Boundaries, thresholds, and limits characterise both political geography and the politics of voice and listening. The effect of hearing yourself speak, as Derrida noted, is foundational for sovereignty, self-identity, and relations to others. In this conversation, we explore experiences of border crossings and passing across limits through migration and movement alongside corresponding encounters with Deep Listening (Oliveros 2005). We reflect on the experience of migration from Colombia to the UK (Alarcón) and how this also involves “speaking and travelling in-between different languages” and on the experience of “losing” or changing accent (McKeon), the voice’s marker of political identity. For both of us, Deep Listening has become an essential resource to forgo the desires of returning “home” or arrival with its visa privileges and passports of legitimised status. Migration and movement are instead embraced for their potential to constitute another practice of centring and of balance without fixed and immovable boundaries. We aim to articulate this politics of listening and voice not through conventions of debate and polemics, defending ideological territories, but through exchange in dialogue, in what emerges through  the movement between us.

Listening Dialogue


What follows is an exercise in listening through dialogue. We are both concerned with the relation between movement, listening, and the experience of time and change (see, for example, McKeon 2022). Dialogue offered a way to explore this in practice, expanding our mutual interest in listening across distant locationsboth with and without technological mediation. This had come to the fore and felt urgent in our experience of lockdowns during the pandemic when the social dimension of listening with others was temporarily removed whilst we were fixed in place and isolated, replaced only in part by a simulacrum of being-in-audience through livestreams and videotelephony. We had been introduced to each other – Alarcón as artist researcher and McKeon as a researcher and curatorial producer – through Deep Listening, as its pioneer, Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), had explored both telepathic and telematic practices extensively.

In considering voice and listening as techniques for political life, we wanted to examine how voices change and are changed by context, both through self-relation and relation to others. Listening to our experiences of listening to ourselves alongside the ambiguous process of “finding” our voices and then sharing this together provided a method to elaborate this. The exchange between speaking and listening with each other – changing “position” whilst staying “in place” – acted as a proxy for engaging with our respective experiences of migration from Colombia to the UK (Alarcón) and of shifting accent,with its corresponding implications of shifting social class (McKeon).


Taking up the invitation of our “Listening Dialogue: For Two” – made in the spirit of Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations (1974) – and making contact weekly by phone rather than Zoom to deepen our listening engagement, we listened to the stories of each other’s listening journey – our “otobiographies,” to borrow Derrida’s (1985) term. We wrote our responses in the time between each call and then edited these to produce the text. Our aim has been to offer, on the screen you are viewing, something of the structure, process, and issues that our conversations ranged over. Maintaining a correspondence of form and content in this way has been an important principle.

Perhaps the key issue for us in presenting this has been the “problem” of the beginning. Engaging in this listening dialogue, we did not simply trade places between “active” and “passive” roles, such that one of us started talking and a verbal snooker match ensued, with one of us in control at a time. We wanted to explore a dialogue in which both parties are equally active and affect the other. As we touch on later, we found that neither listening nor voicing could be privileged. In the movement between the two, there was no “first principle.”

This version of our dialogue, then, places our responses side-by-side and can be read either sequentially or as interspersing each other, or both of these together. As with all writing, we acknowledge openly that our “voices” differ. They are accented, inflected, styled. We use syntax in diverse ways. Born in Colombia but long a resident of the UK, Ximena speaks one language (English) – fluently – through another (Spanish). At the same time, these texts abstract our voices. Unlike in our conversation, the text does not breathe, pause, shift direction and attempt a return to the theme. It is not verbatim. It has no larynx, or voice box; no vocal folds, vocal cavities, vocal tract, or vocal ligament; no lips, tongue, teeth, respiratory system, or phonation. As a brief exercise, then, we have incorporated a short audio sample of dialogue enacted through each other, Ed speaking Ximena’s text as proxy and vice versa. One voice is spoken through another.1

Lastly, this is of course another listening dialogue, one in which our voices are inflected by your listening. We cannot hear your speaking voice, of course, but we have attempted to act as your proxies in dialogue with each other, speaking and listening for the readings we hope may follow. In this way, what follows begins with you.

Composing the Conversation as a Text Score – ‘Listening Dialogue: for Two’

Listen to the story of your listening. What has been your listening journey? How has listening shaped your body?

Where is listening taking you? Where is your listening taking you?


Record your listening dialogue. Play it back in a space with one or more new listeners.

1 March - Ed’s final reflections


As I reflect on our conversations, I’m drawn to the closing prompt of our “Listening Dialogue”: “Where is listening taking you? Where is your listening taking you?”


My listening and voice will, I hope, be more attuned to the nuances of “in-betweenness,” the term you used to describe Homi Bhabha’s notion of the “Third Space” (1994), the postcolonial space that is neither “native” nor constituted by a colonial Other. When we spoke, that immediately reminded me of the various accounts of the “Third Ear,” the name I also use for my non-profit experimental music production company.


Nietzsche (2002: 138-139) was the first to raise the notion of listening with a third ear and in a similar vein. He claims that words “speak,” so that meaning is neither simply a matter of self-evident reference – of their identity with worldly phenomena – nor an “inner” meaning, behind their veiled allusions, that is waiting to be revealed or “read between the lines.” The third ear brings a text to voice and attends to its musical qualities – its staccato and rubato and the “colour” or timbre of their deployment of “vowels and diphthongs” – as he describes it.




No doubt drawing on this, Theodor Reik – a student and close friend of Freud – wrote Listening with the Third Ear (1991) to consider the psychoanalytic scene, its “talking cure” and the intuitive role of the analyst in the “telepathic” transference of meaning through subconscious “neurodynamic stimuli.” This argument performs an interesting reversal of the usual structure of the voice being active and the ear passive, though I find his affirmation of the analyst’s power to determine the analysand’s trauma – to return it to language by speaking it – somewhat disturbing and unconvincing.




Maryanne Amacher’s practice of “third ear music” is more productive, I think, in exploring the phenomenon of otoacoustic emissions to bring the listening ear “to voice,” for the ear’s action itself to become audible. At least, it demonstrates how the ear is not only “receptive” but also “productive” and generative.

There are many forms of in-betweenness, then, of relational aurality. I want to pay attention to these and especially to the movements that articulate this. My listening is guiding me to a greater awareness of ways in which

the voice that is mine is nothing but this movement or inclination in the presence of others, a manner of being called. As your INTIMAL research showed in analysing the prosody of voices, this movement can be demanded, disillusioned, or transformed through its proximity to other voices, and it can demand, disillusion, or possibly transform others in turn. It can perhaps also be questioned, invited, welcomed, intimidated, and so on.

I’ve always thought that I lost my accent when I became the first in my family to go to university, because I had somehow adapted my voice to the “neutral” tones of those around me. My “musical ear” had fitted into a student body that was predominantly privately educated or at least from a higher social class, leaving me with what Cynthia Cruz (2021) calls the “melancholia of class.” At least, my factory colleague assumed I was from “the home counties,” which was a synonym for “upper class.” This dialogue, though, has suggested other possibilities. To begin with, there is no vocal essence, no voice that forms an identity with a raced, gendered, sexed, or classed position (Eidsheim 2019). Perhaps what my colleague in the factory heard was not a “southern” English accent, but a voice undergoing transformation, no longer native. No longer comfortable with being marked or being called. Was I subconsciously aware of that, I wonder, and so emphasising my felt difference?

For years after leaving my parental home I became uncertain of my voice, anxious of what it might signify to others. How it might betray me. Over time, though, and especially since I began producing with contemporary and experimental musicians, I’ve become more relaxed about it. My voice doesn’t need an identity, a new home, and it doesn’t need simply to “return” to its Mancunian heritage – assuming it even could. It hasn’t abandoned me but remains attached, a shadow cast by the varying illumination of others’ listening intensity. If I care for it by listening to the listening of others and how that shapes me, perhaps I can inhabit it without demanding or being disillusioned but delighting instead in the rise and fall of its gait, its intonations, and the ways it transforms.


Migration and Listening: Political Life in Motion

Day 2

11 & 15 Feb - Ed

I can almost hear your new yoga teacher, her voice traced with Mexican heritage, leading the class, performing the guiding role that coaxes and encourages an inclination of energy, a spirited movement taking shape within and between the class members. As with your own teaching, this voice is adopted not as a commanding authority but as an invitation for listening and sharing with students. Listening and voicing bend and stretch, limbering. They find nodes of energy, becoming supple together. This needs discipline, but not command.


