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Leave the Needle on the Jammed Wavelength

by Dominic Coles **Blog Competition**

9/8/2018

 

Across the colonized world, people resisting the oppressive forces of imperialism placed their ears against the radio receiver, attempting to decipher its noisy signal, jammed by the interference of the colonizers. In that noise was a voice obscured; they imagined its words. It spoke of independence, of fierce protests and battles; it sang national songs and anthems. These listenings would provide a tactic which would become central to the creation of a post-colonial collective politics. Listening was a means of organizing and reclaiming a collective narrative, a history, present, and future; noise was the site in which this tactic of listening could be practiced.

Frantz Fanon detailed this larger historical trend as it specifically unfolded during the Algerian War of Independence in his essay, “This Is the Voice of Algeria.” The radio was initially introduced into the colonial landscape as a means of disseminating colonial ideals, culture, and propaganda. With unchecked control of the information disseminated on Radio-Alger, the national broadcasting service, the French hoped to bolster the authority of their colonial powers in Algeria. Broadly rejected by native Algerians, the device was first taken up by French expatriates living abroad in Algeria.

A decisive shift occurred in Algeria’s relationship with the radio in 1951, coinciding with the onset of skirmishes in Tunisia. With an increase in revolutionary activity, Algerians felt the need for an expanded news network consisting of non-French sources. Shortly thereafter, the show Voice of Free Algeria was established, its sole purpose to broadcast radical, revolutionary news each day. The traditional familial resistances to the radio broke down in light of the need for information and gradually the radio was stripped of its ties to French cultural oppression. Of primary interest to my research is the phenomenon that Fanon documents next. He details the French practice of sound-wave warfare in which the broadcasting wavelengths of the Voice of Algeria would be detected and systematically jammed so that the broadcasts themselves were rendered noise. Listeners would remain, with a single interpreter, ear fixed to the radio, tuning the dial in the hopes of finding the Voice, now broadcast on a new frequency, but only to be jammed again. The interpreter would relay fragments of the broadcasts to those gathered and listening, but they were largely indecipherable. This was not a hindrance: instead, gathered listeners would imagine the Voices words, transplanting their individual interpretations, hopes, dreams, and visions of utopia to the scattered noise of the broadcast. As Fanon goes on to detail this phenomenon, it becomes increasingly clear that the Algerian listeners do not need to be able to decipher the Voice, rather, they gather daily to sit and listen to the radio’s noise, to the static produced by the jammed signals. My current research seeks to trace this same practice of listening and engaging with noise as a revolutionary tactic against colonialism through archival research and interviews with family members in India who lived through their own Independence movement.

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