UnKnowing Madness

A 20-minute composition developed through workshops run by Thembi Soddell with participants Amrita Dasvarma, Melis Layik, Kim Le and Hassaan Memon.

Pictured from left to right: Thembi Soddell, Kim Le, Amrita Dasvarma, Melis Layik and Hassaan Memon. [Image description: A row of five separate square shaped bio photos. The first is a dark, moody photo of Thembi, a white person in their early 40s with short brown hair, shaved at the sides and longer on top, with a black top on and headphones around their neck; the second, a black and white photo of Kim, a bespectacled, light-skinned Asian person in their 20s with a grown-out mullet, fringe falling over the left side of their face, wearing a dark collared shirt with wired earphones in; the third, a photo of Amrita, a brown skinned woman in her late 40s with black hair, wearing a red woollen beret and black top, standing in front of a canopy of green leaves, smiling; the forth, a vibrant, colourful photo of Melis, a white woman in her 20s standing in front of a yellow background with hands on her head, staring into the camera, wearing brightly coloured clothes and clown inspired make up; the fifth, Hassaan, a South Asian male in his early 30s with trimmed facial hair facing the camera, green foliage in the background, eyes squinting in bright daylight]

3-minute preview of the composition UnKnowing Madness. It is 5 sections cut together to provide an overview of the work (hence the abrupt cuts). It is mixed for headphones and to be listened to in darkness. A website where you can hear the full composition can be heard on this website designed by workshop participant Kim Le.

UnKnowing Madness is a 20-minute composition developed through an online workshop series conceived by Thembi Soddell, designed to invite four people with lived experience of complex trauma–without their own experimental arts practice–into Soddell’s process of composing. This process involves recording real-world sounds such as field recordings, played objects and voice, sampling and shaping them into acousmatic compositions that reflect on lived experiences of trauma.

From August-October 2022, Soddell worked with participants Amrita Dasvarma, Melis Layik, Kim Le and Hassaan Memon to generate ideas and sounds relating to their individual yet entangled lived experiences of complex trauma. It included an objects workshop facilitated by media and performance artist Dr Vanessa Godden, a vocal workshop facilitated by voice artist and experiential therapist Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, and sessions run by Soddell co-facilitated with Mehak Sheikh. The participants were also provided technical support in working with recording equipment by Mofiz Ul Haq.

Soddell then used the sounds and ideas generated through these workshops to compose UnKnowing Madness, which premiered at The Big Anxiety Festival’s Lived Experience Forum in Naarm, followed by an audience discussion led by Soddell on abstract sounds’ ability to reflect lived experience of mental illness.

The workshops were designed in extensive consultation with Godden and Chang, with further input from racial justice consultant Erfan Daliri, ex-mental health GP and photographer Dr Kelvin Lau, and Scientia Professor Jill Bennett, founder of the Felt Experience and Empathy Lab (fEEL) at UNSW.

Researchers Lydia Gitau and Rebecca Moran from fEEL (UNSW) are also conducting research on the impact of the program on participants and facilitators. Once the research has been published it will be linked to here.

Participants were found via an open call for expressions of interest, which provides more information on the project and can be found here.


This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. The concert was part of “New Kinds of Archives: Trauma, Knowledge & Feeling”, an RMIT Design Hub Gallery project. It is a part of the RMIT Culture program and The Big Anxiety Festival 2022. Thank you to Liquid Architecture and Yamaha for workshop equipment supply.