Focusing on the Canadian settler context, this article analyzes two of Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore’s interactive works that enact alternatives to colonial understandings of voicing and listening that have centred the human ear and vocal apparatus. In particular, I analyze Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother (1991), where Belmore constructed a large wooden megaphone for participants to speak into and address the land directly, and Wave Sound (2017), where Belmore installed four sculptural listening tubes in Canadian National Park and reserve sites that invited visitors to listen to the land. Through my analysis of these two iterative performances, I examine how the echo functions as a decolonial gesture and multisensorial (re)mapping that can generate alternatives to modernity’s spatial-temporal-sensorial order and unsettle the coloniality of the voice. Engaging critical work in sound studies and Native feminist theories to think about vibration, I propose that voicing and listening can be understood as a set of social relationships between people and space/time.
In this article, I examine how Sissieretta Jones (frequently described as America’s first Black superstar, among other superlatives) strategically leveraged her European performance reviews in order to increase her listenership and wages in the United States. Jones toured Europe for the first (and only) time from February until November in 1895. According to clippings that she provided to African American newspapers, the singer performed at the renowned Winter Garden in Berlin for three months. Sissieretta Jones also claimed that she performed for Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, at his palace and was subsequently presented with an elaborate diamond brooch for her performance. Afterward, the singer told the African American newspaper the Indianapolis Freeman that she would like to live in Europe permanently. Her biographers frequently cite the success of this trip and its symbolic importance for African Americans. And yet, evidence of these events in the archives of major German newspapers is elusive and contradictory at best, if it exists at all. Nevertheless, after the much-hyped tour, her career would take many twists and turns. Sissieretta Jones eventually performed in venues like Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. She was the highest-paid Black female performer of the nineteenth century and a role model for future generations of Black performers.
Afro-Puerto Rican bomba, the island’s oldest extant genre of drum, dance, and song, is a fundamentally sonic practice. Unique in the tight relation between the execution of movements and the simultaneous sounding of the lead drum, bomba dance enacts a challenge to the Western focus on the visual spectacle of dancing and draws attention to what Ashon Crawley calls the “choreosonic,” or the inextricable linking of movement and sound. Bomba dance attends to creating rhythmic variation through specific movement choices strategically placed within and simultaneously producing the sonic framework of drumming and dancing. As such, it requires a listening that ultimately structures a relationality that interrupts the colonial, white supremacist and heteropatriarchal logic that contains Puerto Rican bodies. Through a close reading of different bomba dancings, this article examines how the dancer’s sounded movements claim, not space itself, but a relation to space and place, pulling bodies into the social and unravelling temporal boundedness. It argues that bomba’s growing popularity on the island and in the diaspora is a measure of its capacity for “listening to flesh,” “listening to flesh speak,” underscoring how this particularly addresses and is attuned to a subaltern, racialized, and femme-identified flesh. As such, bomba is an important case study examining the intersections between sound studies and performance studies, blurring clear distinctions between listening to and doing sound.
To resound means not only to make a loud, prolonged sound but also to send the soundings back—whether to their source(s) or other listeners, as if in a kind of dialogical loop. In this article, P. Michael, travis, and Shannon Rose Riley engage in a resounding conversation on the performance practices of the sonic subaltern as exemplified in their work as ONO. They discuss “bleeding haints,” “ghosted tracks,” and how their work resounds/re-members erased histories. They also begin to flesh out what travis calls “the colors of Noise” regarding how the Black body is always already a kind of “Noise upon the USAmerican landscape.” These are ONO epistemologies.
