Issue 06:


Sound, geography, and non-representational theory


Sound, geography, and non-representational theory


8 - Figure1

Figure 1:  Father and son place wet newspaper mulch around the base of a plant

I: Non-representational theory

Non-representational theory emerged from British Social and Cultural Geography in the 1990s. A book of the same name was published in 2008 by Nigel Thrift, the originator of the theory (Thrift 2008). Taken up enthusiastically by several of Thrift's postgraduate students, non-representational theory was debated and further developed over several years but mostly in a philosophical vein. Then, in 2015, the first text on non-representational methodologies was published (Vannini 2015) demonstrating how non-representational styles of thought and action could be applied to geographical problems and conditions. In 2019, the first book to bring non-representational theory together with the creative arts was published (Boyd and Edwardes 2019), comprising a plethora of examples of how artists and cultural geographers were engaging creatively with the theory in their arts-based research and practice at that time.

So, what is non-representational theory? Anderson and Harrison (2010) argue that non-representational theory is not a single theory but is instead made up of several theories, many of them informed by the 'affective turn' that took place, and continues to take place, across the social sciences and humanities. Put simply, the aim of non-representational theory is to foreground processes that are normally left out of human-centred accounts of the world; things like non-human entities, forces, and affects that while not always part of our conscious awareness nevertheless exert a powerful influence on our actions. Non-representational theory also challenges substance-based understandings of the world in favour of process-oriented ones. Life is always in movement, always unfolding. The world is always a 'becoming-with' -- it is not simply a backdrop for our human activities (McCormack 2017). We are not independent actors in the world but, rather, act in relation with other things that are also in movement and constantly coming in and out of relation with one another. As such, the human is de-centred in non-representational accounts (Boyd 2017a). Finally, and regarding the term itself, non-representational theory argues that there are ways of knowing and 'being' that defy representation because they exist outside of our conscious awareness and outside of human relations (Ash and Simpson 2016).

Affect is a central concept in non-representational theory. While there are many different understandings of the term 'affect' in the literature (see Gregg and Seigworth 2009), affect in non-representational theory is understood as a transpersonal intensity, and is, therefore, spatial. After Massumi (2002) it is also pre-personal and always in excess of the human. Emotion, however, is understood by Massumi (2002) as the intense 'capture and closure' of affect. Thus, affective knowledge held in the body is a 'felt' knowledge, whereas affect itself is always non-subjective and a-signifying. This is the same understanding of affect in Deleuze and Guattari's writings and based on the philosophy of Spinoza (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987). A geography of affect, then, is interested in how affect circulates in and through the social -- that is, how people affect and are affected by this circulation. As Lacey (2016 3) argues, a spatial notion of affect is also central to urban soundscape design because "... it considers the capacity of the urban soundscape to shape the physical and emotional expressions of the collective social body, and importantly, the capacity of the social body to experience what we might term mythic, imaginative and poetic relationships within the affective environments in which they are immersed".

The challenge for researchers informed by non-representational theory is to find ways to 'grasp at' forces that are difficult, if not impossible, to represent. Affective knowledge is only ever an attempt that inevitably fails, but as Dewsbury (2010) argues what is learned in the attempt still counts as knowledge. Heavily influenced by post-phenomenology, Ash and Simpson (2018) describe two styles of working that they call 'allure' and 'resonance'. Allure is a style that emphasises how non-human objects appear in way that appreciates that they are always in excess of what can be sensed by the human body, whereas resonance focuses on those moments when objects and humans collide. Adopted together, allure and resonance enable researchers to be more conscious of the limits of human-environment relations. In a similar vein, Boyd (2017b) describes two styles adopted in her art-geography research, i.e., attunement and fielding. Attunement for Boyd (2017b) was not object-focussed but rather directed towards fieldwork 'spacings', or the relations between the body and other bodies and things. Fielding, akin to Manning's (2013) description of autistic perception, involves a flattening of perception to take in the whole of the sensible field, as it is encountered in fieldwork. Fielding, as a style of perceiving the world, is also relevant to soundscape design and sonic ecologies.

