Original Gallery Score: UMM / AL ATLAL

Sep 11, 2023

A detail of a colorful sculptural work with hand wrought lettering that spells out “Pour me a drink and...”

The title of the new exhibition by Sahar Khoury is in part a tribute to the Egyptian singer, songwriter, and actress Umm Kulthum (1898–1975). Called "the voice of Egypt," she was an iconic figure in Middle Eastern culture who, over a decades-long career, was heard throughout the region via broadcasts of her live concerts on the first Thursday of the month.

With this tradition in mind, Khoury commissioned a sonic homage to Kulthum to play as part of the installation on each first Thursday of the exhibition's run. UMM / AL ATLAL is a collaborative sound work composed by Esra Canoğulları and Lara Sarkissian. It's meant to be heard in union with a visit to the galleries, but it can also act as a aural preview or reminder of that experience. The work is embedded above.

This hourlong piece deconstructs and abstracts a live performance of Umm Kulthum's song "Al Atlal." Kultum was known for live performances that lasted hours, with individual songs lasting up to an hour each, and crowd participation played an essential role in these durational and enchanting live shows. UMM / AL ATLAL takes a similar approach to abstraction as Sahar’s sculptural radio tower—isolating and embedding individual lyrics while reinterpreting their form. The collaborative nature of this sound sculpture is our contemporary version of the audience call and response participation that is present in all of Kulthum’s live performances.

You can learn more about Kulthum in the documentary Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt, which screens in a free matinee at the Wex on Tuesday, September. 12.


About the Artists

Lara Sarkissian is a Los Angeles-based electronic musician, interdisciplinary artist, and a broadcaster on NTS Radio. With origins in the Bay Area, she co-founded CLUB CHAI - a record label and curatorial platform with 8ULENTINA. Her electroacoustic music sequences Armenian folk instruments and samples, underscored with an electronic rhythmic pulse that draws from a deep appreciation for underground dance music, industrial, noise and dark ambient. Sarkissian creates immersive sonic landscapes utilizing field recordings, film samples, Armenian sharakan (chant), texts and various digital and analog instruments. She has released with labels Tresor, Knekelhuis, All Centre, TT, CLUB CHAI, and scores for video and immersive AV installations that have exhibited across museums in North America and Europe.  

Esra Canoğullari (8ULENTINA) is an interdisciplinary artist, DJ, and music producer based in Brooklyn, New York. They co-founded Oakland, CA based record label and night club CLUB CHAI (2016-2021) with Lara Sarkissian. Known for dynamic DJ sets and music composition that synthesizes a wide range of genres, geographies and tempos– their work is driven by percussive intensity, nonlinear narrative and diasporic storytelling through sound.  


Top of page: Sahar Khoury: Umm at the Wexner Center for the Arts (installation detail)

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