Southwest Key Programs’ website was unavailable on the night of June 19th. “Under Renovations,” a static page read. The next day, Southwest Key offered a second static page in place of its full corporate site: a few FAQs and a statement that the Program “does not support separating families at the border.”
Southwest Key Programs does not support separating families at the border. For 30 years, our work in offering youth alternative justice, immigrant children’s shelters and education has served to improve the lives of thousands of young people. We believe keeping families together is better for the children, parents and our communities and we remain committed to providing compassionate care and reunification. For every child who has come through our shelter doors, we start on day one to reunite them with their parents or a family sponsor and to provide them with the kind of service that will help them thrive. This has been our priority for decades.
Southwest Key was founded in 1987, one year after Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act. The Act introduced an amnesty program alongside new surveillance technology at the U.S.-Mexico Border and, for the first time, imposed penalties on employers who employ undocumented workers, knowingly or not. The non-profit operates 27 centers in California, Arizona and Texas. Some of Southwest Key’s facilities are huge. The New York Times recently featured a Texas facility that houses 1,700 boys between ages 10-17. In San Diego, there are three Southwest Key facilities: Casa San Diego, Casa El Cajon and Casa Lemon Grove. All three are at least 20 miles from the border.
The day before – June 18 - the San Diego Tribune ran a few articles about the San Diego facilities, one with the eye-grabbing headline: “When Children are Separated From Their Parents at the Border, Here is Where They Go Next.” The headline promises transparency but contradicts itself almost immediately. The article details a specific facility – Casa San Diego, in El Cajon – to which no recently separated children had actually been sent. Southwest Key’s San Diego facilities are relatively small. Most house children who crossed unaccompanied to reach family already in the U.S. About 10% of the children in the San Diego facilities have been separated from their parents at the border. The largest facility has 65 available beds for boys and the other two hold a combined 25 beds for girls. They are all at capacity almost all the time. The Tribune piece underscores that Southwest Key workers say that the current number of arrivals is typical of the surges they see each summer.
I live in San Diego. Amid these early moments in the ongoing family separation crisis, I spent the following Thursday – June 21 – driving around two nearby Southwest Key’s facilities. I found them easily on Google Maps (no corporate website needed). I begin with the Tribune piece for a number of reasons. The article operates a stunning synecdoche in which Casa San Diego is made to stand in for Southwest Key’s vast corporate apparatus. This displacement takes place in the article’s written discourse but its accompanying video also gives this trope audio-visual form. Music studies and sound studies are, together, uniquely equipped to analyze the histories, places and subjects, objects that do and do not find expression in these sights and sounds. If the Tribune offered something of a panacea, I wanted to unpack the modes of listening that might have made it convincing.
I wrote this essay quickly. Frustrated by the Tribune’s fuzzy treatment of Casa San Diego, Southwest Key and the recently applied “no tolerance policy,” I was eager to unsettle displacements that seemed to balance “no tolerance” against Southwest Key’s longstanding presence in the region. I hoped that portraying the historical, political and sensorial specificity of Southwest Key’s San Diego sites might upset that balance. And so, my writing experiment joined a number of recent essays that trace the Southwest Key’s historically good standing among immigrant and civil rights activists since the mid-1980s through the present. Many of these same groups now rightly decry its implication in the ongoing family separation crisis. To do essential research on the non-profit’s corporate history, I add attention to the concepts of care that found expression in discourse on Southwest Key’s San Diego sites from the mid-2010s to the present. This apparent break from good standing, I’ll suggest, is internal to care discourses themselves – and specifically, to how care discourses balance the well-being of migrant children against the well-being of the populations that “host” them. As Saiba Varma notes, arguments that exemplify humanitarian care can resist a politics of violence but can just as easily replicate them on various scales. This essay begins and ends by listening for such resistance and replication.
The Tribune’s video opens with a roomful of empty well-made beds with colorful patterned sheets. A series of medium shots show kids lining up for food, kicking a soccer ball around and clapping to music. Their faces are not in the frame. Standing outside Casa San Diego, an immigration reporter tells the Tribune “it looks like a school where children sleep.” They do not interview any Southwest Key staff and there are no clear markers of place, like street signs or nearby businesses. We don’t hear what any of this sounds like because the video is instead set to music. A syncopated pattern in triple meter with an innocuous but thoughtful, optimistic Steve Reich-y feel loops for almost the video’s entire duration.
Of musical processes, the ostinato is perhaps least amenable to being represented as a bounded “unit” or complete musical “object.” A listener can join an ostinato as an already-ongoing process that might perhaps continue, open-endedly and unsegmented, beyond her period of engagement. This suggests a few different listening positions. As Naomi Cumming shows in her expert analysis of Reich’s Different Trains, such engagements might be experienced as comforting and horrifying by turns. Cumming locates this sense of comfort in rhythmic repetition that can be embodied, via listening, as kineasthetic motion. This mode of engagement is crucial to Tribune’s video panacea. Overall, the piece is meant to reassure us that Southwest Key has been doing their best and will continue to do so amid the application of “no tolerance.” The ostinato neither segments the image track nor illustrates the actions we see onscreen. It belies no geographic and temporal specificity until its gentle rocking loop is at last interrupted by a single sound that originates in Casa San Diego: a bell that children ring when they are re-united with a parent or sponsor. The video’s play with nondiegetic music and diegetic sound presumably recorded on-site composite deflects attention from what happens inside these facilities. We hear only the bell that indicates that Southwest Key has done its work successfully. We only hear, in other words, the sounds meant to childrens’ faith in the Programs’ effectiveness.Understanding and responding to this crisis requires a radical rethinking of its spatial distribution. The Mobilized Humanities working group’s project Torn Apart / Separados, for example, used a 2017 ICE Facilities List to create an interactive map that locates the centers that could be holding recently separated children. Orange dots cover the map; you can zoom in for Google street view. “A lot of America thinks this phenomenon is happening in this limited geographical space along the border,” writes digital scholarship librarian Andrew Gil, of Mobilized Humanities. This map is telling a different story: The border is everywhere. ICE is everywhere.” If ICE is everywhere, ICE has long been sensible in ways that are not obvious or spectacular; if ICE is everywhere, then there is somewhere nearby to which you might listen and look differently. Or that someone has been looking at listening to differently for some time. Powerful in its scope and density, this visualization also suggests that locally-specific ways of seeing and looking might provide cues for further intervention, forms of study and coalition-building work. Following Gil, I wondered after ways of reading the city that could connect what Hortense Spillers calls “mistaken glances of the eye,” visualizing tricks and auditory illusions to the vast geographical sweep of immigrant detention that Mobilized Humanities has so carefully mapped. How to hear and see a border that is everywhere? This essay’s next three sections experiment within the ambitus of this question.
** El Cajon, CA: June 21, 2018 **
In a then-recent clip, an NBC reporter stationed outside Casa San Diego tells us that the facility is located “on a residential street in San Diego.” Both details are false. El Cajon is a city in San Diego County about seventeen miles east of downtown San Diego. Broadway is a not a residential street – it is a four-lane commercial thoroughfare. Cars and trucks zoom past Casa San Diego. A little further south and west, frequent lights allow cars to turn in and out strip malls thickets lining both sides of the street. The businesses in the middle of Casa San Diego’s block, however, require a little more space: a recreational vehicle rental facility, a Middle Eastern grocery story with a large parking lot, a car parts wholesaler. Apart from the soft whoosh of vehicles traveling about 40 to 50 miles per hour, the block is quiet. This is not because it’s remote; it’s because June is hot and these are all obviously driving destinations.
