Posts tagged ‘sound’

21 February 2013

5. being but an ear

Today I’ve been trying to write about a problematic tendency, in field recording, toward the dissolution of the recording subject into the field. Trying to come to terms with such notion, I recalled a line by Emily Dickinson who wrote of ‘Being but an Ear’ in a context in which the coincidence between the Ear and an all-encompassing, all-listening Being is a premonition of death. The illusion of a ‘pan-auricular’ (!?!) approach is shattered in such premonition, but what does it mean to keep tending to it?
(For the next chapter of my book, I’ve been returning for months to the question: what is this compulsion of collecting, recording, recording, keeping?  .   .   .   .   .   “A death-blow is a life-blow to some”.   .   .   .   .)



5 May 2012

John Wynne, Installation no. 2 for High and Low Frequencies / review

On entering the large space taken up by John Wynne’s new installation, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer physical impact of low frequencies as they make the windows rattle and the floor tremble, and by the elusiveness of high frequencies that flutter around the ears and intermittently create an odd sense of aural déjà vu … [read more]

18 October 2011

listening unprimed

I was at a conference on field recordings last night, and at some point one of the presenters mentioned the need for a structure, in order to place yourself in the condition to listen.

‘You wouldn’t listen without a structure’, he said.

And what happens to the unexpected, the fragmentary, the overheard sounds that catch us at those times when we’re not prepared ‘to listen’ and yet seem to capture our innermost selves nonetheless?

If we consider listening as an exclusive, absorbed and solely focused activity resolved in self-confined and self-induced moments of intentional awareness, a great portion of the complexity and elusiveness of listening goes lost. It might help to even stop considering it an ‘activity’ for a while – to let go of any implication of intention. To think of listening not as a linear, directional tool but as a softer-edged device, not perhaps outlined by ‘structures’ but by biomorphic accretions, liquefying odd-functioning contraptions, uneven syncretisms at best.

If we consider listening as possible only through and by means of a structure, then we favour the discursive, contextual approach and leave out all the engrossing, enticing qualities in listening that defy structure, discourse, perhaps even reason.

One of the clearer moments in my history of listening dates back to 1999. I was visiting the Venice Biennale and at some point on walking along the pathway leading to the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini, an echoing sound seemed at first to come from far away, then revealed itself as slowly and continually building within a circumscribed portion of space. The experience was defining – not ‘only’ for the quality of the sound as such, but for the combination of that sound with that place. I was then a student and had no idea of artists working with sound. What I knew then is, that sound opened up an unexpected dimension in my being there. I was surprised and teased into an unknown aural fold that day. The experience of that sound stayed with me anonymous; a riddle for many years.
Only five years later did I learn that at the 1999 Biennale I’d experienced a work by Max Neuhaus. At the time, it had appeared ‘only’ as an unexpected, continuous hum that caught me unprepared, unveiled a depth and somehow transfixed me and my aural experiences.
I listened with no structure, and yet listen I did.
And my experience of that continuous sound remains a riddle to date, nonetheless.

To listen is to become aware of each of our moments of being in a specific place at a specific time. The call for a ‘structure’ for listening seems to dismiss all those moments of unexpected aural occurrences that catch us unprimed – unprimed as a blank canvas on which colours are not fixed: they seep into the fibers, they are let free to flow away, off our own borders. No brushes, control or intention, only their movement and ours as we absorb it.

And so often with our ears unprimed, sounds dig deeper in our understanding of a place, a landscape, ourselves.

10 October 2011

feeling, understanding, knowing: listening

The organic adherence by which
feeling-passion becomes understanding, therefore knowledge.

These words in Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks hit me today as an epiphany of learning and as foremost keys into listening. To listen is to grasp a deeper sense of place, of self, of stories. In Italian the verb comprendere, to understand comes from Latin and means to embrace. It is expansive, not normative. It embraces diversity. Sapere, to know comes instead from a verb that means to have a taste of, to catch a flavour. And sentire in Italian means both to feel and to listen.

Gramsci’s claim for a shift from knowing to understanding, to feeling, and back, from feeling to understanding, to knowing encompasses the expanding function of listening: from having a taste of something to embracing it – ultimately, to knowing it.

— just like the double shift from light and sound into understanding and backwards, in the slow pace of certain verses written by Pier Paolo Pasolini in a collection of poems entitled The Ashes of Gramsci:

That slow pace
which invaded the depths of my soul
when I truly loved, when
I truly wanted to understand.
And, as then, they disappear, singing.
In the abandoned flame of the morning’s
burning sun […]
vibrations scrape the silence […]

7 October 2011

a beginning: a song

I want to tell you of a song.

It is entitled Lamento per la morte di Pasolini, Lament for the Death of Pasolini and it follows the structure of a traditional extra-liturgical religious ballad from Central Italy, the Orazione di San Donato, Prayer of Saint Donatus. It was written in December 1975 after Pier Paolo Pasolini’s death by an Italian singer called Giovanna Marini. It begins like this:

Persi le forze mie, persi l’ingegno…

I lost all my strength, I lost my ability…

I lost all my strength and my ability, at some point about three years ago. Call me a writer of sound. I write of it soaring through the air, leaking into fabrics of words, haunting places and recollections, inhabiting visions and books. At some point about three years ago I no longer could see a consistent picture in all I’d done and written over the previous ten years. What had appeared until then like a congruous body of work, crumbled in a myriad scattered pieces that I knew I had to stitch together again. I lost all my strength and my ability and as I write these pages I go back to my old notebooks. As I read, as I listen and as I write I’m engulfed in an assonant riddle. It hovers between chi sono? – in Italian meaning both who am I? and who are they? – and chi suono?whom do I sound? – voicing the aural universe where my research moves. Many questions, infested by many who’s. These pages swarm with the voices of those questions, and when I say I it is in fact they: my archive of voices, of words, of sounds, outlining the landscape in which I moves. This blog is shaped through my collection and my recollections of books, music, sounds, songs; of encounters with books, music, sounds and songs. I inhabit my landscape of readings and of listening moments at times as a guest, at times as a stranger, at times as a parasite, at times as a ghost. I go for a walk around my favourite places of listening, I look for another way of understanding and of stitching those broken pieces together. Until I reach the edge of an abyss.

This is not the outpouring of an autobiographical image: it is an image distorted, reiterated, projected, reinvented and echoed into clusters of words. And not even just one image but clouds of them, attached to the same landscape. It has to do with remembering and returning, today and every other today; with the fixed rhythmic gestures that move my listening, my reading and my writing, where the formulaic quality of certain recurring images outlines the limits within which I can say I again.

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