In Spring semester 2021, TIMARA is pleased to welcome back alumnus Amrita “Ami” Kaur Dang back to campus to join the department as visiting faculty. Dang is a South Asian-American, Sikh composer, music producer, vocalist and sitarist from Baltimore. Combining ideas from South Asian music with synthesizers, MIDI controllers, lighting design and gestural movement, her work invites the audience to reframe their assumptions about the colonial history of music, the arts, technology, and performance and its place in the contemporary musical landscape.
Dang studied voice and sitar in New Delhi and Maryland from a young age, and she also holds a bachelor’s degree in Technology in Music and Related Arts from Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. She has performed throughout North America, Asia, and Europe and has released five solo albums. She collaborates with cellist Alexa Richardson as Raw Silk and is a member of new age/ambient group Galdre Visions. She has received two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council, and she is a 2020 Baker Artist Award winner. Her work has received accolades from The Guardian, The Washington Post, Spin, and Pitchfork, to name a few.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Dang a few questions about the upcoming semester. Find our questions and her answers below!
What is it like to return to TIMARA as a professor after graduating from the department?
Teaching in a college environment is a bit of a shift for me because I didn’t choose the academic path since I left Oberlin. But I have been actively involved in the arts community in Baltimore and have always enjoyed connecting with musicians and various artists about their work. I see this position as an extension of that side of myself–one that facilitates thought, creativity, conversation, and discovery. I have so many fond memories of my experiences as a TIMARA student and at Oberlin in general, and I’m excited to be a part of that experience along with the students I will teach.
What courses will you be teaching this semester?
Electroacoustic music and digital arts have been taught from a predominantly Western lens, and much of the literature about the field and media published in it have highlighted the achievements of white, cis-gendered male composers and pioneers. This narrative, however, doesn’t paint an authentic picture about the field of sound from different cultural perspectives, and it completely omits many significant contributions by womxn, queer, and BIPOC artists. It also often omits the military history of sound technology and the people who create the tools and technologies that we use. We’ll talk about that history, discuss why (or if it is at all) important to decolonize that narrative, and also examine the work of contemporary BIPOC and queer artists who use technology. Students will then be invited to create their own work drawing from their identity or personal experiences. (They may also choose to focus on historical political events or political affairs.) Critiques will focus on the conceptual, thematic, and technological aspects of the work, and we’ll also discuss how to critique the use of identity and/or politics in the work without making assumptions about the artist’s identity or experiences. It is crucial to recognize the difference between critiquing the work itself versus the cultural experiences or issues that we draw from in our work. I’d also like for students to complete writing exercises about their work that may lead to artist statements, press releases, sample grant narratives, etc. to prepare them to take this (potentially emotionally-charged) work into the “arts industrial complex” (for lack of a better term!). The class is meant to be a safe space, but everyone should recognize that it may incite emotional vulnerability and demand us to step outside of our comfort zones. I will also challenge the dominant narrative of the history of electroacoustic music as Western, white, cis-male field in the TECH 101 course.
What are you looking forward to about returning to Oberlin and teaching?
Wow! What don’t I look forward to? Since March, I’ve mostly been cooped up in my house in Baltimore and had 40+ performances get canceled in the US, Canada, and Europe. I’m looking forward to interacting with you all and returning to campus and the town after a long absence. I’m excited to hear and experience what the TIMARA students are working on and to glean inspiration from you all. I think I will learn a lot from this semester!