DMSA Feature: Alex Lewis Whitaker

DMSA Alumni Alex Lewis-Whitaker speaks to us this month about his current postgraduate research and projects. Alex graduated in 2021 and was awarded the Nagoya University of the Arts Award of Excellence for his project Wɔpo – a project which drew on his mixed English and Asante (Ghanaian) heritage to create work comprising both a live performance piece and a digital ‘mindmap’ to build bridges between his ancestral lineages.
Three words that describe you as a creative person?
ALW: Holistic, patient, inquisitive
When did you start working with sound and music?
ALW: I created a virtual rock band called Hippo Island when I was 16 (in 2016), for which I made two albums and an EP, all recorded and mixed on an iPad. I’ve since taken everything off the internet, but it was an important couple of years as it made me realise I could learn how to do everything myself, from the writing, to the recording, to the mixing. Brighton was the first time I’d really explored contemporary and experimental music in an academic setting, as I took Art, not Music, all the way through school.
In what ways has the DMSA course supported or helped you to develop into who you are today creatively and professionally?
ALW: The regular tutorials and conversations I had with my tutors, especially in third year, were priceless in terms of raising the standard of my work and making sure I kept challenging and expanding on my ideas. I was able to take crucial ideas from even the bits of the course that I don’t intend to make a career out of (e.g. sound art, sound for film), and apply them to my musical projects. I feel that I now have a broad understanding of the sound and music worlds, and I am also much closer to figuring out what kind of musician and artist I want to be. Being the DMSA nominee for the Nagoya University of the Arts prize, and winning it, has given me the confidence in my abilities to build a career out of being creative. I was also grateful to be given opportunities like performing at DMSA night and designing our degree show poster.
Can you tell us a few words about ‘La Création du Monde’?
ALW: This is my research project for the Audiovisual Cultures module on my current MA course, entitled ‘La Création du Monde: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of “Primitivism” in the Parisian Avant-Garde’. I used the same digital mindmap software that I used for my final project in Brighton to create what is essentially an online multimedia exhibition, centering on a ballet from 1923 by Ballets Suédois that gives insights into the obsession with primitivism and exoticism in Modernist arts in the 20th century. I explore the work from the perspectives of a variety of disciplines, including music, painting, dance, philosophy, psychology, ethnography and religion, history and art history, and politics.
The project in its current form can be accessed via the following link, although I am still intending to redo the audio narrations to be more engaging, rather than sound like I’m reading out an essay:
What are your plans for the near future?
ALW: I am currently in the second semester of a Music MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, so this will be my priority until September. I am continuing to delve into completely different areas of music and culture, with the aim of allowing it all to influence my future music. At the end of March, I will be giving a performance of the atenteben, a bamboo flute from Ghana, as part of my ethnomusicology module, for which I was able to take Whatsapp lessons from a tutor at the University of Ghana. Over April, I will be focusing on my Philosophies of Music essay, for which I am looking at the use of glossolalia in the vocals of Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance). Lastly, I will have my major project, for which I am studying the oral traditions of West Africa from an audiovisual perspective; my ideas are not very far along as yet but much of my interest came from my time in Brighton, where I started to develop an abstract style of storytelling.