BLACK SPIRITUALS: NARRATIVE OF FUGITIVITY, HARM FREE ZONE FRAMEWORK & TUNING SITES OF OPPOSITION
MARSHALL R TRAMMELL, ZACHARY JAMES WATKINS
Zachary James Watkins and I landed in Toronto in early April 2015, then drove through Guelph—a landscape that would have been swampy and forested one hundred and thirty-five years ago, when Black fugitives might have made the trip from southern US plantations on foot. The New Mexico-based arts collective Postcommodity arranged our participation in Guelph’s Kazoo Festival and their People of Good Will project.
On April 11, Black Spirituals gave a live, electro-acoustic performance at Heritage Hall, a site built in 1880 by fugitive slaves and home of the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS). Our performance bombarded the audience and internal architecture with simultaneous and soloistic systems which clashed, danced, and erupted. I ended the set with a speech.
Two days later we presented the workshops described below in the same hall.
HARM FREE ZONE FRAMEWORK:
Black Spirituals synthesized the visual-cultural remix and deployment of secret quilt codes and liberatory strategies into the everyday lives of captives, fugitives, and other abolitionists. We led the GBHS community in a collective improvisation exercise, addressing the dynamics of identifying shared values, a shared understanding of harms, and a shared process of activating community accountability based on a Harm Free Zone/Transformative Justice framework.
TUNING SITES OF OPPOSITION:
Next, our goal was to listen to the space within which opposition has fomented—and does foment. Heritage Hall offers a stony brick, Gothic Revival exterior with pointed arched doors and windows and a carpeted interior. Wall coverings and tapestries display the crafted quilt code designs. First, we identified resonant frequencies made apparent in the 135-year-old internal architecture. We remixed Alvin Lucier’s technique from “I Am Sitting in a Room” (1969) via a projected Sun Ra poem read aloud by the entire workshop, and a platform for a site-specific collaborative improvisation in real-time. The performance uncovered natural resonant frequencies by recording and replaying the text, then sending subsequent generations of the same recording back into the space, until all that was left were the resonant frequencies.
Indeed, Heritage Hall is a site of opposition, wherein self-emancipated, fugitive persons abated tyranny to enjoin the free North. Our work allowed us to hear the same space as our predecessors, while also adding something new to the stasis residing there.