Archive for December, 2011

13 December 2011

writing sound, part 6 (the end)


Listening and writing are bound to remain strangers to each other, and writing sound inhabits the space of this otherness. There is no prescriptive way of being in such a space because it is ultimately the space of memory, personal and constructed in the present.

I think of writing sound as the space of an absence, strictly tied to the act of remembering: and how does memory take shape? To remember means to construct an impression of a lost presence; moreover, often memory has to do with the desire of a memory, thus questioning any claim for an origin that prescribes a one-sided faithfulness to it. Think for example of that part in Proust’s Recherche when the narrator recalls his first meeting with Gilberte, and says: ‘If her eyes hadn’t been so dark, I would have not loved in her, as I did, especially her blue eyes 12’. Here the presumed authenticity of Gilberte’s black eyes fades in the authenticity of the narrator’s vision of blue eyes, and both merge in a memory that is written and constructed through the experience of a place: the hiss of the wind, the hues and smells of the pink hawthorns, all contributing to the construction of the recollection.

Each memory, hence each memory of a sound, is mediated, filtered, deferred – and yet, present every time it is written. Sounds cannot be separated from a sense of place, and writing sound in turn is not concerned with abstractions only manifested to the ears, detached and purely aural: writing embraces sound as it calls for the participation of deepest perceptions, desires and further recollections, and possesses us to the point when we no longer know what we heard and what we think we’d heard. Ultimately, what we know is what we write.

Sounds as sounds will stay as such. To write sound has to do with our not being in sounds; our memories of them speak of the places where we experience them in time. What we exchange as humans are our reports mixed with our longing, our words and the words of others: stories of stories, constructions of constructions.

The landscape of writing sound appears like a mise en abîme with blurred margins, where the frame of each new scene fades into the next and is not clearly defined: where memories and words from the past are renewed into the now. As I write sound, what I outline cannot be but a layered construction of all the thoughts and words and images that have been with me through the years within the landscapes of my listening, and that load my every return. There is no claim for authenticity, it doesn’t matter what is real and what is fake in the texture woven in such a hybrid operation. Rather than interrogating the provenance and aim of the resulting text I’d lose myself in its patterns of recalled, reinvented and revisited scenarios, in words. What matters is what is here / what I hear today, when I construct my writing sound as a mise en abîme of eroding and revived experiences, anticipations, recollections.

To conclude, I go back to Calvino’s lonely king. Despite of the illusion of dialogic space encountered in his duet, at the end he wakes up in a cave underground. Once more alone, once more with his buzz in his head, once more uncertain of his status and place. The circularity of reaching out, through words, and yet being entrenched in the uniqueness of each listening moment, is the space of writing sound. It is prompted by a question: ‘Where am I?’. It enquires about a place, and it constructs over and over the landscape in which I locate myself, or lose myself – personally, culturally – every time I set out to write after listening. It opens incremental horizons through the singularities of each telling. It doesn’t have to do with prescriptive ways, all-encompassing categories or defining reasons, but with the presence of an experience and of a place, in the intermittences, the raptures and the falls of every other today.


12 Proust, Marcel. (1985). Dalla parte di Swann. Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, p.231. Translation from Italian is mine.

6 December 2011

writing sound, part 5


So the question here seems to be: how do I occupy the space between listening and writing? I think of reference in Writing Sound as I read Chapter Two in Pandora’s Hope by Bruno Latour, entitled Circulating Reference 7: the French sociologist describes the procedures carried out by soil science experts and geographers to translate soil samples from a forest into a map of a forest, and compares such procedures to the use of reference: to ‘pack the world into words’ 8, he says. In the same chapter Latour shows how ‘in losing the forest we win knowledge of it’ 9. I would like to draw a parallel between the transition from forest to map, and the transition from listening to writing, with particular regards to the function of reference: that is, packing into words the world of listening, while being removed from it. 

In losing a sound we gain knowledge of it: in words.

