Mapping Soundfields: A User’s Manual


Norie Neumark



This paper was written as a keynote address for ESSA 2014, Mapping the Field, where the conference organizers asked me to reflect on my own and others’ journeys between sound theory and sound practice. As a live presentation, focused on voice, my aim was to speak in a way that would invoke the journey and invite the audience to join me. To do this, I both took literally the conference’s trope of mapping, and also, in terms of style, wrote/spoke in a performative mode that does not always translate easily into a written form.[1] While I have adapted that address for written publication here, I have chosen to leave some traces of the aural mode, because in my view it speaks to the specific task of evoking a (theoretical and practical) journey. I have also retained the voice of situated knowledge,[2] even if I have curbed some of its more poetic and emphatic spoken moments, because it resonates with the aim of reflecting on my own and others’ journeys, as I hope will unfold in the paper below.


Yoko Ono - Cough Piece


I wanted to respond to the organizers’ invitation to start with some sound by playing the beginning of this piece by Yoko Ono recorded in 1963, her 32’31” Cough Piece, because, besides its particular significance for conceptual sound art, it also reminds me of a time, decades ago, when I made my first radio programs at the ABC, the Australian national broadcaster, and how we had to cut out the coughs, the ums, the ahhs, the hesitations – literally cutting them out of the analogue tape. But somehow I couldn’t quite let go of them, and I used to stick the bits of tape up on the wall, hoping they might sneak back in.


Feeling my attachments to these non-verbal utterings that I held in my fingertips was one of the first times I sensed the complexities of voice, and I have followed its lure through my theoretical and practical work ever since. So it is voice on which I will mainly focus here as I track my journey – with the device of three maps – a carte de tendre (charting emotions), a psychogeographic map (to explore place), and an enchanted map (a hybrid map for wondering at the possibilities across species and things). Though I’ve separated them out for discursive purposes, these maps are actually deeply inter-related, folding into each other: the emotion of the carte de tendre folds into the psychogeographic maps, as they chart place through the intensities of the emotions or affect, which attaches us to and moves us through a particular place. And both these maps in turn fold into enchanted mapping which is affective, particular, and ethical. These enchanted maps offer a way of understanding how voice attaches us, aesthetically and affectively, to each other and to other creatures and things in the world. I’ll flesh out these ideas when I discuss each map, so let me conclude this introduction by saying that I’m working with these three maps not only in response to the conference’s theme, but also because they offer a way to trace (to map) my own particular theoretical and practical concerns and journey. I do hope that they can also contribute to the ESSA 2014 conference’s broader aim of mapping the field, particularly where voice is at play.


[1] Unfortunately there are no recordings from the conference that I could intersperse through the text.

[2] “Situated knowledge” was a term coined by Donna Haraway to focus on location and accountability (Haraway 1988: 588) Haraway, a seminal thinker in new materialism, feminist politics, and transdisciplinarity, understood situated knowledge as partial and particular: We seek [knowledges] ruled by partial sight and limited voice – not partiality for its own sake, but, rather, for the sake of the connections and unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible” (Haraway 1988: 589-590). The situatedness of knowledge, and writing, has become more recently, for art-writer Jane Rendell, a question of what she has called “site-writing”: writing from and about “the sites—material, emotional, political, and conceptual—of the artworks’ construction, exhibition and documentation, as well as those remembered, dreamed and imagined by the artist, critic and other viewers” (Rendell 2010: 1) In a 2014 presentation Rendell refigured Haraway’s (and Rosi Braidotti’s) “feminist figuration” as a telling of a critique “through three different registers: pathos or a more emotional tone; logos, the adoption or rational argument; and ethos, the conveyance of values which motivate a culture, a corporation etc.” (Rendell 2014: 2). Rendell brought all three registers into play to address one specific concern, rather than consign each to separate discourses; and it is in this move that her writing particularly speaks to my project. I develop these ideas further in my forthcoming book, Voicetracks: Voice, Media, and Media Art in the Posthumanist Turn (MIT Press). 

Carte de tendre

Carte de tendre


The carte de tendre, a map of the country called tenderness, was a map imagined in 1654 by French writer and saloniste, Madeleine de Scudéry. It has inspired many reworkings ever since. The carte de tendre imaginatively plunged the reader into a land of emotional depths; and, even more, it was a tracing and a guide for how to navigate that land. It was like the old mappe mundi (maps of the world), which opened up a non-representational world, a world not quite as we know it now, a world often literally turned upside down.  To me, carte de tendre provokes an emotional listening to voice, as it moves in and from a body of feeling, emotions, and affect. Emotions and affect are central to the carte de tendre and the voices we can listen to through this mapping. Voice helps us understand affect and emotion, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, affect and emotion help us apprehend voice.


Let’s begin with emotions. Emotions are both familiar and strange in their bodily movements, movements shaped by affect and expressed, vocalized, as they emerge from those bodies. At the level of quotidian familiarity, we have all experienced emotions as feelings that are in our bodies, that move our bodies, and that contour our voices. We jump with joy, opening our lungs to sing out; we recoil with fear, holding back our breath and swallowing our voice; and when sadness weighs down our hearts, our limbs turn to lead and our voices constrict in our throats. But emotions (etymologically speaking, the word comes from the Latin emovere, to move out) are also social and move between bodies, human and animal, things and machines. At this level, debates around emotion and affect come in.[3]


One way of summarizing these debates, which have emerged with the affective turn in philosophy and cultural theory, is: “Feelings are personal and biographical, emotions are social and affects are prepersonal” (Shouse 2005: 1). Affects in this sense are conceptualized as doing things: they are understood as pre-symbolic intensities and movements, prior to our personal and conscious sense of investments and attachments (Shouse 2005). As Sara Ahmed has argued, it is culturally and politically important to understand that it is affect that actually performs those very investments and attachments between individuals, objects, communities, collectivities, worlds (Ahmed 2001: 11-12).[4] The role of voice here is particular and important, as Adriana Caverero (2005) has explored: voice works inter-subjectively and relationally, emotionally and affectively transmitting and moving through us and between us and others. Voice is more than and different from the speech and meanings it carries, encompassing and transmitting both pre–verbal and non–verbal vocalizations of intensities (affects) as well as expressing feelings and emotions. Attention to emotion and affect, then, helps us listen to voice’s limits, to its intensities, to its transmissions between bodies, to voicing and vocalization as expressive and performative (Neumark 2010). In short, it is how these emotions and affects work through voice as mediator, as movement, as performing, expressing, and transmitting attachments that I hope will be audible in the works I present through this mapping.


An artist who is finely attuned to the affect between humans, animals, and things is videomaker Kathy (aka Kitty) High. Domestic Vigilancia, the first piece in her larger work, Everyday Problems of the Living, is striking in the way it is animated by an uncanny emotion moving within, through, and between voices. This emotion resounds in a psychic medium’s telephonic voice, in Kathy High’s own voice, deadened with fear and anticipation of her own death, and in her cat’s voice, which channels Kathy’s voice, along with its own, into utterances from the depths of its guts. In the work, I hear the artist’s voice provoking her cat with her existential and emotional anxiety, and as audience I am disturbed and provoked – how can I listen to High’s strange voice and to her cat’s even stranger outpourings? And as I watch and listen, I sense the complexity and intensity of the connections across the borders between people, animals, and machines. You might say the work resonates with what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have called “becoming animal,” which they figured as movements by “contagion” as a way of thinking movements “that are not about pity or identification, nor about analogy or imitation” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 258, 272).[5] For me the work also evokes a new materialist listening to voicings of relations between humans and non-humans, to which I’ll return in enchanted mapping, as it makes audible these deep and uncanny attachments. This is an uncanny work about death as well as a work that is deadly serious.

Kathy High - Domestic Vigilancia

I hear voice as key to this work. It is particularly interesting that the humans are offscreen and what we see is only their contaminating effect on Kathy High’s cat, performatively bringing forth – and I choose those words deliberately – bringing forth its voice. So Kitty contaminates her kitty through her voice, via the medium on the telephone, via the medium of the telephone – and in turn sickens me, via the medium of video. In turn, perhaps a medium itself, the cat’s strangled voice affectively channels Kathy’s emotions. The more dead and the more distant Kathy’s voice is – with its flat and detached tone – the more present are the cat’s gut-wrenching outpourings. We might even hear this voice performing as a medium in a double sense, both as an “intervening substance” in which we experience affect, and as a psychic agent to convey affect.


