Inhabiting a Vulnerable Skin



00.07.02:          Preparing instant coffee 

00.07.42:          Lighting a cigarette

00.07.53:         Chatting with the birds


The audio piece tells a story of how life is lived while time is fading out. The sounds of Alice’s home reveal the entanglement of the sonic environment and the decline of Alice’s body. A television playing at high volume bears witness to her decreased hearing capacity (she lowered it when I was there), and the condensed sonic activity around her bed speaks of the hours she spends there. The other rooms remain muted. Only when Alice makes her trip to the refrigerator or when the caregiver pays her a visit do they resonate with life. During these moments the sounds of running water, the electric kettle or the clattering of porcelain float from the kitchen and echo throughout the rooms like an acoustic event.


The audio piece also tells another story. It is a sonic encounter with a voice that is rarely heard. Home is often connected to the concept of interiority, as the paragraph by LaBelle, quoted from above, indicates. Home is a place where the self can shelter and find protection. “Our home and our own personal space are ultimately an experience of our own skin”, Pallasmaa writes (2007:30). In Denmark, the discourse around public perception and official policies make it clear that staying as long as possible in one’s own home – healthy, active, and self-reliant – is an ideal. Most seniors prefer familiar surroundings that give them a sense of belonging. To draw upon Pallasmaa’s expression, they wish to inhabit “their own skin”. But the skin becomes more vulnerable as we age, more porous, less reliable in its protection. In other words, there is a downside to the policies supporting ageing at home when it comes to frail seniors, with Alice’s situation as one illustration. She lives in a house that no longer meets her needs. Moreover, it most likely adds to her severely reduced mobility and fragile social and mental state. Maybe Alice would never open the curtains and seat herself by the window even if she had an inviting view, and maybe she would not engage in small talk with a neighbor or two even if she lived right next to other seniors. But maybe she would. Alice belongs to a group of vulnerable elders who live isolated in their own homes, visible to the caregivers but invisible – or inaudible – to the rest of society. Applying a sonic approach to try to listen from within the everyday routines and lives of those seniors – and others who live in isolation – allows us to experience, if just for a while, their “sonorous envelopes.” In this way we can share their existence in intimate ways and offer this experience to the outside world.

National Geographic wildlife on the television.

Photo by Nanna Hauge Kristensen (copyright)