Published: Oct. 18, 2021 By

From December 2020 to May 2021, CAS held a yearlong lecture series around the theme of “Sound and Noise in Asia.” Following a two-day symposium held in November, the series highlighted sound/noise practices and aesthetics from East Asian broadcast media such as radio and television; the representation of sound and noise in literature; film sound aesthetics; environmental noise practices; the circulation of recording media such as cassettes; and postcolonial sonic space making. The talks were spread across the regions represented at CAS, with topics ranging from Chinese film to Cambodian rock, Indian literature, and Middle Eastern cultures in diaspora.

Held virtually, the lecture series brought attention to the field of sound studies not only at CU Boulder, but also in the broader Asian studies community. Each speaker brought together different groups of scholars and students for academic discussion. As a part of the University mission for diversity, equity, and inclusion, the series not only aimed for geographic and cultural diversity, but also featured women of color.

The series kicked off with Madhumita Lahiri’s talk in December titled “Listening for India: Reading and the Multilingual Nation.” Lahiri discussed how cues about language use in a multilingual society and the use of sound descriptions as character motif formed the aesthetic of a nationalist novel at a time when India was headed for independence. Zhang Ling’s talk in February, “An Operatic Atmosphere: Sound and Transmediality in Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (1948),” discussed the very distinctive voiceover in a classic Chinese film, and offered great insight into the operatic use of gender and voice. Jennifer Hsieh’s March talk, “From Festival to Decibel: Contestations of Renao and Zaoyin in Taiwan’s Noise Control System,” brought in the fields of anthropology and environmental studies, with a study of buzzing temple noise as a part of the urban soundscape. David Novak brought audiences from Cambodia to California and back with “Global Counterhistories of Cambodian Cassette Culture​” in April. And finally, Roshanak Kheshti gave a beautiful talk on the interaction of music and embodiment of culture through dance titled “PocoDisco: On the Politics of Postcolonial Sonic Space Making” in May, closing out the series. Christine Bacareza Balance, who was to have given the talk “On Popular Music, Dictatorship, and a Brown Commons,” unfortunately had to cancel due to health reasons, but had participated as an audience member at several other talks in the series.

All in all, CAS was able to contribute significantly to the still emerging field of sound studies by convening scholars who approached the field from different positions. Asian studies, in particular, is still not strongly represented in the field, and series has offered a view into directions of future growth.   

Evelyn Shih is Assistant Professor of Chinese in the Asian Languages and Civilizations Department at CU Boulder. She writes about various media, from comic strips and mass periodicals to film and literature, as a part of a comic sensorium and an emerging mode of mass communication in the mid-20th century. She is currently at work on a book manuscript of the same name, as well as a project on the topolect cinema of Taiwan, the Taiyupian; and another project on colonial travelers of Taiwan and Korea, who capture their experience within and without of Japanese empire on the Chinese continent.