Sharmi Basu – Audium Listens S2E1
Carlino Intro (0:00): Welcome to Season 2 of Audium Listens. This season, we’re sharing some exclusive interviews from the artists-in-residence of our annual residency show Audium: New Voices. Tune in to hear from Alex Abalos, Sharmi Basu, and Ronald Peabody about what brought them to Audium, how they’ve evolved their practices during the residency, and what they’ve created for this space. My name is Carlino Cuono, and I’ll be your host for these conversations.
This episode, we’ll be hearing from Sharmi Basu about their pathway through political organizing to queer brown punk noise, about their focus on decolonizing sound, and about the complexity of care work in their communities that inspires their work.
Carlino (1:00): So I’m here with Sharmi. Um.. and, uh… Yeah, Sharmi. Can you just share a little bit about, um, I guess your background and how it relates to sound, guess. Kind of where you’re from, um, when you first got involved with the sonic arts, and kind of chart some of the points that led you here to the, um, Audium sound residency.
Sharmi Basu (1:24): Yeah… um, I am from the Bay Area – I was born and raised in the Bay Area, so I’ve always been here. Um, I think growing up I felt really, um, I felt a lot, and I felt a lot of, um, emotion and, like, not a lot of – I didn’t have a lot of freedom, you know? And for me, like, music was definitely a refuge. It was a space for me to kind of exist and daydream and, like, think about things outside of myself, you know? Um, especially kind of like growing up in, like, the late 90’s/early 2000’s of, like, hyper-misogynist, hyper-homophobic, you know, like, ye-yeah, capitalism, the beginning of, like, influencer lifestyle, you know?
Um, I went to Davis and worked at the radio station there for many years and, um, it was, like, amazing. There were so many bands that would come through. It was like this amazing place that people would stop to play shows, and so we had just so much access to, like, really cool music that was coming through. So, yeah, I worked in the radio station, I started playing music, me and my friend in that scene and the Davis/Sacramento scene were like some of the only women making experimental music at the time, and then, um, you know, I was probably one of the few, you know, not man people of color, you know, in that scene. And so, from there, you know, life was hard… I was really into political organizing. Um, I was like really heavily involved in this, um, student movement – the UC student movement – um, and then also got really involved with, like, Occupy Oakland, and, um, there was like a lot of, like, feminist organizing going on there and that was also, like, highly linked to the music scene, I think. Um, and again, like, this kind of, like, experimental music scene. Like, people, you know, doing whatever with whatever they have.
Carlino (4:06): Mhm.
Sharmi (4:06): I somehow got into Mills from just, like, being like a weird noise-noisy punk and, um got my MFA and, like, worked with Pauline Oliveros and Fred Frith and Roscue Mitchell, and all these, like, amazing, um, prolific artists – Maggi Payne, um, and… but there, I found, like, again, kind of like a lot of distaste for, like, the environment I was in. Like, both in the noise scene in Oakland and at Mills, where I was like “why is always like these white dudes who are like all obsessed with John Cage, who was a racist?”
And so, um, I really focused my time there on like this, like, decolonizing sound, um, idea, I guess, and, um, was trying to, like, really organize with, like, the other folks of color I-I went to school with there, and also like the other folks of color within my experimental music community, which was also, like, very queer and very trans. And so, S.B.S.M. – which was like this hardcore noise band – they, um, were, like, my very good friend and also, um, you know, a huge influence of mine, and like, we went on tour together and we were, like, this, like, you know, queer, brown, like, punk, noise situation that was, like, traveling through Texas and through, you know, Tennessee, and through all these places and just, scared, and, like, didn’t know (laughs) what we were doing, and also had really bad imposter syndrome and, like, you know, some of them could, you know, like, barely work a microphone (laughs) or whatever-you know?
The other thing that comes with, like, having, you know, non-Western, (sighs) um, upbringing, I think – or, like, non-Western culture that you’re drawing from is, like, there’s like this fetishization that comes with it that, you know… So It’ll be like, “oh, like, Indian music, the sitar, like, drone, like all this stuff”, and then it’s like well where’s the- like, there’s still – there’s actually people in India and there’s people from the Diaspora who are doing all this weird stuff and it’s still related to, like, our culture, or it’s still related to our struggle, or, like, whatever, you know? So I think just kind of, like, creating like a bigger lens and trying to, like give more resources to folks, that, like, was kind of my journey.
Carlino (7:35): Yeah. I guess, kind of just to talk a little more about your-your work, um, maybe both in the context of Audium and beyond, uh, what are, like, some of the key aspects of your sound these days? Um…
Sharmi (7:51): I mean, I think right now I.. I definitely am kind of in a space where I’m more interested in, like, world building than I necessarily am on, like, what type of sounds or what the source of the sound is to make that world, you know? Like, some of the things, um, in Audium are, like, there’s terrible Google Voice recordings of, like, people’s apologies, for instance. Um, and then there are like intense max patches making, you know, all sorts of fun, like, electronic sounds. And there’’s, um, you know, like, samples of, like, a-again, like, a phone recording of, like, a sample of, like, me at the zoo or something like that, you know? So there’s like a wide palette… Um, I think in like the past few years I’ve thought a lot about, I think, just being kind of part of a greater arts community and thinking about, like, equity and, like, accountability a lot. Um, and just like safety for, you know, queer, transgender, nonconforming people, safety for people of color, sa-safety for women – women of color, um… yeah, just I, I, feel like my work has really been around, like, what is it to, like, get through conflict so we can organize? What is it to, like, heal? Like, what work do we have to do to heal, you know? And so, these pieces that I’m doing are all kind of centered around, mmm, careworkers, and carework is kind of just, like, embedded in, I think, communities that can’t rely on, like, nuclear family, you know? Um, or capitalism. And, it’s… it’s hard work and it’s thinkless work.
And so, (sign) I mean, this piece is, is a lot about… the ways that systems take advantage, like, bigger oppressive systems take advantage of this work that we have to do for each other. And then, also the necessity for us to, like build mutual aid networks and do this work for each other because we’re not gonna survive without it. Um, this kind of, like catch 22 of-of it, you know? So… yeah. This, like, sonic world I’m building, all the inspiration pieces are kind of revolved around that, you know?
Carlino (10:46): Mmm-hmm. Wow. I’m really, like, I’m excited to, to witness your work.
Sharmi (10:51): (whispers) I don’t know if it will be any good. (laughs)
Carlino (10:55): (laughs) No, I think it will be really really good. (laughs) I think it’s coming from, like, such a deep, like, caring place in your heart, so I think, um, it has all the energy it needs to-
Sharmi (11:04): Mm-hmm
Carlino (11:05): …be something, uh, important. So…
Sharmi (11:05): Mmm.hmm. Thank you, I appreciate that.
Carlino (11:10): Yeah. Maybe people can, uh, see one of the shows and, um, hear more about your experiences during the performances and, uh, I’m very excited to hear your work, so, i think after hearing you speak about it our listeners will be too, so… (laughs)
Sharmi (11:26): Cool, thank you!
Carlino (11:28): Yeah.
Carlino outro (11:48): Thanks for tuning in to listen to my short conversation with Sharmi Basu, one of the current residents in the Audium Spatial Sound residency. I’m coming away from this with a lot of new inspiration after hearing about their journey and the care for communities that motivates their work. The sounds you hear in the show today are from Sharmi’s latest release as Beast Nest, called “Sicko”. If you liked the sounds, and the ideas, come check out the show Audium: New Voices 2, which opens on February 9th and runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night until April 1st. You can find more information online at Audium.org.