Post-Natural Sound Arts

Mark Peter Wright []


The term “Post-Natural” is currently situated within arts and humanities discourse and the pervasive debates surrounding the Anthropocene. This proposed new epoch underscores how humans have, and are, changing the geological make-up of Earth by way of fossil fuel extraction, war, slavery, technologies, and advanced capitalism. Significant registers that pinpoint start dates include the Industrial steam engine (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000: 17-18), colonialism, and atomic bomb testing (Lewis and Maslin 2015: 174-176). To consider humans as a geological force collapses the divisions between nature and culture (Chakrabarty 2009: 221). Amongst many repercussions, it forces a radical reconsideration of human and nonhuman relations by foregrounding issues of ethics, power and agency. Moving beyond a human-centered view of the world prompts “new” ecologies where actants – including microbes, people and machines – are brought into relational becomings and ethico-political cartographies (Latour; 2004; Braidotti 2013; Parikka 2015; Tsing 2015).


Such more-than-human entanglements are anything but new however. The current Anthropocene fever whitewashes many long-established, non-western, post-anthropocentric thinkers and practices (Todd 2014). Furthermore, although the subject is undergoing a current wave of academic territorialization, much of its discourse bootstraps writing from the 1980’s onwards. In relation to Nature and the environment specifically, long before Crutzen and Stoermer’s (2000) epoch-making report or Timothy Morton’s call for an Ecology without Nature (2007), many others were troubling Nature from perspectives within political ecology, feminist philosophy, and postcolonial studies. Critiques included the cultural appropriation of a universal western Nature (Guha 1989), the anthropocentric plundering of Nature (Haraway 1992), the separation of humans and Nature (Latour 1993), the rights of Nature (Serres 1995), the masculinized narrative of a pristine Nature (Cronon 1997), and the frictions embed within technological Nature (Hayles 1999).


This article situates itself within such critical contexts and takes up the consequences of these long-term debates. To realize this I apply literature from a broad range of fields including political ecology, animal studies, critical posthumanism, feminist new materialism and media ecology.



This article examines three archival representations that form the basis for a Post-Natural Sound Arts.  Although contemporary practice is discussed within the section “Representation and the Dangers of Aw[e]ful Listening,” that particular emphasis will be addressed another time. Rather than create a conventional survey or claim an exclusive territory, I hope to open up new modes of enquiry that can inform a way of rehearing environmental sound arts. Specifically, I want to reassess the roles of silence, technology, and subjectivity and fuse them into broader claims of an acoustic ecology. The emphasis throughout rests in the application of an eco-political ear, one that is not without its uncertainties and limits, but nonetheless endeavors to listen in, and out, of intersectional power. The article is structured in order to:


  • Situate the term Post-Natural within the context of eco-critical philosophy and establish its relevance for environmental sound arts
  • Present three historical sonic case studies that derive from archival recordings
  • Discuss the problems of representation in contemporary artistic practice
  • Offer concluding thoughts, questions, and prompts

Towards a Post-Natural Sound Arts


Moving towards a Post-Natural Sound Art prompts a deconstruction of acoustic ecology, a discipline attached to the soundscape studies school of practice: those motivated by conservation and composition as global unifiers (Hempton 2010; Krause 2012; Schafer 1994). Acknowledging the importance of such work, this article aims for another type of ecology, one that consistently examines heard and unheard aspects of ethics, power and agency within the practice itself. A Post-Natural filter aids this new approach by reinvigorating environmental sound art’s relationship to silence, technology and subjectivity. Furthermore, it offers new methods for listening, through publications and creative audio works; it provides questions to sonic materials and treats recordings as documents to be read through a listening approach that fuses cartographic research with imaginary speculations.


In a time where human impact is radically altering the sedimentary signature of the earth, a Post-Natural approach asks if it plausible to claim “non-impact” anymore? Has the long-empathetic notion of non-invasive environmental recording become a redundant ideal that is as illusionary as so-called Nature itself? Can the recording of species and phenomena continue to be deemed inconsequential? How is technological agency performed and part of an ecological approach? Whom do “we” speak for in the sounding of environments? What is the impact of such questioning in the field and how do aesthetic modes of documentation and production respond?


