This issue features original research that presents new and compelling sonic insights on the classical philosopher Heraclitus and an essay that advocates for an expanded discourse on sound art as a mode of sensory perception by emancipating listeners, along with research that proposes new analytic approaches for the diagramming and recasting of vocal timbres and maps in order to better understand stylistic tactics employed by artists. Also, the soundscapes of cafés are considered through an ethnographic ear in a six-plus-year study that maps the sonic management of everyday life.
For our continuing special series “The Soundwork of Media Activism,” the interdisciplinary team of guest editors and authors Jen Shook, Georgia Ennis, Alex Sayf Cummings, and Josh Shepperd have edited new work that considers how activism plays the role of both liberator and guardian for social justice in new research on the history of radio that focuses on Black women and their roles in radio production and programming in the 1950s; an account of a 1952 concert by media activist and singer Paul Robeson on the Canada–US border, an essay about the creation of spoken-voice memorials promoting social and civic justice; and a piece that considers the alternative radio and audio spaces that were set up to mobilize against the World Trade Organization’s fifth Ministerial Meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003.
Also in this issue, our commentary essayist Carter Mathes offers a field of observation on the aesthetics and politics of sonic experimentation, sound art, and media activism from a range of authors presented in this issue, including Angela Tate, Gabriel Saloman Mindel, Whitney Johnson, Luz Ruiz, and John Barber.
In “Heraclitus and Sonic Thinking,” Trinidad Silva and Gregorio Fontaine provide a speculative dialogue between contemporary sound theorists and writers such as Salomé Voegelin, Julian Henriques, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Christoph Cox. In doing so, the authors suggest an “underlying connection beyond mere coincidence” by proposing listening and intentional meditation as a strategic means to gain access and better understand “sonic thinking.” Ultimately, Silva and Fontaine suggest an exploratory framework in which to analyze and examine the fluidity expressed within practice-based sound art.
In “The Emancipated Listener: Embodied Perception and Expanded Discourse,” author and sound composer Whitney Johnson calls on aesthetic philosophy and social phenomenology to broaden the political agency of the sonic sensorium in an effort to move beyond extant theories of ocular perception. For Johnson, the argument for multisensory perception represents a path to finding greater meaning and value:
Rather than adopting that norm of sensory perception in hearing, multisensory perception takes form in expanded listening. Whether conceived as a cochlear response, tactile sensation, or other experiences of pressure in the body, the vast notion of expanded listening reaches the broad diversity of bodies in perceptual process as a strict notion of hearing cannot. Though the body is the receptor of sensory stimuli in the sense of hearing, the power relations of signification within auditory culture point toward a distribution of the sensible that pertains to the gallery arts and beyond.
Rich in philosophical and theoretical references, Johnson’s essay migrates from Heidegger’s “hearkening” and Husserl’s “adumbration” in an effort to enrich our conceptual understandings of sensation. As a riff on Rancière’s “emancipated spectator,” the author’s “emancipated listener” is imagined as a new way to frame discussions and embodied experiences.
Author Daniel Siepmann recounts the experience of listening to the grunge-era artist and spoken-word poet Steven Jesse Bernstein’s recording of “This Clouded Heart” and how the rough tone colors of Bernstein’s voice focused the author’s aesthetic and analytical sensibilities to conceive a method of analyzing and mapping timbres in the voices of artists. “Timbral Heuristics and the Sonorous Presence of Steven Jesse Bernstein” presents a unique blend of phenomenology and music criticism that builds on theorist Thomas Clifton’s notions that spaces for listening are a “field of action.” In Siepmann’s “surface-moment” model, the author remaps imaginary auditory spaces onto the body of the performer so that the
…auditory space is now the tableau of the body; the timbral surface is a bodily profile of resonating sites, experienced in textural equilibrium; and the line’s perceptual relief is felt when the performer inserts muscular and articulatory deviations that activate new or reaccentuated areas of flesh for vocal production. In effect, the textural sensation of “pull” away from the surface is staged by the artist gradually carving out (or revealing) different bodily locations for timbral vibration. And the listener negotiates this as the tug between memory of the body’s past profile that the performer just departed (surface) and the edge of its present in the midst of arrival (line).
Careful to clarify what timbral maps are not, Siepmann’s system and companion graphism for representing embodiment are his own hybrid rendering, a commixture of x- and y-axis data visualization methods that also allow for interpretive gesturing by listeners.
