Experiment I: Aural + Orientation = Aurientation?



Muffled echoic sounds, distant voices

‘Someone is here?’

Footsteps, ruffling of plastic materials


Scraping of a ribbed plastic tube.

‘Ouhuu, bahuooooooooooooo’

Inaudible response.

(High-pitched) ‘bawooowooowooowooowooo’

‘Who are you?’

(low-pitched) ‘hmm hmm hm hm hmmm’ (inaudible)

‘Q tal? What do you see?’

‘I see ghosts’

‘Idle power, trust keys, peel’

‘Where are you?’

Loud sounds of breathing in.

‘Go on, gooo on’


‘First to base’

‘Call to the middle of the space’

‘How is it in there?’

‘Dark and warm and impossible’

(loud and close) ‘Very cosy I would say’


‘Somebody’s with you?’

‘No I’m all alone’ 

(loud and close) ‘Can you hear me?’


‘Where are you?’

(loud and close) ‘I’m in the cosy corner.’

‘My corner is also cosy’

‘This is too warm’

‘How cosy?’

‘Very cosy actually, I mean [...]'

‘Are you sitting?’

This is for You (Don’t Treat it like a Telephone) is an installation piece I created during a three-month research residency from September to December 2012 at a.pass, an artistic and educational research environment in Brussels. The installation was developed following a series of explorations into the sonorous properties of various materials and their relationship to the voice and communication.


Early trials for the project included yoghurt pot telephones and funnel devices connected by plastic tubing. These were inspired by research conducted on ear trumpets, early hearing devices, and listening/speaking tubes. Further research was undertaken into the construction of DIY sound booths via a series of exploratory workshops with artists in attendance at a.pass, referred to as ‘Sonorous Dens’. The objective of these sessions was to explore how material found within the studio environs such as furniture, and objects alongside items purchased at DIY stores could be used to construct acoustic environments.


Once the ‘Sonorous Dens’ had been constructed, a series of voice and speech exercises were trialled. Then, a discussion was held to consider the experiential aspect of the constructed environment. A series of reports were subsequently produced to document the materials used in the construction, feelings evoked from speaking inside each of the spaces, and the sensations of being spoken to through the material construction. In the final phase, four ‘Sonorous Dens’, chosen for their distinct experiential properties, were connected using corrugated red plastic tubing typically used in construction work. A more open listening/announcement area made from a corrugated metal tube formed a further part of the piece. The installation was reconstructed for ‘Experiments in Aural Attention: Lingering Longer & Listening Away' (2015).


‘You are irreplaceable’ 

Sounds of plastic tubes moving.


‘This place’


(Singing) ‘We are only yesterday…’



Sounds of plastic tubes moving.

‘Is there someone new?’

‘Haha, yeah’



‘I recognize the voice’



‘So …’

‘Are you on the left side or on the right side?’

‘Um, I have no idea’


‘I’m in, in something and not sure’

‘Ah, ok’


‘I just see flowers when I look down and up, actually I can’t look up’

Sound of plastic tubes moving.

Sound of creaking floorboards.


‘Is there somebody else?’

Sound of creaking.

‘No I’m all alone’


‘Oh yeah, there is somebody’

‘HEY, hehehe’

‘Ah, yeah’


In this exposition, by making use of documentation from the residency period which includes diary extracts, drawings, interview material, photographic documentation, audio recordings, reports, and blog entries, I construct a fictional figure, an imagined gallery-goer, who attempts to embody Terada’s concept of the phenomenophile (2009). This fictional gallery-goer travels from Brussels city centre to Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, one of the nineteen municipalities just West of the central region, to encounter the installation.


Extracts transcribed from recordings made during the aforementioned speech experiments appear in text format on images alongside audio documentation. This register attempts to embody the idea of ‘au/orientation’, a concept I am using to explore how aurality directs our attention toward certain objects, influencing our experience of urban and interior spaces, events, and encounters.