The first job here is to remain with the problem of the discipline’s Western bias and lend an ear to the remarkably under-critiqued practice of environmental field recording. Its second task is to destabilize the term “Natural” through an exploration of the asymmetrical frictions at the heart of any human-nonhuman process of capture. Listening is positioned throughout as an ethico-aesthetic methodology used to produce new criticisms and potentials in discourse and practice. It is a non-essentialized act that has the agency to be philosophical, violent, aesthetic and political, bringing new knowledge through a complex consideration of its own limits. What follows next are three listening exercises that draw out such Post-Natural emphasis. 


Silence, Subjectivities & the Rights of Nature: Listenings #1

[Indian Common Shama, Ludwig Koch, 1889, BBC Archives]




A fourteen second section of birdsong pierces the crackling hiss of mechanical noise. It is an underwhelming aesthetic anomaly within a contemporary context of technological fidelity and spectacular representations of Nature. I am listening to a BBC archival recording of birdsong: the first-ever, committed to wax cylinder in 1889. Amongst the noise of early phonographic media, I hear the song of a captive Indian Common Shama Bird native to Southeast Asia. Dis-placed, re-located, and housed within a cage, it seems to have been part of the Victorian era’s penchant for curiosity, collection and display. The bird hails from Muscicapidae lineage, a large family of small Passerine birds emanating from the Common House Sparrow. Ironically, these birds are not known for their song, yet it is from this species that the world has its historical first.


The famed naturalist and wildlife sound recordist Ludwig Koch, aged eight at the time, captured this historical precedent and in doing so provides a baseline for a Post-Natural history of sound arts. The recording contains heard and unheard artifacts relating to silence, materiality, animals, and technology that, when listened with, reveal a raft of consequences in relation to ethics, power and agency, matters at the heart of all PNSA inquiries.


A point of departure for this listening exercise is to ask: what are we not hearing? In this particular recording, amongst the birdsong and pops of sonic materiality, is a notable absence. Inaudibly present within the media-animal crackles, Ludwig Koch, the recordist, is also captured somewhere and inscribed into the wax.


Koch’s “silent” presence underpins aesthetic representations of Nature and environmental encounters. Early 20th century bioacoustics and archival motivations for wildlife recording continually erased its own authors for matters of objective fact. Nature documentary and the growing influence of genres such as soundscape studies or acoustic ecology (circa 1970), although more artistically inclined, continued to support a legacy of self-erasure for compositional purposes.  The dominant aesthetic message is an unheard one, as recordists perpetually mute their own presence for the most “natural” or technically “cleanest” documentation of an environment or species. The recording “I” is associated with lo-fi acoustic detritus such as microphone handling, wind, and interference noise: all are aspects that must be silenced as part of the general signal-to-noise ratio. Whether for science or art, self-dissolution hovers over every instance the record button is about to be pressed.


Within such histories and representations we should ask what is really being preserved beyond the so-called signal? What power dynamics are being enacted, not only in silence but also through the very act of silencing? PNSA performs a listening towards the non-sounding noise of such questions. Its process is a forensic yet non-representational one, entangled amongst the erasures and absences of the unsound (Migone 2011). The task here is not to speak on behalf of silence but recognize the potential agency of its performativity (Malhotra and Rowe 2013). Listening with such obscure materialities forges new possibilities for an aesthetics situated in radical notions of becoming, where subjectivities, both human and nonhuman, can be actively performed, hybridized and renegotiated.


It is the promise and threat of the “Noisy-Nonself” (Wright forthcoming) that I speak towards here. The Noisy-Nonself is a conceptual character that invites environmental sound art practitioners to harness their own silent para-histories, reanimating the marginalized self in order to blur the so-called subject. The term itself teeters on the edge of nonsense and draws upon Donna Haraway’s essay The Promises of Monsters (1992) along with related literature from cultural monster studies that forge a pathway towards the potentiality of hybridized and marginalized subjectivities (Cohen 1996; Mittman and Dendle 2012).


