Seroconversion is the queer noise project of Johan Sundell and Birt Berglund which departs from exploring notions of unwantedness where noise and queer desires are concerned, by asking questions such as what the unease and digust evoked by both actually sonically may sound like.
C-P: Seroconversion is labelled a queer noise project. For many, myself included, noise in the realm of sound and music itself appears a novel notion. Add the attribution of queer and Seroconversion will be the first time for me experiencing queer noise. What’s the background into your project and what characterizes queer noise?
J.S: The project is based on the definitions of “queer” as unwanted desire and “noise” as unwanted sound. We are interested in exploring what happens when you combine these two form of unwantedness in artistic practice. Queerness and noisiness share some characteristic features with one another insofar as they both evoke feelings such as unease, disgust and annoyment. And we aim to explore these feelings sonically. What does queerness sound like? And why/when/where is something experienced as noisy? Those are not only key political questions that need to be explored in order to better understand the history of violence, oppression, pathologization and marginalization that queers have been subjected to through history, they are also excellent vantage points for making queer music and art.
When we discussed what name we should use for the project we agreed on using something that was very bodily and that had queer connotations. “Seroconversion” is a medical term in immunology when the body’s autoimmune system starts producing antibodies in response to a virus (like H.I.V.) and the virus becomes detectable in the blood. We found it fitting because it worked as an image of both bodily as well as queer resistance.
Birt Berglund and Johan Sundell of Seroconversion
B.B: The fact that noise in general is defined as something “other” to the expected or wanted is what interests us. Noise is trangressing borders, breaking rules and disrupting the order of a system. Therefore it can also be used to describe disruptions. One of the earlier examples of this is the Futurist Luigi Russolo’s manifesto The Art of Noises from 1913, where his idea of the modern music is to adapt to the new soundscape of the industrial Europe. Even if we’re very far from being futurists, this way of looking at noise as a positive force is important.
C-P: Seroconversion made a successful appearance at an event hosted by Market Art Fair earlier this spring. It was very interesting to see how members of the art community engaged with keen attention over the course of twenty minutes. I remember, not necessarily being surprised, but still fascinated by the reception of the performance.
J.S: I just looked out to the crowd a few times but couldn’t see anything through the veil I was wearing during the performance. But there were a few people coming up to talk to us afterwards who seemed interested in hearing what it was all about.
B.B: I didn’t see much of the crowd during the actual performance either, but it seems as if our performance was appreciated. Also, it is interesting to perform in different situations. I think that the crowd at an art-related event listens and observes in a different way than a crowd in the context of experimental/noise-music context. Not that one is better than the other, but it’s just often a bit different. That’s also something that makes it interesting to talk to people after performances, since you get very different thoughts and/or observations from these two different crowds.
In the studio
C-P: You recently brought forth and organized the second edition of Queer Noise Fest. Tell me about it and other queer noise acts that participated in it?
J.S: Even though our own project has been collaborative from the very beginning we talked very early on about doing something bigger and more collective than Seroconversion. With QNF we are trying to connect globally with the few people who work within similar musical and artistic fields as us and to give them a stage to perform on. We want QNF to act as a platform for all kinds of queers to express themselves sonically and artistically. It is our way to manifest that collective spirit of queer musicians and sound artists getting together, supporting and pushing each other to make weird stuff. For QNF we have a broad definition of “queer noise”. For us, all queers are noisicians insofar as they deviate (in different ways) from heteronormative and patriarchal norms. By its very definition a deviation exposes a norm and queer desires create both socially and bodily forms of noise as sonic deviations.
B.B: The latest Queer Noise Fest event, the second edition, had a great and musically diverse line-up. First we showed The Bottom by Lucia Honey, a 22 minute noise opera film. Second was Male Bondage, which is a solo-project of mine, a kind of industrial/noise/power electronics-project exploring themes such as male hierarchies, submission, violence and resistance. Third was Espejo Negro, a dark meeting of techno, noise, and grinding rhythms. And lastly we had MISSMOTOR, an up-and-coming pop-gem in the queer underground. Noise in very different ways, but all noise in one way or the other.
C-P: You are participating in a new festival organized by Audiorama which celebrates the earplay as an art form called Dramaton. You are presenting a past work, Territorial Pissing, which departs from the idea of public restrooms as queer space. Sounds very intriguing.
J.S.: Territorial Pissing was initially made as an audiowalk for Tempus Fugit, an app for site-specific audio experiences run by artist Rebecka Pershagen. It consisted of four parts, presented at four different locations in Stockholm, that tell stories of gay men cruising in public spaces and restrooms. It was a collaboration between us, author and poet Kristofer Folkhammar (who read a collage text of both fictive and factual stories of cruising) and sociologist Arne Nilsson (who has done extensive pioneering research when it comes to homosexual men’s cruising patterns in Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg during).
B.B: Territorial Pissing is also a part of a bigger, ongoing suite of works that explore these themes. For example our earlier audiovisual performance Piss Drone/Drone Piss and the upcoming exhibition at Gallery 54 this fall are also part of this. For the Dramaton festival, Territorial Pissing has been re-worked as an earplay (“hörspel” in swedish). It has the same content as the audiowalk version, but is now a bit more detached from physical locations and more of a sound piece. Also, it will be interesting to listen to the piece in the context of Audiorama’s unique speaker room, a very different way of listening compared to listening with headphones in the middle of a crowded city. Also, kudos to Audiorama for organizing this festival, since the earplay as an artform is very overlooked and not very well known these days.
Piss Drone Drone Piss. Photo: Alexander Rynéus
C-P: Lastly, tell me about your upcoming exhibition project Liquid Excess at Galleri 54 this fall in Gothenburg?
J.S: Liquid Excess is also a collaboration but this time together with artists Nils Agdler and Timo Menke. They will present their video piece Gifted Men, a piece on danish sperm donors, and we will present a series of sound installations based on objects relating to public restrooms under the title Homotopos. The exhibition is a juxtaposition of two both different and similar rooms: the sperm booth and the public restroom.
B.B: In the clinic, sexuality becomes merged with reproduction for commerce. In the public restroom the opposite is being produced: sexuality becomes detached from reproduction for queer desires. In such way, these spaces span between commercial/non-commercial, private/social, reproductive/non-productive and desirable/non-desirable actions.