Welcome to the Subverse: of sonic and liminal crossings

Susan Mathews

Art credit: Virginia Dandan, Liminal Moon Rising, oil on canvas

We live in sonified environments, we are sonified beings, and while the visual tends to overwhelm our other senses, sound is critical to survival and listening is, as some have termed it, our ‘shadow sense.’ As Chris Streb, an ecological engineer says, “Humans can hear farther than they can see. Nature, in fact, privileges sound.” He goes on to say, “In a world filled with Anthropogenic noise, we are forgetting how to listen, which is a shame because we can learn a great deal from hearing the natural world.”

So, while setting up this creative space, having a dedicated audio vehicle has become a core feature. It will be a space for more intimate conversations, for poetry readings, for bedtime stories, for gothic and macabre tales, and narrated essays. Over time, we also hope to feature eco-acoustic projects that explore soundscapes and projects around ethnomusicology and languages. In our exploration of sensory worlds, we will also use these opportunities to explore stillness, silence, extinction and how sound is a powerful form of place making and politics through oral histories, testimonies, and rituals.

The Subverse, our podcast, is the vessel for these voyages. I was initially tempted to call it the Dark ‘n’ Light podcast, and it would have made sense since our initial episodes take their cue and feed off our projects and collaborations. But over time, I began to think that this podcast might not be the only one we would host. So, it made sense that it should have its own name, identity, and purpose with a connected but separate life and trajectory. Moored to Dark ‘n’ Light but sailing away on its own sonic quests.

The title emerged from this and is partly a take on the uses of subversion to thwart power, to chip away at its edges, to expose its hollowness and to use subtle but clever tactics in the process. It also serves to display the practices of fluid, elusive and secret arts to erode rigid boundaries and divisions. So, though it began with the word ‘subversive’ and our take on that, it soon took on other layers of meaning and space-making.

In a spatial sense, The Subverse will be about stories that lie in the margin and ‘the liminal’. We will focus on the marginal in terms of identity, voice, approach, perspective, and structure. And the term ‘liminal,’ derived from the Latin word limen meaning ‘threshold,’ also explains what our sonic and other crossings will look like — in between worlds and negotiating passageways and labyrinths, where lies transition and change, both physical and temporal.

It was a wonderful coincidence that my friend Virginia Dandan, an artist, writer, and human rights advocate in the Philippines, gave us a gift to display on our website, a painting she had conceived during some dark days in the pandemic, entitled ‘Liminal moon rising.’ The title was so apt that it just felt right to use a photo of it for this blog as it corresponded so eerily and accurately with what the podcast will venture into. It also converged with my own lunar interlude in the trailer for the podcast, an unforgettable memory from La Palma.

Photo credit: Susan Mathews, La Palma, January 2020

With this podcast, we will voyage from the cosmic to the quantum, from cells to cities, from colonial histories to reimagining futures, with an eye and an ear toward the subterranean, the submerged, the subliminal, the subconscious and the subtext.

If we stare into The Subverse long enough, we can see the stranger in us all, the “pale, grey, familiar stranger” that I evoked in our podcast trailer. So, before The Subverse sails on, I quote from Adrienne Rich’s poem entitled, The Stranger:

“If I come into a room out of the sharp misty light
and hear them talking a dead language
if they ask me my identity
what can I say but
I am the androgyne
I am the living mind you fail to describe
in your dead language
the lost noun, the verb surviving
only in the infinitive
the letters of my name are written under the lids
of the newborn child”