sound piece / 10min / 2019
Lights Out Group, Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, UK
an essay to suggest compassion through listening
abstract: This article is about a sonic piece suggesting a way of compassion toward the female, the other, learnt through listening to noisy sonic structures. With honest, active listening we find ourselves in a compassionate state of mind towards our environment. We ourselves define these relationships with our surroundings and, as such, define the ways in which we perform or act in such a relation. 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 honest listening. I suggest first listening to the sound piece.
keywords: listening, noise, sound art, compassion, female voice, cinema, sound object, sound body, noise, sound pattern, flow
sound piece: Morger, Martina (2019). (Pro)Found Listening. Sound Collage. Available at:
https://soundcloud.com/leia-luke/soundculture-foundlistening (Accessed: 30/08/2020)
find audio file.
connect headphones to device.
open sound file.
put on headphones.
start sound file.
let feet flop to sides.
face palms upwards.
stop whenever you heard enough
In today‘s world full of micro-gestures and fragmented experiences, it could be argued that the individual is in constant focus. An egocentric daily life and the capitalized self renders us in a constant tension with the idea of collective solidarity. I suggest therefore that the non-capitalized ‘I’ could stand for a concept of compassionate listening and accepting. When using the term womxn in this text, I refer to and include all people identifying as women. The inclusion of the numerous amount of quotes is purposely done, thus it allows for the use of the exact words of the authors.
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. This is 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 by the patriarchy, but even now womxn report being labeled as female in public speaking (Pascoe 2016: 9). The female voice is often and has often been seen as noise. To go against this notion I suggest to nurture an honest practice of listening. It is a difficult task to acknowledge the receiving sounds and starting to recognise patterns without judgement..
‘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).
To come back to the urge of placing female voices in society, Hélène Cixous and Silvia Federici have stated that womxn need to actively strive for visibility in a greater sense, ‘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).
Helena Kennedy also points out the inequality and claims for a change: ‘...for too long it was only the voice of the upper middle class who would speak with weight and gravitas. Many womxn have been rendered silent for too long and “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 womxn, the majority selected for this audio piece come from the same age group, have a middle class background and are recorded in an academic setting. I wanted to portray womxn in my close surroundings, as I think of them as interesting personalities and artists. I gained their trust through conversation and friendship, which includes 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).
To allow a certain fragility in time and action we must navigate within a certain understanding and trust. With this in mind, it could be said that hope in this sense 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. It may be argued that 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. With this active doing, this embodying of collective awareness, we will be able to use listening as a method to understand the world around us and act upon it.
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 is 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’ (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 thus trying to identify a whole story within the carpet of sound will be as unsuccessful as trying to describe music without adjectives. The voice, as the language of the sound ‘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 as listeners of a sound piece, be it considered musical or not, we should try to direct our whole attention to it in order to understand it. The sonic immersion then 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 womxn are not the negative, but the positive mould - the object being moulded around, what you take an impression from. They are also sensitive vessels 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, it may be important to consider how methods of compassionate listening can achieve this fuller experience. Becoming more sensitive towards the other, the surrounding beings and female stories have the potential to not only become engraved, but to be realities 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 a contingent fragile gesture of passing. As established earlier, a sonic piece can be seen as a body in constant movement. This request of existence in time only to leave and become again, can be seen as a main quality of a sonic object and is a valuable strategy of trust to adopt.
‘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 and space, something other than the mere sound. 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. When we really listen, we are able to have agency not only with our environment but also with ourselves.
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.
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 artist’s 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.
credits: 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