Dr Thembi Soddell (b. Australia 1980) is a sound artist, composer and practice-based researcher best known for their powerful acousmatic performances and installations in darkness. In 2019 they were awarded a PhD from RMIT University for their practice-based research titled ‘A Dense Mass of Indecipherable Fear: The Experiential (Non)Narration of Trauma and Madness through Acousmatic Sound’. This research developed a novel approach to understanding lived experiences of anxiety, depression, trauma and so-called mental illness using a medium (abstract sound) with a unique ability to reflect the intangibility of the inner world. Their primary tool is the sampler, generating sounds from field recordings, played found objects, instrument textures, and analogue synthesis to form surreal, ambiguous and cathartic realisations of place and psychological experience. These volatile, abstract sound worlds toy with a listener’s sense of expectation and disquiet through careful sculpting of dynamic extremes.
Soddell’s 2018 album Love Songs, and its accompanying book of concrete poetry, was praised for its ‘innovative approach to form’ (Fluid Radio 2018) and ‘fearless conceptual framework’ (Self-Titled Magazine 2018), and its launch won the 2019 Green Room Award for Contemporary Sound Performance. Its companion sound installation, Held Down, Expanding (2018), premiered at MONA-FOMA in 2018 and was a finalist in the 2019 APRA-AMCOS Art Music Award for Excellence in Experimental Music. Soddell’s work has also shown in national and international galleries, including Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2020), the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (2016), Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2016), National Gallery of Victoria (2013), Wellington City Gallery (2013), National Gallery of Australia (2003), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2002). Soddell has performed at many Australian experimental music festivals, including Totally Huge New Music, Liquid Architecture, What is Music?, and the NOW now.
Soddell has released three solo albums—Intimacy (2004) Instance (2006) and Love Songs (2018)—and two in a duo with cellist, Anthea Caddy—Iland (2006) and Host (2012). In their duo with Caddy they have twice toured Europe, performing 33 shows across 12 countries, including venues and festivals such as Instants Chavirés (Paris), Cave 12 (Switzerland), and Hoerkunst Festival (Germany). Soddell has also performed solo in Poland (2009), Germany (2017) and Iceland (2017), and presented at two interdisciplinary conferences in Budapest, Hungary (2016) — one on Trauma, the other Storytelling, Illness and Medicine. They have worked as a sound designer and dramaturg for choreographer Tim Darbyshire, theatre director Rebecca H. Russell, and media and performance artist Vanessa Godden, guest curated for Melbourne Now: Now Hear This’s electroacoustic composition playlist at the National Gallery of Victoria (2013), and twice mentored for Signal’s Screen x Sound Commissions (2019, 2020). Their work has been discussed in two books, ‘Experimental Music: Audio Explorations in Australia’ (2008) and ‘Women of Note: The Rise of Australian Women Composers’ (2012) and their research published in Organised Sound and Disclaimer.
In 2020, Soddell was awarded a Regional Arts Victoria Fellowship to explore sustainability and access in regional arts and to present a series of their work on sound and mental health in and around their hometown of Clunes — Dja Dja Wurrung Country — in partnership with Liquid Architecture and Clunes Neighbourhood House. Soddell is a non-binary, Polish-Australian (2nd generation) and British-Irish settler colonial descendant born on Dja Dja Wurrung Country in Bendigo, Australia, now living in Clunes.