an archive . a mixtape . an audio (visual) exploration of our gendered soundscapes

with the help of dear friends and distant strangers, we explore gendered soundscapes, sound practices, and sound studies of the world — forging threads of connection between (gendered) existences and resistances ︎︎︎

complete episode in development

featured works
listening to feminist films
collecting womansong (of the sea)
a room of one’s own


This text has emerged from Sounding Womanhood, a film series which debuted in February 2022 at Sinema Transtopia in Berlin.The invitation to contribute to this radio program encouraged us to dive deeper into a few of the films and to ask ourselves: what does feminist filmmaking sound like?

It seems impossible to form a universal theory of feminist sound in film. In different cultural contexts and within different intersections of identity, sound can have widely disparate functions. The invention of talkies was celebrated by African American reviewers of that time for its potential to give voice to black protagonists.[1] However, many early white feminist film scholars focused on how women’s voices were used for singing and seduction, in a way that further objectified the female protagonists of the silver screen.[2] There are not so many transnational feminist texts that analyze sound and cinema, with most writings focusing on major Hollywood sountracks.

Faced with the impossibility of forming any universal theory on sound and feminism in film, we must allow our thinking to emerge directly from films. In all their potential messiness and contradictions, films have the capacity to create theory and to think for themselves. For this reason, we have chosen to focus on specific films with curiosity as to the unexpected links and practices that may emerge. For this invitation we have chosen to discuss Coyolxauhqui by Los Ingrávidos, Sally Potter’s Orlando, Kira Muratova’s Long Farewells, and Compensation by Zeinabu irene Davis.


Woven through with a dense percussive soundscape, Los Ingrávidos’ short film Coyolxauhqui vibrates with the spirits of victims of gendered violence. Beginning with psychedelic trance-like imagery of a desert landscape, we quickly realize that something is not quite right. Over the course of the film, discarded bras and underwear, rotting meat, and orphaned high heels start to appear in the underbrush. The film references the Aztec story of the rape and murder of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, and also reflects on the prevelance of femicide in Mexico. It is part of a trilogy of films (together with ¿Has Visto?, and Sangre Seca) made in 2017 by the indigenous media collective, with each referring to either the mothers, daughters, or the victims of femicide.

As important as the aesthetics of the expired film stock, handheld camera, and found objects may be, the frenetic, improvised drums by Gustavo Nandayapa and ethereal vocals of Patrizia Oliva are at the heart of the film. The incessant pacing of the improvisation leaves no room for breath or pauses. As such, it has an oppressive character and evokes the feeling of being chased, while the use of extended techniques on a cymbal adds a level of anxiety through unexpected scratching and pulling noises. Oliva’s vocals begin as the drum solo ends and the camera focuses on shaky close-ups of the sky. The expired film stock creates a purple-ish hue, making the sun appear like an unearthly moon—no doubt a reference to the moon goddess Coyolxhauqui. With time, the vocals become heavier as Oliva’s voice is looped and strained so as to sound increasingly ominous. The camera circles and rushes over objects left behind in Mixteca, a known site of many assaults and disappearances of women. The layered vocals are haunting in their use of the Hijaz maqam (similar to the Phrygian dominant scale), which often signifies exoticism or danger in the Western musical tradition. However, there is an enduring power and threat in this multiplication of voice, as the spirits of victims across generations come together.    


In Orlando, Sally Potter’s 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel, the score binds different centuries together. The soundtrack is nearly omnipresent, following Orlando’s transition through time and gender. The film starts with a ballad titled “Eliza is the Fairest Queen”, written in the late 1500s, performed here by Jimmy Somerville who also appears on screen. The music later changes form, as we listen to George Frideric Handel’s aria “Wher’er You Walk” from Semele (1744). 

In the scene where Orlando refuses to save her property through marriage, we can clearly hear a harpsichord playing—a key instrument in the Baroque era—together with the turbulent melodies of a string ensemble. Orlando starts running through a green maze, trying to escape from social expectations ruled by the gender binary. The end of the scene moves Orlando a century further (to the 1850s), as she observes a train in awe. Moving through time, music becomes a medium for time traveling.

The film ends in what seems to be the early 1990s, and a cathartic electronic dance piece is performed by Jimmy Somerville. Inspired by Liz Rosenfeld,[5] one could argue that the soundtrack of the film acts as a (sonic) body throughout the film. The score moves through forms and space, following Orlando’s restless, ever-changing steps. Creating an extra layer of narration by its constant presence, sound becomes a vehicle for shaping film worlds.

