Episode 16: “Not Peaceable and Quiet” with Counterpublic Artists Matt Joynt, Anthony Romero, and Josh Rios
This episode of Monument Lab, we recorded live from the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. Monument Lab has a research residency there this summer. We’re mapping monuments of St. Louis with people at the museum, in parks, and public spaces around the whole city, as a part of the Pulitzer’s Striking Power exhibition.. More on that in a future episode. To kickoff this project, we spoke to a trio of artists – Matt Joynt, Anthony Romero, and Josh Rios – as they prepared for their own exercise in mapping.
Their project, Not Peaceable and Quiet (Piñata Sound System), includes the outfitting of a bike with a booming sound system and other purposeful flair. It is part of the Counterpublic neighborhood triennal in St. Louis on and around Cherokee Street, organized by the Luminary. The artists call it a counter monument. It takes up space, physically, and also is fully realized when participants pedal it around, moving the soundtrack with them.
“It's about taking up sonic space”
Not Peaceable and Quiet doesn’t just use any bike – they transformed a retired bicycle previously used by a bike-sharing company that had left the St. Louis market and its fleet of 750 dockless bikes behind. The artists’ goal is to call attention to the failings of “on-demand lifestyle,” and the ways black and brown communities are policed in neighborhoods like the one around Cherokee Street around calls for silence. In turn, to mark resistance through sound.
“music that we chose, becomes a way to map the resiliency of these peoples who are being exploited, who are being dehumanized, but who find a way to transcend.”
We recorded this live at the Pulitzer the night before Not Peaceable and Quiet premiered at Counterpublic.
I’m Paul Farber and this is Monument Lab.
This season of Monument Lab, all our conversations are transcribed and posted on our website, thanks to our partners at Rev.com who are supporting us with on-demand transcripts. Anyone can use Rev to transcribe interviews, first drafts, or almost anything recorded at just $1/minute.
Paul Farber: We're here live at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Josh Rios, Anthony Romero, Matt Joynt, welcome to the Monument Lab podcast.
Matt Joynt: Thank You.
Josh Rios: Thank you.
Anthony Romero: Thank you.
Rios: Hi. I'm just doing mic level checks.
Romero: Yeah, for the listeners at home, hello.
Farber: So we're here tonight on the eve of the launch of your project Not Peaceable and Quiet for Counterpublic. If we could just start with one or more of you reading the project statement and monologue, we could start our conversation from there.
Rios: Okay, well I can read this the project description. It starts ... It's a conceptual framework too, more than a description of the actual thing. "The sounds and noise play an integral role in the structuring of cultural and political life, particularly as ideas about what constitutes sound and what constitutes noise are leveraged in the struggle over social power. So as in iteration of an ongoing project, Not Peaceable and Quiet, Pinata Sound System, treats the bicycle as a sound machine and a counter-monument transmitting its cultural signal across local and imagined communities. So borrowing from the tradition of the amplified soapbox, the sidewalk musician, and other portable sound systems, this audio sculpture is completed when activated by a rider in public space." I don't know, maybe I'll just leave it there for now. There's more, but I don't want to read too, too much. But that idea is that it's there, you can hear it, but really the completing element is when it's ridden in a way. So that's a big part of it.
Farber: The project consists of a number of components, and some of them are shaped by you as artists. As you mentioned, some of them are activated by passersby or participants in public space. What are the elements and components that you've shaped, and what is left to be determined and enacted by people who utilize this? This is a bike at its root.
Rios: It's a bike, and it has a trailer on the back. Within that trailer is a series of batteries and amplifiers and speakers and a pretty gnarly subwoofer. It has a MP3 player on it that is playing a soundtrack that we've constructed that is both a remix, but also something new in a way. But it's a 20-minute soundtrack that plays while you're riding the bike through wherever space you might be in. I guess for us, tomorrow it'll be the Love Bank Park just to kick it off. The soundtrack is comprised of cumbia beats, banda beats, and even conjunto and norteño music, all mixed in the way a DJ would, moving from track to track and orchestrating the transitional moments between tracks. Also, the soundtrack is punctuated by DJ drops. I don't know if you're familiar with what a DJ drop is…
Joynt: It's a thing on a track where the DJ announces who they are, if they mix something and it was really hot, and they just want everybody to know who it was. It can sometimes be a part of a transition too, so we made some that are specific to the bike that operate conceptually, but some of them are just really fun and banging. (Laughs.)
