Testimonios and Turntables: Claiming Our Narratives Through Sound and Space

A Concluding Conversation with Todd Craig and Emery Petchauer

a closeup of a record

Todd Craig: Yo, everybody what's good. This is Todd Craig.

Emery Petchauer: Emery Petchauer, as well.

Todd Craig: And, yo, we're here to do a different type of conclusion for this group of pieces. So first and foremost, I definitely want to shout out all the Sound Studies Writing and Rhetoric 2020 folks. Thanks to all the sponsors. And thanks to Victor and Crystal and Ben, and Rosa and Katie and David and Daniel on some of the tech at the time. And Emery, am I getting it right—Michigan State? Where that conference was housed at?

Emery Petchauer: Yeah, cosponsored by Michigan State. And a lot of the energy and resources came from there.

Todd Craig: So and, you know, super huge shout out to Michigan State for helping to get this conference out of what I think everybody was expecting to be, you know, sort of a physical face-to-face conference. And got moved into this digital space that I don't think anybody really could envision at the front end of it. But I think what was really dope is, by the time we came to the other side of this conference, we realized that in these two keynote panels there was just really, really dope and exciting and innovative, and energetic work. And there was no way that we could keep that work contained to just the confines of the Sound Studies conference. So, that brings us I think to the next super, super big shout out—to Kairos, for having this work here, for hosting this work. Emery with that, should we just get into, just some conclusion thoughts for this series of works?

Emery Petchauer: Yeah, we had talked a little bit about what kind of title or umbrella would go over these two keynote panels. And we were talking a lot about how, like, the movement from thinking about this as a physical conference to then it being a virtual conference, how moving that work, to where it would, it would fly and resonate in a digital space made us actually create different kinds of spaces of our own as we were repositioning and repurposing this work. So for example, mine became this performative type DJ set where I needed to spend time in the studio in the basement, making this into a different kind of performance, which led us ultimately to think about the title for this whole thing being "Testimonios and Turntables: Claiming Our Narratives Through Sound and Space." And that "sound and space" is what we're trying to think about with respect to the new kinds of spaces that putting these sounds online actually made us create on our own.

Todd Craig: Right, right. I think that, you know, the thing that I found most exciting about this moment is that, we are very much rooted in this idea, you know, the sort of traditional academic idea of the conference being face to face, in a place that everyone kind of converges on. And it's really housed in sort of a geographic location. This shift in the midst of this pandemic, in these moments where we've been trying to figure out ways to have this human interaction and have this contact and to connect and engage with people, while we're also trying to be confined to a certain extent, and quarantining to a certain extent. The ability to be able to sort of create the spaces that bring people out of their geographic element, and into this sort of next dimension that we've been able to create, with these works, really, really allowed us to sort of create space, and really disrupt traditional spaces, and sort of the "conventional academic mindset" in terms of how we see, how we see place, and really being able to kind of take that, flip it on its head, disrupt it, and transform it into these really cool spatial locations on that felt safe, that felt welcoming, that honored a myriad of voices. And really allowed for a series of Black and Brown voices to really sort of be in the forefront of conversations around sound studies, around how elements of the sonic are brought into our everyday experiences, our academic practices, our theoretical musings. And it felt really good to be able to create those spaces in a time where, as we kind of look at this conference, as we look at these works—kind of the conference happened just before the election.

Emery Petchauer: That's right.

Todd Craig: And our rethinking and tweaking and reconfiguring of these conference pieces for Kairos came shortly after the election. And so really being able to center Black and Brown voices in this moment just felt like it was a timely thing to do, and it felt like a just and equitable thing to do as well.

Emery Petchauer: Yeah, yeah. And I think for me as well there's a certain evolution of the pieces on the panel from now being pieces in the journal, but then tracing those back all the way to literally, over the course of over 12 months back to seminar papers, and a graduate seminar where the authors were in that I was facilitating. So these papers, ultimately starting off as, or these pieces ultimately starting off as seminar papers, then to kinds of public performances on campus, then to these presentations. Really, art installations in a way from the conference, then over into types of web texts. So, for me, I'm just really delighted and excited by that whole trajectory, and especially how it put us in the position to create different kinds of spaces along the way related to sound. So for example, like with Jared's web text, he's literally standing on the block outside his house at night in Detroit narrating his film and analysis of it—which is about being quote unquote, stuck in the groove. So he's thinking with the material affordances of vinyl records. Now him having to stand outside or deciding to stand outside to record this is all wrapped up in what's happening with space and its affordances during the pandemic. So just seeing this, the trajectory over time, and the growth over time is really powerful to me, but then also the different kinds of spaces that we were in some ways forced to or elected to create in the midst of this.

Todd Craig: Right. No, and I'm still struck by when you talk about sort of the almost creating these visual installations. Like this, this moment where Stephany is standing over a Cali highway on the overpass, where there would normally be people hustling and bustling back and forth. The fact that she can be there with a podium, and just dropping this poem in the midst of the absence of people and traffic. So that it, it has just become this sort of recreated space that represents the wrinkle of time that I think is we look 10, 15, 20 years later at this piece, there may not ever be a time where you can catch that visual moving image in that way.

Emery Petchauer: Yeah.

Todd Craig: And let's hope, let's hope it's not possible, because, um, that means it might be another pandemic.

