Chorus of Refuge (2008)

Chorus of Refuge is a sound installation for six radios that I composed in collaboration with radio producers, Ann Heppermann, and Kara Oehler.

The source material for the project came from One Thing, which was a national public radio series produced by Heppermann and Oehler that aired on Weekend America. One Thing included over forty interviews with six refugee populations (Somali Bantu, Afghani, Burundian, Iraqi, Sudanese, and Burmese) from six cities across the U.S. (Portland, Amarillo, Phoenix, Detroit, Omaha, and New Haven).

For Chorus of Refuge Heppermann and Oehler made new edits of their original stories and I superimposed all six of them. I used pitch-correction software to tune and quantize the voices. I then adjusted the raw audio so that the voices harmonized. Along with the consonant harmonies, simple 4/4 rhythms were used throughout to make naturally occurring musical qualities more easily heard, and to unify and make coherent what would otherwise be cacophonous.

As an installation, each of the six parts is transmitted to a different radio. All six radios are in one room so that the listener can either hear all six simultaneously or focus on one story at a time while still hearing the others parts in the background.

In this piece we sought to raise awareness of the combined struggles of refugees in their homelands and host country and to create an audio work that sonically dramatizes the collective experience of refugees, encouraging listeners to consider them as a substantial portion of the United States population.

Chorus of Refuge premiered at Union Docs in Brooklyn, New York on December 13, 2008. It was also installed at The Chicago Center for the Performing Arts for The Third Coast International Filmless Festival; at Pierre Menard Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts for the 2009 Megapolis Audio Festival;  at The American Academy in Rome for Radio Papesse’s “Buffer Zone” exhibit: and at ArtSpaceWest at Arizona State University West in Phoenix, Arizona. Chorus of Refuge was created in part with help from free103point9.

ArtSpaceWest, photo by Alexander Chapin

ArtSpaceWest, photo by Alexander Chapin