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  • Writer's pictureVigilance

Not the Only Killer.

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Soressa Gardner's Collage: 6"x6” acrylic, paper, found objects, epoxy, glitter: 2020.

Speaker 1 (English) Soressa Gardner

Speaker 2 (Spanish) Danielle Franco

Special thanks and acknowledgement to British Columbia's Dr. Bonnie Henry and all the newscasters, activists, and survivors sampled for this composition.

Artist Statement: Soressa Gardner.

When embarking on this compositional journey, I agreed to create a mixed media collage to use as a graphic score. On a black background, a bird sings out the dark news of Covid-19 and black bubbles of isolation gather on the canvas. Some contain random objects; in one is a lone woman, while others hold nothing but shiny pools of darkness. All are isolated from the surrounding glitter signifying lost connections and activities. In the bottom right, a woman sits at home atop a dresser piled with books. A tiny creature in a pose of meditation accompanies both the bird and the woman.

The composition is a sound collage, beginning with a Covid-19 breath test: Do I or do I not have the virus in my lungs?

"Experts suggest doing this simple verification every morning: Breathe in deeply and hold your breath for 10 seconds. If this can be done without coughing, without difficulty, this shows that there is no fibrosis in the lungs, indicating the absence of infection. It is recommended to do this control every morning to help detect infection." - Unknown

The Wikipedia data on Covid-19 is read in English and translated into Spanish. Voices are sampled from news broadcasts and include snippets of BC’s beloved Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. The tone of the broadcasts moves from basic self-protection information to the dark understanding that with increasing isolation, domestic violence is clearly on the rise. At one point, a Mexican teenage boy calls 911 asking for help because his parents are always fighting during the quarantine. Accompanying a growing cacophony of English and Spanish newscasters, activists, social workers and victims is a piano piece composed using a 19-tone chromatic scale.

I searched the internet for information on 19-tone musical scales and discovered a paper and slide show summary by J. N. Hooker of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA: “Finding Alternative Musical Scales” (2017). [1]&[2]

Soressa Gardner. July 2020.

Using constraint programming, the goal was to find alternative scales that shared many qualities with classical Western major and minor scales. From this highly technical and complex article, I latched onto one of the study’s favoured scales, an 11-note diatonic scale based on a 19-note chromatic, spanning the octave. It contains 3 semitones (one more than the classical 7-note scales) and includes harmonies we are accustomed to hearing in Western music.

Using the software instrument Kontakt within my Ableton Live DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) composing environment, I created a19-note EDO scale (Equal Division of the Octave scale) centered around a tonic of A 220 Hz. To compose with this scale, I used sticky notes to label my keyboard. At this point I wished I could instead construct an electronic keyboard with adjustable configurations of white and black keys to signify the new whole and half step patterns of alternative scales.

Musically, I could have written something similar using a conventional Western scale, but this new scale lends a touch of chaos and instability to the piece, consistent with the off-kilter world of the Covid-19 pandemic. I began with a straight-ahead electronic piano sound and augmented it with a music box inspired instrument to add a circus feel to the music, particularly during a repetitive circular riff as the overlaid voices build to an overwhelming climax.

The piece resolves to a restatement of the stark truth that our strategies for containing the Covid-19 pandemic have negatively impacted the power imbalance between the abuser and the abused.

The 19-note chromatic scale.

Spikes: Soressa Gardner’s Not the Only Killer. By Karen Moe

Soundscape artist Soressa Gardner builds a sonic landscape that begins with crackling distortion. And then a decisive crunch, glottal, that is both an opening and a closing: the new locked-down world and the beginning of yet another day in quarantine—condensed to obliterate complacency.

And then: breath. Breath that has become the topography of a world ruled by the ruthless coronavirus and the threat of losing our ability to breathe. The threat to our breath that knows no borders as our psyches are governed internationally by the self-test breath; the transmission through the droplets of another’s breath; the keep-away-from-me breath; the masked breath; the no-point-wearing-a-mask breath; the struggling breath; the constricted breath; the constant fear of losing breath; the shallower and shallower breath; the ventilated breath; and, in the end, death as the end of breath. The final one. Breath as the cycle: the beginning, the middle and the end.

And yet, Covid-19 is not the only killer in a world that has been labeled ‘the new normal,’ an ironic term that has become a household name, a part of our discourse that is as everyday as the effects of which it signifies. A cyclical trap. But Covid-19 is not the only one. As people have quarantined in their attempts to keep themselves safe from the virus, women and children have become increasingly endangered as the cases of domestic violence have been spiking along with the surge of the viral spread. The violent breaths; the shouting breaths; the beating breaths; the beaten breaths; the crying breaths; the screaming breaths; the violated breaths; the silenced breaths. The murdered last breaths. And what, for many women, is far from new.

In Gardner’s intimate soundscape, however, breath is now seared by a siren. In harmonic discord with the escalation of domestic violence, the everyday wail of emergency vehicles is now a screech, cutting through, scratching up our surface with the reality of ‘the Shadow Pandemic,’ what the New York Times has labeled ‘an opportunistic infection.’

And yet, despite the hair-raising reports, this is normal: domestic violence is a reality that has merely been exacerbated by pressure on the abuser: "job losses, rising alcohol-based harm and drug use, stress and fear, the legacy of this pandemic could haunt us for years. So much related to COVID-19 has been unparalleled and is outside our control and understanding.” [i] Perhaps outside of our control in terms of stopping the spread, finding the cure; but far from beyond our understanding in terms of domestic abuse and femicide. In Mexico, 6 femicides a day have risen to 11.2. Same-old-same-old really; yet another day in a woman’s life that is perpetually under threat. “Not the Only Killer,” cycle the voices in Gardner’s composition, narrating the still alive breaths as underlain by taps of tension: no set time, no soothing coherence. Waiting for another outbreak, the next spike. The impending strike.