Emery Petchauer: In a sense, there's a kind of timestamp has worked its way through these different pieces, right? And particularly yours, with the way it was in yours really registered powerfully to me, you know, given the kind of conversation and dialogue that you're creating among these Black and Brown artists separate from your voice as a scholar, and that's, particular, I mean, across I mean, centuries, but, you know, acutely necessary right now, in the midst of just the really viral instances of anti-Black violence.

Todd Craig: Right, and, and the importance of, for me, the most critical part was not talking and catching just a 40-year, to be able to catch a 40, 40-year span—four decades—of a conversation that we continue to have, and continue to have, it was important for me to allow that conversation to happen with these artists and not with my own voice. Because I think the voice of those artists do all the work that needs to be done in that moment. So one of the things I think as we move into thinking about what some of the future implications can be of this work? I think that there are, you know, I think we all hope that people, first of all, are sort of engaging, you know. Well, for one, enjoying and appreciating the work that we were trying to share with folks. But then also engaging and pushing that work forward in different ways where we've kind of left, you know, different avenues and side streets that people can choose to travel in. Emery—I know for, for your piece one of the things that we've been talking about is, you know, these pieces: There's only so much time that you have to really be able to get everything in, and there's always going to be something that's not in there that can be explored in future moments. And so I know, for you, just when you're thinking about the break, the concept of including Fred Moten in that conversation and how the break begins to sort of change and shift as you introduce different voices into that trajectory.

Emery Petchauer: Yeah, I think that idea that I was playing with of theorizing from the break, theorizing with the break and those material affordances of the break within the grooves. I think that it's like the extended disco version of the presentation would go into and engage Moten in that way, and I think that's, that's a necessary area for that. And appropriately, it's going to expand across, you know, so called disciplines. And you had, I mean, I'm thinking about what you were trying to do in your piece with respect to, you know, muting your own voice, so to speak and just focusing on letting the records talk, you know what I mean? I guess I'm wondering—the recreation of a kind of conversation, how you see that expanding and amplifying beyond just the ways it happened in the particular piece that you performed.

Todd Craig: There's a part of this work for me, that is, there's a layer of it that is strictly the conversation that is happening between these artists. There's another layer of it which really brings me deeper into my, my research about DJ rhetoric and the conversation that the DJ is curating that these artists are having. And then there is this other layer of how the interplay between some of the samplings and the snippets of these songs. It's a different conversation if you're choosing different pieces and different parts in different ways. How are all of those things sort of in conversation with one another? And really, how is the DJ sort of, you know, part grand facilitator, part orator, and part connector of all things good and funky! I think all of those avenues. Even down to the idea of "Black Sound Matter(s)." And sort of this almost sci-fi thinking of this conversation sort of interrupting a conversation that someone is having with Dr. Susan Moore and Zev Love X. Like thinking about what those tributes and those homages are as we move across space.

Emery Petchauer: Yeah, I'm excited for how the folks on this panel how this in these web texts how this will unfold as folks continue to find their groove: both within the current constraints, and then past them.

Todd Craig: There are a couple of thoughts for each of these pieces. I think, one that is jumping out for me particularly in Eric's work, when he's talking about that idea of "making do" and looking at that idea of making do through, sort of the musical legacy of the Detroit, you know? And, and he's referencing some of those, those early punk rock meat locker shows. He references, you know, J Dilla. I'm also really interested in in seeing how, how that legacy kind of stretches on and evolves with artists like Boldy James, Freddie Gibbs. And I think specifically about the two of them as kind of contemporary Detroit artists, who are also sort of transcending place, through their sort of spatial connections. You know, they're both working heavily with Griselda. And how Griselda is able to transform this idea of the sonic sentiment that they bring from Buffalo being a sentiment that reverberates through every hood everywhere. And making those connections through sound: to me, I'm definitely looking forward to the possibilities that might exist there.

Emery Petchauer: And there's powerful spatial connections even there, right? The Great Lakes region is this sort of diagonal space that goes from Chicago, past Detroit, encompasses Toronto. You hit Cleveland a little bit and then you keep going, and now we're talking Buffalo. So I think that there's a spatial dimension to the connections that you're making across these sounds as well.

Todd Craig: And then I'm also excited to see how with Cecilia and Magnolia's work, how they are kind of opening the door and ushering in people's abilities to think about how these testimonios are being told sonically in these other spaces, through sort of the sound elements that are provided by other people in places where we don't necessarily think of sound and sound that we're not particularly focused, quote unquote, on, as really lending to the ways that we think about how stories are told, and how narratives are pushed forward and who's privileged in that storytelling. And, you know, who's almost diminished in that storytelling? And what those two decisions say about the world that we live in?

Emery Petchauer: Well, I think it's about time we sign off then.

Todd Craig: Yeah, no doubt. Listen: special shout out to all of the keynote presenters. So Vanessa, and Stephany and Jared and Eric, Cecilia and Magnolia: It has been super dope to be able to work with all of y'all! Yo, Emery—shout to you, because it's been dope to connect with you and work on these panels and work on this conclusion.

Emery Petchauer: Likewise, it's good to connect and see folks growing, moving forward. Yeah, I look forward to seeing what this particular time we're in, these constraints lead us to do differently and force us to do differently.

Todd Craig: And on that note, salute to everybody. We really, really hope that this work is helpful to you. We hope that this work is as meaningful to you and your scholarship as it's been to us and our own scholarly journeys. And hopefully, we catch y'all on the next go-round, and hopefully soon we catch you in a space where we all don't have to have on three masks!

Emery Petchauer: Indeed. All right, everybody, peace.

Todd Craig: Peace!