Moses Sumney’s technoechophenomena as therapy

Jaeden Pinder
6 min readOct 1, 2021
Moses Sumney at technoechophenomena. Photo Credit: @moses on Instagram.

I have always believed that movement and dance can be extremely therapeutic. It is a physical catharsis, a complete release.

In the same way, music has its therapeutic purposes and is an elixir for processing virtually any emotion. The music of Moses Sumney is healing in a way that is beyond words and in his first art installation “technoechophenomena,” he has gone even further to create an experience that homogenizes technology and movement to cleanse the body and mind in an individual yet shared experience.

This past summer has been quite busy for Sumney; first, a series of performances in collaboration with choreographer Sonya Tayeh titled “Unveiling” and next a one night only program inside the St. John’s Cathedral, both of which I had the honor to attend. Even after this, he has already released a new single after his critically acclaimed 2020 album “græ,” and Sumney seems far from slowing down.

Enter now “technoechophenomena,” where Sumney isn’t the performer for once. Instead, you are the conductor who manipulates the sound of his song “Me in 20 Years” through Microsoft’s Azure Kinect motion tracking software at Red Hook Labs.

I’ve heard this song in many iterations: the first in the context of “græ,” the next on a special episode of “Euphoria,” and the final two times in his most recent performances. Each time it has taken on new gravity and definition whether it was personal or expressive of a wider concept of the human experience. At this point, though, I still had no idea what to expect at the installation that evening.

Red Hook Labs is unassuming at first, hidden between Verona and Pioneer Street. After having my vaccination card checked, I sat down outside the building and can feel the beat of the music pulsating through the walls, the bass like a heartbeat. Outside, it’s gray and deserted except for me, the security guard, and the man ahead of me.

When you walk inside, you enter a completely different universe, a deep hue of indigo blanketing the space. Three video screens feature Moses’s lazuli silhouette performing a series of gesticulations. The young woman who operates the exhibit begins to describe to me what will happen inside the walls of the cryptic unit.

Power pose. Crouch. Praise. Selfie. Arm raise. Move. “Each of these gestures controls the song’s sound in different ways,” she says. Effects included crystallizing and singling out Moses’s voice to adding an echo or muffled effect to the entire piece.

She then leads me into the actual space revealing a square chamber with a blue spotlight centerstage. She says that as soon as I stand in the light, the software will recognize me, and the session will begin. I follow these simple instructions and wait as the spotlight dims on the figurative stage and the introductory track “insula” begins.

“Isolation comes from insula which means island,” the modulated voice of Taiye Selasi booms throughout the chamber. Thinking back on this, I was on my own island in those transformative five minutes. With my experience in modern dance, I took time to get acquainted with the space, performing textbook exercises to become secure in it. Walking around, trying out some of the gestures, I slowly adapted to the island in the introduction but still was puzzled as I was unsure if anything was changing. Before the end of “insula,” I struck the most hesitant and meek power pose possible, hoping for the best.

Announcing the beginning of the program, Ayesha K. Faines’s wobbly voice whispers, “Here we go into the gray.”

In complete opposition to the lyric, I entered a kaleidoscope of rubies, sapphires, ambers, and emeralds, each color encapsulating me, and at the coda of the piece, exploding into a vibrant cosmos, as if someone had shone a light on a prism.

The magic of the work truly began as the entire room shifted to obey the commands of my body. Not expecting how visceral the sound would be in the initial moments, I vividly remember laughing to myself, unable to convey my awe at the realization this was my space and no one was watching me. I could seriously do whatever I pleased in these five minutes.

It almost became a game, in this sense, trying to manipulate the song in as many ways possible. As the song continued, I slowly began to free my body, allowing for slight isolations and sweeping movements to occur. Before this, the last dance class I had attended was in February 2020, and since then I had become confined to improvisations in my minuscule dormitory in the early moments of the pandemic.

The freedom that dance can bring to someone can be invigorating but it must be in conjunction with an expansive territory to move in. Without space, you are ultimately limiting your body and cannot truly release yourself. In these moments, finally getting the opportunity to dance beyond physical barriers liberated me from the mental barriers of my mind.

I recall attempting my favorite moves from the past: chaîné leaps, penchés, and pirouettes, all because I had the dimensional space now. Ultimately, I completely surrendered myself to the sound as my body became an instrument for creation.

Unfortunately, as soon as the song began, it was over and I bid farewell to the space. My masquerade as Leopold Stokowski from Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” concluded, and before I knew it, I was on the subway back home, as if the whole evening was simply a trance.

Dance and movement have always brought me extreme respite because I could express how I felt without having to explicitly say how I was feeling. Everything in dance is interpretive and subjective, so who would truly know what any of it meant? In humorous contrast now, as a writer, I explicitly write down how I feel about everything, something my teenage self would never even be able to materialize. On my transit home, I struggled to find the words to articulate my admiration for this installation; even a thousand words into this piece I feel as though I’m rhapsodizing on a religious experience analogous to Hildegard of Bingen.

Excerpt of my experience at Red Hook Labs.

What I find so peculiar about this installation was how akin it was to a therapy session in nearly every aspect. To attend it, you had to set up an individual appointment and walk-ins were not accepted. The space is completely confidential and free of judgment. Finally, when the session was completed, the fog in your mind was cleared, that is, until the upcoming appointment that might help one understand themselves and their tendencies on a deeper level.

Sumney knows how to enchant audiences already with his voice and soundscapes, as anything he does is beyond the quintessential confines of beauty. Despite the title “græ,” everything about his art bleeds and blooms with radiant vibrancy and potency. It is overpowering in the best way possible. Beyond this, his music has blended and blurred the lines between distant genres from grunge to baroque pop, so his art is strictly and unapologetically his own. What makes “technoechophenomena” so meaningful is how it allows you to become the engineer and create your own sound collage, essentially generating a personal remix that is equally yours as it is Sumney’s.

Through the power of technology, Moses curated and cultivated an experience in a way that allows one to witness beauty through the imagination of one’s doing. To be alone with your thoughts and excavate your psyche and practice as a pseudo-ascetic can be an extremely enriching process that is equally terrifying. “technoechophenomena” teaches you to become comfortable in your discomfort.