Such ethico-speculative work brings important listening towards the rights of Nature. This is another paradoxical area where the negotiation of agency, between humans and nonhumans, is an ambiguous territory built upon lossy forms of representation and knowledge: fidelity and veracity become replaced by artifactual truths within the limits of listening.


The MGM lion roar sets a legal precedent in terms of the rights of Nature. In 2008 European courts granted this nonhuman sound legal status: trademark number 005170113 (EUIPO 2008). The trademark document includes the technical details of the sound recording, the name of its legal owner, and a statement that it is from an individual classified as “Nature.” It omits the specific subject, namely Leo, who produced the roar in 1995, one of seven lions to have been used by MGM over the years.


The endless possibility of granting sonic rights brings with it a swathe of complex ethical dilemmas around advocacy, anthropomorphism, and profiteering. Formalizing Michel Serres call for a “Natural Contract” (1995) in the media entertainment business might only reinforce the anthropocentric mastery of nonhumans. In response to Wittgenstein’s famous philosophical observation that if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand it, this may well be the case, but we humans can, and certainly do, exploit and monetize animals, both visually and sonically.


Here, I am interested in both the rights and rites of Nature. Not only hard codes of conduct but the mediated rituals and constructs bound into technological practices of nonhuman capture and representation. As a consequence, I take seriously the proxy proposition that sound is a social political agent and strive to treat the medium as material that matters, working against a culture of digital sound capture that falsely claims inconsequentiality as its implied default.


The recording of the Indian Common Shama bird therefore helps explore the promise and threat of self-erasure. It challenges critical reflexive practice to imaginatively bend the ear backwards, towards the hiss of its own Noisy-Nonself. It asks what latticed identity might lurk in the margins of audial representation? It provokes a necessarily ethico-imaginative response in practice that foregrounds the rights/rites of Nature. Both areas are bound by an application of loss: loss in terms of what is beyond the so-called signal, loss in terms of formal representation and loss in terms of knowledge production. PNSA hears with loss to perform a listening out rather than in (Lacey 2013). It harnesses loss as a methodological instigator for real and imaginary contextual mappings.


Materiality, Technology & Time: Listenings #2

[Operation Upshot-Knothole Annie, Nuclear Test, 1953, US National Archives]

Crackling silence follows the words “this is a test”; voices punctuate, some authoritative, others more general and hushed. Numbers are read aloud in preparatory fashion, a countdown begins: “5,4,3,2,1,0”; an energetic flicker registers like an electric moth trapped in my ear. Murmurs grow until a piercing bang opens the acoustic space further; whistles and wows flutter amidst the crackle of pops of sonic media.


I am listening to a recording of a nuclear weapons test from the National Archive and Records Administration, 1953 (USA). “Desert Rock” was the code name for a series of such exercises that took place throughout Nevada during 1951-1957. This recording was part of “Operation Upshot-Knothole,” which opened up nuclear detonation to the media and public in the hope of calming atomic anxieties. Crowds were positioned eleven kilometers from the blast site.


This exercise listens with and through its technologies as part of a media ecological approach (Fuller 2005). What I hear is the spectacle of war, more specifically the rehearsal of destruction. Materialities of capture are audible in the hiss of tape punctured by its sonic environment. The moment of detonation is experienced first through light traveling faster than sound. The bomb announces itself not through its archetypal bang (02:54) but in the audible tremor that it inflicts upon the camera’s technological gaze (02:22): the electric moth in my ear is the initial detonation; the “real” bang arrives as a strange doubling, thirty-two seconds later.