We were reflecting on the ways listening in-forms our daily routines, from your morning walk and breakfasting with Pauline’s Sonic Meditations and on to work.

I was fascinated by your suggestion that voices might be located, a kind of “disposition” perhaps, like the “institutional voice” that we occupy just as we might put on work-appropriate clothes and prepare to perform in them. It’s the spatial dimension of this that I find especially interesting. I’ll return to this.


You then described findings from your research and practice with recordings of testimonies from Colombian women who have experienced forced migration, noting the three kinds of voice that spoke through those conversations (Alarcón, Lopez Bojórquez, Lartillot, and Flamtermesky 2019). The “demanding voice” is fast, instinctive, calling to attention. Louis Althusser (1971) would perhaps have said it “hails” like a policeman in the street: “Hey you!” And, hey presto, the “interpellated” ear turns and, magically – with this very gesture of surprised guilt, “Who, me?” – is subjected. The relation of the authority who speaks and the individual who pays attention is immediately instituted. Yet this voice is not the only “subject position” available, as you made clear. You also heard the “disillusioned voice,” wearied in its lower pitch and prolonged articulation. A voice lacking in spirit, in energy. Is this a voice unmoved by others’ listening, unmotivated, unflexed, perhaps even nearing stasis? By contrast, the “transformative voice” seemed to afford hope, a promise of change and healing from a position unbounded, neither circumscribed nor sectioned off by trauma. Another voice. A new diction. A new way of uttering, perhaps – a speech act that performs an opening of the self.

This reminds me of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s (2003) well-attuned writing on “periperformativity,” that aspect of speech acts that is not reducible to the property of a speaker but is contingent on the qualities of listening that form them, that act on its periphery. She was specifically addressing the problem of performativity – the capacity to make speech act on the world, to be world-forming – having the qualities of being possessed, of being “voiced” in the manner of “being married,” alongside the example of shame that declares voice to be affected by others. The demanding, disillusioned, and transformative voices are all political positions in this sense of a concern with ownership, with attachment and submission, or with a de-territorialising gesture inviting a dynamic response. A migration …. 

I should move on, but I have an “aside” to make. Another confession, perhaps, for my sins. The anxiety and shame I felt as a young adult on losing my sense of voice, on being denied my Mancunian accent by a co-worker at the factory production line I toiled at, is not my only experience of this peculiar dispossession. Your mentioning of the “institutional voice” brings it back to me. My second “real” job after graduating was working for the Arts Council in the South East of England. I advised artists and organisations on how to apply for funding, inviting them to share their dreams and ambitions, and I co-ordinated the assessment of applications. Managing the “demand” side required me to adopt the language of funding – of “access,” “value for money,” “diversity,” “quality” and so on. The “supply” side of organising funding decisions then involved lots of report writing – summarising projects in terms of the criteria, weighing on terminology and syntax to justify recommendations and to persuade those making final decisions to agree. It was reasonably well paid, interesting, as each project was different, and satisfying when funds were pledged to deserving activities. Over time, though, I began to worry. In this prehistoric time-before-email, when letter writing was still quite common, I would receive epistles from my best friend at the time who was a gifted stylist. His writing was a pleasure to read: funny, flamboyant, digressive. When I tried to write back, even short notes in a birthday card, I found myself automatically reverting to stock phrases and clunky syntax, a pseudo-officialese. I hadn’t woken up one day like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis to find myself in the carapace of an insect, but I could feel my “voice” taking on the shape of a bureaucrat. I was becoming fluent in another’s language, but unstable in the one I had taken for granted, or at least in the one I desired to speak. In fact, it was that experience of gnawing horror that compelled me to change my job, not for another administrative role but specifically to work directly with musicians as a producer and promoter, running Oxford Contemporary Music. This was much less secure – the job was all about risk, especially that of finding listeners for musical voices that were unfamiliar, different, difficult, sometimes even shocking. Anyhow, that was the first decisive leap into the unknown that helped me find something of that joyous purpose in music that I still find compelling. My vocation.

I raised that story both because I hadn’t thought of it in quite some time, hadn’t realised the extent to which key moments in my life have been shaped by the question of voice as possession and the heard properties and propriety of a voice, but also because between us – in our listening dialogue and within our writing – I’m also aware of voicing the text, of a writer’s voice, and of the unknowable readings this piece might prompt. How might we be understood? What position

might we occupy, and where might this be located?