This essay invokes a line of historical singing lessons that locate blues singers Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters in the lineage of Broadway belters. Contesting the idea that black women who sang the blues and performed on the musical stage in the early twentieth century possessed “untrained” voices—a pervasive narrative that retains currency in present-day voice pedagogy literature—I argue that singing is a sonic citational practice. In the act of producing vocal sound, one implicitly cites the vocal acts of the teacher from whom one has learned the song. And, I suggest, if performance is always “twice-behaved,” then the particular modes of doubleness present in voice point up this citationality, a condition of vocal sound that I name the “twice-heard.” In considering how vocal performances replicate and transmit knowledge, the “voice lesson” serves as a key site for analysis. My experiences as a voice coach and composer in New York City over two decades ground my approach of listening for the body in vocal sound. Foregrounding the perspective and embodied experience of voice practitioners of colour, I critique the myth of the “natural belter” that obscures the lessons Broadway performers have drawn from the blueswomen’s sound.
This article analyzes a recent production of Samuel Beckett’s play Not I performed by Jess Thom, a neurodiverse performer most well known by the moniker Touretteshero. Not I is a monologue of twisting and fragmented text revered for the physical, vocal, and emotional challenge it presents to performers and audiences alike. This article takes up the aesthetic, material, and sonic changes made to the play in the Touretteshero production, which serve to reimagine and reconstruct the “sonic profile” of the work. Together, these changes enact a crip aesthetic that illuminates the often-hidden exclusionary structures that permeate theatrical practice. Specifically, this article describes the material changes made to the production in the service of increased accessibility for performer and audience, how Thom’s vocal tics interact with Beckett’s already fragmented text, and how the production’s integration of sign language interpretation extends how we conceptualize sound. Through this analysis, Thom’s performance emerges as a revolutionary contribution to contemporary disability arts that reimagines the value of disability and the possibilities for sound in performance.
In this interview with Fitzmaurice Voicework practitioner and La Pocha Nostra performer Micha Espinosa and her collaborator Garrett Johnson, Patricia Ybarra and her interlocutors ask: "How do we fight through sound against the state under fascism and racial capitalism?"
Given the salient role of embodied tactics in contemporary networked protests in performance, in this essay I listen for how the embodied sonic praxis of protests during the Arab revolutions translates into the audio, visual, and text modalities of digital media. I propose audibility, or the appearance and perceptibility of sound objects, as that which translates the “live” sound that occurs in physical spaces into representational spaces, and, in so doing, alters the temporality and spatiality of the sonic experience. Interrogating who and what are rendered audible as part of the political contestations that drive protest actions, I demonstrate how audibility is a technological condition, sensory force, and social process through which affective publics emerge in networked spaces. I begin with social media posts from the first months of non-violent protest actions in 2011, in Egypt and Syria, analyzing the translation of sonic objects into written texts that narrativize the subjects and spaces of the Arab revolutions. I then shift to the sonic praxis of revolutionary mourning in a discussion of the audibility of the crowd in footage of protest funerals that reclaimed martyrs of the Syrian revolution in 2018 and 2019, interrogating how the sounds of the crowd enable the mythologization of the martyrs’ bodies and help mobilize the cause for which they died. Both approaches to audibility – as expressing voice and documenting sounds – underscore how audibility, I argue, is crucial for understanding the affect-rich intensities that drive networked protest performances, and that forge political possibilities as imaginable, sensible, and perceptible.
Documenting my encounters as a white queer scholar with the sonic archive of the late black American lesbian comic Jackie “Moms” Mabley, this paper explores the cross-racial/sexual politics of sonic historiography. Through what I term listening backward, I examine how sound procures queer sonic intimacies between critic and subject: the repetitive listening, soundwaves directly travelling from one voice to one person, and most pertinently, the historical and sociocultural contexts that make consumption of such exchange possible and/or fraught. This listening practice centres on relational and resonant modes of archiving through sound and asks: (1) How can exploring methods of sonic documentation align performance studies’ commitment to archiving the affective? (2) What might attention to not only the product of such documentation but also its performative processes offer about how the sonic can deepen modes of performance historiography and the racial/sexual politics of listening? (3) What practices of listening can centre queer intimacies and temporalities in the archive?