Dustin Tahmahkera

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Humanities Division, Southwestern University

As a citizen of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma and a teacher-scholar in American Indian Studies and Critical Media Studies, I am deeply committed to educating diverse audiences on Native expressions as communicated through media productions in music, television, film, and online.

I am particularly interested in strengthening the digital accessibility and indexicality of the American Philosophical Society’s Native audio collection for tribal communities and scholars in our subsequent research and analysis in the growing field of indigenous sound studies. In considering, then, how I would hope to contribute to facilitating engagement and analytical work with the collection, I propose to expand the digital index by including attention to the recordings’ possible sonic markers of Native identity. By attempting to advance the indexicality of the sounds of indigeneity, that is, to work on constructing an interpretive taxonomy on how the recorded Native speakers expressed-performed themselves, I propose situating the sounds in temporal, cultural, and performative-embodied contexts to provide fluid an accessible sonic maps of indigenous identity.

How, I ask, can we provide access to a taxonomy of the sound files’ performative facets of identity? That is, what might we infer about speakers’ subjectivities, such as performed selves of masculinity, from their tones and other elements in the audio? Becoming attuned to sonic discourses in cultural history, musicology, acoustic ecology, American studies, and critical media studies, what can interdisciplinary approaches do to improve access to modes of simultaneously listening to Native speakers, sounds, and identity? What, too, would a historical-contemporary genealogy of sounds (from the earliest to the most current audio recordings of Native Peoples) sound like when grouped both among speakers across a single indigenous nation and inter-tribally across Native nations? Within the APS collection, what intertribal and intercultural connections may result from sustained attention and repeated close listenings to the sounds?

A thematic indexing of emergent tribal-specific and trans-tribal themes potentially heard in the audio files can help analysts to map out routes for developing critical connections between sounds and subjectivities within cultural and social contextualized readings of the recordings. What themes of identity, gendered relations, and intercultural relations, may be heard in the Native speakers’ and singers’ expressions and performances of the recorded stories and songs in the collections? To borrow from Murray Schafer, what are the indigenous soundmarks and keynote sounds of tribal and individual identity in the APS recordings? In all, how might we thematize and index sounds to address issues of indigenous sonic embodiment in files from which we can hear but not necessarily see the speakers and singers embody their words and songs and be inextricably attached to the sounds in their performances?

As we proceed forward, we cannot lose sight or sound of the ineffability of the deep affect surely felt and to be felt by current and future generations of Native Peoples when they listen to digital recordings of their ancestors’ voices, worldviews, and knowledge. The sonic reverberations and recursive accessibility of the enunciations, tones, pitches, tempos, and other voiced and embodied elements serve, I contend, as aural “windows” into better understanding collaborative soundscapes constructed by Native storiers and singers, non-Native researchers, and technologies. The recordings also function as sonic lessons for how diverse Natives conducted and sounded themselves during their mediated interactions with non-Native researchers, in turn providing suggestive routes for today’s Native populations who listen closely to be culturally and performatively in tune with their relatives.

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