Casa San Diego sits between a street-corner strip mall and parking lot. The facility is surrounded by a fence with opaque green privacy tape woven into its chain links. The green tape creates a strange continuity with leafy trees inside the fence but visible from the street. One tree has grown over the fence, creating the sidewalk’s only shady spot. Amid Broadway’s grays and browns, Casa San Diego’s combination of organic and inorganic greens looks cool and lush. Vehicles come and go through a white security gate that is easily visible from the street and sidewalk. The recreational vehicle rental’s gated driveway creates a weird symmetry with Casa San Diego’s, as though reassuring passersby that gated facilities are the norm, here. A sign about 20 feet above street level and inside the fence features Southwest Key’s logo, but not the non-profit’s name. The design is non-descript but vaguely optimistic: a soft orange sun with cutely asymmetrical rays peeks over an abstract horizon. The sign’s height stands out among the one-story building and seems to rise much like the sun it depicts. Single-family homes with large lots line the streets that run parallel to Broadway. Separated by a long block, some share a back fence with Casa San Diego.
As I walked by, an ABC film crew in town from Los Angeles was packing up. I asked them about what they were doing. Like the Tribune, they just wanted to show viewers what the facility looked like; they hadn’t interviewed any Southwest Key staff or the few protesters that had been there earlier that morning. Like the Tribune, he was both right and wrong when he told me that “this is where the children are being detained.” This easy sleight of hand furthered the need for analysis, strategy and action that could connect the longer-standing Casas with the immediate and catastrophic implementation of “no tolerance.”
** Lemon Grove, CA: June 21, 2018 **
Two houses away from Casa Lemon Grove, I could hear chickens clucking in a front yard coop. The street was that quiet. An occasional “crack!” signaled a construction project on a nearby house that I couldn’t see. Casa Lemon Grove’s address is easily visible from the street. There is one segment of unlined fencing in front of the house and you can see the structure easily atop a steep driveway with lush overhanging foliage like many of the other homes on the block. The street is easy to miss. Left and right turns off of the artery scales the mesa and intersects with Lemon Grove Boulevard which is not clearly marked. The street’s pavement tapers onto sandy dirt, suggesting little foot or vehicle traffic. Houses are set back from a street that cuts a steep incline into one side of the hill with long, flat yards on the other.
There is no Southwest Key signage and no opaque fence, but a surfeit of “No Parking” and “Video Surveillance” signage induced in me a pre-emptive guilt: walking, driving, driving slowly to read the signs, driving slowly to find parking would signal, to those who know, that I did not belong there. Like the recreational vehicle’s security gate in El Cajon, “No Parking” signs on nearby houses naturalized the signs outside Casa Lemon Grove. If you don’t know the neighborhood, you might be forgiven for thinking ok, maybe it’s just how things are here, I’ll move right along. Both facilities conceal themselves, in part, via their proximity to familiar signage that sanctifies private and commercial property. Southwest Key’s house fits into the block to avail itself of the surveillance technologies that have long been part of its built environment.
Southwest Key’s presence in San Diego convenes many important local histories. As North County residents were protesting a proposed Southwest Key facility in the city of Escondido in 2012, Lemon Grove residents underscored their co-habitation with Casa Lemon Grove as a relatively easy one. Lemon Grove and El Cajon have been home to historically organized immigrant communities. Just after the turn of the century, Mexican immigrants began settling in Lemon Grove. Isolated on the mesa, this rural region was extolled for its “blissful” setting and lucrative agricultural fields. By 1924, Congress created Border Patrol to combat Mexican immigration, reflecting local, regional and national sentiment that favored the deportation of the Mexican population in the United States. School segregation was a test case: Mexican segregation was institutionalized in Texas during the 1920s and, by 1928, at least 68 California schools were 80-100% Mexican-American.
Lemon Grove was the site of the first successful school desegregation court decision in U.S. history. Known as the “Lemon Grove Incident,” the 1932 case Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District barred the DA’s Office from creating separate schools for Mexican children. Though the case did not set precedent, Robert Alvarez Jr. (the plaintiff’s son) writes, “it is important in San Diego and U.S. history, […] because the community took court action and won the case they established the rights of their children to equal education.”
Southwest Key took over the house’s conditional use permit in 2008. The site had been a group home since 1987 and neighbors were well aware of the changeover. By 2014, the number of kids coming through San Diego had increased but, compared to kids arriving in Texas, their numbers were relatively small. Because the Southwest Key system is national, however, the San Diego facilities might house kids from all of over the country. (Again, the Torn Apart / Separados map makes this clear). In a 2014 article published, in part, in response to the Escondido case, Casa San Diego neighbor Marilyn Gutierrez clarified that “we have no complaints at all” about Southwest Key’s presence on her residential street. Fellow neighbor Nathan Johnson also underscores that he had no problems with the shelter: “I’m just glad that there’s a place like that for them,” he says.
** Escondido, CA: March 23, 2017 **
In the North County city of Escondido, however, public resistance to Southwest Key turned humanitarian rhetoric to anti-immigrant ends. By the time Southwest Key’s proposed to open a facility there in 2012, Escondido had long been well-known for its anti-immigrant measures. Amid increased drivers’ license checkpoints and a proposed 2006 ordinance that would have punished landlords for renting to undocumented persons, at least one-quarter of Escondido’s non-citizens left the city between 2008 and 2009. Close attention to residents’ 2012 arguments is telling. As Mayor Sam Abed put it “there is no plan whatsoever except that we are going to provide them with services in a prison-like environment.” The strategic “we” operates a number of slippages in Abed’s hypothetical. Abed produces Escondido residents as a “we” that would be implicated in Southwest Key’s standards of care. This historically inhospitable city can then be seen to take the moral high ground by demanding better care and at the same time recusing themselves from having to produce it. Though on their face, his remarks pertain to the care of migrant children, his statement is really about caring for Escondido’s “host” population. Abed promoted, for residents, a positive self-understanding and self-appreciation as defenders of care that, at the same time, preserved the city’s anti-immigrant status quo. Consider also, a complementary remark. “Let’s find something that’s appropriate space-wise for these kids,” one resident comments. The argument begins as a humanitarian question about the suitability of built space. Her “let’s” extends Abed’s suggestion that there is a “we” in Escondido that would take an interest in where “these kids” might end up. But she continues, ““…and not put them in Escondido.” An apparent concern for space belies exclusions that preserve the integrity of place, not-so-tacitly cast in racial terms. This “host” population is presumed to be white.
In a letter to the City, Southwest Key plays both ends against the middle. The letter validates residents’ concerns by underscoring that the number of visitors to the site would have been minimal. The tone is reassuring: bringing migrant children to a Southwest Key facility would not also bring families awaiting reunification to Escondido. Federal regulations require that visitors must undergo a background check that takes at least 21 days to complete. Southwest Key underscored that this exceeds the average stay at their facilities. They also highlight that 95% of their reunifications occur outside of San Diego County, which means that Escondido residents would not even have to tolerate the experiences of family member’s coming into two to pick up separated children. Southwest Key’s letter to the City of Escondido informs us that, in 2014 and between all three facilities, they hosted only a single visitor. (The implicit and explicit forms of surveillance I saw at the Lemon Grove and El Cajon sites underscore as much.) Their letter also specifies that outdoor time is tightly organized: one hour every weekday and three hours each weekend of “structured large muscle outdoor activity.” This statement plays both ends against the middle. In addition to school, music, movies and computer time, these details are meant to evidence Southwest Key’s well-rounded forms of care and activity. But it also reassures residents that they will only hear children outdoors for short and predictably specific times. Neither my visit to Casa Lemon Grove nor my visit to Casa San Diego coincided with those prescribed hours.
