5. The Ethics and Politics of Everyday Sounds

Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at fifty miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain.

John Cage, Silence: 3

February 2020

Sonic Solastalgia

‘Before, in Kulusuk, we hear glacier boom! Now, no sound.’ In the course of Geo’s life, the face of the Apusiajik glacier has retreated so far back and around that the noises of its calvings are no longer audible in the village. Melt has changed the soundscape of everyday life. The glacier is experienced as a silence.

Macfarlane 2019: 343

Let’s not underestimate the function and importance of everyday sounds. Although we oftentimes barely notice them, although we usually take them for granted, although they merely function as an unobtrusive background to our lives, although they do not surprise us (almost by definition), that is indeed exactly what they do: they don’t surprise us, thereby contributing to a rather essential need to feel at home, to belong somewhere, to be at ease. Familiar (sonic) environments, formed through habitual actions over time, perform a “holding” function: they hold experiences, histories, thoughts, even languages (Norman 2011: 13).

Coined by Glenn Albrecht in 2003, solastalgia is a form of psychic or existential distress caused by changes in the home environment due to environmental transformations: transformations caused by (often climatic) forces beyond people’s control. What used to be a familiar place is rendered unrecognizable by more or less substantial alterations to the environment. Whereas nostalgia is a mood which arises from moving away, solastalgia—a neologism consisting of a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root -algia (pain)—stems from staying put (Macfarlane 2019: 317).

Albrecht never related solastalgia to the sonic environment, perhaps because he explicitly connected it to ecological changes. However, it is obvious that these changes always involve effects on the sounding atmosphere as well, as, for example, Bernie Krause has proven in his research on biophonic sounds in and of the rainforest: “When habitat alteration occurs, vocal critters have to readjust. I’ve noticed that some may disappear, leaving gaps in the acoustic fabric. Those that remain have to modify their voices to accommodate changes in the acoustic properties of the landscape” (Krause 2012: 80). Especially due to human interventions in pristine, natural environments, animals no longer feel themselves at home in their habitat and need to modify their (sonic) behavior or relocate, if possible.

Sonic solastalgia not only impacts indigenous peoples or wildlife; the construction of a new highway or a wind farm, the installation of heat pumps, the chopping down of trees or an extensive insulation of one’s dwelling can have a lasting influence on one’s relationship to a specific site (for better or for worse) as it alters the sonic atmosphere. However, this opening text of Part 5 should not be read as a lament for change: paying attention to everyday sounds should not simply lead to an unconditional acceptance and appreciation of an already existing sonic environment. Rather, it should lead to careful contact with these sounds, to vigilant considerations concerning their functions, their design, their affective tonalities, and this not only on an aesthetic level but also on social, political and even ethical levels. Openness towards everyday sounds, attempting to experience some kind of connection to even the most ordinary or despicable sounds, does not mean that one should uncritically accept all of them; openness should help in making specific and responsible choices with regard to the organization of one’s sonic environment. Instead of losing the ordinariness of the ordinary through the attentional acts that correspond to this openness for everyday sounds, (almost) simultaneous moments of pre-­reflective—even thoughtless and heedless—engagement and reflection occur. This is not the reflection criticized by Barad and Haraway, but a knowingly and responsible resonating with the sonic atmosphere, formed by listening, associating, recalling, imagining, etc.92

May 2021

Everyday Sounds and the Social

As I mentioned before: for me, going to the farmers market in my neighborhood almost every week means attending and participating in an unplanned performance of improvised sound art. I enjoy listening to the various languages being spoken by both merchants and customers while walking along the rows of stalls (and thus contributing to the sonic becoming of the site). Sound surrounds and envelops me, and I revel in the constantly changing sonic ambiance, including, besides natural sounds (such as wind, rain, birds, etc.) and human vocal sounds, the sound sources of human activity: footsteps, trolleys, crates, laughter, traffic, coins, etc. Sonically exploring the site creates an affective relation with its inherent, embedded capacities and potentialities.