II: Sonic geographies

Growing interest in non- and more-than-representational aspects of social and spatial practices offer exciting conceptual approaches for exploring how everyday life unfolds across time and space. Underpinning Thrift's proposal that non-representational theory considers 'the geography of what happens' (2008 2, emphasis in original) is the challenge this framework offers in terms of identifying and seeking to understand the relationships that constitute life--'that this is about movement, modes of perception (thought, pre-cognition, pre-individual), emergence, intensities and encounters' (Doughty, Duffy, and Harada 2019 2). This is particularly pertinent when we consider sound, because it is not something that can be perceived in an instant; rather we are asked to enter into the temporal and spatial unfolding of the sonic event. Moreover, we make sense of what we hear by attempting to bring into some sort of assemblage the sonic impacts on our bodies, whether that be through our ears or in the ways that sound vibrations hit and resonate on and in our bodies (Duffy 2016).

An engagement with sound-specific approaches can assist in rethinking our everyday relationships, that 'by subverting our culturally entrenched reliance on seeing as a way of distancing and differentiating the self from others; we were perhaps more open to entering a relationship with the environment not as detached observers but as engaged participants' (Mohr 2007 108). This has implications for our approach to data collection and (re)presentation, for, as Wood, Duffy, and Smith (2007) suggest, in order for a clearer understanding of the significance of sound in our lives, we need to work with a conceptualisation 'that emphasises [sound's] being and doing -- its non-representational, creative, and evanescent qualities' (868). This means, too, that we need to consider how we might work with the 'not-quite-graspable' (Vannini 2015 6) characteristics of sound.

Chow and Steintrager (2011 2) conceive of sound as 'points of diffusion that in listening we attempt to gather'. They argue that this 'work of gathering', of trying to give coherence to what is heard, 'implies that subjectivity is involved whenever we try to draw some boundary in the sonic domain' (Chow and Steintrager 2011 2). Yet, our body does more than simply capture sound. How we process sound's raw physical elements influences our interpretation of sonic events. Listening is a material, physical and bodily process, a form of corporeal thinking that is 'immersed in the substance and the historical as well as sensational, fictional, and obsessive layers coating and entwining any sonic experience -- sensory critique in action (Schulze 2018 156). What emerges is an auditory self that is informed by the idiosyncratic nature of us as individual listeners -- our corporeality, historic experiences, the situatedness of our actual listening, as well as the material and technical character of our listening spaces. Even so, this auditory self is not simply 'a boundary point that impedes or stops the flow of music and sound' but is also a 'potentially initiatory in relation to sound and music -- as much agentive and mediating as mediated' (Born 2013 3-4). Making sense of sound events, then, is more than a gathering of points of diffusion whereas making sense, as suggested by Deleuze and Guattari (1987), is constituted through an assemblage, involving a "constellation" of elements that converge at certain spatial and temporal moments.

Yet, we also need to be wary of an approach that suggests we can fully know the sound world. Scholars have used a range of methodological approaches in the analysis of the sonic aspects of our world, including Schafer's (1969, 1977) original use of soundscape studies as a means to determine how environmental sounds impact on our psychological and socio-cultural wellbeing (Davies et al. 2013, Dubois Guastavino and Raimbault 2006, Truax 2001), while Lefebvre's (2004) rhythmanalysis examines how the rhythmic qualities of social, cultural and political spheres of everyday life interpellate us within space in specific ways (Boyd and Duffy 2012, Edensor 2010, Simpson 2008). Yet, even as we are immersed in sound, many of the sounds in which we are interpellated may not be registered consciously. Nonetheless, these sounds may have powerful non-conscious affects, and, therefore, cannot be dismissed as meaningless noise (Duffy Waitt and Harada 2016). Sonic processes and practices have the power to affect, and this is something initially sensed, not necessarily known (Moisal, Leppänen Tiainen and Väätäinen 2017). Listening, therefore, is not a passive thing; 'the most distinguishing feature of auditory experience [is] its capacity to disintegrate and reconfigure space' (Connor 1997 206). In our explorations of the sonic world we seek to capture experience, feeling, emotion and affect in order to reveal how sound has 'the potential to reconfigure listeners' relationships to place, to open up new modes of attention and movement, and in so doing to rework places' (Gallagher 2015 468).