Speaking of mediums, and media, I would note here that the telephone, which is pivotal in this video, has a long established role in film, not just with its ring disruptively setting the action in motion, but also often spreading life and death news, reflecting real life situations.[6] Having learned of my own mother’s death over the telephone, continents away, I can bear witness to the unreality and at the same time deadly reality of such communication – somehow telephones and talk of death have become deeply intertwined. It’s interesting, by the way, that Thomas Watson, who played a big role in the invention of the telephone, claimed to be the first person to listen to noise which we could take as a call to listen to the noisy mess that spews out from the guts and into the mouth of Kathy’s cat, to hear it as a noisy voice. And in its noisy way, the work also speaks of the tenderness of the attachment between Kathy and her cat.


Another work, for this carte de tendre, where voice is emotionally haunted by the possibility of death is If, by Sherre DeLys a piece she made with Andrew, a young cancer patient. The particular emotion in the piece is probably not what you would expect when I say you will be hearing the voice of a child with cancer – and that’s what makes the work all the more affective and effective, a work of surprising and deep tenderness. The piece resonates with an affect that DeLys intensifies through the musical play with voice. The process starts with a “what if” game that DeLys plays with Andrew, a game that somehow calls to him to enter with her into a special zone of aliveness; it attaches him to life through a shared vocal game not just of meaning but of will, imagination, and energy; and as we listen, his voice, and the others in the work, affectively attach us to him and to life itself.

Sherre DeLys - If


When I asked DeLys about how she worked with voice, affect and emotion in this piece, she explained:


The different ways [Andrew] articulates the repeated word If contain universes of emotion – now suggesting promise, now questioning and so on. So in the studio we sample[d] and loop[ed] selected words. With tape rolling, I ask[ed] cellist Ion Pearce to transcribe the pitch and rhythm of vocal lines we[’d] created, and I record[ed] him working out pitches by trial and error, striving to mimic Andrew’s voice with his own and with the cello, going beyond his vocal range, reaching for connection. My interest in voice is […] always to do with voice’s relational capacities. (Neumark 2015: 135-6)


The voices in this work evoke and navigate a land of tenderness and help us sense hope, even delight in the darkest of moments. We can sense the relational way that voice moves, moving out from and between people and musical instruments, its intersubjectivity and intimacy and intensity; and this movement, this relationality is vital to its affective performativity.


In my own radiophonic essays, too, I was thinking about emotions moving bodies and moving between bodies. For me this began with my concern with cultural difference and a need to explore “bodies” in their particularity. And as with much of my radio work, it also started in my own body, which I was relating to anew through acupuncture, in the very rooms that provide the atmosphere in this segment.

Norie Neumark - Dead Centre


Making this piece in 1998 was one of my first steps towards new materialism (to which I return below). But before I fully plunged into that way of thinking, I needed to follow another path that I’ll talk about through psychogeographic maps – where my interests were focused on place and the voicings of emotions, memory, and mediated memory that speak its intensities. As it turned out, this was in fact another step on the path to new materialism where place is sensed as alive in many and complex ways.


[3] See, for instance, Erik Shouse (Shouse 2005) and Brian Massumi (Massumi no date).

[4] As Ahmed makes clear, she actually prefers working with the concept of emotion rather than affect to do this cultural work (Ahmed 2004).

[5] "Becoming is to emit particles that take on certain relations of movement and rest because they enter a particular zone of proximity. Or, it is to emit particles that enter that zone because they take on those relations ... [This is] a proximity that makes it impossible to say where the boundary between the human and the animal lies”(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 273). In this zone of proximity – the terms of becoming do not exchange places nor identify – they infect each other, in an e/motion of contagion (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 306).

[6] This is explored in Christian Marclay’s art video remix work, Telephones (1995) which provides seven and a half minutes of film clip examples in a stunning tour de force remix.

Psychogeographic Maps

Psychogeographic Map


As the name evokes, affect is still crucial in psychogeographic maps – which were indeed influenced by cartes de tendre – but here it folds into geography, in very particular ways for Guy Debord and the Situationists International (SI). As Debord proclaimed, psychogeography was “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotionsand behavior of individuals” (Debord 1955: n.p.). And this study was performative, happening through movement, emotion, and engagement with the particularity of places – walking, sensing, feeling, and getting lost in the city. The dérive was the technique that underpinned psychogeographic mapping of the city; it was a form of walking that comes closest in English to drifting or wandering. It was a collective “playful-constructive behavior and awareness,” as Debord put it (Debord 1958), quite different from one’s average walk, and as such was a new form of inhabiting the city from the ground up so to speak, through emotions.