One of the key milestones in dating anthropogenic change is 1964, which saw a peak in radioactive carbon following two decades of nuclear weapons testing (Lewis and Maslin 2015: 176-177). War and the military-industrial complex have brought earth-changing consequences specifically through its nuclear materials. Rather than illustrating a specific start date or physical marker within the context of Anthropocene debates, I am interested in the consequent unhinging of veracity through the multiple geographies, subjectivities, and timescales that are produced. In relation to this particular recording, science historian Alex Wellerstein states:


"Most films of nuclear explosions are dubbed. If they do contain an actual audio recording of the test blast itself (something I’m often suspicious of — I suspect many were filmed silently and have a stock blast sound effect), it’s almost always shifted in time so that the explosion and the sound of the blast wave are simultaneous" (Wellerstein 2012).


This example is a real-time sound recording where temporality unspools itself through a material-media focus. More time-space phasing occurs when we consider that the half-life of Plutonium 239 is 24,100 years. As a substance it operates beyond human-orientated timescales. Philosopher Timothy Morton (2013: 120) notes “The future of plutonium exerts a causal influence on the present, casting its shadow backward through time.” Such materials ask profound ethical questions and open up time’s elastic nature. Hence the recording functions as a futuristic vessel that is always loosening its temporal moorings.


Following Morton’s (2013) line of enquiry, we can posit the recording as a sonic “hyperobject,” something so vast and distributed in time and scale that it never quite goes away. A more recent relationship can be found in Susan Schluppi and Tom Tlalim’s project Uneasy Listening (2014). Their sonic ethnography demonstrates that the immediate impacts of Drone warfare obfuscate the long-lasting psychological affects, such as depression, that continue to reverberate after the physical destruction. Perhaps the most potent contemporary companion piece comes from Peter Cusack’s recordings of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone in the publication Sounds from Dangerous Places (2012). The work was recorded twenty years after the catastrophic nuclear disaster, yet its impact and effects continue to haunt, most notably on the track “Cuckoo and Radiometer.” Here the sound of a Geiger counter taps in a strange comingling with cuckoo calls: queering ecologies of silence and the pristine with a military-industrial web of fear and contamination.


PNSA therefore listens with the affects and consequences of slow violence (Nixon 2011), hearing beyond the media-industrial appetite for instant spectacle. The atomic bomb recording is a performative time-glitch. It punctures materiality with error and doubt and asks for a sonic sense of causality that oscillates between its point of provenance and an elsewhere. It pulses between the echo and eco (Dyson 2014) and reverberates the statement that “media cross one another in time which is no longer history” (Kittler 1999: 115).


Morton’s concept of the hyperobject helps to situate listening as a “hypermedial” practice, one that auditions the interface of mediation and its multiple representations (Bolter and Grusin 2000). Hypermedia is both a “fracturing of the space of the picture [sound] and as a hyperconscious recognition or acknowledgement of the media” (Bolter and Grusin 2000: 38). Differing from Hypermedia’s emphasis on multi-layered representations – collage, for example – PNSA instead focuses on listening itself as a crosshatched process of meaning and material making: it too becomes hyper.


With all archival examples, it is important to move beyond any flat chronological interpretation that such documents could fall into. Instead, the task is to re-hear the potentialities in time-mutable nature and the media agents that also form part of this new ecology of listening. The study of sonic warfare (Goodman 2009), although related to this discussion more broadly, is not necessarily my focus. Rather, I am attempting to critically and imaginatively engage with the audio documents, histories, and material energies produced by such contexts. This process is always a cartographic one that spills into parallel investigative work through text, images, and productively doubtful attempts towards a non-representational forensics of listening.


Power, Ethics & The Field: Listenings #3

[Faun-breasted Bowerbird, Excerpt, British Library, 2006]


“Wah wawah…...ChcccchhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH...Burrddubbbbledmuuurr...Madooba?…Kerjer…Kerjer.” The opening sounds of this third example are familiar yet baffling. I have played them to members of the public on numerous occasions, and the response is always poignant and imaginative. “It sounds like a machine malfunctioning.” “Is it a child playing?” “Is it from a science fiction film?” “Something sounds wrong.”


