In Spring 2017, I brought Houston-based playwright/performer Josh Inocéncio to my campus—the University of Houston—to perform his solo show Purple Eyes (for more on the event, see “Campus Organizing, or How I Use Theatre to Resist”). Purple Eyes is what Inocéncio calls an “ancestral auto/biographical” performance piece which explores his upbringing as a closeted gay Chicano living in the midst of the cultural heritage of machismo. Following a legacy of solo performance storytelling aesthetics seen in John Leguizamo’s Freak and Luis Alfaro’s Downtown, Inocéncio plays with memory to understand how the United States and Mexico have influenced his family and his own identity formation. Moreover, Purple Eyes explores the intersections of queerness and Chican@ identity alongside the legacy of machismo in his family (For more on the play, see “Queering Machismo from Michoacán to Montrose”).
During my Intro to LGBT Studies course following the performance, students discussed issues of representation and how many of them had never seen a queer Latin@/x play or performance, with some of them having never seen a live play. Many students picked up on how Purple Eyes foregrounds the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. While these discussions were indeed fruitful, what struck me most was how both classes harped on Inocéncio’s use of different linguistic registers. Put simply, what stayed with them was how the performance sounded. My students obsessed over the Spanish in the play, leading me to question why this group of students at a Hispanic-Serving Institution in a city that is over 40% Latin@ had so much trouble whenever Inocéncio spoke Spanish, or the sounds of Latinidad.
In what follows, I discuss how my students heard Purple Eyes. While the play is predominately in English, Inocéncio often code-switches into Spanish and German to more accurately embody particular family members. This blog adds to previous research by Dolores Inés Casillas, Sara V. Hinojos, Marci R. McMahon, Liana Silva, and Jennifer Stoever on the relationship between the Spanish language and non-Spanish speaking Americans. Indeed, my students racialized the Spanish in Purple Eyes while completely disregarding the German in the play. Why?
Drawing from sociology, racialization is the process of imposing racial identities to a social practice or group that might not have identified in such a way. Typically, the dominant group racializes the marginalized group; i.e. Latin@s in the U.S. become racialized by the mainstream. Even so, Latin@s are not a race, but are an ethnic group. Yet, I argue that non-Latin@ Americans view Latin@s through a lens of race which often becomes a sonic one, in which language becomes one of the most overt identity markers. In terms of Spanish, while many races and ethnicities speak the language, in the United States it is often viewed as a way to mark Spanish-speaking Latin@s as Other. In this way, language plays a fundamental role in shaping mainstream ideas about race. According to Dolores Inés Casillas, “For unfamiliar ears, the sounds of Spanish, the mariachi ensemble, and/or accented karaoke all work together to signal brownness, working-class,” and as Jennifer Stoever argues, the sounds of Latinidad indicate “illegality” in the U.S.
Drawing from the intersections of race, language, and racism, the relatively new academic field Raciolinguistics has emerged as a means to explain how people use language to shape their identity (For more, see Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race). Branching off from Raciolinguistics, I am most interested in exploring how the mainstream hears languages and racializes what they are hearing. The result is that Spanish is seen as Other, meaning that monolingual U.S. listeners hear Spanish-speakers as inherently different and a threat to a mainstream United States cultural and, more importantly, national identity.
Reflecting Inocéncio’s cultural multiplicity, Purple Eyes features English, Spanish, and German strategically used at different moments in the play to reflect the temporality, positionality, and relationship to language of each character that Inocéncio inhabits. While the chapter on his father is entirely in English, the final chapter focusing on Josh himself opens with a monologue in Spanish in which the performer narrates the events of the FIFA World Cup before finally announcing to the crowd that the epilogue is Inocéncio’s journey of young love and heartbreak on his journey of queer discovery. This moment features the longest extended use of Spanish in the play. The remaining Spanish is sprinkled in as Josh code-switches between the two languages for added cultural specificity.
