The Audio Foundation began in Zoe’s bedroom with a computer and a phone and grew from there. From online texts, chat rooms, noticeboards, gig guides to small events and concerts, to a venue, exhibitions, symposiums etc. The river brings and sustains life as it winds to the sea.

Jeff Henderson, director of the Audio Foundation, gives us insight into a tight-knit community of experimental music „on the way to antarctica“ – and beyond…

La Cellule d’Intervention Metamkine (c) Audio Foundation

Dear Jeff, two years ago you visited NRW with the International Visitors Program. Were you able to take away some ideas for your work with the Audio Foundation and how has your work developed since then?

I had the great pleasure of visiting NRW and had a wonderful time meeting great people, hearing incredible music and being introduced to some inspiring organisations such as ON! I came home with many ideas and inspirations and have often referred to the experiences I had with the International Visitors Programme in discussions about change and transformation. One of the central observations I made on my visit was that at the heart of each organisation is the fundamental respect for artists, and in particular freelance artists. The championing of freelance artists through an organised lobby group is inspiring and vital.

How big is the experimental music scene in your local area?

Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland, New Zealand) has a healthy and diverse scene of experimental and adventurous music which, as one would expect, blends expressions of Maori, Pacific, Asian, European and North American cultures and traditions (collaboration, innovation, change, adaptation etc.).

The scene for live, original music is focused around Karangahape Road, probably the most famous street in Aotearoa, and in particular a cluster of venues within a short walk of each other.

The Audio Foundation operates as a sound/sonic art gallery during the day and a performance venue at night, presenting anything from 2 to 5 nights of music per week and 12 exhibitions per year.  We also have a free lending library of homemade electronic instruments, an audio archive, research libraries, and we run regular workshops, artist talks, artist residencies, festivals, tours and more.

Once a month the Audio Foundation presents a showcase event at the Wine Cellar, our next-door neighbour and the venue at the heart of Auckland’s independent music scene. These nights feature established and emerging artists in an informal atmosphere and are a popular feature of our performance programmes. Every Monday night the Wine Cellar hosts Vitamin S, a free improvisation night which has been running a weekly session for almost twenty years. Vitamin S is a very important community collective which enables musicians, artists, dancers and more to create spontaneous performance in a supportive environment.

Neil Feather (c) Audio Foundation

In the same neighbourhood there is also Whammy Bar, Neck of the Woods, Anthology Lounge, Thirsty Dog, Artspace, Tautai and the Auckland Old Folks Association, which feature fantastic electronic music, punk, industrial, jazz etc. etc. etc!

Being a tiny, isolated group of islands on the way to Antarctica, Aotearoa is in the fortunate position of operating as normal whilst much of the world is suffering due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The 2020 lockdowns and ensuing travel restrictions have drastically changed the performance landscape. The absence of international touring artists/acts has resulted in more opportunities for local artists, and audience growth for local venues and events.

Let’s step back a bit. What were your motives for starting the Audio Foundation?

The Audio Foundation was in fact started by my friend and colleague Zoe Drayton, who began by connecting the underground music scenes throughout New Zealand via a website and chat room. I believe the motivation to start Audio Foundation stemmed from noticing a lack of recognition, representation and appreciation of New Zealand’s experimental underground, and wanting to remedy this. Zoe had the vision and the passion to connect people, create a sustainable infrastructure and invigorate the scene.

For over a decade, Zoe grew the Audio Foundation into a thriving organisation with a strong community following and programmes with a national and international reach. When Zoe started the Audio Foundation I was running a venue in Wellington. Upon moving to Auckland in 2012 I immediately volunteered at the AF and began producing events there. When Zoe left for new adventures in 2014, I took over steering the vessel.

On your website you describe how your institution evolved from a journalistic endeavour into a performing and promotional initiative. How did this development come about and what need were you hoping to satisfy?

The Audio Foundation began in Zoe’s bedroom with a computer and a phone and grew from there. From online texts, chat rooms, noticeboards, gig guides to small events and concerts, to a venue, exhibitions, symposiums etc. The river brings and sustains life as it winds to the sea.

Phil Dadson „Short and Medium Radio Wave Piece“ 1974 (c) Audio Foundation

You have a lot of different programmes, from a radio station to exhibitions and a yearly festival. How is the Audio Foundation structured? Do you curate the programme yourself or can one get involved?

A lot of the programming is done by my amazing colleague Samuel Longmore, who has been with the Audio Foundation since 2015, and myself. Part of our job is to try and keep up with what is happening throughout the country and to do what we can to feature as much as possible in our programming.

We also take submissions, invite curators, organisers and collaborators. One can always become involved with Audio Foundation, we have many volunteers and helpers, a supportive board of trustees and many great community partners.

How do you select artists for your residency programme and what do you aim to provide for them? Does the residency also involve networking with the local scene?

We run quite flexible residency programmes and have an open submission process. As we only receive minimal funding for residencies, we have a number of different ways we host artists. Sometimes we are able to pay artists a stipend and provide workspace for two weeks, some residencies are performance based and present a week of concerts, collaborations and workshops,  other residencies are for research. We assist each residency as we are able.

You also actively promote young artists. In what particular areas do young musicians need support these days?

Musicians need opportunities to perform in public, opportunities to collaborate with established artists, space and time to develop their work and people to listen to and care about their music. This is what the Audio Foundation tries to provide.

The Observatory Project (c) Audio Foundation

How does your organisation manage to finance such a large range of programmes? Do you receive government support?

The Audio Foundation is fortunate to be funded by Creative NZ, which is the government arts council, the Auckland Council (local body), and community trusts such as Foundation North. We also rely on box office earnings and donations.

Does Audio Foundation collaborate with other organisations at a local, regional, national, or even international level?

Yes, we have many partners throughout the country and many international partners and friends, including new ones such as LTK4 in Cologne, with whom we are currently engaged in a collaborative project involving six sound artists from Germany and New Zealand!

In Germany there is a big difference between institutional culture (museums, orchestras) and independent culture (independent musicians, composers, etc.). Do you also make this distinction? How do you experience the relationship between institutions and the independent scene?

Things are similar here I imagine. Aotearoa is still suffering from the ravages of colonialism and imperialism, the continuing oppression of indigenous people, the greed and callousness of neo-liberalism, the horrors of fascist ideology, the mind-numbing ignorance of Internet conspiracies, climate and environmental disasters, and a fucking pandemic… What was the question?

Zombie Piano w Totems, Cave Circles, Slitopia, Kraus (c) Audio Foundation

Do you see areas in your daily work where you would be interested in new collaborations?

Always!

The pandemic has not had the same impact in New Zealand as it has, for example, in Germany. How did it effect your work? Did you have to deal with restrictions and was there any state aid available?

The Audio Foundation received no additional support during the lockdowns. Our main priority in this time is health and well-being. New Zeasland has a tragically high suicide rate and the music and arts communities are regularly devastated by such events. The Audio Foundation is a community hub that offers an open door.

Which artistic perspectives and issues will occupy those involved in experimental music over the coming years?

See my answers to questions 10 and 12!

What might the art and culture scene look like in a post-Corona society? What do you hope will change and how do we get there?

Well, the days of unbridled, cheap international air travel have ended… I think local scenes will thrive, people will travel less, get tired of the Internet, go to a local venue, walk more, invent instruments, sing, dance, talk on the phone, talk in person, cook at home, share food, and so on. At least, that is what I am planning…

What formats and potentials have you seen emerging from the current situation that might point to how we will work in the future?

I am waiting. I feel it is still so early. A lot of responses were online focused, most I find very boring. Do people need more reasons to sit on their arses in front of a screen? I am looking forward to things moving away from the Internet.


We thank Jeff Henderson for his interview!

http://www.audiofoundation.org.nz/