Sonic Catharsis – March issue

Sonic Catharsis – March issue
Richard Kennedy, LABOUR

Curated by REIF

Richard Kennedy & LABOUR
Black Bawl

An operatic suite in 6 movements
I. overture
II. black bawl
III. Prophecy
IV. i cried / they cried
V. siren
VI. epilogue (black magic…)

Artists statements

Richard Kennedy wrote and performed the work in their studio at Peres Projects in Berlin, Germany.

“I woke up late that sunny spring morning in Williamsburg with a familiar New York rush to Port Authority. I promised to meet my sister Monae and my niece Trey in DC at The African American History Museum. Hungover and in a rush, my nerves inching closer and closer to the edge of tears —fearing that I would let my family down, sweating and out of breath… finally, I collapsed into my seat on the Megabus. I arrived at the museum and embraced my family — it felt like a kinfolk family reunion full of Black Joy, excitement, and a palpable sense of pride. Out of all the artifacts we encountered that morning, the casket of Emmett Till was the catalyst to a deeper understanding of grief and the constant fear Black mothers experience. I knew that Emmett was only 14 when an angry mob of white men murdered him, but the small casket made real the constant cycles of collective mourning; causing me to sob uncontrollably. I cried and cried, blew snot bubbles, and ugly cried some more, before promising myself to live life more intentionally. In a world that has normalized premature black death, it is crucial that we take every opportunity to celebrate these lives lost, shining light within the shadows, remaining vigilant, and fighting back to build the future.

Martha Graham tells an incredible story about a grieving mother approaching her in Brooklyn after one of her early performances of Lamentation. The mother watched her child get hit by a car and became paralyzed with grief, making her unable to cry. She found a pathway to acknowledge her emotions after witnessing Lamentation. Alvin Ailey choreographed Cry as a birthday present for his mother danced by his muse Judith Jamison. “Exactly where the woman is going through the ballet’s three sections was never explained to me by Alvin. In my interpretation, she represented those women before her who came from the hardships of slavery, through the pain of losing loved ones, through overcoming extraordinary depressions and tribulations. Coming out of a world of pain and trouble, she has found her way-and triumphed.” (Judith Jamison, “Dancing Spirit”)

Black Bawl is a meditation on grief, and a 5D collage of human perspectives reflecting universal devastation and unnecessary loss of life into an echoing Dollar Tree fun house mirror. An improvised abstraction of two masterworks that choreographed mourning — the work uses the operatic form as a vehicle to explore the tension between two dance pioneers and functions as a springboard to release. On February 24, 2022, we witnessed new mothers lose sons while the pillars of freedom and autonomy vanished as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine at the close of Black History month. Morning after Mourning, we cry, they cry, and then we all die. Black Magic has nothing to do with tragic heroes, but grief and mourning have everything to do with all of us in this race, the human race. I dream of peace and the dawn of morning, without mourning because we all deserve to live in a more gentle, compassionate, and accepting world.”

— Richard Kennedy


LABOUR composed this music using the piano of Ernst Toch while in residency at the Villa Aurora Los Angeles.

“While composing in Los Angeles at the former residence of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, German Jews exiled under national socialism in the last century, we reflect on, or rather lament, exile and its constituents including violence perpetrated, and migration.

Now in February and March, the heartbreak of witnessing both the necessity for Ukraine’s citizens to (bravely) bear arms to defend their freedom from Russian aggression — an unprovoked war — and the ensuing (necessary) entrance of Germany and the EU into weapons provisions for Ukraine, which doubly serves as a sign of hope yet also as a general reminder of the broad and dark power held by arms manufacturers and dealers all over the world.

Working again in America, we remember friends and neighbors lost to violence, perpetrated by abuses of power from the police and the endemic misguidance of ‘the right to bear arms’ which perpetuates and feeds an ever-increasing ubiquitousness of private gun possession and the many horrors that follow…

Black Bawl is a freely atonal work for piano, electronics, and voice, that draws partial inspiration from Arnold Schönberg’s Suite für Klavier (op. 25) and also his formal technique of ‘developing variation’ as aesthetic starting points.

The work is organized into six movements. The first movement briefly introduces the piano and harmonic palette, while the second movement provides the exposition — a duet of voice and piano. Grown into transformation within the third and the fourth movements, discrete transformations continue in the fifth movement with ‘the siren’ in all its evocations including that of warning or alert, of mythological seduction, and of glissandi, before the sixth movement’s closing statement of the solo voice.   In contemplation of the fragility of provisionalness or the inherent risks of situational necessity, we work towards a world of peace, intelligence, and compassion.”

—  Farahnaz Hatam and Colin Hacklander (LABOUR)


Richard Kennedy (b. 1985, Long Beach, California) is an artist, experiential composer, and librettist originally from Middletown Ohio and currently living in Berlin. Kennedy’s multi-disciplinary practice includes a focus on the disruption of traditions of Western Theatre, with the aim to generate new, participatory modes of viewership. The artist uses painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance in order to examine notions of the Queer African American experience. Kennedy is a 2021 Hermitage Retreat Fellow and a 2019 MacDowell Colony Fellow. They recentlypresented their work at Peres Projects in Berlin, Institute of Contemporary Art (Virginia Commonwealth University), The Studio Museum Harlem, MoMA, The Shed, The Kitchen, BOFFO Performance Festival, Studio Berlin (Berghain) and Palais de Tokyo.

LABOUR is the collaborative Berlin-based project of Farahnaz Hatam and Colin Hacklander, whose compositions and performances center the transformative potential of sound. Trained in molecular biology, Hatam works primarily with SuperCollider, a complex platform for audio synthesis and algorithmic composition that is a language unto itself. Colin Hacklander is a percussionist and composer with a background in post-tonal theory and electronic music. Together, LABOUR create ambitious and reverently experimental works based on sound. Their practice promotes active listening and a heightened sensory awareness.  They are residents at Callie’s Berlin, recent fellows at Villa Aurora Los Angeles, NTS hosts, and collaborate extensively.

Richard Kennedy, LABOUR – Black Bawl
Directed by Richard Kennedy and Marcelo Alcaide
Written, Performed and Choreographed by Richard Kennedy
Music by LABOUR
Electronics by Farahnaz Hatam
Piano by Colin Hacklander
Photography and Edit: Mathilde Agius
Scenography: Marcelo Alcaide
Costumes: Richard Kennedy
Hair: Sean Bennet
Make Up: Ana Lima
Assistance: Mel Powell
Thanks to Camilla Volbert, Peres Projects, Vila Aurora, 711 Berlin and Tiana Strickland

‘Black Bawl’ is a co-production by REIF and Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève for 5th floor with the support of Nike Berlin

Sonic Catharsis is a project curated by REIF for the 5th floor of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. REIF, which began as a celebration, is a multifaceted cultural movement taking the shape of records and community activities. The primary interest of the collective is to curate events and craft multicultural happenings which include different expressions of thought, identity, play and experience – all reunited in a safe space.

For Sonic Catharsis, a group of artists who participated in the eponymous record label explored various cultural instigation strategies and form an investigation on how we, as a community, can reignite the fire of nighttime culture and create new ways to gather as the world slowly reopens. Through their bodies, new works and untold stories, the artists collectively illustrate how sound can be a means of resistance. Art becomes a vehicle to craft new realities, while movement and sound morph with contemporary club culture. In all works, sound is the chosen instrument for political catharsis and social change.

The program will be concluded by the release of REIF’s second album 02 in the Spring. The program Sonic Catharsis will continue independently through new collaborations with artists such as Carminho, CrystallMess, Fuck U Pay Us, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Kelsey Lu, No Bra among others…