Episode 2: Holy Ghosts

Medium Rotation presents conversations and sonic experiences that probe the conditions (and counter the received ideas) of our time, among other times. Each season of the podcast is animated by the concerns of an issue of the magazine, which are addressed by artists, writers, and scholars. The first season, Omniaudience, asks how we understand ourselves and others through listening—and what the obstacles to listening reveal about our society.

Medium Rotation is hosted by Alexander Provan, Triple Canopy’s editor, and Nikita Gale, an artist and longtime collaborator. In the second episode, they’re joined by the writer, archivist, and dancer Harmony Holiday. She speaks about Black performers whose songs and struggles reflect the ongoing trauma of the “African holocaust.” Holiday links the history of Black music—and instances of performers becoming silent or speechless—to the legacy of enslavement and segregation, when Black people “were smiling and dancing to not get killed.” With Gale and Provan, she discusses the pressure to pander to white audiences as well as the impulse to seek a form of expression (and of being) that is chosen and not imposed by force. They listen to songs written and recorded by her father, Jimmy Holiday, as well as to Albert Ayler, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Amiri Baraka, and Kanye West.

In this episode, Holiday, Gale, and Provan speak about Fred Moten’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Édouard Glissant’s The Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (University of Michigan Press, 1997); the writer and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter, whose work is the subject of Katherine McKittrick’s Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Duke University Press, 2014); Mack Hagood’s Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control (Duke University Press, 2019); Amiri Baraka, the poet, author, and luminary of the Black Arts Movement, about whom Holiday has often written.

In order of appearance, the music and other recordings played on this episode are: Sonny Sharrock, “Black Woman” (feat. Linda Sharrock), Black Woman (Vortex Records, 1969); a concert by Kanye West as part of his Saint Pablo Tour, 2016; West’s “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1,” The Life of Pablo (Def Jam, 2016); Jimmy Holiday, “We Got a Good Thing Goin’,” Turning Point (Minit, 1966); Ray Charles, “Somebody Ought to Write a Book About It” (ABC Records, 1967); Thelonious Monk, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart,” Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (Riverside, 1959), James Brown, “The Payback,” The Payback (Polydor, 1973); Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra, “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” (Vocalion, 1937); Amiri Baraka reading “Black Art” on Sonny Murray’s Sonny’s Time Now (Jihad Productions, 1965); Albert Ayler, “Ghosts (Variation 2),” Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk, 1964); an advertisement for Beats by Dre headphones featuring Colin Kaepernick, 2013. The title of this episode is taken from Albert Ayler’s Holy Ghost: Rare and Unissued Recordings (1962–70) (Revenant Records, 2004).

Medium Rotation is produced by Alexander Provan with Andrew Leland, and edited by Provan with Matt Frassica. Tashi Wada composed the theme music. Matt Mehlan acted as the audio engineer and contributed additional music.

Medium Rotation is made possible through generous contributions from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Nicholas Harteau. This season of Medium Rotation is part of Triple Canopy’s twenty-sixth issue, Two Ears and One Mouth, which receives support from the Stolbun Collection, the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, Agnes Gund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.