Visiting the market is to be affected by all these sounding agents while simultaneously adding to the ongoing co-­constitution of the overall soundscape. By listening, co-­producing and becoming immersed in this sonic ambiance, I am connecting to my fellow human beings, engaging in social interactions; economic transactions are accompanied by, or even dependent on, various forms of socio-­acoustic communication.93

Public spaces such as markets are central sites of human encounters and places where norms, values, desires and interests are articulated, negotiated or contested. Heterogeneous groups or individuals—heterogeneous according to social, ethnic and economic status, but also according to gender and age, or because they have different roles—meet in public spaces. By occupying and using a space, people not (only) act within an already existing space; they simultaneously construct it and actively contribute to its atmosphere.94 The sonic organization of public spaces—think of crosswalk signals, alarms or church bells, for example—is also almost constantly renegotiated through the concrete practices of residents and users. Everyday sounds play an important role: music from street cafes, shouts of loitering youth, honking cars, but also the ringing of church bells, the bangs of firecrackers, the collective chants of soccer fans, screeching trams, shouting vendors (such as the ones at the market) or demonstrators banging pots and pans—sounds like these (temporarily) determine the sonic ambiance of a site and reveal who or what is in charge there. But even more subtle sounding acts, such as humming, whistling and even walking, might be understood as contributions to the appropriation of a space and / or the sonic demarcation of a territory. Sounds can therefore be considered a public account of the social world; they participate in relational exchanges in our daily experiences, either as a means of social regulation and control, or to contest and subvert such regulation. Sounds, therefore, not only provide information about the environments in which people live; their composition, perception and socially ascribed meanings influence the ways people (inter)act.

What is true of public spaces is true, mutatis mutandis, of private places. One’s house is both the site and the subject of auditory culture. Not only do certain spaces in the home inevitably influence the sounds that household members make there—for example, the kitchen affords different sounds than the bathroom or the balcony95—but people in the home communicate in one way or another through sound, relay information through sound, and express their presence and / or activities through sound, by turning electrical appliances on or off or manipulating the sound level of televisions or stereos, for example, but also by insulating rooms, opening or closing doors, putting up curtains or replacing carpet with tile.96 And, as in public spaces, domestic sounds can also become a source of conflict: for example, through disagreements over volume levels and disputes based on different listening preferences (Oleksik et al. 2008: 1423). The significance of these indoor sounds lies not only in their ability or suitability to convey information, but also in how they indicate activity and impact affective intergroup engagement. As Peter Sloterdijk states in Im selben Boot (1995: 21), sociality, understood as a belonging or being together, also means being able to hear each other.

Social life or coexistence implies being a part of a resonance community (Sloterdijk 2009: 208).97 However, it is sound especially that makes it clear that these resonance communities can never be confined to an (architectural) inside; sound easily spills over from room to room, from house to house, from interior to exterior, from public to private, etc. Sound overflows borders, vividly illustrating what Sloterdijk terms the principle of “co-­isolation”; that is, the simultaneous occurrence of people being connected and separated, or better yet, being neither accessible nor effectively separable. In other words, architectural or visual divisions of space do not adequately (re)present human coexistence or togetherness, nor do they guarantee “acoustic immunity” or total freedom from atmospheric intrusion (Sloterdijk 2009: 39, 208, 402). Especially with the increase in the number of single-­person households, auditory contact has become a form of daily resocialization, although thanks to portable audio devices, people can almost always remain in their self-­chosen “aural microspheres.” However, either through telecommunications, the telephone or external sound sources, involuntary hearing will often prevail over selective listening (Sloterdijk 2009: 416). In other words, the “phonotopic cell” is also porous; the sonic outside is difficult to exclude.98 On the positive side, by crossing social, visual and physical boundaries, sound opens up the potential for new, sometimes unexpected, networks of connection; it thus mobilizes both space and social arrangements (Atkinson 2011: 16).