At last, then, I want to return to the question you raised about voices having a place, because at the end of our last conversation an idea emerged that neither of us had anticipated. All I can do is re-rehearse it here, though perhaps we can explore it further next time.

So, we’ve both been struck by Thomas Bernhard’s short story “The Voice Imitator,” by his revelation of our potential to mimic any other voice but our own. Indeed, I can attest to that. My wife used to joke that when we visited my family in North Manchester my voice would take on a self-conscious “northern” accent, but one that was often comically not quite right, perhaps even with a Yorkshire twang rather than the proper Lancastrian burr. Now, as you and I touched on this peculiar phenomenon, the thought arose that the voices we occupy or that occupy us – the dialects of our occupations, perhaps – might be locatable, a “space” that we can locate to. These spaces are not unique but can play host to a multitude of others, all using the same voice. Likewise, we can migrate – again – from one voice to another, just as our day might be shaped by listening situations that can transport us from a breakfast meditation with Pauline to the institutional voice of the pedagogue, mechanic, medic, or bureaucrat, and on to the sociable voice of dinner with friends or the interpellated listening of watching TV. In this chorus of voices, the possibility emerges that the voice that we cannot occupy or locate – that we cannot mimic – is precisely the mode of movement itself, the transference of weight from any immobilising disillusionment, the gait and agility of stepping out lightly, without exchangeable possessions, without origin, and without final destination. We are not fixed in place by the demanding voice of any authority, least of all “our own.” Maybe, just maybe, this may be why “voice always involves an attachment” – as I put it earlier – without ever being a possession, because voice is more like a shadow cast by the inflections of our listening relationships with others and our environment rather than something that could ever be dispossessed, detached, exchanged with, sold to, or owned by others. If the metaphor fits, perhaps it is elaborated in two tales: the novella Peter Schlemihl by Adelbert von Chamisso, in which the protagonist famously sells his shadow to the devil only to be shunned by all human society and especially Edgar Allan Poe’s “Shadow – A Parable”.

1 Feb 2022 (Ed)


What a joy to listen to your listening! It immediately reminds me of Pauline’s elaboration of “quantum listening” (Oliveros 2010), of listening being affected by others listening in the field, even though we were not strictly sharing silences but rather sharing aspects of our entries into listening. Our listening stories.

Yours is so rich. Two aspects struck me especially, two listening dispositions – a binaural affect – that might return in our future conversations as you turn to effects of migration. One was your attraction to the musicality of voice and powers of mimicry, whether approximating your half-Italian neighbour and singing “Yesterday” with her, or following the lead of your teacher by tracing spoken words rhythmically using chalk on a blackboardwhilst simultaneously erasing the passage with a duster in your other hand. I love this sense of the music in your voice being called by the presence of another and of

memory holding the passing articulation of sense.

Likewise, the candlelit scene of your dad’s storytelling was both magical and familiar, a reassuring way perhaps to instil something of “Fearless Juan” into the dark vulnerabilities of childhood power cuts and political uncertainties. Voiced words as sparks, catching fire, illuminated my reminiscences of being read to and of my own reading aloud, allowed, encouraged.

These brought to mind Thomas Bernhard’s one-paragraph story of “The Voice Imitator” (1997) that I read at the close of our conversation. He was recommended to me as a “musical” writer, and this composition, with its repetitions and precise enunciation, is, I

think, beautifully formed, written to be invoked. The cadence is both prepared and simultaneously shocking. We can mimic others, but our own voices remain for us – alone – inimitable.

I’m going to meditate further on this, always aiming to listen more deeply. For now, for me, it touches on two inseparable dimensions of listening and voice. First, there can be no voice without (a) listening and, therefore, no original, authentic, or “signature” voice. Voice always involves a feeling of attachment.3 The question of whether it can be detached, however, is something I’m sure we’ll return to. Second, paradoxically, listening is also not primal, prior to and, thus, more significant than something called “voice.” It is perhaps obedient (from ob – toward, against, before, near, across, down, in short, a directed movement – and audire – listen, hear). Listening inclines us (with all its Epicurean and Lacanian overtones, which I may elaborate upon in later conversations). Perhaps, to light a flare for next week, I think this may be why voices are “inflected” – curved, bending inwards, bowed, from the Latin inflectere – or socially “modulated,” a musical gravitation to a measured norm.




