December 27, 2021, 6 am. The sun rises over the horizon behind the açude Malcozinhado, a water reservoir about 60 kilometers from the city of Fortaleza, the capital of the Brazilian state of Ceará. Around this time of the day, this world is barely human. A loud conversation may encompass several species of birds, dogs, pigs, and other animals. But these humans do not speak – they record.
When human ears encounter sounds such as these, they tend to break up the acoustic whole into individual units and identify specific noises with specific species. When a kiskadee chirps, however, is it chirping for its own kind only, or is it chirping for other species as well? Do dogs, for instance, translate the kiskadee chirps as barks? How far apart are the worlds inhabited by kiskadees and dogs? As mechanical noise invades the scene, does it come from yet another world? How many worlds are there?
All these layers of communication testify to a world of heterogeneous happenings. Enchanting existence, they invite us into a different pragmatics of space-time: not the future as a faithful machine unraveled by the past, but the to-come as a collective factuality.
One thing that the texts compiled here, in this first phase of a perfect storm, may tell us is that the world probably won’t stop ending soon. In fact, countless worlds have been endlessly ending for a long time now. One of the main legacies of colonization and its histories and futures is a homogenizing model of existence, based on exclusion as well as genocide. This cosmocidal zeal exterminates plurality in favor of a single world, but only in order to, in due course, destroy that one world as well. How might it be possible to reclaim pluriversality and ontological autonomy as a way of resisting this process, but without succumbing to a sterile relativism that would prepare the ground for a proliferation of denialisms? This is one pressing question of our time.
What these texts also show us is that, in contemporary Brazil, as in many other parts of the world, it is increasingly necessary to consider death not as a metric end, a cutoff, but as a part of life. The dead inhabit the present, not just the past. To rethink the conventional separation between life and death is a way of not forgetting all those victims of a violence that is so deeply ingrained as to seem part of the landscape.
Dams like the Malcozinhado are common in the Northeast of Brazil, from the sandy litoral – where this one is located – to the dry hinterlands, the sertão. Since water is scarce, the dams are not only systems for harvesting the rain, or for storing up the watery flux of small rivers; they are also technologies for the concentration of power. In fact, an entire politics of water has historically nurtured poverty and inequality in this region.
This soundscape exists because of the dam. And yet, we do not hear it, we do not hear the pond. It is a silent presence, gluing together the disparate elements of the scene: in the recent history of Brazil, what we can’t perceive is probably as important as what we can.
Audio recorded by Lucas Coelho and Frederico Benevides in the Atelier Rural, 27.12.2021