The sounds produced are by a Faun-breasted Bowerbird uncannily mimicking chainsaws, construction noise, and human voices. It was recorded in Papua New Guinea by Ian Burrows and published as part of the CD Bird Mimicry (2006). Similar to the Lyre Bird, Faun-breasted Bowerbirds constantly transgress human, animal and technological binaries through their song and spectacularly-constructed homes. Bowerbirds perform animal sentience, technicity, and aesthetic desire. In so doing they destabilize the privileged locus of humans at the center of cultured worldings. Their song mimicry occurs within specialized environmental conditions, in this case a building site. When such vocalizations resound processes of human-industrial incursion, as they do in this recording, we hear a larger cartography at work, one in which anthropogenic matters of deforestation, tourism, industry, and colonialism linger as problematizing artifacts.


The Bowerbird’s mimicry is an audible marker of “soft pollution,” a term Michel Serres coined in his book Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution? (2010). Serres proposed soft pollution as a way of comprehending the otherwise ignored factors within climate change. He posits sound and image as media-ecological actants that contribute to anthropogenic change (2010: 41-42). The bird sounds on this recording similarly do not function as hard scientific evidence but more so as non-representational, formless forms that are part of an environmental media history of erasure and absence (Parikka 2013).


Serres’s term helps to transform the Bowerbird mimicry into a soft register of the Anthropocene, one that consequently disturbs material science’s dependency on physical-visual markers. The bird’s uncanny mechanistic voice represents an audible symptom of ecological crisis. The recording itself was made in Papua New Guinea, a place so well heard through Steven Feld’s sound anthropological study Sound and Sentiment (1990). Papua New Guinea has a complicated identity tied to a history of colonialism. Indigenous Melanesian’s (3000 or 2000 BCE) inhabited the country until Spanish and Portuguese (16th century) and, later, German and British Colonisers (19th century) claimed its territory. In 1906 British New Guinea transferred powers to Australia who controlled the majority of its regions throughout World War Two. In September 1975 Papua New Guinea proceeded to full independence.


Bowerbirds are resident in Australia and Papua New Guinea; their mere presence mimics the violent geographic poles of extraction that colonial violence demarks. A similar ornithological politic has been traced via the routes of canaries and their entangled histories within slavery and Germanic bird collection (Smith 2015: 46-52).


As with all these listening exercises, the recordist must also be brought into earshot. Inevitably they exist, like Koch, previously as medial phantoms somewhere on the fringes of representation (see listenings #1) . They are the other soft pollutant that PNSA continually encounters. Returning to this emphasis of exclusion demands repeated questions: what are we not hearing; how does silent presence function as a performative agent; what are its promises and threats?


Nature’s Music: The Science of Birdsong (2004) describes how this particular recording encounter unfolded:


a fawn-breasted bowerbird netted during a banding exercise in Papua New Guinea by Ian Burrows, left lying in a bag near the nets whilst awaiting release, gave convincing renditions of the cries of children, and the sawing and hammering sounds of carpenters building a house (Marler and Slabbekoorn 2004: 35).


The image of the bird lying in a bag as it produced this vocalization is a haunting one. The recording process itself becomes a fractal commentary of capture and exploitation, oscillating back and forth within the close-knit practices of preservation and predation. The voice and its inaudible context of capture reaffirm the modernist legacy that landscapes and species are resources to be drained. Moreover, the mention of “rendition” evidences the musicalizing trend within the context of nonhuman recordings and soundscape studies more broadly. PNSA rejects and actively works against this anthropocentric legacy. Environments, species, and phenomenon are not merely part of a sonorous palette waiting to be captured and composed. Within the context of environmental sound arts and the white, Western patriarchy it is built upon, audio documents such as the Bowerbird’s are heard as colonial legacies. Contemporary recordists must acknowledge this history and strive against forms of neocolonialism or sonic trophy hunting that underpin the genres of field recording or soundscape composition (Kelly 2013; Michael 2011).


