with through sound and visuals and vibe. 

Oliver: So what does legacy mean to you in this moment? And how maybe has that meaning changed over time for you? 

Makana: I turn 54 this year, and my mother died at 54. And I didn’t ever imagine getting past 50 and so legacy is, it’s something that is becoming more important to me as I think about leaving this place, right? 

Oliver: Congratulations on making it to, to where you are. That’s, that’s huge. I’m grateful to witness you in this moment for that.

What was the most significant challenge that you faced in your compositional process here?

Makana: This system is complicated. But then I also decided to use these gloves that are really cool. They are wireless MIDI controllers. And, and that’s great. But I had to program them completely from scratch to interact with this complicated system. And so there were a lot of technical things that were really complicated. 

Oliver: As far as the gloves go, did you know that you were going to use them when you first heard about being accepted into the cohort?

Makana: I did. I was like, “Oh, this gives me an opportunity!” because I got these gloves almost on a whim, like, like in 2020, like early pandemic. And I got them and I just didn’t do anything with them. 

Oliver: I love it. I love that Makana’s equivalent to the pair of roller skates that everyone aspirationally bought in 2020 is a pair of spatial MIDI controlling gloves that didn’t have an outlet until Audium. 

Makana: Right. And what’s amazing is last night, my eyes were not open the entire time, like, like, that’s what’s cool about the gloves. You’re like conducting, you know? Yeah.

Oliver: Yeah. Thinking about the, the malleability of sound that you’re exploring by shaping our experience with, with the gloves and with the different timbres and colors of voices that you’ve chosen to feature. I guess I’m wondering what it feels like for you to be, to be manipulating the sound in real time in this way.

Makana: It doesn’t feel like I’m flying, but it feels like I’m flying a bunch of kites at the same time with much better control than I have ever had flying a kite in actual kites. It feels like the idealized flying of several kites at the same time. 

Oliver: I love that. I absolutely love that. I’m imagining you now, and I think I will during the run of shows, as having just a bunch of sonic strings that you’re pulling taut and loosening at different times. You’re like playing on the harp of the world or something. That’s so good. Oh, wow. 

How would you describe the way you’re using the human voice in your composition? 

Makana: I’m using the human voice as a symbol: words that hopefully will evoke feelings, thoughts in the audience. I’m using very small snippets of text from a variety of people. And those should be provocative in some way. 

I was really wanting to have this be something that was about like the, dancing around of the sonic character of the music that I was creating. And it turned out that it was about the spirit, right?

Like, no, like the thing that’s leading are these, these pieces of interview. You know, that’s the focus. And they, and they just wouldn’t allow it not to be that. 

Oliver: Well, I am excited to bursting about the fact that people will soon be interacting with this world that you’ve built.

Is there anything that you would like people to listen for when they come to experience your piece?

Makana: I think I would like people to turn off their analytical brain. I don’t, I don’t want people to be focused on listening for anything. I want people to allow themselves to be taken by these thoughts that are, are, are being given to them. 

Oliver: That’s beautiful. 

Makana: Thank you. 

Oliver: I want to leave a little bit of time before we wrap up for you to express anything you’d like for listeners to know about the continuances of your arts practice, where they can find out more…

Makana: Yeah, you can check me out: Makana’s Red Artifact. And I am planning to be more in the public after this.

Like, that is something that Audium has sparked in me. It’s like: “You have to get out there more.” So yeah, so, so look out for it. 

Oliver: I hope you’ve enjoyed my conversation with Makana Muanga. His composition is available to hear exclusively at Audium through March 30th, 2024. Transcripts for this episode, as well as more information about Makana and Audium, can be found in the show notes. Thank you so much for tuning in, and if you haven’t yet, please tell a loved one about our show.

Until next time, listen deeply, listen widely, and listen with love.


Makana: I mean, I just don’t understand why, like, you know, us artsy kids and, like, the jocks don’t get along, you know? Like, we drink the same beer, you know?

Oliver: And what was the beer that you were drinking?

Makana: It was in New Jersey, so it was Moosehead. It was a pretty, like, particular kind of, we – I mean the reality of the situation is we were all preppy. 


Makana: I couldn’t see that then, but you know. 

Oliver: No Hamm’s, no PBR for you. 


Makana: Yeah.