Wed 24 May 2023

A Sonic Love Letter


Erin Cory

First, let me say how honoured I am to have been asked to comment on this special issue. It is indeed special – in its expansiveness and its experimentality. I could not have wished for more interesting pieces to engage.

If you are part of the project, you know that already. And if you aren’t, you will read the project and you will know what I mean.

But my job today is to offer a response to the issue. Neither Oscar nor Lucy gave me explicit instructions, which is a dangerous thing, because I just went ahead and did what I wanted, or rather, what felt right to me.

And it is this:

A mixtape of love letters and sounds for the authors of this special issue of the PARSE journal on conviviality and contamination.

Why a mixtape? Well, why not a mixtape? In my childhood and into my teenage years, mixtapes were the way you let someone know how you felt about them, and since this issue is so much about sound, I thought I would make one for all of you. Also, mixtape as research, or mixtape as academic commentary? I think we might put Reviewer #2 out of business.

Why love letters? Admittedly, this is a favourite genre of mine. I like to let people know how I feel through words as well as sounds. And also: Parse is putting together a conference on love, so perhaps there is a bridge here as well.

But I have structured these love letters as one longer text, with preface, prologue, and a few main chapters. Maybe a bit more academic than a straight up love letter, but hopefully not its antithesis. I believe, rather, that these conversations we have about each other’s writing, about our thinking, and our dreaming, and our politics – these are love in action. As bell hooks wrote, love is as love does. So that’s what I’m trying to do in these comments – to give love back in sound and word, and via some questions too because sometimes lovers have to push for answers, push for connection, and I hope to contribute in some way to this contamination, which as Teta, Laura, and Lucy so beautifully point out in their conversation (which is included in the special issue), is about opening oneself, is about vulnerability, is about attending to our connections as well as to the spaces between us.

So, without further ado…


When I think of home, I think of its sounds. I grew up in the US/Mexico borderlands, fifteen minutes by car from the crossing, fifteen minutes by car to the ocean. My childhood was a multilingual soundscape, the conversations around me careening between Spanish and English mostly, also some Arabic, Korean, and Vietnamese, and many other languages I could not name when I was young. San Diego is one of the most linguistically rich cities in the United States – the residents of one neighborhood, City Heights, speak over 45 languages, and 100 dialects. These, however, do not include the languages of the Kumeyaay tribe, on whose land much of south, central, and east San Diego sits.

When I think of home, I can hear the ocean. I never was much of a beachgoer, but the Pacific and its inhabitants were always our neighbours in one way or another. The smell of salt came through car windows as we drove down the 5 with our radio blaring. Seagulls chorused further inland than you might expect, seeking out meals or maybe just out for a joyride. At night by the coast, we heard whale songs. At night by the canyons, the howling of coyotes.

Conviviality was multilingual, multisensory, and multispecied, a fact this special issue highlighted for me.

Contamination, however, was not cast in a positive light. I grew up during Operation Gatekeeper, when the war on drugs and a militarized American exceptionalism exacerbated by the culture wars saw an increased military presence at the border. Politicians proselytized on the dangers of ‘illegals’, helicopters flew low over our neighborhoods at night, scanning the brush beyond suburban developments. On hikes through the canyons my brother and I and our friends came across abandoned campsites – tins of food and scraps of cloth signs of life trying to make it through high desert terrain. Some of these same friends were scolded by teachers for speaking Spanish on the playground. Legitimation meant no contamination – one could not contaminate, nor could one be contaminated. ‘Proper’ English, ‘proper’ papers…these were the keys to convivial co-existence.

What this special issue has reminded me is how much is lost in these metrics that separate, absent, silence. And also: how contamination, in the most positive sense, happens anyway. Not as a state, as we might think of conviviality, but as an action, a process, a becoming.

What I see in this issue is a range of thinking on togetherness, on ways of being together, of sounding and hearing one another. This happens across historically separated groups, across continents, across languages, across sounds. It happens across spaces, and times, and even the stages of one’s life.

