Karaoke Theory / Karaoke Therapy


  • Sumugan Sivanesan




karaoke, somaesthetics, yoik, Songlines, political ontology, anticolonialism


This article, an outcome of practice-based artistic research, concerns singing as a therapeutic performance and conveyor of knowledge. It arises from my project fugitive radio, which responds to the uptake of radio in contemporary art by pursuing experimental modes of “performance-radio.” Following a voicing event in Helsinki, a colleague suggested that singing had been “somehow civilized out of us”, prompting me to investigate connections between singing, therapy, and knowledge and in relation to the global phenomenon of karaoke singing.

My considerations are framed by ideas from neuroscientist and popular writer Daniel J. Levitin, who argues that the human brain evolved with song, and ethnomusicologist and voice therapist Anne Tarvainen, who encourages her clients to pursue unconventional methods of singing so as to experience their bodies in relation to power. Singing forms discussed include samba and música popular brasileira, Sámi yoiking, Estonia’s Singing Revolution, and Aboriginal “Songlines”, the latter being exemplar of how knowledge is kept in song. Thus, my text turns to consider how (Western) knowledge is subordinate to discourse and how artistic research fits into this schema with reference to the writing of curator and theorist Simon Sheikh. Its final movement follows the “ontological turn” in anthropology and philosophy to addresses how different practices of “worlding” arise as struggles in contemporary art and artistic research.

Author Biography

Sumugan Sivanesan

is an anti-disciplinary artist and researcher whose interests span migrant histories, minority politics, activist media and more-than-human rights. He earned a Doctorate of Creative Arts from the Transforming Cultures research centre at the University of Technology Sydney (2015) and was a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for English and American Studies (Cultural Studies), University of Potsdam (2016) supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He is currently a resident at the Jan van Eyck post-academy in Maastricht, Netherlands. www. sivanesan.net

Sumugan received a Kone Foundation (2020–21) fellowship to pursue artistic research into migrant media activism and music in Helsinki, in partnership with Pixelache. His project, fugitive radio, was selected for the Saari International Artitst Res- idence programme, Finland, September–October 2021. He was the Australia Council for the Arts resident at Helsinki International Artist Programme, February–May 2022, where he continued to develop modes of “performance–radio”, anticipating outcomes in Sri Lanka, Australia and Brazil. fugitive radio participated in lumbung radio, an on- going online community radio project programmed by Station of Commons for doc- umenta fifteen, curated by Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa. www.fugitive-radio.net




How to Cite

Sivanesan, S. (2023). Karaoke Theory / Karaoke Therapy. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (109), 192–213. https://doi.org/10.37522/aaav.109.2023.166