Rios: Yeah, we had a lot of fun in the studio constructing this. This DJ drop is really interesting. It's like this sonic sculpture in a way. You've heard them on the radio station, "You're listening to, to ..." What is going on? Yeah. And lasers are ... You don't even feel like you're hearing it. You feel like you're feeling ... It's around you, it's very spacialized sound production, and I think that's what we were interested in that as a form as sort of inject with different kinds of meanings, like including political-oriented speech, and also really DJ dropping the name of the project, and the street itself and so forth. That's sort of the wrap-up of what it all is in a way, to some degree.
Romero: Yeah. Perhaps I'll say a little more about the bike specifically. It has a very specific history and story that I think you, Josh, elegantly wrote about in the materials that we were sharing. "The bicycle used in the process, in the project, has a specific and relevant history. In May 2018, the bike-sharing start-up Ofo, placed 750 dockless bikes around St. Louis. Two months later, they pulled out of the city in order to consolidate services in higher performing markets like Seattle and San Diego. Not long afterwards, another bike-share company, Lime, withdrew from the city as well. Both companies reported high rates of repair and hundreds of missing bikes as factors in their decision to leave the St. Louis market. While Ofo is cited as having donated part of its fleet to the St. Louis non-profit BWorks, the collected refuse of the bicycles remains as a kind of hauntological monument to the failed neoliberal promise of mobility in an on-demand lifestyle." So this idea of the bike and where the bike comes from in accordance with the privatization of transportation, ways in which we are allowed to move around the city or not move around the city in accordance with laws and policies and corporate demands really meets what, for us, is a beautiful history of cultural resistance as is exemplified by the soundtrack and the kinds of music. So maybe next to the bike, we'll place another history which is that of cumbia music. So the root of the word "cumbia," which describes a kind of music which originates in Colombia at the intersection of West African slave trade and indigenous exploited peoples, both of whom are working in the mines, is the word "cumbe," which comes from Guinea. It means dance rhythm. So this word, this history of dance and music, becomes incredibly important across Latin America, remains an important part for many of us in lots of different regions. There are slight changes from region to region including in South Central Texas where I'm from. But the basic small two-step remains the same. The small two-step really doesn't take up too much space, in part because for the people who invented this style of dance, they're shackled at the ankles, so there isn't much mobility. So the cumbia, like a lot of the music that we chose, becomes a way to map the resiliency of these peoples who are being exploited, who are being dehumanized, but who find a way to transcend their incarceration, lack of a better term, through the music. So sound itself gets to migrate, and the dance and cultural expression gets to move from people to people, and really maps that trajectory. The promise of mobility by way of neoliberalism and the privatization of transportation and the ways in which bodies can remain static, but the resiliency, the cultural force that is produced by those bodies, can remain mobile and migratory.
Farber: We clearly have a lot to talk about with the bikes themselves. But I want to ask you, in your preparation, because you've been speaking about cumbia music, DJ drops, and there are other elements that you bring in as part of your research, for you when you were preparing and imagining both from the producers of this 20-minute piece, and then anticipating listeners who are not on the bike who are hearing the bike come by or before they even know it's a bike, they're hearing the sounds. How did you balance or prepare that production process that's about a piece of music, and then essentially a interruption or call to attention that your listeners or passersby might experience?
Joynt: I feel like the mix is very intense throughout. There isn't a lot of space in it where it just creates any sort of arc. It's about taking up sonic space in a way. That's a big part of it. So it's pretty much back-to-back. If you're riding it, it's a lot. The tracks are high-energy. There's a lot of triplet horns. I don't know if that totally answers the question. Do you guys have more of a …
Rios: It was more like a leap of faith in some way, or it's like a fantasy, a desire. You just want to see something like this exist in the world, and in some ways and shapes it does, people ride around with little boomboxes on their hip or in their backpack, so it already exists out there a little bit. But then just formalizing it, crystallizing it, and turning up the volume higher and making it more of an attention-grabbing object that sort of sucks you into it, like your imaginary and whatever else. So I don't know. Really, there was no way to prepare exactly for what's going to happen, and we still are uncertain, actually, in a lot of ways how this thing is going to function tomorrow except that we know it's going to work. All the pieces work, the components work, so we got that figured out. Then there's this environment where people are being encouraged to take it for a spin. It's colorful, and it's sort of exciting. I just know from my own personal experience having ridden it that you feel super special. I felt like I was in a movie when I was riding it, and I was like, "Is somebody filming this? This is just so ..."