To begin with…

Prologue: Foundations

Dear Thomas and Oscar,

I write to you together, because in your texts I feel your connection to one another, built over years of collaboration, thinking together, and bringing into community scholars from different backgrounds and places. I write to you together because your texts represent the foundation from which the other works in this special issue can emerge, and perhaps against which they can push.

Both of you have experimented with genre in your pieces, in Thomas’s case ethnofiction, combining ethnographic methods and the imaginative imagery allowed by fiction writing; and in Oscar’s a hybrid text combining travel notes with personal reflection both before and after a visit to South Africa. There can be little doubt about your affection for the country and the people who live there. And you engage similar topics with clear passion – you are each interested, it seems to me, in the relative benefits and perils of contamination, and how these are simultaneously expressed in the natural and human worlds. Oscar asks what it means when people say that South Africa is ‘going to the dogs’ and wonders about the connection between contaminated diversity and cultural decline, and Thomas sees a connection between a decline in biodiversity and cultural diversity. Indeed, the texts themselves read like contaminations to me, in that the authors both imagine alternative subjectivities: what would it be like to live somewhere else, to inhabit the body of a person of a different colour or gender? This imagining brings the narrators to the edge of the bridge, and yet they go no further. The narrators inhabit spaces that many academics inhabit on certain research travels – hotels, colleagues’ apartments, beaches, cafes – and speak with interlocutors, most of whom are of the same ilk as themselves.

But that imagination, and the questions it raises, are important threads that begin our entrée into an exegesis of the two concepts at the heart of this issue.

And so I ask: What does it mean to be convivial in a research context in which one is an outsider? What does it mean to invite contamination into one’s research, to open oneself to contamination? How does one do that ethically?

Because both Oscar and Thomas invite into their writing a certain intersectionality connected specifically to colour and gender, I’ll begin our mixtape with this song, by Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa. This is a live recording from a concert, interestingly, in Stockholm in 1966. (Khawuleza, Miriam Makeba)

Chapter 1: Spaces, Bronwyn & Ivan

Dear Bronwyn,

Your twin texts – slats of history detailing Nguni cattle in the Eastern Cape in South Africa that sit convivially alongside the story of a girl, Lina, and her mother as they navigate male chauvinism, nature, and survival – present such a rich way of accounting for history whilst bringing it into the present, making it urgent, as Masande calls for writers to do in the conversation you had with him, Oscar, and Ivan. Taken as a whole, the text is beautifully rendered, with the history of the Xhosa and their sacrificed cattle providing snapshots of backdrop for the life Lina and her mother lead.

The two of them find the injured cow, a female, frustrated and scrabbling at the dirt, trying to raise herself. Lina’s mother calls for help and finds no solution from the men to whom she speaks, a fact that repeats itself when she confronts the men on motorbikes making a racket in town. Forgive me if my imagination has gone too far, Bronwyn, but I imagine these men – the boys who stare at Lina, the men who are vague unhelpful voices on the other end of a phone, the biker who refuses to tell the others to quit, the other one who stares at Lina’s mother – I imagine these men as white cis-gendered fellows, the lineage of colonization and apartheid indelibly stuck to them, contaminating them and those they encounter. I feel in the mother-daughter duo, in the female cow, the ways that colonization and patriarchy are inextricably linked. The violence of stares that look at others, but do not see, as all the men in this piece look or hear, but do not see or listen.

In the end, unable to bear the cow’s suffering, the mother asks for one more bit of help, a piece of advice: how to kill. The cow bleeds out in front of Lina, and then… we don’t know. My question for you, Bronwyn, is what happens to Lina? What does the next chapter in her life, in your writing, look like? More to the point: How does this contaminated landscape shape its children, and what can this genre of braiding rich narrative and history teach children growing up as witnesses to, or in the wake of, this rupture? This is my song for you, and for tender, witnessing Lina. (Star Witness, Neko Case)

Dear Ivan,

Thank you for taking me on that walk. So many cities in such a few pages. So many impressions – art, photographs, monuments, Kafka in all the land! – all working together in the narrative you’ve shared, in which ruination sits alongside memorialization and preservation, and absence is its own kind of presence. When I walk with you, I feel myself to be treading through an urban palimpsest, as Andreas Huyssen writes about, in which the past is absolutely present, but not always in ways one would expect.