The examples of the marketplace and the home make clear that it is in and through everyday sounds that the social takes shape. Sounds—whether languages or music, natural or artificial, repulsive or pleasant and healthy—have the capacity to unite or divide, to include or exclude, to homogenize or heterogenize; they guide, invite, deter and (subtly) influence patterns of sociability, physical movement and interactions—influences of which we are not always aware. Everyday sounds thus (co-)constitute our social lives. People are shaped and informed by auditory stimuli, signals and information; their daily activities are both enabled and controlled by sounds. Sounds regulate, disrupt or interrupt human behavior, thereby codetermining social conditions; they affect the extent, character or mere absence of coexistence (in the sense of feeling welcome, of wanting to be there), of collaboration (in the sense of building connections with others) and of cohesion (in the sense of sharing meaning and values, creating unity in diversity and inventing new possibilities).99 In short, it is in and through sound that we can express how we live together and share our common daily experiences.

(Human) identity does not precede engagement with others, but emerges and materializes within a field of complex and diverse social relations. A human subject is not so much a discrete entity, but rather takes shape as a node within this field, which in turn develops and transforms through the actions of that person. Subjects exist, or rather become, in the unfolding of social relations, as they connect with other human and nonhuman agents (Ingold 2000: 3–4, 103). They are gradually, progressively and materially constituted through a multiplicity of forces, energies, histories, thoughts, etc. In such a multiplicity, sound functions as a medium: it is in and through sound, in and through immersion in a sonic ambiance, that subjects perceive and move through the world. In other words: one hears sounds, but one also always hears in sound (lngold 2000: 265).

May 2021

Everyday Sounds and Politics

Building on the diffractive reading of the interactions between sounds and the social in the previous section, it is quite obvious that these interactions show signs of mutual interference with the (micro-)political as well: the sonic appropriation, occupation, demarcation and / or control of a site is of course a political act, if we keep in mind that the political always has to do with power structures.100 Everyday sounds thus afford possibilities for creating, organizing and regulating experiences, for controlling emotions as well as coordinating social activity; they structure socio-­political orders through processes of inclusion and exclusion, and enable people to self-­regulate.101 Closed or open doors, the ding of a microwave, the whir of the vacuum cleaner are political—intended or unintended—in the sense that actions, values and interests are negotiated and ultimately “inscribed” into the (sonic) materiality of the things themselves (Introna 2009: 27). Sounds are political in the sense that they influence modes of perception, that is, what or who is heard, when, by whom and in what circumstances; they are a means of (re)organizing private and public spaces; they influence human agents on both a cultural and pre-­cultural (biological) level.

In Part 3 of this study, I already addressed the political dimensions and implications of everyday sounds, outlining how they become political when they establish or blur the boundaries between the public and the private, and how they discipline us.102 At the same time, however, I also emphasized how we discipline them, for example, by designing our sonic environment or by suppressing them through all sorts of interventions, laws, rules and norms. At this point I might add that even discourses around everyday sounds are rarely free of politically charged value judgments: calling a particular sonic event a “sound” or a “noise” is an important distinction with potentially far-­reaching consequences.103 Conversely, emphatic sounds (or silences) make their mark on political debates: what gets articulated, what is actively heard, what is attended to also concerns the issue of the distribution of the sensible. In short, just as sounds are always political, the political (almost) always has a sonic dimension.

A few years ago, around the turn of the year, I was in Belgrade. There, I visited my favorite café on the river Danube, went shopping downtown where I encountered some Roma brass bands, attended an Orthodox service and ended up in a street protest against the national government. While listening again to these recordings, it strikes me how clearly these sounds resonate with political meaning and impact.

The chanting, whistling and shouting of the demonstrators are, of course, the most obvious aural expressions of political interference: through these sounds, the crowd raises its voice, makes itself heard, revealing both its power and its powerlessness. The (dis)organized cacophony that drowns out even the sounds of heavy traffic signifies that these people will no longer allow themselves to be silenced, that the authorities should (finally) listen, that the streets belong (for a moment) to those who disagree with the current state of affairs.

