THIS IS WEIRD VIBRATIONS // the politics of sound Sound in Bangkok Fri, 17 Feb 2012 21:18:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Artwork #14: “Protest as Religion” Wed, 01 Feb 2012 21:54:11 +0000 In December, 2011, I visited a protest outside of the Credit Suisse offices in Manhattan to make sound recordings. Below is the podcast that resulted. The event was staged against that day’s military contracting meeting, hosted by Credit Suisse, but connections to Occupy Wall Street were evident on many levels, from the organization of the protest to the perceptions of observers.

Image from

I wore a pressed shirt in order to better engage not only protesters and passersby but also with bankers as they left work and took stock of the chanting crowd. I wanted t get as many voices as possible, from the staunchest defenders of OWS and related movements to its arch-opponents. Not because all of these perspectives are equally valid, but because we get a richer picture of how OWS has affected the psyche and political landscape of our world when we consider the dissent and ambivalence OWS encountered as well as its networks of support. Hearing the voices of bankers and defense contractors who can barely contain their rage at OWS should, in fact, tell us a great deal about how much the movement has achieved. Meanwhile, we also hear certain slippages–privileged people who can’t hide their sympathy.

The audio piece that resulted intersperses voices as well as perspectives. Hear it here:

Protest as Religion

Or here:


]]> 21
Bangkok is Ringing, Episode Six Thu, 01 Dec 2011 18:51:07 +0000 The sixth and final installment of my podcast series “Bangkok is Ringing” is online now at Triple Canopy. Or, listen to it right here.

This last episode takes us through some of the distinct sonic spaces of the 2010-2011 Red Shirt protests. The diversity of these spaces tells us something important about the movement, namely that it’s heterogeneous. The language of protest movements is often compressed by the media until it fits a single index of complaint – unequal rights, no jobs, censorship – and the Red Shirt movement was no exception. But protests are rarely that simple. People have all kinds of motivations for turning to dissent, and protesters often disagree with each other. Such (very normal) internal difference (see: Wall Street, Occupy) is taken by some as a signal that movements are disorganized, or at the extreme even pointless.

We might have to work a little harder to find patterns, but there are always patterns. History, anyway, will sort things out one way or another. But we can understand a lot in our own time. In the case of the Red Shirt protests, they raged with noise always, and that noise (music, speeches, conversation, etc.) was rich in meaning. The question is, what did we hear?

]]> 28
The Language of Sound in Thai Fri, 27 May 2011 08:04:40 +0000 Throughout the year, I’ve kept a running list of Thai words that relate to sound and listening, jotting down notes from interviews and books, and going through sections of the dictionary page-by-page. It turns out that the Thai language has piles of vocabulary to describe the sonic environment, from the poetic to the precise, from the inexplicable to the sublimely local. While I’m not sure if this language is better equipped than English to discuss sound, it certainly covers some idiosyncratic territory.

The list below is a small selection of what I’ve collected so far:

Thai [Transliteration] Translation


กุ๋ย [Guy] Sound of someone bragging
โก้ก [Gok] Sound of a spoon hitting a bowl
กรอด [Graawt] Sound of grinding teeth
ซู่ [Suu] Sound of rain flowing or sloshing
กึงกัง [Geung Gang] Sound of furniture being moved in an adjacent room
กระกรี๊ด [Gra Greet] Sound of a woman screaming in surprise
ฉับ ๆ [Chap] Sound of cutting a tree branch
ติ๋ง ๆ [Dting] Sound of dripping water
เปรี้ยง [Bpriang] Sound of thunder, or a gun
ผัวะ – [Phua] Sound of a slap, or a whip cracking
กระจองอแง [Gra Jaawng Angaae] Sound of children crying annoyingly
ฮือ ๆ – [Heuu Heuu] Sound of mourning or grieving
กราว [Graao] Sound of many solids hitting the ground at once
กิก [Gik] Sound of solids colliding (normal pitch)
กึก [Geuk] Sound of solids colliding (low pitch)
กึง [Geung] Sound of a hard thing hitting the floor
โกรง [Grong] Sound of impact from hollow things
เผละ [Phle] Sound of soft things falling
ขลุก [Khlook] Sound of a clay ball rolling fast
จุ๋ม [Joom] Sound of a pebble being thrown in a pond
แจะ [Jae] Sound of chewing
ซี้ด [Seet] Sound of someone eating something very spicy
ฮัดเช่ย [Hat Cheeuy] Sound of sneezing
ขาก [Khaak] Sound of coughing something up
โครกคราก [Krok Kraak] Sound of fluid bubbling in the stomach
ครืด [Khreuut] Sound of dragging something heavy
แปร๋น ๆ [Bpraaen Bpraaen] Sound made by an elephant
ตุ๊กแก [Dtook Gaae] Sound made by a gecko
เอ๋ง [Aehng Aehng] Sound made by an injured dog
กุบกับ [Goop Gap] Sound of a dog walking on the ground
ควาก [Khwaak] Sound of clothes ripping
แควก [Khwaaek] (A different) sound of clothes ripping

