I’m reading an excerpt from my book in progress tomorrow at Arnolfini, Bristol, as part of their Salon: Fictions and Ethomusicology.
In recent months I have become more and more concerned with responding to sounds by working on pacing and form. I’ve been writing a series of texts that start with a seemingly rational proposition and then crumble down into interpretive delirium: for me it’s a way to reclaim the enjoyment and complexity and intermittent incoherence in listening, and to work with the residual aspects of listening, all those thoughts and detours that are often dismissed as irrelevant and that seldom find a place in texts on sound.
I’m interested in trying to state the inability of naming ‘these sounds’ and yet the possibility of writing them nonetheless.
For example I constructed the following text in anticipation of and response to the sounds in a new CD by Stephen Cornford, Music for Earbuds, with repetitions and accelerations. I imagine it like a monologue read very fast.
The only information on these sounds I had from Stephen was: ‘The CD is called Music for Earbuds and is composed entirely from headphone feedback which makes some surprisingly organic (as well as electronic) sounds.’ I spent the following week dwelling on these surprisingly organic sounds as I imagined them, before even listening to them – or maybe I had begun to listen anyway. I have a habit with listening. When I hear of a record or sound piece before I hear it, I anticipate and deliberately infiltrate my experience and memory of it. Call it an exercise in fabulation, an investigation of the tangles in the listening-writing space, or simply the will to prove that a sound is never a self-standing entity but is connected, haunted and contaminated by its listeners and their histories. So here I am, skirting the edges of these not-yet-heard sounds, listening to, listening in, but always out. I have a habit with listening, it responds to titles before I listen, or maybe because I have always been listening. Music for Earbuds… ‘ear, buddy! Who’s out there? Sound it again, please? Who’s that? Hear! I have a habit with listening. It makes me write and today after playing over and over these sounds at last, I write: ringing buzzing these sounds spiralling frenzy. These sounds so stark and stubborn, as a listener I hit against their form, I slide on their surfaces. These sounds so alien yet alluring call me to spend time with them, attend to them. These sounds mark the edges of hearing and understanding. The rest will remain a mystery, this ring buzz these sounds spiral frenzy. I have a habit with listening and sometimes it’s obsession. These sounds take me to the edge of understanding. The edge here is the ear that hears. My listening encounters nothing but itself in these sounds. There is no key into or out of these sounds, only the endless play of their fabrications. Shatter any notion of sound as signifier. If I had to name these sounds it would be something wild and resounding: an incantation that returns and turns and generates a new meaning in itself, like these sounds. Why am I listening to these sounds? Because they’re there, and because they’re there I want to explore them and as I try, I fall into the circle of these sounds as I fall into the circle of myself. This circularity has no claims, it bounces the responsibility of listening back onto me. And I haven’t even started telling you of the void these sounds are set against. This void behind these sounds resounds my fluttering thoughts, terrors of understanding, interpretive delirium: Listen to the tweeting of the mechanical bird, listen to The Inner Dialogue Of The Lonely Mechanical Bird. In their exaggerated detachment these sounds mock the easy, dangerous assumption that a recording is true: maybe, maybe there is a mechanical creature, somewhere in my thoughts that thankfully does not have to be true to be experienced. I spend a good half hour contemplating this creature spawned by these sounds, crazed wind-up-toy running in circles. Its tones, sharp or rounded, puncture my understanding with their presence. The tangibility of these unnameable sounds. Is it a trap? Even the sounds of my keyboard as I type against these sounds, sound more terse and metallic. In these shortening days in the end of summer, there’s three of us and it’s a crowd: myself in the room, the headphone on and in my head, the mechanical bird with its metallic peal in my mind. These sounds. At the end I realise I might not have written much about them. I was too busy listening and writing these sounds, in but always out. In my brain they stay, at peace until they’ll reawaken to the next obsession. Go, listen yourselves. I told you I had a bad habit.
Each section in my book in progress is prompted by a page from another book. In somehow reverse fashion than the five blank pages in my copy of Melville’s Pierre, onto which En abime collapsed, these pre-existing pages are an attempt to bring reading into writing, even closer. Records of reading into writing.
Here is one of the prompts – most likely I will try and re-print these pages into the book as they are, as facsimiles, with my marks and underlinings (made at different points in time), each chapter merging into and out of each page: