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Headquartered at DINA, SONA is a group that supports women and self-identifying women in sound and music technology. We spoke to composers Deborah Egan and Lucy Cheesman to learn more.

Tell us about SONA.

[Lucy] We started out in 2016. We were trying to reach out to other women working in music technology and see who was about in Sheffield. We started a monthly get-together for people to chat, share work and talk about opportunities. It grew from there and we started doing more creative work together, and we put on a series of workshops with Sheffield Hallam. Lastly we've had a series of gigs that was funded by Sound and Music and the Arts Council. We've got a film coming out about that very soon and we've got some upcoming sound art projects.

What inspired the group?

[Lucy] Me and [third founder] Amy met through the Yorkshire Sound Women Network. We were both living in Sheffield and found we had very similar experiences. We wanted to meet more like-minded people and we were looking for a venue so we met Deborah. We were all so much on the same page.

[Deborah] I think part of our social process was about sharing work. It was quite a galvanising and creative show-and-tell, rather than an inactive, audience-based type thing. It was stimulating. Most of those exchanges were inspirational. It was a dynamic relationship. From that we started doing work together.

An expert can learn so much from a beginner

The workshops are a two-way process?

[Lucy] Yeah absolutely, and we want the gigs we put on as well to be a sharing process and to set up a different relationship between the performer and the audience. Part of that was demystifying what people do when they're onstage, showing that it's really accessible to anybody. One of the nice things is that we had people who didn't even own a computer come to a programming workshop. I've been trying to carry that brief through everything we do. We're quite anti-expert.

[Deborah] It can be challenging when you're working with people with a huge range of experience. You've got people at post-grad level and other people who don't know how to put a plug in the wall. That's exciting because it becomes about the creativity rather than the ability to harness technology.

[Lucy] An expert can learn so much from a beginner, in the way that a beginner can learn so much from an expert. We've tried to have that inform everything we do. Everybody has as valid an approach.

You've also got a gig series.

[Lucy] I woke up in the middle of the night and thought: I want to do this series of events which is about inviting women who are doing really exciting things in sound into DINA and create a community around that. Not just having them perform, but having them talk and establish that dialogue with the audience. It expanded from there and we did an installation where we asked everyone who performed to contribute sounds.

[Deborah] People in the audience were also encouraged to contribute sounds. It was really all about blurring those lines between what an audience member is and what a participant is. It's conversational and non-hierarchical.

[Lucy] Hopefully by doing that people were able to take the first step on a path to doing something they hadn't done before.

Sam Gregory

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