On 'Moving Kinship' at Queer Britain by Mathew Klotz
Click, says the kettle as it stops boiling water. I make a cup of tea, then sit down at my small IKEA-brand dining table, laptop in front of me, and settle in for a Zoom call. It’s 7pm here on unceded Turrbal and Yuggera Country, on the east coast of so-called Australia, and the middle of summer. A small pedestal fan beside me brings the relief of a steady stream of air that breaks through the suffused humidity.
I don’t know it yet, as I search through my emails for the Zoom link, but from this initial call will emerge (spoiler alert!) the sharing of so many stories of so many queernesses, a set of poetry, an international collaboration between musicians and dancers, a music-making moment with an unknown animal, and new thoughts about music-making and kinship. There will also be a green tree frog who may or may not get its dinner.
Zoom calls like this have become commonplace. At first, they were a way to alleviate the loneliness precipitated by global lockdowns. Virality begot solitude, and that solitude quickly permeated. Yet, with computers and their technological kin functioning as intermediaries, we could keep in touch with family and friends, transgressing the imposition of state borders and time zones.
Now, Zoom calls are a staple part of our ever-growing social vocabulary of how to communicate. Each is an overtly “posthuman” addition to this playbook, as feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti (2013) would say. Each call involves the kindling of connections between flesh and technology, in both local and global terms, that carry us beyond the boundaries of our apparent selves. In each case, we are cut-ups: continuously captured by a camera and fragmented into bits of data before being re-formed as a series of digital images.
Faces populate the temporal and geographic mosaic filling my laptop screen. Many of us are strangers to each other — yet we all share the experience of being musicians who are queer, trans, or gender-diverse, or any combination of these. After a call for expressions of interest was shared by the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group, to which each of us responded, we have been invited to take part in the latest iteration of transdisciplinary feminist practitioner Beatrice Allegranti’s Moving Kinship project. Moving Kinship is rooted in dance, and, as Beatrice writes on her website, “involves making bespoke and trauma-informed live and digital performances with and for audiences as a way of engaging ethically with the many complex and intersecting challenges we are confronted with in our troubled world” (Allegranti, n.d., para. 1, emphasis in original). Drawing on Beatrice’s ongoing experience as a choreographer, capoeira practitioner, psychotherapist, and feminist scholar, the Moving Kinship project has also collaborated with people living with dementia and their families, Black feminist activists, capoeiristas, and environmental activists, and has taken place in the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, and the Netherlands. This is its first online outing.
In amongst the many related troubles of the world — climate and environmental catastrophes, rising TERF-ery, queerphobia, neo-Nazism, anti-medical sentiment, systemic racism, abhorrent immigration policies, Trumpism and other populist politics, poverty, settler-colonial mandates, and more — kinship is feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway’s (2016) urgent plea. Politely, albeit emphatically, she asks us to nurture relationships — to make kin — outside of drab cis het models, and to deliberately abstain from the extractive demands of neoliberalist tactics. Crucially, she implores us to kin-make with those considered more-than-human, to borrow eco-philosopher David Abram’s (1996) oft-cited term for non-human animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and a host of other lifeforms. If the unruly spectre of capitalism and its constituent parts are not only untenable but also life-threatening and indeed life-erasing, then we need to consciously shift our public efforts towards making kin.
Moving Kinship strives to make kin through the sharing of experience and building of what could be called a responsive choreography. These events are not isolated but entangled, with the choreography coming to infuse the experiential accounts, just as these memories influence the crafted and improvised movements. The movements, that is, are always in response to the stories. Moving Kinship is “a movement refrain that has the potential to enact subtle and incremental changes and make space for the unimagined in our everyday lives" (Allegranti, 2019, p. 107). This edition of Moving Kinship is directed towards making space for our experiences of social and environmental connections.
We spend the first few hours of the Zoom call sharing stories that are separated by geographic distance, culture, and age, and yet I find the strangeness of each story familiar. There is an invitation inherent within each account, something like the collective nature of disparate experiences of queerness. As I sip my tea, I feel a closeness — a profound intimacy, even — that I haven’t felt for some time. Because: we are each alone in our homes and offices, but together we occupy and animate this newly burgeoning space of kinship with our anecdotes and thoughts and emotions, a space that is manifested through the posthuman connections wrought by the online medium.
Beatrice gives us single words to respond to with our bodies: environmental, political, relational, autobiographical. We write each on a separate piece of paper and place these around ourselves. These cues act as waypoints in the ensuing activity, where we entangle with each in responsive movement.
Back and forth, I draw a path between “relational” and “environmental” in the small stretch between my couch and my dining table. At “relational”, I sit and hug my knees, pausing as I meditate on the recent changes to my own relationships: from the deterioration of friendships that were dear prior to the COVD-19 pandemic, to coming out as non-binary and the ever-unfolding necessity to make kin with myself — something that I don’t feel ready to share in the proceeding forum, not least because I don’t yet fully understand what this means myself. I move to “environmental” and remember what it was like to make music with my saxophone on a rainforest-covered mountain near my hometown, a mountain that I have known since childhood (see Klotz, in press). With my eyes closed, I can see the matted foliage of the rainforest and the ocean further out, just as I can smell the life-bringing decay of fallen leaves and bark that is borne along by the soft breeze. I can listen again to the birds and other more-than-human presences.
The view from the top of Bicton Hill on unceded Djiru Country. Photo by me.
We re-convene on our screens. We tell each other about how we moved and were stirred to move by the four words. Again, there is a familiar strangeness in each story, a potent solidarity residing under the surface. Perhaps what I feel is each of us beginning to find our bearings as we navigate through the threads of kinship being spun. After all, making kin is a messy and oftentimes difficult task.