I’ve already perhaps said too much, spoken too soon. I haven’t even mentioned the resonances between us that bloomed fleetingly in dialogue – the rhythm of trains, of tracked motion, and of our encounters with Pauline Oliveros, to mention only two. I’m listening forward to next time.



Ed McKeon is a musician who neither performs nor composes. Working with musicians and artists at the points where music indisciplines others – whether theatre, installation, or performance – he has collaborated with artists from Pauline Oliveros to Heiner Goebbels, Elliott Sharp to Jennifer Walshe, and Kuljit Bhamra to Brian Eno. He has presented BBC Radio 3’s flagship new music programme, Hear and Now; was artistic director of the British Composer Awards; and continues as a Trustee of the Hinrichsen Foundation and Vice Chair of the British section of the International Society of Contemporary Music. He leads an MA programme at Goldsmiths, University of London on Music Management. His book on Heiner Goebbels and Curatorial Composing After Cage was published by Cambridge University Press in October 2022, building on his AHRC-funded doctoral research on musicality and the curatorial. www.thirdear.co.uk

What has changed – what has moved – in this process of dialogue, writing, and your reading? By movement, we mean two things simultaneously. On the one hand, it involves a recognition of alteration: a difference in understanding, perhaps, or the emergence of a mood, memory, or idea that sits with you and that may or may not be literally present in the text. On the other, this temporalised difference or displacement is ongoing and continuous, never settled and fixed. It is neither purely self-motivated “from within” nor acted on “from without,” but has its own rhythm, incorporating both of these modalities. Rather like a dialogue. We can only speak from our experience, then, but wanted to offer a few closing words on its implications for “voice and listening as techniques for political life.”


First, at least since Aristotle, the capacity for speech has been foundational for understanding humans as political animals, not only as the medium for self-representation but because political speech acts. It creates a space for deliberation and, from decision-making, the possibility of shaping worlds. In this framework, voice becomes a tool of reason and calculation, an instrument of persuasion through the arts of rhetoric. The force of its argument is then inversely proportional to the attention it draws to itself, so that convention privileges the supposedly “neutral” voice – the voice without accent, without particularity – as the voice of authority that can speak for “the whole.” What “speaks” is reason itself.


Our dialogue troubles this model. Accent becomes not merely a function of voiced identity, an expression of particularity, but an inflection through exposure to others. Prior to any use by reason and any utterance, voice is already political as the register in which the social speaks in the singular, in the way that individuals are socialised. All voices are accented. There is no such thing as a “neutral” voice, only perhaps a manner of speaking that aims to neutralise the voice.

Second, if there is no fixed position, interiority, or self-identity from which voice emerges, this does not mean that the self is simply an epiphenomenon or mask. As we explored through the story of “The Voice Imitator” and from our own experience and research, voice materialises through movement and might better be understood as a characteristic disposition or posture, a constantly habituated “manner of speaking” or “ingraining of the voice” (to adapt Roland Barthes’ famous expression). For example, it can be disillusioned, demanding, or transformative, as Alarcón has shown. Voice is not primary but called into being through relation to others, exemplified when speaking a non-native language. Every language – every tongue – is in this sense “foreign,” even our “mother tongue”.

We “find” our voice, then, by not “finding” it but by recognising how it already inhabits us. Just as we can copy the way that others move and walk but cannot imitate our own bodily expression, so the tics and characteristic differences that particularise us are not “properties” but traits, attributes of listening and being listened to, of addressing and being addressed by others. Dialogical rhythms.

Lastly, approached as a method for exploring the relational self, dialogue affords awareness of the constantly shifting network and ecosystem that constitutes the dynamic articulation of relations. Dialogue is implicitly a discourse between equals and so draws attention to ways in which some voices may seek to dominate interpersonal space. The understanding it offers cannot be known in advance but only in and as a practice. It is in this spirit that we invite all readers to experiment with the “Listening Dialogue: For Two” offered in the introduction.


dww7 - a still image capture from Dancing Wu Wei, an animated, generative audiovisual iPad application by Ron Herrema



Alarcón, Ximena (2014). “Networked Migrations: listening to and performing the in-between space.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 10/1: 2-21.