In “Soundscapes of Productivity: The Coffee-Office and the Sonic Gentrification of Work,” author and artist Milena Droumeva offers a unique sonic perspective on the Habermasian concept of public spheres. Historically the café was the public meeting space for intellectual discussions in the neighborhood. Here, the author traces contemporary versions embodied through social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, in essence providing a communal space for sonic creativity, a sort of “coffitivity.” The coffee shop has become the new factory for productivity and subsequently has created acoustic communities worth further investigation.
Angela Tate, in her essay “Sounding Off: Etta Moten Barnett’s Archive, Diaspora, and Radio Activism in the Cold War,” presents fascinating insights into the 1950s–’60s radio program I Remember When, hosted by actress, concert singer, and journalist Etta Moten Barnett. Tate’s research takes as its focus the broader wartime and postwar periods, when Black women across the African diaspora were creating new transnational networks that coalesced women’s issues and anticolonial activism into radio programming that helped create
…a seriality of sound, an overlapping of the circles inhabited by Black women involved in international activism. Furthermore, their careers often found them circulating through major cities embedded in the space Paul Gilroy theorized as the Black Atlantic in his eponymous text. These Black Atlanticist peregrinations demand increased attention to sonic activism in the mid-20th century and require a careful examination of the extant archival scraps Black women left behind, be they transcripts, articles, or—rarely, unfortunately—the actual broadcasts themselves.
Tate notes the diversity and range of content that was created and produced for I Remember When, which included musical performances; interviews with civil rights leaders, politicians, and philanthropists; and her own autobiographical narratives. While for Tate, I Remember When helped to establish a Black women’s sonic culture, the author also points to the program’s popularity as a first of its kind, a radio show intended for Black listeners that was also a program able to garner and sustain a broader audience in cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Gabriel Saloman Mindel’s “Performing Abolition: Paul Robeson in the Canadian Borderlands” provides insight into how internationally renowned celebrity Paul Robeson vocally transgressed national borders. His voice and ideas transcended the politicized boundaries that his physical self could not otherwise cross, yet his artistry served to provide the momentum to challenge these borders. The grandeur of his ideas could not be contained to a particular place. In this way, Robeson metaphorically wins the intellectual war, elevating his ideas apart from sovereign privileges assigned to control and defuse his authentic expression against racism and material bondage.
In his article “Remembering the Dead and Say Their Names: The Role of Sound in Two Multimedia Memorials as Media Activism,” author and artist John Barber reflects on his work creating media art that seeks to memorialize those who have been killed in mass shootings and police actions. Both Remembering the Dead and Say Their Names exist virtually; Remembering the Dead also takes physical form as a sculpture / interactive kiosk that bears a resemblance to a tombstone. In both pieces, Barber works with text-to-speech technology to articulate the names of the many victims. In his writing, Barber notes:
Both Remembering the Dead and Say Their Names rise to these challenges by promoting listening and reflection. The use of sound (the speaking aloud of victims’ names) in both these installations is meant to create and extend a space, a temporary autonomous zone that offers—through thoughtful listening to the names of victims spoken aloud—perceptual, phenomenological, and sensory engagements with the act of remembrance to provide witness and memorial for those killed and to promote meaningful social and civic justice to stop the killings.
Luz Ruiz examines the efforts of audio and radio activism during the 2003 World Trade Organization’s meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in her piece, “Indymedia Cancún, Radio Hurakán, and the Sounding of Altermundos Sonoros.” Nearly 300 media activists from Latin America, Europe, and the United States gathered to share their stories. This article focuses on the artifacts and audio archives from Indymedia Cancún and Radio Hurakán to reconstruct the event through sound and story, allowing readers to listen in to the experience to gain a firsthand understanding of its relevance and strength in communicating social justice through its rich soundscapes and alternate presentation.
Resonance mourns the passing of the celebrated Canadian composer, author, and acoustic ecologist, R. Murray Schafer (1933–2021). As the founder of the World Soundscape Project (1969) and in his influential book, The Tuning of the World (1977), Schafer helped to establish the discipline of Acoustic Ecology and to popularize the term “soundscape.” Although largely known as a composer, Schafer was also a pioneer in sound studies, helping to build a bridge between the disciplines of music and ecology.