Sound Travels

Sound Travels

producers/editors: Michael Kushell, Steffi Probst

Critical media response to Decentering Sound, a Sawyer Seminar with Ana Maria Ochoa and Charles Hirschkind (September 30, 2013)

This piece was conceived of as a way of placing arguments by Ana Maria Ochoa and Charles Hirschkind in dialogue with each other, by juxtaposing their respective narratives within the medium central to both accounts: sound.

In her paper “Sound, Modernity, and the Politics of Life in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Ochoa examines the use of so-called “anthropotechnologies” by 19th century Columbian elites: philological techniques intended to “modernize” the populace by taming the “non-human” aspects of their voice. The first half of this sound collage is an interpretation of one such method introduced by Ochoa: the system by Diego Fallón (1869 and 1885), in which every parameter of a musical score is translated into orthography, to be recited in repetition until internalized. Notably, the musical repertoire used in this context was drawn from the Western classical tradition, such as Chopin’s Berceuse op. 57, which is featured here. In our piece of sound-art, the process of acculturation and modernization is signified by the alleged purification of sound achieved in the historical evolution of recording technology. Overlaid, you will hear a rendering of the Berceuse in its transcription into Fallón’s memorization system, as a parallel process of appropriation.

The collage’s second half transports the conversation to present-day Spain (as representative of concerns prevalent all over Europe), where, as Hirschkind attests in his paper “European Civilization and its Andalusian Discontent,” the Spanish government is invested in analogous efforts to “modernize” the country by denying Islamic soundings a place in both the historical and contemporary national soundscape. Significantly, however, the Muslim musicians in Hirschkind’s account actively resist aural subjugation through an impassioned revival of lost Andalusian performance genres, their cross-Mediterranean itineraries working to combat years of state-sponsored erasure of Spain’s Islamic past. Thus, cheesy official tourism advertisements and stock flamenco guitars collide with different stylistic attempts at reviving sounds lost in the Andalusian past, Egyptian protesters calling for the return of Islamic Spain, and sermons instructing international followers about the history of Al-Andalus—many sounds bearing the compressed traces of the online forum through which these debates circulate within an even broader global stage.

Like the papers themselves, this piece ultimately strives to encourage reflection on how processes of oppression and resistance are enacted within the sonic realm.

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