Mary Louise Pratt’s notion of the “Contact Zone” is a productive parallel to conclude this discussion with, in addition to aiding understandings of “The Field” more broadly. Contact zones are comprehended in terms of “copresence, interaction, interlocking understandings and practices, often within radical asymmetrical relations of power” (Pratt 1992: 7). Like Pratt’s contact zone, the field must be approached as a space that draws out core tensions and entanglements: not an immersive hiding place for recordists but an active area for the performance of its co-dependent agents (humans, nonhumans, technologies, sound, silence, and environment). Within the context of anthropogenic change, self-silence, for the sake of non-impact, is a redundant illusion. PNSA therefore challenges contemporary practitioners to situate their own presence, both audibly and inaudibly within the legacies of colonialism and the promise and threat of self-withdrawal. 


Representation & the Dangers of Aw[e]ful Listening  

“It is all too easy to get carried away by our sound materials into the world of sound experimentation, electroacoustic music and forget the connection to the central focus of ecological thinking” (Westerkamp 1998: 75).


In 1998 Hildegard Westerkamp, acoustic ecologist and pioneer of soundwalking, cautioned environmental sound arts regarding the ethico-aesthetic process of recording and representing its subjects. Her paper presentation “Speaking from Inside the Soundscape” (1998) is founded on the broader notion of schizophonia (Schafer 1994), which suggests technology (the microphone) is a seductive illusion of connectivity that actually distances and separates humans further from Nature (Westerkamp 1998: 73).


Westerkamp tellingly asks:


"How do we avoid the very real danger of simply creating yet another product, a CD with yet more amazing sounds? […] In the worst case, they have become an imported product, a neat sound without any real meaning beyond the WOW experience […] We must ask ourselves, when we compose a piece or produce a CD whether we, in fact, bring our listeners closer to a place or situation or whether we are fooling ourselves and are inadvertently assisting in the place’s extinction" (Westerkamp 1998: 75).


I take seriously Westerkamp’s claims and questions, particularly in relation to the final sentence, which implies there is an ironic fallibility to recording and representing nonhuman worlds. Sound recording and its creative representations must not be deemed inconsequential. The practice may leave no trace or footprint, but it has an effect. Listening is also not a pure, altruistic or less violent process than vision. The ear and microphone are complicit collaborators within the asymmetrical process of medial witnessing. PNSA does not therefore align itself with Schafer’s schizophonic binary. Technology and media are part of an integrated ecology that cannot be denied. There is no distance or split: humans and Nature are technological.


Recorded representations that attempt to capture a place or subject of ecological crisis must be examined within the critique that Westerkamp instigates. A CD that showcases the sound of an iceberg collapsing under ecological strain may well be a poignant illustration of climate change, but the challenge remains in hearing the networked agents, forms of power and speculative consequences embroiled within its demise.


Scaling to the macro end of the formal spectrum, from open-air sonic postcards to close-up transduced vibrations, many artists are productively channeling the audible limits of listening. A wave of contact microphone-based work currently floods the field of environmental sound arts. Numerous artists (see Jez Riley French; Joyce Hinterding; Jacob Kirkegaard; Christina Kubisch; Toshiya Tsunoda; Jana Winderen) are exploring discreet everyday sounds along with those that exist outside the human range of hearing (20-20,000 Hz). Employing specialist microphones and techniques, such as accelerometers and hydrophones,allows these artists to investigate anything from architecture to sea life, from atmospherics to objects.


Ontologically speaking, such works offer new ways of reapproaching field recording; they raise further awareness towards the more-than-human worlds that exist. Anja Kanngieser (2015: 81) states: “sound is not just about hearing and responding, or communicating. It is about becoming aware of registers that are unfamiliar, inaccessible, and maybe even monstrous.” Sound theorist Christoph Cox has specifically sought to align such practices to a materialist philosophy in his article “Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism” (2011). Cox challenges nature-culture binaries through his emphasis on sound’s material vibrations, energies, and affects.


