1. Introduction

Sssh—be quiet

he is at work

the noise catcher in the rye

the fisherman of sound

throwing a mic like a float in the sea

Look at him

not afraid that it won’t bite

it’ll always bite

the melody of modern life in

(the / de-)composition

He hears therefore he thinks

for that he lives I think

to hear the inner sound of


Mels Hoogenboom

September 2020­


Welcome… My name is Marcel Cobussen, and I am the composer, the curator, the bricoleur of this publication. It consists of a multimedia account of a journey I have undertaken over the course of approximately one year, primarily a listening journey across many spaces in several geographical places in order to gain more insight into everyday sounds, how we affect them and how they affect us, even though we often ignore—or simply don’t notice—them.

Just as we influence and cocreate our sonic environment, the sounds surrounding us have an influence on us, on our behavior, on our feelings and emotions, on our identity, etc.

So, right from the start I would like to emphasize that—for me—the world is not organized into intentional subjects (humans) and passive objects (things, sounds); instead, it is inhabited by ethological bodies of events, affects and relations.

Devoting a complete publication to something as lowbrow as everyday sounds may seem a bit uncalled for or pointless. However, I cling to an observation by the German sociologist Georg Simmel, who writes—and I paraphrase here—that even an ugly phenomenon can be encountered in such a way that it becomes worthwhile, meaningful, valuable. To involve ourselves deeply and lovingly with even the most common things or events—which might at first strike us as banal and repulsive—enables us, Simmel states, to conceive of them as worthy of our attention, our care, our receptivity. These are words in which aesthetic as well as ethical, ecological as well as political overtones resonate. Enacting new patterns of engagement with everyday sounds: perhaps this is, in the most general terms, the aim of this study.

September 2020

On a Trip

1 September, 2020. Today my journey starts. I feel a bit nervous: will my plans be realized? It is not that I made a lot of plans, but still. Of course, the preparations for this journey were made months, even years, ago; perhaps they even started before I was really aware of it (for example, when I was driving this rental car in a foreign country)… But no, let’s agree that today is the day my journey really starts, since it coincides with the beginning of my sabbatical leave.

What kind of journey will this be? First of all, it will be a journey that will unfold itself around and through sounds, a sonic wayfaring, an exploration of and in the auditory environment, both improvisatory and steadfast at the same time. For sure, it will take me, us (me and you) to a lot of different places: familiar and well-­known places, but also remote places, unexpected places, imaginary places, utopian as well as atopian places, nameless places, places yet to be discovered, invented places, etc. All should be apprehended from within. However, it is the verb (to take) rather than the noun (place) which is actually more important here. Finding my / your / our way should be understood here as a movement between and among differing forces, as an itinerary during which both place and traveler are formed.

Dwelling as iterative wayfinding is discovering a way through a world that is itself in motion, continually coming into being through the combined actions of human and nonhuman agents (Ingold 2000: 155). To dwell does not mean to inhabit space, but to participate in its unfolding (Lefebvre 1991: 170). Additionally, a sonic environment is always in flux, emerging in unpredictable ways around actions and events. But, if only temporarily, the listener gets dis- and re-­placed as well through their immersion into sounds, continually adjusting their movements in response to an ongoing perceptual monitoring of their surroundingsto know as you go. In other words, someone’s knowledge of a certain environment, even a familiar one, undergoes permanent formation in the very course of their aural engagement with it.1

1 September, 2020, 7:15 am. I embark. Where does my journey start? This may not sound very ambitious, but I start here, where I am now, in my kitchen, preparing myself some breakfast…

While eating my breakfast, I read a short text by Georges Perec, ‘Approaches to What?’, which begins with an attack on newspapers that only pay attention to the extraordinary or the exotic, instead of what Perec calls the infra-­ordinaire or the endotic. Somehow, he writes, we never question “the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-­ordinary, the background noise, the habitual […] as if it weren’t the bearer of any information” (Perec 1999: 210). Perec argues for the rediscovery of a certain astonishment, an openness towards the everyday: “What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms […]. Question your tea spoons” (Perec 1999: 210).

My thoughts get carried away. How could I possibly question my tea spoons? What about my plans to embark on a journey to remote and, indeed, exotic places? What could be interesting about the everyday? Although Perec’s words leave me confused, they also fascinate me; finding the unfamiliar in the familiar is something that has attracted me for a long time. Is that what he wants? It reminds me of Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics, in which he argues for a way of thinking in which “each and every thing—a tree, a mountain, a house, the call of a bird—completely loses its indifference and familiarity” (Heidegger 2000: 28).

Hmm, the call of a bird… I open the door to the garden and listen…

Questioning tea spoons… Could this perhaps be achieved by listening to them? By exploring their affordances as sounding objects? By somehow challenging these affordances? Should this become my journey: investigating everyday sounds, investigating the everyday through sound, investigating the specific role sound can play in our relationship to the habitual, exploring a phonography of the ignored? And should this mean that I, at least, begin with recalibrating a virtual connection with my domestic soundscape?2 “Traveling suggests a journey that alters not only the traveler but also the spaces traveled” (Highmore 2002a: 146). I unpack my simple audio equipment, put on my headphones, press the record button, and start walking through the house… My journey has begun, as the everyday is where I already am!

Powered by Epublius