Sonically, this forms a great contrast with the solemn ringing of the church bells, followed a bit later by the serene singing of the priest and the choir. Yet both the bells and the hooting signify the claiming of a territory, at least for a specific amount of time. Both invite participation (either in the service or in the protests) while concurrently excluding “the other” (non-­Christians or supporters of the government, respectively).

The choral singing accompanies the priest, who waves a thurible while striding around a crucifix; the worshippers are to remain silent and accept not only the rites but also the sonically expressed hierarchical order of this religion, thus voluntarily submitting themselves to the unequal relationship between religious authority and its adherents.

In addition to the demonstrators and the church, two other agents consciously or unconsciously occupy parts of Belgrade’s public space and sonic ambiance: motorized traffic often drowns out the sounds of human voices or the chirping of birds, while Roma musicians, an ethnic group often marginalized in Serbian society, acoustically dominate Belgrade’s main pedestrian zone with their drums and brass in the days around Christmas and New Year.

Two sounds in the audio file might be more difficult to interpret as political. The opening sound was recorded in a kitchen; one hears the beating of eggs. The sound may evoke a sense of longing; it heralds the near future, in which the family gathers around the dinner table. Thus, not only do meanings arise and coalesce around sounds in the domestic sphere; sounds stimulate all kinds of actions, triggering certain behaviors and arousing physiological reactions.

The other sound is coming from the bathroom; someone is taking a shower. The door is closed, the recording made from the hallway. The sounds signify intimacy and privacy: please do not enter, as this room is now in use. The muffled sound of the running water alone may be enough to prevent entry, functioning almost as a warning signal, a sonic stoplight, contributing to the socio-­political organization of a household.

In this primarily sonic ecology, sounds operate on physical, psychological and cultural levels. Human and nonhuman agents not only constantly regulate, control, shape, demarcate, claim and amplify all kinds of spaces through sound but, conversely, sounds are actively involved in influencing both agents and environments. As Atkinson writes, “sound […] is both an ordered and ordering force.” However, he continues, “that which surrounds and often immerses us is rarely listened to. Paying more attention to this soundscape is important” as more awareness of and contemplation on “our immersion in sound, its sources and effects, also yields important dividends in relation to the political and social constitution” of contemporary life (Atkinson 2011: 24). Political engagement, as well as an understanding of (micro-)political mechanisms, can also emerge from an analysis of the role, functions and impacts of ambient sounds in everyday life; (the presence and absence of) sounds, the ability and willingness to listen, and the right or the inability to be heard (literally) are fundamental components of any political culture.

April 2021

Everyday Sounds and Ethics

Could a sensual, embodied, material engagement with everyday sounds reinforce the actual practice of moral behavior? Underlying this kind of interaction with everyday sounds—listening, recording, editing and processing—might be a renewed and reconsidered sense of respect. In this interaction with everyday sounds, aesthetics and ethics intersect; discerning these sounds and becoming perceptually open to them—that is, not immediately imposing a certain predetermined standard of beauty on them or simply listening away104—contributes to treating them carefully (which is not the same as simply accepting all sounds as they already exist and function in a particular context or situation). This openness can be action-­oriented rather than contemplative. Moral-­aesthetic virtues such as care, considerateness, sensitivity or respect can lead to specific actions: protecting, restoring, enhancing or augmenting, but also discarding, redesigning or masking (Saito 2007: 4–5). Such actions or interventions do not necessarily indicate some kind of human dominance or arrogance; on the contrary, a lack of care in the design of a sonic environment may indicate that this environment is not worthy of our attention, protection or nurturing. Respecting and caring about everyday sounds is not based on a will to power, nor are they guided by a transcendental subject or some higher source; they are expressions of interconnectedness, interdependence and entanglements, in this case entanglements between human and nonhuman agents.105 They allow people to consider these sounds and their sources in their unfolding, beyond their instrumental value, beyond mere utility and beyond human intentionality. Care and respect stem from a certain restraint, an ethos of hearkening or Gelassenheit (releasement), an ethos of a situated passive-­active listening, an ethics of contingency. Moral and ethical issues are revealed in this way by the sensual relations humans have with objects, events and ambiances. To care for how the everyday sounds is “to exhibit an aesthetic attentiveness which is itself moral” (Saito 2007: 223), an attentiveness that is grounded in embodiment, participation, conditionality and responsibility.

While care and attentiveness are crucial for a (re)appraisal, (re)orientation and (re)valorization of everyday sounds, sonic materialism makes tangible how such a human ethicality can be supplemented by another relationality as ethical mattering through responsiveness; that is, an interactive relationality between nonhuman agents and an entangled otherness, such as their environment. What is important in such a relationality is that everyday sounds either come to matter or not (Pranger 2020: 185). Rather than assuming a stable and calculable “goodness” or “correctness” (which is almost always based exclusively on human values), this notion of ethics is not about the right response to the call of the other, but about responsibility and accountability for lively relationalities, for entanglements that all kinds of agents help enact, and for commitments that these agents are willing to take on (Barad 2008: 333). Acknowledging responsible interactions therefore implies acknowledging that humans are not the only active beings. In such a context, responsibility should be understood quite literally, namely as the ability to respond, the ability to respond to the other or otherness, that is, the ability to respond to other human and / or nonhuman agents; it is a “listening for the response of the other and an obligation to be responsive to the other, who is not entirely separate from what we call the self” (Barad, in Dolphijn and Van der Tuin 2012: 69), a practice of engagement that is attentive to and prepared for a possible response that matters, formed and informed by participation.106 In short, the ethical emerges from interactive encounters, but not every encounter matters: “Ethics is about mattering, about entangled materializations we help enact and are a part of bringing about, including new configurations, new subjectivities, new possibilities” (Barad 2008: 336).107

When thinking about a new subjectivity—a new subjectivity that matters—the transformation from a rather stable and fixed phenomenological subject to a resonant, vibrating subject would be an option that emerges from sonically informed reflections. Such a subject is not the cause but the effect of interactions, a coming and a passing, a presence “made of a complex of returns” instead of a mere “being-­present” in much the same way as sounds exist (Nancy 2007: 16). New configurations might emanate from the careful and attentive listening proposed above, a listening that always already encompasses participation and engagement; a listening that is, of necessity, generated in the encounter, in the sharing of time and space with the sonorous event and the sounding object, as “there is no place where I am not simultaneously with the heard” (Voegelin 2010: xii). It is here and then that (nonhuman) sounding agents attain an ethics of entanglement and take responsibility. Finally, new possibilities open up when sound allows us to encounter alternative orders—alternative to, for example, visual framings and organizations. Because of its temporality, invisibility, transience and ephemerality, sound encourages us to rethink notions of reality, actuality, presence and truth (Voegelin 2014: 4, 22).

A materialism formed and informed by sound is ethical insofar as it calls for a sensibility stemming from connectivity and entanglement with what is there. Heidegger’s appeal to Gelassenheit is “neither a (con)fusion of subject and object—a state of merging and dedifferentiation—nor the polarized op-­position of the two. We must understand it, rather, as an awareness of the intertwining of subject and object” (Levin 1989: 228). Their differential interplay can also be applied to listening. Listening in and through Gelassenheit requires an attitude “as a lute that waits upon the touches of the wind” (Levin 1989: 235); it is an ethics of shared action, of entanglement, interaction, engagement, participation and cultivation grounded in the contingency of caring for one’s habitat, in appreciation of its significance, aesthetic or otherwise.

