Speakers & Abstracts
Vanessa Agnew, “Earwitness: Sonic Reenactments of the Holocaust” (University of Duisburg-Essen)
In the scope of its horror and its claims to totality, genocide would seem to be, if not beyond representation, then at least beyond reenactment. The paper points out, however, that filmmakers, composers, performance artists, historians, exhibition designers, and living history practitioners increasingly take genocide as their subject, using reenactment to restage acts of mass violence perpetrated in various historical contexts, including the Ottoman Empire, Indonesia, and Rwanda. This development would suggest either a loosening of historiographical conventions surrounding genocide representation or a new respectability for reenactment as an investigative and commemorative genre. Focusing on sonic reenactments dealing with the Holocaust—Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), Hotel Modern’s Kamp (2010), Josef Bor’s The Theresienstadt Requiem (Terezínské rekviem, 1963), Doug Schulz’s Defiant Requiem (2012), and the use of sound in museum exhibits at Auschwitz, The Warsaw Uprising Museum, and The Jewish Museum Berlin—the paper examines the possibilities and limitations of sonic reenactment as a historiographical mode. The paper shows that these sonic reenactments encompass a variety of forms—investigative, commemorative, resistant, and restorative—making claims that are epistemological, ontological, and ethical. By comparing forms, the paper argues against sonic reenactment as a useful tool for contributing to historical knowledge, but in favor, specifically, of non-realist, non-representational forms of reenactment as a means of effectively interrogating the traumatic past in relation to a post-witness present.
Sylvia Alajaji, “Music and the Mediation of Remembrance: Reflections on the Commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide” (Franklin and Marshall College)
In the months prior to April 24, 2015—a date that marked the centennial of the Armenian genocide—public declarations of mourning and remembrance took place throughout the Armenian diaspora, with concerts serving as a highlight of many of these events. In accordance with the symbolism of the forget-me-not that served as the official logo of the centennial, these concerts were marked as commemorations: occasions to engage in collective acts of remembrance, organized and attended by the descendants of the approximately one million Armenians who perished during the genocide—descendants to whom the act of remembrance now belongs. In this paper, I examine these commemorative concerts as mediations–sonic acts of remembrance that serve to evoke and construct past traumas and that consequently situate and construct the present-day Armenian. In these concerts, the unrepresentability of the genocide and the ambiguities of diasporic belonging are given form. Thus, the trauma as it is remembered becomes embedded in the lives and memories of generations increasingly further removed from the genocide.
Andrea F. Bohlman, “Overwriting Sound: Concerted Commemoration in Poland” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
My talk unpacks the work sound does for three prominent memory projects in contemporary Poland with an ear to their aural histories. In the twenty-first century, the anniversaries of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943), the Warsaw Uprising (1944), and the first democratic elections (1989) are each orchestrated with an emphasis on the importance of participation by individual citizens. Singing loud, making noise, lamenting in silence, and amplifying historical sounds: these practices feature at each of these annual public commemorations. Musical repertories and commemorative performances, along with transmedia storytelling, crucially host and promote the ethics of this memory work. At the same time, as sing-along concerts, collective marches of silence, and open access listening stations fill the Polish capitol’s streets, the city also accrues an agency that at times overwhelms the particular and subjective experiences of participants. In this presentation, I consider the role that aural history has in effecting this emotional and data overload. These anniversaries are in concert and in competition, and a study of their media history illuminates the mechanisms by which narratives can become overwrought and sound and song can become overwritten.
Philip V. Bohlman, “Commemorating Performance, the Cabaretesque, and History Inside-Out” (University of Chicago)
As the distance between the present and the Shoah increasingly grows, the use of performance itself as a form and force for representing trauma has also grown. Musicians and scholars turn to performance as a site of commemoration, for example, in the current UK Arts and Humanities Research Council program, “Performing the Jewish Archive.” As we enter what I call “the moment of performance as commemoration,” the stage becomes a site for inversion: commemoration mirrors commemoration as performance becomes about performance. Building upon my theoretical work with the cabaretesque and my performances as artistic director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, I ask why, in the twenty-first century, we have endowed performance with the right to commemorate. Like the cabaretesque, I seek ways of destabilizing assumed practices of commemoration in order to enhance its meaning and power in the present.