III: Sound-centred geographical fieldwork

In this section, we describe in brief what has been published in full as a short monograph (see Boyd, 2017b). From 2010-2015, Boyd (first author) undertook a joint PhD in geography and the creative arts at the University of Melbourne, Australia. In what would become a practice-based PhD, she was inspired by non-representational theory to study the materialities and immaterialities of therapeutic art making, with a wider aim to reclaim therapeutics as ecological and spatial. Starting with her own visual arts practice, she gradually engaged with other artists to explore practices that were different to her own; these were slow art, dance movement therapy, poetic permaculture, subterranean graffiti, and improvised performance.

As apparent from the previous sections of this essay, non-representational theory necessitates an approach to research that emphasises joint action, i.e., the relational-affective qualities of things in movement (Thrift 2008). Therefore, in order to study the non-representational geographies of therapeutic art making Boyd decided to take part in these other practices directly. This meant engaging with a performative research paradigm, rather than a qualitative one (Haseman 2010). Performative research deals with symbolic data gleaned from processes of making and doing; in Boyd's case, these were video, photos, and audio recordings collected in the 'field'. Furthermore, the knowledge gains from performative research are held, at least in part, within the thing that is made (or performed). Therefore, for practice-based forms of knowledge to be translated they must be audienced -- seen, heard, or witnessed (if only they could also be smelt and tasted!)

Researching ambiances also necessitates an immersive approach. As Thibaud (2019 176) suggests,

[w]e may start by positioning ourselves on a medial plane and approach ambiance as a bridge, an in-between. By focusing our attention on sensory flows we may highlight its immersive capacity. We may then move to a vital plane and query ambiance ... Lastly we may consider a social plane and explore ambiance as a background ... By proceeding in this way our purpose is to probe ambiance, starting from its intensive forces and moments of establishment. Opening the way for ambiance's powers of impregnation, these three paths share the same basic argument: experiencing ambiance entails an imperceptible transformation in us, but through such contact we too change it. In other words ambiance exerts unobtrusive forms of influence and at the same time it is affected by the existences it accompanies.

As such, ambiances cannot be observed. One must participate in them and allow oneself to affect and be affected by them. Because of this, audio recording became a preferred method over the course of the project as Boyd started to photograph less and less. She simply set the audio recorder to run for up to 2 hours at a time, while she became fully immersed in the practices that she was researching.

Back in the studio, Boyd worked with 'sense data' collected in the field to produce a series of digital works, some visual and some sonic. For the sound works, of which there were three, her aim was to create a mimetic sense of space that would give the listener a semblance, not a facsimile, of fieldwork events she had experienced by taking part ( see Massumi 2011 for more on semblance). This involved 'curating' and arranging the sounds to emphasise particular moments or experiences, juxtaposing sounds, layering sounds, and creating crossfades and transitions between sounds to create a sense of flow or 'drift' from one moment to the next. These choices were less aesthetic than they were affective, influenced by the capacity of memory to create these transpositions (Braidotti, 2006). The process was only partially intentional, however, as Boyd also wanted the sounds themselves to 'speak' by accidently falling into arrangement, rather than fully orchestrating them. The soundscape that emerged from these processes in relation to poetic permaculture can be heard here:

The urban garden where these sounds were recorded was designed by an artist-activist collective called 'Artist as Family' on commission from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia. Artist as Family were visiting the garden to undertake maintenance on the food forest they had created together with and for the local community. Boyd had been invited to join them as a researcher. Other people came and went over the course of the day, but overall it was a small gathering with most of the work being carried out by the artist themselves.

The composition of the soundscape was purposeful in that Boyd wanted to highlight certain things about the practice of permaculture that make it therapeutic in this setting. There was one particular activity that highlighted this the most to her and that was the making of mulch out of newspaper in a bucket of water (although there are many others such as digging, raking, and the sharpening of old-fashioned gardening tools). At times, there were many hands in the bucket as people 'squelched' through ripped up newspaper before gently laying it around the base of a plant. There was a certain rhythm to this practice that centred on the bucket as a fixed object, which was also a meeting place for verbal exchange. The gentleness of these exchanges as 'family' are also evident as you hear the voice of a parent or a child as they speak to one another. But what also made this practice therapeutic is the juxtaposition of these gentle exchanges with the aggressiveness of the traffic noise. This garden is on the grounds of a church in Surry Hills in Sydney and at one of its busiest intersections, so that as we listen to the practices of tending and caring we hear these as they are enveloped by sounds that potently symbolise the earth's 'destruction'. In this way the activism of 'Artist as Family' is also evident as an ethico-politcal intervention within the urban landscape as they perform acts of nurture and repair.

