AudioVoice: A Relational, Subaltern Praxis of Listening To Testimonios and Composing With Sound

Cecilia Valenzuela and Magnolia Landa-Posas

Video Transcript


[Slide Title: AudioVoice: An Intimate Subaltern Praxis of Listening Through Testimonio]

Magnolia: Hello everyone! This is our recorded presentation for the Sound Studies Writing and Rhetoric 2020 conference. Thank you for letting us join you today and for allowing us to be in your space. I am Magnolia Landa-Posas and my preferred pronouns are she/her and ella.

Cecilia: Hola gente! Hi everyone! Hope you and yours are staying healthy and nourished in these times. This is Cecilia Angélica Valenzuela, and my preferred pronouns are she/her/and ella. For this presentation, we are sharing pieces from our manuscript titled AudioVoice: An Intimate Subaltern Praxis of Listening Through Testimonio.


Cecilia: We were inspired by PhotoVoice (Wang & Burris, 1997), which is a community-based participatory action research approach. It puts cameras into the hands of participants so they can use photographs as a visual medium to communicate issues of concern and/or desires. We use what we are calling AudioVoice. AudioVoice draws from the affordances of sound and also embodied listening practices to experience, archive, and document, on a larger scale both collective and individual issues.

Specifically, for our AudioVoice project we shared a soundwalk (Westerkamp, 2001) and produced a sonic composition using recordings we captured and then edited together. In the next few slides, we'll share some background to our AudioVoice project and then we will share our questions. We also cover the theories and concepts we draw from to conceptualize AudioVoice as a subaltern and intimate praxis. Then we will play a segment from our final sonic composition we created for this conference. It is just shy of 4 minutes and 33 seconds for you Cage fans out there. We then end by sharing themes and new understandings that emerged, and continue to emerge from this project.


[Image: photo of Magnolia's arms in pink sweater. Her arms are resting on a table covered by paper with writing on it. Her hands are manipulating some rocks and leaves spread out in front of her on desk. Image description: Magnolia in class, "playing" nature sounds.]

Magnolia: Our project grew from a larger study developed by Cecilia, who designed and led an Ethnic Studies/Education course at the University of Colorado Boulder. I was enrolled in this course, which focused on critical listening, multiliteracies, and sound. In class, we spent a significant amount of time learning about sound artists and sound studies, and specific concepts like Ceraso's (2014) multimodal listening. We also spent time discussing ways of feeling sound and exploring what it could afford to our writing processes. We especially focused on social locations, and what it meant for sonic dimensions to explain our lived experiences and political commitments we all bring and share.

A year following the course, Cecilia was completing soundwalks with students from the class and she asked if I (Magnolia) would be interested in taking a recorded soundwalk. She asked me to think about something that would inspire me, specifically, from the course. So, I decided to invite her to where I grew up. I was born and raised in Aurora, Colorado. That is where my parents currently live, and where I just recently moved back. It is a rapidly gentrifying city within the larger metro Denver area. I really wanted to capture what that meant.

AudioVoice: Embodied Borderlands Framework

Cecilia: We conceptualized this project more as an intervention to silencing and inaudibility, especially to the marginalization of (im)migrant, multilingual communities. Overall, we ground our approach within Chicana/Latina feminist methods of testimonio (Delgado Bernal, Burciaga, & Carmona, 2012; Latina Feminist Group, 2001). Testimonio centers subaltern lives and allows them to narrative their everyday experiences. It allows the subaltern to theorize from their own bodies, especially within and outside of traditional spaces (Cruz, 2012).

Yet we also engage with what feminist geographer, Margaret Ramirez (2020) called a "borderland analytic." This "offers spatial attention to how power relations emerge and are contested in gentrifying spaces" (p. 15). Because our project centers our listening bodies, we draw from embodied aspects of Anzaldúa's (2007) borderlands theory and what it critically (and liminally) offers to multimodal, and, specifically, visceral literacy practices. In particular, we draw from her epistemology on imagination (Anzaldúa, 2015) as a way to tune into material forms of liminality, and from there imagine our radical interconnectedness—as praxis—alongside sound and all audible forms of communication. She writes about interconnectedness as being the discursive human and nonhuman, the corporeal, and the technological. Our use of this liminal imagining seeks to render audible, or moreso, to sonically and viscerally testimoniar alongside the sounds that exist within and on the margins.

