Pauline NADRIGNY | FR |
Écouter « comme un iceberg »
In Weather Report (Touch, 2003), the English composer and audio naturalist Chris Watson portrays "Vatnajökull", Iceland's largest glacier. The glacier is, by nature, subject to changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure. Beneath its apparent homogeneity, it is subject to continuous metamorphosis. Hence its resonance in poetic imagination, since Rabelais. Hence, also, its critical place in the context of global warming and, according to Paul J. Crutzen, for the theory of Anthropocene. This shifting, the metabolic world is made audible in Watson's work through the choice and placement of transducers or hydrophones. The extreme care taken in recording techniques to render a phenomenon inaudible to the un-equipped listener does not however exclude composing here. Recording the melting of the ice on Ross Island for a BBC documentary (Frozen Planet, 2011), Watson describes the crunching sounds of boulders beneath the solid surface, the sounds resulting from the strong pressure between the submerged blocks, the noise of the melting itself, the muffled noises of icebergs bumping against the ice-cap: "deep notes," "music," expressing a "frightening sense of power," "a strange melody, in which the listener is submerged. It is necessary, however, to be careful with such a musicalization of the world: what we hear is, according to Watson, "geology made sound". Such practices allow us to apprehend the heterogeneous, heterotopic dimension of extreme environments. We will then refer to another work, the documentary Encounters at the End of the World (2007), by Werner Herzog. Herzog also travels to Ross Island, on McMurdo's observation base. Glaciologists, with their ears and bodies glued to the ice pack, describe what they hear as "inorganic". Their astonishment invites us to think of a decentralization: how do sound practices such as those of Watson and listening to extreme environments such as the glacial world, invite us to a shift in the anthropocentric gaze towards a listening that changes our perception and the ontological partition between the living and the inanimate? We will here summon two authors: Stan Godlovitch, in "The Ice Breakers", attempts to formulate an "a-centric" aesthetic of the environment; the anthropologist Julie Cruikshank presents an investigation into the indigenous thoughts of British Columbia, opposing to an inanimate mass the idea of a glacier endowed with a sensitive autonomy, a spirit through which it communicates with the living who colonize it. This ontological shift is based on the inversion of the positions of the listener and the heard. Indeed, field recording teaches us that listening to the world undermines our perceptive patterns, and the ontological categories inherited globally from the vision that underlies them. And that glaciers listen too.
Pauline Nadrigny is associate professor in Philosophy at University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of Musique et Philosophie au XXe siècle (Classiques Garnier, 2015), The most beautiful ugly sound in the world : à l'écoute de la noise (MF, 2018) and Le voile de Pythagore : du son à l'objet (Classiques Garnier, 2020, forthcoming). She co-organized in 2019 the international Conference "Echoes of the Real" at La Philharmonie in Paris. This symposium about the relationships between contemporary realism and the arts will be soon edited in a collective publication in January 2021.