You are invited here to listen to an archive of sorts. This is an archive of places, but it is even more an archive of a listening experience. This constitutes a larger inquiry and fascination with listening as performance and the various “instruments” and “scores” that shape or encode the sonic event of the performance of the image. This is a collection of recordings made and then processed between September 2018 and May 2019 in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The act of recording sound is often associated with archiving. This usually suggests a certain veracity and fidelity of sound preserved. However, any assumed stability of the sound image is an illusion. The media used to record sound generates noise and is altered by time and reproduction. The recording itself is more a staging of the event of the recording than a reliable capture of an objective environment. I draw explicit parallels between soundscape composition and photographic image making. Soundscapes presuppose an acoustemology – a way of listening that requires a person to imagine themselves located within a space of listening (Helmreich 2010: 10). This requires and generates a dual sensation of internal subjectivities (the listener) and external objectivities (the environment) (Helmreich 2010: 10). As such, the soundscape is not only a performance of the event or place of the recording but also a performance of the sonic image being listened to. I investigate listening through an approach to soundscape composition that fuses the perceived image with the reflexive materiality of the listening experience.
An interest in investigating and experimenting with listening drew me to Belgrade, Serbia, to work with Srdjan Atanasovski on listening cultures and the particular relevance of soundscape practices as expanded documentary/sonic arts approaches to understand, problematize, and represent the story of the “Transition” that is still occurring in ex-Yugoslavia (Atanasovski 2016). Transition implies a crossing over from one state of being to another. In the context of former Yugoslavia it is the term that has been used to describe the movement from non-aligned socialism to neoliberal capitalism and European (EU) integration following the Yugoslav Civil Wars. The “Transition” is an important subject for critical study not only because it underlies geopolitical moves and identity formation affecting Southeast Europe, but also because it provides an opportunity to problematize the ontology of place. I suggest that by studying the “Transition” through the lens of soundscape and listening phenomenologies, we might gain novel insights on the story of transition in ex-Yugoslavia and on the practice of soundscape approaches to studies of place. Listening can be connected to the phenomenology of betweenness, and I have become interested in the thresholds of perceptual media – becoming aware of the wind noise, the breathing of the recordist, the clipping of unwanted sound, the sound of spliced clips, digital noise, the sound of the computer mixer – and listening to transduction as described by Stefan Helmreich in his approach to “listening against soundscape” (Helmreich 2010: 10). Where immersion focuses on situating the listener fully within the sound scene, transduction describes the relation of the listener to the thresholds, where a signal passes from one medium of encoding to another (Helmreich 2010: 10). Seen in this way, both recording and editing offer ways to critically play with fidelity.
My study focused on the capital cities of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. I limited my selection to this region because these three countries are in the process of becoming members of the European Union but have not yet been granted membership. They are in a “place” of transition, and within this geography they have established a relationship at a regional level. I conducted a sonic study of collecting listening sites, each providing a different approach to the condition of inbetweenness in an urban setting, such as airways, corridors, underpasses, and train stations. These studies were developed through secondary research and pilot experiments to identify materials both historically and acoustically relevant. The selection of the listening sites expanded on Brandon LaBelle’s notion of acoustic territories (LaBelle 2010), Marc Augé’s non-place (Augé 1995), and Vesna Pavlović’s critical photography work documenting hotels during The Yugoslav Civil War (Dimitrijević and Pavlović 2021). The set of sites and recordings presented here focus on underground walkways, hotels, train stations, and radio towers in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Pristina. In addition to the sites selected within each of these cities, I also include sites which are located at the end of one of the major regional rail or bus lines of the case cities, in order to develop a relationship at a mesoscale.
Each of these recordings draws upon the approach of psychogeography (Debord 1958), specifically the role of walking as a tool for investigation and mark-making, following the work of Hamish Fulton (2010). I have been experimenting with various ways of expanding this approach to psychogeography – an embodied practice of mapping spaces to problematize the social forces that shape the fabric of those spaces. In response to Donna Haraway’s proposition of the lens of the more-than-human cyborg body, I propose an approach to listening as a psychogeography of the cyborg apparatus of ear-recorder-feet-flesh coming into a knowing of the world of place (Haraway 2006). This psychogeography of the listening experience is a product of my outsiderness. Apart from what I had read or seen, I was experientially ignorant of the sites before arriving there for the purpose of recording. By structuring the sonic studies as walks for listening with a recorder, I was able to achieve a deep listening that resulted in a unique impression of those places. Each walk lasted one to several hours, depending on the location. During each of these walks, I followed a consistent route that I had established beforehand, such as walking up the hotel floor by floor or walking through an underpass from one end to the other. However, I remained open to follow the sounds that arose in my awareness as I moved and listened – zooming in with my body, ears, and recorder – such as the clicking of a broken light fixture on the third floor of the Hotel Jugoslavija or the whirring and dripping of the air conditioner in the underpass of the pedestrian street in Dardania in Pristina. Through this choreography, balanced between fixed and open, my attention became deeply engaged. I built upon Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening sound practice, moving between sensation, thinking, feeling, and listening as distinct, yet connected modes of knowledge creation (Oliveros 2005: 30). After each recording walk, I kept a log, noting the sonic elements, rhythm and pacing, feelings, thoughts, and body experiences. The project thus also became an experiment in writing places by transcribing aspects gathered through a walking-based awareness into the composition of a listening piece. The results of this project are filtered through my particular understanding as an artist-researcher, presenting the soundscapes as studies of places at a particular time, and asking questions rather than providing answers.
I would like to thank my advisors in this work Srđan Atanasovski and Svetlana Savić for their support and enthusiasm and I would like to thank my friends and colleagues Jelena Bogdanović, Ivan Marković, Marko Tucović, Matthew Zarenkiewicz, Marko Stričević, Igor Brajić, Maša Stojanović, Dunja Crnjanski, Frosina Dimovska, and Sinead Foley for their constant inspiration and help, and my partner Andrew Warren, for his patience and love through this process. This project was funded by a 2018-2019 Fulbright Student Research Fellowship and my host institutions were the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) and the Faculty of Music (FMU) at the University of Arts, Belgrade.