These productive observations must follow through to the aesthetical point of inquiry: how are more-than-human worlds being composed and represented out of the field? Where are the recordists within these audio inscriptions? Does an aesthetics of transduction re-inscribe extractive, decontextualized compositional legacies?


Formally, such works are typified by the sound of crackles, pops, and drones; they articulate an overwhelming sense of texture and abstraction, which sits within an acousmatic electroacoustic legacy, devoid of heard context. This in-itself form of awesome representation has come under recent criticism for its promotion of an aestheticized apolitical ambience that reaffirms a notion of sound as truth: an essential soothsaying medium channelled by a proxy hubristic listening (Kim-Cohen 2016). Kim-Cohen’s critique, although over-reliant on the textual and human is essential in dismantling forms of aesthetical representation. Transductions certainly contain productive potential, yet the technologies and humans involved in mediation are inevitably noisy through their absence. I am willing to accept sonic materiality but not at the expense of political selfhood.


PNSA attempts to harness the potentials of transductive context loss through two practical strategies. It strives to hear such works in relationships or multiples. These groupings should animate and agitate different forms of scale in relation to the subject explored and cover both open-air recordings and transductions. For example, the atomic bomb recording discussed in “Listenings #2” could be paired with Jana Winderen’s recordings of shrimp from her publication The Noisiest Guys on the Planet (2015). The two documents’ apparent disconnect are in fact bound by their military crosstalk, related to the US Navy’s employment of shrimps as sonic camouflage between 1944-45: submarines would actively situate themselves in beds of snapping shrimp to avoid radar detection (Riley 2016).


A second strategy is, as always, emphasized through the question: what is not being heard? The unfamiliar, monstrous and more-than-human that Kanngieser (2015: 81) evokes also applies to practitioners and their methods. We are back to the Noisy-Nonself, the soft pollutant of environmental sound arts that must be reanimated in heard and unheard ways amongst the crackle and pops of Post-Natural sound. Artist Raviv Ganchrow’s projects of “Context Dependent Transduction” offer a useful example in reassessing relations of technology, self, and environment. My own work Bio-critical Incidents (2014) opens something for the open-air context, as does David Michael’s Microphones are not Ears (2016). Bettina Wenzel incorporates the self by vocalizing with her surroundings in Mumbai Diary (2010).


Engaging legacies of self-silence should not lead to an aesthetic genre of “sonic-selfies”: footsteps or voices being recorded for the sake of saying “I am here.” Contrary to the production of a quasi sonic autoethnography, it is a call to point the microphone critically and imaginatively backwards, into and through the self that shadows all mediated environments and species: dredging a history of phantasmagoric subjectivities and media captures in order to address urgent ecological matters. Self-reflexive soundings are therefore concerned with the specific agencies and entanglements bound within the process of arts practice and may offer new listenings towards the intra-medial dynamics at play within human and nonhuman encounters. 



This has been an initial probing towards the possibility of a Post-Natural Sound Arts. Its application is both as a listening method and an agitating prompt for new strands of practice and aesthetics. In the context of anthropogenic change and the long-term debates around what constitutes Nature, sound recordists must recognize they are bound into new ecological relationships with themselves and their technologies of capture. Both must be brought into heard and unheard earshot in order to destabilize and reactivate essentialized legacies of silence and the pristine.


The point of this approach is to begin forging new listening practices, both in and out of the field, which can directly engage issues of ethics, power, and agency. Rather than illustrating symptoms of crisis, the emphasis falls upon rehearing networked forms of causality and speculative consequences. In this way PNSA can productively add to artistic representations of climate and ecological uncertainty through its insistence that Nature, and the nonhuman, begins within the bacteria and microbes that make up the human body, along with the pieces of earth and nonhuman materialities that produce media technologies.


PNSA wants selfhood and sonic materiality to comingle rather than occupy traditional binaries. It proposes to do so through a listening politics that strives to recognize the potentials of its own limitations. If knowledge consequently becomes uncertain within the heard and unheard, the hope is that escape routes might be engineered through an engagement with the practice’s own vulnerabilities, ironies, and contradictions.



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