Chris Gollmar, a New York-based elementary school teacher and creator of the viral participatory sound art, Just Scream, is perhaps the last person you might expect to have thought up the visceral work.
Inspired by the deluge of shit that has descended upon the world in the last year, Gollmar decided to undertake a small creative art project, as he has done in the past, to no particular fanfare.
In September 2020, using what little spare time he had while transitioning to in-person teaching, Gollmar embarked on his new piece of work, Just Scream. He chose a familiar format, a call-in hotline, which he had used before in his project Listening Point, where he asked participants to narrate what they heard in their immediate environment, and again in Call-In Special, where the subject of discussion was the caller’s choice.
This time, he simply asked participants to scream, baby, scream.
Gollmar is the first to admit that he “isn’t much of a screamer” himself. In fact, he has the softest, most gentle voice — think Mister Rogers but in a crowded library.
“I thought, ‘What would people respond to right now if I did another call-in piece?’ Screaming was in the air at the time,” Gollmar says of his initial inspiration for the piece.
While the mounting frustrations of police brutality, the global pandemic, economic depression, and a Cheeto standing in as president were the unavoidable backdrop at the start of the project, Gollmar hoped the hotline would not only act as an emotional release but also as a respite from the proliferating negativity.
“I thought of it as a lighthearted project at first — witty in a way," he recounts. "Then I was amazed at the directions the callers took it. Some people just really wanted a space to share their frustrations about anything. A lot of it isn't pandemic-related at all.”
Indeed, many didn’t even scream.
The first wave of anonymous callers, unbridled by the journalistic and social-media attention that would soon follow, shared deeply. They share longed, personal outpourings of loss, relationship problems, job stress, loneliness, or simply the pain of existence.
“I’m not going to scream,” begins one caller on a call dated two months ago. “Sometimes you just need to let some stuff out. Life is hard being alive in today’s world. It just be like that sometimes, you know? It gets better. Just keep going, dude.”
Another caller around the same time shared, “I miss my grandmother so much. Please be careful. This is my first year without her. She got COVID-19 in the hospital, and I miss her so much.”
One poster on Christmas Day said, “I Just wanted to tell everyone that’s listening that if you felt sad today, or you didn’t have anyone to spend time with, I’m with you, I got you, I’m here for you. There are people in the same situation,” finishing dutifully with a scream/sigh.
Others took a lighthearted tone. One young gentleman shouted, “HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? HOW THE FUCK ARE YOUR FAMILY DOING?... I HOPE YOU HAVE A GOOD ONE AND HAVE A GOOD NIGHT.”
As the project began to gain momentum online — specifically when TikTok users picked it up — the calls began to shift to a more uniform, scream-centric format, though snippets of the general public's creativity continue to turn up now and then.
Gollmar listened to each call, sorting them by mood to create playlists with descriptive titles like “Hope,” “LOL,” and “Rawr.” To date, the scream count has reached 23,275, and Gollmar has quite a bit of catching up to do, but all of them, categorized or not, are available on his website.
“I’m starting to think of it as a time capsule of the stress and anxiety folks are feeling at this moment, he says. "And in that sense, I hope to be able to look back at this body of screams once the recordings are wrapped up and continue to work with the recordings in creative ways."
Gollmar says he's excited at the prospect of playing with the screams to create songs and noise art.
The hotline closes on Thursday, January 21. (Given the timing — the first day post-Trump presidency, it's perhaps fitting that the project's call-in number has a Palm Beach County area code.) In the meantime, if you want to have a good scream — or laugh, or cry — dial 561-567-8431 and have at it.
Just Scream. justscream.baby/listen. Call 561-567-8431 until Thursday, January 21.