While some of my Spanish-speaking students appreciated hearing a play that reflected their linguistic identities, monolingual English speakers in my class claimed that the Spanish confused them and made it difficult for them to follow certain parts of the play. After several students echoed these thoughts, a student from Mexico without full fluency in English comprehension told others about how her experiences were the exact opposite. She had trouble following some of the parts in English since she is still learning the language. I then pivoted the conversation to discuss how my English-dominant students approached the play with the assumption that English is the norm and a performance on a university campus should reflect this. Case in point: several told me that the show should have been subtitled.
But what was most telling was the following exchange. After several expressed confusion over the Spanish, one particularly woke student from Nigeria raised her hand and said: “I haven’t heard anyone say anything about the German in the play and not being able to follow the play during the German part.” She then noted how, in the United States, Spanish is racialized whereas German is not. In fact, most of the students did not even recall German in the play. Admittedly, the play features far more Spanish than German, but the scene in which Inocéncio speaks German occurs while dramatizing his Austrian grandmother’s abortion. As Inocéncio (as Oma) frantically repeated “Ich kann nicht” (I can’t), my students had no trouble; to use some Millennial vernacular, it was with Spanish that they “couldn’t even.” Arguably, this is the most intense scene in the performance and one that my students wanted to discuss. That the majority of them understood this scene without fully registering the German, coupled with their confusion over lines spoken in Spanish, speaks to not only how race and ethnicity impact how languages are heard in the United States. German is viewed as familiar and accessible whereas Spanish is immediately heard as foreign, i.e. undesirable, not welcome here.
As the Latin@ population continues to grow and the Spanish language becomes an increasingly present reality in U.S. everyday life, audiences must consider possibilities not grounded in an English-only narrative. My experiences with Purple Eyes are not unique. I have witnessed and heard many stories about audiences at mainstream theatre companies who have struggled whenever a play included Spanish. While I don’t claim to have the answers to address this across the nation, as an educator, I question what tools I can give my students to help prepare them for sonic experiences outside of their comfort zone and, specifically, how they become aware of subconscious racialization practices. What will they hear? And, more importantly, how will they react?
Featured Image: Still from Purple Eyes (Ojos Violetas), with permission from Josh Inocencio who retains copyright.
Trevor Boffone is a Houston-based scholar, educator, writer, dramaturg, producer, and the founder of the 50 Playwrights Project. He is a member of the National Steering Committee for the Latinx Theatre Commons and the Café Onda Editorial Board. Trevor has a Ph.D. in Latin@ Theatre and Literature from the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston where he holds a Graduate Certificate in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. He holds an MA in Hispanic Studies from Villanova University and a BA in Spanish from Loyola University New Orleans. Trevor researches the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and community in Chican@ and Latin@ theater and performance. His first book project, Eastside Latinidad: Josefina López, Community, and Social Change in Los Angeles, examines the textual and performative strategies of contemporary Latin@ theatermakers based in Boyle Heights that use performance as a tool to expand notions of Latinidad and (re)build a community that reflects this diverse and fluid identity. He is co-editing (with Teresa Marrero and Chantal Rodriguez) an anthology of Latinx plays from the Los Angeles Theatre Center’s Encuentro 2014 (under contract with Northwestern University Press).
REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig:
“Don’t Be Self-Conchas”: Listening to Mexican Styled Phonetics in Popular Culture*–Sara V. Hinojos and Dolores Inés Casillas
Deaf Latin@ Performance: Listening with the Third Ear–Trevor Boffone
If La Llorona Was a Punk Rocker: Detonguing The Off-Key Caos and Screams of Alice Bag–Marlen Rios-Hernández
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The Clash, “Guns of Brixton”—The Editorial Collective
Alice Bag, “Programmed”—Jenny Stoever
Speedy Ortiz, “Raising the Skate”—Liana Silva
OutKast, “Humble Mumble”—Regina Bradley
The Staple Singers, “Freedom Highway”—Shakira Holt
El Jornaleros del Norte, “Serenata a un Indocumentado”—Dolores Inés Casillas
A Tribe Called Red (feat. Yasiin Bey, Narcy & Black Bear), “R.E.D.”—reina alejandra prado
Body Count, “No Lives Matter”—Holger Schulze
Pega Monstro, “Partir a Loiça”—Carlo Patrão
Björk, “Declare Independence”—Chris Chien
Green Velvet and Prok & Fitch, “Sheeple”—Justin Burton
Pet Shop Boys, “Go West”—Airek Beauchamp
Kate Bush, “Waking the Witch”—Gretchen Jude
Cabaret Voltaire, “Do the Mussolini (Headkick)”—Yetta Howard
Lucid Nation (feat. Jody Bleyle), “Fubar”—Tamra Lucid
Resorte, “Opina o Muere”—Aurelio Meza
Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker”—Ariel B Taub
Charlie Haden & Liberation Music Orchestra, “We Shall Overcome”—Elizabeth Newton
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, “Johnny Appleseed”—Aaron Trammell
***Click here to read our Blog-o-versary year-in-review by Ed. in Chief JS
** Click here to just cut to the chase and get the new mix already! LOL!**
From the very beginning, the exclamation point has been our thing. Our deeply meaningful, utopically earnest, passionately heartfelt, stubbornly insistent, collectively exposing-our-geeky-love-and-enthusiasm-to-the-world THING. And over the past seven years we have fought for it, demanded it—#sorrynotsorry print copy editors!—and, as is our fondest wish, lived and embodied it for our readers each and every Monday (and the occasional Thursday too).
On the occasion of our seventh Blog-o-versary, we wanted to share the affective vibrations of our ! with y’all, for the deceptively simple reason that we want you to feel !!!!!!!, too.
After seven years of inserting it here, there, and everywhere, we assure you our ! is not merely a visual throwaway or empty hijinks. Neither is it a public punchline to a private joke, a snooty/snotty academic tic, nor a precious hipster eye-roll. It’s not a “brand.” It was not intended as nostalgic homage to the many ! bands from the aughts or the many !-heavy songs of 1970s and 80s punk (although “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!,” totally). And during these times of solidarity and upheaval, let us be especially LOUD and clear: the exclamation mark in Sounding Out! is not, and has never been, tongue-in-cheek. We really, really mean it!
So what, then, is the “!” in Sounding Out!??
You already know what it is.
It’s a sound.
It’s a shoulder-shaking shout expressing our desire for ourselves and our writers to be heard, a sound that reaches out and touches, and hears in turn. It’s a sound that viscerally performs our down-ness, our dedication, our willingness to go there (and to stay put and listen). It’s a wail of feedback. a belly laugh. a grito. a hearty WTF. a down low OMG yes OMG (s/o to ATCQ!). a tsk of tongue against teeth. a ribcage-rattling beat. a yessssss with an ‘80s elbow pump. It’s the sound—heard, known, and sensed—of all those women feeling themselves at Beatles concerts, of thousands of voices rising together in love, power and frustration to tell the world (yet again) that #blacklivesmatter, to #sayhername and #stopkillingus . . .it’s not a specific sound, but yet you know it when you hear it, because it gives you goosebumps.
Our “!” is a—BLAM—mic drop, mixed with the grumble of the roadie who picks it up, fixes it, and passes it on. and, oh!, that anticipatory, skin-pricking static of listening out for who’s got next.
When we decided on the blog’s title back in 2009, the ! in Sounding Out! was never a subject of debate—it just appeared organically as an organic “AHA! of course!” At the time, the “!” acoustically mirrored of how the editorial collective communicated enthusiastically with each other, and symbolized, sonically and ineffably, how we thought and, more importantly, felt about the mission we laid out for ourselves and the blog, the mission we explore, challenge and renew in the company of our readers each July. That “!” puts in deeply resonant WORK, with dedication and feeling, just like we do—through words, but beyond, above, around, and below them too, hitting all those affective frequencies we don’t—or can’t—often talk about. It’s a sound that, like us, merges and keeps changing with history, context, and experience.