There, in the absence of books on the shelves in Micha Ullman’s memorial to Nazi book burning, set poignantly next to a university library whose windows show a literary embarrassment of riches. There, in the absence of an obvious artwork in Shirkers’ Alley. I was glad to get out of the museums. At every turn, we found ourselves in unexpected corridors, taken off our course by strange doors, dim lights, distant voices. The museum, you told me twice!, is a trap. But outside is no different, is it? Shirkers’ Alley, where the bronze cobbles force you to unconsciously walk on a bias. What a perfect kinesthetic metaphor for the histories we carry with us, and how they contaminate each present, each space we enter.

But let’s keep walking, Ivan. Away from the monuments and art and museums. Vyjayanthi Rao tells us that cities are archives too – people move with their memories, the way that archivists move memories into and around archives, and so cities become the repositories and expressions of these memories. Beyond official channels, which everyday spaces do we contaminate with our memories, with the bronzed biases and histories we carry with us? If not cast in stone, as your title suggests, perhaps we leave our memory wherever we go, letting it fall like dust on the cityscapes we move through. My question for you, Ivan, is: Can memories that tread different bronzed biases live together convivially, beyond the curated space of a museum? Here is my tune for you, about a city where memory continues to imprint itself tragically and beautifully – and strangely, with some commonality across segregated neighborhoods – in the capital city of a country that cannot agree on the basic facts of its own history. (Beirut, Yasmin Hamdan)

Chapter 2: Empathy & Connection, Cheryl & Salome

Dear Cheryl,

Sometimes the strands of our lives weave together with others’ in poignant and personal ways. It is a gift when we can hold those interwoven points in our hands, and turn to them again and again.

As I read your piece, I was drawn back to my own girlhood, to burgeoning romantic feelings, to the questions unfurling inside me like so many tickling fern fronds. I turned to books then, as I do now, and to music. Reading and hearing the accounts of other girls both calmed and ignited my rabbit heart, which leapt, as yours did, in the presence of certain others.

I was lucky to be called into the ‘reparative reading’ you highlight in your piece, by teachers who set us texts by Jeannette Winterson (whom I’m delighted you mentioned), Dorothy Allison, and others. I was lucky to be pulled into the orbit of riot grrrl music by girls much more hip than myself. I felt those story-able responses you mention, connected to the hopes and horrors of girlhood, to the urgent heartbeat underpinning the songs of my favorite bands. Like this tune by Sleater-Kinney, released in 1996. (Stay Where You Are, Sleater-Kinney)

That last line – She’s bad because she wants to not be contained/I can’t tell them truth, I can’t speak this way – indicates the struggle to be heard experienced with universal poignancy by historically marginalized people around the world, and specifically highlighted with utmost urgency in the trans community’s ongoing fight for gender-affirming care, for a right to simply BE.

Sometimes our identities cannot be contained by the boxes we are required to tick, sometimes our voices are muted by the identities imposed upon us, required of us for mere survival. The second part of that compound word, affirming/affirmation, is what, it seems to me, is sought out in the different tracks of narrative empathy you trace in both memoirs. How connected to our own lives these tracks are. We all seek to be read, heard, seen by our readers or audience, whomever they may be: we seek also to understand across our own narrative arcs; and we look for care and affirmation through communication with our closest others. The work of writers who have not only claimed, but projected their voice in contexts that have been unkind, even toxic, to their truest selves, feels to me instructive in the way that it is a reparative writing. And I might imagine that your reading them and then doing the written work of tracing the ways they interweave with your own experience must have felt in some way like a reparative writing for you, a convivial joining. What sort of historical, empathetic touchstones do you imagine these memoirs will be, what conviviality are they in the process of making, for future generations of children who, like you and me when we were small, wrestled with big feelings for which we had no map? What sort of conviviality does your own writing – shifting as it doesn between theory and analysis and personal account –  perform, in this instance? What would you call your own writing?