Farber: What goes into that, for you, that special thing, feeling?
Rios: I don't know. It's just a very odd thing. It's a very-
Farber: I mean it's attention-grabbing visually, sonically-
Rios: It's all of that.
Romero: You also rode. I didn't ride the bike this morning, but you also rode the bike.
Joynt: Yeah, I think the most compelling thing about the way that the soundtrack and the mix interacts with the object itself is that no matter what your relationship to cumbia, you do have a very subjective knowledge of it, at least culturally hearing it in some way publicly, I think. Most people maybe?
Joynt: So I think the thing that excites me the most is the idea of someone standing there, like the woman who was gardening this morning, just literally froze and watched it roll by like, "What is going on?" I think for some people the resonance of those memories will be a lot deeper and will be actually migratory stories about border crossing in the same way that the sound moved, and that's very exciting to me. So that's what I think about, I guess, when I'm riding it. I don't know if that's what you mean, Josh, when you say it feels like you're…
Rios: I don't know. I can't explain it exactly, so you'll just have to get on it and see what you feel, I suppose, in some way and see how it makes you... I'm not trying to ... I'm just saying to me, it has a lot of potency to be riding around a street with a very loud system that's bumping, and it's not in a car so you're a little bit more vulnerable. You're going slower 'cause it's got this trailer, so it's not about getting anywhere, and not about getting there quickly. It's not about, "I have to be somewhere." You're just cruising. So it has that, "I'm just roaming around," feeling, and it's exciting. It's a interesting space to be in. Go back to those Ofo bikes, he's like, "Check one out so you can ride it over there and check it in, and then go into work or whatever, catch the train." It's all this time of capitalist time.
Farber: Those rentable bikes charge by the minute or by the hour. Maybe this is a practical question. How did you get one of those bikes? What did you have to do to it to take it out of the outmoded bike-share and bring it into space of your artwork? Did you have to remove a tracker or a credit card?
Joynt: It was already gone. That's one of the reasons the companies pulled out of St. Louis as a market because kids were already re-appropriating the bikes and breaking the trackers off, which we found really interesting and cool. They were using them in all of these different ways. So we actually got access to it through James at The Luminary who knew someone who had hundreds of these bikes in a storage unit. I think hundreds.
Rios: James [McAnally], can you verify that?
James McAnally: One hundred...
Joynt: Singular hundred in this storage unit. So we got the bike, and we started thinking about the object itself, what is represents, how much we should play with its visibility as an Ofo bike, or if we should totally flip it. We opted to do this really intensive fringing on it that's all made out of duck tape. It has this very anyone could fabricate this object imaginative energy to it that I think is really powerful in a way 'cause it's not rarefied material like most monuments are built out of. So I think that's something that's important to us.
Romero: I was just going to say and that's the whole Pinata Sound System idea-turned-phrase, etc., comes from the way that we approached decorating the bike aesthetically.
Farber: I'm struck by this phenomenon of not just bike share, but scooters that have infiltrated many cities. They are cast aside in public spaces and left there, and sometimes they become important parts of a tourist economy, and other times I feel like they are debris. It feels like, in some ways, there's a relationship to this question of monuments that we've inherited, that sometimes there's a big spotlight on them, and other times they've been left there by someone in power. You've used a few different words to describe your project. One of them is a mobile sonic monument. Another one is counter monument. You're in the show Counterpublic. So just talk to us a bit about the words you're using and how monument is a helpful term for you, or how you're trying to intervene.
Joynt: Can you give us your definition of monument again, 'cause I was really into it?
Farber: Yeah, yeah. When we were talking a bit before, monument as a statement of power and presence in public.
Romero: Yeah, that one. (Laughs.)
Farber: Which is a definition to allow for many different kinds —
Romero: That's very useful. With and against, being the sometimes counter sometimes not.
