4.   Recording Noise – and Listening to It


The recording, through which I have reentered the family gathering while writing this, contains four layers of audio material. Firstly, there are the oratories, spoken through the massive PA system. Secondly, there are the discussions that go on in the VIP guest area, sometimes interacting with or commenting on the oratories, but mostly detached from them. Thirdly, there are the dialogues that took place between myself and various guests in the VIP area. Finally, there is the intermittent layer of noise, a result of the technical deficiencies of the microphone, that vary according to the enunciations of the orators as well as my actions, such as handling the phone or putting it in my pocket.


I am not sure what the physics were behind the failed recording, but I suppose that the insufficiency of the membrane of the smartphone microphone or the microphone circuit to handle the extremely loud speaker system combined to produce recorded sounds ranging from brief harsh crackles to full-blown bursts of noisy distortion. These sounds gave an erratic rhythm to the recording, like an experimental backing track of the oratory, since it follows the oratorical rhythms and enunciations like an envelope follower. It also makes the listening experience of the recording almost unbearable, especially when attempting to comprehend one of the discursive levels of the recording instead of just allowing oneself to become immersed in the soundscape.

When forced to confront the sound, I noticed that my focus was mostly on the non-discursive aspects of the recording: the dramatic arc of the oratories and the voicing contrasts (see Agha 2005: 39) of the people in the VIP dais, such as my (too) serious tone when explaining Finnish conditions or the light, joking tone used by the representative of the regional administration to mitigate his challenging position as a Javanese Christian in an Islamic gathering. In this way, the recording noise functioned as a semantic filter. I will return to this point in the next section.


Excerpt from the first oratory, gradually increasing in amplitude