Most Interested in Understanding (Questions)

Magnolia: Before we recorded, we knew we were most interested in locating silenced voices and subaltern forms of knowledge production. Specifically our project focused on two things:
1) What does AudioVoice afford to subaltern voices and the production of subaltern knowledge?
2) How does an embodied borderlands framework contribute, if at all, to these listening practices?

Recording & Composing Together

[Image 1: Photo of a Zoom H2 portable stereo recorder held by Cecilia's hand. Cecilia's and Magnolia's feet are in motion/stepping on the sidewalk. An audio splitter is hanging low, near feet, front and center and connected to the Zoom recorder.]

[Image 2: Photo of a paper with concept web of ideas and words like "childhood" and "children laughter" underlined in yellow, with the word "train" in a green square. There is also wording circled in a pink cloud shape that says, "Hospital sounds."]

Cecilia: First, we each put on headphones connected by an audio splitter to a Zoom recorder. We then decided we would walk across several blocks in Aurora as we traveled beside one another. Initially, we were focused on collecting ambient sounds. Then, we thought to drive through several neighborhoods. While we did, we narrated. We chatted. At one point, we stopped at a busy intersection to record. During this, through our listening (headsets), sounds and our own voices expanded into 3D stereo sensations. This created an illusion of a third, more than ordinary space. As we were recording, we also commented on what we saw and felt, and we asked questions. We shared stories about family and dichos (which are spoken sayings). We also expressed shock at the very visible changes, and we laughed.

Magnolia: Days later, after our soundwalk, we met again to edit what we had recorded. Using Audacity, we clipped longer audio tracks into smaller ones. We then played those back while pausing and rewinding to listen more deeply to what we had recorded. While we were in this process, we also drew a concept web. This allowed us to focus on the sounds that we felt were important. One sound was from a new commuter train station. As we continued to edit, our process allowed us to reimagine sounds through our frustrations and hopes. We reflected on our relationships not only with each other and with people in our community, but also with the community's environment.

Cecilia: Next, we will be sharing our sonic composition.

[Sound Recording Text Description]

[Sound of ice cream truck]

Cecilia: You want a paleta?
Magnolia: No... [snickering] My mom used to always scare me with the big trucks, it's like, "Te roban!" I could only go and get it from el paletero [small ice cream cart vendor], like, literally the small ones...
Cecilia: [laughing loudly] Te roban!
Magnolia: They're not the big trucks ‘cause they were like, "They'll pull you in y te roban!" But, you know, they traumatize you when you're little.
Cecilia: They always do.

Fade into sounds. Mexican cumbia music playing. Soundscape inside of grocery store with an interruption from a loud xylophone cellphone ring. Sounds of children playing. Sound of a train with a horn blaring low and long.

Magnolia: THIS they just built in the last year, and obviously a lot of money went into this... for the white folk. It's like Boulder in Aurora.
[long pause]
Cecilia: [snickering and repeating outloud again in ridicule] "Boulder in Aurora"
Magnolia: Look! Big things are coming to A-Town! [reading a sign]
Cecilia: [gasps slow, long and loud]
Magnolia: Look! Look at this creepy shit.
Cecilia: [bumps into mic] I gotta take a picture of that mujer...That's weird…
Magnolia: ...and it's like ALL white people.

