LJ has taken the boys out
I got them up, fed and ready – we made a deal
our needs were mutually heard in the moment
now I’m at home alone on Valentine’s Day with tinnitus and a whirring computer fan
immersed in a timespace that is calm
cars fading softly past the window
recently, I’ve been a mess
life seeming at once overwhelming and empty
lockdown and precarious work produce an atomizing pressure
and I’ve struggled to care, parent or write
but now here in this flat occurs a silence
a gift (from you)
which is, perhaps, enough to bring the connection
that can accompany the act
of suspending one’s self in vibration
hearing feeling body emerging through open form
This article unfolds as a story of listening and sounding in the home I share with my partner and two primary school-aged children in Glasgow during the global COVID-19 pandemic. On 24 March 2020 the UK entered a blanket “lockdown,” requiring people to remain in their homes, leaving only to take exercise outdoors for a maximum of one hour each day. Throughout the year 2020, and now into 2021, Scotland and the UK have moved between varying degrees of restriction, from full lockdowns to less severe limitations on movement and social interaction, including “social distancing” and the mandatory wearing of facemasks. As with much of the rest of the world, this has caused a sudden shift toward living inside: caring, working, socializing, parenting, playing, schooling within the home, accompanied, for some, by a sharp increase in digital media and internet usage, with video teleconferencing software providing a new virtual space where social relationships are maintained and work is done. Living in a flat in the south side of the city, my partner, children and I, like those around us, have been developing new strategies for dealing with this new and changing situation of living indoors and online.
An unexpected consequence of the pandemic has been the sudden transformation of everyday urban soundscapes (Ouzounian 2021). In the early days and weeks of lockdown in Glasgow, the sound of my local area in the city’s south side changed dramatically, largely due to major reductions in traffic noise, in night-time activity, and in the comings and goings of local commercial and communal life. Much of that noise and energy, that desire, effort, exertion, and tension, has apparently moved inside people’s homes. Indeed, the energy and the sound of my home have intensified, and in these past eleven months I have been listening closely to this intensification, developing new sonic strategies for understanding and shaping the shifting dynamics of indoor living. Through the study and application of critical listening practices, alone and with my family, I have been trying to hear and critically examine, to co-compose and to regenerate, the dwelling place that we share.
This article presents and discusses this developing practice of critical listening in the home during enforced confinement, layering lived auditory experience and everyday sonic strategies with related practice, theory, and analysis in the fields of experimental music, sound art, sound studies, autoethnography, and pedagogy. Connecting Pauline Oliveros (2021/2005), Hildegard Westerkamp (2001/1974), and Salomé Voegelin’s (2014, 2019) generative listening practices; Tim Ingold’s (2000) “dwelling as building;” Sara Ahmed’s (2006) embodied “orientation;” Jean-Luc Guionnet et al. (2010), George Lewis and Alexander I. Davidson’s (2019) improvisation as radical sociality; and Stacey Holman Jones (2018), bell hooks (1994), and Peter Gouzouasis et al.’s (2013) spaces of (self-)critical pedagogy, I trace this developing practice of listening as an approach to inhabiting and regenerating domestic space as co-composed music.
In what follows, the research journey is presented as a textual and sonic autoethnography (Findlay-Walsh 2018), weaving together poetic, diaristic writing, theoretical discussion, personal narrative, “first-person field recordings” (Findlay-Walsh 2019) and short, composed soundscapes, all written and recorded between 23 March 2020 and 21 February 2021. Through this combination of writing and recording, I aim to present and commingle personal experiences and environmental dynamics lived during lockdown. Just as active listening may open up the self to new relational sensitivities and “fields of thought” (Oliveros 2021/2005: xxv), so too might reflexive acts of writing and field recording “open the writer and reader up to what is not yet known and what can never be contained in words” (Grant, Short and Turner 2013: 7). Throughout, the task is to trace and share relations between critical listening practices, sonic experience, and the changing socio-spatial context of my home during the pandemic. As such, the core questioning might be articulated as follows:
What can I learn of this home and how can I participate in its transformation, as an emergent and shared site of dwelling, through a critical practice of listening?
What possibilities arise when conceiving of, listening through, and actively co-composing the relational form of this home, as music?