And now to connect more concretely your context to my own, as I imagine we are in convivial community with each other. I have chosen this track for you as well, Cheryl. It is by a South African rapper called Dope Saint Jude, and it is called ‘Grrrl Like.’ Dope Saint Jude is a former drag king who has said in an interview, ‘A lack of empathy and compassion is the great challenge to humanity right now.’ I chose this track because it is a brash declaration of identity and belonging, for sure, but also because it shows in its pointed spelling of grrrl, and the way she herself locates her music at the intersection of South African rhythms, rap, and riot grrrl, the ways that texts – sonic and written – can carry on and expand the connective empathy begun by the work of earlier artists.  Empathy for others and for our sevles can be woven ever forward. (Grrrl Like, Dope Saint Jude)

Dear Salomé,

When I started reading your text, I thought right away that your song should be this (play portion of ‘Whitey on the Moon’). You reference Musk and Branson and their cohort, and the privilege they possess that would allow them the opportunity to bust out of this atmosphere and land somewhere else. Which honestly? Might be better for all of us, even as we can jive with Gil-Scott Heron’s outrage at the skyrocketing (pun intended) cost of living and how so many of our fellow humans live without – without heat, safe water, healthcare.

From this, you launch (pun, again, intended) into a discussion of a sonic conviviality that is based on ‘living interdependently in shared conditions, aware of the consequent inevitability of contagion… It generates a more contingent and continuous being with that is response-able to connections and aware of entanglements.’ This is not merely theory, you point out, but a way of working that attends to fuzzy relationality, the in-between, the hybrid, and all the entanglements that constitute them. We find these spaces in our breaths, you say, in our breathing, which we all must do . We must share air, which puts us in direct connection to each other, to our greater or lesser peril. This emphasis on breath in the making of sound, in the way you paint the very basic position and problematic of our being in the world, together, put me in mind, instead of Gil-Scott Heron’s piece, of jazz music instead. I’m not talking soft jazz or smooth jazz or any of the various Ibiza jazz remix albums, but rather a jazz that relies on the skill, interpretation, willingness, vulnerability, drive, and yes, BREATH, not only of the individual, but of the community. And I thought of the time I first heard Ko Ko by Charlie Parker.

(play first bit of Ko Ko (22 seconds), Charlie Parker.)

That short breath, right there, is an echo of your score for BREATHING:

Breathe normally, Listen to your breath, in and out, in and out, in and out. Stop breathing.

Each body has its own rhythm, its own breathing patterns. What I hear in Ko Ko is the calibration of this breathing, stretching into a sonic conviviality, each body working to keep up, reach out, lean in and listen. To keep it tight, relational, even in those small but important pauses. These bodies are responsive and, as you put it, response-able. In the stories told about the recording of this track, several different musicians were brought in to record different instruments, but for one reason or another, most of them ended up being dismissed from the session, and Dizzy Gillespie, Parker’s close friend and musical rival, ended up playing both the piano and the trumpet on the recording.

(turn up Ko Ko again)

This recording, if you believe historians of jazz, marked a definite moment in the genre’s shift from music for dancing to music for listening. For listening. To sound, to melody, to others’ bodies, to breath.

And what comes after that last instruction? Stop breathing. At some point, we inhale again, as we must. And at some point, that instruction will be our last.

(stop music)

So it was with Charlie Parker, who died at the age of 34 from complications related to substance abuse. Sound is not the only thing that is both convivial and contagious.

You write in your piece, ‘As the demographics of Covid deaths show, the viral reveals rather than hides inequalities. The view on the world as co-generative and contagious demonstrates its interdependencies and in this way also shows the impossibility to de-link wealth and opportunity from discriminations and injustice.’

