Radiation Sounds: Marshallese Music and Nuclear Silences

Jessica A. Schwartz
UC Los Angeles

“Radiation Sounds” analyzes the sonic evidence of US nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands (1946–1958). Combining multi-sited fieldwork, archival research, and oral histories, this monograph offers the first focused ethnomusicological study of Marshallese music. Through singers’ words, stories, and performance aesthetics, “Radiation Sounds” details how music works at exposing and mitigating the damages of a nuclear legacy that has often played out in secrecy and silence. From laments to Christmas songfest competitions, Marshallese musically and textually evoke the consequences of nuclear hegemony: forced exile, gendered and cultural violence, and the inscription of “insensible” radiation into bodies as heard, for example, in precarious harmonies composed of irradiated women’s voices. By proposing affective geopolitical alliances as a new framework for understanding creative, anti-imperial dissent, this project makes larger claims about how diasporic indigenous musical productions amplify lineages between complex processes of decolonization and current configurations of globalization.