I start this mapping with one of my works with my collaborator, Maria Miranda, Talking about the Weather, where we were exploring ways to relate to strangers in public places by engaging in emotional and playful encounters. It was a riff off and drift away from the dérive, where our interest in emotions and place was inflected by our concerns, major anxiety really, about the weather. It was sparked by reading this passage in Tim Flannery’s The Weathermakers:


The air you just exhaled has already spread far and wide. The CO2 from a breath last week may now be feeding a plant on a distant continent, or plankton in a frozen sea. In a matter of months all of the CO2 you just exhaled will have dispersed around the planet. Because of its dynamism, the atmosphere is on intimate terms with every aspect of our Earth. (Flannery 2005: 22)


That poetic passage spoke to my interest in breath, re-animating in a way the power of all those breaths I’d cut out of early radio works for the ABC. So with this work we began our project, Talking about the Weather, the playful conceit of which was that we would “collect the world’s biggest collection of breath with which we would blow back global warming.”


Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda - Talking about the Weather


As part of the Talking about the Weather ongoing project, we explored a range of vocal “terrains,” including collecting breath in the virtual world of Second Life. I mention this because it was interesting to me to discover that even though I had earlier on experienced the way listening to the actual voices of avatars disrupted the imbrication I felt in Second Life, now, listening to breath “in-world,” I was experiencing a different, uncanny vocal quality which felt material and particular but did not remove the avatars from that world to the “real” world.

Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda - Talking about the Weather on Second Life.

Posted by Maria Miranda on 29 May 2008.

Our conscious vocal strategy to work humorously with breath in this project provided a means of relating to strangers. Breath says a lot about voice, of which it is the ground zero. Breath carries the voice from inside our bodies out, contouring the voice, giving it rhythm and life, connecting us to the place through which it resonates and the others who are in that place. And of course you can’t talk about the walking that is central to psychogeographic mapping without talking about breathing and the air we breathe in and out and through. Furthermore, breath carries affect, connecting us as we speak. A little sotto voce aside, I’ve noticed a way in which Scandinavian people often breathe in as they say “yes,” in a vocal/physical gesture which seems to signal agreement relationally, almost as if breathing the other into themselves. And my own body, too, remembers from the heady days of smoking how breathing and sharing smoke was an erotic connection, sadly one all too often connected with death. Which brings me back to global warming.


A good deal of the energy and thinking for Talking about the Weather – an imaginary solution to an actual problem – came for us from ’pataphysics, an important but crazy proposition first announced at the very beginning of the 20th century. So what is ’pataphysics? It is the absurd creation and neologism of French writer Alfred Jarry, a proposition that played on physics and metaphysics, presenting itself as a non-instrumental and non-sensical “science,” of which Jarry himself was an exemplary figure. In Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll Pataphysician: A Neo-Scientific Novel Jarry defined it in this way:


[…] the science of imaginary solutions and […] above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of the general. ’Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one. (Jarry in Shattuck and Taylor 1980: 192)


For us, a century later, ’pataphysics still had a lot to say, with its engagement in play, uncertainty, and particularity. It spoke to our desire for humor and our need to question the hegemony of science over humanities and particularly over art and artful thinking. ’Pataphysics not only nourished the imagination but also gave energy and direction to our emotional need to explore a particularity of the place of Paris. Further, we embraced ’pataphysics at the time when we wanted to escape from the way new media art was tying us to our computers and keeping us in the studio; we wanted to get out onto the streets (we were in Paris at the time, after all, need I say more?). And we wanted to enter those streets unencumbered by new media’s then-obligatory GPS, which we felt would call us back to those very computers and their scientific figuring of place.


For me ’pataphysics is very much at home on a psychogeographic map, with its particularity, emotions, and chance drifting, rather than abstract longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates. And even though psychogeography may not normally be associated with ’pataphysics, I would note that this connection is not just my own eccentric idea, since one of the key players in SI was Danish artist Asger Jorn, himself a ’pataphysician (Hugill 2012: 79-81). In any case, to me the value of pointing to a ’pataphysical edge, at least to psychogeographic mapping, is the attention to particularity and “imaginary solutions,” which will play out further when these maps fold into enchanted maps.

The next two works I’ll discuss step back from the ’pataphysical edge toward the center of the psychogeographic map. The first is an example of sound walks, in which psychogeography has played a significant role over the last decade, providing much inspiration for the ever-growing numbers of audio walkers drifting around the place – even though, it must be noted, these works do differ greatly in their philosophical and art historical understandings of both psychogeography and sound work. The key figure here is, of course, Janet Cardiff, whose seminal work with sound and place – including audio walks, audiovisual walks, and sound installations – has been highly significant not just in sound studies, but also in contemporary art for the way she works both conceptually and phenomenologically with sound, emotion, memory, and place, particularly through voice.[7] A couple of years ago at Documenta 13 in Kassel, I experienced one of the audiovisual walks that Cardiff has made with George Bures Miller, Alter Bahnhof Video Walk. This conceptually sophisticated, thought-provoking, and affective walk explored the complexity of time and layers of memory and time in a railway station, which holds the memory of the Jews who were deported to death camps from that very place.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller - Alter Bahnhof Video Walk.

Posted by Cardiff Miller on 23 July 2012.


The particular inflection of the conceptual and phenomenological in this work typifies her practice. As does the dizzying mise en abîme in Cardiff’s and Miller’s documentation which echoes the mise en abîme of all of Cardiff’s audio walks – stories within stories, dreams within dreams, memories within memories – which make the experience of the railway station particularly strange, intense, and disorienting. Recently I experienced one of Cardiff’s early audio walks in London’s East End. Again I encountered the way Cardiff’s voice brought a place alive in an uncanny way, animating it, and disturbing it with her strange and disjointed narratives, drifting between fact and fiction, dream and reality, between locatedness and dislocatedness, playing between media within media within media. “I dreamt I was dreaming,” I remember her saying to me softly in my ear. Meanwhile the sound of footsteps on cobblestones in my headphones made the cobblestones I was walking on more palpable. And the smell of incense in the church and sound of singing (it was a Sunday) echoed the singing in the recording and was intensified by Cardiff’s verbal description of incense – the church reverberated literally and poetically with these echoing voices, sounds, and smells. And throughout the intimacy and immediacy of her breathing, her hesitations, her silences, so close in my ear, intensified and contoured my emotional, sensual, and physical experience of the places she was inviting me to experience with her. By placing Cardiff’s work on the psychogeographic map, I hope to bring attention to how memory and media affectively inflect voice, and in turn affectively move the listener, as it narrates and re-articulates the dérive.


Another piece that performatively works with voice to engage the particularity and emotionality of place and memory is one that I encountered in Sydney a few years ago, the locational singing of Susan Philipsz. The work was The Internationale, which had first been sited in a pedestrian underpass in Ljubljana, during the 1999 European Biennial, Manifesta 3.

Susan Philipsz - Internationale.

Posted by LudwigForumAachen on 29 June 2011.


I’d like to focus on a restaging of the piece that I personally encountered in Turbine Hall on Cockatoo Island as part of the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, a Biennale with the theme Revolutions – Forms that Turn. That particular locational staging of the work brought out for me not just the way Philipsz herself works performatively and affectively with voice and location, but also, as with Cardiff’s work, how memory inflects psychogeographic engagement with place.


Turbine Hall is a large, empty, abandoned-feeling industrial space on an island with a varied history, including shipbuilding and repair before it turned into an arts and tourism location. In this piece, Philipsz’ singing of the Internationale emerged from a lone old speaker high on a wall in one section of the Hall, calling me into the space as I approached. Her voice felt like it was tapping into, channeling, the Hall’s physical memory, and I felt the space differently, sensing its proud industrial history in my body (I had gooseflesh, my hair standing on end). Philipsz’ voice re-animated the space for me as if with workers’ memories; it felt as if those memories haunted her voice, as if those memories haunted those enormous spaces, "as if" I was overhearing them in that space.


Philipsz’ method in making these works is very particular: she records her singing, with her frail and obviously untrained voice and little or no “professional” postproduction, and then has it played back in particular locations on very ordinary speakers. For her this frailty gives listeners the possibility to relate to her voice and to imagine it as their own voice and can provide a way for them to engage with their surroundings (Philipsz 2011). As she understands it,


there is a kind of tension between the sentiment of the songs, the way I choose to sing them and the environment into which they are being played, which stops you from entering into any kind of state of reverie… The idea is that when you hear a voice taken out of context in this way, your own sense of self becomes heightened while at the same time, you begin to experience your surroundings in a new way. (Philipsz 2015)


In this version of the Internationale, as with any “cover” version, Philipsz’ strange and ambiguous voice inhabits and is inhabited by this song’s past, bringing her own emotional response to it and the place where we hear it, but leaving us room to bring our own memories too. It is a reminder of the way places are always already haunted by voices of the past which sound works can make audible for us. The fragility of her voice speaks of uncertainty and imagination, of the fiction within the facts of how we know and remember a place.


In my own collaborative work, we’ve also thought a lot about place as it’s inflected by and inhabited by memory, particularly mediated memory, and how to sound this out. We started this thinking with the installation version of the Internet work Museum of Rumour, where the audience was given a mappa mundi to navigate and a CD to lead them through the Museum as they listen to the rumors that were haunting Kirkbride in Sydney, a building that is currently part of an art school but was formerly the dining room in a lunatic asylum.

Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda - Museum of Rumour


One of the concerns we were exploring in practice here was how memories of emotion can inhabit a building and how voice and sound might attune us to this, calling us to wonder about both place and memory themselves. This sense of building speaking its memories is something explored by Saskia Olde Wolbers in Yes These Eyes are the Windows, which was set in the house in Brixton, London, where Vincent van Gogh lived for a year in his youth (1873-1874).

Saskia Olde Wolbers - Yes These Eyes are the Windows.


I entered the building by pressing on the doorbell at the time allotted to me when I booked online. As the doorbell sounded, the door opened by itself, because, as it turned out, there was no one there, except the other five audience members and me. Inside the building there were two rooms on each floor, some with their ceilings held up by metal supports, some with exposed walls, all with scrappy old furniture. In short, it was a dilapidated mess, and there was no place to sit, so I stood in each room, listening, and then moved around following the invitational call of the not quite discernable voices and sounds. Some of the voices turned out to be the building’s own memories, which it spoke in the first person from speakers often hidden in its recesses. At times the sounds, voices, gushing water, and other sounds were so loud that they vibrated the building, literally shaking the crumbling walls, ceilings, and floors. Olde Wolbers was working viscerally with voice, location, and movement, to shift our understanding and our emotional relation to a place. As she said, “It’s a story. One in which the house speaks for itself” (Olde Wolbers in Coomer 2014). This calls to mind, by the way, a very interesting point that Marie Højlund made to me about the Danish word for voice, stemme, also being used when describing the atmosphere in a room, e.g., as the room’s stemning (voicing). This connection, that Højlund works with in her own work, and Olde Wolbers’ proposition that the building speaks for itself, both remind us of new materialism and brings me to the next and final mapping, enchanted maps.

[7] There is debate about the framing of Cardiff’s work, which is for some conceptual, and for others phenomenological. Seth Kim-Cohen (Kim-Cohen 2009: 119, 222-224) provides a useful corrective to the phenomenological audition, which ignores her conceptual importance. I, like him, I would suggest to hear both in her work.

Enchanted Maps


Before I turn to enchanted maps, I need to say more about new materialism, though I do not have time to enter the extensive debates between them and other “more than human” approaches which all seek to move beyond anthropocentrism. My own way into this sort of theory was initially via Actor Network Theory (ANT) and Sarah Whatmore’s hybrid geography. ANT is focused on networks and relations across categories, including between animate beings, inanimate objects, concepts, ideas or ideologies, institutions or organizations, and spaces. ANT approaches social networks as contingent and performative. What Bruno Latour and others involved in ANT have been doing, in developing a way to talk about animate-inanimate relations, is a useful point of departure to trouble an absolute, essential, human-centric otherness – perhaps to actually trouble otherness altogether – because with ANT all can be actors in a network. As Latour puts it, with useful attention to voice, we need to get past the idea that “things don’t talk” (Latour 2005: 107, my italics). How things do talk can, I hope, be made audible through enchanted mapping.