Indeed, the soundtrack was tremendously important for Potter's own take on Woolf’s stream of consciousness writing style. Potter, a trained musician and improviser, took on the task of composing the music in addition to writing and directing the film. Whilst lamenting to producer Christopher Sheppard that the film had gone over budget and they couldn’t afford a composer, Potter mentioned that she could clearly imagine how Orlando’s score should sound. Working with composer and arranger David Motion, Potter sang the various melodies and motifs that echoed in her mind, recording layer upon layer of lush vocalizations. In an interview with composer and broadcaster Andrew Ford, Potter said that the purpose of Orlando’s score was to have a “musical dialogue”[6] with the narrative; offering a counterpoint to both the interior and exterior worlds of Orlando.[7]

Long Farewells[8] 

Long Farewells is a lyrical narrative film by Kira Muratova that was produced in 1971, although it was banned for almost twenty years. Soviet censors thought the film had a “deliberately complicated style”, too much “absorption with formal experiments,” and that it was “lacking in realism and motivation”.[9] The film is an audiovisual portrait of Evgeniia and her inability to let go of her teenage son, Sasha.

Through jump cuts in the visuals and a frequently interrupted score, the film’s soundtrack revolves around one main melody that reappears in multiple variations throughout the film. The main theme is repeated by a piano that is slightly out of tune, shifting from major to minor scales and vice versa. Sasha oscillates between his attachment to his mother and his need for freedom, which he associates with his father. His inability to take a stand and his final decision to stay with his mother are mirrored in Muratova’s use of music: the melody continuously comes back to the same C note—the most repeated note of the main theme.

Interestingly enough, Oleg Karavaichuk, the composer of the score, recalls that Muratova’s intention in terms of its soundtrack was that “Long Farewells will not contain music. But there needs to be a single note appearing, then silence – and then a brief reappearance.”[10] According to Karavaichuk, for some reason “Muratova did not want his music for Long Farewells and kept very little, replacing it with a noisy compilation.”[11] The scene where Evgeniia decides to open the letter sent to Sasha by his father highlights Muratova’s obsessive use of the same single note. This scene also simultaneously features silence, diegetic and non-diegetic music, thus a great example of Muratova’s sonic collages. Her ability to create various layers by the use of sound refutes the fears of avant-garde Soviet filmmakers from the silent era, such as Sergei Eisenstein, who thought that the emergence of sound would limit the creative uses of montage.

The film ends on a sonic note. As Evgeniia takes off her wig, diegetic music shifts to non-diegetic music. Muratova reserves this technique for the female protagonist, bringing us closer to her subjectivity and inner thoughts.


Compensation, directed by Zeinabu irene Davis, tells two parallel love stories between a deaf woman and a hearing man, played by the same actors but set in two different eras: the beginning and the end of the 20th century. With inventive original scores, title cards, subtitling for both signed and spoken dialogue, and carefully selected archival photographs, the film creates a new experience of “silent” film for both hearing and non-hearing audiences. A member of the L.A. Rebellion film movement, based at UCLA between the 60s and 90s, Davis explained what inspired her to make the film:

“When I was at film school at UCLA we always watched silent cinema but very rarely saw silent cinema that featured people of color as actors.…I basically had under $100,000 to make this film, and it wasn’t like I could recreate the streets of Chicago in 1905, so I did that with photographs and music. I was super lucky that the preeminent Ragtime composer Reginald R. Robinson happened to live in Chicago. His music set the tone.”[13]

Davis’s interest in archive and silent film is further evidenced in her restaging of The Railroad Porter (1913), which was created by and featured an African American cast including several vaudeville stars.[14] While there is no known surviving copy of the silent film, Davis recreated it based on an article in the Chicago Defender, adding her own twist.[15] In addition to reminding viewers of Black Americans’ roles in cinema history, Davis adds an additional contemporary political commentary later in the film. On one of their dates, Nico and Malaika—the protagonists from the portion set in the 1990s— meet at the cinema and argue over whether to see Sleepless in Seattle or Last Action Hero. It is striking that even though they have seven films to choose from, there is none with black actors in key roles, let alone an all-black production. 

Following silent film conventions, music is the key tool that differentiates the two eras and the characters’ personalities. For the 1990s portion, the original score was written by Atiba Y. Jali, who incorporated many West African instruments and specific drum patterns to evoke the Orishas. Nico, is introduced as a “Godchild of Ogun” with a drum pattern from the Yoruba tradition.[16]Keeping with the silent film structure, Nico and Malaika are first introduced not through dialogue, but through very distinct sounds: Malaika’s sound being one of a calm flute, whereas Nico enters with a distinct drum pattern. By the end of the film, once the traumas of the past have been healed and Nico and Malaika meet again on the beach, their instruments and rhythms weave together in a communicative and playful polyphony.  

By choosing to riff off silent film, Davis reminds viewers of the impact that performances of deaf vaudeville players and early African American silent film actors had on the genre. In both time periods, Malindy/Malaika is a woman of independent means who drives the action, putting Black female subjectivity at the center of the narrative.     


