I am using my position as guest editor for August’s The Sampler blog to investigate how intersectionality informs the identities and processes of our sound and music practices. My questions aim to center the idea of intersectional personhood and creative output.
You will find a glossary of links relating to the content of this interview at the bottom of this page.
You will also find a helpful glossary of terms relevant to this interview in a digital publication entitled ‘Women and Non-Binary Identities’ created by the educational platform Shades of Noir which is linked to at the bottom of this page.
Daniel Brathwaite Shirley is a sound, film and performance artist centering their experience and survival as a Black, trans and queer person – creating work to both archive, explore, and disrupt. A recent graduate of the prestigious Slade Art School (BA Fine Art) Daniel’s work ‘Blackzilla’ was recently shown at Tate Britain’s ‘I Want to Show You a Body’
You can find Daniel’s work here
For accompanying interview audio see here
In one sentence can you tell me who you are
I would describe myself as a black trans-femme videographer and sound engineer.
How would you describe the sound and music you make?
A lot of it is working through things I experience in my life, so it’s all about working through emotions or situations I find myself in or problems that I can’t necessarily fix and I’m trying to find a way to think about those problems – there’s no solution to these problems that I’m facing so I need to figure out how I can deal with them currently in this current state, which makes them all quite emotional. Working through them [in my work to] not continuously mull over them in my head.
How does your music express (or not express) your identity?
I feel like it expresses a lot of my identity. [In] all my lyrics I’m talking about things that have happened to me, or [that] I’m worried about happening, or who I am and who I’m wanting to be and how I’m trying to become that person. I’ve made confessions in songs and because I’ve never said them out loud making the confession in the song has made it so much easier, it’s like I needed to say this then, here and now, and there was no one to say it to, so I made this track. Often in the songs I make there are very clear sections which bleed into each other and each section is made on completely different days [reflecting] different emotions and feelings. I made a song called ‘BLL’ which stands for Black Love. And the first part is me hearing [my partner] say ‘I love you baby’ over and over again. [In the next part] I am singing about how I was never taught about Black love, how wanted to be taught about Black love but I never knew Black queer love could even exist. That has so much to do with my identity [in terms of] finding that Black people and Black queer people can love each other [despite] not knowing that was possible and being told it was never possible. I think that [my music] captures those moments.
How does your identity inform (or not) your creative process? Feel free to comment on the kinds of software / instruments / approaches / research you use.
Usually my process of working would be ‘I’m feeling a way, I need to get this down, I don’t know what I’m going to say’. I’ll often take something and chop it up, put it in [my software] find a beat within [the piece] and then say something over it. So I feel like it flows just like my identity flows, it transitions with my identity. I have a set limit of time I will work, so I have to complete [a part of the project] and export it and then I’ll take it back in [to my software] and then re-transition that track [several times] until it turns into something that reflects me.
I use Fruity Loops, Audacity [and] Adobe Premiere Pro. I use Fruity Loops because it’s immediate. It’s so hard to get timings down in Audacity when you’re making a beat and I just love that. I remember someone talking to me about resisting rhythm and how so often a Black individual is [assumed] to make Afrobeat or Trap music. I just love that there’s a resist of rhythm [within the Audacity software]. But then there’s a beat that just comes out of nowhere and it’s just a bit off time, but it’s in time to something [else]. It’s not just technology, you can treat your technology in a very particular way, in which you contextualise it within your work and you appreciate it in a way. It’s like going to a DJ-set and the DJ has contextualised their sound and where the sound is coming from – the making of their sound [as] art itself – as in I’m using this digital box, but this is more than just a digital box and these wires are more than just wires to me – so that made me really want to contextualise my sound with images. When you have an image you contextualise it with the sound that then contextualises the image – so it’s like a circle.
What question would you love to answer that I haven’t asked here?
Performing with sound is relatively new for me. I used to love the idea that I would put the sound [out] there and I wouldn’t have to perform with it. But now I’m performing with my sound and having my body in the space with it. I make karaoke videos [because] a lot of my stuff is about being buried and being non-archived and wanting to be archived, so digging is a very important part of my work. The karaoke allows that digging to happen because you’re seeing words and then you’re hearing me being overpowered by the sounds, so you may not understand exactly what I’m saying but you will see what I’m saying. I also love subtitles. I think every song should have a subtitle – I just love it.
I am compiling a ten-track playlist and would love to feature one artist / sound practitioner / band you would recommend.
I am listening to a lot of Electra right now.
Terminology Glossary (created by Shades of Noir)
The following are mentioned in this interview
Daniel Brathwaite-Shirley’s website
Daniel’s audio-visual work ‘Blackzilla’
Daniel’s Performance at Tate Britain’s ‘I Want to Show You a Body’
Daniel’s Field Recording Project at Slade School of Fine Art
Daniel’s audio-visual works
Daniel is currently listening to:
Interview produced, transcribed and edited by Rebekah Ubuntu with editorial support from Jaime Peschiera