Southwest Key addresses the city of Escondido with compassionate language that correlates residents’ apparent grievances with their own standards of humanitarian care. This argument takes advantage of what political theorist Luca Mavelli calls rhetorics of “compassionate borderwork:” Southwest Key’s programs are not straightforwardly positive but they are also not thanatopolitical governance through violence and death. However, the Escondido residents’ comments suggest that this could never have been the case. Southwest Key’s children may be “good migrants” deserving of care but are at the same time “ bad migrants” whose presence in Escondido would attenuate their own flourishing. The qualifier “…not in Escondido” shows how demands for care also exposes those on whose behalf that demand is made to lethality and abandonment. The very lives that Southwest Key wants Escondido residents to agree to protect are - via precisely that demand – made all the more easily targetable by lethal apparatuses of security.This rhetoric also depoliticizes migration by concealing its historical basis in domination and violence. Suspending migration’s causes produces diffuse concepts of “perpetrator” and “perpetration.” As Luca Mavelli notes, children are often cast victims without perpetrators, while other migrants can be cast as perpetrators of their own suffering (i.e. for arriving a Port of Entry when it is “too busy” – or worse – as Sarah Huckabee Sanders specified at an early June press conference). Different notions of perpetration create scarily flexible distinctions between “good” and “bad” based on variably assessments of their current suffering as legitimate or not. Care is often structured to complement these distinctions. As a “structured relation of magnanimity to obeisance,” Varma points out, care disciplines its subjects while at the same time sorting them as more or less deserving. Migrants become visible and audible not as subjects whose actions intervene on histories of structural violence but as objects of a crisis lodged stubbornly in the present. To be the object of the question central to Southwest Key’s operation (in Escondido but also elsewhere) - how can waiting to be admitted or not be made more or less humane? – is also to be relegated to what Mavelli calls the “humanitarian present.” Care’s containments, separations and classifications also unfold via forms of social time.
Diffuse notions of perpetrations also suggest perverse enhancements for a “host” population that, as the Escondido case suggests, is often assumed to be white. If migrants can be made to seem to perpetrate their own suffering, then the U.S. population can be exempted from the conditions of migration itself and from the violent security apparatus migrant face before, during and after crossing. Trumps’s paradigmatic victim-blaming “look what you made me do” rhetoric admits to death-dealing while at the same time delivering biopolitical care: the phrasing enhances the life of some populations by suggesting that they are “blameless.” Care does not oppose biopolitical racism but rather provides an alibi for its “ways of measuring, assessing, ranking, intervening on and distributing individuals according to their endowment of absence of those biological qualities that can contribute to the well-being and flourishing of a population.” We need to continue pressing hard to see and hear what goes on inside these facilities. But noting their ubiquity – as I have tried to do, in this essay – means also asking how the delivery of care to migrant children has also been used to govern, classify, enhance and attenuate life across the socio-political field. And after all, Southwest Key’s longer-standing salutary standards of care suggest that family separation can in some circumstances be made viable. Care discourses point toward the violent exposures that result when those circumstances change.
Naomi Cumming’s analysis of rhythmic ostinati resonates surprisingly with this ambivalence. In one sense, the Tribune’s ostinato takes care of the viewer. The ostinato highlights the normalcy of everyday life in Casa San Diego to retrofit a kind of normalcy for the presence of Southwest Key in everyday life. The unsegmented repeating pattern reassures us that, though this has been going on for longer than we’ve perhaps known, everyday life in a Southwest Key facility is stable and unobjectionable. This audio-visual logic doubles the viewer’s emotional well-being in the well-being of the children it documents. But as Cumming might perhaps point out, it is also horrifying to have accepted this comfort. These sights and sounds invite us to become subjects of biopolitical care who can be variously enhanced and managed via migration discourses. But their invitation asks us to query seriously whether we are not not already subjects of that care. The horror lies in having not registered the ostinato’s invitation but to have perhaps already accepted it.
** Brownsville, TX: June 18, 2018 **
So far, I’ve tried to think through some audio-visual logics on which Southwest Key explicitly and implicitly relies to promote its work as an enhancement of life for both the children it serves as well as a larger “host” population while obscuring the implication of both in a politics of death and abandonment. The impetus for the essay came from the widely-circulated audio from Brownsville, Texas on June 18. We hear a CPB officer describe childrens’ voices and cries: “well, we have an orchestra, what’s missing is a conductor.” He delivered the remark in Spanish. He presumably addresses the children, although his statement is documented on a visiting reporters’ audio recording. I want to linger with his orchestra metaphor. For Sarah Kofman, metaphor is an analytic of power, comparison and hierarchy. The orchestra is a frequent player in metaphoric evaluations of many kinds, especially figures of complexity, cooperation and coordination. The office clearly ironizes these gestures. Yet, via that irony, the figure of the orchestra disciplines subjects of care and introduces shifting notions of perpetration central to migration discourse qua biopolitical care. The remark drags familiar, long-standing histories of listening along with it.
The comparison is obvious: beautiful symphonic music versus the detained childrens’ voices. To work, the orchestra of this metaphor would almost certainly have to be that of Beethoven or the Viennese composers that followed after 1860, like Brahms, Bruckner or Mahler. I say this because of their sonic force and cultural status as unquestionably beautiful, edifying or other-worldly. By the 1860s, hearing the orchestra was supposed to be a quasi-religious experience. Within a white middle class culture of bildung, the concert was an educational occasion for self-refinement. Though this project of self-cultivation was individualistic in character, it took place in massive new concert halls whose unprecedentedly thick walls gave material, architectural and acoustical form to an emerging Romantic notion of art. As Walter Frisch writes, “the symphony was a work in which everything must be cast more grandly, as if from the stage downward toward listeners.” Listening is a structured relation of grandness to gratitude via the work of bildung. “19th century symphonies were meant to be distinctive and recognizable,” Frisch continues, “aimed at a broad public.” In the museum-like architectural enclosure, the self-possessed liberal subject ritualizes the process of agreeing to have one kind of listening experience and not another.
If the modern listener can claim to choose the symphony, she can also claim to be victimized by sounds that, for various reasons, she doesn’t choose. Or, to respond with impunity to the sounds she chooses not to choose. As Bill Dietz puts it, “this history is redolent with the left fantasies about the rational public sphere. Yet, the very idea of a broad public has never existed. Rather, it was always premised on violent exclusions.” The officer’s quip recapitulates this history. Against the orchestra, the childrens’ voices can only be ugly, they can only be nearly nothing. The children are presumed not to hear or interpret one another. This noisy scene features only one legitimate listener: the CBP agent. His remark weighs the childrens’ suffering against the liberal right to very specific organization of the Western sensorium as children become the perpetrators of noisy violence against the ears of adult authorities. The modern listener loans the agent its logics of victimization.
This is not the first time that the orchestra has been deployed to contain the sounds that it also produces as racialized noise. When I teach the 9th, I take a page out of the Žižek playbook to point my students to this line in Schiller’s poem: “but he who cannot rejoice, let him steal weeping away.” The (silent) sounds of “weeping” accompany an “Ode to Joy” that foregrounds its constitutive exclusions. After this line, we hear a cliché of 18th century Orientalism: the so-called “Turkish march.” As Wendy Heller summarizes, conflict with the Ottoman Empire fueled European anxiety about threats from the “East” for most of the 17th century. However, after the Turkish army’s unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683, musical appropriation began in earnest. No longer tied to political threats, this music became “safe” to imitate in orchestral discourse. The result was a classicized version of the music of Turkish brass bands living and working in Vienna replete with expanded percussion ensembles and novel percussive effects. Mozart’s rondo alla turca, for example, uses the jangling low strings of the piano to this effect. These sounds cohered a public taste for “exotic” subject matter that poked fun at a once-feared enemy.
The suggestion that this scene “lacks” a conductor is fatuous. This crack occludes the myriad forms of authority to which the children he no longer wishes to hear have long been subject. His crack absents perpetrators. Among them, we could imagine Sanders, Nielsen, Sessions, ICE, CBP, DHS, Southwest Key and the speaker himself. And like that suspension, his quip depoliticizes the children’s sounds, voices and cries. They are, he might have it, the cause of disorder, not the effect of “no tolerance’s” disastrous disorder. Children are cast, here, as perpetrators of their own suffering. They would suffer less if only they would just be quiet. This quip doesn’t even allow us to hear the “weeping” that silently accompanies the 9th. On the Brownsville recording, weeping is not silent. Over weeping, the agent would perhaps have us hear laughter. He acts as a “conductor” precisely by declaring that there is not one. His surfeit of conductors – the sick chorus of Sanders, Neilsen, Sessions, ICE, CBP, DHS, Southwest Key – stands aside, laughing at the sounds of enemies that the orchestra “ritualistically dehumanizes.” In this sense, the CBP’s remark is not a metaphor at all. Rather, it correctly names a history of listening that stands in the way of hearing these children’s voices as historic interventions.