I think about Bird’s body, so responsive and resonant, lying still and soundless. I think of response – call and response in music and in protest, responsibility (the way we care for and are bound to others), and the respons-able aspects of the conviviality you unpack in your piece. And it occurs to me that the ‘able’ here is as important as the response to it, or the lack thereof. Was Bird able to call out for help and get a response? Who, nowadays, can expect response? What ability to ask for help, to seek out care, to respond to and respond with sound, is required for access to convivial community? 

Between Bird’s death and our present moment, we have, again, Gil-Scott Heron’s comparative catalogue of everyday injustice. Funny, how the concerns then, as in Bird’s day, as in our own time, remain so much the same. What would it have taken to keep Bird in flight?

Chapter 3: Time, Masande & Anders

Dear Masande,

What song could I possibly pick for a writer who has generously offered up at least part of his own musical history in such a way? Portishead, Animal Collective, Maxwell… You’ve taken me back through swaths of my own personal jukebox, and I thank you.

I thank you too, for the poem you offered. Crafted though I know it is, I felt in its helter skelter movement between years and moments, a rawness, a drive, a force that was both youthful and nostalgic, tethered to the present even as it dives into the sonic and sensual past. You write, ‘I remember’ and again, ‘I remember’, and on my second reading of your poem, piecing together these parts of one’s life (and forgive me, Masande, but I originally assumed this was you narrating, and I also didn’t want to be like that American author in this poem who assumes an unreliable narrator! But I have felt myself in peaceable conviviality with this narrator and their musical preferences and I was loathe to think of this voice as a fictional one) – but on my second reading I started thinking of that remember as re-member, re-member, a temporal and spatial reconnection, piecing back together bits of memory and life, reclaiming perhaps a new order to things, the way the narrator’s English teachers ‘unbullied’ them. Who gets to order our life for us anyway?

I see in this poem, in high definition, the way that experiences of travel and home, and who we are at home and away, contaminate each other, set our various selves in high relief – not in terms of others always, but in terms of the identities we wear. Is it possible, Masande, that one can be both convivial with oneself, whilst staying open to contamination? Does the present contaminate our memories, as the past contaminates our present? Does it make them more convivial? How can we possibly hold all these things at once? These questions demand a cover, a song that re-members another – that is contaminated by it, but sits with it in convivial harmony. So, Maxwell, Masande. Maxwell covering Kate. (This Woman’s Work, Maxwell)

Dear Anders,

Again, a joy and a struggle to choose a song for you, my friend. I tried to play smart and dig for something extra from M.I.A., some hip track you might not have heard, but then I realized: who am I kidding? The man is writing a book on such things. And anyway, she’s a force and should have center stage here.

Your piece is an exegesis not only of Maya’s music but also of her life. You write, ‘I suggest first viewing contamination as a sort of unfathomable hybridity and risk-taking cultural practice, and subsequently as a forced practice of adaptation or survival.’ To be sure, Maya’s music occupies Homi Bhabha’s third space, or rather constitutes it, as she pulls from not only her own family heritage, but from a hybrid musical heritage that spans decades and genres, both displacing them and connecting them in sounds like this. (And I’m playing this for folks who may not know Maya’s work, ok?) (20 Dollar, M.I.A.) Not her most popular song, but she’s sampling New Order and the Pixies, and for all its braggadocio, the song is largely about cheap AKs, worried mothers, war, and corruption. New wave and postpunk remixed and politicised. I am here for it.

But one thing that struck me in your piece, Anders, is the juxtaposition between Maya’s family life (namely, her largely absent father) and her seemingly obsessive need to record cinematically and sonically. As you write, ‘She cannot get rid of the irritating father who somehow keeps contaminating her work.’ Childhood, too, can be an irritant, it can contaminate. And yet she flips it, into what she calls the third place, a BRIDGE, she says, between what she terms the developed world and the developing world. This space makes room for sounds to live alongside each other, a joyous sonic petri dish.