Alarcón Diaz, Ximena, Lucia Nikolaia Lopez Bojórquez, Olivier Lartillot and Helga Flamtermesky (2019). “From collecting an archive to artistic practice in the INTIMAL project: lessons learned from listening to a Colombian migrant women’s oral history archive.” Acervo. Revista do Arquivo Nacional 32/3: 48-63.

Althusser, Louis (1971). “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation).” In Louis Althusser Lenin and Philosophy (trans. Ben Brewster), pp. 127-193. New York: Monthly Review Press. 

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books

Bhabha, Homi K. (1994). The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

Bernhard, Thomas (1997). The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories by Thomas Bernhard (trans. Kenneth J. Northcott). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Choi, Julie (2017). Creating a Multivocal Self. Autoethnography as Method. New York: Routledge.

Cruz, Cynthia (2021). The Melancholia of Class: A Manifesto for the Working Class. London: Repeater Books.

Derrida, Jacques (1985). The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation (trans. Peggy Kamuf). New York: Schocken.

Eidsheim, Nina Sun (2019). The Race of Sound: Listening, Timbre, and Vocality in African American Music. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Eidsheim, Nina Sun (2015). Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice. Durham: Duke University Press.

McKeon, Ed (2022). “Moving Through Time.” APRIA.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2002). Beyond Good and Evil (trans. Judith Norman). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oliveros, Pauline (2010). “Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (to Practice Practice).” In Pauline Oliveros, Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992-2009, pp. 73-91. Kingston: Deep Listening Publications.

Oliveros, Pauline (2005). Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice. Lincoln: Deep Listening Publications / iUniverse.

Oliveros, Pauline (1974). Sonic Meditations. Baltimore: Smith Publications. 

Reik, Theodor (1991). Listening with the Third Ear: The Inner Experience of a Psychoanalyst. New York: The Noonday Press.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (2003). Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Thích, Nhất Hạnh (2013). The Art of Communicating. London: Rider.



A to Z


How does listening shape your day

Listen to the story of your listening.

Where is listening taking you?

Ximena Alarcón & Ed McKeon

How has listening

Day 1

shaped your body?

Day 2


11 & 15 Feb - Ximena

Listening to your listening routine, I remind myself every morning that I need to listen to myself, to my dreams, to my breathing and even to my morning body stiffness, and to be gentle. To listen to others is a basic and hard challenge. I imagine your morning walk, crossing a park and a cemetery. I picture my own walk, which is also by a graveyard. I have never imagined I would walk daily across a graveyard, as it is a place I would avoid during a restful walk. In the city where I come from, except for the central cemetery, these are in the outskirts of the city, far from the urban neighbourhoods. This distance presents a division between the dead and the living. We perform the ritual of visiting our dead relatives outside the city and bring flowers. It is a journey. Here in the UK, I found this everyday walking through graveyards unusual.

You mentioned listening to what’s in the air of the world, the news. I do it, but recently I avoid it. In my morning walk I hear some tweets from a black bird with an orange beak. After the storm, many branches of old trees cracked and fell. Fences fell in rear gardens. I did not hear those falls; I wonder how did they sound? I heard the wind filtering around the edges of doors and window sills. Like ghosts speaking … the mysterious wind sounds.

Oh yes, about the voices, listening to the voices that are not ours, what did you say about the change of accent? The accent needs to be removed in Public Schools? To study in Cambridge? So, we become detached from our own listening?

I found it striking, as somehow, listening to my accent could be both an anchor here, stating my difference, and also a reminder of my origin. It is simultaneously the marker of my vulnerability as different and the danger of not being understood, meaning I must strengthen my British learnt accent, with the confident “t” and the past tense “d” (which I tend to forget as if I would like to speak permanently in my present tense) and the full pronunciation of the one who has finished saying something with no doubt. I could not, anyway, return to neutral; I will fo
rget it when emotion enters into the performance of the spoken word. Vocal neutrality scares me, as does an expressionless face, as I cannot know what is behind it.

Where do we position a neutral voice – does it have a place? You talked about dictation: is language a dictation made of an agreement by the ones who dictate?

