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Timezones© Šejma Fere

A podcast series

The TIMEZONES podcast series plunges into the world of artists and their practices, asking: What does living and working in culture and the arts involve in different countries, cities and contexts today?

Current issue

Episode 6 – Beirut

Episode 6 – Beirut Grafik: © Šejma Fere A podcast by Rana Eid and Nadim Mishlawi

Chaza Charafeddine
Muriel N. Kahwagi
Sharif Sehnaoui
Rana Eid

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Traces of a City – A Pod Poem

Episode 6 of the Timezones podcast series, co-initiated and co-produced by Norient and the Goethe-Institut. This episode reflects on the current uncertainties experienced in Beirut and how they have influenced creative processes.

The city of Beirut is a space that is constantly transforming. From the violent conflicts of the recent past to the social uncertainty of the present, Beirut has become synonymous with precariousness.

My name is Muriel Kahwaji. I live in Beirut. I’m a writer. I studied Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths in London. And for the past two years, two and a half years, I have been researching zajal poetry, which is a form of half-sung, half-improvised poetry that is present, very present in Lebanon today, but also in other Arab countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine mainly.

The past almost two years in Lebanon have been very difficult because, first of all, we had the October Revolution in 2019, which was this rare moment of hope when everyone, over 2,000,000 people, went down to the streets protesting against the corruption of the government, against the impending economic collapse, which we have completely, you know, we are completely in the midst of. That was quite, that was thrilling, but it was also difficult in some ways because we felt life was suspended for us. So that went on, is still going on, I guess, in various forms, every now and then we have protests, but it’s not like the beginning. But that was a big moment for us. And then a few months after that, two months after that, actually, the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Lebanon, and three months after that, the whole country went into lockdown in March 2020.

In August was the Beirut port explosion. And, you know, needless to say, I think it’s something like the sixth or seventh largest non-nuclear explosion in history. So, you know, in purely objective terms, I would say it was a pretty catastrophic event.

All of this is to say that it’s been a very turbulent time. I think all of our work, not just as cultural practitioners but everybody’s, actually, work had to be suspended. It was very difficult to find the energy to feel like there’s anything even worth doing. There were definitely moments of, you know, extended periods I would say, not moments, extended periods of paralysis.

This makes me think of a conversation I had some years back with someone from my English program. I can’t remember in what context this came up, but I said something along the lines of “writing books isn’t as important as curing cancer.” I said this and my friend said, “Yes, but people will continue to write books even after we cure cancer.”

What I took from this was, I think, something about the urge to create. We feel like we want to leave a trace in this world. And this trace can be something different for different people, of course. For someone like me, it’s writing. For a filmmaker it can be, you know, making a film. I guess basically what I’m trying to say is that, you know, it’s something that proves we’re here.

My name is Chaza Charafeddine. I work in the fields of art, culture, and writing. I studied dance in Germany and I currently live in Beirut. The themes of my work shift between the social and the political and are always very personal.

I have no resolve and no hope. In Lebanon, over the course of six months, so many of my friends have suffered and some even died. Our money has been blocked and has lost all its value. So many people I know have died of Corona, not just the elderly. And two weeks ago, my good friend Lokman Slim was killed because of his political views. After his death, things changed for me. It triggered a kind of anger I’ve never felt before. The anger of someone waking up and discovering his or her house on fire.

I’m going to the studio and engaging with work, regardless of the intentions behind it. I feel like a machine, I get up, get dressed, go to work, I close my eyes and ears to the world and occupy myself with things ... I don’t know if what I’m doing will evolve in any way, and it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to put out the fire.

My name is Rana Eid, I’ve been doing sound design for films and documentaries for about 22 years. It was definitely difficult in the beginning because the profession of sound design had not yet been established in Lebanon. It is an issue of belonging without feeling trapped.

I have a strong sense of belonging in Lebanon and the Middle East, but I don’t want to drown in it.

Because Beirut is a sick city, and toxic. But at the same time very beautiful and gentle. If I want to be part of it, I have to move with it, like moving with a wave, and ask, “What does Beirut want from me today?” When Beirut exploded, it froze, as if saying “I don’t want this anymore.” Beirut is tired and has become cheap. Now there’s an economic crisis and the country has become immobile. But I refuse to die for this place, I don’t want to be a martyr in this place, I want to be alive in this place. We’ve been raised with the idea of dying for our country and be martyrs for it. So what do we do as artists? The moment there’s a problem, we leave? This is why we do art. To talk about our society. That’s not how I do things. I still have a lot of things to do in Beirut. And I don’t want to go into the streets and protest, I want to do things in my profession. With regards to the sound of Beirut, the city and I haven’t finished our discussion and there are a lot of things I still want to do.

[16:14] Sharif Sehnaoui
I’m a musician, active in the field of experimental music since the late 90s, based in Beirut. I am also the organizer of a festival called Irtijal, which has been ongoing since the year 2000.

Where I’m pretty sure that music took a big blow is on the level of the pandemic, more than any of the other crises affecting us. Because there, it’s been nearly two years that we’re mostly playing at home, or in venues, but for technical and camera crews, for music that will in the end go online. And when we know how important live music is, and the relation between the performer and audience is for live music and for music in general, I think this is properly devastating.

