Teressa Colhoun (C’20). Photo courtesy of Colhoun.
By Richard Pryor III
SoundCloud is a polarizing website. Many people love the freedom it brings to new artists, especially those in the genre of “SoundCloud rap.” Artists like Lil Pump, Lil Uzi Vert, the late XXXTentacion, and Post Malone have all pioneered this genre and had their start on the website. However, everyone from organists to podcasters are on the site as well. Placed in that group of artists is none other than Teressa Colhoun (C’20), who is just starting out on the website.
Colhoun released her first and only mix so far on the website, “Warrant,” in October. Colhoun describes the composition as a mix of electronic dance music (EDM) and groovy pop; however, the mix is tagged with the genre “Learning” on the site itself, and Colhoun admits that she’s “finding [herself] as an artist still.” All of the audio from the mix is taken directly from the podcast Serial.
This is her first foray into music, and she was inspired by the current season of Serial, which focuses on an analysis of the criminal justice system in Cleveland, Ohio.
Colhoun refers to Serial as her favorite podcast, adding that it’s a way to bond with people due to the fact that many people listen to it. Colhoun herself listens with her friend, Sophia Henderson (C’19). Her inspiration for the mix came from the fact that Serial is both meaningful and has lots of music in it already.
While she initially just wanted to make the mix just for herself, she then decided to share it in hopes of broadening the conversation on the issues that the podcast brings up.
The podcast’s background music provides the base for the mix itself, as Colhoun has interlaid portions of various instrumental mixes from the podcast with dialogue from the first few episodes of season 3.
The mix plays at points with the dichotomy of Serial’s peppy backing music with clips of arrests and other moments from the season, most notably a police officer instructing someone to “get down,” even though they “don’t have a warrant.” Colhoun also adds to the ambiance of the mix by manipulating the original sounds from the podcast through multiple recordings.
These efforts of retooling the original podcast very clearly show Colhoun’s style as an artist begin to shine through. Colhoun is clearly inspired by the world around her and wants to continue the conversations that other people are starting, and if it turns out that setting discussions about race, class, and criminal justice to electropop cause you not only to “bop and groove” in Colhoun’s words but to understand the issues that others are facing, then her goal has been accomplished.
As evidenced by her genre choice of “Learning,” Colhoun also seeks for this piece to be educational in a sense. One of the ways she has chosen to do this is by using dialogue from different episodes but put in an order where it sounds realistic, so it highlights how many of the cases are the same and unfair.
She wants listeners to leave with the question of if what is happening in the courts in Cleveland is justice, as she admits she “can’t answer that.” This is only her first mix as the season of Serial continues and both Colhoun and the podcast’s host, Sarah Koenig, continue to attempt to answer the question of whether this is justice.
The mix itself is not the only way that she seeks to discuss this question; one of Colhoun’s strengths is using every area possible to explore and build up this question. In fact, the album “cover,” a blank electronic sign above a highway, symbolizes the question as well. As Colhoun noted, it’s “a blank sign run by the government, [which is] symbolic of the difficult task of defining justice.”
For Colhoun, that question is given context by her work this summer in the US Attorney’s Office in Chattanooga and her work as a Politics major with a Southern Appalachian Studies minor. As someone discerning whether she should be a lawyer, this topic is also intensely personal for her.
As she informed The Purple, “I would say that my experience as in intern in the legal field definitely made me more empathetic to both sides, as I learned a lot about the way the legal world works but Serial opened me up to more of the injustices that I didn’t get to see in my job. I think wanting to be a lawyer, and listening to Serial should go hand in hand.”
By bounding the realms of the humorous and serious, Colhoun has taken this idea that was initially just for her own enjoyment and is now using it to start a conversation; and isn’t that what art is supposed to do?