Here’s what the “!” has meant, and sounded, in our seventh year:
This spring, we completed our indexing project, which has been years in the making, with the dedication and assistance of our three undergraduate interns from the Binghamton University English Department: Daniel Santos, Dhruv Sehgal, and Michele Quiles. In exchange for mentorship and the opportunity to throw themselves into the inner workings of SO!, these three tirelessly compiled a hotlinked listing of each and every post we have ever published (of which today’s is the 466th!).
Click here to view the index in all of its scrollable glory!
You can reorganize the list by title, date, or author—whatever suits your needs. We hope this continues to keep our very worthy back catalog in circulation and that SO! only becomes easier to read, teach and learn from!
And, of course, we extend huge, hearty, and numerous praise-hand emoji thank yous to our trusty Assistant Visual Editor, Will Stabile, to Special Editor Neil Verma, who curated several series for SO! Thursdays this year, and to you, our dedicated writers, readers, retweeters, word-of-mouthers, sticker bearers, and general good vibe givers. We are here because you are!
This year found our podcast series—helmed by Multimedia Editor Aaron Trammell—more experimental and sonic than ever. While continuing to offer recordings of symposia (here’s one on Dirty Jerz punx), soundwalks (here’s one aural trip through Yoshiwara, Tokyo), and documentaries (here’s one on the New England Soundscape Project), our podcasts have included more installation work, bringing the sound art of folks such as Cecelia Suhr (“From Ancient Soul to Ether”) and David Mollin and Salomé Voegelin (“Languages of Exile”) directly to your inboxes, earbuds, and audiostreams. By way of celebrating our 50th (!!!!!!!) podcast, AT also handled some audiophile beef regarding our so-called “low-fi” aesthetic in his February 2016 post “A Manifesto, or Sounding Out!’s 51st Podcast!!!,” click here to read more about how and why we sound like we do.
Sounding Out! continued to push the boundaries of the field of sound studies this year, geographically and intellectually. We continued to amplify artists, scholars, research, and experiences beyond the US borders, this year focusing intensively on Canada (see the bold “Unsettling the World Soundscape Project” series curated by Neil Verma, edited by Randolph Jordan and featuring himself, Vincent Andrisani, and Mitchell Akiyama, ) and focusing more intensively on Asia, particularly Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, China-via-Canada (in an excellent post by University of Southern California graduate student Christopher Chien on how format–and so-called “surface noise” record and express diasporic movements) and the pan-Asian performances of transgender sound artist Tara Transitory (Singapore, Vietnam, and Laos, as analyzed in a moving post by Justyna Stasiowska, a PhD student at Jagiellonian University in Poland). We also began an experimental multi-part series tracing Rui Chaves‘s efforts to develop new, more context-oriented methods to archive Brazilian sound artists that will continue through early next year.
Intellectually, our themed series and forums explored–and pushed beyond–various boundaries in the cultural study of sound– challenging alleged demarcations between sound and “sense” (Karly Lynne-Scott‘s Hysterical Sound), queering distinctions between sound and touch (Airek Beauchamp‘s Sound and Affect), amplifying the sonics of ancient, seemingly-silent texts for contemporary listeners (Dorothy Kim and Christopher Roman‘s Medieval Sound) and challenging distinctions of canny and uncanny in regard to the “voice” (Julie Beth Napolin‘s Sonic Shadows).
Not to be outdone, our individual posts, too pushed the study of sound toward new knowledge, perspectives, politics, and ethics. In year 7, SO! documented how recording amplifies acts of protest and makes them “multi-sited,” identified “Afecto Caribeño” across migrations of time, space, and media, remembered the sound of Public Enemy’s afro-future twenty-five years on, broadcasted live from the Radio Preservation Task Force Conference at the Library of Congress, delved into the “slow, loud, and banging” sound Paul Wall pumps out of Houston’s slabs, eulogized the sound of freedom Prince offered his listeners, questioned how “listening fits into reparative justice for the victims of sterilization,” and shouted Sandra Bland’s name, LOUD.