Farber: Yeah. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Romero: Yeah. What I think what it ... We thought a lot about the ... Well, I'll speak for myself. I had thought a lot about ethical implications of attaching a word like monument to a thing which activates a street that I don't live on. So there are questions of authorship there, there are questions of presuppositions, of history, of narrative, all those kinds of things. So I think that there was an inherent resistance or counter to the monumentality of the thing that we were trying to capture. But there are interesting ideas inside of these ... especially in the last couple of years in regards to public monuments, memorials, and those kinds of things. Those are all interesting conversations. For us, it fell in line with a thread of our research, which was really thinking about, in part, these different sort of colonial monuments and architectures that we're talking about. Brief story that I've been obsessed with from my research is that the European colonizers arriving in New England, for example, were very quick to erect bell towers. Partially that's because of their faith, but it's also about territorializing their colony before they built a fort. Because if you hear the sound of the bell, as an indigenous, as a native person, you understood yourself to be in relationship to colonial power, either because that power is subjugating you. But that sound of the bell under this colonial rubric is really territorializing. It's building the state before they get around to building a wall. So we thought about these things. Matt and Josh have written a really beautiful piece around sirens which things about that legacy into something like the contemporary over-policing of communities of color and the ways in which the siren is this announcement of state violence, of state power, of authority. So it precedes the violence, and maybe as a sort of precedence, also enacts a different kind of sonic psychological violence in the way that it announces the physical violence or death which follows.
Rios: Well, I guess what I would say about that is I think it's interesting to apply the framework of the monument to something like the bike because I feel like it creates, at that point, a lot of interesting questions or could potentially produce a lot of interesting discourse 'cause if we think the monument is stable, the monument is monumental, the monument is always there in public, it doesn't go away, the monument is not ridden. You don't get on the monument, you stay, you're a distance from it. So I think I like this way of thinking about this bike, and of course the monument is silent for the most part.
Farber: It speaks for itself.
Rios: Yeah, it doesn't-
Rios: Yeah, it visually speaks.
Farber: Except the bell tower.
Romero: It's speaking. It's vocalizing.
Rios: I think it's interesting to think about like, "Okay, if we think of this as a monument, it produces some interesting questions about what a monument is. Of course, the bike is mobile. Sometimes it's going to be out, sometimes it'll be hidden away. It's moving, it's mobile, it's making a sound and this sound is going out into the world. I don't know, that's what I thought was interesting about it. I don't know if it is or isn't a monument. In the back, we had talked about this problem of like, "What are these categories? How do we enclose them?" 'Cause the writings said, "Is this trash heap of Ofo bikes a monument to something, potentially to this neoliberal fantasy?" The City Square is a monument to something. The bell tower's a monument to something. So I don't know. I think just taking that term and seeing in some way how elastic it is maybe, and just seeing how it stretches and what kind of thoughts can be produced by that stretching, maybe?
Farber: We're talking about public space, we're talking about art spaces, talking about the street, and of course, Anthony, as you noted this question of access, so to speak, goes alongside the over-policing of communities of color and this question of how to be public and what you're allowed to do and not allowed to do and how that matters for particular people who are racialized. I'm curious about the context of location for your project, and what Cherokee Street and what the area surrounding The Luminary means to you as visiting artists, but also as artists who have a research process and as a research team, and you ask questions about places and people. So just to talk a little bit about how you've mapped Cherokee Street and the area for yourself and your project.
Rios: Actually, really, I think I can say one thing quickly, I think James was a big resource on these matters, and just asking him about things and just sending us articles, actually, and sort of explaining some details about how that area is the intersection of several different neighborhoods. So it has that kind of quality of it, maybe somewhat of a contested zone of different intercultural context. Then we did visit briefly to sort of walk up and down it. Not really ... Walking up and down it actually solidified the idea the most as opposed to researching and reading from books and looking at the internet. So it was really that trip in a way, just walking the street really just sort of crystallized the idea. I feel like that idea of research is, on the one hand, "Okay, what's out there as far as discourse?" But then sometimes research is just walking the street, just seeing, going into the businesses and seeing what's up.
Romero: We have been here before, Matt and I, because we had done a different project a few years ago at The Luminary. But do you want to say a little
Joynt: About the show?
Romero: About that longer experience of being in and out, not coming here for a couple
of years and then coming back.
Joynt: Sure. Yeah, I think Josh didn't have much of an idea about the place before we started working on this, but Anthony and I had been here for a pretty significant amount of time doing an exhibition at The Luminary called The Marvelous is Free that was about the Black Artist Group from St. Louis. It's an archival show of presenting material that hadn't been publicly presented before, or not at least recently. I think our experience being on the street was realizing the vibrant culture of different kinds of Latinx businesses that were there. We frequented a lot of them and shopped at them. I think through that, the idea of using this migration of sound practice, I guess that was very formative for me in terms of thinking about this project. I don't know if you have any other thoughts on that. That seems like, to me, that was the just the places that we would go every day. We were like, “this is a whole flourishing community." And we were thinking about that a lot with the bike.
Rios: There's corollaries in our own neighborhoods too, to this ... It's not like I know Cherokee Street in some way because I know Pilsen in Chicago. It's like there's this diasporic ... there's some things that are resonating there. So in a way, I do know it. Oh, we got time?
Romero: No, just brown. [Points to hand]
Rios: Oh, just brown... It was that easy.
Romero: But I do think that there's something. Josh and I are both from small towns in Texas, in South Central Texas. So, I think for me, being in the Midwest for a number of years, being in Chicago for almost 10 years, and now living in Boston, that ... I didn't mean it like Boston. But now living in Boston. I did it again! I can't even help doing it.
Farber: Sonic mapping in another way.
Romero: Even when we were here before, in part because I'd lived on that side of the street in an apartment that The Luminary was gracious enough to let us stay in, that there was a natural gravitation towards the Latinx businesses in that part of Cherokee Street, and in part because there is this familiarity. There is something like a, I hesitate to say, Latinx diaspora because it's really pan-national and multilinguistic and super complicated. But if we share anything, maybe histories of Spanish colonialism, so maybe that's enough to just thrust us into the ether together. But there we are. So you see it a little bit in the stores, in the bakeries, in the groceries, and so there is this gravitation towards that. So I think that part of what we're assembling through our experience with the bike is this mirror. Is following that line maybe that cumbia travels from slavery to indigenous exploitation to migrant trails all the way to migrant farm labor which is how it reaches my family. But when we're there in South Central Texas, despite the fact that we may not speak about a relationship to slavery as brown folks living in the borderlands, when we dance that step, we're following the line and we are also shackled. So there is a solidarity or a path or a line of flight that really unites things across geographies. I think, for me, soundscapes in the sonic space or these kinds of sonic imaginaries are really the ways in which we can materialize those things or create experiences around those things that really resist being materialized in stone and granite or whatever a monument might ... bronze...saying things monuments made with.
Rios: Also being very careful to ... There is such a thing as the helicoptered-in artist that goes to some place and makes some project, and then is helicoptered out. I wont' say anyone's names or anything like that, but it's a really problematic engagement with other spaces that aren't ... I don't know, I don't want to say spaces that aren't your own because I feel like I'm always trying to understand the space I'm in, no matter ... even if it's my home or the city I came from from Texas or from Chicago, or when I go to Boston. So just thinking about that way, and just trying to be conscious of that and thoughtful regarding those kinds of things.
Farber: How do you balance that? Because you are visiting, we are visiting. What do you try to do that's different? I think, as you said, it's quite powerful, wherever you are you're finding your own space and your own connections and your own sense.
Rios: So I thought maybe that that's why I think walking the street was very important. I felt like, anyways for myself, I thought the key would be to be generous in this way, and to provide something that could be legible to a wide range of potential people to engage it or that will come across it. I'm not like that normally, to be honest with you. I'm very into discourse, I'm into theory, that's true. I'm into things like history as a site, like these ideas. But for this, we thought it would be a generous thing to make something that was tactically engaging, and makes an interesting sound that people can understand it in a way without these ideas of diluting or for lack of a better word, dumbing anything down, nothing like that. But just making something that is at the level of the general public in a way, or a street. That's a thought that would be something to do, not to pull it down. Just put it out in a more generous way.
Joynt: There are a lot of levels of engagement that you can have with it. You can have a ton of different experiences, and it's not imposing an idea outside of our research that already exists in the way outside of Cherokee. But Cherokee happened to be, also in a way, tied to it, so we're interested to see what kind of relationships form, I think, instead of supposing them.
Rios: The one last thing I'll say is it's very easy for people to come from some other place and observe and get in this anthropological role of producing knowledge about some place. So that's one thing I knew we didn't want to do is try to produce knowledge about St. Louis or Cherokee Street or anything like that. But maybe just more pay homage in some way or celebrate something there.
Rios: And I'm going to shut up for about 10 minutes.
Farber: No, no. You have the mic in front of you.
Romero: That was a clock, that was not the color of my skin. This would be color of my skin, this would be a clock. [Points to hand.]