June 2021

Everyday Sounds and Listening

I am blindfolded. Sweating, sweating from fear. I can hardly breathe… There are no recognizable scents, nothing for my hands to grasp—where are my hands?… I’m immersed in a sonic environment that is predominantly unfamiliar to me. I feel completely disoriented. Are they going to hurt me? Who are they? Is there a “they” anyway? I try to identify what I hear in order to figure out where I am… in vain, although not all sounds are completely alien to me. Any clear localization, clear identification of place and time, continually eludes me… All I have are, are, are guesses, possibilities and my imagination…

In the previous Part, I traced the unfamiliar within familiar everyday sounds, in part by expanding listening beyond “normal” human capabilities through and to nonhuman or more-­than-­human agents. Such an augmented listening expands perception and opens up new ways of engaging with everyday sounds and the sonic environment—one might call it an “audio-­technological de- and reterritorialization.” On the one hand, the familiarity of the sound sources as an anchoring point through which the environment is perceived and performed remains largely intact; on the other hand, the ordinary sonic environment—usually registered unconsciously and operating on a level below intentional signification—is brought to another level, reclaiming attention and awareness. The newly perceived qualities of these sonic worlds should, thus, not only be considered as objective characteristics of the sounds themselves but as attributions exposed through the new relationships that the sounds and the listener enter into through their interaction with technological agents. The possibilities of augmented or expanded listening offer access to a rhizomatic middle, a transversal movement between aural attention and imagination, between sensual experience and a quest for possible meaning. As listening remains the central activity (listening as a performative act, which doesn’t reveal the world, but produces the world) through which we engage with our sonic environment, it will be the main subject of the next thoughts.

In Nostalgia for the Future, Luigi Nono writes:

It is very hard to listen. Very hard to listen, in the silence, to others. Other thoughts, other noises, other sonorities, other ideas. When we listen, we often try to find ourselves in others. Find our own mechanisms, system, rationalism, in the other. And this is a violence that is totally conservative. Instead of listening to silence, instead of listening to others, we hope to listen to ourselves once more. It is a repetition that becomes academic, conservative, reactionary.

Nono 2018: 367

Instead of a repetitive listening in search of familiarity, recognizability, “ourselves,” or “the same,” Nono urges a “reawakening of the ear.” He sought to realize this by transforming the formulas and rules which listeners normally utilize in music. The question I would like to examine here is whether this can be applied to everyday sounds. How can listening to everyday sounds become an act of discovery, a (re)appraisal or critical evaluation of our sonic ambiance? How can we be enticed to hear the infinite potentialities that put us in contact with “other thoughts, other noises, other sonorities, other ideas”? Can technology be helpful here? Or blindfolding oneself? Many musicians, many sound artists, many music scholars and many philosophers—far too many to list here—have offered suggestions to develop, enhance or transform our listening skills, or simply to make us aware, as Jacques Attali (2003: 3) writes, that the world is not for the beholding but for hearing. For Schafer (1992: 11) it seems quite simple: to improve our sonic environment we must (re-)learn how to listen, as it is a skill we have forgotten.108 Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening pedagogy bears some resemblance to Schafer’s sound education in that it guides people through concrete exercises to listen more deeply and attentively to their surroundings. Voegelin (2014: 3–5) advocates a listening that avoids, as much as possible, the naming and framing of sounds, identifying them, for example, according to genre, style, era or area. Instead, she writes, listening should become an exploratory activity that expands the ways we have already organized the world. In a similar vein, La Monte Young’s Compositions 1960 all explore the boundaries of music and work to alter and widen people’s auditory abilities, often towards the actually inaudible and inaccessible. Cage’s epigraph at the beginning of this part speaks volumes: “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at fifty miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain” (Cage 1973: 3). In conjunction with Cage’s ideas, Max Neuhaus conducted a series of listening walks between 1966 and 1976 called, simply, LISTEN. Participants who arrived at a designated location would be led outside by Neuhaus in order to explore the everyday sonic environment. He trusted that attentive listening would result in hearing “sound” rather than “noise,” thereby transforming relatively unremarkable spaces into more significant ones.109

