Music 286R Listening, Creativity, and Imagination


Link to Audio File

The above transcription is composed of three images, illustrating the piece's organization. The first section focuses on the Western world, the second on non-MENA regions outside of the West, and the final section exploring the MENA world and specifically warfare. The written transcription and its images are intended to orient the listener and to give some context regarding the origin of the sonic elements. The transcription aesthetics and many aspects of the overall project were inspired by Temar France’s Black Garden project. 

This project seeks to critically investigate Islamophobia and Western militarism through narrative soundscape composition. It focuses on banal but public manifestations of hate, with the aim of connecting pre-9/11 expressions of xenophobia in the West to more apparent forms in the non-MENA and MENA regions following the September 11 attacks and “War on Terror”, without aestheticizing ongoing trauma. The piece allowed me to creatively engage with my professional work in the law of armed conflict and online hate speech, while also facilitating exploration of my own identity through ethnographic research.[1] In my autoethnography at the beginning of the course, I noted that Middle Eastern sounds like the call to prayer are overwhelmingly “reduced”[2] to associations with terrorism and fear in mainstream Western media and that this sonic practice had a lasting impact on how I perceive myself and my family. Part of the purpose of this piece was to flip this experience, causing listeners to associate quotidian sounds emitted by the West with anxiety and fear.

The project significantly morphed throughout the planning and composition phase as I interrogated the question of who the intended audience is for this project. The final result is a much more intimate narrative built on an empathic desire to connect with my family's personal experience immigrating to the United States in the early-1980s, arriving during a period of intense animosity against Middle Easterners and specifically Iranians. I attempted to tie the themes associated with their arrival to global manifestations of Islamophobia, demonstrating common themes of derision over the decades. Life-threatening sanctions and famine as a method of warfare; the genocides of Uyghurs, Bosniaks, and Rohingya Muslims; and the global “War on Terror” do not exist in a vacuum and are instead intertwined. This piece draws this connection by exploring global Islamophobia through themes of derision, domination, and division.

In addition to the most apparent theme of derision is one of domination, specifically inspired by Jacqueline George’s Same Sun piece and its exploration of the competing entities vying for primacy in a shared sonic space.[7] I sought to understand how public life and regional soundscapes shifted in a period of heightened Islamophobia, militarism, and the marked lack of competition in the context of immigration, occupation and asymmetrical warfare.[8] One real-world observation of this lack of competition in a non-warfare setting is perceptible in France, where the call to prayer is not broadcast from minarets but instead limited to the interior space of mosques—all while church bells ring freely.[9]

The third theme, alongside derision and domination, is division. I am interested in how desperate situations tear apart otherwise strong bonds of commonality. One section of the piece incorporates the views of a Bangladeshi man who blames the newly-arriving Rohingya refugees as the source of “public suffering”. Later in the piece, I reference a “double tap” maneuver in which first responders and concerned bystanders and family members rush to a scene of an airstrike and are themselves targeted. These strikes thus prevent aid from first responders and loved ones, contributing to division and weakening of human bonds and instincts.

The introductory section includes a quote from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, outrageously reciting that his biggest regret was inadequately demonizing Muslims in the “battle of ideas”. The primary element running through almost the entire duration of the piece is a drone which was created from a recording of a restaurant in the Middle East. I was inspired to center the piece around the room tone of a restaurant because the first law of armed conflict research project I contributed to involved the Al-Khokha Market strike in Yemen, in which a popular market and surrounding restaurant were targeted by the Saudi-led coalition and destroyed—likely by American munitions.[10] There is also a short tape loop that repeats at several points in the piece. The tape used to create this loop was from an answering machine, evoking the experience of wiretaps and surveillance.

The final section ends with a “chorus of drones” in which the hum of drones is manipulated through a broad space. I was inspired by Gascia Ouzounian’s discussion of sound location and acoustic defense in the context of WWI.[11] Drones, like warplanes at night, are invisible, with their existence only made explicit due to their unique aurality.[12] The hums become increasingly metallic and unpredictable, at times resembling the call to prayer with its distinct resonance,[13] while also exaggerating their lack of humanity and connection to the inevitable deployment of autonomous killer robots. I conclude the piece with a brief snippet of a track from Morteza Hannaneh’s radio drama Tchashm-e-Del. I debated this conclusion, but ultimately decided to add a light-hearted ending inspired by the credits sequence to my favorite Iranian film, Taste of Cherry. The lyrics roughly translate to “I have no endurance for hate”. I also incorporated two popular tracks from the period of my family's arrival to the US, namely the popular Vince Vance Bomb Iran song and Guns N’ Roses’ One in a Million. These snippets serve as an uneasy respite from the rest of the piece.

Composing this piece was an incredibly enjoyable but often challenging experience that encouraged me to reflect on my identity, family, and relationship to both my Iranian and American cultures. It allowed me to tie my professional and creative interests together, and to challenge mainstream hate while also telling a story about global events that are frequently out of mind for many in the West. With regard to the first section in particular, I hope it serves to conjure kinship between others who similarly have spent a lifetime experiencing anxiety and fear when hearing otherwise unremarkable everyday sounds.
[1] Jackson, Y. J. (2020). Narrative Soundscape Composition: Approaching Jacqueline George's Same Sun. In M. Puckette & K. L. Hagan (Eds.), Between the Tracks: Musicians on Selected Electronic Music. The MIT Press.
[2] Robinson, D. (2020). Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies. University of Minnesota Press. 13.
[7] Jackson, supra note 1.
[8] Eisenlohr, P. (2018). Sounding Islam: Voice, Media, and Sonic Atmospheres in an Indian Ocean World. University of California Press. 6.
[9] Weitzel, M. D. (2020). Perception, Racism, and Islamophobia in French Soundscapes. EuropeNow.
[10] Bellingcat (2019, May 20). HOD10003 - Al Khokha Market Strike.
[11] Ouzounian, G. (2020). Powers of Hearing: Acoustic Defense and Technologies of Listening during the First World War. In Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts. The MIT Press. 41.
[12] Richardson, M. (2020). Drone cultures: encounters with everyday militarisms. Continuum, 34(6). 865.
[13] Font-Navarrete, D. (2016). The Amplification of Muted Voices: Notes on a Recitation of the Adhan. Sounding Out!

This page has paths:

This page references: