Performance Studies Conference

The Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University presents

Listening In: Sonic Interventions in the Middle East and North Africa

An interdisciplinary conference that interrogates political, representational, and affective economies of sound at the historic five-year mark since the Arab Uprisings

May 12-13, 2016
TGS Commons, 2122 N Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL

Keynote Address by Professor Deborah Kapchan (NYU)
Slow Ethnography, Slow Activism: Listening, Witnessing, and the Longue Durée

About the Conference

At the historic five-year mark of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa region, this interdisciplinary conference tackles the intersections of culture, politics, and society from the unique perspective of performance and sound studies. Given the ongoing crisis in the region, what does it mean to listen in - to events as they unfold, to the sounds of power and violence, to voices whose testimonies are silenced by dominant narratives, and to cultural expressions of conflict and displacement? In which ways does the act of listening produce new forms of public engagement and how do these emerge in relation to divergent social, cultural, technological, and spatial phenomena?

Scholars from across disciplines will reflect on listening as a critical practice that emerges through socio-political engagement and that takes shape through a variety of media, cultural expressions, and performances in everyday life. By amplifying the role of sound and aurality in the past five years of violence and displacement in the Middle East and North Africa, the conference considers how power becomes (in)audible through sonic contestations, and interrogates the political, representational, and affective economy of sound in this particular historical moment. This event also hopes to prompt an urgency of listening across borders leading to better understandings of how we engage with the political processes through which voices both emerge or are suppressed.

This event is co-sponsored by the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, The Graduate School, MA in Sound Arts and Industries, Center for Global Culture and Communication, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Program in Middle East and North African Studies, Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program, Crown Family Fund for Middle East Studies, Department of English, Department of Radio-TV-Film, and Screen Cultures Program.

For further event information or directions, please contact or call 847-491-3171.

Conference Program

Abstracts [pdf]

Conference proceedings are available for online viewing here. The videos are currently password-protected. Please contact Shayna Silverstein to request permission to view.

Program Schedule

Thursday, May 12

1:00pm Opening Remarks, Shayna Silverstein

Cairene Soundscapes: Nostalgia, Affect, and the City
Discussant, Miriam Piilonen (Music Theory and Cognition)

Ziad Fahmy (Cornell) “Regulating Bodies and Remembering Lost Sounds: Street Hawkers and their Calls in Early Twentieth Century Egypt”

Maria Frederika Malmström (Columbia), Loud sirens outside the house and utter silence at night: Disruptions, rhythms and the Thawret 25 yanāyir


Listening Publics: Alternative Musical Citizenship in Egypt and Syria
Discussant, Tarek Benchouia (Performance Studies)

Darci Sprengel (UCLA), Listening and the Cultivation of a new “Public” in Post­-Mubarak Egypt

Beau Bothwell (Kalamazoo College), Souriali’s New Listening Public


Encountering Syrian Narratives: Methodological Issues and Research Practices
Discussant, Rana Khoury (Political Science)

Wendy Pearlman (Northwestern University), Hearing Syrian Stories: Interviews as Windows into Lived Experience

Shayna Silverstein (Northwestern University), The Presence of Connection: Sound, Affect, and Digital Ethnography

5:30pm Reception

Friday, May 13

8:30am Coffee/Breakfast
9:00am Lawrence Abu Hamdan, the All-Hearing (2014) (Screening and remote Q&A with artist)

The Acoustic Political: Borders, Mobility, and Belonging
Discussant, Erin Reitz (Art History)

Michelle Weitzel (The New School), Pulling Glass: Sonic Infrastructures and North African Migration

Sascha Crasnow (UCSD), Aural Occupation: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou­Rahme’s Contingency (2010)

Lara Baladi (MIT), Invisible Monument: Audioscapes, Archives, and Social Movements


Keynote Address (lunch served)

Deborah Kapchan (NYU), Slow Ethnography, Slow Activism: Listening, Witnessing, and the Longue Durée


Contested Identities and Disidentificatory Strategies in Popular Music Discourse
Discussant, Justin Zullo (Performance Studies)

Cristina Moreno Almeida (LSE), Critical Listening: Academia, Media and The Politics of Endorsing/Silencing Rappers in Morocco

Rüstem Ertuğ Altınay (NYU), Sounds of Queer Worldmaking: Desire and Belonging in the Works of Şelale Akırmak and MC Bebelakl


Disrupture, Disjuncture, and Displacement: The Performativity of Listening
Discusant, Eleanor Russell (Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Drama)

Peter McMurray (Harvard University), Sonic Pathways: Guestworkers, Refugees and Audible Difference in Berlin