IV: The work of gathering: Mapping the non-representational

Listening is fundamental to being able to move towards a 'making sense' of sonic processes and practices embedded within a soundscape. The approach to 'making sense' employed in this instance draws on visceral sonic mapping developed by Duffy, Waitt and Harada (2016). Underpinning this methodology is an understanding that the listening body is continually in process, constituted in and through place, and that these processes operate through the visceral. Such a practice of listening reminds us that we are engaged in 'a whole web of relationships ... anchored as much on those who listen as on those who make the sound' (Smith 2000 633). Listening to sound is to engage in what Smith (2000) calls 'the doing' of sound, rather than undergoing a study of an assumed fixed, bounded and visualised object. A focus on the viscerality of listening 'draws attention to the embodied ways - moods, emotions and bodily sensations - that a person inhabits the world' (Duffy et al. 2016 52).

This type of analysis begins by repeated listening to the soundscape in order to establish and map the sounds heard, a time-consuming method that enables the listener to notate the different sound elements (such as timbre, rhythm, silence) as they unfold within the soundscape. Then a re-listening to the soundscape is undertaken, noting the relations between different sound elements. Mapping these sound elements may initially mean simply indicating when different sound elements coincide, as well as where they are positioned in terms of foreground, middle ground and background. This is then followed by a more critical form of listening to determine the possible relations between the sonic elements of the soundscape. Figures 2-6 at the end of this article present the outcome of this method in the form of a sonic map generated by Duffy (second author).

The map produced by Duffy of Boyd's Food Forest Soundscape led to the uncovering of a set of five phrases within the overall soundscape composition, each with differing sonic components and interactions that constituted a different focus towards the practices of urban permaculture. Boyd's compositional choices in arranging particular sound elements capture her body's responses to being in this place while participating in different activities with the human and non-human actors of the urban garden. Even so, these sonic elements are brought together in ways that make the soundscape coherent, such as the constant hum of traffic throughout the piece, while the sounds of water offer a counterpoint to what we listen to, interjecting in response to (human) activities as the soundscape unfolds.

This 'work of gathering' sonic elements resembles a process of mapping rather than a tracing of sound; each time the listener enters the soundscape, they bring into its unfolding different and other emotional, affective, sensual, cognitive and embodied elements that go onto constituting that specific soundscape. We suggest that this process is important because, as Deleuze and Guattari (1987 12-13) argue, mapping 'has multiple entryways, as opposed to tracing, which always comes back "to the same". In this way, the visceral sonic map that is created out of such a critical listening corresponds to the 'openness of performance ... [an attempt] to capture the multiple ways of the unfolding of time-space' (Duffy et al. 2016 52).

V: In closing

In this essay we have introduced some of the concepts from non-representational theory that help us envision a wider geography of sound, both in the production of an urban soundscape and through the mapping of that soundscape. While we have valorised our approaches through our writing, we are also aware of recent critiques of sonic methods within our discipline. As McFarlane (2020 298) argues, soundscape in particular has come under scrutiny for the '... ecological and ideological assumptions about "which sounds matter" and which sounds should be ignored or muted altogether' -- this, in turn, raises political questions about 'whose ears matter' and 'whose sounds matter'. So, while we affirm sonic methods in geography, we also consider them with caution. Namely, that no one should not be lulled into thinking that soundscape is a representation of reality. It is, however, a useful tool for thinking and communicating the non-representational, which we have endeavoured to demonstrate here.

