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Introducting Denise L.L. Onen

Onen is an undeniable pathbreaker in her sonic cultural practice. Having honed her unique sensitivity to the world into a broad, burgeoning career, she’s already tried her hand at (nearly) everything sonic – professional installations, compositions, soundtracks, multi-valent production, technical recording, theatre. 
 

As the first black feminine body student to receive a BMus degree specialising in Music Technology from the University of Cape Town, she is now on track to surpass herself by earning a Masters from the same department specialising in graphic scoring and analysis.
 

In the meantime, she’s been in demand. Short films and documentaries for which she has crafted sound designs have played to diverse plaudits at festivals in Durban, Cape Town, Cairo, Dakar and even at Sundance in Salt Lake City, Utah. Likewise, her collaborative sound installation works have stood out at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda whilst her solo work has drawn eyes and ears at Cape Town’s (Un)Infecting the City. In 2022, she even drew the prestigious attention of the International Oram Award for feminine-bodied innovators in sound, music and associated technology, who added her to their annual shortlist.
 

The particular standards of intensity, eclecticism and immersiveness which so characterise her work so far stem from her vision of music-making as a kind of ‘audio alchemy’.

A bold image of Denise with her arms reaching over her head, her eyes are closed but that pose holds a steady pensiveness

artist features

As a sonic cultural practitioner collaboration in community is key.

The particular standards of intensity, eclecticism and immersiveness which so characterise her work so far stem from her vision of music-making as a kind of “audio alchemy”. Exploring the boundaries of sound, like exploring one’s queerness and multicultural roots, is, for her, an endless process of discovery, recognition and transformation, wherein experience can be distilled into precious and uncanny pieces of grace. The exact form of her work is thus ever-changing but her medium stays close to the bone.

Sound Collaborator

2023

  • World Expression Forum WEXFO, Lillehammer, Norway

  • International Literature Festival BuchBasel, Switzerland

Collaborating Sound Artist

The Theatre of Beauty (Imvuselelo) by Koleka Putuma

2023

  • National Arts Festival, Makhanda, RSA

  • The Dancing Mushroom dir. Haneem Christian - MIND Foundation’s INSIGHT conference, Berlin, Germany

Featured Performer

Vocals

​2022

  • Performance Feature, Bloom (a gentle erosion), Dakar Biennale, Senegal

Featured Artist

​2021

  • Featured Artist, Surviving Solitude (Immersive Sound Art Piece) – ICA UnInfecting the City Public Arts Festival

  • Featured Artist, So Creative Summit (Digital Storytelling Exhibition) – British Council

Featured Sound Artist

​2021

  • Featured Sound Artist, Our Bodies are Clocks Made of Water, LAPA Residence, Johannesburg

Featured Performer

Vocals + Keyboard + Electronics

​2021

Featured Performer

Backing Vocals + Synth + Electronics 

​2021

experience

Onen has been dedicated to projects that have raised awareness, empowered local communities, and held space for marginalised bodies. Onen was a shortlisted nominee for the 2022 International Oram Award for feminine-bodied innovators in sound, music, and associated technology.

Onen’s practical and academic dedication has enabled her to engage in creation in a range of disciplines as a composer, mixing and mastering engineer, producer, recordist, as well as sound designer. Her exemplary performance is demonstrated through featured works and collaborations at events among the likes of the World Expression Forum (2023), National Arts Festival (2023, 2022); Sundance International Film Festival (2022); Dak'Art - Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain (2022); Durban International Film Festival, winning Best South African Short (2022); Encounters South African International Documentary Festival (2021), as well as the Cairo International Film Festival (2021), winning Best Southern African Documentary.

COMPOSITION

SOUND DESIGN

  • Sound Designer, All my Ex-Lovers are Dead – Dara Beth (Stage Play), 2022

  • Sound Designer, I AM – Sportscene RSA (Advertisement), 2022

  • Sound Designer, Deliver Me – Paper Crane Collective (Documentary), 2021

  • Sound Designer, Prayers for Sweet Water – British Film Institute, CT (Documentary), 2021

  • Sound Designer, Still Bloom – Zoey Black Productions (Documentary), 2021

  • Soundscape Creation, Bienvenue A Ma Table – For Elijah Ndoumbe, Forecast Forum, 2020

  • Sound Editor, Empatico Experience – Empatico & UMUZI, 2019

  • Soundscape Creation/Sound Editor, Held (Exhibition by Amanda Rybicka), Creative Change Laboratory, 2019

MIXING &

MASTERING

  • Lemkus for Nike Footscape dir. Haneem Christian (Advertisement), 2023

  • Mix & Mastering Engineer, Salon Kewpie - The Legacy Project – dir. Haneem Christian, GALA Archive, District Six, 2023

  • Museum (Short Documentary), 2023

  • Mix Engineer, I AM – Sportscene RSA (Advertisement), 2022

  • Mix Engineer, The SenseMaker Project – ACDI, Western Cape Water Caucus, UCT (Documentary), 2022

  • Mix Engineer, City Occupied – Lionfish Productions (Documentary: Housing Crisis), 2022

  • Mix Engineer, Decentralising Music Making in South Africa – Stiff Pap/Umuzi (Documentary), 2022

  • Mix & Mastering Engineer, Deliver Me – Paper Crane Collective (Documentary), 2021

  • Mix & Mastering Engineer, Prayers for Sweet Water – British Film Institute CT (Documentary), 2021

education

2023 - Present

University of Cape Town

MMus 
Master of Music in Musicology 

Supervisor: Theo Herbst

Focus: Electroacoustic Musicology.

Exploring Graphic Representation and Analysis of Film Sound Design as Electroacoustic compositions

2014 - 2018

University of Cape Town,

South African College of Music

BMus
Bachelor of Music - Specialising in Music Technology 

(distinction in Music Technology)

2018 - Recipient of SAMRO Bursary 

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