Animas: Disaster, Data, and the Resonance of a River
In this paper, I discuss the conceptual framework and development of Animas, an artwork which links sounding materials to the Animas River in Colorado. The Animas River is heavily contaminated by leakage from abandoned gold mines, including a 2015 spill in which three million gallons of wastewater were accidentally released into the river by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), turning the water a bright orange and threatening agriculture, tourism, and an already “disturbed” alpine ecology. Animas draws on precedents in sound art and explores transduction as a means of relating to more-than-human agencies and avoiding over-simplified representations of environmental degradation. Changes in the clarity of the water, invisible indicators of the dissolved metals within it, and the dynamics of its daily and seasonal flows all become sound in the gallery, producing timbral "color" from the river's continually changing composition—these data are provided by the Southern Ute Water Quality Program and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The piece acknowledges how our limited temporal sensibilities are challenged by the imbrication of the geologic time of minerals, the historical time of extractive industries, and the immediate urgency of equitable responses to ecological change.
The Murmur of the Crowd
Public assembly and mass protest are increasingly common features of our political landscape. The recent women’s marches, the mass protesting of President Trump’s so called ‘travel ban,’ Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement are centred on the bodies in crowds in the streets. This paper examines the sound of the crowd, arguing that the sonic offers a productive framework for attending to the collective yet heterogeneous nature of public assemblies. Considering the sonic materiality of the crowd, I argue that the collection of voices that coalesce to produce the sound of the crowd can be understood through the sonic figure of the murmur. Drawing on Michel Serres’ formulation of noise, I suggest that the hum of a collective murmur foregrounds multiplicity and resists fixity. The murmur cannot be reduced to a singular voice or clean transmission but rather is always registered as a multiple. An attentiveness to the sonic dimension of the crowd allows us to develop an understanding of public assemblies as collectivities that enable and cultivate dissensus. I argue that the crowd can be read—or rather heard—as a social body that activates what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney refer to as an undercommon sociality. This paper proposes a form of micropolitical listening that attends to the materiality of a murmuring crowd and suggests that such an embodied listening practice might offer us a way to listen to a politics in process, a politics that is yet to cohere into a rigid and stratified form. Listening to the murmur of the crowd offers us a way of conceptualising collective politics anew.
Beyond the Azhan: Abu Dhabi’s Cacophonous Soundscape
In Abu Dhabi, a city where the adhan, (The Islamic Call to Prayer), is recited five times daily, mapping the cacophony of its sounds can provide insight into its built environment and the lived experiences of the people in it. By considering the urban ambiance of the city through the acoustical mappings of both the uniform and pre- recorded natures of the adhan in Abu Dhabi City, I will offer a perspective of how live recordings can participate in a discourse on the aesthetic and temporal landscape of the city. What is it about the process of recording what we hear that allows the sonic content of the recording to become live, and does this impact our understanding of place? What do recordings reveal about urban spaces, and how do we “listen back” to them?
Eroding Together: Mattering Processes of Sound
I probe the complexity of material entanglements in situated sound art through an examination of the production and presentation of a recent project on the remote archipelago of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, Canada. The work, Compositional Routes of the Magdalen Islands (Thulin 2016), investigates the archipelago through sound, directly informed by the material processes that shape the islands, both physically and socially. In particular the project engages processes of erosion at the meeting point of wind, land, and sea, following the shifting contours of the littoral zone as sandstone cliffs turn to wandering dune formations. Sound here operates not only as material, or the voicing of materials, but as a mattering process that offers an opportunity to consider how different forms of material break apart and fold together. Drawing especially on work from science and technology studies, geography, and sound studies, I argue for a situated understanding of how sound matters and use the particularities of erosion on the Îles-de-la-Madeline as a way of understanding these processes.
Materials of Sound II
This is the second issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies focused on the Materials of Sound (see issue no. 16). At the heart of these two issues is something of a twist in sonic thinking that sees the authors thinking about sound as more than sound, the opposite of Cage’s dictum of letting sound be itself – as hearing sound as sound. Instead, the materials that produce the sounds under investigation are understood as being more than the sounds that they create. Sound is not heard as innocent, pure, or transparent but rather as a part of a political ecology in which it is deeply linked to various histories and ecologies that form and hold the materials of any sound’s making.
The Failed Assemblage of Batroun Concrète: A Biopsychosocial Approach to Post-acousmatic Composition
Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9 is a sound work by the composer Seth Ayyaz. Comprised of a score for live performances interleaved with electroacoustic parts, it emerged from a residency at the Batroun Projects art space in the north of Lebanon. The performance intended for 2012 was disrupted by the early cross-border resonances of the Syrian civil war. While it failed to materialize in a final form, its conceptual design and theoretical underpinnings are relevant to thinking the complicities of composition with its material conditions, specifically regarding site-specificity, live improvisation, field recordings, and studio-based practice. The work investigated how body-related cognitive scripts might speculatively structure sonic thinking.
Wilfred Sellars’ philosophical distinction between contrasting “manifest” and “scientific” images of humankind, as discussed by thinkers such as Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier, is applied here to sonic discourse. The proposed “biopsychosocial” image rejects notions of the givenness of a human listener-composer subject in favor of a de-subjectified symbiont contingently implicated in complex systems dynamics. This is also illustrated in relation to Keith Rowe’s free improvisation practices. The paper discusses how Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9 leverages the notion of assemblage as compositional method; how materiality both informs and develops the composer’s biopsychosocial approach to post-acousmatic composition; and introduces key concepts relevant to issues at stake in the work: post-acousmatic, not-knowing listening stance, reflexive-reflective, interiority-exteriority, and reception-interpretation-action helix. By harnessing a specific assemblage of concepts, subpersonal and transpersonal processes, agentive objects, and acoustics found at the derelict site, the graphic score composed open-ended non-determinate structural couplings between elements that investigated the material specificities of the site.