What can be concluded from these underdeveloped examples, these brief appeals that might help one attain a different attitude toward the sounds that surround us? First, listening is neither natural nor neutral. A listening that matters is never a purely psychological or physiological act but always already a politically and ethically charged event, involving, for example, acts of inclusion and exclusion: for various reasons, certain sounds are privileged over others. Second, listening requires effort; it must be practiced, rehearsed and learned, and thus generates literacy. Perhaps it is better to say, however, that this process should begin with unlearning, with deprogramming common forms of auditory perception. Auditory enculturation still mostly privileges Western tonal music, and this alienates us from an open attitude toward the lived space of daily life, such as the one Nono had in mind. A second caveat, already articulated by Norman in Part 3, comes from Thibaud: an emphasis on attentive, careful and respectful listening to everyday sounds and the acoustic environment will inevitably exclude other kinds of listening, more practical kinds (such as aurally recognizing a place or detecting acoustic alerts) or distracted, innocuous or background listening.110 Thibaud (1998: 18) questions­—rhetorically—whether the listening attitudes described above are intricate enough to encompass the complexity and diversity of everyday situations. As soon as listening becomes “self-­aware,” it becomes disconnected from a listening in and to everyday situations, with the result that an ordinary activity is turned into an extraordinary one (Norman 2015: 209).

Is reconciliation possible between ordinary and extraordinary listening? Or perhaps not a reconciliation but a listening that diagonally traverses the supposed opposition between attentive and everyday listening? Can listening be simultaneously open, respectful and careful as well as distracted, practical and mundane? Apart from opening our ears to the sounds that surround us, and apart from the perhaps unavoidable tendency to identify the sound sources, unsolicited imaginations, narratives, associations or memories often accompany our focusing on the sounds themselves, arising from affective responses to external and internal soundscapes, and other sensory and mental inputs. To listen is to travel: sometimes we follow the sound, sometimes we return to what was heard before; sometimes we lose ourselves in sound worlds that exist only within ourselves, sometimes we anticipate what will be heard; sometimes we perceive the source, sometimes we register things or events hidden from view. This listening-­traveling occurs at the edges, among sounds of no great importance, but also among sounds that demand our full attention. In this listening-­traveling, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the real and the unreal, the mundane and the special can meet and alter one another, each with and in the other, tasted in the moment when our imagination takes flight with the unremarkable.

The audio file above is neither a composition with artistic pretensions, nor a documentary, nor a radio play. There is no real narrative other than that suggested by the way the sounds have been arranged and processed. The sounds—mainly recorded in and around my home—do not contain precise information and can easily slip into the periphery of listening, being perceived as ordinary or insignificant. Yet, because of their unusual combinations or the eerie ambience they attempt to create, they might simultaneously attract attention and closer scrutiny. The potential appeal arises from the interaction between audio file and listener, the latter moving within the former, thereby cocreating the work through this mutual contact: through recognizing, comparing, remembering, imagining a narrative, opening up to the reorganization of familiar sounds, revaluing those sounds, identifying or questioning their cultural meanings, etc. The audio file invites an ordinary-­attentive listening, a listening-­traveling to other possibilities of what might also be actual, not in opposition to reality but as a multiplication of that reality. In this sense, the audio file does not so much present a fictional world as present the listener with a multiplicity of possible worlds (Voegelin 2014: 36); it invites listeners to decode, recode and transcode; to combine sensory and intellectual understanding; to experience the real as fiction and fiction as the real; to combine the actual and the virtual. Finally, it is not meant to replace everyday listening to ordinary sounds but to encourage listeners to become more response-­able to their sonic environment while being and acting in it, thereby evoking or experiencing more sensory knowledge; this listening oscillates between habit and inhabiting, not with the aim of finding out what sounds are but what they can do.

Listening-­traveling, a listening taking place between the ordinary and the extraordinary, a listening discovered through agential realism and sonic materialism, leads to a deconstruction of simple binarisms into a multidimensional field of interrelationships. Within this topology, one discovers infinite permutations of possible entanglements of action and observation, of brief or prolonged engagement, of detailed investigation and superficial attention, of curiosity and carelessness, of passive and active participation, of materiality and discursivity.

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