Farber: The trouble with this is we all teach.
Romero: For the folks at home, I'm pointing to my hand. I heard people do that on the radio.
Romero: There are two things that became really important for us which are related, I think, are joy to return to the something like the cumbia for example. But we could really see it in lots of different cultural forms, certainly around music, everything from things like cumbia to house music, for example, and sociality. Really, the two things are operating together. They're incorporated. It would be difficult to separate the social component of the cultural expression of people who are resisting their conditions, who are resisting their oppression and subjugation in this everyday way through their music, through their subtle shifts in their behavior, or showing up late to work, flaring out your McDonald's uniform, etc. There are all these ways in which we are simultaneously participating in joyous forms of sociality which are, by nature of being both of those things at the same time, resistant to our demise. For us, we wanted to find ... for me, I'll use I statements. [Laughs..] I feel like I was looking for those parallels between those things, between the look and the feel and the sociality along the street like Cherokee Street, to things that were like that in my own experience of the world. So Love Bank Park, I think, is really – parks, public space, gathering, what some people might call loitering, but what we might call hanging out.
Farber: Well your title is “Not Peaceable and Quiet.” You talked about calling attention to listeners, whether it's cumbia or something else, as an affiliation. Of course, as you or anyone is riding through the neighborhood, it's also interrupting. I'm just curious how you balance those two?
Romero: I want to say something, and then I want to invite you [Joynt], 'cause I think that you think so elegantly around sociality and music and nightlife and all of these sorts of things. Around the interruption. For me, it really came down to this style of DJ'ing called the Sonidero, which originates in Mexico. But in this style of DJ which is especially prevalent in the spaces where lots of Mexican immigrants are populating, so parts of New York, Houston, Chicago, etc. But the style of the Sonidero is that while they're mixing these cumbia tracks, people are giving them notes all the time. They're just shouting out things, so they're constantly interrupting the music with these drops. So the expectation is that there isn't this…
Farber: Kind of a like a PA system, or announcement system over the beat, or with the beat?
Romero: Yeah, constantly, constantly. So everything from like, "Shout out St. Louis," to "Shout out my mom's birthday," to like "Shout out being off of work," whatever. There is this constant interruption. In that way, we might not think of it as an interruption, but we might thing of it as an extension of the sociality that's being built on the dance floor. It's just a way to vocalize what those bodies who might experience all kinds of conditions outside of that space, but are now transforming those conditions into something which is more joyous, which is celebratory.
Joynt: The only thing that I guess I would add is, to piggyback off of this history you were talking about earlier of the bell tower and then how that transitions into sonic violence of the siren, is then this full wraparound of the actual phenomenon of sound traveling, being, in a way ... It transcends and transgresses borders in a way that almost no other part of the environment in which we occur can. It's carried with people within them, but it also has this phenomenological trajectory of moving through space in a way that material obviously interacts with but can't ultimately stop. I think in that way, the bike moving down the street and ricocheting off of these buildings, if you want to call it interrupting, we could. Or we could call it punctuating a moment maybe, which I think could be a way of taking it out of the colonial mandate for silence in a way, and saying social space and sound could have these completely other possibilities. In my neighborhood in Pilsen is not uncommon at all for my neighbors to rage until three in the morning, and you see them the next day and everyone is excited that they had a party, if that makes sense. There's this different interpretations around the social etiquette and ideas of sound production. So I think that's another thing with it moving down the street that we're really interested in, too, is like who ... If you want to read this statement, that might be useful in articulating the final thing that's on the piece 'cause it articulates this idea of who has the right to make sound?
Rios: Maybe there's something you want to add or ask. I can read it at the end if that's okay.
Farber: I can ask something related. Just this conversation reminds me of a recent case in Washington, D.C., in the neighborhood of Shaw which was historically African American and is now predominantly white because of displacement and gentrification. A Metro PCS store, the operator at the store would play go-go music. It's important to the local culture. Residents who I believe are largely white would call the cops. It backfired on the individual seeking quieter sound because it rallied the city and many around the country around that kind of celebration. That involved the corporate entity trying to weigh in and navigate. Now the go-go music continues. Is that a contest over space and sound that you feel applies to what you are trying to provoke?