 At the time of this publication, Southwest Key’s website still features only a “temporary page” (though a better designed page that the one I encountered in mid-June). According to that temporary page, complete corporate website remains unavailable because of higher than usual traffic, accessed 19 June 2018.http://www.swkey.org/
 Ibid, last Accessed 26 June 2018.
 Kate Morissey, “When Children are Separated From Their Parents at the Border, Here is Where They Go Next,” San Diego Tribune, 18 June 2018.
 Manny Ferndandez and Kate Benner, “The Billion-Dollar Business of Operating Shelters for Migrant Children,” New York Times, 21 Jun. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/us/migrant-shelters-border-crossing.html. In their words,“Southwest Key was warmly received by left-leaning immigration activists and civil rights organizations. Post-Trump, some of the group’s former allies are now leading the outcry.”
 Henry Grabar, “Shelter in the Storm: Southwest Key was a model shelter for migrant kids. Once Trump’s family separation policy began, it became a villain,” Slate Magazine, 6 July 2018, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/07/southwest-key-and-family-separations-was-the-shelter-complicit.html.
 Saiba Varma “Care's Abandonments: Nationalism, Militarism, and Humanitarianism in Kashmir” (lecture, UCLA Center for South Asia, Los Angeles, CA, 11 December 2017).
 Naomi Cumming, “The Horrors of Identification: Reich’s Different Trains,” Perspectives of New Music. Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter 1997): pp. 129-152.
 Cumming, 135.
 Torn Apart / Separados,last accessed 30 July 2018, http://xpmethod.plaintext.in/torn-apart/visualizations.html#clinks.
 Emily Dreyfus, “ICE is Everywhere:” Using Library Science to Map the Child Separation Crisis,” Wired Magazine, 25 June 2018. https://www.wired.com/story/ice-is-everywhere-using-library-science-to-map-child-separation/amp?__twitter_impression=true. Here is the Torn Apart team’s description of the project. See their website for more and to learn from their interactive map. “MH brings together digital tools to equip broad social awareness and help in global critical situations. We mobilize humanities faculties, libraries, and students with relevant language, archival, technical, and social expertise to nimbly produce curated and applied knowledge. MH sits away from state and non-governmental organizations and is scholarly activism in a global context. Torn Apart is a result of intense 6-day collaboration between xpMethod (Manan Ahmed, Alex Gil, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Roopika Risam), Borderlands Archives Cartography (Maira E. Álvarez, Sylvia A. Fernández), Linda Rodriguez, and Merisa Martinez. A special acknowledgment for Moacir P. de Sá Pereira who hand-cranked the code for everything here.”
 Hortense J. Spillers, “Who Cuts the Border?: Some Readings on America” in Black, White and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 319-336.
 Gadi Schwartz. “Inside a San Diego Detention Center Where Children Live in Limbo.” NBC News,15 June 2018, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/video/inside-a-san-diego-detention-center-where-children-live-in-limbo/vp-AAyHYKn.
 Roberto R. Alvarez. “The Lemon Grove Incident.” The Journal of San Diego History. Volume 32, Number 2. (Spring 1986), accessed, 23 June 2018, http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/1986/april/lemongrove/.
 Edward Sifuentes, “Two Shelters for Migrant Children Operating in the County,” San Diego Union Tribune, 24 June 2014, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/sdut-lemon-grove-el-cajon-immigrant-youth-shelters-2014jun24-story.html.
 On this date, that City of Escondido won their court and barred Southwest Key from opening a facility there. Please see Southwest Key Programs, Inc. v. City of Escondido (S.D. Cal.), https://www.justice.gov/crt/case/southwest-key-programs-inc-v-city-escondido-sd-cal.
 Zach Fox, “Escondido Faces Another Fiscal Obstacle: Fewer People,” North County Times, 23 September 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20090815083400/http://www.nctimes.com/business/article_057ab19c-65c4-5d81-a452-11a8b4ffe8c5.html.
 J. Harry Jones. “Lawsuit Heats up over Escondido shelter” San Diego Union Tribune.2 December 2016, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-no-aclu-lawsuit-20161201-story.html. (my italics)
 Sandra Phillips, “Shelter for Immigrant Kids Rejected in Escondido, Fox5 San Diego, 24 June 2014, https://fox5sandiego.com/2014/06/24/potential-housing-facility-for-immigrant-children-questioned/.
 Alexia Rodriguez. “Southwest Key: A Message to the Escondido City Council.” (letter, Austin, TX, undated) https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/agendas/Council/10-15-14_PHG14-0017/2014-10-13_Southwest_Key_Programs_Letter.pdf.
 Luca Mavelli, “Governing Populations Through the Humanitarian Government of Refugees: Biopolitical Care and Racism in the European Refugee Crisis,” Review of International Studies, accessed 21 June 2018, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/review-of-international-studies/article/governing-populations-through-the-humanitarian-government-of-refugees-biopolitical-care-and-racism-in-the-european-refugee-crisis/934B0BB45D8971BE62F62DBBFC210C81.
 The literature on the political management of life and death is vast.My formation draws on Roberto Esposito and Giorgio Agamben’s re-workings of Michel Foucault’s 1970s work on biopolitics. Both attend to different articulation of life’s bifurcation – i.e., its reduction to biology and its expansion as horizon of politics. Demands for protection qua biological life often enables more ferocious forms of defense qua politic. What begins as what Foucault calls the power to “make live” instigates what Esposito calls a “thanatopolitical drift” toward the sovereign prerogative to kill or abandon in the name of defense. Please see Roberto Esposito, “Community, Immunity, Biopolitics,” E-Misférica, Volume 10, Issue 1 (Winter 2013), http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/e-misferica-101/espositohttp://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/e-misferica-101/esposito.
 Mavelli, 814.
 Mavelli, 817. Saiba Varma: “Care's Abandonments: Nationalism, Militarism, and Humanitarianism in Kashmir” Lecture delivered at the UCLA Center for South Asia. 11 December 2017
 Jessica Winter, “The Language of the Trump Administration is the Language of Domesric Violence,” The New Yorker,11 June 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-language-of-the-trump-administration-is-the-language-of-domestic-violence.
 Mavelli, 818.
 Consider a contrasting hypothetical. A paranoid voiceover that assertsthat“neighbors don’t even know what goes on in Southwest Key’s buildings.” Regardless of whether or not this is true – reportage from Lemon Grove suggests that it is not – this soundbyte implies Southwest Key has abdicated its biopolitical obligation to care for “host” populations. In other words, both cases – the actual ostinato and the hypothetical more-critical voice over both appeal to the proper care of the host population.
 Sarah Kofman, trans Duncan Large. Nietzsche and Metaphor (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994)
 Walter Frisch. Music in the 19th Century. (New York: Norton, 2012)
 Peter Ablinger, “Cézanne and Music: Perception and Perceptual Deficiencies / Music and Painting of the Last Thirty Years” Ear Wave Event, Issue One (Fall 2014)ed. Bill Dietz and Woody Sullender,accessed 26 June 2018, http://earwaveevent.org/article/cezanne-and-music/
 Frisch, pp. 53.
 Bill Dietz.,“Preface: A Note for ‘Positionen’” in L’école de la claque (Köthen: ONCURATING.org., 201), p. 10.
 Slavoj Žižek, “Ode to Joy Followed by Chaos and Despair” in The New York Times, 24 December 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/24/opinion/24zizek.html.
 Wendy Heller, Music in the Baroque (New York: Norton, 2012), pp. 10, 53 & 218.
 Ibid., 218.
 This formulation is inspired by Josh Jones, “Slavoj Žižek Examines the Perverse Ideology of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy,” Open Culture, 26 November 2013, http://www.openculture.com/2013/11/slavoj-zizek-examines-the-perverse-ideology-of-beethovens-ode-to-joy.html. Instead of laughter, Jones hears in this moment a “perverse scene of universal fraternity in which the world’s dictators, arch-terrorists, and war criminals all embrace each other.”