Leila Tayeb (Northwestern University), Listening and 2011 Libya

4:45pm Closing Remarks
5:00pm Reception


Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist and "private ear" whose projects have taken the form of audiovisual installations, performances, graphic works, photography, Islamic sermons, cassette tape compositions, potato chip packets, essays, and lectures. Abu Hamdan’s interest with sound and its intersection with politics originate from his background in DIY music. As well as being the Armory Show commissioned artist, in 2015 Abu Hamdan’s work is also to be included in the New Museum Triennial. The artist’s video The All Hearing 2014 was selected for the 44th International film festival Rotterdam. His works are part of collections at MoMA New York, Van AbbeMuseum Eindhoven and the Arts Council, England. In 2013 Abu Hamdan’s audio documentary The Freedom of Speech Itself was submitted as evidence at the UK asylum tribunal where the artist himself was called to testify as an expert witness. He continues to make sonic analyses for legal investigations and advocacy - most recently his work was prominently part the No More Forgotten Lives campaign for Defense for Children International. The artist’s forensic audio investigations are conducted as part of his research for Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths College London where he is also a PhD candidate and associate lecturer. His solo exhibitions include Earshot at Portikus, Frankfurt (2016), تقيه (taqiyya) at Kunsthalle St Gallen (2015), Tape Echo (2013) at Beirut in Cairo and Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven, The Freedom Of Speech Itself (2012) at Showroom, London, The Whole Truth (2012) at Casco, Utrecht. Additionally his works have been exhibited and performed at venues such as The Shanghai Biennial (2014), The Whitechapel Gallery London, MACBA Barcelona, Tate Modern London, M HKA Antwerp, the Beirut Art Center and The Taipei Biennial (2012). Abu Hamdan’s writing can be found in Forensis Sternberg press, Manifesta Journal and Cabinet Magazine.

Lara Baladi

Egyptian-Lebanese artist Lara Baladi is internationally recognised for her multidisciplinary work. Baladi works with a wide range of mediums including installations, architecture, photography, tapestry, perfume and sculpture. 
In 2006, she founded the artist residency Fenenin el Rehal (Nomadic Artists) in Egypt’s White Desert. She is on the Board of Directors of several institutions in the Middle East. During the 2011 Egyptian revolution and its aftermath, Baladi co-founded two media initiatives, Tahrir Cinema and Radio Tahrir.
Since 2014, Baladi has been a Fellow at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab. For the 2015/16 academic year, she is a lecturer in MIT’s Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) program and the Ida Ely Artist in Residence at MIT’s Centre for Art, Science and Technology (CAST).

Beau Bothwell

Beau Bothwell is Assistant Professor of Music at Kalamazoo College, where he teaches courses on Arab and non-Western music, music theory, and Western music history. He completed his doctorate in musicology at Columbia University in 2013, with a dissertation entitled Song, State, Sawa: Music and Political Radio Between the US and Syria. Beau has presented his work internationally and at the national meetings of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Middle Eastern Studies Association, American Musicological Society, and Society for American Music. He recently published a chapter on America’s radio broadcasts to the Arabophone world in Soundtrack to Conflict: The Role of Music in Radio Broadcasting in Wartime and Conflict Situations, and has a forthcoming chapter in the edited volume Music & Tyranny.

Sascha Crasnow

Sascha Crasnow is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in Art History, Theory, & Criticism at the University of California San Diego focusing on contemporary art from the Middle East and North Africa. Her dissertation examines the impact of the inter-Intifada period on contemporary Palestinian art production.

Rüstem Ertuğ Altınay

Rüstem Altınay is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. Ertuğ’s primary area of research is performance and the gendered politics of embodiment in Turkey. His essays have been published in various peer-reviewed journals and anthologies.

Ziad Fahmy

Ziad Fahmy is an Associate Professor of Modern Middle East History at Cornell University. Professor Fahmy received his History Ph.D. in 2007 from the University of Arizona, where his dissertation “Popularizing Egyptian Nationalism” was awarded the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award (2008) from the Middle East Studies Association of North America. His first book, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford University Press, 2011), examines how, from the 1870s until the eve of the 1919 revolution, music and popular culture provided ordinary Egyptians with a framework to construct and negotiate a modern national identity. His articles have appeared in Comparative Studies in Society and History, the International Journal of Middle East Studies and in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Professor Fahmy is currently beginning another book project tentatively titled: Listening to the Street: Sound, Noise, and Soundscapes in Twentieth Century Egypt, 1900-1950. His research has been ‎supported by the Fulbright-Hays Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Research Center in Egypt.

