«Sound Translations» – Film Project

by Norient

In Sound Translations, Peter Guyer (Recycled TV AG) and Thomas Burkhalter (Norient) narrate stories around seven video clips and audio tracks from selected musicians worldwide. The project results in seven short movies (26 minutes each), one theatrical film, and an interactive online platform.

The accelerated processes of globalization and digitalization have revolutionized music making on many levels. Throughout the world, musicians are finding new ways to produce music at low cost and promote it globally. Today’s music markets have become a confusing mosaic of a million minimarkets and micro-stars. Musicians from Beijing to Tijuana, from Istanbul to Johannesburg, mix and manipulate local and global sounds and ideas within their music. They network with artists and multipliers (e.g., curators, producers, journalists, and scholars) worldwide and experiment with new ways of producing, distributing, and selling music. Style-wise, the sample is broad and includes commercially successful styles of pop music like reggaeton and kwaito as well as electronic music styles like nortec, baile funk, shangaan electro, or cumbia electronica that form the popular end of the spectrum. The experimental end offers African, Asian, and Latin American musique concrète, free improvisation, noise music, and sound art. The multimedia project Sound Translations focuses on the great variety of production, translating and marketing strategies. The project aims to highlight how cultural forms, styles, and ideas are negotiated in and between local and global networks and markets.


Episode 1: Irony and Parody: FOKN Bois, Ghana

Wanlov The Kubolor.

After six days of filming in Accra in March 2013, the XL-Teaser «Ghana is the Future» was edited and published online in February 2014 around the key track «Help America». In the XL-teaser, the Ghanaian rappers FOKN Bois raise money for the United States of America in the streets of Ghana. Their provocative motto is «Africa is on the way up, and the US is on the way down». The XL-teaser shows how these two rappers compete with, against, and within various growing markets in Ghana, including new churches like the Alive Chapel International and mobile phone companies like Glo Mobile. The rap duo comment on these markets with humor and parody, thereby enabling them to reach international and local audiences alike.

Find all info to the XL-Teaser shown at the top here.


Episode 2: Noise and Protest: Meira Asher, Israel

Meira Asher, Live in Zurich 2014 (photo: Thomas Burkhalter).

Not many performers reach the intensity, harshness and nastiness of Israeli noise artist and activist Meira Asher. Her goal is to «reduce militarization», through noise performances, experimental radio art, and activism. In Israel she works within a small network of musicians and activist. Through her, her friends, and her critics, Sound Translations aims to show the possibilities and limits of noise music and radio art as forms of protest. The episode also talks about the fascination with violence and war that musicians, producers and listeners outside of places of war share. The soundtrack included «war dubs» from the UK, glorification of war by Italian Futurists like Luigi Russolo, and imitations of warfare by composers like Ludwig Van Beethoven.

→ Thomas Burkhalter: «Meira Asher: Noise and Radio Art from Israel»
→ Thomas Burkhalter: «Grime Instrumentals and War Dubs»
→ Two articles on Memory and War in Beirut (in German): here, and here.


Episode 3: Trash-Culture and Arts Networks: Islam Chipsy, MC Sadat, Mahmoud Refat, Cairo

Islam Chipsy in Markez Nightclub, Cairo (photo: Thomas Burkhalter).

To earn his living Islam Chipsy uses (and miss-uses) the Yamaha PSR OR-700 keyboard night after night: at the Markez night club in Cairo, and at local weddings. Having no passport, Islam Chipsy misses the lates hype around Mahragan MCs and DJs within Europe. Mahragan musicians come from Cairo’s satellite suburbs. Their lyrics talk about banalities of everyday life and revolution-weariness – in biting sarcasm and with a big sense of humor. Mahmoud Refat, owner of the Cairo underground label 100Copies, started working with Mahragan MCs Alaa 50 Cent and MC Sadat, brought them to the elite arts in downtown Cairo first, and now to Europe: DJs and blogger alike are fascinated by the radical Autotune-aesthetics of Mahragan. This episode of Sound Translations focuses on the many misunderstandings and frustrations these “sound translations” develop. It tells the story through Islam Chipsy, who himself is critical about the new hype, but has one big dream: «To have my own office, to have a passport, to travel abroad, and to develop my music.»

→ Thomas Burkhalter: «The Yamaha PSR-700 à la Islam Chipsy»
→ Ted Swedenburg: «Electro Sha’abi: Autotune-Rebels in Cairo»
→ Mixtape by British Bass producer Mumdance
→ Thomas Burkhalter: «Alternative Musik in Kairo: Aufbruch & Verwirrung»


Episode 4: Bounce, Queer Culture and Body Politics: Big Freedia, New Orleans

Big Freedia (photo: Karin Scheidegger).

Bounce mixes energetic Afro-American rap with booty dances [«ass everywhere, ass everywhere»]. It started at the beginning of the 1990s in poor neighborhoods in New Orleans, and has become better known by now. Big Freedia Queen Diva is one of the most glamorous artists in the scene. The gay rapper challenges gender roles and models within his community, and abroad. Sound Translations follows Big Freedia, and observes what «booty dancing» stands for in different contexts – from daggering in Dancehall to perreo in Reggaeton. An episode on Gender, Sex, and body politics.

→ Theresa Beyer: «Bootydance mit der Königin»
→ Wayne Marshall: «Spectacular Copulative Dance Today»
→ Theresa Beyer: «Queer Hip Hop Clips from 8 Countries»


Episodes 5-7 are not decided yet. Possible episodes are:

Tecno Brega: Gang Do Electro, Brazil

Tribal Skank and New Exotica: Fr3e, London

Global Pop Avant-Gardes: Spoek Mathambo, South Africa

Published on June 07, 2014

Last updated on April 05, 2020


Norient searches for new music, sounds and noises from around the planet. We discuss current issues critically, close to musicians and their networks. Through the Norient Online Magazine, the Norient Musikfilm Festival, Performances, books, documentary films and radio programs we hope to orient and disorient readers, listeners and spectators. Find out about strong, fragile and challenging artistic positions in today’s fast moving, globalized, digitized and urbanized world.
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