 I am very grateful to Eric Laska for being open to publishing this essay, raw and in-progress as it is. I wrote quickly with a sense of urgency, though I have a sense that these thoughts arrivealready too late but also too early, incomplete and unresolved. Many, many thanks to Erin Rose Glass, Clara Latham, Julie Napolin and Katherine Young for thoughtful, encouraging feedback on earlier drafts. I would welcome any reader feedback on this work-in-progress.
In Long Distance Music, composers Max Eilbacher and Stefan Maier explore listening and composition across vast geographic distances. Drawing on Maryanne Amacher's text-scores of the same name, Eilbacher and Maier reinterpret Amacher's call for "new awarenesses" beyond normative spatial listening and investigate the prospect of telematic listening in the contemporary moment of supposed unprecedented "interconnectedness."
Having emailed on-and-off for a number of years with the intention of eventually collaborating, the duo's attempts at working together were continually frustrated by competing projects, touring schedules, and, most of all, by the fact that Eilbacher and Maier do not live in the same city. Long Distance Music thematizes this frustration and materializes the conditions of their inability to collaborate in-person through sound.
Work began with Eilbacher and Maier exploring the material differences between specific spaces — places of leisure, work and commerce — in their native homes of Baltimore and Vancouver, respectively. Over a number of months, this research was documented through time-sync'd field recordings of harbours, stadiums, casinos, business districts, their day-jobs and studios, among others. These recordings later became "backing tracks" for time-sync'd telematic improvisation sessions. Here, Eilbacher and Maier would improvise alongside the other's field recordings, attempting to play "together" despite not being able to hear what the other was playing.
To augment these encumbered attempts at real-time collaboration, the duo developed different strategies to enhance and develop long-distance listening which included commissioning custom software by Victor Shepardson for each to use. Internalizing Amacher's contention that the manifold conditions of a place — the geographic, acoustic and social factors that constitute a space — all contribute to the resultant sonic characteristics in a highly specific and perceptible manner, Shepardson's software translated nuanced sonic information into Eilbacher and Maier's synthesizers so as to directly condition and influence their playing. At the same time, deep-listening meditation sessions were conducted before each recording and improvisation session, wherein the duo attempted to connect cognitively and further embody new psychic awarenesses despite the glaring reality of geographic impasse.
Following these "enhanced" time-sync'd sessions, the duo mixed both field recordings and improvisations simultaneously so as to make audible the differences between place and their respective improvisational decisions at all times. The finished work consists of a single 20 minute piece assembled and mixed from the material recorded and generated from the five locations. In addition to the long form piece, available for download are each location/improvisation mixed down by Eilbacher and Maier. These 10 mixes are the sub mixes of each location that were then utilized to sculpt the long form piece. A conversation about the work and process between Maier and Eilbacher is also available in PDF.
Places of Work
Intellijel Designs Inc. (Vancouver, CA) - 03-27-2018
Notam studios (Oslo, NO) - 05-08-2018
Bar Clavel (Baltimore, MD) - 03-27-2018
315 E 33rd Studio (Baltimore, MD) - 05-08-2018
Oslo Port Authority (Oslo, NO) - 05-09-2018
Deep Blue studios (Vancouver, CA) - 06-07-2018
Inner Harbor Tourist District (Baltimore, MD) - 05-09-2018
315 E 33rd Studio (Baltimore, MD) - 06-07-2018
Bank of Montreal (Vancouver, CA) - 06-06-2018
Deep Blue studios (Vancouver, CA) - 06-07-2018
East Baltimore Street Subway Stop(Baltimore, MD) 06-06-2018
315 E 33rd Studio (Baltimore, MD) - 06-07-2018
BC Place (Vancouver, CA) - 06-06-2018
Bard College (Hudson, US) - 06-10-2018
M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, MD) - 06-06-2018
Attic Studio (Baltimore, MD) - 06-10-2018
Edgewater Casino (Vancouver, CA) - 06-06-2018
Bard College (Hudson, US) - 06-10-2018
Horseshoe Casino (Baltimore, MD) - 06-06-2018
315 E 33rd Studio (Baltimore, MD) - 06-10-2018
An excerpt from a larger work comprising writing and performance that revisits and examines adolescent memories of suburban subculture.
Oak trees and whitetail deer in
Abundances we tame
Razed woods and ticky tacky
TV dins with the fam
Excess, the new convenience
Tinged with work ethic shame
Same teenage rage all summer
Restraint, virtue or sham?
Widescreen and lens flare evoke the epic or
mundane, point out our hero amongst mass-
produced hot dog buns. The popcorn-crunching
audience files in prepared for thrill,
everyone on their own path back home.
Well if you wanted honesty
call me a faggot one more time
I’m not OK trust me
middle school sucks
LOL smooths friend awkwardness
like a sore muscle
Excess, the new convenience
Tinged with work ethic shame
Same teenage rage all summer
Restraint, virtue or sham?
Same teenage rage all summer
Restraint, virtue or sham?
Excess, the new convenience
Tinged with work ethic shame
Black Class Middle Upper
Down seat go after toilet bathroom put,
do your the not in the sink dishes to leave.
Your bed make the, love you, stop acting up.
Mind your position in life because there
are plenty people who don’t want you here.
I’m not alone ‘cause the TV’s on, yeah
‘cause plots depict a camp reality,
‘cause suburbs are movie sets, are settings,
are models already, for something, some
Relief, Deal, Clearance, Security, Hope.
If you were to have asked William Levitt about his vision for the future of US suburbs, a family like mine would not have fit the picture. A 2015 article from The Guardian describes how Levitt altered the US suburb, and laid the framework for countless US housing developments to come after with the construction of Levittown in Long Island New York, just outside New York City, beginning in 1947. Catering to white World War II veterans who, due to low housing stock, were living with relatives after returning home, houses were built rapidly, employing techniques used on automobile assembly lines as well as methods used during the war to construct military housing. At construction’s most efficient, 1 house was built every 16 minutes.
In a 1997 New York Times article, Black WWII veteran Eugene Burnett describes Levittown as “symbolic of segregation in America.” He continues: ''When I hear 'Levittown,' what rings in my mind is when the salesman said: 'It's not me, you see, but the owners of this development have not as yet decided whether they're going to sell these homes to Negroes.” A clause in the lease for the first Levittown houses explicitly stated that the homes could not “be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race,” and for much of its history the suburban community remained 100% white. The aforementioned 2015 Guardian article states that the community was 94% white at the time of its publication.
Oak trees and whitetail deer in
Abundances we tame
Razed woods and ticky tacky
TV dins with the fam
Excess, the new convenience
Tinged with work ethic shame
Same teenage rage all summer
Restraint, virtue or sham?
Teens retreat into trees and
Smoke cigarettes and claim
Who’s more hardcore than hardcore
More rage sprouts from ho-hum
IMPORTANT: Do not click the "LISTEN" button that you see above.
The only way to experience this piece is to never listen to any of the audio. Listening to the audio, or any part of it, will make you unable to experience the piece. You will not only be not experiencing the piece while listening to the audio, but the possibility of experiencing the piece in the future or the past will also be destroyed. Even if you go a long time without listening to the audio, but then you decide to listen to it sometime in the future, you will not have experienced the piece even in the past. Do not think that you can listen to only a tiny snippet of the audio and still experience the piece.
There is a WAV file presented here that contains 4 hours of potential audio content, which would only become actual audio content if you streamed it, or downloaded and played it. This data is not meant to be turned into sound. Turning it into sound destroys your experience of the piece. If for some reason you need assurance that there is content in this file, you may download the file and note that it takes up 2.3 gigs of disc space. You could even open it in a WAV editor and look at the waveform, but do not play any part of it. I strongly discourage this however, because it would increase the temptation to listen to it, and furthermore, it would prevent you from optimally experiencing the piece, which is described below.
