Posts tagged with protest

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 edgeoforever.wordpress.com

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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?

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In Bangkok these past few months, everyday labor hasn’t missed a beat. Observing from afar, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole city shut down, as many malls, offices, and hotels indeed did. But actually, most workplaces kept up regular operations.

This was especially true for the networks of small-scale industrial/manufacturing labor situated on back streets, away from the main traffic arteries. These networks are vast and often informal, but they provide vital services for a big city and employ many people. Some businesses are run out of storefront machine shops, while others use little more than a patch of sidewalk. We’re talking small engine repair, recycling collection, welding, wire-stripping, and the like.

This montage includes five examples of the sounds of urban labor in a tense time. Each is about one minute; follow the annotations below as you listen.

0:00 – 1:07 A recycling facility on a large side street supports many young men in the neighborhood, who gather paper, cardboard, and plastic bottles from nearby buildings and bring them in for 2 baht per kilogram. Here, two men crush cans and stuff them into big clear bags, which they load onto a cart.

1:08 – 2:01 In the United States, ice cream trucks are just about the only mobile sonic advertisements we have. In Thailand, there’s a greater variety, including fruit trucks with speakers tied to the top, so the driver can call out that day’s price for mangosteens and lychees. In this recording, a mobile broom-and-bucket-shop plays its jingle again and again. Sonic ads for all kinds of businesses are more tolerated here, for whatever reason.

2:02 – 3:08 A welder fixes up a door. This neighborhood is a mixture of large, modern houses, international schools, and blue-collar family homes. Many of the blue-collar workers do construction work for their wealthier neighbors.

3:09 – 3:50 A pair of young men hammer thin metal poles into shape for use in construction.

3:51 – 5:45 Some of the more established shops supply parts for larger industries, including automobile manufacturing. Since most of the cars built in Thailand will be exported to other countries, these small shops are closely connected to global trade. As you can hear an example of from about five minutes onward, news reports were often the soundtrack to these shops in April and May.

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Today is the debut of Bangkok is Ringing, a monthly podcast I’m producing for the online magazine Triple Canopy. Check it!


Image by Seth Denizen

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For many people, Mazen Kerbaj is just Mazen Kerbaj, an accomplished graphic artist and trumpet improviser who’s toured and recorded in France, the US, Lebanon, etc. He’s gotten plenty of well-deserved, enthusiastic press for his playing.

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Sound was a persistent, if at times inscrutable, undercurrent to the 2009 SEM conference. HVBE6GGVBHTQ

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The city of Pattaya, Thailand, closish to Bangkok, hosts an annual laughing contest.


The winner of the 2008 contest, who laughed for more than 12 minutes and reached 110 decibels

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In the wake of the first domestic use of sound cannons, against protesters at the recent, sparsely-picketed G20 summit in Pittsburgh, which comes just a few weeks after the same technology was used to suppress protesters at a factory in Bangkok, I want to discuss sound as an absolute phenomenon – that is, at the point where a human listener experiences acute physical harm through exposure, where sound stops being musical or aesthetic and becomes quite literally indistinguishable from a blunt object or explosive device.

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Voice is integral to many acts of protest.

Why? First, voice, in the low-tech sense, is a readily available public alert system. If one is unable to appear on broadcast media, or to start a blog or distribute printed material for fear of political reprisal, one can usually still walk out into the street and scream.

Second, the use of the voice has acute affective power for listeners. It carries not only explicit meaning but also a great deal of emotional content. If listeners feel the depth of a speaker’s resolve, they may be moved by it.

Third, the use of the voice in unison, as with singing or chanting, produces a sense of political singularity that can serve to inspire fellow protesters, and to recruit others.
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