From choral vocals representing the strength of generations of femicide victims, to the score as a means of time traveling and gender bending, to diegetic sound building women’s subjectivity, to a new form of silent filmmaking;  these brief notes have explored the film worlds of Coyolxhauqui, Orlando, Long Farewells, and Compensation. There’s still much more work to do in relation to sound and feminist films in general, and in the context of these particular films as well. We hope that this short text and the accompanying radio program encourage you to reflect and listen further to feminist films. 

[1] “African American reviewers welcomed this new opportunity enthusiastically, reading the access to sound on screen as a signifier of racial advancement and the promise of greater participation in the public sphere…Daniel Haynes, who played the lead role in MGM’s film Hallelujah (King Vidor, 1929) said ‘the Negro has finally broken through the shell of apathy and indifference and emerged in the light of the screen.” Ramanathan, G. (2015). “Sound and Feminist Modernity in Black Women’s Film Narratives.” In L. Mulvey & A. B. Rogers (Eds.), Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures (pp. 111–122). Amsterdam University Press. Retrieved from:
[2] “qualities of voice itself…being subsidiary to the female body and its performative capabilities.”Ibid.
[3] Los Ingrávidos. (2017) Coyolxauhqui. México: Los Ingrávidos. The film can be accessed at
[4] Sheppard, C. (Producer), & Potter, S. (1992) Orlando. United Kingdom: Sony Pictures Classics.
[5] Liz Rosenfeld is a Berlin-based artist who works in film/video, performance, and experimental writing practice. They are also an avid Virginia Woolf fan, and joined us for a conversation on the occasion of the screening of Orlando for the film series Sounding Womanhood (February 4th, 2022).
[6] Sally Potter as cited in Ford, Andrew (2010) The Sound of the Pictures: Listening to the Movies, from Hitchcock to High Fidelity, Black Ink: Collingwood, 227.
[7] Norelli, Clare Nina (2018). The Soundscapes of "Orlando". Scores on Screen. Retrieved from:
[8] Kogan, G. (Producer), & Muratova, K. (1971), Long Farewells. USSR: Odessa Film Studio.
[9] Condee, Nancy (2009) The Imperial Trace: Recent Russian Cinema, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, USA, 122.
[10] Oleg Karavaichuk as cited in Challis, Clare Elizabeth (2015) ‘The piano is not tuned’: music in two films by Kira Muratova, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, 9:1, 40-60, DOI: 10.1080/17503132.2015.1011870.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Davis, Z. i., &  Davis, Z. i. (1999) Compensation. United States of America: Women Make Movies.
[13] Zeinabu irene Davis as cited in Heath, G. J. (2020, May 9). Loving so Deeply: An interview with Zeinabu irene Davis. Retrieved from
[14] Reid, Mark A. (1993). Redefining Black Film. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
[15] “I took the synopsis and Marc rewrote it to be this slapstick comedy and I gave the woman a gun because that’s me. It wasn’t in the original synopsis. Those little things were easter eggs or nuggets for people to know, yes, there was a real film for black audiences with real players and a real black film company. All of it is based on actual facts.” Zeinabu irene Davis as cited in Loving so Deeply.
[16] Insight into the Yoruba influences on “Compensation” is thanks to our conversation with dancer, curator, vinyl selector, multilingual poet Jumoke Adeyanju, who was our guest for the screening of “Compensation” on January 22, 2022.

#foundsound #essay #soundstudy

listening to feminist films

‘from choral vocals representing the strength of generations of femicide victims, to the score as a means of time traveling and gender bending, to diegetic sound building women’s subjectivity, to a new form of silent filmmaking’, pia chakraverti-würthwein and eirini fountedaki explore the film worlds of Coyolxhauqui, Orlando, Long Farewells, and Compensation for their programme on ‘sounding womanhood’.

through their interrogation, they pose the question, ‘what does feminist filmmaking sound like?’

from athens, GREECE
from berlin, GERMANY

#performance #mix #soundpractice

collecting womansong
(of the sea)

“the stories embedded in these folk ballads are really important. they are timeless. and they are a reminder of the oppressive reality of our past. cautionary tales for our present.”

debra cowan, a folk musician and historian, joins a long tradition of women collecting and compiling catalogues of traditional ballads. 


This collection of mine centres the many different and diverse roles that women have played in Maritime songs and stories. Sirens and supernatural women, the women left behind, and women disguised as men, are among the themes explored in this program.  Debra also discusses these roles and sings examples of contemporary and traditional sea-songs in which women are featured as the main characters. Debra emphasizes that women can overcome adversity and in some of these songs and stories, take charge and win the day. songs sung by or about the female experience in the Maritimes.


from massachusetts, USA


a room of one’s own

gertrude malizana collects soundscapes of spaces that she and other women occupy in her city - kitchens, salons, and tailor shops, urging that “we recognize women’s spaces as sacred spaces for cultural exchange and knowledge production”

**commission to come

from dar es salaam, TANZANIA

      produced with support from