Sounds From the Borderlands: A sound art project in three parts

Sounds From the Borderlands: A sound art project in three parts

Sounds From the Borderlands by aaronmaiden

Who is illegal? Can human beings be illegal? What does illegal sound like? As the eco-systems and economies of our world collapse, human beings are being forced from their homes and communities, and migrate towards the North. When they arrive in Western countries like Canada, they are confronted by borders, immigration agents, racism, and the constant refrain that their very presence on this stolen indigenous land is illegal. At the same time, there is a global movement that is loudly declaring “No one is illegal”, and is empowering migrants to assert their rights to remain.

In such a world where the very legality of migrant subjects is contested, sound becomes a powerful medium. People are pushed into clandestinity, forced to work in the backs of kitchens and offices, and then have to tread home carefully after dark to avoid being deported. In this frightening state of existence, showing one's face publicly becomes a risk. Therefore, sound is a medium whereby people can express themselves, yet at the same time maintain their anonymity and their safety.

In this project, I have woven together interviews, sounds, and testimonies collected over the last five years from my own work in the migrant justice movement in Montreal. Since 2005, I have been a member of Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), a local grassroots movement which fights for an end to deportations, and status for all migrant peoples. My work with SAB has allowed me to meet people with powerful voices, and luckily I have often had my recorder handy to capture these voices.

In three distinct sound art pieces, I have edited together this audio with the powerful music of Stefan Christoff. Christoff is a Montreal-based activist, journalist, and multi-instrumentalist musician. His guitar and piano works appear in these pieces. The intended effect is for Christoff's beautiful jazz and post-rock melodies to add an emotive impact to the voices and sounds present. (spirodon)

The soundscapes I am creating weave chanting, political slogans, urban sounds, speeches at demonstrations, and of course musical elements. Some of the effects I am experimenting with include panning to expand the stereo field, the reversal of musical tracks, and equalization to emphasize the immediacy or desperation of some situations.
What I am striving to capture through this project is the sheer emotion in all its manifestations that can be found, and importantly heard, in social movements. Social justice movements have a particular beautiful flavour of sound, whether it be a crowd of people chanting or cheering together, an impassioned voice amplified through a megaphone, whistling, or hands clapping in unison. While the sounds of demonstrations or political actions can seem chaotic to some bystanders, I am hoping to take these sounds and reframe them with the beauty and dignity that they deserve.

The first piece in this portfolio features the voice of Amir Hodhod. In the piece, Amir is giving a speech on a megaphone outside of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices in downtown Montreal, just days before he was supposed to be deported in April, 2007. Amir came to Canada from Egypt as a political refugee, but was unfortunately denied his refugee status, and hence his right to live here. The humble passion in Amir's voice, combined with the harsh sound of the megaphone, underline the intensity and immediacy of this piece. Moreover, some of the chanting at the beginning of this piece is from a celebration demonstration outside of the Egyptian consulate in Montreal following the successful popular overthrow of dictator Hossni Mubarak on February 11th, 2011. In a sense, this piece aims to capture the spirit of the Egyptian diaspora in Montreal. Ironically, Amir was forced to flee Egypt because of the repression he faced under the dictatorship. Now, the political changes can be felt across borders from Cairo to Montreal, and these changes are reflected in the sounds of this piece.

The second piece features a number of different voices of resistance in Montreal. Some are from student demonstrations, some are from migrant rights demonstrations, and some are the sounds of people denouncing police brutality. I think the struggle for migrant justice weaves together so many other fundamental questions of human freedom and dignity, such as our rights to education and healthcare, or our right to live in safety in our communities without fear of police harassment. This piece weaves all of these themes together. The moment that stands out for me here is a speech delivered by a woman named Jacqueline from the group Mothers and Grandmothers for Justice, speaking at a march in Montreal-North to commemorate the death of Freddy Villanueva, killed by the Montreal police in 2008. Jacqueline, a Latina migrant herself, touches on so many of the themes that I hold close to my heart, and sums up nicely why our communities are stronger when we stand together.

This third piece features the voice of Abdelkader Belaouni (or Kader), a blind Algerian refugee living in Montreal. In early 2006, Kader was facing a deportation order and courageously decided to resist his removal from his friends and community by taking sanctuary in a church. After having spent nearly 4 years in the confines of the church, Kader finally won his amazing battle to stay in Canada. In this piece, you hear an address Kader made to a migrant justice demonstration in May 2006. The statement had to be recorded in the church because Kader could not leave to participate in the demo. There is also some audio from a press conference held outside St-Gabriel's church just after Kader won his right to stay in Canada in late 2009.