Encountering with a collective resonance sphere


To be able to understand more comprehensively the mechanisms of a non-verbal resonance field in psychiatric hospital space, it is important to account for how people experienced themselves as part of the composition, based on the meaning they gave to these events. These feedback comments demonstrate how an atmospheric phenomenon enacted the specific material-discursive reconfigurings of the hospital environment, through which the boundaries between people and the differentiated patterns of meaning-creation started to actualise.


The majority of the largely spontaneous and anonymous experiences I heard or read were in some ways affirmative. From the written 75 feedback comments, four people described the composition as distressing or frightening. While talking about their experiences, people often spoke with softer, more silent tones than they had previously used, which could be understood as pointing towards more intensive, affective, and emotional matters. Indeed, according to the feedback, the piece aroused an ‘awful lot of emotions’ for many. Some emphasised the affective experience of a ‘soothing’ and ‘consoling’ quality to the vocal spheres. For one individual, the sound brought comfort as they were walking the stairs: ‘even if one hasn’t been anywhere [apart] from here for days, this kind of a wonderful music [consolidates], even if one is walking by oneself’.1 It is worth noting that, according to the majority of people’s descriptions, the composition was not understood as a representation of mental sickness per se.2 Even if the voices were enriched with different tones of sorrow, embodied stumbling, and intimate whispering, no one raised the theme of suffering. On the contrary, many of the feedback comments articulated the person’s experience with the mutual voice as entangled and coalescent. I will elaborate further on a few iterative descriptions that related to the phenomenon of beauty,  touch, and interconnection on a wider field of relations.


Indeed, many observations about the ‘unusual beauty’ of the composition were made. As an example, one person described how the ‘extraordinary beauty’ of the piece moved her to further dimensions from the hospital space, which she related to ‘a sort of a swamp, or wind, or a summer night. And an echo answering from there’3 How should we consider the phenomenon of beauty in this context? It does not mean that ‘beautiful’ was an objective quality of the artwork. Based on the embodied and verbal experiences, it rather orients towards an understanding that something happened to several people when they encountered the entangled vocal sphere. Something enveloped or took part in them, which they then apprehended and, as a result, felt as beautiful. Steven Shaviro’s reworking of the notion of beauty based on Deleuze and Guattari as ‘an event, a process, rather than a condition or a state’ accounts for such understanding.4 


In Berardi’s view, beauty is the emergence of forms in the realm of sensibility. In particular, the phenomenon could be seen, according to him, as the distance from the predictable order.5 Vocal Nest drew attention to the non-verbal, intimate, and bare attributes of being human, through sensate means that are often excluded from everyday social reality. It catalysed the abilities, forces, and bodily presence of the psychiatrically disabled people’s voices — who might, in a wider societal level remain largely unnoticed — as audible and tangible in a completely new and appreciative way, in a semi-public hospital space. To think with Anderson, the affective qualities emanating from these voices were not, however, reducible to the individual bodies they emerged from. They entered into vibration with the different materialities, bodies, and discursive bodies that made up this specific place, and enveloped the atmosphere of the stairwell to an unheard-of vibration.6 Many of the people who were in the hospital as patients seemed to identify with these ineffable qualities. Indeed, encountering with the vibrating sound material also transported some listeners closer to themselves, and generated experiences of becoming heard through listening: ‘Lovely, beautiful and touching’, wrote one person in their feedback from the hospital’s music hall installation. ‘It helped me to discover the fragile and beautiful, but resilient tone sounding inside of me, that I already thought I had lost.’7


At such moments, it could be claimed that the composition did not merely generate reflections on one’s own life, but invoked abilities to sense the world differently.8 People described in various ways how they were ‘touched’, or how they resonated with a ‘touch that touches’. As music and sound studies scholar Nina Sun Eidsheim points out, ‘not only aurality but also tactile, physical, material, and vibrational sensations are at the core of all music’.9 The idea of touching in psychiatric care has been generally believed as to provoke both aggressiveness and destructive manifestations of sexuality. Yet recent studies within the field of psychiatry have acknowledged the importance of physical contact in order to feel a sense of belonging to the community.10 Indeed, such a tactile experience of contact with the vocal sphere seemed to impart a new embodiment to people, as they started to name and articulate what had happened. According to Varto, the process of embodiment is about naming what becomes me: it is knowledge tied to one’s sensitivity.11 The ways in which people become active meaning-givers also resonates with Berardi’s understanding of sensibility as an embodied ability. According to him, the ‘sensible creation of the world’ is a ‘sense-driven […] ability to perceive the meaningfulness of the shape that is emerging from chaos’.12 It could be suggested that the composition provided a safe setting (for both the listeners and the people who participated by vocalising) to practise the sensate abilities that enable embodied encountering, which are, nevertheless, not necessarily simply pleasant, but also challenging in their intimacy and immanence.


While it is impossible to show measurable evidence proving whether such a shift in people’s sensate abilities occurred or not, the crucial point is that even a slight, temporary shift in the faculty of sensibility is radical: when the mode of experiencing changes, the whole (relation with the) world, not just the individual human being, changes. I would argue that evidence of such transitions within the scope of the composition can best — or perhaps only — be reached by sensate means. The agency of such a vibratory form of knowing radically reaches beyond my limits as an artist-researcher and is, in a particular sense, shared and affectively sharing. 


To follow Böhme, the comprehension of the sonic atmospheres of Vocal Nest was not purely an intellectual matter. Rather, it took place in terms of a felt resonance.13 Nancy’s understanding of resonance as resonating, referring to the material and symbolic return of sound waves, could be understood here as the resonance between different bodies: the vocal bodies of the workshop situations, and the recorded and listening bodies in the installation setting, as well as the reading and listening bodies of this exposition in JAR. Nancy emphasises the process of becoming the self through such acts of listening. Although the listening subject, he writes, is perhaps ‘not a subject at all, except as the place of resonance’.14 This sort of resonance sphere in Vocal Nest could be understood, after Anderson, as the ‘shared ground from which subjective states and their attendant feelings and emotions [might] emerge’.15 Listening, after all, is not (to cite Voegelin): ‘a receptive mode but a method of exploration’. It does not translate but rather produces meaning. It is an effort to communicate, to belong by listening.16 


The transitional potentiality of the vocal atmosphere primarily relied on these intervallic moments having a particular intensity, activating the relations between individuals and the enveloping wider resonance field. The transpersonal or prepersonal intensities emerged as vocal bodies affected one another.17It was a (gradual) letting go of oneself to a collective mood. (As mentioned earlier, a subtle letting go of oneself might arouse a certain amount of vulnerability, which is why addressing the entanglement between the aesthetical and the ethical dimensions is so crucial to my practice). 


Vadén and Torvinen assimilate such experiences into ‘secular modes of sacred experience’.18 Interestingly, these characteristics also emerged in people’s descriptions. The experience reminded some of the powers of communities with ritualistic traditions; it reminded others of shamanistic enhancements to perennial oral cultural practices. For others still, it was not unlike devotions or a prayer. A few described the vocal zones as ‘liberating’, or even “medicine for the soul’. Someone wrote in their feedback from the Lapinlahti Gallery that ‘after spending a moment in the room, one experiences her-/himself as reformed’. Although these various comments do not mean that the sound material was somehow holy, they do highlight the powerful, even overwhelming nature of the holistic and spatial experience.


These immediate experiences thus indicate that the non-verbal vocal experience was meaningful for many people precisely because it highlighted the listener (and vocaliser) as part of a wider collective field. Crossick et al. argue that ‘while we have growing evidence that individuals are changed through encounters with the arts’, the full picture of the arts’ affective potentialities are reached only in as much as they contribute to creating community in relational levels.19 What kind of relational levels? It could be claimed that, in this specific hospital community, the conditions for coexistence within a rudimentary resonance field were temporarily opened, unfolding on a sensate level at which the regulations and limitations of language could not reach.


That is, a difference emerged in this material-discursive environment. The singular, intimate, and fragile affective quality of the human atmosphere transformed the already established atmosphere of the hospital stairwell into a transitory space, one that was no longer the property of subjects or objects, but an ambiguous shared ground.20 This felt, collective affect unsettled the experienced distinctions between the subject and object, the healthy and the sick. The entire question of who is recognised as a psychiatrically disabled patient was transiently and gradually dissolved: on a sensate level, one could not hear a separation between where someone’s voice began and another’s ended. This local and situational resonance field referred to a linkage between people that may be, at least temporarily, retained and produced when discursive and verbal communication breaks down by attuning to the more rudimentary attributes of human expression. Considering such moments, one might claim that the composition traversed its boundaries as a work of art by reaching out to something other than itself:21 it echoed vocal evidence that one is not alone, and is instead mutually entangled with all beings. Such attributes were also picked up by some of the listeners: ‘Resonance indeed!’ wrote someone on their anonymous feedback I received on July 2016 from the Lapinlahti Gallery exhibition: ‘Wonderful to hear & share the sounds of humankind in this form & mode’.