The optimal way to experience this piece is to spend as little time thinking about it as you are capable of. Anytime you notice yourself thinking about this piece, you can simply redirect your thoughts toward something else. If you talk about this piece, you won't be experiencing it fully while doing so, because talking about it requires thinking about it. Even reading this text is causing you to think about the piece, so in order to begin experiencing the piece fully, you will need to click the CLOSE button in the upper-right corner, and do something else to take your mind off this. You could listen to one of the other pieces presented on this website, or better yet, close the browser tab and look at something else on the Internet.
As long as you never listen to any of the audio file that is presented here, you will experience the piece. If you take the additional step of making an earnest effort to avoid thinking about this piece, you will experience it optimally. Rather than rereading any portion of this text, the best thing to do now is click the "CLOSE" button and allow this information to begin slipping away from your memory.
In Collapsing Ourselves from 2014, Hong-Kai Wang and Mattin presented a formal exploration of a dialogue in disorienting spatial contexts: four tracks layered over each other with varying levels of audibility, Chinese, English, sounds from different spaces, digital artifacts, snippets of self-reflexive conversation. This was done not as a way to innovate a new compositional framework or sound, but rather to problematize the social experience of playing the recording back, listening to it, and reflecting on it.
With this next iteration of the project, the process of superimposing four recorded conversations is repeated, though this time it was done with material recorded remotely over Skype and the addition of myself as the third conversant in the mix. A live remote performance took place between Taipei, Berlin, and Philadelphia on Saturday, December 16th, 2017 and the resulting audio contribution is a layered mix of all three sites (with Berlin represented for about a third of the recording due to technical issues). The playback experience is likewise affected, collapsing the boundaries between what is happening on the recording and the spaces it occupies.
Collapsing is the process of linking the inside text with the outside world. There is no outside-text. The tension between what we hear and how we talk about what we hear constructs a multi-layered dialogic space for the listener. Much like the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound in film, the audible questions posed by Hong-Kai, Mattin and myself for our own reflection are turned around and opened up for a speculative listening audience.
On the sleeve of Collapsing Ourselves, Mike Sperlinger writes, “When Hong-Kai and Mattin speak, they are talking over themselves. When they pose questions, it is not clear who they are for, even if we can discern them, or whether an answer is expected - perhaps they are rhetorical? A rhetorical question is a kind of mirror too: it assumes we know the answer, that we reflect the views of the questioner. But I am not sure if the questions in Collapsing Ourselves are rhetorical. I am not sure that there is an answer shared enough to remain unspoken, or that I know who ‘we’ are any more than I know who you are. The answers that are spoken, for the record, are uncertain. Thoughts out of harmony.”
Upon playback of the combined session I find myself swallowed in the sea of voices, straining to follow any particular snippet of conversation. At points, Hong-Kai tries to swim in the opposite direction, asserting herself against an indifferent wave of chatter: “I’m trying to have a conversation here!”
But conversation isn’t the locus point of activity. Rather it’s the trying, the effort to correspond or alternatively the lack thereof that opens up a disorienting space for corrupted reflection and shared social confusion. We speak into disparate spaces, and hear but can’t quite listen, as one Philadelphia audience member posits. The sea amplifies or obscures our voices and ultimately collapses us.
i composed two versions of one work earlier this year. one is "from audience" (documenta 14 radio program; http://www.documenta14.de/en/public-radio/14747/from-audiences). one is "for audience" (the ecology of place; a cinema listening event in melbourne; http://bogongsound.com.au/projects/the-ecology-of-place). for both i used only sound recordings of audiences and their environments before, during and after concerts.
recently i received "live" recordings of the latter event in which the audience in melbourne contributed their sounds into the other audience's sounds of my composition. it's about 27 minutes long.
the next day, september 13th 2017, i recorded this audio at my new studio in beijing. i was sitting in the space, listening to the environmental sounds and my own sounds. there's a stereo mic set above. i tried to record my listening for 27 minutes without looking at the time. i did two takes. this is take 1.
someone knocked on the door during the recording. i muted this part as the audience (me) was out of (then back to) the situation.
for some reason the signal through the right channel of the mic was missing. i enjoy the result. with the muted section and the missing right channel the recording exhibits some characteristics of electroacoustic music.
the idea of focusing on audience was partly initiated 4 years ago. once a friend of mine argued with what i wrote on social media about audience. i said, "it's not enough for supporting artists if you just buy a ticket and beer and stand there. not at all. the artists are supporting you." he thought it was offensive to the audience. i explained more in my book, "the only authentic work," that the audience should play an active role in using the artist as nutrition and energy but that book offended him even more. as a music lover with great taste he always rates what he hears and sees. he is a good critic. i started to wonder if this is the ideal audience i want to be because i always enjoy bad taste music.
the situation of the audience is very political in today's consumptive-totalitarian society. a perfect consumer with great taste is nice for the system. in the national opera in beijing, they repeat voice recordings again and again before a concert in order to discipline the audience for good manners. similarly, rock stars and singer-songwriters on stages of outdoor festivals discipline their audiences by preparing them with optional rhythms and liberal life styles. i'm wondering how one leaves his or her previous identity and becomes part of the abstract concept of the "audience"? are there other possibilities for joining or building collective identity?
over the last year i've read most of peter handke's works. the script for his play "publikumsbeschimpfung" was introduced to me as being as simple as offending the audience. i feel as though i am misrepresenting it because obviously it's not that simple. it focuses on the identity of "audience.” it's on the language of being and the possibility of being. but i'm also wondering why people would like to understand it in terms of the stupid relationship between artist and audience? do we not have other options besides slave and master?
i have a lot of recordings of audience, especially of the magical moment when everybody is getting quiet and the performance is about to begin. during concerts i enjoy listening to such sounds. sometimes i find the sounds of audience and environment to be more interesting than the music.
A conversation between Khyam Allami and Sharif Sehnaoui recorded at OneHertz Studios, Beirut, late 2017
Two musicians with very different backgrounds and itineraries in music discuss their visions and some of the ideas behind their distinct practices and methods. The conversation is set within the greater context of advancing contemporary ideas into the space of Arabic music. Here, Arabic music is not thought of as a fixed thing but rather as a historical and cultural background that lends various shades of meaning to each artist’s work.
Though there was not quite enough time to fully expand upon the ideas discussed, the conversation nonetheless provides a window into the ways that two figures of the current Arabic music scene position themselves in relation to their given field and society.
In the background at points there are relevant excerpts from sessions Allami and Sehnaoui recorded together in Beirut during the final days of 2014.
Reciprocal Scores is a light, body and sound performance piece that I have been working on with Lotus Edde Khouri since 2013. Sounding Reciprocal Scores is a sound perspective of the performance that I edit together after each performance. This iteration is very simple; it's an overview of what occurred sound-wise during the last performance. The recording is always far from any worries of objectivity but ends up sounding closer to the mood of the performance than a more straightforward document. Of course, it sometime fails, and ends up being far from anything interesting, objective, subjective... This particular take was recorded in May 2017 in Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, during the festival Musique Action.
During Reciprocal Scores, Lotus moves in space, moves lights, and plays the violin; Jean-Luc plays electric organs, alto sax, çiftelia, mixing board, uses a synthetic voice to read phrases he wrote and sometimes moves in space.
For this piece, I created a foundation – or “backing track” – that can be used for a variety of playback scenarios. It incorporates on-site recordings and excerpts of cassettes and audio files from my personal archive, including: crowd noise (date and time unknown), guitar and tape recordings (2006 or 2007), synthesizer and electronics (2008), percussion / loop cassettes (2007), and recordings of live noise shows (artists unknown, circa 2008).
Preference was given to sounds of an unknown or barely remembered origin.
These audio clips were mixed with recorded ambiences from a visit to Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia on the afternoon of April 14, 2017, in addition to the audio from a solo performance at Vox on the evening of April 15. The ambient material recorded on the 14th includes sounds from the art exhibit that was installed at the time, as well as my own footsteps, the sound of folding chairs, and the occasional interjection of my infant son. The performance on the 15th was recorded by a microphone placed by an open window in an adjacent gallery facing N. 11th Street.
