Meet Brad Nath, an artist who fuses the exploration of sound with the examination of materials and tactile experiences. In this interview, Brad delves into their interest in amplifying the social, political, and historical dimensions of built environments, discusses their critical engagement with technology, and shares a sneak peek into their newest research topic: robot dogs! We also touch on the ASMR trend, examining its healing powers and potential to create a sense of intimacy.
N: Hi Brad, how are you feeling these days? I want to get to know you better, can you tell me a bit more about your background?
B: Hey! I'm fine these days. Thanks for reaching out to me. I'm grateful that you're interested in what I'm doing. Right now, I'm in my studio where my background is a white wall made of bricks. The wall has a blue CD hung on it with the words "DANCE PAD" in pink on its surface. In front of that wall is a desk containing two furry beings and a cardboard box with sound equipment inside. Beside that desk is a coffee table with tools on it, and there is a shiny purple hoverboard on the ground."
N: In your practice you seem to fuse the exploration of sound with the examination of materials and tactile experiences. Can you expand on that?
B: Yeah, you're right. This interest in sound, materials, and the body comes from my experience over the years being involved in music, architecture, and body-based art respectively. I think attempting to make sense of my life between these worlds is where my practice comes from. To sum up what I do very crudely in one sentence, I'm working between space and bodies.
And because music was my first artistic language from quite a young age, my approach to things usually comes with a sonic sensibility. I actually realized only a couple of years ago that I am unable to create mental imagery (this is called aphantasia). It's the same for my parents and brother too. And suddenly, the role that sound has had in my life made sense."
For example, while I was studying architecture, I started casting speakers inside of the materials I was working with because I wanted to hear what they sounded like. If my imagination worked in a more visual way, I doubt that I would have taken the path that I have.
I feel that I am working through a turning point over the last year, though. For the first few years, my practice was quite technical; I was focused on developing listening techniques. In more recent works, I have been applying some of these techniques to try and amplify the social, political, or historic dimensions of a built environment. And, for example, the project I am currently working on doesn't involve sound exploration at all. In this case, I might only produce music to accompany the sculptures/performance.
N: How does technology inform your practice?
B: Techno-optimism is terrifying, and I try to be super critical of how I engage with technology. But I do engage with it, as I feel it would be naive, on the other hand, to be a techno-pessimist.
My work with the ASMR Harness is definitely me embracing my sonic cyborg fantasies, where I basically merge with the device to reconfigure how my body engages with space. I am always relieved when I take it off, though. I think when it comes to technology, I try to embrace it when relevant in order to lay out my skepticism. It's important to me, though, that the work itself doesn't become cynical.
Part of my current research involves getting really good at riding the hoverboard—you know, those ridiculous two-wheeled balance vehicles that sometimes catch on fire!
Eventually, I will use it in a piece too. I tend to find myself in unlikely situations while researching for a piece that I actually would never choose otherwise, and a lot of times, I'm like "damn...do I really have to do that," and if I do, I can only hope that it's in service of enabling some critical reflection for myself or others.
N: A couple of your works explore the idea of climbing up vertical surfaces. What draws you to that concept?
B: Climbing became relevant only while I was working on "Ghost of Aural Trauma (G.O.A.T.)". One of my core interests has been exposing the material history embedded within architectural surfaces, and the way I have engaged with this is by amplifying the physical contact between my body and built environments. The G.O.A.T. project began because I was intrigued by a very strange typology of above-ground air raid shelters from WWII known as Winkelturme. At some point, I learned that in 1936, goats were placed inside the first of these concrete towers to test whether an explosion would prove safe for its inhabitants. While the goats appeared unharmed after the explosion, the sound had deafened them.
The idea of climbing the surface of the towers became a way for me to engage with the history of these architectural relics and their material echoes. There was also a personal dimension to my process, which can't be ignored, though, given that my ancestors immigrated to the US during this period to escape persecution.
The project isn't explicitly about this, though. Out of the 53 Winkelturme that are still standing today, my favorite is the one in Herne, which is in the parking lot of a Lidl. It has been painted blue, and a Lidl sign has been installed at the top.
N: You also work with ASMR so i have to ask, what are your thoughts on the ASMR trend? Were you surprised to see it take off?
B: For a few months, I was regularly producing ASMR videos. People would sometimes write that the sounds and visuals would help them relax/soothe their anxiety. ASMR can be quite healing for people, and I really love that. At its core, I think that ASMR is an attempt to produce feelings of intimacy in the listener. And its sonic qualities are quite good at that, so its popularity makes a lot of sense.
Did you know that in 2021 it was the third most searched term on YouTube worldwide?
A lot of ASMR videos engage with intimacy by being a bit sexy. I'm personally interested in the more experimental corners of the ASMR world—those which produce intimacy not by replicating an IRL whispering lover but which manage to tingle us through unexpected and often awkward ways which have never been intimate for us before.
Although I stopped producing ASMR videos in the conventional sense, I still use techniques from this world—for example, while interacting with an architecture of war. I find the tension that this produces meaningful.
N: How do you see your work evolving in the future?
B: The project I am currently working on involves researching robot dogs...that's all I will say for now but let's stay in touch, and I'd be happy to keep you updated :-) !