[Cuts to different conversation]

Cecilia: and then...
Magnolia: but it's like this idea, you're waiting for the arrival... everybody wants to be on the train of progress.
Cecilia: Everyone?
Magnolia: Well ideally that's how it's painted. You know? Like I want... I wanna get on the train to go to the DIA, to leave. So like I'm awaiting it with like—
Cecilia: Yeah—
Magnolia: I'm awaiting it with like, like no resistance. You know? And, like I feel like that's how it is in our community, there's mixed feelings. Like if I talk to my uncles, it's like, "Well, no this is good. ‘Cuz that means like there's gonna be better streets. It's gonna be cleaner." But it's like... But are we thinking about whose actually gonna be allowed to go in there? And who's not? And I don't have to pay for my train, 'cause I work at CU—
Cecilia: Yeah
Magnolia: —and so I get it for free. But imagine people have to pay for it... ten dolla'?
Cecilia: Ten dollars is a lot.
Magnolia: Yeah it is. Well, I don't actually know what it would be from Central Park, but—
Cecilia: Well, there's this idea of time. Right? Like what we've been conceiving of what is of value with time. But I like how you're describing this as part of like, you're in a space—and this kind of ties back—having this like, you're talking about the future. And you're including other voices, like your uncle's, your families', the history...kind of the history of the Aurora space...just AROUND sound.

[Sounds at commuter light rail station. A bell rings loudly. A mechanic engine sounds. An auto-voice states loudly, "We are now closing the gates. Please stand clear." A loud, long, drawn-out whistle blows. There is the sound of the microphone on the recorder shifting. A person clears their throat. There is the sound of a loud ringing bell in the distance. The Voice Annunciation System announces loudly, "Next stop...Peoria Station." A bell increases, and then fades.]

New Understandings

[Image 1: Photo taken from within a car through a driver's window. Photo is of a long poster that hangs from a long beige and solid fence next to a sidewalk. It is a poster with block images of people and buildings with the quote in big letters, "Big Things Are Coming To A-Town." Image description: Sign spotted next to new multi-use building complex.]

Cecilia: After everything, we learned that listening to and really documenting our lives through sound became a way to theorize, render audible, and also reflect upon our embodied sonic relationships. This was possible because across our project, sound surfaced as a third voice with and in between us, alongside us, and in front of us. This afforded unique discursive potentials like composing multimodal narratives focused solely on sound. Testimoniando also allowed us to engage with, resist, and navigate through entangled themes.

But mostly, we realized that sharing our process with others now cultivates agency and the radical interconnectedness as Anzaldúa imagined. So that in this way, exploring and deeply reflecting upon sound in our lives (even with or without technology) and better yet, alongside one another, is really pivotal to self-reflection and self-reflective practices. It is important that we attend to our everyday ecologies and how these unfold from our relationships. These include imposed neoliberal structures and constraints, especially during dystopic times such as these.

We hope AudioVoice incites reimagining futures and reconnecting intimately, in nuanced ways, with our communities, our environments, and the sounds that sustain and continue to transform us.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. (2007). Borderlands: La Frontera. The New Mestiza (3rd ed.). Aunt Lute Books.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. (2015). Light in the dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting identity, spirituality, reality. Duke University Press.

Ceraso, Steph. (2014). (Re)Educating the senses: Multimodal listening, bodily learning, and the composition of sonic experiences. College English, 77(2), 102–123.

Cruz, Cindy. (2012). Making curriculum from scratch: Testimonio in an urban classroom. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(3), 460–471.

Delgado Bernal, Dolores, Burciaga, Rebeca, & Flores Carmona, Judith. (2012). Chicana/Latina testimonios: Mapping the methodological, pedagogical, and political. Equity & excellence in education, 45(3), 363–372.

Latina Feminist Group (Eds.). (2001). Telling to live: Latina feminist testimonios Duke University Press.

Ramírez, Margaret M. (2020). City as borderland: Gentrification and the policing of Black and Latinx geographies in Oakland. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 38(1), 147–166.

Wang, Caroline, & Burris, Mary Ann (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behavior, 24(3), 369–387.

Westerkamp, Hildegard. (2001). Soundwalking. Sound Heritage, 3(4), 18–27. (Original work published 1974)