Joynt: The origin of the project itself, even the title of it, comes from an act that was to try to basically silence Latinx communities, essentially, in and around L.A. Specifically, the "Not Peaceable and Quiet" is a part of the mandate itself. So definitely, they're fully related, these creating legislation around silence as the normative experience of sonic environments, and where does that come from? Who is in control of that narrative and the power around it? Do you have the actual ... You don't happen-
Rios: No, I didn't bring that piece of legislature with me. [Laughs.]
Joynt: Do you happen to just have that?
Romero: Do you have the bill?
Rios: I think the thing about this example too is that that store had been playing that music for 20 years or something. And the community had, whatever, come to terms with it, promoted it, celebrated it, had dealt with it in their way. Then it was not until gentrifying forces mounted that this thing that had been sounding out for 20 years was all of a sudden demanded to be silenced. So it's like who gets to dictate what the world sounds like? It's crazy to me.
Romero: And the answer for me would be colonizers.
Joynt: Right. White men.
Romero: For me, the root is a colonial root, that the legislating and the criminalizing of sound practices and music practices have enslaved peoples and colonized peoples and native and indigenous folks really begins under European colonization. One, because there's an extension of the racialized body which includes the sounds that we make. So it's not only that we were barbarous in appearance, but that we were also offensive in sound. It's not only that we were offensive in sound, it's that our whole world was offensive in sound. The trees, the birds, the lands. So places like in Australia, we can see the way the English colonizers really are deforested. That's a huge part of the project. It's about eradicating whole bird species. It's not just about the people, it's also about their world. So these colonial laws which set the precedent, the legal precedent, are really about not only silencing of us in the literal sense of making us quiet, because for folks like English Puritans, silence is synonymous with purity. The quiet needs to be had in order to be divine, thusly our raucous ways are exemplary of our devilish souls. I'm just, you know...
Rios: ...Sermon on the Mount.
Romero: ...If you all stop interrupting me.... So we really find ways like in south Asia where the English are all about disbanding public displays of divinity which often include lots of drums and huge crowds of people gathering together in public squares, because we let that happen, because that equals revolution. So we need to make these things private, we need to make these things silent, we need to privatize them again. Here we have, again, the individual, the privatization of things, the dividing of the world, the dividing of landscapes and peoples and neighborhoods, and so forth and so on.So really, for me, this is the precedent for these nuisance laws which become the justification for over-policing, that we are gathering in public space, that we are making too much noise, that we don't have the correct permits for a block party, or our decibel levels are too high, or it's too soon or too late. For things that we have been looking at in places like South Texas, there's a history of the invention of laws around sound ordinances that didn't exist because they were meant to disband protests. So protestors would be met by police who would say that a particular sound ordinance existed, and therefore, they could not be gathered in the way that they were gathered...
Rios: Or use megaphones.
Romero: Or use megaphones.
Rios: But then it would turn out that no such ordinance existed. So it's the narrative of how you police sound is really fascinating.
Farber: I don't like to often ask about what a success of a project would be 'cause it could be so many things. But I'm going to break that rule and just say, for you, if your project provokes or doesn't provoke sound complaints that go to local authorities, is that something you're seeking to test?
Romero: Well, who's riding the bike?
Romero: If I'm on the bike, I'm already suspect. It doesn't even need to be playing sound. I'm on a loud-ass bike and I'm traveling ... who knows....
Farber: The sound may not even be on...
Romero: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think that there's also that. It's also about the bodies that get to activate those things.
Joynt: Mm-hmm (affirmative), no, I agree. I don't know exactly what would make it successful to me. I guess I just hope that people engage with it in a way that feels empowering to take up that space and consider how they're policed in that space, if that makes sense.
Rios: I almost feel like it's a success already in a way. We just saw people go out there and just start moving and be enthralled by it. To me, that's it. Creating some different kind of world momentarily there, changing the energy level, and moving it in a particular kind of direction, just creating the circumstances where you can be moving around to a beat in a museum or wherever, that's really interesting to me, makes it successful in a way.
Farber: We'll wrap up in a few moments, but the bike that you're using came to you from the failed shared world. What will be the afterlife of your bike through the project? Will it find its way back into a different stream of use, or will it remain as a vessel and vehicle for this project?
Joynt: We want to make more, actually, these mobile sound sculptures that can move around through different areas within the US and maybe even outside of it that engage with histories that run through those places in a way, but take up and occupy sonic space. So I think this one will keep living on, probably, as a sculpture and move to some other places. Do you guys agree?