In my accent I love the sound of the “r” that becomes a “rsh” in the mountain area where I come from. A “rsh” that hugs me innerly, and I would not like it to be removed from my spoken being. I discovered it here, thanks to my dearly friend Sofia from Cuzco; we share that, a sisterhood of “Sierra” (mountain) [Sie-rhsa], which I share with people across the Andes and many more places, perhaps. It turns very emotional as I listen to the songs of Mercedes Sosa and hear the lovely “rsh.”

Yes, there is emotion in accent, in the pace of our spoken voice. You asked me if this is occupying a place of the self, and I reflect on that. Does it occupy something that is empty? Perhaps it is not a place but a resonant space. You proposed the voice as a form of movement, and I think of vibration, as referred to by Nina Sun Eidsheim (2015). The thick event is the noticeable event, the word when it is eventually shaped, after thoughts and visceral conscious hesitations or after unconscious decisions when another      speaks on our behalf in our own voice; the rest is vibration which never ends. What is the vibration of the neutral voice?

I mentioned the analysis of voices I made of an oral archive of Colombian migrant women from the Diaspora, talking about their experiences of migration and their inflections and rhythms, which can convey emotions. I called these voices: disillusioned voice, demanding voice, and transformative voice. These might be compared with other voices and other languages. They are perhaps more resonating than the words themselves, particularly when you don’t know the language that people are speaking. What happens in our listening with these voices?

Are the pauses vital for our deep listening? 

Are the non-paused spoken words awakening our impatience or our compassion?

Are we breathing with the speaker’s breathing as they voice, and if they don’t breathe might we stop our listening to breathe?

How many transformative voices with gentle pauses and calm inflections do we hear everyday?

Eventually, which breathing and inflections might we assign to our voice when remembering all these voices and when we read the writing about another’s voice?

Listening as meditation in spoken word is brought to mind for us by Thích Nhất Hạnh (2013), who asks us to listen to people’s pain, suffering, or joy in their voices.



1 Feb 2022 (Ximena)


I felt in-between centre and periphery. Listening to the story of my listening brought voices, musics, and mobility with age and location. When the conversation made a pause at the time of childhood, I revived my desire of being multilingual, inspired by my then Italian-Colombian neighbour and the singing of music in other languages. I wonder if the decentring from my own linguistic space was a refuge for understandings and expanding misunderstandings. This led me to think of how you locate centre and periphery with your voice and language. Languages are carried with power structures, and although both are European, in Colombia Italian might sound more sophisticated. So, was I moving to a privileged periphery or to a centred Eurocentric attention?

And I heard the adult incomprehension of your spoken words during childhood and the need for a caring “translator,” a sister-brotherhood.2 I felt the space of multiple ideas being spoken at once and the listening of others in attentive – or not – stillness.

The voice of storytelling reminded me of your pleasure in telling stories aloud. It brought out a story of my upbringing, a memory of my father as a storyteller with his fascinating story of Juan Sin Miedo (Juan Without Fear), a character who could go anywhere in the Colombian rivers and jungle without fear of all the possible threats he might encounter. Colombia’s myths and legends are also mixed with the history of violence that particularly afflicted the region where my parents were born in the 1940s. Their history of migration is part of my own mobility, as my father used to compare his internal migration to Bogotá to my migration to the UK.

Electrical domestic equipment came to my memory, too, in the form of the floor polisher, in waves of repetitive sound, preparing the house floor to be bright and shiny, marking the midday of a weekly routine. Women’s unthanked and unpaid labour comes as another (non-verbal) voice. Then at rest, the afternoons bring the voice of my mom speaking by telephone, while my ears tuned as much as possible toward understanding the hidden telephonic voice of the speaker in the distance. I love my mom’s laughter. No wonder these fragmented details tacitly informed my sound art practice, as sonic migrations: voice, telematic sonic performance, and my focus on female migration that presents an opportunity to change assigned cultural roles.4

The beautiful story you told me about “The Voice Imitator” (Bernhard 1997) struck me as part of my own bilingualism and

desired multilingualism. I prefer to call it multivocality, as Julie Choi (2017) proposed. Learning as a child, imitating, learning new languages, desire for migration, multiplying myself in many characters …. I wonder if my multiple vocalities make it harder to listen to my own voice or if my own voice emerges thanks to these. What is our own voice, then? 

