Soundscapes and cutlery: Victoria Pham talks Sonant Bodies

The composer collaborates with James Maher for TiNA



Victoria Pham is a composer and archaeologist based in Sydney. James Maher is a writer, artist, poet and composer living in Newcastle. Together, they make up Sonant Bodies.

Sonant Bodies in collaboration with flautist Sarah Monk will perform at This is Not Art – a large-scale experimental arts festival, which encourages engagement and pathways for those working in creative industries.

Victoria says the best thing about Sonant Bodies performing in Sydney and Newcastle is its access to various audiences at metropolitan and regional level.

“This shows us that art and music is ubiquitous because we get equally enthusiastic response from all our audiences,” Victoria says. Her TiNA event Sound of Spaces is the brainchild of Sarah Monk, who bought in Sonant Bodies as a collective to write some of the pieces.

Victoria Pham of Sonant Bodies

Seated and blindfolded in a pretty small space, the audience – before the performance starts – will be taken through a couple of exercises to tune into the small sounds around them.

“There is one exercise where you listen very closely and tap out your own heartbeat on your lap,” Victoria explains. She believes that audiences are used to going to a concert hall and seeing the musicians on stage and being actively involved with them visually – but the blindfold removes the visual, allowing the music to envelop the audience.

The Sound of Space performance will have surround as well as acoustic sound. There will also be live electronic music and movement so the audience will engage with music in a very different way. It is about textures and colours and gestures, rather than relying on visual symbols.

The performance itself is about experiencing sounds from Newcastle and the Central Coast created in both private and public spaces, and using domestic or found objects to create music. “We kind of tuned into some recognisable sounds that we hope the audience will tune into also,” Victoria says.

Victoria says there’s a common perception that anything new or experimental comes out of an urban environment, because there is seen to be more support for new art and music in the city: “Experimental music is often characterised as niche or unapproachable or too weird or kind of difficult to understand. We have found that isn’t the case”.

Sonant Bodies is working on exposing familiar soundscapes to its audience. “We did a piece with cutlery once to create a ritual space because of the percussive nature of cutlery. Our audiences are enthusiastic to this type of soundscape because they can relate to the everyday objects regardless of where they live.”

She and James are happy trying to figure out what Sonant Bodies is, musically, and where it fits into this artistic landscape. Sometimes, the pair is accused of being artists and not musicians. But Victoria thinks different artforms have to function and perform together: “I feel like it is a natural progression of things. I view art and music as a singular thing”.

Composer James Maher


See Victoria and James perform as Sonant Bodies at the TiNA festival, which runs from 28 September to 1 October in Newcastle. Learn more about Sonant Bodies.


Want to support Victoria and James? Play their music!


The Great Liberation by Hearing (Chapter 11: The Tibetan Book of the Dead). Victoria Pham. Score for voice, string orchestra, and percussion. From the composer: “This piece explores the cyclical nature of human thought and ‘progression’ by reflecting aspects of the contemporary diplomatic tension between Tibet and China”.
Where we DisappearWhere We Disappear. James Maher. Full score and parts for string quartet. Premiered at Harold Lobb Concert Hall by the Newcastle Conservatorium String Quartet 2014. From the composer: “The piece draws influence from the Carnatic tradition of Southern India”.


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