Musical Dimensions of Empathy: Marshallese Voices Beyond the Bomb
The United States conducted sixty-seven nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands from 1946 through 1958. The program was shrouded in secrecy; information about the tests conducted on Marshallese bodies and their lands remains classified. In this talk, I engage voices of humans and non-humans (machines, technologies) that speak to relational silences embedded in a politics of the voice that emerges in the nuclear age. I present a robust counterpoint of listening and sensorial orientations to the voice that counterbalances technological determinism, governmental secrecy, and scientific objectification that have upheld acoustic barriers and prevented us from hearing the historical present in its temporal complexity, and in turn, shaped our political ecology. In addition to nuclear exile, climate change and a lack of educational and employment opportunities have compelled many Marshallese to relocate to the United States. Through systematic engagement of graphic representation and multi-sited musical ethnography, I explore how Marshallese residents in Arkansas are literally drawing and resounding the nuclear silences that shape their diasporic conditions and therefore creating a constellation of materials that reveal and conceal Marshallese voices beyond the bomb and the musical dimensions of empathy.
Jessica A. Schwartz is an Assistant Professor of Musicology at UCLA. She explores musical representations and sonic histories of militarization and imperial violence, Pacific politics of indigeneity, and environmental concerns, such as nuclear contamination and climate change. She has published on Marshallese music and gender, politics, diaspora, and displacement. Her book project, Radiation Sounds: Marshallese Music and Nuclear Silences (Duke University Press; under contract) details how Marshallese musically and textually evoke the consequences of U.S. nuclear weapons testing in their country. She co-founded and is Cultural Programs Advisor of the Marshallese Educational Initiative, a nonprofit based in Arkansas. She also plays guitar in a noise-punk band and is currently working on a Digital Humanities project concerning punk pedagogy.