It’s close on midnight in my temporal slither when we decide to end the Zoom call. I doubt anyone wants to hang up — the space that we have begun to co-curate is warm and exciting — but some of us have other obligations to attend to, and I need to get to bed. However, I don’t fall asleep immediately, and instead lie there, thinking back through the past five hours as I stare at a streetlamp outside, ceiling fan spinning above me.
The ice cracks as I pour gin into the glass. A hollow sound that perhaps serves as a stark reminder of other ice currently splitting and breaking, and irreparably so — the symptom of an impasse that carries dire consequences. How important kinship is in this intersection of temporalities.
It’s spring — but that doesn’t matter much in my tropical hometown, on unceded Gulngay Country, where it’s always warm and humid. My ears are filled with the constant treble hum of cicadas as I sit at the table outside. I’m once again accompanied by my laptop and ready for another Zoom call, gin and tonic beside me (I’m on leave after all).
After that initial meeting, Beatrice gathered the stories and words that we had shared into a set of poetry, and invited us to offer sonic responses as a sort of collaborative score. Five of us — Francesco Venturi, Tianyu Jiang, Eleanor Ryan, Dong Zhou, and myself — took up the invitation, each choosing a single poem. More Zoom calls ensued, in which we discussed our musical styles, which were as diverse as our experiences of queerness, and how the “score” might function as a whole. With my saxophone and my mum, I again hiked the mountain I had mentioned in the first Zoom call, stopping on the descent to improvise something short in response to both the words I had chosen and the more-than-human presences. There was a bird (I think) above me, with whom I began, at least to my mind, a musical dialogue of sorts: repeated staccato punctuations on a single pitch, which slowly transmogrified into broad sonic meanderings.
My dear friend and fellow soundmaker-scholar Hannah Reardon-Smith (2021) would call this musickin, which is a deliberate play on what musicologist Christopher Small (1998) calls musicking, or the doing of music. By musickin, Reardon-Smith means a process of music-making that evinces the possibility of kin-making — of forming ephemeral though nonetheless important relationships that point to alternative futures. As I dialogued with the unseen bird, the words and whoever had enunciated them months beforehand also became an interlocutor. A face, a body, a voice — a groundswell of thoughts and feelings, all of which I have only seen and heard through the surface of a technological proxy — were suddenly present in that rainforest. However, mosquitoes were quickly congregating in a cloud around us, so I deftly packed my saxophone back into its case, and we continued the climb down.
Our iteration of Moving Kinship was premiered at Queer Britain, the UK’s first dedicated LGBTQIA+ museum, on 17th September 2023. The dancers were Orrow Bell, Luke Birch, and Rudzani Moleya. I encourage the reader to pause their perusal at this point and watch an excerpt of the performance.
We begin the Zoom call with Beatrice sharing a recording of the premiere. Along with a small, invited audience of artists, only Eleanor and two other folks from the initial Zoom call could make it to the live event, so for the rest, this is our first time witnessing how our sounds and words became entangled — translated and extended — with dance. It’s strange to hear the uncanny mix of my saxophone-based music-making and sounds of a rainforest coursing through a room in London; I feel disembodied. When the video comes to a close, silence fills the meeting, and continues for some minutes, as a green tree frog lands with a loud thump somewhere near me, impatient to catch its dinner.
In the conversation that follows, I remark upon the careful and almost tactile way in which the dancers responded to each utterance that made my sonic vignette. My music-making is often harsh and frantic, bordering on the point of being unrefined, and to this the dancers brought equally fractured and brusque movements of their bodies, each performed with precision. They were continuing a dialogue that had a different geographic, temporal, and even artistic provenance, spinning more threads in the web of potential kinship that I had started on that mountain: posthuman connections writ large. As I watched, then, I began to feel myself moving with the dancers, and like those stories that I had heard 10 months ago, these movements were strange, but familiar. Perhaps in that enwoven instance of dance and music, I was musickin another way, and with people who I have never met.
As the Zoom call continues, there is a unanimous sentiment flowing through the group: connection. This short project has cultivated not just new interdisciplinary knowledge across artistic forms but also relational knowledge, emotional knowledge, and personal knowledge, all galvanised through the unfolding and collective nature of our disparate experiences of queerness. What began as a ragtag gathering of musicians who are separated by geographic and temporal distances has emerged as a space of shared understanding. I feel the same warmth that I felt in the first Zoom call — but the frog is waiting to eat and won’t do so with the lights on; so, I say my goodbyes, finish the last of my gin and tonic as I switch off the lights, and head inside to watch TV with my mum.
Mathew Klotz (they/them) is a saxophonist, improvisor, researcher, writer, and composer living and working on the unceded lands of the Turrbal and Yuggera Peoples. They enjoy spending time with their many plant-housemates.
Abrams, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world. Pantheon Books.
Allegranti, B. (n.d.). Moving Kinship: Queer Britain. Beatrice Allegranti. Retrieved July 10, 2023 from http://www.beatriceallegranti.com/portfolio/moving-kinship-queer-britain/
Allegranti, B. (2019). Moving Kinship: Between choreography, performance, and the more-than-human. In H. Thomas & S. Prickett (Eds.), The Routledge companion to dance studies (pp. 88–108). Routledge.
Braidotti, R. (2013). The posthuman. Polity Press.
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.
Klotz, M. (in press). Response-able hiking with my saxophone: An autoethnography on the possibility of making kin through musicking. Journal for Artistic Research.
Reardon-Smith, H. (2021). Sounding kin: A queer-feminist thinking of free improvisation [Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Griffith University]. Griffith Research Online. https://doi.org/10.25904/1912/4413
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press.