aural thoughts

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    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.

  2. In his book the ‘The weird and the eerie’, Mark Fisher discusses what constitutes the ‘weird’ and the ‘eerie’ by analysing a number of novels, movies and records. I think it is a great book, no doubt partly as I enjoy a good sci-fi or fantasy tale.

    As I was re-reading it recently, it struck me that there are overlaps with what Fisher identifies as key aspects of both the weird and the eerie, and key aspects of our experiences of sound and the sonic. This piece is a short outline of a few of those overlaps.


    The Weird

    “ It involves a sense of wrongness; a weird entity or object is so strange that it makes us feel that it should not exist , or at least it should not exist here.”

    (Fisher, p 15)

    Fisher defines the weird and ‘that which does not belong’ - something which elicits the sense of ‘wrongness’ in the quote above. To illustrate this, he discusses the fiction of America author H. P Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s fiction sits somewhere between horror and sci-fi, where what is thought of as the ‘outside’ – ancient and extra-terrestrial beings, other words – breaks through into our world in various ways – through both time and space.  “… there is an interplay, a confrontation, and indeed a conflict between this world and others.” (Fisher p 19)


    Photo by Julia Kadel on Unsplash

    Sound shares some qualities of this ‘other-worldly’ quality, especially when it’s source is un-know or hidden. Think of a horror move, where there is a strange sound in the dark, or a sound you hear late at night, without knowing its source. You cannot be sure, but there is a possibility, a feeling, that this could be something that should not exist, not here and not now. The Weird.  

    In his book 'Sinister resonance - The mediumship of the listener’ David Toop remarks that hearing and listening “…allows us access to a less stable world, omni-directional, always in a state of becoming and receding, known and unknown.” (Toop, 2011, p. 38) Sound opens up the possibility of different worlds, overlaying and existing alongside ours.

    In his 2010 sound installation in Kew Gardens Palm House, sound artist Chris Watson brought the sound of the Amazon to the UK. The sounds of wildlife recorded in the Amazon, when played in the Palm House at Kew Garden, managed to suggest a different world, overlaying and interplaying with our own. This is of course not the weird and frightening worlds imagined by Lovecraft, but still illustrates how sound has the ability to suggest and open up ‘portals’ to other worlds, other experiences – in and out of time, in and out of space - “becoming and receding, known and unknown.” .” (Toop, 2011, p. 38)



    The Eerie


    “The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or a failure of presence.”

    (Fisher, p 61)


    Photo by El Mehdi Rezkellah on Unsplash

    Fisher distinguishes the eerie from the weird, where the weird is the “presence of that which does not belong” (Fisher p 61) while the eerie is “something present where there sound be nothing, or nothing present where there should be something.”  (Fisher p 61)

    One of the examples Fisher uses to discuss the eerie and the ‘presence where there should be nothing’ is a television series written by Nigel Kneale, called ‘The Stone Tapes’. In it, a group of scientists take residence in a new research facility, working on finding a new, more durable recording medium. It quickly becomes clear that the space is haunted, and that a female scientist in particular is sensitive to the ‘ghost energies.’ It is suggested that the haunting is ‘recorded’ by the place, the stone itself (hence ‘The Stone Tapes’) and that humans becomes the ‘player’ for this recording. The story takes a darker turn when something else, something ancient and dark, stirs beneath the ‘recording’ of the ghost (a servant girl from the 19th century), causing the female scientist to fall to her death, just like the servant girl ghost once did.

    Other than the idea of hauntings can be thought of as ‘recordings’ this might, at first glance, not seem to have much of a connection to sound.

    What I find interesting is how, in imagining the human as a ‘player’ there is a connection to how sound refuses to respect boundaries and barriers – among them our barrier of ‘self’. Famously, the ‘ear has no earlids’ - we can’t shut our ears like we shut our eyes, therefore sound can be very hard to keep on the ‘outside’.

    In 'Sinister resonance - the mediumship of the listener' David Toop writes of sound that the “relative lack of form creates perplexing relationships between the properties of states: inside and outside, material and immaterial, the way thoughts become sound through speech, and external sounds become sensory impressions that may be thoughts as they pass through the ears and outer membranes and into awareness.” (Toop, 2011, p. 36)

    Sound has the ability to haunt us by transgressing what we think of as ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ - sounds pass between these to states effortlessly, and outside our control. The eeriness of the haunting and the eeriness of sound overlap as they both effortlessly penetrates into our inner selves - ‘something where there should be nothing’.


    These examples highlight two aspects of sound I find particularly fascinating - its ability to conjure other/different worlds within or perhaps overlaying our own. And its ability to transgress and cross boundaries, existing entirely outside our control.

    As I am writing this, I keep thinking of other interesting avenues to explore where the weird, eerie and sound intersect, so no doubt this is an area of enquiry I will return to in the future.