Finally, and with respect to the theme of this special issue, our joint work might be considered as a double translation -- the first movement being Boyd's creative work which aimed to translate the ambiances not only of the urban environment but the affective qualities of the practice of permaculture itself into a sonic form that could be re-audienced, and the second movement as Duffy's sonic mapping which was a translation of the soundscape. The sonic mapping, as an exercise in listening and as a visual output, emphasises a particular form of spatial listening that extends beyond the human whereas the soundscape demonstrates how the collection and selection of sounds in soundscape design can be sensitive to wider ethical and political concerns. Taken together, both approaches have broader relevance for urban soundscape design in that they promote styles of 'being-with' and 'listening-with' that are attuned to the multiplicities of space-times.

Phrase 1 diagram

Figure 2:  Phrase 1

7 - Figure3

Figure 3:  Phrase 2

Phrase 3 diagram

Figure 4:  Phrase 3

Phrase 4 diagram

Figure 5:  Phrase 4

Phrase 5 diagram

Figure 6:  Phrase 5

Works cited

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Ash, James and Simpson, Paul. "Postphenomenology and method: Styles for thinking the (non)human". GeoHumanities, 2018. DOI: 10.1080/2373566X.2018.1543553.

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Braidotti, Rosi. Transpositions: On nomadic ethics. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2016.

Chow, Rey and Steintrager, James. "In pursuit of the object of sound: An introduction". Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, vol., 22, 2011, 1-9.

Connor, Steven. "The modern auditory I". In R. Porter (Ed.), Rewriting the self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present. London: Routledge, 1997.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, [trans. B. Massumi]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

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Doughty, Karolina, Duffy, Michelle and Harada, Theresa. "Sounding places: An introduction". In K. Doughty, M. Duffy, T Harada (Eds.), Sounding Places: More-than-representational geographies of sound and music. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2019.