I think about Gloria Anzaldúa’s idea of nepantla, a Nahuatl word that means tierra entre medio, or in-between space. For Anzaldúa, this space is flexible in its possibilities: although it is essentially a space of displacement, its lack of clear boundaries also opens up the possibility for connection. These connections – to ideas, people, and worlds – might simultaneously register as threatening, and can also be the bridges that build the place we call home And so my question for you, Anders, is: Is there a lesson in flipping contamination into what the editors of this special issue call a sonic conviviality? Might there also be a point in contamination staying a bit threatening, keeping people a bit off-kilter? In what ways does this relationship between contamination and conviviality inform your own research on music and mixtapes?

Chapter 4: Voice, Laura, Lucy, & Teta

For this part of the letter, I am going to play a wee back up track. These three are sonic maestras, and because they reference music, their own or by people close to them, I will simply encourage you to check them out. Picking a tune for each of these gems is just too much pressure.

Dear Laura,

Listening to your audio paper makes me want to change up my pedagogical practice and ask my students to create such engaging pieces in sound. It is a generous, rich alternative to what we might consider traditional research texts. The premise of Bulla Radio is to hold space for and archive the voices, practices, and stories of female and nonbinary sound producers, especially in Mexico. Over the past three years this archive has been growing, a testament not only to how prevalent and powerful these producers are, but also to the trust they put in you. In listening to you talking about Bulla and some of the many guests you have spoken with, I was struck by the way that conviviality seems to grow from a shared sense of contamination. What I mean is, the people whose voices and stories you shared in the piece in Parse have been through a range of circumstances that have circumscribed their visibility and volume within music scenes. In that sense, there is a shared experience of access being contaminated by prevailing gender norms.

However, as you and your interviewees show, a certain force comes from challenging that circumscription, comes from having to improvise and cut new paths – and that is the breaking free. That freedom, and that sense of contamination and conviviality emerging one from the other, or perhaps sitting side by side, also runs through your interview practice, in which you make space for messiness and play (much like in the live coding you talk about in your conversation with Lucy and Teta), and stories that might not ever be aired. I kept thinking: this messiness, what some might think of as a contamination of the interview moment, is precisely THE THING that makes possible conviviality – that warmth I can hear in your exchanges with the musicians.

I’ve written about this in terms of podcasting practice, thinking about what Victor Turner calls the liminoid – the space of play that doesn’t always get resolved, as opposed to the liminal, which presumes a threshold. I like the idea of contamination as a beneficial process, through which we make ourselves vulnerable, share, contaminate each other, and ultimately come out stronger, more capable of surviving because we are in communitas with others. Is this the thing at the heart of improvisation ensembles, which require getting free in order to be in community? What a concept.

One other thing that runs through this piece, as it does in different ways through work by Cheryl, Anders, and Masande, is age. But this is not about childhood, not about nostalgia, or even the way childhood haunts us. Rather, it is about aging and is a celebration of aging, and expertise. It is another breaking free. Hearing you in conversation with older sound practitioners feels grounding – although you write in the slideshow accompaniment that you are not trying to use the information you have gathered to form a female geneaology (and I am with you there), the synchrony of your voice with theirs in these interviews makes up a sort of nonhierarchical, celebratory archive, alive and connected. To celebrate age in this way, not just looking backward but also forward, also feels like a radical contamination of thinking about active creation.

My question for you is about the spread of contamination. Mainly: What is the reach of this archive? How do you envision the contamination growing, spreading, pulling people in? Would working towards wider distribution compromise the integrity of the project as a convivial space?

Dear Teta,

A couple of weeks ago, I unexpectedly ended up at Grand, and there you were, lighting up the room from up on the stage. Your set was fantastic, and on the way home I remembered a conversation we had after the Women in Music symposium a couple of years ago, about representation and equity in music, and at the symposium in particular.

The conversation you had with Laura and Lucy reminded me of some of our own conversation, and you put it so beautifully in the PARSE text: your community in Malmö will discover you. And you came up with a concept for a performance at Inkonst called ‘Meet My Culture’. What a bold and fantastic way to engage the larger community. What a generous thing. It seems to me that opening that door is one way you express ubumuntu, or I am because you are.