Deborah Kapchan

Associate professor of Performance Studies at New York University, researches music, narrative, aesthetics and performance in North Africa and the North African diaspora. She is the author of Gender on the Market: Moroccan Women and the Revoicing of Tradition (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press 1996), Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Music and Trance in the Global Marketplace (Wesleyan University Press 2007), as well as numerous articles on expressive culture, affect and embodiment (including “The Promise of Sonic Translation: Performing the Festive Sacred in Morocco,” American Anthropologist Vol 110 (4) : 467-483, “Learning to Listen: The Sound of Sufism in France” The World of Music, special issue, 2009 and recently “Body” in Keywords in Sound, edited by David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny). She is the editor (with Pauline Strong) of Theorizing the Hybrid, a special issue of The Journal of American Folklore, and has recently edited two books: Intangible Rights: Heritage and Human Rights in Transit (2014 University of Pennsylvania Press), and Theorizing Sound Writing (Wesleyan University Press, in press). She is also the translator of a volume of Moroccan poetry entitled Poetic Justice: An Anthology of Moroccan Contemporary Poetry (under review, University of Texas Press). In her teaching she focuses on the role of the public intellectual and the craft of writing. She has been a Fulbright-Hays Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, as well as a recipient of grants from the American Institute of Maghrib Studies, the Social Science Research Council and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Maria Frederika Malmström

Maria Frederika Malmström holds a doctorate in Social Anthropology from the School of Global Studies, Social Anthropology, University of Gothenburg. She is a senior researcher for North Africa in the Conflict, Security and Democratic Transformation cluster at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. She was also a visiting scholar at New York University, working from 2010 – 2012 in the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and from 2012 – 2015 in performance studies at the Tisch School of Arts. From August 1, 2015 she has been a visiting scholar at New York University in the Department of Anthropology and from 1 January 2016, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, New York City.

Peter McMurray

Peter McMurray is an ethnomusicologist and media artist with particular interest in the sonic life of Islam and Muslim culture. His current book project, Pathways to God: The Islamic Acoustics of Turkish Berlin, explores these themes in the context of migration from Turkey to Berlin from the Cold War to the present. He received a PhD in Ethnomusicology and Critical Media Practice from Harvard and an MFA In Music Composition from Brandeis. He is currently a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Cristina Moreno Almeida

Completed her PhD dissertation in Cultural Studies at SOAS (University of London) on Rap Music in Contemporary Morocco, and is a Research Officer in the Middle East Centre and Department of Media and Communications at LSE. She has published in a number of edited collections and in high-impact scientific journals and is an active member of international research groups. Cristina established her residence for over 4 years in Morocco where she is committed to develop strategies of cultural intervention that stimulate collaborations between young artists, institutions and academia.

Shayna Silverstein

Shayna Silverstein is an assistant professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Her research generally examines the performative processes of politics, culture, and society in relation to sound and movement in the contemporary Middle East. Her current book project examines the performance tradition of Syrian dabke as a means for the strategic contestation of social class, postcolonial difference, and gender dynamics that shape the formation of public culture in contemporary Syria. She has contributed to peer-reviewed journals and several anthologies including The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, and Modernity, Islam and Popular Culture, the Sublime Frequencies Companion, and Syria: From Reform to Revolt. Previously a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Penn Humanities Forum, Shayna received her PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago and her BA in History from Yale University.

Darci Sprengel

Darci Sprengel is a doctoral candidate in the Ethnomusicology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on issues of class, gender, and sexuality, public space, neoliberal capitalism, and theories of affect. She is the former Reviews Editor of Ethnomusicology Review.

Wendy Pearlman

Wendy Pearlman is Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. She is the author of two books, Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada (Nation Books, 2003), as well as a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles, several books chapters, and periodic commentaries and essays for popular audiences. Wendy was a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and has held fellowships sponsored by the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad at the American University in Cairo, the United States Institute of Peace, and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She has studied or conducted research in Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Wendy holds a BA from Brown University and a Ph.D. from Harvard. She is currently writing a book on the Syrian uprising and war. To that end, she has interviewed approximately 200 Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey about their experiences.

Leila Tayeb

Leila Tayeb is a PhD candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. She holds an MA in Performance Studies from New York University, an MA in International Affairs from the New School, and a BA in Politics from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her dissertation is based on ethnography conducted since 2011 in Libya, Tunisia, Jordan, and Serbia.

Michelle D. Weitzel

Michelle Weitzel is a PhD candidate in Politics at the New School for Social Research. Her research centers on the politics of the senses, power and conflict, military urbanism, and mapping. Her dissertation, entitled “The Politics of Sound: Domination and Resistance in Urban Militarized Zones,” theorizes modes by which sound constitutes a mechanism of political power. Her geographic areas of interest include Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, and North Africa. Michelle received a Masters of Liberal Arts in Government from Harvard University and a Bachelors of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University.