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Multimedia Essay

Untie the Tongue



Untie the Tongue by CATHERINE CLOVER   eeeeeeeooooooo eeeeeeeoooooooo eeeeeeeeeoooooo eeeeeeoooooo Barrawarn (Australian Magpie)   mouth -- ngaan Use the mouth now, say our words aloud -- you're right sometimes when you just try Entry in Albert Gondiwindi's Wiradjuri dictionary (Winch)   There are texts that should only be murmured or whispered, others that we ought to be able to shout or beat time to Georges Perec   These days I would rather read aloud than read silently. When I read silently my tongue moves as if I am reading aloud. It moves, involuntarily responding to the words, sensing the words, the sounds, touching the sounds in the words, adding voice. My tongue feels its way around the words without prompting, moves adeptly, carefully. Ee-ya ee-ya ee-ya pushes up for the yuh in Barrawarn's call, the two sides hit the teeth. Extends the sound for the ow, lips open the breath is pushed out yaaaarrh yaaaarrhh. Tongue holds back and down on a wuh as the lips round the sound of Little Raven Wah! Wah! Wah! Loud tongue clicks for Common Myna tzuh tzuh tzuh, quieter melodic clicks for Common Starling, restrict the exhalation for the hissing tttsss tttsss tttsss. Pushes out and hits the top of my mouth, just before the teeth for ttuh tt-tt-tt tt-tt-tt then exhale for House Sparrow's trrp trrrp trrrp trrrp. Four Native Songbirds Barrawarn (Australian Magpie) (Little Raven) Dit-Dit (Magpie-Lark) Yan-Guk (Red Wattlebird) Four Introduced Songbirds Common Blackbird (arr 1860) House Sparrow (arr 1862) Common Starling (arr Melbourne 1857, Sydney 1877) Common Myna (arr 1863-1872) __ 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages. I am in an RMIT University lecture hall on the ground floor. Multi-media artist and Senior Knowledge Holder of Language and Possum Cloak Story, Dr Vicki Couzens, is about to give a talk. It is May, heading into winter, and is cool outside. Emilie Collyer is here and we sit together. From the back of the hall, we start to hear voice and a soft drumming. Vicki enters the room, pauses. Wangakee, wanga, kooweekoowee-ngeeye Listen, hear our story Pang-ngooteeweeng... We remember... She is speaking her mother tongue, the Gunditjmara language. I catch some words but only a few. Those of us there gathered because we have an interest in or a passion for words, for language and for the complex, complicated intersections of what it means to live in this country called Australia. Many of us, in the room, myself included, call this place home and are descendants of settlers, or perhaps are more recently arrived immigrants. Many of us in the room, myself included, are the beneficiaries of colonisation. It has afforded us --me - privileges of education, employment, language, belonging, cultural power. (Collyer) Vicki's sister-in-law Gina is thrumming a heartbeat on the possum skin draped over her arm. I find out later that this is a possum skin drum. We are told this is earth honouring, an acknowledgement of country. Here on the north side of Melbourne we are on Wurundjeri country, but these women's language and culture is that of the Gunditjmara people near Warrnambool in western Victoria, so they (like us the audience, yet, unlike us, the audience) are visitors to this country. They pass us slowly, giving us time to absorb the ceremonial nature of this immersive moment. Vicki's voice is transporting, articulating the words of a language vulnerable to extinction, as all Aboriginal Australian languages are. The finger drumming is unexpectedly loud and resonant for an unstretched loosely-hanging skin. The two women pass us by, slowly they pass us. Ngathook mangnoorroo... Partoopa-ngan-ngoo-laga (or langa) I am hungry Wathaurong-waar (crow) and Bunjil Thaka watnanda -- eat together Thaka-na-wan -- let's eat Woont tee? - Do you want tea? Language is a lot of things. To listen to a story about restoring lost languages, languages lost because of the violence and the terror and the genocidal aims of colonisation is rare. It is rare that we, that I, listen. I am used to speaking, debating, arguing, imagining. I am not so used to being silent. This is why, when Vicki makes the offer for us to learn, or at least utter, a few words and phrases in her Gunditjmara language, it is a thrilling, nerve-wracking moment. My mouth makes efforts to make the required shapes and sounds. I think of the grapes (real or imagined) rolling in my mouth, the tear of skin and the plump juiciness of the centre. In this offer, from Vicki, I am given a similar opportunity, to tear thin skin and bite into plumpness. (Collyer) I don't know, Vicki tells us, when asked what non-Indigenous Australians can do to help in the enormous task of language reclamation. There is so much work for Indigenous Australians to do that there is no time to guide well-meaning but ignorant others, she says. But, she underlines, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. __ Eight songbirds, four native, four introduced. Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Gail Smith provides me with the names of the native birds in Woi wurrung, her mother tongue and the original language of her country now known as Melbourne. Aunty Gail is able to give me four words, three are specific bird names, Barrawarn, Dit-Dit and Yan-Guk, and the fourth word, Guyup-Guyup, is a general word for all bird species. She does not know one of the bird names, the word for Little Raven, and cannot find a translation, illustrating the loss from which so many Aboriginal Australian languages have suffered through colonial eradication practices. Wah! Wah Wah! Little Raven __ Fitzroy was one of the first Melbourne suburbs I got to know when I arrived in Australia, unaware at the time that, as a young white Anglo-Scottish woman, I had followed a well-worn colonial pathway from Britain to the south, easily accessible for some and not others. Fitzroy was the location of Gertrude Contemporary, or 200 Gertrude Street as it was known then, where I was participating in an arts residency. Today, the birds are calling in Fitzroy, loud, as the tram heaves away. Turning the corner I walk along the streets. At this time of day it's quiet and unassuming and birds sing all around. Two Common Mynas converse, there is a host of House Sparrows in a low street tree, Little Raven flies overhead, and to my left a Dit-Dit duet. I walk east to Collingwood, over Smith Street, over Wellington Street, over Hoddle Street on the pedestrian bridge. I know this part of Collingwood well. Vere Street and Down Street are familiar but I haven't been here for years. It's mild. So much is the same, the streets, the graffiti, the buildings, the cracks, the gaps, the rifts. So much has changed. I pass the Collingwood commission flats and Collingwood College where my son spent his last years of high school. It is close to the eight lane Hoddle Street that dissects and fractures this part of Melbourne, one side from the other, Collingwood to the west from Abbotsford in the east. It is a state highway, a major arterial through Melbourne, from north to south and south to north. The pedestrian bridge curves over the teeming traffic and down to the gallery. rrorrk ah ee ah rrorrk ah ee ah rrorrk ah ee ah Yan-Guk (Red Wattlebird) __ The eight scores that make up the artwork consider the vocal meeting point and communicative interruptions that both groups of birds may have experienced during 1860s Australia. They consider the devastating impact of colonisation from a posthuman point of view and how colonisation not only decimated Indigenous life in Australia through forced assimilation processes, but how it affected all species. Barrawarn (Australian Magpie) (Little Raven) Dit-Dit (Magpie-Lark) Yan-Guk (Red Wattlebird) Common Blackbird (arr 1860) House Sparrow (arr 1862) Common Starling (arr Melbourne 1857, Sydney 1877) Common Myna (arr 1863-1872) I speculate on the sonic meeting point of these eight songbirds. Common Myna, Common Starling, House Sparrow and Common Blackbird, as the four introduced songbirds, adapted to life in this landscape and thrived. Some would say these birds have survived to the detriment of the local environment, and Common Myna and Common Blackbird now have mixed reputations. Barrawarn, Dit-Dit, Yan-Guk and Little Raven as the four native songbirds, have adapted to the presence of the introduced birds. All eight species are numerous, robust and resilient in Melbourne today. They are common birds, easily heard and readily seen. As the introduced birds would have worked to find their sonic niche -- the frequency or bandwidth at which their sounds can be received and transmitted -- their voices would have threaded their way through the local biophony causing ripples of sonic change, adding birdsong frequencies previously unheard in this place, on this continent. Songbirds make up about half of the world's bird populations. One of the main reasons they are distinct from other birds is that they learn their sounds/language from their parents, like whales, dolphins, bats, parrots and humans, amongst others. This means they can learn new sounds and adapt their voices throughout their lives. Like humans, songbirds develop accent and dialect. Language and landscape are deeply intertwined for people and no less so for songbirds. The voice of Common Blackbird in Melbourne differs from brethren in cities in Europe. In Melbourne, Common Blackbird has located a sonic niche that means they sing a shorter song, a louder song, and one with greater differentiation between sounds. woh oh ee woh tra wooo-ahhh Common Blackbird (arr 1860) __ Fitzroy North. Roseanne Bartley, Merryn Byrne, Kiri Wickes, Melanie Richard. We meet to rehearse in the Edinburgh Gardens bandstand. It's a bright cold day. Mouths struggle to voice the absurdist words that make up the scores. The bandstand is an acoustic delight, like a whispering gallery, and the tentative voices are carried effortlessly around the space. The performers gain in confidence forming the words in their mouths, mouthing the words, hearing themselves and each other. trrrrr truh trrrr tss-tss wuh! wuh! Some of the birds we hear in the gardens are included in the scores. Little Ravens live in the gardens and roost in a circle of tall elms near the bandstand. They are likely to hear our attempts at mouthing the words, some of which are based on their sounds. We can hear their voices and exchanges as we read through the scores. Listening while voicing, voicing while listening, the performers begin to hear the nonhuman virtuosos who help find a way to the sounds via the words, to articulate the words through human sound. The performers learn together, lean into each other and into the sounds, sound with each other and with the birds. trrr pitchow trrr trrrr ch ch pitchow pitchow Common Myna (arr 1862-1873) __ The eight scores are constructed using homophonic transcription. This is the notating of the birds' voices using sound, inspired by the phonetic words that naturalists use in bird field guides. While the words may seem nonsensical they retain their origins in the English language. The scores are not an example of translation, nor do they have pretensions to conventional meaning-making. The words in the scores fail to render the birds' songs and calls when read silently, but when read aloud the words make sonic sense. The bodily enactment of the scores contributes to an understanding that operates outside of conventional meaning-making