Harmonic Anatomies


Historically, female (or feminised) voices have been perceived as dangerous — sounds that need to be controlled or silenced—that are unpredictable, leaky and slippery. Following historical and contemporary readings of these “leakages”, Harmonic Anatomies is an exploration into the echoes of subversive female sound in creative practice, looking to improvisation in its multiple forms as a non-hierarchal territory, a space of resistance and transgression. Working with practitioners from the fields of visual art, dance, music and writing as well as grass-root feminist activism and community organizing, this project reclaims the traces of historically unacceptable sounds & behaviours as a vital tool to connect, understand each other & process trauma.


My research takes inspiration from an essay by the composer, Pauline Oliveros, ‘Harmonic Anatomy’, exploring the strength and collectivity that can occur within womxn-only improvising. Oliveros’s essay makes a case for improvisation as powerful tool for collectivity between women; that “improvising with women, the undulating movement between chaos and form is strong and challenging, finally understanding is expressed lovingly, with respect”. My research project follows this “undulating movement”, between female sound and improvisation, using the resonances of my own creative practice and artwork to explore the ecologies of care that exist between women who improvise.


How do the systems of control placed onto the female voice reverberate into the present? How can we (re)claim subversive and unacceptable female sounds from the past and draw on them in artistic practice? What can we learn about permeability of boundaries from sounds that “expose what should be kept in”? Alan Durant describes improvisation as “a point of counter-identification against systems of control, hierarchy and subordination". If improvisation embodies this radical potential, how can female improvising be utilized as a tool of dissent and a strategy to connect and heal?





A key protagonist in my research is Baubo—often described as an old crone in Greek mythology. To comfort the goddess Demeter's inconsolable grief (over her daughter Persephone's abduction), Baubo threw her skirts over her head, exposing her genitals and shouted lewd remarks and dirty jokes. Her act worked and Demeter laughed, momentarily forgetting her loss.

Baubo’s unexpected echo to Demeter’s pain creates a jolt—a shocking refraction of emotion. In some versions of the story Baubo speaks through her sexual organs—an infinite echo between mouth & vagina—reflecting patriarchal (mis)understandings of feminised identity as closed circuit between sex & sound.


Harmonic Anatomies claims Baubo & others like her as a defiant feminist symbol, an un-youthful body unashamed of its sexuality, echoing back experiences, using ‘unacceptable’ sounds & behaviours as a tool to express that which we feel we cannot. Looking towards a feminist future, this project explores a radical territory of care in which we echo, reflect & refract to heal & learn from each other.


Harmonic Anatomies is multifaceted and has a number of different work in progress outputs so far including a solo lecture performance, an improvised group performance with accompanying moving image and I am currently working towards a substantial moving image work combining all my research.