This text accompanies the audio piece “Fading Quietly”, a sonic exploration of the everyday life of an elderly woman called by the pseudonym Alice. Alice lives alone in a suburb of Copenhagen, bound to her house. Through listening to the ways in which she inhabits her home, a sonic cartography can be mapped, revealing how her acoustic environment and bodily decline are intertwined.
The text takes a meta-perspective by reflecting on the process of creating the audio piece while simultaneously interweaving themes such as solitude, sound, silence, and aging at home. In a time where isolation has become a temporary collective experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the piece sheds light on a life where social seclusion is a chronic condition.
It is recommended that you listen to the audio piece before reading this text. This allows for a more immediate, sensory response to the sonic depiction of Alice’s life.
A Scenery of Sounds
00.00.02:Hairbrush. Breath. Birds
Alice sits in her bed brushing her hair. The red tones of her hair fade into grey on the top of her head. Nearly everything she does takes place in bed. A watch, a thermos with boiled water, a lighter, the remote control, a packet of sweeteners, a metal jar with instant coffee, her hearing aid, and a packet of cigarettes fill the bedside table, revealing what she needs to have within her reach. In front of the window stands a rather large television. Thick purple curtains block out the light. A bird cage with an open gate occupies the coffee table. While Alice is bound to her bed, her birds fly about freely. Two nameless parakeets seek the curtain rod from where they sing and chatter between splotches of dry bird poo.
I have considered narrating parts of the description above and incorporating it into the audio piece. As the visual scenery is absent to the listener, it must be sensed, narrated or imagined. Sounds have the potential to tell so much. They can be rich with texture and meaning, imbued with sensory information. But sounds can also tell very little. The workings of sound in relating a scene can be allusive rather than comprehensive, and sometimes even bewildering.
Listeners play an active role in making sense of what they hear in a soundscape. They bring a level of imagination and self-experience to the “elsewhere” through listening (Makagon and Neumann 2008:31). Sometimes, context is needed to guide the awareness of the listener - at least, that is what I have noticed in my field of work at the intersection of sound ethnography and radio production. Context can be provided in a narration, bridging one scene to the next or bearing information that enables the listener to place the sounds in a physical space. In the following I use text to contextualize “Fading Quietly” and reflect on the process of creating it. In their Audio Paper Manifesto, musicologist Sanne Krogh Groth and interdisciplinary scholar Kristine Samson advocate for an experimental format that presents the academic text as an audio production.
The audio paper is an extension of the written paper through its specific use of media, a sonic awareness of aesthetics and materiality, and creative approach towards communication. The audio paper is a performative format working together with an affective and elaborate understanding of language. (Krogh Groth and Samson 2016).
I consider the audio piece “Fading Quietly” as more closely related to the genre of reportage. The sonic materiality operates on its own without an explicit argument. However, supported by written text, the two medias complement each other and replicate some of the ideas of the audio paper: assembling a sensory and creative approach with analytical thoughts and reflections on the methodology. Inspired by the sound anthropologist Steven Feld, I seek to cultivate an awareness of how creating knowledge through sound is a process of spatial and relational engagements that involve an attunement to the world we seek to know about (Feld 2015).