aural thoughts

 RSS Feed

  1. The past few weeks I have been working to finish my final draft of my PhD thesis. Going over the whole project has made me think a lot about failure – not, however, necessarily in a negative way. ‘failure’ is often thought of as something to be avoided, something very negative. While my PhD journey would undoubtable have been smother without some of the ‘failures’, the end result would have been very different. It made me thing of the importance of accepting failure, and what leaning into failure can bring to your creative work (but I guess it’s true about other areas of life as well…) I will explore some of these failures and what they meant for my research in this post.


    At the star of my project, the biggest issue I had was with establishing a context for the research. There really isn’t much prior work – academic or creative – on the subject area of ‘inner sound’ – sounds we experience as part of our thoughts and inner worlds. While this, on the one hand, created a justification for the importance of my research, it made it quite difficult to define a context for the research. What it meant was that I had to expand my reading for beyond sound and sound art and establish a sort of ‘patch work’ context across various fields. While this was a bit of a struggle at the start of the project, it did mean I could draw on and discuss a lot of interesting writers and artists I would not have come across otherwise.


    Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash


    Speaking about sound is difficult (at least in many European languages). We often do it by talking about the sound off something – like the sound of a car or a kettle, for example. But with inner sounds – where there might not be a recognisable source – this way of speaking about sounds becomes impossible as well. This, of course, is kind of an issue when you are trying to write a thesis about inner sounds… What it meant in practice, as I was trying to get around this particular ‘failure’  - was that I decided to create a taxonomy of inner sounds. This was so that we could at least in some way speak about inner sounds – to find out if there where different kind of inner sounds and what they meant to us. This, I would argue, is one of the more important achievements of the project – and I would not have created it, if it was not for this ‘failure’ of language.



    One of the main outcomes of the taxonomy might actually be that it fails somewhat to capture all inner sounds (however strange that might sound!) In thinking through why some inner sounds do not fit easily into a taxonomy if inner sounds, I discovered a lot of interesting and thought-provoking aspects of my inner sound research. This would not have happened if I didn’t investigate why and how my taxonomy had certain ‘failures’.



    Finally, my practical creative work, which is part of the PhD, is pretty much all driven by these failures. The failure to communicate about inner sounds lead to the exploration of a collective inner listening experience. The reluctance to admit to an inner sound world - and the questions of why we perceive inner sound as dangerous – is central to my performance 'Sonic Confessions'. Analysing these pieces brought me to thinking about affect theory and inner sound, and the performance work ‘Sonic Contagion’.


    Photo by Tom Crew on Unsplash

    So, in conclusion, my PhD could perhaps be considered one failure after another. But these failures are also where the most interesting and though provoking things happen within the project. So I am quite grateful, in the end, for these failures


    Last year, I did my first online, live performance – ‘Telesonic transmission’ as part of the amazing Online Performance Art festival. As many things, as I have been thinking about it afterwards, themes and ideas have emerged, which felt like they were floating around the periphery when the work was created. Now, with some time and reflection, they seem central to the work. As I am thinking about, he the future, developing these ideas and themes really excites me. I wanted to try and think through them in writing here.


    Birds on Zoom


    Early last year, as we were all getting use to Zoom and online meetings, I attended a (very lovely) writing workshop run by my university. The speaker, who often went silent to let us all write, had the sound of load and joyful birdsong in the background for the whole workshop. I remember how I thought, for a moment, the birds might be in my own garden. And even when I realised where the sound was coming from, I found it hard to accept that it was from someone else’s living room/garden. I realised how the medium of a Zoom call created little (sonic) intrusions into my world at home. And, I thought, the transfer or intrusion is the same the other way around - you are in my space, but I am also in yours.



    Still from performance video - the artist crawling very close to the camera, her face filling the screen


    Supernatural television

    Lisa Blackman writes in ‘Immaterial Bodies’ of the early associations of television and clairvoyance. As she points out, the prefix ‘tele’ (from Greek, mean ‘from far, afar)’ – which television shares with telepathy and telekinesis, for example, ties it to early20th century ideas and beliefs around physic phenomena. (Blackman; ‘Immaterial Bodies’, p 70)

    I thought again about that birdsong, and how it was beamed or transported into my house, outside of my control, along virtual pathways I knew nothing about. There was an interesting correlation there between my previous work on inner sounds, where I often played with the idea of getting into people’s heads, or people sharing inner experiences.

    I had an idea of an obsessed inner listener, reaching out, finding a way to crawl along the invisible virtual networks. She would not only intrude into your house, but all the way into your mind…


    Still from performance video - the artist holds up a white paperto the camera, with 'fear' written on it



    The work, which is a live streamed performance, plays on these ideas. The audience sees me, and a large part of the space I am in. As the performance go on, I get closer and closer to the camera, often way to close for what has become ‘acceptable’ in our new Zoom age. They also hear my voice speaking to them, but without me actually speaking (it has been pre-recorded and is broadcast as a separate soundtrack) - much like I am speaking in your head.

    Or maybe you are just imagining it?

    The work plays on the intrusion into my space by you, the audience – but also my intrusion into your space (and mind?) sonically and otherwise. I am hoping in the future I can develop this piece further, even though the world might go back to ‘normal’ and the need for digital connections will not be the same.