Department of Music Lecture: “Listening Through the Firewall: A Sonic Narrative of Communication Between Taiwan and China”

Sarah Plovnick, Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology, University of California, Berkeley. This alumna feature is in celebration of WUSTL MUSIC’s 75th Anniversary.


Sarah Plovnick, PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Berkeley

Listening Through the Firewall: A Sonic Narrative of Communication Between Taiwan and China
This presentation explores the recent history of the Taiwan Strait (1949-today) from the perspective of audio communication. A focus on sound provides a way to reconceptualize the region, moving beyond the limitations of political borders to highlight salient moments in which individuals formed connections despite communication restrictions. These moments range from the iconic voice of Teresa Teng emanating from loudspeakers and radios in the 1970s, to the boom of the Taiwan-based Mandopop industry in the 1990s, to more recent social media interactions. The space of the Taiwan Strait is often discussed in contemporary media only in relation to political tensions. This research, in contrast, provides a nuanced, on-the-ground perspective of the role of cross-strait communication in the daily lives of Taiwanese and Chinese individuals. This novel perspective can then be mobilized toward efforts to facilitate open dialogue and mutual understanding in contentious political environments.
Originally from the Boston area, Sarah Plovnick completed a B.A. in Music and Comparative Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to her doctoral studies, she spent a year in the Dominican Republic, during which she studied the intersection of jazz with Afro-Dominican musics and taught youth music at the DREAM Project. She completed her M.A. in ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley in 2019, with a focus on Puerto Rican music in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes. She is a co-founder of the Berkeley Computational Music Research working group. She also performs regularly on the French horn in the context of jazz and other improvised musics.

Her research has been supported by Fulbright-Hays DDRA, the Taiwan Ministry of Education, the Global Taiwan Institute, the UC Berkeley Center for Chinese Studies, UC Berkeley Global International and Area Studies, the US Dept. of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies program (FLAS), and Fulbright-mtvU.

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