Despite their differences, the various approaches to the more-than-human share a concern, as anthropologist Tim Ingold puts it, with


the ground we walk, the ever-changing skies, mountains and rivers, rocks and trees, the houses we inhabit and the tools we use, not to mention the innumerable companions, both non-human animals and fellow humans, with which and with whom we share our lives. They are constantly inspiring us, challenging us, telling us things. (Ingold 2011: xii)[8]


And it is these more-than-human voices that tell us things, and ways that we can listen to them, that I will explore with enchanted mapping.


To introduce enchanted maps, I’ll turn to Jon Rose’s Fences Project. Rose is a violinist, composer, performer, and instrument builder as well as a radiomaker and installation artist. Over the years, he has been adding more and more strings to stranger and stranger instruments. At times he turned whole gallery spaces into stringed instruments, but at a certain point he thought:


Why was I making string installations when the continent that I was living on was covered with strings? That became the conceit: Australia was not mapped out with millions of miles of fences; it was hooked up to millions of miles of string instruments. (Rose 2012b: 197)


In this project, Rose and his collaborator Hollis Taylor have traveled the Australian continent, listening to, playing, and playing with the voices of the barbed wire fences, performatively bringing forth their voices.


Jon Rose - Great Fences


The Fences Project is, in part, a response to Australian Aboriginal culture and the way it hears country speak. To clarify this, let me cite Deborah Bird Rose (no relation),


Country in Aboriginal English is not only a common noun but also a proper noun. People talk about country in the same way that they would talk about a person: they speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, feel sorry for country, and long for country. People say that country knows, hears, smells, takes notice, takes care, is sorry or happy. Country is not a generalized or undifferentiated type of place, such as one might indicate with terms like ‘spending a day in the country’ or ‘going up the country.’ Rather, country is a living entity with a yesterday, today and tomorrow, with a consciousness, and a will toward life. (Rose 1996: 7)


As I suggested at the beginning, enchanted maps are a sort of origami version of the first two maps, folding together affect and place, the intimate and the social into an enchanted mapping which lets us listen to what people, animals, and things voice about and beyond themselves. Enchanted mapping riffs off political theorist Jane Bennett’s idea of the enchantment that is “already in and around us” in the modern world if we can just sense it (Bennett 2001: 174). In The Enchantment of the Modern World, Bennett discussed what is at stake and how we need to sense the enchantment and wonder of the modern world in order to reanimate our engagement with it so that we may then behave more ethically. As she says:


Without modes of enchantment, we might not have the energy and inspiration to enact ecological projects, or to contest ugly and unjust modes of commercialization, or to respond generously to humans and nonhumans that challenge our settled identities. These enchantments are already in and around us. (Bennett 2001: 174)


Voice in particular – uncanny and affective, alluring, and disturbing – has the potential to make the enchantment of the modern world audible.


This raises questions for me: how can we, as sound theorists and practitioners, make these enchantments audible, and how can we listen to them? These are questions I’d like to explore through the enchanted map. Bennett suggests that one way to think about enchanted listening and listening to enchantment is through “overhearing” – in the alchemical sense. With alchemical hearing and overhearing, inadvertent material seeps in as you hear things simultaneously, superimposed, transforming the whole of what you are hearing. In short, alchemical overhearing is a listening to the knowledge that something already has.[9]

Bennett’s enchantment, in a new materialist sense, makes audible the voices of non-humans and things and their relations with each other and with humans. We can hear this in a radio work of Jon Rose, Syd and George (2007) where, in part, through the voicings of his violin, we can hear how Syd and George, man and bird, started to shape-shift and morph into each other over their 20-year-long interspecies relationship (Rose 2012a).


Jon Rose - Syd and George

Syd, George, and Jon Rose, with and through his violin, cross into each other in a sort of sonic morphism. For Jane Bennett (echoing, as she says, Bruno Latour) morphism questions sharp distinctions, such as between nature and culture, and recognizes instead the hybridity or "crossings" as “an essential component of an ethical, ecologically aware life” (Bennett 2001: 99).


