Van Truong

Van Truong is a Ph.D. candidate in the American Studies program at Yale University. Her work explores everyday, lived conditions of contemporary migration through literary, visual, and aural expressions of diasporic trauma and memory. She is also co-founder of SOUND HALL. www.soundhall.org



"Distant Sounds"

"An exile feels that the state of exile is a constant, special sensitivity to sound. So I sometimes feel that exile is nothing but a state of searching for and recollecting sound."

That’s how Dubravka Ugresic framed the migrant experience in her novel, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, in which she explores a scattered life in exile. And she begins her story with a city: Berlin. She wants us to reconsider the city through the exile’s search for sound.

What if listening to the city means searching for sounds of someplace else: a familiar dialect spoken by passing strangers; a haunting rhythm or structure of song; the shape of a lamenting voice spilling from the tape player buried behind a counter at the corner market, reminding you of how far you’ve traveled and how long you’ve been gone? What if listening to the city means having to listen from afar, from the distance of another country, or another era in history, you’ve never known yourself, only picked up in others’ muted longings for that other place and other time?

In this essay, I explore the notion of “distance listening” not exclusively as sound technique but as critical practice, particularly in relation to the migrant listener. I take up “distance listening” as a critical framework through which to think about cities we know, alongside cities we’ve lost. I consider how cities get reorganized through this listening, how places get re-placed through the work of memory shaped by resonating traumas of migration. I trace a musically random, though affectively connected, set of songs that attempt to listen to the city through the exile’s “special sensitivity to sound.”

My Speakers Sessions

Sunday, March 25

9:00am EDT