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Acoustic Ecologies of the Middle East: Current Conditions and Prospects

Panel VIII-8, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
This panel will discuss the reciprocal relations of sounds and silences within and beyond the limited representations of the prospects and recent acoustic ecologies of the Middle East. Drawing from a variety of acoustic frameworks, participants will discuss subject matters relevant to interruptions and continuations of sound, music, and auditory media. The focus will include the expansions and multiplicities of silence, speech, inaudibility, and a wide range of sonic iterations and vibrations, manifested through broadcasts and circulations, as well as regenerated in ordinary life proposals, conventionally imagined through natures, pseudo-natures, and their discursive impacts to now-s, futures, and disjunctions. Participants will further critically investigate interrelated subjects of sound’s role in sense of place, cosmopolitics and evolving (eco)cosmopolitanism-s, new regional conditions influencing and/or excluded from environmental consciousness, eco-anxieties, risk narratives, construction of politics of autochthone, discordance, inhabitability, pollution, disposal, and industrial-rural-urban divisions, warzones, and non-spaces, in addition to the logos of ecology, humanism, posthumanism-s, and dehumanization. Potential expansion of gaze will include the histories and historicities of the post-1950s and comparative analyses of the frameworks interlinked in globalism, internationalism, and universalism. The discussants’ scope of sound may include narrow or broader definitions and modalities of sound such as music, media analysis, material and discursive silences, politics of listening, rights to speak and narrate, subaltern voices, soundscapes, changes in noise cultures, circulations and broadcasts, inaudibility, drama, sound in motion picture, literature, and audio designs in digital environments to further examine these terms in regional and planetary scale complexities. Subjects involving diversity of methodologies with regional focuses, case studies, and analysis of broadly defined Middle Eastern Studies, including and not limited to Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Israel, Pakistan, and countries of the Arab world and diaspora, and their discontinued, shared, influenced, and extended definitions in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, Russia, China and more are welcome to join. The panel invites scholars of music, sound studies, media studies, environmental studies, literature, film, animation, anthropology, and so on.
Architecture & Urban Planning
Art/Art History
Media Arts
  • Dr. Najat Rahman -- Presenter
  • Ali Musleh -- Presenter
  • Dr. Can Bilir -- Organizer, Presenter, Chair
  • Ege Altan -- Presenter
  • Ghida Anouti -- Presenter
  • Dr. Can Bilir
    Within and beyond the 1950s environmental framework, global awareness towards the anthropogenic environmental impact and risk has stimulated critical discussions of the interrelations of human, nature, and material productive forces with an expansion of planetary scale place imaginaries. This includes changes of the governmental politics towards the sense of place and formalization of citizenship rights, interlaced with eco-anxieties contingent on political ecology as multiplicity, which condition the propositions of cosmopolitan identity of the human and humanistic definitions generally associated with imaginaries such as Global North that fail in the detailed regional analyses. Parallel to the global transformation of place and risk societies, Türkiye has been dealing with environmental risks that transform its ecologies in broader political and acoustic senses, as seen in changing communicational roles of mosque speaker systems and public broadcasts, as well as in music and sound culture from historical motives generating alternatives leading to bans and other forms of decline. Despite that sound is manifested as multiplicity, historical and recent discourses of sound, soundscapes, and media have remained contingencies of national singular narratives and monophonies in the Turkish context, while the political and economic fluctuations provide instability for ideological abstract proposals attached to the politics of sound. By attending to sound as rhizomatic multiplicities in soundscapes along with the changing environmental definitions of sense of place, in this paper, I examine post-Covid-19 speaker systems in public broadcasts interlaced with industry, environmental risk, and silences with a primary focus of central Anatolia and mosques’ central broadcasting systems. I will analyze large-scale environmental risks and examine the various roles of speaker systems in social and industrial practices in broader Türkiye through comparative case studies. I will further analyze acoustic ecologies through the July 14 (2016) soundscape of major urban centers preventing the coup d’etat and auditory refrains’ role in constructing communal imaginaries enfolded around inter- and intra-nationality to present ongoing modern silences, narratives of identity, and divisions in belonging. I will discuss the fundamental question of why a particular acoustic ecology is recognized in monophonies that are representative of acoustic ecology and place imaginary independent of forces in a material sense. Sound’s and auditory media cultures’ definitive terms, which are conventionally dichotomized in Kantian terms of conceptual-communicational and agreeableness, in non-provincialized Western discourses with their technical advancements’ convoluted contributions to silences and the reduction of voices in regional manifestations will be further scrutinized in this paper.
