Chorus of Refuge

2008
Jason Cady, Ann Heppermann, and Kara Oehler

“Chorus of Refuge” (2008) is a sound installation for six radios by documentary radio producers Ann Heppermann and Kara Oehler, and composer Jason Cady. In “Chorus of Refuge,” the stories of six refugee populations (Somali Bantu, Burundi, Afghani, Sudanese, Iraqi, and Burmese) from six different cites across the United States (Portland, Phoenix, Amarillo, Omaha, Detroit, and Indianapolis) are transmitted simultaneously to six radios in one space. The chorus is divided into three movements that correspond to each refugee’s unique story: home, journey, and United States; and the voices are harmonized and synced up rhythmically to unite their narratives.

“Chorus of Refuge” creates an atmosphere for listening while visualizing the transmission itself. Six boombox radios sit atop music stands while radio transmitters hang suspended from the ceiling directly over each radio and appear almost to be floating. Each voice is assigned to a different radio frequency, and the location of the individual voices on the radio dial changes with each installation of the piece. This flux is indicative of the constant movement many refugees experience during times of conflict. Engaging with radios as a medium in “Chorus of Refuge” thematically reflects the fact that most refugees receive news while in camps via radio transmissions. Therefore, the installation also evokes six community radio stations broadcasting at once.

Visitors to the installation walk from one radio to another and hear constantly changing focal points within a continuous background. Through their own action, the listener creates constantly changing figure/ground relationships. One can stand in the center of the installation and hear a chorus of voices, or stand close to one radio in order to hear an individual story.