Silence and artificial ambience were added where necessary.
It was my intention to create music out of things that already exist – to not generate more recordings – and to constantly change the perspective for the listener, whether they were listening to this as a stand-alone audio track (as presented here) or in a live performance. Having recently moved from Providence to Philadelphia, it also served as a practical exercise in the unpacking of physical possessions.
Presently, this piece has been performed twice. In addition to the gig at Vox Populi, this current version was used for a performance at the Silent Barn in Brooklyn, NY on April 29, 2017, as part of the Ende Tymes VII festival. Each version was quite different, and included additional materials dictated by the situation.
Timeline of Events:
00:00 – 00:10: crowd noise (date and time unknown)
00:10 – 00:15: silence
00:15 – 00:24: crowd noise
00:24 – 00:26: synthesizer and electronics (2008)
00:26 – 00:40: vox performance (4.15.17)
00:40 – 01:07: vox gallery (4.14.17)
01:07 – 01:10: guitar and tape (2006-2007)
01:10 – 01:21: silence
01:02 – 02:03: vox gallery
02:03 – 02:07: outside window of vox gallery
02:07 – 02:09: guitar and tape
02:09 – 02:10: silence
02:10 – 02:33: vox gallery
02:33 – 02:40: ambience
02:40 – 03:03: vox gallery
03:03 – 03:05: synthesizer and electronics
03:05 – 03:11: vox performance
03:11 – 03:30: guitar tape
03:30 – 03:52: vox performance
03:52 – 03:53: vox gallery (in the black box performance space)
03:53 – 04:05: noise tape (date and time unknown)
04:05 – 04:20: vox black box
04:20 – 04:22: ambience
04:22 – 04:23: silence
04:23 – 04:24: synthesizer and electronics
04:24 – 04:31: silence
04:31 – 04:57: vox gallery
04:57 – 05:01: silence
05:01 – 05:45: vox performance
05:45 – 05:53: vox gallery
05:53 – 06:09: vox performance
06:09 – 06:25: vox gallery
06:25 – 06:27: synthesizer and electronics
06:27 – 06:33: ambience
06:33 – 06:37: silence
06:37 – 07:38: vox gallery
07:38 – 07:40: silence
07:40 – 07:52: vox gallery
07:52 – 07:58: guitar tape
07:58 – 08:00: synthesizer and electronics
08:00 – 08:39: black box
08:39 – 09:13: guitar tape
09:13 – 09:22: vox performance
09:22 – 09:26: vox gallery
09:26 – 09:28: silence
09:28 – 09:32: ambience
09:32 – 09:40: silence
09:40 – 09:56: vox gallery
09:56 – 10:36: guitar tape
10:36 – 11:15: vox performance
11:15 – 11:22: vox gallery
11:22 – 11:28: percussion / loop tapes (2007)
11:28 – 11:32: synth and electronics
11:32 – 11:38: noise show (circa 2008)
11:38 – 11:47: silence
11:47 – 12:25: leaving vox populi, afternoon of April 14
“A framework of understanding.”
The pitch is a playing field. Four players
trying to pitch something, an idea, a sound.
A tone of definite frequency.
The Pitch is a co-sharing of musical space,
of certain parameters, limitations and an instrumental
awkwardness collectively carried into brightness.
Working out simple ideas to see how far
we can take them. How long we can play them.
How often we can handle them.
Modes of interaction, rules of engagement,
aesthetic agreements, instrumental limitations.
Reducing material until we’ve reached the core.
Initiative, shared intuition, collective composition, instrumentation.
Bass harmonics doubling the clarinet,
vibraphone rounding out the harmona,
sine tones combining instrumental forces.
The harmona is missing pitches. Playing such an archaic,
flawed instrument is a deliberate limitation.
We discovered how to sound together. What to play
and when to play it. Every small decision having
huge consequences for the outcome of the whole.
It seems like we’ve just gotten started. / “It’s actually getting quite good now.”
—- —- —- —-
The Pitch was founded in Berlin in the year 2009 by BB, KN, MJO and MT with the aim to create a common musical language to be used to play structured improvisations; together and with guests. The peculiar instrumentation was a deliberate attempt to create an ensemble which would rather focus on pitch constellations and the creation of a group sound and group strategies than on the development of individual improvisational languages or elaborate extended instrumental techniques played at the same time.
They have an upcoming concert with legendary Viennese ensemble Polwechsel, for which a new piece has been collectively composed by the two ensembles combining materials and strategies in real time.
More sounds and information about The Pitch:
—- —- —- —-
Subatomic Motion (i7 / sine tones / tape)
Boris Baltschun – pump organ, function generators
Koen Nutters – upright bass
Morten J Olsen – vibraphone
Michael Thieke – clarinet
Composed by The Pitch
Recorded and transferred by Morten J Olsen
Recorded in Berlin, April 2017
Text by Koen Nutters
*The first phrase of the writing was constructed late one night
with the assistance of Martijn Tellinga.
Last fall, I was touring and performing my piece “Falsetto” every night. It’s a strange, physically difficult, fumbling, deliberately incompetent (or maybe a different type of expert) performance played almost entirely with small bells found at thrift stores, purchased with the criteria that they must in some way sound unusual or broken or just “not nice,” and also that they cost less than $5 each.
The sound of the bells is great. When layered, it’s a complex, weird, and unpredictable sound made with exceedingly humble means – literally just jostling a bunch of crap around that I found at Goodwill. However, the content and performance of the piece may cause some feelings of uncertainty and confusion in the unassuming spectator. One unhappy concert reviewer went so far as to say, “I thought I didn’t understand percussive theory anymore. Hell, I thought I didn’t understand music anymore.”
Much to my delight, this is the exact feeling the piece aims to provoke and the reviewer had actually captured my performance perfectly. Why *am* I drawn to art that I expressly hope will cause me to think, “What the hell is happening?” It’s a feeling not unlike the experience of figuring out that you’re trans at the age of 34, having lived mostly cluelessly outside the worn-out, “ever since I was a little kid, I knew I was different” trope. In fact, even among my other trans and queer friends, I don’t know a single person whose experience resembles my own (which, as it turns out, is a common feeling among many trans people… that we can’t relate to anyone, including other trans people). We look for ourselves in other people’s art and it’s not too often that I find something I recognize in myself.
Martha – “St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive)”
We are not worthy to receive you / We are the daughters and the sons / We are the second-hand trousers / Blazers and blouses / Irredeemable ones.
José Esteban Muñoz wrote eloquently about queer fascination with the mundane and the impulse to see expansive worlds within things that most people dismiss as commonplace. He cites Frank O’Hara’s famous poem “Having a Coke with You” as signifying, “a vast lifeworld of queer relationality, an encrypted sociality, and a utopian potentiality.” It’s a similar impulse to my own, having exposed conventional percussion instruments and their bizarre acoustic inner life – simply by playing them – to the point that I concluded that any object is potentially fascinating if you just play it the right way.
Certainly, the act of “saving” thrown out objects that nobody wants will likely resonate (no pun intended) with most queer people. The “thrown out little bell” and its Ugly Duckling-style “story” in my piece “Falsetto” as representation of discarded queer life is not exactly a brilliantly conceived or nuanced metaphor, but it’s one that stings and feels necessary nonetheless.
1 Corinthians 14:34
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.
Last year I took a class for trans women that aims to teach us how to speak in a way that sounds more like cisgender females than our “natural” voices. The purpose of the class is to find a new way of speaking for yourself that helps to decrease dysphoria and is less likely to unintentionally alert strangers that you’re a trans woman because, let’s face it, that doesn’t always turn out so great.
Most cis people don’t seem to know that when a transgender man takes testosterone, his vocal cords thicken and his voice lowers significantly. Trans women experience no such change. Our identities are quite literally betrayed by our own bodies and there is little we can do to change it, leaving us to grapple with a society that is actively trying to make us disappear.
