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.