The Listening Reader
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Studies in sound continue to emerge as a dynamic field spanning multiple disciplines, from sociology to literature, technology to aesthetics, musicology to gender, and crossing over between theory and practice, academic scholarship and artistic projects. The intensity of such a range of disciplines and discourses gives compelling suggestion for paradoxically understanding sound as more than an object of study, and it is this more than which interests me.
Brandon LaBelle, ‘Lecture on shared space’
The Listening Reader brings together a number of essays that explore the role of sound and listening in the context of contemporary art. They engage with the specific timbre that the act of listening, and the paradigm of sound bring to the practice of artists; how this paradigm is present within a broader discourse, including the creative arts, sciences, philosophy and politics; and how art that begins with, or requires listening circulates in the world of the art gallery.
The texts in this anthology emerged from conversations, talks, and performances by a number of artists, curators, and writers whose work was presented at, or contributed to the making and public programme of Listening, a Hayward Curatorial Open exhibition that toured the UK from September 2014 to March 2016. It includes previously unpublished essays and contributions from Ed Atkins, Sam Belinfante, Mikhail Karikis, Joseph Kohlmaier, Brandon LaBelle, Ed McKeon, Imogen Stidworthy and Laure Prouvost.
‘At the same time, many of the artworks discussed in this reader make no sound. They are not ‘sonic objects’, but works, or represent a mode of working which assumes a specific character if we contemplate these works from the perspective of sound and listening. In that sense, the present volume represents the ongoing ambition to emancipate, and to think forward the question of sound into an expanded concept of art.’ (p.4)
Sam Belinfante, ‘Listening’
‘Without a human body in sight, and guided by its ensuing speech, the voice is connected to the only visual presence in the room – the circular spot of light on the floor. “I am just a light”, she says, a ridiculous notion that is instantly accepted as a truth; the small shimmering pool of light is anthropomorphised as a theatrical being. This is not a simple and consistent arrangement, however. It is never clear whether the light has a voice or the voice is controlling the light: the ontology of the work is in constant flux, its protagonist never fully emerging.’ (p.18)
Ed Atkins, Imogen Stidworthy and Mikhail Karikis, ‘The mute image’
[Edited notes from a conversation between Ed Atkins, Sam Belinfante, Mikhail Karikis and Imogen Stidworthy, BALTIC 39, Newcastle, UK,
Friday 26 September 2014]
‘Well, I have quite a lot of faith in “opacity” – in not making sense, or allowing things to not make sense. I guess that’s a normal thing for artists to say? But within that, there are deeply problematic politics: namely if you insist on something being coherent. I guess I was thinking about the presence of “noise” throughout the work, or the definition of noise versus speech or music. The kind of productions of sound that have moments of total intelligibility. Most of this show is in fact entirely unintelligible, or perhaps there is an index of something else that is happening and the material cannot help but make a sound.’ (Ed Atkins, p.33)
Ed McKeon, ‘Listening with-towards in the gallery’
‘… how might we understand heard listening as an interdependent non-subjective practice? One way may be through the phenomenon of otoacoustic emission – of sounds generated by the inner ear. These are made consciously audible in Maryanne Amacher’s “third ear music” and in Jacob Kierkegaard’s Labyrinthitis, in which the composer – separated from the audience in a soundproof booth – projects two tones through tiny speakers in his ears to provoke an otoacoustic emission, a third tone that is picked up by microphones and transmitted to the audience. This may provide a physical demonstration for hearing hearing, but I want also to explore a speculative idea of listening to listening.’ (p. 51)
Martin Iddon, ‘Inside Fama’s house: Listening, intimacy and the noises of the body’
‘I propose that the site of listening—Fama’s house itself—may be understood as a metaphorical description of the listening body and the sorts of noises that that body encounters as a listening body. In developing this essentially corporeal, visceral approach to listening, I simultaneously argue that listening is essentially an intimate act, an activity that is, at heart, private and bodily. As Michel de Certeau puts it, linking bodies and listening in direct terms: “Through the legends and phantoms whose audible citations continue to haunt everyday life, one can maintain a tradition of the body, which is heard but not seen”.’ (p.55–56)
Brandon LaBelle, ‘Lecture on shared space’
‘I would suggest that to listen is to always already over-hear: it is to live within multiple perspectives, to experience noise, and to deal with strangers (and strangeness) whose laughter may suddenly surprise us. In this sense, I would propose that sound, as an event and also as a certain perspective of thought, recovers a view of the private and the public not as distinct or separate, but rather as integrated and interwoven. It fully supports a model of spatial relations shaped equally by contamination and interruption, as well as association and unexpected solidarity.’ (p.90)
Esther Venrooij, ‘On the process of becoming silent and listening’
‘The absence of a sound, a silent sound which still exists in a particular place and time, is the notion of the after-image. In my early electronic compositions I strived to create this sensation of the experience of a sound without it being actually present. By meticulously placing a very significant sound in a (horizontal/vertical) composition, this sound would still resonate in the listener’s mind after its disappearance. In this case I am not so much speaking of an echo, which is a reflection of sound, but rather of a memory of a sound.’ (p. 97.)
Joseph Kohlmaier, ‘The imaginary sensory’
‘Even more paradoxically, it seems that we need to “think forward” this sense of separation (and the sense of synthesis etc.) into the whole realm of the human sensorium. Art, history and culture may be the result, or the by-product of the way the whole human organism exists in its environment, and the way this environment resides in it. But the intelligence we ‘put back into’ this environment, in whatever form, can only turn into an asset for consumption in the economy of the human imagination when we separate things by naming them, and create zones of exclusion. Flusser suggests “ultimately the act of human thinking means to wield a knife [Messermanipulation]. The appearance of the stone knife during the Palaeolithic, the earliest human instrument, marks the moment we started to think”.’ (p.113)
Roger Malbert, Afterword
‘The old-fashioned painting show involves juxtapositions which may harmonise or jar, revealing affinities or clashing, cancelling each other out. If mute works can be incompatible, how much more so those involving sound: how can they be made to coexist in the same space? The obvious answer, for anyone who has attended a concert, is to present them sequen-tially rather than simultaneously. But gallery visitors – often described today, significantly, “audiences” – are not used to their time being controlled: they expect to arrive and leave at will, and to have the right to spend as long or as little time with each work as they choose.’ (p.116).