‘Help me, help.’

(Low tone) ‘ooohaaahhooohhhh’

Scratching sounds.

‘It is kind of confusing.’


‘How are you doing today?’

(Low tone continues throughout


Speaking over each other. 

‘I’m very very very busy. I’m really very very busy.’

‘Help me. Help.’

Scratching sounds of plastic tube.


Scratching sounds of plastic tube intensifies.

‘Help. It’s black. Help me. Help me, please’

(Low tone fills the space.)

(Formal tone) ‘I’m sorry but I am just really, really very very busy. Very, very busy. You just happened to call me in a very very busy moment and I really can’t help.’


‘Not today, not today thank you.’

‘Que os pasais?’

‘Not today.’

Sounds of plastic tubes scraping.

‘This is the BBC home service broadcasting from…’

‘Como es tampoco…’

‘I need you’


‘Y el espiritu santo […] Vamonos para casa […] esas persoas’

Hm hm hm ha hm hm ha.

My definition of orientation is informed by queer theorist Sara Ahmed’s use of the word as she, motivated by questions of sexual orientation, investigates ‘how bodies take shape through tending toward objects that are reachable’ (2006: 543). Ahmed’s queer phenomenological approach is useful as I adopt the term to describe a position we might take up toward objects, spaces, beings, and in turn, how our time and space might be commanded in relation to aurality.


The staged objects seem to have been robbed of what art historian Grant Kester refers to as their ‘aesthetic contemplation’ (2004: 29); they are assigned other values as their potential for transformation has been exploited. In Conversation Pieces (2004), Kester claims we see objects in terms of self-transformation, asking ourselves questions such as: can I sell it? Can I eat it? He muses that this might also hold true for relationships with people. Kester argues that robbing an object of its specificity allows you to see its potential for transformation. Similarly here, through a suspension of habitual dialogical relations, possible grounds are created for the experimentation of existence, perhaps opening the possibility for self-transformation.


As the voice comes into distinct approximations with other surfaces, relationships can alter. Philosopher and cultural theorist Mladen Dolar (2006) notes how the sound of your own voice, when heard on a recording device, causes an uncanny relationship to arise.

Findings: Experiment I 

Lingering is introduced as a way of extending and expanding my attention to relations with voices, beings, and objects within a space. This includes the distinct possibility of listening away so as not to hear or to engage with the event. Feminist and queer studies theorist Sara Ahmed asks, ‘What difference does it make what we are oriented toward?’ (2006: 543), claiming ‘we are not only directed toward objects, but those objects also take us in a certain direction’ (ibid.: 544). Following Ahmed through this practical investigation, I begin to understand aural attention as an orientation (or aurientation) toward atmospheric properties and affectful non-linguistic elements of the voice. It therefore seems that bodies take shape and are shaped by how they are aurally affected. Aural attention, evidences its ability to act on the body’s trajectory within a space, shifting, and altering relations between people, places, and things.


In attuning my attention to what is aurally available, rather than solely focusing on semantic content, I become aware of how sounds, beyond their linguistic value, act on, and influence the movement and direction of my body within the space. Beyond words, sounds carve an atmosphere that either accompanies, or is incongruent to the words spoken. Outside attention to linguistic units or semantic meaning, aural attention provides direction, though at times almost imperceptible, it shapes and organizes my experience of space. 

In Experiment II: Vibrant Practice, I focus on how sonorous relations might occur on a vibrational level that can be tangibly felt. To do so, I leave the city studio space in Brussels behind and head out into the landscape of Mid West Wales.


I am grateful to the artists whose voices feature on the audio recordings. These include Sylvain Boisvert, Charo Calvo, Alessandra Coppola, Dolores, Robin Amanda Creswell Faure, Fleur Khani, Nibia Pastrana Santiago, Carlotta Scioldo, Bart van den Eynde, and Dianne Weller.