By Audio Pervert - 1/14/2020

Norient is an institution, a multi-disciplinary platform and an intersectional effort curated by a host of writers, researchers, artists and related professionals. With a clear egalitarian foundation, aimed to provide visibility, to music, sound, narratives and artists who are on the fringe, between the political and the emerging, from across the world. The website reads "We aim to build a community of artists, journalists and scholars. Together, we can challenge mainstream discourses and defy algorithms" Norient was founded in 2002 by Dr. Thomas Burkhalter, an ethnomusicologist, experimental artist and music journalist from Bern (Switzerland). He along-with Sandra Passaro (heading Stars & Heroes Berlin) created an international framework, aided by a small team, aimed to investigate, showcase and propagate cultures and sub-cultures which are often marginalised or ignored by the mainstream narrative. Given Europe is dotted with many look-alike sound-alike institutions who claim to propagate the 'independent' and care for the 'unsung', however Norient is visibly and audibly different, as seen in it's ethos, curation and production. We recently spoke to Thomas Burkhalter about Norient, about it's formation, challenges of the day, about 'orientalism' and new plans. Norient has just launched a brand new crowd-funding campaign, inviting public support to build a new version of the existing platform.

How and why was Norient created?
Norient was founded in 2002. I had done a documentary about British Asian musicians of Second generation in the UK, and I worked as a freelance journalist for Swiss and German media, doing eportages in Cairo, Istanbul, Beirut, Belgrade and other places. I was interested in underground music from these cities, and wanted to see how underground musicians define the world through their music. In Europe however, many magazines were either into world music or they needed to cover artists that had record deals or at least distribution in Europe. The artists I was interested in failed in both categories... So, I decided to create my own blog to be free in my writing.

Growth, ups and downs through the years? 
Norient was always a project run by passion. I financed myself in selling articles or producing radio shows and then put alternative versions on Norient for free. After some years, more people became interested in Norient. I started to create projects with them, audio-visual performances, lectures, events which we financed through fees, tickets, and some of the bigger projects through public funding. In 2010 we started the Norient Musikfilm Festival which became quite successful in Switzerland, and in 2015 our exhibition and book «Seismographic Sounds – Visions of a New World» travelled many cities around the world. The ups were the feedbacks from artists, journalists, scholars and other people who thought that a platform like Norient was important. There are no big downs really. An almost burn-out after the Seismographic Sounds exhibition was my personal biggest down. Another down was that people that were involved in Norient and got babies mostly had to find jobs that got them an income and had to leave Norient. The good side of this was, that till this day quite many different people were involved with Norient and helped to shape what it is today.

Have the objectives and aims shifted over time?
In 2002, Norient was an 'attack' on Orientalism and Exoticism. It was about opening up to contemporary music and expressions from the non-Western world. Now it is about creating a true community of thinkers and artists. So one could say, now it is normal for us that we have podcasts, articles, photo series about underground music in Cairo, Karachi or Durban. We don’t see or mention it as something special. It is normal that the world is bigger than just Europe and the US. Our main effort now goes into the Norient Space «The Now In Sound», that we want to create. A trans-disciplinary gallery and community platform for everyone who wants to report on current developments via music and sound: journalists, researchers, podcast and radio producers, photographers, filmmakers, curators and other thinkers and artists. We will continue to present great music, and will remain an advocate for music scenes from Bolivia to Ghana to Pakistan – and for a world beyond Eurocentrism, exoticism and discrimination. However, we intend to become more political, deep, playful and experimental – and reach more people to achieve more. “The Now in Sound” means you experience through music, sound and noise what inspires today and is possible tomorrow. – so it goes beyond music, it is the Now through Sound, the contemporary world through the ear. You'll find: current music from pop to club to experimental from all over the world, but also sounds and noises from cities, nature and fauna.

Not pointing a finger, but how is Norient different from the existing european hegemony? About Orientalism?
This is a complex question that is with Norient right from the beginning. History will not go away. We are aware of our privileges. And still I want to be part of this world and not simply write and think about the Swiss alps. Me personally, I will always have my specific position and perspective, defined through geography, history, my gender, and much more. What I tried and what we now try to do with Norient is the following. First, to focus on contemporary expressions from the Non-Western world and not on tradition, exoticism. Plus, I personally, try not to push artists and music into a category or box. I try to ask my questions in interviews as open as possible and hope that artists do not tell only what they believe a white male from Switzerland would want to hear. Secondly, the core idea behind Norient is that we would like to have as many writers from outside the Western world to write about contemporary music from their places from their perspectives – for our exhibition and book «Seismographic Sounds – Visions of a New World» we worked with 250 people from 50 countries. So Norient is about many perspectives. And I personally hope that these perspectives sometimes contradict with what I see or hear – I would love to have a number of strong articles about the same phenomena, reflecting about it in completely different ways. So, the idea behind Norient is to create a multi-voiced discussions around music and sound from all over the world. Thirdly, if we succeed with our campaign we would like work with editors and curators from outside the Western world on a more permanent basis, so that more power in Norient comes from outside the Western world...

Why the need for public funding, now?
Our visions is to create a multi-layered, polyphonic writing of contemporary history through music, sound and noise. Which is quite a big idea. But we believe it is possible, and we do everything to make come true. We just shut down our Norient Magazine, and on our new Norient Space we want to bring our community of over 700 thinkers and artists from 50 countries, grown over the years, closer together. We want to create opportunities, pay fair fees, and present their ideas for the future to a broad public. We believe that the world needs new position, perspectives and ideas. In short, our vision is to create something big that will promote and support thinkers and artists from all over the globe and commit to the preservation of cultural diversity. To be able to do so we need a stronger foundation. We never succeeded the get public funding for the Norient Magazine, and we now believe that if our idea is strong enough it should be able to be supported by dedicated members and subscribers. Only together, as a vital community platform with dedicated membership, can we defy algorithms and filter bubbles – and tell new stories that are heard far and wide.

Future Plans of Norient?
The Norient Space «The Now In Sound» is our future plan. There is nothing else. If we do not succeed, Norient might be history. So yes, please spread this to people who believe that this idea is valid and strong. Its urgent. Go here to read all about it !

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