I often think now about the legacy of this period. I think about it obsessively, actually. How are we going to come to see this period, let’s say 10, 15, 20 years from now. And then maybe we’ll have a clearer picture of the impact of these multiple crises on artistic life. We’ll be able to know how devastating it was in a way or if there is something positive that came out of it. It will take time to be able to clearly assess this side of things. I think judgments today while within the crisis are meant to be partial or not entirely accurate. Yet we make those judgments, of course. We take decisions, we have opinions. And in the end, with time, they may change and prove to be true. From my end, I tend to think that, and this will not be revolutionary in any way, that this period was very, very, very, very damaging to the art world, at least in my sector, which is music, and the creativity of musicians. But also mostly new generations of upcoming music makers, even people who were about to launch themselves into a musical career and might never actually do so. So we might actually be losing a generation or more of musicians who will in the end never be musicians, given the current situation. That, I feel, is very, very sad. Although as I say, maybe with time, we’ll discover that no, it will lead to yet another generation that will be more creative maybe. Again, time will tell.
Chaza Charafeddine Chaza Charafeddine is an artist and writer. After 15 years of exploring the fields of education and dance, she turned to photography and writing. Her photographic works have been shown in numerous galleries and artistic venues in Lebanon and abroad. In 2012, Dar Al-Saqi Beirut published her first novella Flashback as well as her subsequent short story collection Haqibatun Bilkade Tura in 2015. After 21 years in Switzerland and Germany, Chaza returned to Lebanon in 2007, where she now lives and works.

Muriel N. Kahwagi Muriel N. Kahwagi is a Beirut-based writer. She is currently researching the politics of documenting sung poetry (zajal) in Lebanon, a project supported by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC).

Sharif Sehnaoui © Tony Elieh Sharif Sehnaoui is a free improvising guitarist. Focusing on expanding the intrinsic possibilities of these instruments, he plays electric as well as acoustic guitars, both with and without extended and prepared techniques. After more than a decade in Paris, where he began his career as an improviser in 1998 playing at Instants Chavirés as a member of several orchestras, he now resides in his hometown of Beirut. He has since performed his music all over the world and played at many clubs & festivals such as Moers, Konfrontationen (Nickelsdorf), High Zero (Baltimore), Météo Music Festival (Mulhouse), CTM & Maerzmusik (Berlin), Le Guess Who? (Utrecht), FEST (Tunis), Skanu Mesz (Riga), 100Live (Cairo) and Musikprotokoll (Graz).
Rana Eid Rana Eid has worked as a sound editor on various Arab and international films for almost 20 years. In 2006, Eid co-founded DB Studios for audio post-production and music production, which partnered with the French association HAL AUDIO in 2017. Since then, Rana has continued to work as a sound editor, most recently on the Oscar-nominated films “The Cave” by Firas Fayyad and “Honeyland” by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stephanov. In 2017, she directed her first feature documentary, “Panoptic”, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and was selected for the Norient Film Festival in 2021. In 2020, she became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Follow Rana on Instagram and Twitter.
Contact: rana.dbstudios@gmail.com

Nadim Mishlawi Nadim Mishlawi is a Lebanese/British composer and filmmaker based in Beirut, Lebanon. In 2006, Nadim co-founded DB Studios, a facility for audio post-production and music production, and has since worked as a composer for a variety of projects ranging from documentaries to fiction films and art installations. Nadim has also published essays for “The New Soundtrack” journal and was invited to lecture at the School of Sound Symposium in London in 2015. Nadim made his directorial debut in 2011 with the documentary “Sector Zero”, which won first prize in the Muhr Arab Documentary category at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2011 and the Berlin Art Prize for Film Media Arts in 2013. Nadim currently teaches at the Lebanese Academy of the Arts (ALBA).

Follow DB Studios on Instagram and Facebook.
Contact: nadim@db-studios.net

Bonus Material

On Creativity in Times of Crisis and Truthfulness in Sonic Representation
moderated and produced by Nesrine Khodr

This bonus talk features a conversation with the producers of the Timezones Beirut episode, Rana Eid and Nadim Mishlawi, about conceiving the piece and incorporating storytelling into music composition. In light of the economic and financial collapse that has dominated the landscape in Lebanon since 2019, they also share their thoughts on what a collapsing city sounds like, while architect and composer Mhamad Safa talks about his research in sonic representation and his analytical methods in tackling the sound of warfare. Artist Nesrine Khodr interviewed the Eid-Mishlawi team live at the DB Studios in Beirut, while the conversation with London-Beirut-based Mhamad Safa was conducted via correspondence.

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Nesrine Khodr is an artist and cultural worker living in Beirut. She has worked across film, performance, and television production and as a dramaturg for performance-based projects.

Mhamad Safa is a musician, architect, and researcher, based between London and Beirut. In 2018, he was a fellow at the Ashkal Alwan HWP. He graduated from the Centre for Research Architecture and is currently a PhD candidate in International Law at the University of Westminster. Safa’s work focuses on multi-scalar spatial conditions and their sonic makeups. He explores their intersections with the aural legacies of traditional and subcultural practices as well as with environments of conflict and violence, often morphed and blurred by geographic and techno-scientific uncertainties. He conveys these auditory inquiries by assembling sound design, micro-sampling, algorithmic sound technology, psychoacoustics, field recordings, and their graphic interpretations.


Artistic Editor: Abhishek Matur
Project Management: Hannes Liechti
Jingle Voiceover: Nana Akosua Hanson
Jingle Mix: Daniel Jakob
Mastering: Adi Flück, Centraldubs
Artwork: Šejma Fere

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About the project

The TIMEZONES podcast series plunges into the world of artists and their practices, asking: What does living and working in culture and the arts involve in different countries, cities and contexts today? The artists’ thoughts on their moods, their social, political and intellectual realities and their philosophies (of life) have been worked up into experimental audio collages.

The podcasts run the gamut of formats and content, from straight journalism to experimental and documentary approaches, ethnography and fiction, sound art and improvisation. The TIMEZONES series endeavours to create new artistic forms of storytelling, listening and exchange across the boundaries of geography, time zones, genres and practices.

The TIMEZONES Podcast Series is co-initiated and co-produced by Norient and the Goethe Institut.



Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Kathrin Schätzle