[More excerpts from my research notes]
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I read some words by James Clifford: ‘A disciplinary habitus has been established around the embodied activity of fieldwork,’ he wrote sixteen years ago in his book Routes. Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century as he questioned ‘the habitus of the neutral eye’ in fieldwork and looked at the margins, at fringe activities such as the journals of travel writers, not constrained by diktats of ethnographical practice and free to explore instead more tormented questions that arise or are silenced when visiting a place. The habitus of the neutral ear often creeps into evaluations of recordings. Where do we stop treating a record as a document and begin considering it as an open field for entangled subjectivities?
Art versus Document. The dissident Surrealists were no strangers to the slippery edge between the two, their periodical Documents (1929-30) attested the imaginary and subversive potential in mutual crossing over between what is deemed objective (a ‘document’) and what is not. The unsettling impact of these documents is a function of the editing glance (in our case, ear) that deploys it. The notion that a recording/document is *only* an intact, unchangeable, objective source and ‘not art’, masks some practitioners’ unwillingness to come to grips with aesthetic and conceptual considerations.
Documents are not intact, unchangeable; recordings, every time we play them, are escapes out of fixity. Not a still aural presence, but a mutable entity that allows the listeners to slide into the space of their own fictions, hesitations, questions, not the certainty of a pre-set agenda. I’m interested in the shift from real to fiction and the sliding back from fiction to real that occurs every time we are confronted with recorded sounds. They prompt rather than document, they prompt the listener not to classify, but to interpolate. No recording can coincide with the event of each experience of hearing, and a recording is not a time-capsule-on-demand (the madeleine was an accident, not an enforcement of memory deliberately picked from a tidily organised collection of keepsakes). Time cannot be kept, we live and listen with records and documents, not because of them.
Now I think of the field of my experience, not recorded, but recalled. Where, and how do I articulate it, when I recall in listening and reading and then I write? Rather than considering memory, I’d like to think of the history of a memory, as it moves from fixed document to yet another reinvention, slightly different every other time, transformative and entangled. I think of sounds for which there cannot be any trace, no record, and what I can make with them. Once more I think of fabulation. Fable in the Renaissance was artificium occultandi, artifice of concealment. Think of all the veils, the tricks and devices that I can deploy. Therefore I cannot believe in the existing rhetoric around heritage and collections as frozen and transparent sites of permanence. I think of my heritage consumed into the spaces of reinvention, yet another artificium occultandi. It is a sense of unknown or ungraspable drift, that recordings can trigger. Not as untouchable documents calling for classifications or taxonomies, but eliciting what is not there: a shift, or, as I read in Landings by Richard Skelton, an attraction toward ‘the inert space that borders’ each sound.