Sound Hall offers intellectual discourse beyond the halls of academia

By David A. Brensilver

The inaugural Sound Hall event was held in October at Detritus and featured Washington, D.C. based musician and writer Ian Svenonius. Photo by Sarah Sullivan.

New Haven’s halls of academia have long fostered the exchange of ideas, be they scientific, sociological, artistic, or economic. At press time, Sound Hall, a new “forum for intellectual discourse outside of academia,” as described by Alexis Zanghi, was set to present its second event. The first, held in October at Zanghi’s curated bookstore Detritus, which co-sponsored the event with the Public Humanities Initiative at Yale University, featured Washington, D.C.-based musician and writer Ian Svenonious.

In late November at Bru Café, Michael Pigott, owner of Masstropicas – an independent record label whose focus is on re-issuing Peruvian cumbia recordings from the 1960s and ’70s – discussed and played a number of the recordings no one had previously heard – recordings he brought back on one of his annual trips to Lima, from which he often returns with hundreds of 45s and LPs.

The November Sound Hall event was co-sponsored by Yale’s Public Humanities Initiative and the university’s Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program.

Sound Hall was conceived as a companion to Taco Party, an event presented by Championsound that features tacos (as one might expect) and performances by local DJs Stefan Christiansen, Rick Omonte, and John Panos. Svenonious was a guest DJ in October, and, in November, Pigott played selections from his collection of cumbia records.

It should be mentioned that the three Taco Party events presented to date have featured, respectively, BAR’s garlic mashed potato topping, taco filling from 116 Crown, and tacos prepared by Caseus.

Championsound is an event-production company founded 10 years ago in Los Angeles by Albert Agbayani, who moved the business to New Haven five years ago when his now-wife, Van Truong, came here to study in Yale’s American Studies Program.

Truong said the idea for Sound Hall came from the recognition that New Haven is a dynamic town with the resources to instigate intellectual conversations that often exclude those beyond the halls of academia. An effort to “challenge that divide,” she said, was the impetus. The involvement of the Public Humanities Initiative, Truong said, would offer validation “that it’s not just academic journals and conferences” through which ideas can be shared “outside academia.”

Matthew Jacobson, chair of the American Studies Program at Yale, said the Public Humanities Initiative within his department is designed to create new avenues through which the intellectual work going on at Yale can reach beyond the school’s walls. Sound Hall, he said, is “just the type of thing we’re looking to get involved in.”

Agbayani said he has approached the Public Humanities Initiative seeking support for a Sound Hall series that would continue next year. His proposal, Jacobson said, “is under consideration.”

“I think philosophically, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for Sound Hall,” Jacobson said. He believes there will be some level of commitment for the project.

“When Van told me about this,” Jacobson said, “I thought, ‘If I could have invented Sound Hall, I would have.’”

In terms of the missions of Sound Hall and the Yale Public Humanities Initiative, Jacobson said, “I think that they were made for each other.”

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