I was approached by the Wits Arts Museum in early 2018 to prepare a concert for their series ‘First Thursdays’ in collaboration with Meryl Lynch, and immediately reached out to my friend and colleague Mpho Molikeng to collaborate.

Narratives around decolonization, not only in the curriculum of universities, but also the interrogation of historical memory inspired a performance-based research topic, emerging from the cultural diversity at the intersection of my own work and that of Mpho Molikeng’s. In March of 2018 I stumbled across an article regarding research undertaken by Wits University Archaeology students, in collaboration with Professor Karim Sadr.

This research project had led to the discovery of a series of pre-colonial Tswana settlements, situated in and around the Suikerbosrand nature reserve, just south of Johannesburg. These settlements were revealed through the use of LiDAR imaging technologies and showed patterns of activity and complexities in the social settlements that were inspirational to us both. An emergent creative theme of interest was the way that the modern technology (LiDAR) intersected with the past, to reveal new depths of knowledge and complexity. In essence the modern technologies revealed ancient technological complexities that have been hidden or obscured from social memory for some time.

We explored this for the performance with some key themes:

As the settlement was Tswana, we chose to use instruments that were common to the Tswana people of the period.

From the wide range of LiDAR images available we selected four – we used graphic notational practices to ‘render them audible’, improvising over these using Mpho’s storytelling skills as a framework. These were interspersed with three traditional Tswana songs.

The performance, both in staging and audio was presented in a manner that resembled our reading of the organization of the settlements. The performance was thus presented in a central area in the gallery, with audience members surrounding the central position. A quadraphonic surround sound installation supported this, with Molikeng placed in a surround amplified microphone field. Molikeng’s improvisations both vocally and instrumentally were projected out beyond the seated audience, as well as fragments being captured into Ableton. Live guitar improvisations and subtle audio manipulations supported this.

This work was multidisciplinary in approach, intersecting archaeology and music, traditional African instruments and Ableton based software manipulation, quadraphonic live audio and approached decolonization through the foregrounding of pre-colonial knowledge.