Here I wanted to recall again your childhood experience, in which you were able to communicate without a “translator” only when you were four. I have never heard about an experience like this. I imagine you as a child full of things to say, all somehow coming at once, a richness and desire to communicate. This is also multivocal. 

I like to de-centre the assumption that we have one voice – we actually have a mixture – and reflect on that. Our own voices and signature are both flexibly moulded by the body’s physiological uniqueness and at the same time shaped by and integrated within the many life encounters we have. It is as if we tune this interface towards our social environment, even whilst it is never heard by others as we hear it ourselves.

Day 1


What has been your listening journey?

Where is your listening taking you?

and your interactions with others?

Ximena Alarcón is a sound artist researcher and Deep Listening® certified tutor with a PhD in Music Technology and Innovation, interested in listening to sonic migrations. She creates telematic sonic improvisations using Deep Listening and interfaces for relational listening. She has developed her artistic career mainly through practice-led research to understand sensorially her and others’ migratory experience, as if in search of a collective interface that holds such sonic in-betweenness. Her expression has evolved from projects such as the online interactive sonic environment “Sounding Underground” (IOCT – The Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship 2007-2009), the creation of telematic sonic improvisatory performances “Networked Migrations” (CRiSAP 2011-2017), to the consolidation of INTIMAL, a physical-virtual “embodied system” for relational listening (UiO – Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowship 2017-2019). She currently leads the INTIMAL co-creation collective of Latin American migrant women in Europe and has developed the INTIMAL App© for people to listen to their “migratory journeys’ (The Studio Recovery Fund 2021). Ximena composes and improvises with spoken word and voice and has engaged in many artistic collaborations, including her participation in the NowNet Arts Ensemble since 2020.



15 March - Ximena’s final reflections

Listening in-between your voice and my voice, I feel comfortable in my new inner central periphery, accepting the vulnerability, naivety, and also the mask      of my non-native speaker’s voice. It rushed to learn English when reaching 30, grasping the five-month visa of a six-month English language course in central London as a life jacket to get out of my country. My written and spoken English language has gained clarity through painful pen, faces in stillness trying to understand or losing their focus on my words and taking their own train of thought instead, which often derails me [me descarrila].


But also laughter. Laughter from misunderstandings and words that are creatively misplaced until finding themselves within the in-betweenness. As I read Gloria Anzaldúa’s voice in "Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), her voice found an exit to freedom through the embrace of a chicano dialect. I have seen with joy and nostalgia the strength of Latinx artists in the US.

They have other stories, and their struggle for identity feels stronger, visceral, as Spanish was somehow denied and understood as a lower-class language within the shared American continent, one colonial language subordinated to another. Across the Mexican border, walls are built on the land that was once theirs. Now, by virtue of the economy generated by its migrant workforce, and also due to control needs, Spanish has become the second language of the United States.

Here in the United Kingdom my struggle is masked by the distances and knowledge that exists between this country and Latinoamerica, across the imagined myths of bidirectional paradises of nature, economy, and class. Learning British English in Colombia, as taught by the British Council, is more expensive than learning the American English as taught by the Colombo-Americano Center. I did study in both institutes, when my fluctuating finances could afford one or the other. The obvious social class division is highlighted there: who can pay to speak as a Brit or as an American, you are already paying for a voice… British English is situated in our already classist Colombian society as polished, beautiful, clear, and polite; you will speak like the royalty or the BBC. American English is practical, mellow, and advantageous for business. And, if you can afford to visit the American dream with a cheap flight, this will manifest only if you have won the privilege of a tourist visa, which costs you several hours and frustration queuing in the American Embassy.

I have mentioned borders, accents, and class, and here we are listening to our listening as we literally speak. I feel pride in the place taken by my voice, accepting its pace, its pauses, as you have spoken also with vulnerability from the other side of my border. I mentioned Homi Bhaba (1984), which I have quoted in my previous writings (2014). Using his Third Space concept, this exercise has been a process of symbolic interaction “in-between” cultures and identities as a “connective tissue” between “fixed identifications.”

I discover – each time I read, remember, and also listen to our conversation in this article – new voices that emerge.

I hear these voices not as a chorus but as poetic interferences that suddenly connect, in vibrancy, and create meaning beyond meaning, digging into the

memories of our identities and geographies.

My listening with gratitude further expands, and so also does my voice.