“Coronavirus Covid Nineteen / Covid Diecinuve,” announce Gardner and Franco. “It is a pattern playing out around the world.” [ii]

Pause. Breathe. Tick-tick-tick.

Gardner builds an infodemic from in-real-life samples that is meant to assault: statistics/ statisticos/ she plays her voice backwards/ Dr. Bonnie Henry’s competent urgency/ science/ sciencia/ evidencia/ evidence/ todo el mundo/ an ever evolving and changing thing/ a voice of doom from above: Covid 19. Covid Diecinuve.

Enter a plod of a piano playing a scale in 19. A carnivalesque cycle that could drive a person crazy as it closes in like the lockdown of quarantine. Humdrum in its discord. Ho-hum. Another day in a cyclical circus. Another day of the same. Another day that you can’t get out. The quotidian madness of la nueva normalidad.

“Emergency calls by women subjected to violence by their intimate partners jumped 60% across European member states in April, compared to the same period last year … Should lockdown continue for six months, an extra 31 million cases of gender-based violence are expected globally.” [iii]

The plod builds to a trample: “the coercive methods domestic abusers use to control their partners and children bear an uncanny resemblance to those kidnappers use to control hostages and repressive regimes use to break the will of political prisoners.” [iv] In Mexico, the majority of calls for help are proclaimed fake. There is presidential denial. The epidemic of femicide was inherited from previous governments. Nothing new. The slaughter of Mexican women has been tolerated by the state for decades. 6, 8, 10, to over 11 women per day now. April 2020 was the deadliest month for women in Mexico for the last five years. [v] The more oppressed the men, the more intense the violence against the women. This is not an excuse; but it is a reality. “[E]mergency calls by women subjected to violence by their intimate partners jumped 60% across European member states in April.” [vi] “In these times of great stress in society, violence will go up, especially behind closed doors where there just aren’t as many eyes as there used to be,” said B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender on April 17th, 2020. [vii] The domestic abuse will go up. It is pre-ordained in a society where self-gratification can be achieved through exploitation.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Gardner’s info-demic thickens. A pandemonium of voices. Reports. Pleas. Statistics. The artist’s audio quarantine is closing in. Todo el mundo.

“The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day, while a separate helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse seeking help to change their behaviour received 25% more calls after the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.” [viii]

“In B.C., Canada, we see that evidenced through the increased demand for services, for anti-violence services. One service provider reported a 300 per cent increase in calls over this time.” [ix]

Re-enter the plod. It bears down on us; it crushes the women trapped in their individual hells of cyclical violence. Ready to burst. Bursting. Burst.

“Not only women speak of this urgency,” Gardner told me. Male reporters call for help. Male newscasters feature female victims. Attempt to give voice to their systemic silence. The artist features a Mexican boy. A 911 call. Reporting his father assaulting his mother. “I don’t like to watch this.” An understatement as a conditioned by the familiar. Another victim of familial violence.

“Yo quisiera saber en qué me pueden ayudar a cómo puedo solucionar esta problema,” dice su hijo.

“I’d like to know how you can help me solve this problem,” says her son.

Men who abuse and murder are the minority. Some men speak up for the violence perpetrated against women. But this far from makes it OK. In 1983, Andrea Dworkin addressed The National Organization for Changing Men:

“I want to talk to you about equality, what equality is and what it means. It isn’t just an idea. It’s not some insipid word that ends up being bullshit …. It means something more than personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.” [x]

In 2017, Robert Jensen speaks to men: “Anyone who says, “I would never beat a child [or a woman]” might consider how one’s rejection of such violence under ordinary circumstances could change in extreme situations that produce inordinate stress …. I was socialized in patriarchy into a toxic masculinity that not only subordinates women but also crippled my capacity to be fully human.” [xi]

The more oppressed the men, the more fear, the more intense the violence against women. This is not an excuse; but it is a reality.

Gardner’s scale of 19 pursues us. Her composition of the new normal is exposed as a mutant, a distorted scale that is a product of its source. “I’d like to know how you can help me to solve this problem,” says the son as his father is beating his mother. In the foreground, in the blaring spotlight of the Coronavirus, there are debates of treatment, an absence of a cure, daily Worldometer checks, panic. Questions. Questions. Empty answers as Gardner bombards us with what we know for certain is that there is not only one killer in a world ravaged by an as of yet incurable virus: violence against women, battering, rapes, femicides have been here all along. Todo el mundo. With or without a pandemic.



Soressa Gardner is vocalist, laptop composer/improvisor, and sometimes songwriter. She currently resides in Victoria, BC. Her keen sense of mood, colour, humour and gravitas are expressed through extended vocals enhanced by electronic manipulations and sound-worlds carefully crafted from a variety of audio processing techniques. She performs regularly with VEE (Vancouver Electronic Ensemble).


Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. Her work focuses on gender, systemic violence, and justice. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista192. She is the editor and founder of the magazine “Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms.” Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico and has just finished her first book, Victim: a Manifesto. Karen lives and works in British Columbia, Canada and Mexico City.


NOTES: From Soressa's statement: [1] [2] From Karen's essay: [i] [ii] [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] [viii]

[ix] [x] Andrea Dworkin Letters from a War Zone: Writings 1976-1989: 168-69. [xi] Robert Jensen The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2017: 21; 71.

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Jul 18, 2020

Wonderful thoughtful piece!!


Jul 18, 2020

Great piece Soressa and Karen! Your 'timing' couldn't be better.

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