กระอ้อมแอ้ม [Gra Aawm Aaem] To stumble in speech because you know you’re guilty
กระอิดกระเอี้อน [Gra It Gra Eeuan] To delay action through words
กระอึกกระอัก [Gra Euk Gra Ak] To stumble from nervousness
กระชั้น [Gra Chan] To speak in short breaths
กรีด [Greet] To shriek (esp. women)
กระจุ๋งกระจิ๋ง [Gra Joong Gra Jing] To speak softly (esp. women – for some reason there are many sounds specific to women, but almost none specific to men)
กระปอดกระแปด [Gra bpaawt Gra Bpaaet] To speak in a grumbling manner, esp. to someone of higher status

ใหญ่ [Yai] – Thick, as a voice (like Whitney Houston, according my teacher)
เคลิ้ม [Kleum] – To be enthralled to a spoken message, esp. out of drowsiness

]]> 73
Bangkok Is Ringing, Episode 4 Tue, 08 Feb 2011 15:45:30 +0000 The fourth installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:

This episode discusses the state of the radio in Bangkok, with a focus on the recent history of Luk Thung stations. Briefly, Luk Thung is a genre with a strange double status, being both very popular and yet classed as old-fashioned. You hear this music all the time and everywhere – on the street, in cabs, in restaurants. Luk Thung is a big-time marker of displaced rural identity, which naturally alienates urbanites who hear its sounds as low-brow. And yet, today, the hundreds of thousands of migrants from the provinces who live and work in Bangkok are urbanites themselves. The tension in this transformation toward a new urban laboring class is never more obvious than when listening to people listen to the radio.

I spent a day interviewing Bangkokians, including street vendors who had their radios switched on while they worked, as well as teenagers in the mall whose lives seem to revolve around what they download onto MP3 players/cell phones. On another day I visited Jenphop Jopgrabuanwan, a former Luk Thung singer who now runs a community radio station (also available online)/CD shop, and generously answers questions about the history of the genre for anyone interested.

For those who know Luk Thung well, I apologize for any explanatory reductions in talking about Luk Thung and Mor Lam. There’s plenty more to say about the huge differences between these styles, but for the sake of clarity they are collapsed a bit in the episode.

Huge thanks to P.D. and J.J. especially, as well as Peter G., James M. and all others who provided input and suggestions.

]]> 50
To the Sea Thu, 30 Dec 2010 05:30:26 +0000 Canal

In the evening, when the tide ebbs in the gulf, the canal gets low and the water under the house dries up. The dogs and the crabs run around in the mud. The cats eat the crabs.

In the morning, dew gushes down the spout and drips hard on the planks, pooling under the house. The tide comes in and the canal fills up. The wood rots and gets eaten by termites. The owner replaces the wood.

]]> 33
Bulking Up Mon, 06 Dec 2010 15:11:04 +0000 Klong Toey Market

Klong Toey market is a sprawling way station for something like half of the produce that reaches Bangkok’s restaurants every day, and no small amount of its meat and home goods either. Industrial-sized clear garbage bags full of limes are tossed from the backs of trucks, palettes of morning glory and parsley block the footpath, and whole pigs dangle freshly- swaying gutted at face level. It’s a bit horrific, not to mention a surrealist triumph of sorts.

Man and boy on motorcycle

Klong Toey is not at all for tourists. I saw no others and felt more than a few confused vendors’ eyes on me. The real action happens around four or five in the morning, with a noticeable slowdown by seven. As eight rolls around, the choice stuff is long gone. Some of the vendors, all but sold out, fold up their tables and enjoy a beer after a long night’s work. Come eleven AM, the place is a ghost town.

In addition to being gory and temporally inconvenient, Klong Toey is situated near one of the rougher areas of the city, a slum by the same name. The market is generally under the influence of the mafia and drug dealers who hold power in much of the slum. Every couple years, a bomb goes off late at night in the market, often with fatal results, as a warning shot in a turf war over stall position.

Given this humorlessness, it is undoubtedly a luxury to be able to aestheticize the sights and sounds of the market. And yet those dimensions are compelling. Like any tight and crowded space with a lot at stake, the vendors have refined a system of niche-based shouting to convey meaning amid the noise. What sounds like utter chaos to outsiders actually involves many layers of address – product pitches come one way, warnings to clear the path another, and machines another still. There is a kind of ecosystem at work:

Airline toothbrush seller, Klong Toey Marker. November, 2010. 3:01.

In this, a woman who got her hands on a bunch of airline freebies – toothbrushes, toiletry cases, eye pillows – is selling them for rock-bottom prices near a cooler of cold drinks, aided by a tape-recorded advertisement plugged in to a little bullhorn.

Airline freebies
Airline freebies

The repetitive, mechanical voice of the recording occupies a unique niche adjacent to the warmth of human chatter. The vendor echoes and so punctuates her own tape.

