Small Grains of Sound, Light, and Racism

Small Grains of Sound, Light, and Racism

Musing on the work Granularasismus by Ariel William Orah and Nindya Nareswari Bilawa Adi Respati

By Bilawa Adi Respati

A package of acoustic quanta, very short in its duration, tend to challenge our hearing perception: such a sound phenomenon we call a sound grain. Parallel to this is the package of electromagnetic radiation energy which we call photon: a phenomenon of the transmitted light. The granular sound, with its distribution of a grain in time, the nature of it’s sound wave, and the envelope that shapes it forms the totality of our sonic experience; the dispersed ray with its changing projection, shapes, temperatures, color, and the perceived sensation when it arrives on our retina: contemplating these physical interactions is my way of enjoying this work of Ariel and Nindya.

But the work is imbued with another type of contemplation from their side: the intricate granularity of racism. What seemingly meaningless small particles of sound or light when given a structure and a medium of projection may create complexities of sound textures and fascinating geometries; a small racial remark, harmless aversion due to a stereotype, given a power structure and an object of hate projection create a circle of suffering and an impression of lasting conflict. Racial discrimination may have its root on granular acts of racism that creep slowly in to our mind, determining our action beyond our consciousness.

Ariel and Nindya, coming from Indonesia, experienced diversity and its consequences. Inside their homeland, ethnic sentiments exist. They experienced both the position of the subject as well as the object of such a sentiment. After arriving in Germany, their awareness of those small sentiments – particle – got broader as they experienced the harsh nature of racial discrimination. However, I think it is wrong to think that Germany an sich is unwelcoming; it is wrong to think that Indonesia faked its face of tolerance: when it comes to discrimination and injustice, very often we find ourselves before a system of hate. How can we make sense of such a system and survive its wrath? What kind of strategy that we can use?

Ariel’s strategy is to understand and to accept his own phase of experiencing racial discrimination: a phase of shame, confusion, and anger. Following the news about the death of George Floyd, he contemplated on his own experience and composed his work on an ICE train between Hamburg and Berlin. Coming from another country to become a resident of a foreign one, it is his difference with the surrounding realities and the difficulty of building connection due to this difference which made him experience some of this racial discrimination. 

Instead of a forced form of cultural and societal integration, Ariel appeals for intercultural understanding (and therefore interracial togetherness): a feast of diversity based on empathy and mutual humane acknowledgment. His sound composition might reflect these two sides of him: on one side is his fiery energy as a response to systems of hate, while on the other side his hope for an empathy-driven society acknowleding cultural diversity.

Nindya’s personal experience suffered in twofold nature: not only that of racial discrimination but also that of gender. Becoming a woman of color is certainly difficult. She not only suffers from racial injustice, but has experienced the pressure of being a woman. Her journey is shown symbolically in her work. Starting from a similar phase of shame and anger, she fell into a crisis of identity and the masking thereof: an unavoidable consequence of the social pressure she experienced. Both as a victim and subject, she recognizes the grain of unconscious racism that creeps into the mind.

After such a phase of acceptance, Nindya’s light play shines an iris of various perspectives: that racial and gender discrimination, as a system of oppressing ideas, should be faced with different perspectives other than hate. Is it not that a system of hate feeds on hate? A play of color spectrum to symbolizes racial diversity and the diversity of voice; the selection of warm color to tell two different narratives of hate and hope; Nindya’s strategy is that of light dispersion: to achieve the pureness of light, one must acknowledge the variety of a color spectrum. To her, this is the call to say that every human has the right to be valid, to acknowledge, and to live humanely. 

Kevin Boyle in his introduction to the Dimensions of Racism said that “racism and anti-racism is first a battle of ideas.” If it is a battle of ideas, let us be mindful of what kind of ideas that we let grow in our minds. In my opinion, the play of sound grain and light particles that Ariel and Nindya offer us a start. To contemplate the danger of the grain of racist thoughts, pave way for the education of mind thereof, to promote diversity and intercultural understanding: we all have a role in this battle of ideas. Let us, in our humbleness and sincerity, join this good cause.

Bilawa Adi Respati

Published by

Ariel Orah

Ariel Orah

Ariel William Orah is a Berlin-based Indonesian artist who explores themes related to identity, memory, and scarcity. He fancies the durability of homo sapiens and the fragility of the machines. He is working with variety of media, ranging from sonic and other multi-sensory performances, physical and interactive installations, and moving and/or still images. He co-founded an empathy driven artist collective L-KW , Bandung-based progressive rock band “Vincent Vega”, and Indonesian gastronomy initiative SOYDIVISION.BERLIN. Selected works included commissioned installation for Tanz im August Festival Berlin (2016), film-music scoring for “Deeper High”- Germany (2018), CTM Festival Music Maker Hacklab 2020, solo album “Scarcity” (2017) and “WIM” (2018) under alias ravenative.