7.0 brought us our first regular podcaster, Native American (Ojibwe) interdisciplinary video artist and scholar Marcella Ernest (Phd Candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, listen to her exemplary “Finding the Lost Sounds of Kaibah” here) and two new regular writers, Robin James (Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte) and Justin Burton (Assistant Professor of Music at Rider University) both of whom think through the vexing but productive nexus between popular music and sound studies. Justin and Robin engage each other’s work in an ongoing dialogue about music, race, and gender even as they push toward diverse theoretical horizons and musical genres.
SO! continues to bring you the best, most exciting and incisive work in the field because we GO there–there in this case being conferences, concerts, art openings, receptions and other happenings–and we listen, meeting potential writers and encouraging them to become part of Team SO! and share their work with our readership. We work hard to merge the amazing technological opportunities for digital communication with the best of “IRL” camaraderie and collegiality, opening up new affective channels that nurture ideas and accountable communities.
This past year, SO! editors repped the blog in person in Toronto, ON (#2015ASA); Washington DC (#rtpf); Riverside, CA (#showprove16); Stony Brook, NY (
#periodsandwaves); Madison, WI; Los Angeles, CA; Irvine, CA; Houston, TX, New York City, NY; Albuquerque, NM, Las Vegas, NV, and Montreal, Quebec. We gave talks, checked out panels, livetweeted, co-sponsored events (hip hop concert by Sammus, anyone? YES PLEASE!), met one-on-one with graduate students, attended caucus meetings, ran for office, worked rooms, gave workshops on digital publishing, and even passed out the last (!) of our yellow-and-red stickers. In short, we hustled to be present for you and for the work, and we will continue on into year 8!
Our ongoing SO! Amplifies series really took off this year, and we took seriously the task of scouring the web to bring you truly innovative praxis in sound. It’s purpose is twofold: to increase your awareness of cool people and projects engaging sound as an active medium–listen to them! write about them! spread the word!–AND to present insight into how archivists, makers, editors, and curators understand their own work, a sort of “behind the sound” perspective into their work. This year, we brought you preservation outreach! apps + maps! hashtag projects! podcasts! archives! art exhibits!
But, wait! There’s more!
The “notes” on our Facebook page is *still the best place to hear about calls for art, calls for posts, and upcoming conferences, shows, and volumes in sound studies. “Like” us here and please continue to keep us in the loop regarding new projects. We love to signal boost!
!!!!!!! Highlight Reel!!!!!!!
See what’s new with SO! authors and community members this year (courtesy of managing editor Liana Silva). Congratulations everyone (and keep those cards, letters, and pitches coming!).
- Since contributing to Sounding Out! last fall, André Carrington’s book Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction has made its debut. He’s been doing events across the country and blogging about them at http://www.andrecarringtonphd.com. Following up on research that he presented at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies conference, he will be participating in the 2016-2017 Penn Humanities Forum on Translation to further a project titled “Audiofuturism: The Alchemy of Race in Radio Drama.”
- In the last year Robin James has been working on a book manuscript called The Sonic Episteme: Acoustic Resonance & Post-Identity Biopolitics. It argues many “neo-” and “post-” theories, like neoliberal political economy or new materialist posthumanism, double down on the “audiovisual litany” and use the shift from visual to sonic epistemologies to mark their supposed overcoming of modernity’s limitations. When she’s not franticly finishing that book, she’s been giving talks and interviews about her book Resilience & Melancholy, and written a lot for SO! James is already thinking about her next book project, which uses radio station WOXY/97x “The Future of Rock n Roll” to think about what the “future” of rock n roll sounded like in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, right before it slipped into a seemingly vicious cycle of retromania.
- Gretchen Jude presented earlier this year a paper on Vocaloids at the EMP Conference in Seattle (http://www.empmuseum.org/programs-plus-education/programs/pop-conference.aspx). Her submission to the !!!!!!! mixtape reflects this line of research. Next March, she will be presenting a paper in Tokyo on female vocality in early 20th century Japanese popular song (at the first International Musicology Congress in Asia). The music she’ll talk about in this second paper also appeared in her Sounding Out! soundwalk post. Her dissertation research will be supported by a UC Davis Bilinski Dissertation Year Fellowship in 2016-17.