Annegret Fauser, “Ensounding Trauma, Performing Commemoration: Western Music in Time of War and Tumult” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Mimetic musical representations of warfare have a long tradition in Western music—think Clément Janequin’s La Bataille de Marignan (1515/1528), James Hewitt’s The Battle of Trenton (1792), and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria (1813). Musical commemorations, too, have a long history, not least as a practice of the French Revolution with such works as François-Joseph Gossec’s Marche lugubre (1790). This paper builds on recent scholarship dedicated to music, trauma, and reenactment by contextualizing the ensounding of trauma and the performance of commemoration in musical composition and practice in Europe and the United States during two world wars. Engaging with this issue from a transnational perspective, I focus on sound and silence as they appear in both compositions and cultural engagements with music in this period. Case studies include, among others, Edward Elgar’s The Spirit of England (1917), the 1927 Beethoven Centenary, and Bohuslav Martinů’s Memorial to Lidice (1943).
Michael A. Figueroa, “Musical Memory, Animated Amnesia: Traumatic Soundscapes in Waltz with Bashir” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008) is an animated documentary of the filmmaker’s determination to uncover forgotten memories of his time as a soldier during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The film’s central question is Folman’s role in the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, in which the Israeli army allowed the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia to enter two Palestinian refugee camps, where they slaughtered hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children. The film’s narrative is critically aided by music and sound: Max Richter’s electronic soundtrack casts a sonic glow of dread upon contemporary Tel Aviv; period songs and their violent parodies locate the viewer in distorted memories of the 1980s; diegetic voices of screaming victims powerfully break the surreal haze. Folman’s film has won international acclaim for its provocative treatment of memory, forgetting, and trauma; however, several critics have suggested that the film advances a form of “perpetrator trauma” that claims Sabra and Shatila for Israeli history while obscuring Palestinian victimhood. In my presentation, I theorize a “poetics of perpetration” that listens closely to the film’s soundtrack in the context of musical commemorations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, locating the film’s reception in my ethnographic fieldwork in the region. In so doing, I argue that culture bearers operating within the conflict often rely on sound to perform memory work that forecloses a recognition of the pain of others, thereby animating a cultural amnesia that sonically sustains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Noriko Manabe (Temple University), “Commemorating the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki”
Attending the seventieth-anniversary ceremonies of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, I was struck by their difference in tone, compounded by their use of music. The formality of the former, with its military-style “Hiroshima Song of Peace” (1947), contrasted with the participatory character of the latter, where the audience joined en masse in “The Bells of Nagasaki.” Indeed, the cliché, “Hiroshima rages, Nagasaki prays,” encapsulates each city’s reaction to the bomb. Based on ethnography and archival work, this paper explores the differences in the cities’ local cultures colored their responses to the atomic bomb and the tone of commemorative music. Hiroshima, located on the main Japanese island, held traces of its military past. Nagasaki, on the remote westernmost tip of the islands, has a long history of foreign contact and Christianity. These differences impacted the ways that the earliest eyewitness writers framed the bomb: Nagasaki Catholic Nagai Takashi likened its victims to sacrificed martyrs, while Hiroshima writers Hara Tamiki and Tōge Sankichi gave documentary accounts filled with horror and rage. These differences are reflected in the music based on these writers: Nagai’s biography became the subject of the above-named hit song and movie, sung with hope and optimism, while cantatas based on Hara and Tōge complement their apocalyptic tones. Considering the impact of trauma, politics, and silencing, I examine how the music of commemoration ceremonies, concerts, popular song, and musical groups of bomb victims continue to reflect this differences in the two cities’ characters.
