“Listening into the Void: An inquiry into listening, space making, and relationality”
Before I begin I just wanted to acknowledge all the work that has gone into making this conference possible and thank the people and institutions like Charles University and NYU in Prague who have graciously hosted our group.
Also thank you Mike for imagining and planning this event into reality.
It’s been wonderful to hear all of your the presentations and I’m deeply grateful to be here.
I’m very aware that the title of my dissertation is vague and it’s deeply intentional because the crux of this project is really just a question, “How can one/we listen differently?” That being said this project is an experiment that uses a variety of modes of inquiry to cultivate a layered conversation around that core question.
So going backwards, the mode of inquiry that the final chapter of my dissertation focuses on is the somatic practice of soundwalks. Somatic practice is broad term that encompases a variety of techniques that focus on bodily and often internal bodily sensation. Some examples would be yoga, qigong, and taichi. I haven’t written the text or recorded the audio yet for this soundwalk but the intention is to curate a space and facilitate a specific listening experience that shifts the listener’s awareness toward self reflection of ancestry, historical awareness of the physical land they walk upon, and the conditions that made it possible for them to exist.
The soundwalk serves as an event to focus upon and tangibly engage with this question.
The mode of inquiry that precedes that chapter is developing and offering a theoretical approach to support and engage with my core question and I haven’t found the exact terminology but what I’m developing is this notion of being an entanglement of flesh. This is informed by black feminist theorizations of the body (note 1), that challenge the discourse of embodiment (note 2) and Cartesian mind body dualism by simply pointing out that not all humans historically and contemporarily have had the opportunity to experience and achieve full human status. From this perspective the dehumanization through the process of slavery and racism and their after-lives renders those affected with having flesh and not a body in a western enlightenment sense. (note 3)
Flesh as a state of pre-body being is useful for my project in that it allows me to assert that thought, feeling, and memory can occur outside of the mind and have there be no conflict or paradox about it. It allows me to ask the question, for example, “what does your womb remember?” in the context of a soundwalk.
My understanding of entanglement is that it’s a term used in quantum theory to describe the way that particles of energy/matter can come to interact with each other regardless of how far apart they are. Which was then picked up by feminist theorists from physics and now especially in new materialist feminist theory essentially saying, to my understanding, that nothing is inherently separate and all things are entangled and it’s through acts of perception that impose momentary conceptual separations that make it possible to create knowledge. (note 4)
Entanglement is important for my project because it articulates a particular way of being, that is being in direct relation to or having a sense of connectedness. The direction I take this in engages with Indigenous theorizations of time and space, which challenges Western conceptual confines of linear temporality or spatiality by asserting that people are connected to places and that the movement of time is more complex than moving forward into the future away from the past. (note 5)
It allows me to ask the question, for example, “what does the history of this building sound like?” in the context of a soundwalk.
So essentially Entanglements Of Flesh is a way of theorizing and making legible non western ways of being in the world. For example not only having an awareness but communicating with ancestors or taking the possibility seriously of a body or a building remembering.
In the context of my dissertation theorizing these ways of being gives concrete language to the types of sensual experiences I want to curate in my soundwalk.
All that being said, moving on to my first chapter which precedes the one I just discussed focuses on articulating a culturally informed foundational understanding of the sensual experience that this dissertation revolves around which is listening.
The mode of inquiry for my first chapter is a literature review on academic understandings and literature on listening. Listening is a huge subject and there is not one singular linear thread of discourse to trace. That being said term listening carries a wide variety of associations that differ among each discipline, from scientific understandings of how the human brain process sound in cognition studies, to psychology’s utilization of listening as a methodology of both research and counselling, to tacitly stated yet culturally informed expectations of bodily regulation during Western art music performance in music studies, to how the sounds of the past are rendered in archival documents in sound studies. Sometimes these threads are in conversation with each other but often they’re not. To be clear my inquiry of listening is grounded primarily in Sound Studies’ approach to the topic of listening which pays special attention to so called extra-musical sound. So this is where I want to have my work make an intervention.
So what is listening according to Sound Studies? The literature tends to begin by distinguishing between Listening versus Hearing. In the text Keywords in Sound, the chapter on listening written by Tom Rice states that listening involves the allocation of attention or awareness. Then he expands upon this and states that listening implies subtle shifts in acoustical agency, which reference nuanced varieties of active-receptive and passive-receptive auditory attention.” (note 6)
At the risk of oversimplifying, listening is essentially understood as active auditory attention while hearing is cast as being passive auditory attention. From this perspective
I argue in my dissertation that listening serves a site for Sound Studies to establish key aspects of its own intellectual project. Some of these aspects are that A.) there is knowledge and information in sound itself, B.) there is an investment in the project of modernity especially considering protecting ideals of progress and universality of “the human” C.) that through listening especially analysis of culturally informed listening practices it’s possible as an outsider to engage with difference and otherness, in terms of research at least, in a manner that’s somehow more ethical and equitable than in the past.
Yet at same time there is a disciplinary awareness and questioning of eurocentric thinking leading scholars for example Jonathan Sterne, to ask how/if one can listen beyond one’s culturally and historically informed positionality and ways of understanding perception. Yet at the same time there is an adherence to the expectation that science will bridge this gap and save us of our differences by proving that we’re all the same instead of actually being receptive to other world views especially indigenous ways of being as being equally rigorous and of equal importance. (note 7) I say all this to say that through this literature review there is a lot of information about how culturally we in West understand and value the body and the senses, and in the context of my work, listening. This helps me to understand the cultural point of departure when I ask, “What does it mean to listen?”
Lastly, in the second chapter I selfishly use a musical piece as a sound object (note 8) to discuss sonic depictions of intimacy through narratives of everyday experiences such as the act diary making. I engage with Josef Bohuslav Foerster’s piano piece Pages from my Diary/Listy z mého deníku.
In this chapter I argue that the intimacy of everyday experiences can be depicted in sound and music and that the process of subjectively perceiving narrative is generative when one wants to experiment with the possibilities of hearing something differently.
Some key difficulties with this project is that I personally value disorientation and not claiming to know or understand a thing in its entirety which goes against how traditional academic knowledge production is supposed to work. I’m also not invested in being completely legible by academic audiences because I’m more interested in being accessible to a mainstream audience.
So to conclude, my project on listening uses soundwalks to tangibly engage with the question “How can we listen differently?” The disorientation that occurs with my soundwalks creates a pathway and openness towards engaging with this idea of Entanglement of Flesh which theorizes a way of being that is self critical and self reflective. From this perspective listening can be a tool to create more intimacy in everyday moments that are seemingly not profound. This intimacy I believe has the potential to instigate or activate an internal shift that can impact the way one externally acts in the world and their perception of self and their position in the world. The end goal of my project is to create more connection and less conceptual distance between the self and other blur the boundaries of what constitutes the self.
This desire behind this blurring is connected with my understanding of “The Void” which is the other side of emptiness which is a fullness of potential. The potential to listen and further, to actually be different.
1. Alexander Weheliye’s work Habeas Viscus, Hortense Spillers’ work Mama’s Baby Papa’s Maybe, and Read: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/683772/summary2.
3. TBA (link broken at the moment)
4. Karen Barad Meeting the Universe Halfway & Elizabeth Grosz The Incorporeal
5. Tevita O. Ka'ili Marking Indigeneity (Ta Va theory of reality), Keith Basso Senses of Place, Peter Moana Nepia (Te Kore) http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/5480
6. Novak, David, and Matt Sakakeeny, eds. Keywords In Sound. Duke University Press, 2015: 100.
7. Some examples of these what I consider perceptual conflicts of reality are inherent in what happens internationally with resource extraction and land development. In the US some key examples would be Standing Rock and Mauna Kea and in Europe granting fishing and hunting permits on Saami land in Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
8. This is not to say that score analysis is obsolete. What I’m trying to do in this second chapter is start a conversation about auditory perception and perception of narrative that is not dependent on a score because ultimately the information I’m interested in exists but cannot be found in the score itself.Further: “Even in Ethnomusicology and musicology--two disciplines that might lay superior claim to sound and auditory perception as their very birthright--a new thinking seems to be taking hold, one that is increasingly drawing attention away from readings--of scores or meanings that are the result of acts of inscription--and focusing it on the materiality of musical communication, issues of sensuality, and the like.” (p.2) Hearing Cultures by Veit Erlmann (2004)