Audium Listens: Roco Córdova S3E1

Roco: So my name is Roco Córdova. I am a singer, composer, improviser, producer, person. I wear many hats. I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The voice is absolutely central to my work. That’s where it all emanates for me. 

I’m just profoundly grateful that I’m sharing space with these two people that I’m learning and growing with them, and that I can just envision more collaboration. Just, also as human beings, they’re just wonderful. You know, they’re just two really wonderful human beings.

Oliver: Welcome to Season 3 of Audium Listens. I’m Oliver Mills, coming to you from inside Audium Theatre, on the lands stewarded by the Ramaytush Ohlone people, otherwise known as San Francisco, California. This season, I’m inviting the resident artists of the third Audium New Voices show to share about the process of creating pieces specifically for this one of a kind immersive sound space.

Today, I’ll be speaking with Roco, whose sounds you’ll hear throughout the episode.

Please, by all means, tell me about the source material, the title of your piece, all, all of that. 

Roco: So the title of my piece takes the title of Mosab Abu Toha’s collection of poems, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear. And Mosab is a poet from Gaza. He just recently evacuated with his family and is in Cairo, Egypt. But. He has a particular voice, you know, he has a capacity to put into words things that surpass language in a sense.

The poem that names his collection, “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear,” was the source for me. From it, I derived the structure of this piece. I derived the sounds. Because it’s very compelling. There’s a lot of sonic images in the poem. Things that the author is naming very directly. And so, I searched for those sounds. I mean, part, part of it for me was a process of documenting an archeology of sorts. And drawing from everything that we’re seeing online. There’s, it’s full of sounds in there, that world. And so I grabbed from that, and from my own archive – I have sounds that I record all the time –  and then constructed the piece based on that. 

And so, the role my voice has there is both as a voice that speaks about this experience in the poem, but also a voice that brings my own experience. So this is a clashing of two worlds, really. I’m not trying to literally set the poem to music, I’m trying to create a dialogue with it. And so I’m bringing in my own sound worlds, right?

Things, things you may find hidden in my ears. That includes the sounds around me and the spaces I inhabit, which include Puerto Rico, right? And the Bay Area. That was important because of that relationship between, colony and its empire.

And we’re thinking of spatialized sound and spatialized bodies, too. I’m interested in the idea of sound moving in space and how that relates to an experience of exile and migration, and which is what a lot of us are experiencing when circumstances make us move from our native homelands. 

My voice is also pleading, for, for an end to the incessant violence that we’re seeing. I just couldn’t do much at the beginning other than just pray. 

Oliver: Right. 

Roco: Pray. I’m praying. Period. It’s just, Because I think praying is an essential part of it. I think we need to go past the act of praying.

We pray to replenish ourselves, right? We pray to, to make space to process the feelings that we have. And we pray to, to manifest. The things that we want to see, right?

Prayer becomes a catalytic for that, for inspiring us to action, to bring upon that world. 

Oliver: Shall we pray a little bit now?

Roco: Deep faith is something that is keeping a lot of people who are just facing the worst atrocities right now together. People love talking about resilience and the capacity to – 

Oliver: Withstand? 

Roco: Keep going. Withstand, right. Some people derive that from, from deep surrender.

Oliver: And that, of course, brings me to the experience that you curate for listeners here. You really do hold us in fear and uncertainty and “when will it end?” I think it’s really important for people to be experiencing that on some level. 

Roco: The piece goes through those motions. Since I am following the structure in the text, there’s moments of deep tranquility and quotidian beauty, and then, there’s definitely that space in the middle of, of, “when will this end?” And, once you’re in there, it can feel very long. 

Oliver:But the fact remains that we do get to exit. 

Roco: Right. The experience that I have here may be very sonically impactful, but it will never compare to actually being in the middle of atrocities like that. 

I think people need to sit in that space just so they can get a little closer to that reality.

Oliver: Yes.

I think I need to mention, you know, a lot of these sounds are sounds that, to people that have lived these experiences, they’re profoundly triggering, you know? This is what the poem is about, too. It’s a plea. They’re asking a doctor to remove these sounds from their ears. Because they’re so deeply embedded in there. That the meaning that these sounds carry for them, they can never dissociate one thing from the other. And so, I mean, this is both a warning that this piece is a ride, but also that if you sit through it, you might derive something from having sat with that experience. 

Oliver: Dare to be changed by this art in this space, with the people that you’re experiencing it alongside.

Roco: I’m the type of person to think that compositions really are never done. There’s always things you can change to them and evolve and a lot of that comes from, like, the feedback that the audience gives you. And it’s your role as the artist to choose which ones you’ll listen to. 

Oliver: Yes, yes, you’re gifted with that type of discernment, that is essential to your identity as an artist. 

Roco: Right, right. It’s about having that discernment. It’s about taste, it’s about the capacity to discern what are the things that are speaking to you about the work. 