W.J.T. Mitchell, “Living with Schizophrenia: A Father’s Memoir” (University of Chicago)
Gabriel Mitchell (1973–2012) was an artist, musician, and filmmaker who struggled with schizophrenia from age 19 until his death by suicide in 2012. Gabriel and his family were collaborating on a multi-media exploration of mental illness, involving his own compositions and the music of his mother, composer Janice Misurell-Mitchell. Her choral piece, a setting of William Blake’s “Mad Song,” provides the framing sound track for his pilot film, “Crazy Talk,” and his own re-writing of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” can be heard and seen on his website, Philmworx.com. His sister, Carmen Mitchell, is making a film about his life and work entitled “Infinite Light”; the five minute pilot can be seen at this address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGqty3BFd9Q. I will read excerpts from a memoir I am writing about our father-son relationship, which will be part of a book entitled “Seeing Madness,” inspired by Gabriel’s attempt “to see schizophrenia from inside and outside, and to transform it from a death sentence into a learning experience.”
Matthew D. Morrison, “Ragging and Cakewalking: Reenacting Blackness in the Construction of Cosmopolitan White Identities” (New York University)
In this talk I will explore the Afro-Diasporic presence and resonance in fashioning whiteness and cosmopolitanism throughout the Western world. With a focus on the cakewalk, ragtime, and popular entertainment in fin-de-siècle cosmopolitan centers in the United States and Europe, historical considerations and musical analysis will complement an imaginative exploration of how the presence, erasure, movement, and sound(s) of black bodies facilitate cosmopolitan constructions of a “white,” Western modern self in the pre-recording era.
The questions central to this presentation are: While ethnic performances of an individual’s own white “self” are imagined within the limiting, yet freeing scripts of sounds created by invoking a caricatured black “other,” how does “whiteness” become articulated in black(face) performance? More specifically, how does the development of an American popular style via blackface minstrelsy, ragtime, and the Cakewalk impact how nuances in ethnic difference become reified into binary distinctions of black and white? And how do these distinctions become obscured, as the “African approach” to improvisation through sound and movement laid the foundation for the ways in which blacks and whites articulated popular performance within the development of Cosmopolitanism at the turn of the twentieth century—in both integrated and segregated spaces, as well as in public and private?
Chérie Ndaliko, “In the Presence of Absence: Commemoration and Disavowal in Congo” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Although commonly labeled as the site of the “deadliest war since World War II,” there is a conspicuous absence of commemoration in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Indeed, despite more than six million dead, there is, to date, neither any official acknowledgement of the conflict nor any designated place, time, or tradition of commemoration. No monuments, no memorials, no official memory. My talk grapples with how commemoration works in the face of disavowal. I take as my point of departure a series of songs, dances, and personal anecdotes, which I read as an accidental soundtrack that renders visible the commemorative reflexes of a generation unmoored by unnamed conflict. In a poetic reflection on these creative pieces, I consider intimate forms of commemoration as they map onto traumatized bodies as well as metanarratives of Genocide and what they cast into shadow. To probe the void of formal commemorative practices, this presentation curates ephemera and shards of memory, cobbling together from the quotidian a portrait of absence that calls into question official versus unofficial commemoration of the ongoing conflict in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
Lillian Wohl, “Commemorating 18J: Sonic Assembly and the ‘Benefit Music Video’ in Buenos Aires” (Hebrew Union College)
In 2016, to mark the twenty-second anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, administrators staged a live recording of an arrangement of folk rock musician León Gieco’s human rights anthem, “La Memoria,” bringing together one hundred Argentine singers and instrumentalists to commemorate the victims of the attack. In this paper, I argue that the “Memoria” video functions as a type of ‘benefit music video’—a mobile media format harnessing different musical voices, which affords a broad public audience the opportunity to personally engage as listeners alongside their favorite musicians through the act of what I call performing “sonic assembly” (following Judith Butler’s performative theories of public assembly). By leveraging musical communities—from tango to national rock, pop to música folklórica and cumbia—to harness affective responses to the collective memory of the attack, the organizers of the 18J benefit music video promote memory as a form of resistance in the absence of justice, while seemingly subordinating Jewishly-identified musical elements amid the deployment of democratic values associated with national popular musics.