Editorial Statement

“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality,” trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” Arundhati Roy, The pandemic is a portal

Broadcasting our newest thoughts to you in the middle of a California shut-down, Digital SALON: Season 1 is a podcast series and a multi-media blog meditating on the theme of the PORTAL.  As our first digital and (primarily) sonic endeavor, this project is the third iteration of annual convenings begun by the alumni and affiliated practitioners of UCLA’s Urban Humanities Initiative.

In this (digital) SALON, we bring you a curation of listening experiences that responds to novelist and activist Arundhati Roy’s now memorable provocation that the “pandemic is a portal.” As the pandemic fractures the cities we study, live in and love, our contributors this year fabulated responses drawing on practices that represent our interdisciplinarity as architects, urban planners and humanists. The rupturing of urban space and time by the impact of quarantine and protest have made it clear that this is our chance, as Roy puts it, to imagine our world anew.

The Digital SALON Season 1: Portal is broadcasting on two- distinct but complementary, channels, a podcast and a blog, hosted on our website, digitalsalonpodcast.org.  Our content is streaming during the summer of 2020, starting with our launch day on  August 1st. The PODCAST drops a new audiographic work from contributors weekly.  Between each episode, a multi-media BLOG post goes live, extending our series with their interactive and immersive mediations.  Tune in to our di(con)vergent tracks this summer as we consider the openings, apertures, PORTALS, of our time.

The Pilot

Our PILOT episode, First Portal: Reading With Arundhati Roy, drops Saturday August 1st. Hosts Jacqueline Barrios and Gus Wendel interview Ms. Roy herself, who talks to us, not only from her perspective as a world-renowned author, but strikingly for us, a former architecture and urban planning student. Through a reading of the first chapter of her newest novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, we wonder about how our disciplines collide in telling a just story about cities.

The Portal

The concept of the “portal” powerfully redirects our modes of urban research, design and problem solving. Covid-19 throws into sharp relief the ways our collective existence in cities is threatened, fraying or under-resourced. At the same time, it is opening incipient apertures of access-creation and interdependence. Our theme guides us towards gateways of inquiry in varying scales: why might it matter to glimpse the geopolitical story in one’s neighborhood corner market, or to hear how new vulnerabilities and agencies register in a shut-down campus? We wonder about the technologies that knit or encumber us. We ask about those stranded aboard cruise vessels, perhaps the doppelgängers of our own condition aboard globalized capital’s “ships of fools.”  How does the pandemic turn “home” into a moving site between nostalgia and discovery? What storylines accompany the digital built environments we fabricate? The variations on the theme are manifold, but in all of them—a common note of care.  Whether they be students, friends, neighbors, the anonymous online gamer or the vast company of the non-human, we work with others. If “portals” bring movement and vision, translations and exchange, new departures and arrivals, the Digital SALON contributors start within communities and build doorways there.

The Sonic

The Digital SALON  is in conversation with the movement to remix academic knowledge production with artistic practices. In a recent introduction to a special issue focusing on what they call “audiographic” work, media scholars Neil Verma and Jacob Smith articulate a definition for this form:

“Audiography as we understand it means using recording and mixing as intellectual tools, as essential components in the act of making an academic argument with the audio form in mind; as opposed to using sound as an afterthought. Audiography negotiates making sound work and making sound think, and so links an evolving scholarly discourse with an evolving genre of audio.”

Attuned to this formulation, as well as the growing platforms that are merging academic and creative forms of making, we reference Verma and Smith’s call to bring much needed legitimacy to the protean genres of work we produce. The already vibrant traffic between practices like acoustic ecology and radio-feature-making, with the use of podcasting, critical soundwalks and experimental recordings by scholars, are for them, signals of a resonant exchange that point to the need for “disciplinary validation to ‘create a context for understanding.’”

To that end, we offer up a few beginning “typologies”:  “global memory sound collages,”  non-linear tracks weaving sound from transnational mnemonic sonic archives; “urban diaries,” aural embodiments of particular environments; “meditations,” soundscapes that taxonomize or translate spatial content; “words on the street,” conversations that sound out the positionality of interlocutors.

The Community

We hail a new community, fellow alumni and friends, and you, the newly curious, to linger and listen. From our first iteration as informal living-room gatherings at Gus’s Koreatown studio-apartment to fully-realized symposia and exhibitions, SALONS have been our collective, make-shift and portalble scenes of work and play. Thank you for coming our way. Stay awhile.


Roy, Arundhati. “The Pandemic Is a Portal.” Financial Times, 2020, www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca.

Verma, Neil, and Jacob Smith. “Critical Audiography: Lessons of a ‘Stereophonic’ Approach .” [In]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies, 2 June 2019, mediacommons.org/intransition/intransition-audiographic-6-2019.


Hosts & Producers: Jacqueline Jean Barrios & Gus Wendel
Sound Director: Heidi Maureen Alexander
Marketing/PR & Graphics Director: Sai Rojanapirom
Web Manager: Joshua Nelson

The Digital SALON Season 1: PORTAL Contributors

Ru’a Al-Abweh
Heidi Maureen Alexander (UHI 2015-16) & the Earth Girl Helen Brown Center for Planetary Intelligence Band
Jacqueline Jean Barrios (UHI 2016-17)
Adam Boggs (UHI 2019-20)
Brady Collins (2013-14)
Genevieve Carpio
Cécile Guédon
Alejandra Guerrero (UHI 2017-18)
Cassie Hoeprich (UHI 2019-20)
Akana Jayawardene (UHI 2019-20)
Devin Koba (UHI 2015-16)
Paul Kurek (UHI 2015-16)
Lili Raygoza (UHI 2019-20)
Sai Rojanapirom (UHI 2016-17)
Gus Wendel (UHI 2015-16)
Teo Wickland (UHI 2015-16)


The Digital SALON production team would like to thank Avishay Artsy, Assistant Director of Media Relations and Public Outreach (UCLA SOAA) for his generous advising during the beginning stages of this project.

The Digital SALON Season 1: PORTAL is generously supported by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.