In Latin the verb ‘referre’ means ‘to bring back’, and this bringing back occurs across layers of transformations. Latour further clarifies such process of transformation in a recent article 10, looking at how the correspondence between territory and map does not occur as an abstraction, but in practice and through reference. He writes of the navigator, who works out a route not based on some abstract correspondence between map and territory, but on the detection of cues on site and in real time between one steppingstone and the next. Each detection is not a ‘deadly jump’ but a ‘deambulation’: a walk through and about a number of steppingstones 11. The gap between two steps is packed with reference to layers of experience and observations; with laboured operations, detours or even falls and dead ends. Likewise when I write sound I navigate, I walk around the changing landscape of a listening experience as it is recalled in words, through reference to layers of knowledge, moments of being, of forgetting and of undoing. Writing Sound advocates variety and it opens up to multiplicity of outcomes. It presents and propagates one’s history. It is shaped across one’s personal experiences, collections and recollections of words and sounds and places.

To stop walking around them means they will no longer be audible.

7 Latour, Bruno. (1999). Circulating Reference. In: Pandora’s Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 24-79.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Latour, Bruno, November, Valerie and Camacho-Hübner, Eduardo. (2010). Entering a Risky Territory: Space in the Age of Digital Navigation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28, pp. 581-599.

11 Latour calls the outcome of this process ‘the miracle of reference’.

1 December 2011

writing sound, part 4


I think of Writing Sound as I read A King Listens 4 by Italo Calvino, a short story published posthumously in 1986 as part of an unfinished collection dedicated to the five senses. It is the story of a king who lives alone in a constant state of surveillance, capturing every acoustic signal in his palace as a sign of a plot against himself and his status. By writing of listening as an isolated act, Calvino points right at the heart of the paradox of writing sound. I would like to look more closely at the very distinctive voice in this story.

Throughout his text Calvino uses the second person, a powerful singular ‘you’, and by doing so the reader is placed constantly on the edge: that ‘you’ is highly ambiguous and one is never sure if it’s the writer addressing the king who listens, the king’s mind addressing the listening king, the writer addressing the reader-as-king as he or she listens, Calvino using his text as a mirror to reflect his words unto us, the readers.

Alone, the king listening to the silence around him and in turn, the reader reading and the writer writing the story and its threatening silence, become the figure of a solipsistic exercise verging into the buzz of paranoia. The king’s palace is but an ear. He sits lonely on top of his throne. Around, silence swarms with voices as he listens to ‘time as it goes by’ and its ‘sonorous numbers’ 5. Inside, silence is not the absence of signal, but the absence of a space articulated outside of the experience of listening as such. In one of his moments of doubt the king/narrator wonders, ‘Is there a story that links one noise to another?’ 6. Listening then needs to be articulated, attached to something outside of itself, otherwise it falls into a status of isolation and self-referentiality. The ‘you singular’ in Calvino’s story signifies the hesitancy of the narrator between the elusiveness of the aural dimension as such, and the necessity to extend it across words.

At last the king goes out of his palace and his ear is caught by a melody. He hears a woman singing and he no longer pays attention to the plotting of his lonely mind. He reaches out and sings a duet with her: his experience of listening now takes place in an articulated, rounded dimension. The sense of precariousness, the hovering site of the listener represented by the lonely king and by that ambiguous ‘you’, slippery and placeless, is resolved by Calvino by shaping the listening experience of a ‘singular you’ in a story that reaches out to many ‘I’s, ‘she’s and ‘he’s.

But this is not to say that they reply.

4 Calvino, Italo. (1986). Un re in ascolto. In: Calvino, Italo. Sotto il sole giaguaro. Milan: Garzanti, pp.51-77. Translation from Italian is mine.
The Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero wrote a detailed analysis of this story with regards to the relational nature of what she calls ‘the vocalic’; that is, the sounding quality of a voice before its semantic connotations. Cavarero, Adriana. (2005). For More Than One Voice. Toward A Philosophy Of Vocal Expression. Translated from Italian by Paul A. Kottman. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

5 Calvino, Italo. (1986). Op. Cit.

6 Ibid.

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