ludic.dreaming. how to listen away from contemporary technoculture - The Occulture (David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux, Ted Hiebert, Eldritch Priest). New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.


by Marcel Cobussen


Last night I dreamed that I should write a book review. It was not an altogether pleasant dream. Not because the book was bad or uninteresting – on the contrary! The problem was entirely mine: I found the book quite difficult. For me, a good review gives an overview of a book’s content, a summary of its most interesting ideas, a critical reflection on these ideas, and a kind of contextualization. But what if the reviewer is faced with an unfamiliar vocabulary  and has a really hard time understanding the many difficult phrases? How will he be able to summarize the authors’ thoughts, critically reflect on them, and connect them to the works of others? No, it was not such a pleasant dream ... However, as most dreaming is ludic dreaming, this dream too took a different direction: what if I could just ignore for once my own standards for a decent review? What if the review could somehow be similar to a dream with its sudden and unexpected turns, its chains of associations, its potential to make connections between things and events that could never be connected in “real life”? After all, the book under review is itself the result of (sometimes fictional) dreams; the authors themselves describe the book as “quasi-analytical” and present dreaming as an alternative “method” to engage with the world (or, better, to engage with worlds), an engagement beyond or before the established paths of making sense.


How did this book appear on my desk? Why was it sent to the editor-in-chief of a journal on sound studies and auditory culture? In other words, which relation do the authors present between dreaming and sound or auditory culture? Admittedly, the eight dreams presented in ludic.dreaming– I was immediately intrigued by the period; is it “dot dreaming” instead of, for example, “dot com” or “dot us,” the dot representing here the book’s attention for our  technologized and virtual society? No answer is provided – all have sounds or music as at least one of their topics, but is that all? No, the Introduction – contrary to the Conclusion, which consists solely of a strange kind of map with the caption “attributed to Mercurius ‘Scurra (c. 1620)”, the Introduction is for me the clearest part of the book and an excellent “summary” of the other chapters – gives a more satisfying “explanation”: our contemporary technoculture makes “signs and significance less purely an ocular matter” (p. 4). In short, the authors suggest a connection between dreaming, experiencing sound (more in particular “the impossibility of locating sonic effects” [p. 10], with an emphasis on amplification, modulation, intensity, and resonance instead of meaning and source) or listening, and technoculture (permanently expanding our human sensory apparatuses and opening possibilities for emotional and imaginative augmentation: technology helping us to listen to the universe or EEG headsets regulating stress and even controlling the plots of our dreams, for example). All three somehow present and/or represent kinds of fragmentation, dislocation, and ephemerality, often also deconstructing any distinction between fact and fiction. 


In Chapter 7, The Occulture writes about the “speaking of the world” and the transformations operative in any echo. Hence my insertion of this field recording, a faint, imaginary, dreamed echo of a world that once spoke to me.


By the way, to keep the reader in a sort of dream state, to keep him roaming in this atopos between the real and the virtual, between conscious and unconscious systems, between fact and fiction, the authors – it is never clear who of the four has been writing what; they offer their work under the collective name of “The Occulture” – do not aim to provide any transparent knowledge; instead they encourage readers to rely on their imagination, to enter and espouse a delirious world, thereby “returning the world to itself a little bit more unintelligible” (p. 13). To confine myself to just one example (besides the untraceable Mercurius ‘Sculla): Having found no proof on the Internet regarding experiments with tune recognition for music that has been subjected to highly mutational procedures such as backwards playing or intervallic stretching as described in Chapter 8, I found myself gradually doubting its veracity. (Of course, this also immediately raised questions about the relation between the Internet and truth!) Fact or fiction? Real of fantasy? And … does it matter? The Occulture mentions the term “hyperstition,” “the transmutation of fictions into realities” (p. 66), with a strong dose of technology and fiction regarded as a potentiality instead of an (alternative) actuality. Dreams, technology, and listening might bring us into an immersive state where borders blur (“devices now aspire to become fully integrated biological systems” [p. 99]), categorical segregations dissolve, transparency vanishes, and often neglected forms of irrationality and inarticulate feelings are taken into account.


To just briefly zoom in on this uncanny listening, Chapter 5 claims that “listening is always muddy,” for example because “sounds produced by the ear […] interact with the ‘outside’ acoustic world but […] are not of either” (p. 82) – the oto-acoustic dimension of listening “that defies being diagrammed according to its signals, senders, and receivers” (p. 82). This then leads to a thinking on listening as a Baradian intra-action between sounds and listener consisting of “intervals, tempos, intensities, amplitudes, contours, and boundaries” as “mere connections – indifferent to their content” (p. 86). This of course echoes Steve Goodman’s ideas on affective tonality as expressed in his book Sonic Warfare, but it equally reminded me of music psychologist Ruth Herbert’s Everyday Music Listening,where she describes her listening as “wallowing in the sound, be exposed to unbidden imagery, narratives, associations and memories, notice myself analyzing aspects of the music, experiencing my surroundings slightly differently – or even forgetting the very presence of music” (Herbert 2011: 1). 


I dreamed that a listening experience always already consists of more than what one is actually listening to. One always hears more and other things than that which can be heard … 


Reading the book and writing this review often took place in a rather oneiric state. The setting was an old workers cottage in a small, almost deserted village in the South-Eastern part of Portugal. Chimeras of creaking doors, bleating sheep, and empty streets in the predawn hours or the midday heat entered the book and merged with its complex sentences and obscure words – just another form of “reality incorporation” (p. 101 ff). Reading in this unfamiliar environment led to unexpected associations, memories, unfinished thoughts, fragments of imagined music, and blurry images … Perhaps The Occulture is right, perhaps we spend much of our time trying notto hear the voice of things, trying not to be lured, siren-like, onto the rocky shores of meaning (p. 50).