In a different colonial context, that of Korean woman survivors of the Japanese comfort woman system, Joshua Pilzer (2012, Hearts of Pine) discusses both the difficulties and ethical imperative of listening. Contrasting discursive frameworks that promote ready grasp of information to listening’s more difficult task, he cautions
Voices do not stay still, nor do they stay quiet. They talk back, and most of us have been unwilling to listen, preferring instead the silence of still images, which we can more easily invest with our own thoughts and agendas (Pilzer 2012: 26).
We can expand Pilzer’s caution to cover registration more broadly than conversions to still images, infographics, or memes.
The moving—I would say animated—quality of voices produces a particular resonance, often dissonant, as we attempt to situate these voices within an historical account. As I have tried to demonstrate in this series of blog posts, however, this resonance is productive: Through registration, sounds of occupation become voices with which one can grapple, developing stances and strategies.
As Leanne Simpson (2017, As We Have Always Done) has commented in conversation with Audra Simpson’s book, Mohawk Interruptus (2014), practices that “index colonialism’s life as well as its failure” also demonstrate the ongoing life of Indigenous communities “through their grip on this failure.”
Registering the sounds of occupation within their own sonic practices, Cepo’ Pangcah perform this kind of work of indexing and grasping the life and failure of colonialism.
In my work around Cepo’ I have often been reminded that I need to learn how to hear the ocean and river, knowing through their sounds whether it is a good day for fishing or setting nets, remembering through them the layers of occupation that have made the niyaro’ Cepo’ Pangcah live in today, a niyaro’ that is not merely a colonially occupied space but an indigenous place which sounds its history in relationship with, and refusal of, colonial structures.
Attention to occupation as resonant in indigenous sonic practices informs my work. Trusting neither my ears or my microphones, I still know that I must employ microphones and editing to sound out narratives people relate to me, sometimes in gestures to sounds that I haven’t learned to locate or interpret, sometimes as responses to listening to my recordings.
These sounds include many that are colonial imports or impositions; but that is the point: We cannot understand Indigenous place apart from the multiply occupied spaces in which it registers Indigenous presence and refusal. In this regard, practices of listening to occupation may alert us to ways that Indigenous people, as Daniel Fisher (2016, The Voice and its Doubles: 50) has argued in his work on Aboriginal radio request programs in Northern Australia “register ‘aboriginality’ in ways that sidestep indexical relationships between as single, stable expressive form and any given social identity.”
Occupying the voice of the occupier through registration, those who teach me to listen in Cepo’ give voice to a history that includes a future.
Apart from the question of what occupation sounds like, then, sound studies scholarship working on occupation can approach practices of registration and animation through which colonial subjects shift voices, stances, and understandings of occupied places. Animation, which sets out by examining how voices are mediated, also suggests (through its kinship with Austin’s notion of the performative) that we more closely attend to the perlocutionary effects that result from registration: Is it, as in a narrative of dew falling in the mountains, a caution about boundary maintenance? An attempt to interpellate us into a world in which the Taradaw might still define relationships among Pangcah and other groups? Or a bid for Settlers to come to terms with an assertion that they are but guests in Pangcah Country? Through such questions sound studies may contribute to understandings of occupation and, more importantly, decolonizing strategies.