  • A city of textured sonic character, Beirut resonates with distinctly common sounds of persistent honking, generators whirring, fan coil units leaking, car tires screeching, and choleric cursing. Accompanying this cacophony are the unanticipated sounds that interrupt the sonic landscape of the dense city, creating fractures that elicit fear and evoke past trauma in the everyday – the rumble of overhead warplanes and drones, the metallic shower of bullets, the deep thunder of a bellowing blast. Responding to thanatosonics (extreme wartime phenomena) in a complex aural environment, unearthing its effects on modes of listening and archiving sonic memories of war are this project’s central interests. Exploring the spatial and temporal limits of this sonic experience, my research involves the collection of testimonies from Beirut inhabitants recalling their memories of sound in times of war, armed violence, and political unrest. In their descriptions of sonic events that mark personal – and evidently collective – traumas, the auditors resort to verbal and onomatopoeic recreations of the remembered events. Stirring potentially dormant acoustic memories, the witnesses share memories of events ranging from the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) to the more recent 2020 Port Explosion. Alongside the collection of these oral testimonies, I explore the transnational nature of the city’s soundscape by recording sounds that evoke these descriptions and their concomitant psychoacoustic responses in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts through recorded soundwalks and various manipulated materials. This experiment aims to construct a dialogue between sonic warfare and its residual effects. I communicate with the reproduced or reinterpreted memories of sonic Beirut through an alternate setting, where I can speak back to home transnationally and trans-sonically. I then weave the sounds of Cambridge with the testimonies from Beirut into three audio tracks that are played in a room from multiple channels at once. In this paper, I explore this sound installation and break down the collected testimonies, documenting Beirut’s resonant echoes in Cambridge, while positing the migration, universality, and transferability of sonic memories between spaces. Such ephemeral sounds in flux carve the social construction of spaces that are materially destroyed, arguably stimulating a confrontation with past violence and the reconstruction of memory.
  • Dr. Najat Rahman
    Is sound henceforth inseparable from our sense of home? A shifting field of aesthetics and affect, sound has impact on subjectivity, consciousness, relationality, attentiveness, and therefore it has ramifications for ethics and politics. For the future to be “our home,” it would require capacities that have accompanied us throughout and that we have come to take for granted: “the individual’s ability to imagine, intend, promise, and construct a future.” (Shoshana Zuboff, 4, 20) Sound, in contexts of conflict has direct impact on these individual and collective possibilities. The right to future is a right to home: “The future is our home too,” writes Shoshana Zuboff (57). Evoking fundamentals necessary to human emancipation, Larissa Sansour’s artwork is preoccupied with a sense of “future” and “home” interrogating its possibility as “mastery, voice, relationship, and sanctuary: part freedom, part flourishing...part refuge, part prospect.” (Zuboff, 5) Considering the videography of Larissa Sansour, Samira Badran, and Rehab Nazzal, I ask the following questions: What are the present conditions of sound in relation to how a place is lived? How does sound, when it issues from conditions of violence, become a mode of control, depersonalization, dehumanization? Will a regime of urban soundscape in global sites of conflict supersede a “politics of listening” or “the permission to narrate”? How does sound then is marshalled in these artworks to address and withstand a regime of the carceral? Sound, these artworks show, creates a sense of the carceral and of home.
  • Ali Musleh
    This paper explores how settler-colonial sonic spheres in Palestine translate topologies of experience into topologies of power. My focus will be on Israel’s use of remote and autonomous weapons, particularly drones, the Iron Dome and artificial intelligence, as atmotechnics productive of violent compositional beats that place the sensing bodies of the colonizer and the colonized in processual proximity to war. My argument is that such machining of experience is meant to individuate forms of life by hacking the nervous system, turning fear into a neural implant that can be engaged through giving war a musical character. Drawing on martial and affect theory, as well as theories of the flesh, I show how settler-colonial violence individuates forms of life according to an economy of pain that conditions Israelis’ experience of “the quiet” on the relentless invasion and hacking of the Palestinian sensorium.
  • Ege Altan
    Etel Adnan (1925–2021), a Lebanese–American poet, and visual artist, spent her entire life exploring the sea's various symbolic meanings, both in her poems and her art. The sea was a constant narrative in her work, as she famously wrote, “to look at the sea is to become what one is.” In this paper, I will delve into Adnan's experimental poetry collection, Sea and Fog (2012), through the lens of hydro-poetics, a term borrowed from the field of Environmental Humanities. By employing this term, I aim to understand how the movements of the sea reconfigure memory, loss, and the aesthetic immersion of subjectivity in her poetry.