- This year Carlo Patrão produced and debuted four documentaries about Sound and Listening for the Portuguese national radio station Antena 2 RTP, covering the themes of bioacoustics, archaeoacoustics, sonic violence, endangered soundscapes and sonification of cosmic data. Also, he participated in WFMU’s expanded radio stream Optimized!, programmed by Vicki Bennet/People Like Us. You can find out more about his radio work here: zeppelinruc.wordpress.com
- Daniel Santos recently graduated from SUNY Binghamton with highest honors after completing his thesis on the relationship between BU students and Triple Cities residents. Next week he starts a position as an associate teacher with Success Academy Charter School.
- For more information about Assistant Visual Editor Will Stabile, please visit your local library. You’ll learn about his burgeoning work in the field of comedy, and if you ask they might let you look at the microfiche.
- Liana Silva will be taking her presence to the public classroom this fall, as she becomes a high school English teacher in her new home, Houston TX. #htownvicious She continues to research Jean Grae’s music for an upcoming chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies. And of course she wouldn’t leave SO!, so you can still find her here at the blog, where she’s currently editing the series DH and Listening.
- Jennifer Stoever‘s book, The Sonic Color line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening will be published this November by New York University Press (preorder available here). She also has chapters forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies (on the importance of black women and Latina record collectors to hip hop) and in the Provoke! volume on digital sound studies (Duke UP), co-authored with Liana Silva and Aaron Trammell, a tell-all exposing exactly how much fun we all have working our asses off on this blog.
- Aaron Trammell earned his doctorate from the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information in Fall 2015. He was a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar for Faculty Diversity in Informatics and Digital Knowledge at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California for 2015-2016. He will start as Assistant Professor of Games and Interactive Media this fall at the Department of Informatics at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine.
- Neil Verma was recently appointed Assistant Professor of sound studies at Northwestern University to help run the new MA in Sound Arts and Industries. He co-edited the book Anatomy of Sound: Norman Corwin and Media Authorship, which started out as an SO! series. If you’re in Germany in October, you can catch him speaking at Radio Revolten in Germany on Oct 27.
Jennifer Stoever is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sounding Out! She is also Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University.
Click here for Sounding Out!‘s Blog-O-Versary “!!!!!!!” mix 7.0 with track listing.
REWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:
- 2015 Blog-o-Versary 6.0 Keep on Pushing! (Our 400th post!!)
- 2014 #flawless 5.0 celebration and mix
- 2013 Blog-o-Versary 4.0: Solid Gold Summer Countdown!
- 2012 #Blog-O-Versary 3.0: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (The Awesomeness)!
- 2011 “Awesome Sounds from a Future Boombox” 2.0
- 2010 First Blog-O-Versary party mix: A Celebration of Awesomeness
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD: !!!!!!! Mix
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Beyoncé, “Formation”—Regina N. Bradley & André Carrington
Mitski, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”—Liana Silva & Chris Chien
Desi Arnaz, “Babalu”—Reina Prado
Celia Cruz, “La Vida es un Carnaval”—Dolores Inés Casillas
Audra Mae, “Jebidiah Moonshine’s Friday Night Shack Party”—Will Stabile
Skrillex And Diplo, “Febreze” (Feat. 2 Chainz)—Robin James
Desiigner, “Panda” (LUCA LUSH remix)—Justin Burton
David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans”—Primus Luta
Jlin, “Black Diamond”—Mitchell Akiyama
Selena Gomez, “Hands to Myself”—Emma Leigh Waldron
1st Generation, “Remain Cool”—Natalia Linares
The Raincoats, “In Love”—Josh Shepperd
Lithuania, “Kill the Thing You Love”—Frank Bridges
Alma Cogan, “In the Middle of the House”—Cynthia Wang
The Books, “I Didn’t Know That”—Carlo Patrão
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, “Candy Candy”—Gretchen Ju
Saki Kabata, “Lonely Rolling Star”—Aaron Trammell
Mega Ran, “Infinite Lives” (Feat. D&D Sluggers)—Jennifer Stoever