I view art making as medianship, in a way. You’re connecting to something higher up, and you’re channeling that, because if it communicates something to people, then it stops being about you. It starts being about everyone, and how everyone experiences that. That’s what drives me to art making, really.

I personally like work that  impacts me in some way, makes me emote. And, and that can go in a lot of different directions. It could be absolute joy. It could be grief. It could be funny. There’s so many emotions!

Oliver: I am thinking about this individualized emotional appeal. In the context not just of art, but of movement work. I find that often in widespread struggles for liberation, we are appealing to individual sensibilities and we’re uplifting individual stories. 

Roco: Absolutely. 

And bringing widespread global atrocity to a human scale. And I’m thinking about this particularly in the context of your piece because of the issues that you’re bravely choosing to confront and have us do the same. 

Roco: I don’t feel like I have an option to, I don’t have an option to ignore this event that we’re just witnessing every single day. I wake up every single morning and the first thing I do is grab my phone and just see a new atrocity, check on people who are thousands of miles away, who I don’t know, but I’ve gotten to know because we have these things in our hands, right?

Which are a window into an experience, right, that I just couldn’t imagine or fathom before. And, and the way we are, we are witnessing it right now has changed something in all of us, I feel. I don’t think I’m the same person I was months ago when I started this residency. And, to me, a lot of it has to do with these events. 

It speaks to me, personally. Because, even though I am not Palestinian myself, I am very much Puerto Rican. I see the relationships between a colonial experience, which is what I have, and what Palestinians are going through.

There are so many historical parallels. For example, the U. S. Navy used the islands of Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico. These are two offshore municipalities. They’re their own little islands and archipelagos. And the U. S. Navy was there for almost 70 years, like. [00:12:00] Just occupying the space. Just occupying the space. When they first got there, they displaced like 10, 000 families or so, and moved them all, like, inwards, into the inner part of the island, and then they sealed off, like, certain parts of the island, and just practiced, like, they did target practice there. Bombs, just consistently going off, and these people lived next to this for decades, and decades, and decades, and so, what does that do to the psyche of a people?

What does that do to the land that they live in, which, to people who have a particular relationship to land, like: it’s personal, because you’re destroying their sustenance. A lot of these communities were fishermen. And so,  you’re depriving them from access to the ocean, water, resources. You’re polluting them.

To this day Viequenses, the people from Vieques have the highest cancer rates in all of Puerto Rico. And it’s because the U. S. Navy never cleaned up the island after they were done. 

Oliver: These are rhythms that repeat, right? And these are rhythms that if we are paying attention, we can anticipate. And, and interrupt, divert. resist. 

I wonder if you have hopes for this intervention that you’re making via this piece in this place. with these people who will come and experience it. 

Roco: Yeah. I think my hope is that whatever inspired me to write this piece, I hope that reaches them too  and inspires them not necessarily to also make art. That’s important. That’s an important part of any sort of revolutionary process if we’re talking in these terms. But also inspire them to show up, to organize, to be in community.

If you really oppose genocide, you need to show it. It needs to be tangible. And it has to amount. to a collective effort that’s happening right now. And so, collectivity is important. I’m not letting this go. I feel like people generally don’t want to let it go.

We keep participating and talking about it and demonstrating and doing all sorts of interventions, right? That I think are essential. I hope this piece moves people to continue amounting to, resisting.

Oliver: Do you have an awareness of any efforts that are existing locally in resistance to this genocide that you’d like to uplift?

Roco: There’s the AROC in Bay Area, which I think is an org that everyone should be in touch with. There has been a lot of support and that support needs to continue.

This is something that should concern everyone because in the end, we’re all human and every human deserves to live and to have access to water and to have an education and to have dreams.

Pursue those dreams. Realize them. 

Oliver: Yeah. And global mass death affects everyone. Of course. Through the interconnected chains of our environments and our bodies and everything. 

Roco: Exactly. Absolutely. 


Oliver: Is there anything else that you would like folks to know before we wrap up here?

Roco: Just thank you. I want to thank the author Mosab Abu Toha. I’d like to thank James Fei, too, for helping, too, with orienting me about technology. And I’d like to also thank my friend Victor Diaz Diaz. He’s also a producer and a DJ composer from Puerto Rico. And he contributed to the visuals in the installation that is in the lobby. 

Oliver: I hope you’ve enjoyed my conversation with Roco Córdova. Their composition is available to hear exclusively at Audium through March 30th, 2024.

Transcripts for this episode, as well as more information about Roco and Audium can be found in the show notes.

Thanks so much for tuning in, and if you haven’t yet, please tell a loved one about our show.

Until next time, listen deeply, listen widely, and listen with love.

Roco: I seek to do the most with my voice. 

Oliver: Out here doing the most!  

Roco: Exactly.

Oliver: Roca Córdova, doing the most. Since, whatever, whatever, 19, whatever. 

Roco: 1992.

Oliver: 1992.