The final edition of Sonic Catharsis - Black Bawl is a collaboration between artist Richard Kennedy and LABOUR, a duo whose work centers on the transformative potential of sound.

Constructed as an operatic in six movements, Black Bawl is a work that reunites piano, electronics, and voice. It draws partial inspiration from Arnold Schönberg's Suite für Klavier (op. 25) and his formal technique of 'developing variation' as aesthetic starting points.

I. Overture
II. Black Bawl
III. Prophecy
IV. I cried / They cried
V. Siren
VI. Epilogue (Black Magic...)

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 again, 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 funhouse mirror. An improvised tribute and abstraction of two masterworks of 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 emotional 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

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. The third and fourth movements witness journeys of transformation, engaging electronic processing of short vocal fragments as starting points in processes — including algorithmic techniques to create pointillistic sonic events and temporal offsets, then FX chains of granulation, reverberation, and extreme panning that leads to amplitude modulation – as the harmonic development of temporary pitch centers juxtapose the earlier atonality, preluding the coming non-tonality. 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)

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


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 recently presented 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 on 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 heightened sensory awareness.  They are residents at Callie’s Berlin, recent fellows at Villa Aurora Los Angeles, NTS hosts, and collaborate extensively.  

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

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 Bennett
Makeup: Ana Lima
Assistance: Mel Powell

Thanks to Camilla Volbert, Peres Projects, Villa Aurora, 711 Berlin, and Tiana Strickland.