How do we construct the perception of the world and Others through sounds? How are we able to express the myriad of feelings inside ourselves into an intelligible structure in order to be understood? What is the amount of interference in the way we express those [translated] feelings? These are some of the subtle questions raised by “Qualia”, a five-episode radio feature by Spanish artist and performer Charo Calvo, aired in 2016 by ABC Radio National’s Soundproof show in Australia.
The name “Qualia” evokes the philosophical theory of an internal and subjective component of sense and mental perceptions, which are considered incommunicable. Calvo´s feature is somehow an endeavour to materialise it through sound. It is an experimental-storytelling-audio-performance that links the plasticity of the vibrations of sound, emotions, identities, by sharing the experiences of four migrant women, living in Belgium, who are also artists, plus Charo Calvo herself. It is a patchwork that intricately weaves sound as an experience of translating the inner world we experience. The author sculpts sound based in transformative moments of qualia for those five women, based on oral storytelling (“she says”). As they speak several languages, according to their backgrounds (French, Hebrew, Italian, Turkish, English), translation is being made by other two women. Moreover, the audio script is also translated into English, and the author of this essay is a Portuguese woman, a fact that amplifies the “interferences” as the qualia of “noise”. Therefore, this is a personal reflexive exercise on Charo Calvo’s radio feature. It is an extraordinary piece of audio art but it requires high audio literacy, as it demands of audiences the mature exercise of listening more than once in order to understand. So it might not be engaging the first time, but it indeed disturbs us, inviting us to dive into the subjective qualities of ourselves.