When I’ve described “Falsetto” to friends and I say it involves, “small hand bells,” a common response is, “Oh, like in church?” Initially, I hadn’t thought about this at all and shrugged it off as an unintentional coincidence – “I just like the sound.” Then came the accidental discovery while researching singing styles that falsetto singing was invented with the express purpose of giving men the female voice parts in church choirs because women were not permitted. The place we most associate with the small hand bell – church – as it turns out, dictated the exclusion of women and now in the present day are dictating legislation that’s keeping trans women out of bathrooms with the unspoken ultimate goal that they’ll simply vanish from school, work, and society.
A six-year old girl asked Klaus Nomi, “Are you an alien?” and Nomi warmly replied, “Yes, little girl. I am.”
Klaus Nomi is one of the world’s most famous countertenors (or contralto, depending on gender) and his former vocal coach spoke at length about Klaus’s insistence on developing only his unusually high register capabilities. Klaus Nomi also created an elaborate persona for himself that involved him being an alien from another planet.
Was Klaus Nomi a closeted or repressed trans woman? Did he find it more plausible to exist in the world as “simply a gay man” who claimed to be an alien from another planet than to identify as a woman?
Even now, one of Klaus Nomi’s closest collaborators Joey Arias uses female pronouns and speaks openly having been drawn to dresses from a young age, but she can’t seem to say that she is transgender. Instead she has invented that she, “has the Z chromosome!” The repression and societal pressure against being transgender is so great, our policing of gender essentialist standards so aggressive, and sexism against women of all walks of life so intense and unmovable, that perhaps it subconsciously motivated Nomi and Arias to be unthinkable beings rather than just simply women.
This is, of course, all total speculation on my part but let’s call it an educated and familiar guess. Klaus Nomi’s most memorable performance of Henry Purcell’s “The Cold Song” when heard in a trans/queer context, coming from the mouth of a self-proclaimed extraterrestrial being, reads like a brutal tribute to chronic dysphoria (Nomi later died of complications from AIDS in 1983, one of the first prominent celebrities to do so). We do tend to recognize our own and the feeling is a familiar one as I set out again to bruise and blister my hands for another performance of “Falsetto.”
What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise, unwillingly and slow,
From beds of everlasting snow!
See’st thou not how stiff,
And wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold.
I can scarcely move,
Or draw my breath,
I can scarcely move,
Or draw my breath.
Let me, let me,
Let me, let me,
Let me, let me,
Freeze again to death!
i’ve been obsessed with chris tucker’s early work recently
the lines sound so much different in the present moment than they did to me in the past
they now are more like prescient articulations of a horrifying future or a gonzo present
each message opens up its own rift in time and space
i get caught in these little eddies, the accumulation of which has become pessimist rush hour
Today I clapped a mosquito dead and there was blood between my fingers. Two drops. I washed them off. The book Ben gave me has blood at the bottom, two drops, although maybe it’s just marker. It’s probably just marker. But, you know, it’s nice when things are more poetic than they should be, when life suddenly inflates like an air bubble in a sausage casing, when time puddles out.
I like reading Judith Butler. It’s usually worth it. I read her at a rate of one book every two years. It’s too much, I guess, like eating a huge rich meal. You have to take a break. I have to take a break. I take breaks while eating more often than I used to. Not everything needs to be devoured.
Judith Butler has written some of my favorite sentences. Sentences like Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. Like One does not always stay intact. In Louisville I was teaching a masterclass, I had written QUEER SOUND QUEER TIME QUEER SPACE on a whiteboard with a brown marker and connected them all with squiggly lines I mean of course they weren’t straight duh and I was rambling, you know, like I am right now, not really explaining anything that I meant, and I hit a wall in my ramblesplation or ramblesploitation or whatever and started just going through a roll call of sounds I like that the trumpet makes. But every time I stopped one it felt like coming up from a kiss. I felt lost. And I thought, huh. Is it happening?
What I mean is that something about performing in the way that I did 25 or 26 times on this tour—always saying beforehand in the same goofy voice “hi my name is Jacob Wick, I live in Mexico City,” which is actually the sound my voice makes when I’m nervous and trying to calm myself down, fake it til you make it—made me feel very close to the surface. Is that a better metaphor? I mean I kept feeling like I was going to cry or fall in love or both. I still do, a lot of the time, even though I’m not on tour anymore. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I used to pride myself I think on maintaining a certain distance from the world, like seeing myself and other people from afar and all that, but my distance has closed. Why be dead when you can be alive. Whenever I think about this I think about this citation that I cannot locate for the life of me where some female character, maybe she’s writing a letter or maybe it’s somebody reading or quoting a female critic or hell, maybe it’s Maggie Nelson, anyway this writer or person or character or all of the above wrote something like, isn’t it funny how men always have to abstract things from the body, distance themselves away from feeling. I read that and I was like, huh. No wonder. Live free or die. The other night after the gig we were translating live free or die into Spanish, giving Brad shit for always saying he’s from New York when he’s actually from New Hampshire, vive libre o muere, ca’. Or maybe that’s too severe. Sometimes it’s impossible to be free and usually it’s hard to die.
What I mean is that the night before I flew to Baltimore to begin the tour I played a solo set here in Mexico City that was pretty dull and unpleasant for everybody including me with the exception of Katya, who seemed to have a really great time, and afterwards Isidore or maybe the German girl, what was her name, she who we waited for, anyway somebody asked me is that what you’re going to do all month and I was like yes with this fake smugness that I’ve never really felt but always kind of wanted to. But then I thought, god what am I doing I didn’t even like that. I was trying to stick with this sound that I had been using in Europe, one of my favorite sounds I’ve ever found on the trumpet. But it obviously wasn’t working. It lacked richness and depth. It had never had feeling.
Good thing two days later in Baltimore I was comfortable enough after spending the day with Bonnie and Marian that when I tried that sound, this sound I had made for 25 minutes in Mexico City that was kind of a drab boring version of a sound I had found in Europe that I guess I have lost forever, or maybe just until next time, anyway when I tried that sound and it didn’t work I was like, ok whatever. We had a nice fling, we were perfect for each other, now it’s done. I guess I’ll improvise. I did that for about a week, maybe ten days. I noticed I could hold this white noise texture for a long time and king of blanket the room and feel myself kind of, I don’t know, imploding? Coming undone. And I liked that. When Gabe said, one of the first days, that felt like a hug, I hugged him and thought, ok, this is what I actually want to be doing. Something that feels like something, not some distanced intellectual exercise. Something basic and bodily and not abstract, not ideal, something nasty not something crystalline. In the previous weeks or months I had been thinking and occasionally saying things, usually to myself, like I want to create a hole in the room or I want to make a web in the room but now I was like yeah I want to create a hole in the room that we can all melt into I want to make a web and bind us I want to create a pool in time so that we float away forever altogether, at least for a moment.
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This recording is made from a selection of my collection of cassette loop tapes that were created between 2006 – 2016. Most of them have been used in previous recordings but never in this configuration or layering of sounds. I have been making recordings under the moniker Tether for the last 3 years, and previously recorded and performed as Pak. I was interested in the idea of a time capsule, where information is recontextualized at a later time. My suitcases full of loops became my personal time capsule to investigate and find sounds that would serve a new composition. The title Wildest Dreams comes from the ascending chimes heard in the recording, a device for dream sequences in film and TV, as well as the alternate state that is recreated by repurposing the loops.
This is a recording of a trio improvisation by Takahiro Kawaguchi (horns) Masahiko Okura (reeds) Masahide Tokunaga (alto sax) which was held at En-ban, a record store in Koenji, Tokyo, at 8pm on August 30th 2016.
Okura and Tokunaga are wind instrument players who work in both composition and improvisation. Rather than focusing on any one fundamental output, the handmade instrumentation and musical content of each of Kawaguchi’s performances are unique. On this recording, he performs as a “mechanical wind instrument player.”
Text translated from Japanese by Wonja Fairbrother. Audio mastered by Alan Jones.