and embraces a physicality and an orality through voice and the breath. __ Dja Dja Wurrung linguist Harley Dunolly-Lee explains the complexity of Aboriginal languages and notes that Meanings in Aboriginal languages are inside (and) central, or inside but peripheral; there are meanings that hover like hungry flies. There is never a tight package of form and meaning. According to academic and linguist John Bradley, one of Dunolly-Lee's teachers in linguistics, Aboriginal languages function relationally, where meaning depends on who is speaking and to whom: kinship is key and kinship includes all species. Donna Haraway has considered this concept for a non-Indigenous speaker and observes that Kin is an assembling sort of word. All critters share a common "flesh," laterally, semiotically, and genealogically. Ancestors turn out to be very interesting strangers; kin are unfamiliar (outside what we thought was family ..), uncanny, haunting, active trrrrt-trrrrt trrrrt-trrrrt Dit-Dit (Magpie-Lark) __ On the gallery wall the eight scores are printed on A1 sized creamy white cartridge paper, 300 gm weight, landscape orientation. Italicised black Garamond font renders each of the birds' voices. Each score is titled. The scores are placed as two groups of four, the native songbirds to the left, the introduced songbirds to the right. Four plus four. During the process of installation the scores form an assemblage not unlike Anna Tsing's understanding of the term as an open-ended interspecies gathering or potential history in the making, where elements do not fuse/merge but remain autonomous within the group. The assemblage is in flux and changes shape during the exhibition period. The roller doors are open during gallery hours, so the birds on the street are audible within the gallery space. Barrawarn, Dit-Dit, Yan-Guk, Little Raven, Common Myna, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow, Common Starling can be heard and read at almost the same time (seeing reading hearing listening). Within the gallery space, the eight paper scores of bird calls merge, both visually and aurally, with the quadrophonic field recording of Camilla Hannan's Contagion (so presciently titled: I am in Covid 19 lockdown as I write this). This field recording includes calls from Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo. The paper scores add a material and unwieldy set of textual bird calls to the sounds of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, while Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo adds a fifth native bird to the list of four, unbalancing the neat division of four (native) plus four (introduced) birds. Five to four, the native birds gain in numbers during exhibition. Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo adds a recorded voice to the readability of the scores and the audibility of the live wild birds' voices that seep into the gallery space from the street. I meet the four performers -- Rosey, Kiri, Melanie and Merryn - in the gallery an hour before the opening. A converted industrial warehouse intended as a space for exhibiting large sculptural works, the acoustics of the gallery do not lend themselves to performance and our voices are not enabled by the high saw-tooth roof and hard surfaces. We have to make more effort to hear each other. The light is now failing and the wild birds on the street are quiet, unheard. We begin the performance voicing as a close group gathered around a music stand, projecting our voices into the gallery and towards the audience. However, the acoustic tensions prompt me to initiate a move towards the wall where the scores hang. Facing the scores and looking away from the audience, we walk the length of the wall in order to read each text in full: we shift our positions, pass each other, turn, retrace our steps, pause, take breath, start again. The grind of metal and the shriek of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo in Camilla's Contagion urge us to extend and diversify our output: loud, long, shrill, quiet, low, short, melodic, piercing, sharp. We voice and we walk and we draw out the connections within the space, with the audience, between ourselves and the birds' voices, between our live voices and the recording: voicing walking mouthing moving pausing listening reading calling. chrrp chrrp chrrp chrrp chrrp chrrp House Sparrow (arr 1862) weh akakak weh akakak weh chchchchchchchCommon Starling (arr Melbourne 1857, Sydney 1877) rrrraarrrk! rrraarrrrk! rrrraaarrk!Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo This browser does not support the iframe element. Works cited Bradley, John, "Learning Language, Learning Country", in Whose Language Are You On Melbourne Free University, 2 May 2019. Collyer, Emilie. "Vicki Couzens Talk". Received by Catherine Clover. 20 April 2020. Couzens, Vicki. "Wangakee, wanga, kooweekoowee-ngeeye Listen, hear our story" in Present Tense RMIT Non/fiction Lab, 17 April 2019. Dunolly-Lee, Harley, Kennedy, Jay and Saylor-Briggs, Julie. Kinship Ties Symposium as part of Yirramboi Festival with the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) and State Library of Victoria, 6 May 2019. Dunolly-Lee, Harley and Stebbins, Tonya. "Restoring Language to Community and Country: what's happening in Victoria" in Whose Language Are You On Melbourne Free University, 9 May 2019. Geerts, Evelien, and van der Tuin, Iris. Diffraction and Reading Diffractively 2016 viewed 30 January 2020: Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble Duke University Press, US, 2016. Perec, Georges. Species of Spaces and other Pieces, Penguin Books, UK, 1974. Winch, Tara June. The Yield Hamish Hamilton, Australia, 2019.
Multimedia Essay

Hearing a Possible World in the Crackling of Dry Leaves