One thing I wondered about, which you and Laura both mention in your conversation with Lucy, is the significance of identity, as someone who has immigrated to Sweden. You mention that you want to integrate your music, but you don’t want to lose yourself in the process. So my question to you, and to the larger room here is: What is the line between contamination and identity? Is this a personal decision? An ethical one? A political one?

Dear Lucy,

I end with you. Your sound essay, Cranial Nerve #8, is a perfect capstone to the special issue, and a rich summary of so much thinking on the politics and premises of listening.

I put this piece on again this morning while I was getting ready for my day, and what struck me is how you have created this sonic tapestry of thinking, bringing into community writers and thinkers, our city (Malmito, as Laura calls it), and our bodies, which bear out their own internalized borders on the daily. In your piece, the wind mingles with the urban soundscape, Arhundati Roy and Tim Ingold speak alongside the harmonies you and Teta find between yourselves, the politics of sound – who is allowed to be audible and where and when and how – meet up with the joys of co-creation. You have brought disparate noises and words together, stitched them into a fabric that pushes against xenophobic and nationalist notions of sonic contamination (which is so marked on our bodies – the ways we move, what we allow ourselves to say), and provided for them a place to sit together, contaminants and convivial partners at the same time.

This sonic archive is not only a record of disparate but related practice, theory, and context but also a call to attention, to that stretching towards that Tim Ingold voices in this piece. This attentive, convivial listening, you remind us, is a choice, with the power to tune in to our bodies, each other, and to disrupt the echo chambers that would mute music, voice, and yes, even breath.

Listening to your piece, I was brought back to my school playground, where my classmates had to keep their native language muted, hushed, for fear of reprimand. And I think of the new possibilities opening up in unlikely places. Specifically, I think of how the adhan rings out five times per day from mosques in cities in the American Midwest, a region known for its evangelical conservatism. I have not yet had the chance to hear the muezzin call the faithful to prayer in such places, but I imagine a soundscape remix – church bells and half-tones merging, enveloping cities and their people in the promise of conviviality by way of contamination. This is another world, this world is possible. Just listen.


In this issue I see a group of people developing not just these concepts of conviviality and contamination, but also the methods through which to understand and explore them. As Oscar notes in the introduction to the issue, this is uncharted territory. But you all have provided the beginnings of a map, moving from more traditional thinking to engaged conversation, to experimental interventions.

It seems clear to me that contamination is not just something that is observed, but is something that is in process, and perhaps is even a stance, or in some cases in this special issue, an ideal. So: Who decides? Can contamination remain something contentious? A stance one might take, as a politics of resistance? And how do we trace it? Beyond describing a state of things, how does it operate? Where might we seek it out? How can we act as its nodes on the ground, in the day to day of our waking lives?

I want to end with Salomé’s exercise, which Lucy documents so beautifully in a recording of herself and Teta. And I ask for participation from those of us in the room, as well as those of you online who might find yourself in proximity to a companion.

Sitting down or standing up, look at the human or more than human next to you.
Start to imagine the inaudible sound between you.
When you hear it, make that sound.

Convivial sound. A joyously contaminated room. Such sounds this studio has probably never had the privilege of being filled with. Thank you for making them, and thank you for listening.

(The full “Conviviality & Contamination: Sonic Love Letters” playlist can be found here)


Erin Cory

Erin Cory is a media scholar committed to arts-oriented activist media praxis, and Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication Studies at Malmö University. She has taught and researched in the US/Mexico border region, Denmark, Sweden, and Lebanon, and earned her PhD in Communication from the University of California, San Diego (2015). Since then, her research has included a postdoc in Media Studies and Refugee Migration; a transmedia storytelling project funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond; and a workshop series with Konstkupan Malmö and the surrounding community, leading to the production of a podcast called Picturing Home. She is currently partnering with The Cultural Avenue Uganda to carry out a digital storytelling project for refugee and host communities, funded by Svenska Institutet’s Creative Force Initiative, and is publishing work on podcasting as a community-building and research practice.


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