7.   Conclusion: Between Noise and a Field Recording


I have put forward a two-fold argument here. First of all, the materiality of the recording indexes the dynamics of reception that accompanies the oratories during the family gathering, allowing me to situate the events in the discursive properties of the social context. The authority of sound energy – volume – is etched on the memory of the smartphone as heavy digital distortion.


Secondly, I have crafted a narrative – at least the beginnings – of a “true object tale” (Pinney 2005: 267) in which the audio file, the protagonist of the story, can open up in multiple ways. The recording will never completely assimilate to a cultural context: While it is a recording of the dynamics of authority, and has indexical material qualities to support this claim, it is also many other things. It is also, for example, a recording of muddled ethnographic positionalities and partly intelligible layers and snippets of discussion in a family party; a severely distorted audio file; and, at times, noise with, depending on the frame of interpretation and associated aesthetics, even musical properties. It refuses purification in the sense that it cannot be “cleaned up” in order to be more digestible ethnographically.


The quandary, of course, is that by writing about rubbish, or properties of an object, this object is brought into the realm of discourse. Pinney suggests that as a counterstrategy to this, the analysis needs to emphasize disjunctures and breaks, applying non-modern or non-contemporary practices, where the objects are never truly assimilated to their “context” (Pinney 2005: 269). Similarly, Thompson (2012: 17-18) writes about understanding noise as an interruption. This means attempting to produce a description in which objects are represented as something more than merely products of their contexts. I have tried to follow this suggestion by taking the “deficiencies” – from the point of normal scientific discourse – of the object as a starting point for my analysis. Indeed, had I not oriented my attention towards the noisiness of the recording, I would not have been able to make the argument I am presenting in this article. In this way, this is a “sonic study” in the strict sense of the term – based on the material properties of the sound recording.


Pierre Schaeffer once asserted that the difference between noise and music lies in the hand of the musician (quoted in Rovner 2021). Analogously, I have put forth the argument here that the difference between noise and a field recording lies in the hand of the anthropologist. However, to be completely accurate, Schaeffer’s proposal of “reduced listening” is different from the approach outlined here. The anthropologist must be willing to engage with the traces of listening that are not necessarily articulable (cf. Deleuze 1988: 48) while also resisting the temptation to interpret the audible based solely on contextual factors (cf. Bonnet 2016: 114–120).