Romero: Yeah, and I think that there's one thing that we've talked a lot about is the potential of building workshops around this. We're also interested in what it would be to offer this thing as a platform or a technology, and what it might look like. This morning, we were thinking around what would it look like for folks in west Chicago to outfit these sorts of bikes? Or what sort of sounds would they want to see populate this thing? How could it exist in the world as a platform? What would you say, Rios?
Rios: That sounds good.
Farber: Before we wrap up with the monologue, are there any final thoughts you want to share, hopes or questions, tonight, right before, the evening before the bike goes public. counter public.
Rios: Hopes, questions. I think the hope is that people will come tomorrow, not to keep plugging it like it's some thing like that, and that they'll try it out. Really, that's the hope. The question would be who is brave enough to go for it and seize it up and give it a spin? I don't know. That's really my hope, and that would be my question to y'all in some sort of way.
Farber: I see a few hands up here.
Rios: Yeah, I think it'll be really fun. Just a little bit about the nightlife thing. There's been a lot of queer theorizing of the dance floor and the post-AIDS era. There's been a lot of race theory too about the production of danceable R&B and what those spaces meant to certain populations, queer and brown and so forth. I feel like almost every dance floor has that strange potential to break down social barriers in a way, to put people in proximity, people moving in strange ways, unpredictable ways in proximity to each other. I just think that that's a really powerful way of, I don't know, I guess sort of breaking down the normative social structures in how we behave in space and with each other. I like that about this bike too. It doesn't produce the Paradise Garage, or it doesn't produce a dance floor like that, but it produces some gesture towards that potential in some way. Should I just read this?
Farber: So, Josh, you'll close us out.
Rios: So the bike has this monologue at the end of it, but I thought it might be nice to just read it, too, here. It's called Cherokee Street Monologue. "When are we allowed to celebrate certain public soundscapes? Those noisy sounds of life that signal joy in their communities but anxiety to outsiders. Who gives permission to exalt the public sounds that reflect long-standing, historical residents of this street, of Cherokee Street? Sound practices create place and belonging and are tools of celebration and resistance. They connect us to memory, history, and migration. Too often, the siren defines the neighborhood that is under economic and political threat, the neighborhood that is being readied for development and erasure, the neighborhood that is seen not as a thing that vibrantly exists in its stride and brilliance, but as a project of speculation. When everyday acts of sonic desire activate state power, they become acts of sonic audacity. The street will not be muted. It transmits its cultural signal strengthening its local and imagined communities. It refused erasure by refusing the erasure of how we got here and how we live here. It travels like a memory conjured by a song, like a vibration that echoes back and forth across borders."
Farber: Josh Rios, Anthony Romero, Matt Joynt, thank you.
Rios, Romero, and Joynt: Thank you.
To learn more about Not Peaceable and Quiet, and the Counterpublic exhibition, visit https://counterpublic.us.
Big thanks to Kristin Fleishmann and Sophie Lipman for all their work that went into recording this episode. And special shoutouts to the research team in St. Louis, Derek Laney, Liz Deichmann, and ML STallings. Visit MonumentLab.com for more about the research residency at the Pulitzer.
Matt Joynt is a Chicago-based artist and composer.
Josh Rios is faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he teaches courses in visual critical studies and research-based practice. As a media artist, writer and educator, his projects deal with the histories, archives, and futurities of Latinx subjectivity and U.S./Mexico relations as understood through globalization and neocoloniality. Recent projects and presentations have been featured at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha), the Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio), and Konsthall C (Stockholm). Upcoming public activities include an exhibition at DiverseWorks (Houston), the Truth and Reconciliation Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute (Santa Fe) and a catalog essay for an upcoming exhibition about the 1980s Artist Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America.
Anthony Romero is a Boston-based artist, writer, and organizer committed to documenting and supporting artists and communities of color. Recent projects and performances have been featured at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha), the Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio), and the Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Biennial (Calgary, Canada). Publications include The Social Practice That Is Race, coauthored with Dan S. Wang, and the exhibition catalogue Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements, of which he was the editor. He is a co-founder of the Latinx Artist Visibility Award, a national scholarship for Latinx artists produced in collaboration with artist J. Soto and OxBow School of Art, and a cofounder of the Latinx Artists Retreat, a national gathering of Latinx artists and administrators. He is Professor of the Practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston.