writing sound, part 1

In the next few days I will be posting sections from my presentation ‘Something Missing’: notes on Writing Sound as Landscape and mise-en-abime at the Sound Art Theories symposium, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 5/6 November 2011.

The text is an edit from my book En abime. Listening, Reading, Writing.

An audio recording of the reading will be uploaded next month.

‘Something Missing’: notes on Writing Sound as Landscape and mise-en-abime

I think of the space of Writing Sound as I read a short text by Robert Walser, published in 1902 and entitled Music. At some point he says, ‘There’s something missing when I don’t hear music, and when I do, then there’s really something missing. That’s the best I can say about music’1. I wish to explore this space, delineated by ‘really something missing’ as the best that can be said about music. I wish my thoughts to exist right at the heart of Walser’s hopelessness for an encounter between music and words. And I wish to look at how writing sound fills a space apparently void, yet loaded; empty, but only just so. Music and sounds still resonate there, they can be sensed seeping through the words that speak the absence – or shall I say, that inscribe the absence?

Sound exists in Walser’s words in absentia, but it also exists in the actuality of its being written. The sense of missing calls for words: they crowd up against an outline of emptiness, swarm inside it, redefine and inhabit the space left by sound.

I think of this space as a landscape in perpetual transformation – occupied by sounds, left by them, filled in by words across recollections or anticipations, and over again. I look at the many ways of returning to and inhabiting this ever-changing, ever-familiar landscape as it is written. It is impossible to predict what might happen on any return: an accident, a happy discovery, a moment of contemplation, a fall.

Or even nothing special.

What is special about this nothing is its very precarious yet loaded quality, that I sense in my experience of being there, in listening, and not being there any longer, in writing – every time charged by the past, every time detached from it and informed by the new: a progression of moments of awareness, amassed into the now with all its load of then’s. Such a condition of estrangement from sounds does not call for unattainable wholeness, for absolute frameworks and legitimate ways of understanding, but rather for a syncretic, personal rearrangement of one’s array of the memories that shape each listening moment today. Such condition of estrangement from sound does not call for a complete, discursive space but for the making and the unmaking of memories in a contingent present singular.


1 Walser, Robert. (1993). Music. In: Masquerade and Other Stories. Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky. London: Quartet Books, pp.9-10. First published in 1902.

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