Many vendors also keep pets in the market. Cats and dogs, just like on the side streets in the rest of the city, may or may not have homes, but people look after them as a good deed, a means of what’s often called making merit. (This commitment is motivated, to varying degrees, by Buddhist principles). Thus the market is filled with mangy, un-spayed or -neutered, but nevertheless well-fed animals.


In addition to cats and dogs, people keep songbirds in wooden cages above the front of their stalls. These are kept specifically for the beauty of their voices, as aural trimming:

Songbirds in Klong Toey market. November, 2010. 2:01.


The market, having been active for decades, is … seasoned. The people and objects that make it up have spent many years jostling for space (physical, political, sonic) until things have settled into a raging stasis. The result is not pretty in a conventional sense, save for the odd perfect pineapple, but there is grandeur in the coexistence of messy details, in the way that everything manages to work.


A vendor rolls coconuts into a basin:

Rolling coconuts in Klong Toey market. November, 2010. 1:51.

]]> 56
Bangkok is Ringing, Episode 3 Fri, 08 Oct 2010 03:09:01 +0000 The third installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:

A slideshow to accompany the piece:

Bangkok is a hot, humid, smelly, flashy, loud city. As with many metropolitan areas, this is a big part of its appeal. Lots of people are doing lots of (very different) things in a small space. The bustle is fun.

But eventually, the stress of the crowd compels people of means to differentiate their experiences from those who have less. They want to shop and work in spaces parallel to those that have been overrun, where sensation has become for them overwhelming. So new channels are carved. The city becomes sedimented, with layers corresponding to something like class. Money, or lack of it, enforces access to these layers, but so do composure and habit. (This theme was also explored in the 1983 documentary, Trading Places). The third episode of Bangkok is Ringing explores what different layers of transportation in Thailand’s capital sound like.

Division is now very much at issue in Thailand. This episode is part of a broader effort to understand division – what it feels like, why it’s happening.

]]> 36
Artwork #13: Kickin’ It Wed, 25 Aug 2010 15:49:11 +0000 Sepak Takraw is a Southeast Asian sport that appears too hard for me to play. A rattan ball is volleyed over a raised net using any part of the body except the hands and arms. The name “Sepak Takraw” splits the difference between how Malaysians and Thais refer to the game.

The recording doesn’t sound like much on computer speakers, but with stereo separation (such as on headphones) the lateral motion of the volley is strongly pronounced. And the ball makes a cool noise when it rolls.

Players engage in all manner of flips and bicycle kicks, attacking the net to spike like volleyball players except with their bodies sideways or upside down to give the feet better position. This, of course, makes hitting the ball squarely a matter of greater coordination.

Takraw is a rarity in Thailand for being a very vocal game. Teammates shout to each other to coordinate their kicks, and opponents taunt each other good-naturedly. This particular match was played on a court next to several other courts – some for takraw, others for basketball, still others for regular volleyball. The basketball players, who pass selflessly in a way one doesn’t often see in pick-up games, are practically silent by comparison.

The takraw group wore squeaky, flat-bottomed canvas sneakers – school uniform standard. Two adults played against three students. I have no idea who won.

]]> 107
Racing and Barking Tue, 17 Aug 2010 04:11:02 +0000

Last week, PD and I went to a carnival near Din Daeng. The main attraction was an outdoor Lam Sing performance starring จีรพันธ์ แว่นระเว่ and วัชราภรณ์สมสุข, which was just getting good when a heavy rainfall ended the night prematurely. Here is a snippet of the show, complete with a dramatic build-up and some positive mid-song adjustments to the mix:

Also noteworthy were the barkers outside of the concert. One in particular struck our ears. He worked a booth where customers threw rattan balls at whiteboards emblazoned with pictures of Mickey. The prize for hitting Mickey three times in a row was a stuffed animal. (Not bottles of cheap whiskey, as at several of the other booths.)

The text of her shirt reads: “Sunday feel the holiday atmosphere please. Here is heaven on earth.”

]]> 16
Duet for Storm and Freight Train Sat, 17 Jul 2010 04:34:38 +0000 Thailand’s rainy season is May to October. During these months, a handful of intense monsoon storms make the rice grow. Then from November to February, farmers reap their crops.

This year, the rains have been slow to come. Yields are in doubt amid talk of a sustained drought that may not only affect the rice – of which Thailand is the world’s leading exporter – but basic water reserves as well. The government is making price guarantees etc.

Since there aren’t many farms left in Bangkok, the issue can feel a little distant in daily life, even though the drought is a problem here, too. Downpours definitely happen, but most of them are very brief. An hour at 3:00 in the morning one night, another twenty minutes the next afternoon. The temperature briefly drops, which is nice, but the storms are so heavy that they can also leave side streets severely flooded for a little while while drainage systems creak beneath the load. These aren’t monsoon rains, but they are angry.

On Thursday, WV took cover in a Skytrain station during a heavy mini-storm. A freight train passed east to west.

]]> 9