ProFound Listening.

sound piece / 10 min

Lights Out Group, Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, UK

an essay to suggest compassion through listening


This essay is about a sonic piece suggesting a way of compassion toward the female, the other, learnt through listening of noisy sonic structures. With honest, active listening we find ourselves in a compassionate state of mind towards our surroundings. We ourselves define these relationships and can perform them how we decide to. If we acknowledge and support each other we can go forward with personal and artistic integrity and attain even more agency through the method of deep listening.

Listening score

find file

connect headphones to device

adjust volume

open sound file

put on headphones

start sound file

lie down

let feet flop to sides

spread arms

face palms upwards

close eyes

stop whenever you heard enough


In today‘s world full of micro-gestures and fragmented experiences, the individual is in constant focus. An egocentric daily life and the capitalized self makes it tough to constantly think in solidarity. The non- capitalized “I” could thus stand for a concept of compassionate listening and accepting. In my sound piece, the individual isn‘t highlighted, but a part within the whole complex structure. With only being a part of a sound image within a group one can discover, within conscious listening, the behavioural concept of care and commitment. Especially within the structures of capitalism, free female labour is used as an instrument. It is the source and material from which the society subsists on. That‘s why I want to suggest a way of compassion toward the female, the other, learnt through compassionate listening to noisy sonic structures. In ancient, as well as modern contexts, female speech and voices can be associated with madness, witchery or bestiality (Carson: 1995 120). The “woman is that creature who puts the inside on the outside“ (Carson 1995: 129). There is even the famous, but appalling, story of Hemingway breaking up with Gertrude Stein, because he couldn‘t stand her voice (Hemingway 1964: 118). The radical otherness of the female has always been alienated, but even now women report being labeled as female in public speaking (Pascoe 2016: 9).

“I wonder if there might not be another idea of human order than repression, another notion of human virtue than self-control, another kind of human self than one based on dissociation of inside and outside. Or indeed, another human essence than self“ (Carson: 1995: 137). And as also Hélène Cixous and Silvia Federici have stated and put into context, “Women must put themselves into context, in the world and into history“ (Cixous 1976: 875). “What is needed is the reopening of a collective struggle over reproduction, reclaiming control over the material conditions of our reproduction and creating new forms of cooperation around this work outside of the logic of capital and the market“ (Federici 2012: 111). Women have been themselves, or rendered by others, silent for too long and Helena Kennedy also claims for a change and equality in that matter, “...for too long it was only the voice of the upper middle class who would speak with weight and gravitas. It has been an important part of the democratization of our world that we are hearing the voices of other people...“ (Berry 1975: 159). With that said, I am aware that despite my effort to choose a variety of women, the majority came from the same age group, had a middle class background and were recorded in an academic setting. I wanted to portray women in my close surroundings, as I think of them as interesting personalities and artists. I gained their trust through conversation and friendship, which included listening. They are comfortable speaking to me. With conducting interviews on the topic of female voice, I gathered their speech as material. Through the method of “field listening”, I want to further develop a shaped listening, shaping the expected listening onto a certain topic through questions. Leading the conversation, still one doesn’t know what‘s to come. This uncertainty can also imply future freedom or hope, which “locates itself in the premises that we don‘t know what will happen and that the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes“ (Solnit 2016: ix). Hope also means facing realities (Solnit 2016: ix) and the world, who we are, how we imagine ourselves and the intersections in between. Through our artistic practice, actually with every gesture, we often find ourselves on the edge of activism and realize our belief that what we do matters. Listening can thus become an act of solidarity and an attitude towards the world. We see “listening not as a physiological fact but as a way of engaging with the world. It is in the engagement with the world rather than in its perception that the world and with myself in it is constituted...“ (Voegelin 2012: 3). As Voegelin here suggests, acting in the world is more important than the mere perception. She requests an active togetherness with the respective surroundings to be able to really understand.

In my sound piece with the technique of layering and collaging of the speech, it results in a sonic object that one may perceive as noise. “Noise creates new meaning both by interpreting the old meanings and by consequently unchanneling auditory perception and thus freeing the imagination” (Weiss 1995: 90). The final sound piece is thus not to be mistaken as a formless cathartic nihilistic wave, but as that intertwined body of voices that are sometimes allowed to be understood and at other times only to be perceived. Sometimes one is able to surf the wave, other times one drowns in it.

“In this light, it might be possible to define noise art as conditions and orders of conscious awareness in which...“ (Nechvatal 2011: 59) the reality of a netlike structure is different from that of chaos. It‘s “deeply intertwingled“ (Nelson 1987: 30) and talks about a hyper contextual freedom within a structure. Neither the body nor the thinking is following a linear pattern. There are no isolated entities (Han 2005: 15) and everything vibrates with itself and others. The conscious perception of a noise piece therefore can lead to a recognition of the whole entity within its structure. One must not try to solve the chaos of the world. And trying to identify a whole story within the sound carpet will be as unsuccessful as trying to describe music without adjectives.

The voice “inserts within the linguistic field an extremely rich and problematic force - a poetics - by

drawing language up against a multitude of somatic expenditures and dreamy expressions; and it places us into profound contact with the materiality of things and bodies, extending the experiences of taste and touch, and the limits of the flesh“ (LaBelle 2014: 2). In the same casual notion when Barthes suggests instead of changing the language on music, we should change the musical object itself (Barthes 1981: 505), I propose that we as listeners of a sound piece, be it musical or not, we should try to direct our whole attention to it in order to understand it. The sonic immersion will also lead to an understanding of the concept of fluidity. In this case the subject too can be a verb “I myself am not still, but a fluent substance“ (Voegelin 2012: 3). With my sound collage one can, with time, try to identify voices or recognize the beauty of the many intertwined. The speech becomes fluid, sometimes viscous, chaotic, strong within the group and other times more free, singled out, focussed. The women are not the negative, but the positive mould, a sensitive vessel containing valuable stories, filled with experience. With amplifying their voices through layering and mixing single opinions it‘s up to the listener to identify not what the voices are about but what the whole sonic object is about. In trying to embrace a sonic experience, which might stand for a possibility of how we can find a way toward compassionate listening. Becoming more sensitive towards the other, the surrounded beings and

female stories becomes engraved and is reality in the future. The described sonic object isn‘t concerned with hierarchies or placing in defined space, but rather interested in the complex demand of being in contingent fragile gesture of passing. “In this fluid wave the responsibility of perception lies in the moment of listening rather than in the location of the heard“ (Voegelin 2012: 2). In the process of

listening, the reality and materiality of the listener not of the heard is being generated (Voegelin 2012: 5) and we can redefine who we are or want to be. Derrida for example also stresses the difference between indication and expression of the voice (Derrida 1973: 496) and we may begin to understand that the sonic reality doesn‘t have to correspond to the expression, but the expression can always respond to the sonic reality.

To conclude, with the sonic body, we can say that there is a feeling that also sound has more than one

source and even a bodily existence in time. It is only then after honest listening that we find ourselves in a compassionate state of mind towards our surroundings. We ourselves define these relationships and can perform them how we decide to. If we acknowledge and support each other, we can go forward with personal and artistic integrity and attain even more agency through this way of listening.


Barthes, Roland (1981) The grain of the voice. In Jonathan Sterne (ed.), The Sound Studies Reader, London. Routledge. pp. 504- 510.

Berry, Cicely (1975). Your voice & how to use it. The classic guide to speaking with confidence. London: Virgin books.

Carson, Anne (1995) Glass, Irony and God New. New York: New Directions.

Cixous, Hélène (1976) The Laugh of the Medusa. Signs, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 875-893. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques (1973) The voice that keeps silence. In Jonathan Sterne (ed.), The Sound Studies

Reader, London. Routledge, pp. 495-503. Originally published in Speech and Phenomena And Other

Essays on Husserl‘s Theory of Signs. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Dolar, Mladen (2006) A voice and nothing more. Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, England: The MIT Press.

Han, Byung-Chul (2005) Hyperkulturalität: Kultur und Globalisierung. Berlin: Merve.

Hemingway, Ernest (1964). A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner.

Federici, Silvia (2012) Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle. Oakland: PM Press.

LaBelle, Brandon (2014) Lexicon of the Mouth. Poetics and politics of voice and the oral imaginary. London/Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic.

Nechvatal, Joseph (2011) Immersion into noise. Michigan: Mpublsihing.

Nelson, Theodor Holm (1974) Computer Lib/Dream Machines. USA: self published.

Pascoe, Sara (2016) Animal. London: Faber & Faber.

Solnit, Rebecca (2016) Hope in the dark. Untold stories. Wild possibilities. Edinburgh/London: Canongate.

Voegelin, Salomé (2010) Listening to noise and silence. Towards a philosophy of sound art. New York. Continuum Books.

Voegelin, Salomé (2012) Ethics of Listening. In Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 2, nr. 1.

Weiss, Allen S. (1995) Phantasmic Radio. Durham: Duke University Press.

Interview questions

Disclaimer: Your opinions are your own. With this interview you allow me to use the sound-files for my

sound culture project, hand it in for marking at GSA and publishing it on my website. If you feel

uncomfortable with or offended by any question, tell me instantly. Feel free to speak freely including

noises. This is about your voices. If you allow me, I would like to take a portrait after the interview and

also ask you again if you‘d allow me to use the recorded sound.

1. Do you identify as a woman?

2. Are/Were you self-conscious about your voice, dialect, accent or language at any given point?

3. Do you feel that you have a morning, day, evening and night voice?

4. How do your thoughts change as soon as you articulate them?

5. Can you tell me about a situation where you were proud of being given a voice?

6. Tell me about a situation, where you had the feeling of not being heard. Was this in regard to gender, class, race or age?

7. Do you sometimes feel stuck in your body? If so, how do you feel and what do you do?

8. Do you think of your art as your voice, as a way to communicate?

The interviews were conducted in the artists respective studio or working space and framed by small talk

or chatter. If the person wasn‘t sure what to say, I explained the question and maybe added‚ tell me

about a situation you remember.‘


Thank you to all the listeners.

Thank you to all the female artists participating, being much more than writers, singers, dancers, performers, pacifists, activists, poets, scientists, sculptors, painters, printmakers, musicians, explorers,.. not only defined by their acts but most of all, their being, beautiful souls: Sukhy Parhar, giacinta frisillo, Chioma Ince, Morgan Woods, Jina Song, Rosa Farber, Laura Mcglinchey, Claire Curtin, Julia Kothe, Ragini Chawla, Alexandra Santos

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© martina morger 2020