This essay asks how the soundscapes represented in Caribbean literature and music provide alternative paradigms for conceptualizing noise and silence. As American and European sound studies have drawn from the writings of John Cage, Murray Schafer, and Jacques Attali to articulate alternative practices of listening and soundmaking, they have marginalized black experience. Caribbean noise, formed out of resistance to slavery and colonialism, has been excluded from informing those alternative practices. The depths of sonic experience revealed by soundscapes of Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry and the Mighty Sparrow’s calypsos concern the impact of centuries of Atlantic slavery on black hearing and speaking. They expose the racial and economic determinants of sound studies’ advocacy of indifferent listening and pure sound environments. In contrast, Caribbean histories of resourceful hearing and soundmaking bring distinctive sonic cultures to challenge established listening practices and provide ways of questioning canonical definitions of noise and silence.
Alternative Soundscape Paradigms from Kamau Brathwaite and the Mighty Sparrow
mark harris teaches at the University of Cincinnati. He has organized or participated in numerous exhibitions and art events, including Sparrow Come Back Home, ICA London (2016–17); Songs the Plants Taught Us, Anytime Dept., Cincinnati (2019); Camp Street Corner, Wave Pool, Cincinnati (2020); Facts ’n’ Figures, Kunstraum am Schauplatz, Vienna (2020); and 木timbreland木, Cincinnati (2020). His essays have appeared in the Journal of Contemporary Painting, Seismograf, Divergence Press, Counterculture Studies, HUEAS, and Manifold.
Mark Harris; Alternative Soundscape Paradigms from Kamau Brathwaite and the Mighty Sparrow. Small Axe 1 July 2021; 25 (2 (65)): 16–35. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-9384184
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