Migraines & Tsunamis

This is a non-narrative (but highly descriptive) segment about the prelude to suffering. It’s a play on expecting pain, on remembering pain and on the scales of suffering. Going through the warning signs of a tsunami and the nervous anticipation of an impending migraine. Part audio diary, part collage and part soundscape.



Before a tsunami hits the shoreline retreats and the sea folds back revealing the ocean floor. In 2004 Mahad X stood outside of a mosque in Xaafuun Somalia and watched the drawback three times. He watched as each of these retreats push the shoreline further and further back. First half a meter…. four meters….. and finally six meters.

476 BC: a Persian army marched onto an uncovered seabed, believing the ocean had unfurled to allow access to the besieged city of Potidaea. They never made it.
365 AD: one historian described “the sea [being] driven away, its waves were rolled back and it disappeared so that the abyss of the depths were uncovered.” He goes on to write about the fishermen who hopped from their boats to collect the drying fish and oysters caught in the mud.

Youtube videos shot on cellphone cameras show tourists marveling at the drawback near Phuket, Thailand during the Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami of 2004. They walk out into the absent surf, unaware of what’s to come. These tourists are witnessing ripples from the same event Mahad watched from the mosque in Xaafuun well over three thousand miles away.

The largest recorded Tsunami occurred in 1958, striking three fishing boats in Lituya Bay, Alaska. Before the wave, a nearby lake dropped 100, feet water escaping from fissures opened by an earthquake.


Pain is deeply personal. From Communicating the experience of Pain by G.D. Schott: “… Attempts to truly describe pain indeed appear as difficult as they are frustrating, yet the need to communicate is overwhelming.” Oliver Sacks once described his patients as “full of metaphors” conjuring hurricanes, klein bottles, and presenting grand images in place of externally perceivable symptoms.

In the heat of my own migraines I cling to imagery. Jumping from association to association, turning an unseen experience into an imagined body horror rich in visceral, carnivalesque narratives. To me, this descriptive exercise can represent, can distract from and can sometimes supersede the pain itself. In these moments I see fissures opening at the nape of my neck, bones pushing through my skin, dried spaghetti breaking against the inside of my skull…  But before the migraine begins, before the imagined violence, I confront the possibility of a migraine through a series of subtle hints.

It’s different for everyone, but for me it’s a series of retreats. My mouth dries, my interests fade, my mental state drifts away. The dryness acts like a kind of drawback before a tsunami.  These are the prodromal symptoms, the natural warning sign for what’s to come.



This segment also includes original interviews and recordings, construction + archival/found audio. Find a Youtube playlist containing many of the sampled videos and some of those that didn’t make it into the segment.