An Auditory Regime and A Silence Campaign


If I look at Daughtry’s tripartite system deployed in Listening to War – auditory regimes, sonic campaigns, and acoustic territories – and attempt to apply this system to an analysis of post-earthquake rescuing activities, I notice correlations regarding sound in these extreme but different circumstances. The multiple fallen structures become acoustic territories, not conquered in a warlike sense, but delimited, defended by voluntary action against unaware pedestrians or careless witnesses and demarcated by a rapidly-created perimeter with restrained access under spontaneous jurisdiction: volunteers were allowed only when wearing helmets, boots, and industrial gloves. The restrictions increased in a matter of hours: tetanus vaccines and surgical masks became requirements as well. In places where the army took over, no civilians were allowed unless they were doctors, paramedics, or engineers.[5]

Applying the term “auditory regime” in discussions of a natural disaster scenario forces one to think about the prevalence of chance within the social and cultural as well as the short amount of time in which a certain listening practice can be learned, imposed, and developed. The rescuers standing on the fallen buildings, at the very center, where they had more chances to find life, were the ones feeling the urge to listen more intently. In time, the group Topos (Spanish for “moles”), an experienced rescuing group, took part in this crucial activity, alongside Protección Civil, the army, and other national and international organizations. Improvised groups of sound engineers attempted to help by listening through technology, but this didn’t happen until the second or third day. There were also the canine teams directed by Topos, the National University (UNAM), and the army. These trained animals are perhaps most clearly under an imposed, controlled human auditory regime, the most involuntary participants of this listening practice.

Thinking of sonic campaigns in post-earthquake events, the emphasis falls not on the sonic, but on its absence: a “silence campaign,” an awareness of noise in order to listen. And this silence campaign is unavoidably intertwined with the hurried, intermittent production of intended noise related to removing layers of debris. The fists-up gesture becomes the main tool of this sonic campaign, articulated collectively and experienced individually.