Forbidden Music, Forbidden Jukeboxes: Listening Anxieties and Violence in Rio de Janeiro

Lecture presented at the CTM Festival (Berlin) 2018. Later presented as a paper at the IASPM-DACH Conference in Bern (CH), October 2018. Publication forthcoming.

In this presentation I interrogate one of the many articulations of racialized sonic violence in Brazil, more specifically what I call “listening anxieties” perpetrated by the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro. I show how the Police makes extensive use of sonic design practices not only to exercise direct violence against marginalized populations in the city, but also to hyper-amplify a sense of permanent threat in the so-called “pacified” favelas of Rio. More specifically, how the Military Police employ techniques of filtering certain sounds out of the soundscape in order to render their very absence as threatening, subtracting certain sounds of the auditory space in order to make certain listening bodies hyper-audible/visible.

Conducting this narrative is a Jukebox, which sits at a bar in a neighborhood in the northern part of Rio. This jukebox dwells on the fringes of legality, illegality, and a third state of “imposed” illegality by the Police, articulated via the listening practices it affords. The jukebox is a clear example of how sound marks territory both for the Police as well for the drug factions that control Rio’s underprivileged neighborhoods. The cultural and political function of this type of jukebox subverts its intended design, articulating a non-verbal language within the social configuration of the neighborhood in question.

In this talk I discuss, from a decolonizing perspective, this (very uneven) power play and its immediate and long-term implications for the sonic configuration of Rio as a whole.