Tracey Cockrell is an interdisciplinary artist cultivating a studio practice that synthesizes sculpture, experimental music & linguistic theory. Since 1998 she has been working on a number of collaborative projects, engaging with other artists, writers & musicians to compose with invented musical instruments. Her sound art has been featured in radio broadcasts on KBOO & KPFA through alternative programs such at ‘A Different Nature’ & ‘Discreet Music’ & heard in live performances at the 14th & 15th Annual Music for People & Thingamajigs Festivals in San Francisco, & the 2012 CoCA Annual in Seattle. In 2010 she mounted a collaborative exhibit, POEMOPHONE: a cacophonous collaboration & reading series at WorkSound in Portland, bringing national & international collaborators to compose & perform on her sculptural instruments. Most notably her sculptures & installations have exhibited at Boston Center for the Arts, Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine, Oakland Arts Council, the San Francisco Arts Commission, & 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,’ & Maine Public Radio’s ‘Maine Things Considered.’ Artist residencies include Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Oregon College of Art, Hewnoaks, Leland Iron Works as well as a Music USA Meet the Composer Grant for her experiments in sound & a FAIR Grant for upcoming travel research for study in India specific to the making of traditional & folk musical instruments.
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. The body, in its capacity to sense and describe, is a maker of meaning, forming postures and forming words. Language is a physical force, striking the eardrum as sound waves which our body mechanism translates into the recognizable form of words, words that ignite, entice, nurture or engulf. Words describe and identify abstract ideas and feelings making them tangible intellectually and emotionally. Words surround meaning, trace the periphery of meaning. Never existing in the same place, time or form, words remain separate from meaning and act as tools. Words shape the way we perceive and articulate meaning. Words can act to distort and disguise or to clarify and reveal. They can be abrasive and sharp, or soft and lulling, sweet, pliable or foul. Words can be piled, calipered, hung and strung, strummed, wrinkled, wet and warm, vulnerable – having to exist in a protective environment. They may be biting or gagging, extruded or extracted. They can meander, wiggle, become lodged, fill voids or be specially wrapped. There are gaps between them.
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.
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 hundred colors”. The music produced by the sarangi is believed to resemble the human voice.