These voices speak from the world, telling us about themselves and the world. In a way, the idea that we can listen to voices through enchanted maps is not new, as we know from Don Ihde, who, among others, explored the idea that humans, animals, and things have a voice or “give” voice (Ihde 2007; Lingis 2009). In the context of new materialism, I think that we can take this audition even further, to listen perhaps in different ways to these different voices. I would suggest that enchanted mapping opens just such a conversation between voice studies and new materialism, enabling us to extend our thinking about voice itself, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to deepen our understanding of the relations between people, animals, and objects that new materialist thinkers are developing. And, importantly, the conversation can, I believe, respond to the ethical concerns that compel new materialism, to which Jane Bennett has pointed.


In her more recent, and very influential, book, Vibrant Matter, Bennett regularly evokes voice to convey the expressivity of things and assemblages. “Thus spoke the grid,” she says in her exploration of the NYC blackout of 2003 (Bennett 2010: 36). So, from a new materialist perspective, it is not just humans who speak, but also things: things speak within assemblages, in assemblages and “for” assemblages. Speaking performs here as both a metaphor and an effect, an activity or mode of an assemblage in which humans can become sensitive to listen to, and thus “hear or enhance our receptivity to ‘propositions’ not expressed in words” (Bennett 2010: 104). For new materialism, listening is a way of attending to a thing and to the assemblages in which things, people, and animals are enmeshed. And this listening, to my ears, is further apprehended and understood if we hear it as listening to a voice. This expansion of voice through new materialist enchanted mapping can, I hope, reinvigorate what we sense and think and know about and through voice. 

[8] Anthropologist Tim Ingold comes at new materialism from a particular direction, because he is keen not to distinguish between things and their relations: for Ingold things are their relations. Rather than a network, as with ANT, of connected points which involves, in his view, reducing things to objects, Ingold proposes the figure of a meshwork to suggest a web of becomings, where things are lines of force, immersed in their medium (Ingold 2011: 63, 70, 72, 92-93).

[9] I explored alchemy, including overhearing, in the radiophonic work Separation Anxiety: not the truth about alchemy (Neumark 1996). 

Closing …


To close I’d like to circle back to the coughing with which I began. I sometimes wonder if I’m being haunted by all those coughs I had to cut out of interviews in the early days of working with radio for the ABC. In any case, I can’t help returning to the cough. As I did in China in 2012, where on an artist’s residency I made sound recordings of streets, parks, and subways that I found were endlessly punctuated with coughing, my own and other people’s – coughs I didn’t always notice until I listened back. If Yoko Ono’s coughs are a reminder of both the bodily eruption of voice, voice broken, by coughing, the Beijing coughs that punctuate my recordings are an evocation of the Particulate 2.5 in an AQI of 450+ moving from air to lungs to air, provoking the cough and expelled with the cough. Particulate 2.5 speaking to us, as Jane Bennett might have it, “giving voice” to the AQI or air quality index. Allowing us to “feel pollution coming back at” us (Latour 2013). If Gaia is “ticklish” as Bruno Latour would have it (Latour 2014: 3) that tickle is in our throat and lungs as we cough.


Maria Miranda and I recently used recordings of Beijing coughs in the playlist that filled the room in the first installation of a work called Coalface, which we made in Melbourne in 2013.

Norie Neumark - Beijing Coughs


Through this work, I listen to the coughs as new materialist voicings of the assemblage in which (within the medium of air) are enfolded: Particulate 2.5, the Chinese government pollution and industrial policies, traffic, pollution spewed out from manufacturing industries working overtime to satisfy the desires for cheap goods in the West, coal from Australia which fuels much of China’s growth spurt, the lungs of the local people walking by us, and our own coughing too as we gather our material. So each day as we worked on the installation, with the playlist to animate us, we listened to the coughs give voice to the assemblage and to the need to engage with all the ethical, political, emotional, and aesthetic concerns at the coalface back in Australia. And so I close with this work, which also brings us back to the beginning and Yoko Ono’s Cough Piece, which was one of the pieces that comprised the play list in the installation.

Yoko Ono - Cough Piece



I would like to thank the ESSA 2014 conference organizers for inviting me to reflect on my own and others’ journeys between sound theory and sound practice. I would also like to thank the Section for Aesthetics and Culture at Aarhus University, where I was privileged to be a guest professor while working on this presentation.



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