Tracey Cockrell is an interdisciplinary artist who synthesizes sculpture, experimental music, and linguistic theory. Since 1998 she has been working on multiple collaborative projects, engaging with other artists, writers, and musicians to compose with invented musical instruments. Her sound art has been featured in radio broadcasts on KBOO and KPFA through alternative programs such as ‘A Different Nature’ and ‘Discreet Music’ and heard in live performances at the 14th and 15th Annual Music for People and Thingamajigs Festivals in San Francisco, and the 2012 CoCA Annual in Seattle. In 2010, she mounted a collaborative exhibit, POEMOPHONE: a cacophonous​ collaboration and reading series at WorkSound in Portland, bringing national and international collaborators to compose and perform on her sculptural instruments. Most notably her sculptures and installations have exhibited at Boston Center for the Arts, Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine, Oakland Arts Council, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and WorkSound in Portland, Oregon. Reviews of her work can be found in Sculpture Magazine, ArtNewEngland, the Boston Sunday Globe, WGBH tv’s ‘Greater Boston Arts,’ and Maine Public Radio’s ‘Maine Things Considered.’ Artist residencies include Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Oregon College of Art and Craft, Hewnoaks Artist Colony, Leland Iron Works as well as a Music USA Meet the Composer Grant for her experiments in sound and a Grant for travel research for study in India specific to the making of the sarangi.

She is a former Professor and Academic Dean at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Leading to her appointment as Dean in 2015, she served as Foundation Chair, Associate Academic Dean, Interim Academic Dean, and Founding Chair of the Low-Residency MFA in Visual Studies at the college. Prior to this, she taught at the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, where she served as Chairperson of the Sculpture Department and became deeply involved in collaborative teaching and student-centered learning. Her non-profit experience includes working as Manager of the “Crops of the World” garden and part of the Growing Learning Communities team in the Education Department of the University of California Botanical Garden, and as Program Director at Peralta Hacienda Historic Park in Oakland, California where she helped launch an outreach program responding to neighborhood input, the historical importance of the site, and research into models of community building to develop a living history program bringing together culture, history, the arts, and community.

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Artist’s Statement

In a way, we can describe thoughts as rhythmic pulsations, and the way that we think is to leap from one rhythmic pulsation to another to create images. My sound sculptures and installations explore the origins of language, challenge the authority of language for making meaning and invite participants to play within compositional strategies to make or disrupt meaning. I am interested in synesthesia, complex relationships between language, landscape and the subjectivity of place, self-location and psychoacoustics, and the poetic potential of the decay of language through acts of translation. My creative practice involves a synthesis of sculpture, experimental music, and feminist linguistic theory.

Currently, I am using sympathetic resonance as a metaphor and as a means of sound propagation in my work. I am exploring the intersection of nature and technology by combining various natural materials with conductive materials, such as conductive embroidery threads, to make functioning electronic speakers. Building technology in the field, making such things as ‘leaf speakers’ and ‘seed speakers’, amplifying the sounds of nature, and introducing compositions as interpretations of the landscape, I am experimenting with what natural materials make good membranes for moving air and translating digital audio files into airwaves that can be heard. In a related body of work, I have been researching and learning to play traditional and folk musical instruments that utilize sympathetic resonance. From that experience, I design and build experimental musical instruments as sculptures to be used in performance. With these experimental instruments, I engage collaborators (writers, musicians, artists) to compose and perform with me. My work is becoming more performative in nature, engaging new skills in composing, performing, and directing collaborations. Most recently I have been cultivating opportunities to perform in sound art festivals, produce audio CD/booklets, and present my work within venues that allow my work to straddle both music and visual art.

Current research:

In order to better understand sympathetic resonance, I have taken up the study of how to play the sarangi, one of the oldest & most important bowed instruments of North Indian music. The classical instrument has 35 steel sympathetic strings, which resonate with three bowed gut strings, giving it a uniquely haunting sound. The sarangi is used as an accompaniment to vocal & tabla solo recitals as well as being itself a solo instrument.

The term Sarangi is widely believed to mean “a hundred colors” indicating its adaptability to a wide range of musical styles, its flexible tunability, & its ability to produce a large palette of tonal color & emotional nuance. According to some musicians, the word Sarangi is a combination of two Persian words ‘seh’(three) & ‘rangi’ (colored). Another school of thought believes that Sarangi is Hindi for ‘of a hundred colors’ or “the voice of a hundred colors”. The music produced by the sarangi is believed to resemble the human voice.

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