Posted by: kaleidophonic | December 11, 2011

Occupy & Sound Studies

Hey all, I thought I’d following up on my last post about thinking through the Occupy movement as a sonic amplification of dissent.

The good people over at Sounding Out! have also been thinking about how sound-studies can help us understand and explore the Occupy movement.

Important caveat: while I think there are important differences between the Canadian context within which I live and work and the American perspective heard in Sounding Out!, I think that this movement is inherently global and that therefore dialogue between all Occupy groups is essential. I know that the movement here in Canada must continue to distinguish itself from its counterpart in other parts of the world, but I havn’t seen much in the way of sonic perspectives on Canada’s Occupy movement, so for now all I can offer are some thoughts from our friends south of the border.

I’ll start with Gina Arnold’s piece on the sound of drum circles at Occupy Wallstreet. She talks a bit about the contested nature of the drum circle as the ‘sound’ of Occupy, then moves into an interesting history of drum circles in general, back to indigenous musical practices. Arguing that drum circles in America have become curiously ‘whitened’, this article is a great look into the sonic expressions of race, and also serves as a reality check for a movement that (in Canada at least) sometimes seems to take its white privilege for granted.

I should add, however, that while Arnold’s piece does a good job of tracing the Afro-Latin roots of drum circles it somehow leaves out Native drum circles. A curious (and perhaps revealing?) oversight. In Canada, support and solidarity for First Nations people has been a concern for the Occupy Movement – Canada’s aboriginal peoples have long been on the front line of the battles against aggressive capitalist resource exploitation. We need look no further than the Alberta tar sands or the current housing crisis in Attawapiskat to see that any Canadian movement that deals with environmental or social justice issues (among others) must go beyond proclamations of solidarity and actually seek to work in tandem with activists from our hugely diverse aboriginal communities. I wonder if a critical engagement with First Nations drumming traditions might be a constructive place to start?

While drumming at Occupy was Arnold’s focus, Ted Sammons tackled another icon of the Occupy movement: the People’s Microphone. If you don’t know what the People’s Microphone is, check out the vid below. Essentially its a form of call and response that grew out of a police ban on megaphones or amplifiers (i.e. using these without a permit). In action, the People’s Microphone works like this: one individual communicates to the crowd in short, precise bits of information, and this information is repeated and forwarded by the crowd. This way everyone can hear what’s being said.

Sammons’ article discusses traditions of call-and-response, as well as the architectural resonance of public spaces. He makes an argument that tactics such as the People’s Microphone are a way “of challenging government’s increasing control over the audible city“. This falls neatly in line with my previous Occupy post, about the movement as the amplification of dissent and a critical intervention into to the tranquilizing hum of our urban capitalist soundscapes.

The Occupy camps may have been removed or dismantled, but make no mistake: Occupy is still out there. Listen for their communications – but also listen to how they communicate. The use of communal communication techniques like drum circles and call-and-response bears an important relation to the communitarian nature of the Occupy movement.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”

– KJ


  1. Can you re-link the Gina Arnold piece? I can’t access it for some reason…

  2. […] Ed‘s Prof Hacker), responses (SheSeesRed) , and even an analysis of our #Occupy coverage (The Incredible Kaleidophone). For the full listing of all the folks we’ve caught talking about Sounding Out! since […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: