Marking time +58 Conceptual Metaphors of Sound

27 March 2019

I love the conceptual metaphors of sound. So rich with possibility.

If we are with a child every moment of their waking and sleeping lives, we see their micro changes almost analogue, one to one relation. But when we have only sampled experiences of them — five hours here and five hours there over the course of a week–there is something “lost” in the understanding of them, as there is something lost between the analogue and the digital.

When thinking about “purity”–which so often comes up in life as a topic of real heated emotion (our obsession with the pure, the real, the authentic, the actual, the original, the one to one, the analog, the obscured, the uneffected)–what is pure sound once it is recorded?

The idea surfaced today during the MaerzMusik Thinking Together Conference session Ways of Listening 2: Listening to the Echoes, Reverberations and the Vibrations of Halim El-Dabh with Kamila Metwaly, as we listened to early electronic music by Halim El-Dabh and the wire microphone he used created such interested filters on the original sound, I had to think seriously about how much changes merely from the recording device itself. Its not a new thought of course, though to most listeners I think this loss in translation is easily forgotten when the recording “does not seem” at first listen, “so affected”.

As with the picture, what we see in front of us is not the same that we see on our apparatus, our screen. But even the picture in front of us, the person themself — what is that pure person, unaffected? Not enough sleep. Too much coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, depression, another chemical “imbalance,” or rather, difference from what was, what was previous.

And what does it mean to amplify? In relation to thinking about active listening, we might also think about what it means to amplify. Amplification is a kind of translation device which places the power of sonic curation either in listener themself or in the organizer of the listening space/discussion. Either way, it unsettles the requirement of the speaker to SPEAK DIFFERENT and asks that the listener actively take interest in hearing, by placing mic in the speaker’s hand.

Presumably, amplification does not require the speaker to vastly change their speech or behavior — though sometimes the presence of a microphone can be an impediment to speaking as holding such an object in their hands, for some, is as alien as speaking into the ass of a chicken. I don’t say this lightly, having observed the physical discomfort blatant in the delivery of someone who is suddenly confronted with an object so foreign as a cold microphone. And again, I say this not lightly because these are precisely the kinds of micro-sensitivities and “bad touch” feelings to which active listeners need to pay attention.

To this end, a would-be listener or curator might consider utilizing less invasive forms of amplification. But sometimes asking a shy speaker even to stand up, sometimes asking them even to make a direct association between their face and their voice is an impediment to speaking. Once again, I don’t say this lightly, because none of these difficulties still justify the idea that an active listener should not be interested in the opinion of a shy or timid speaker.

Amplification is a powerful curation. Musicians amplify when we choose which poets to place on loop, which sets of notes from which producers to sample. Sampling and remixing are vehicles of amplification and we have a choice. Even in what we place on the stereo, if others are to hear it, when we share music, we are curators of sound. Who will we choose to amplify–will be pay attention to their representation within the music industry, will we think about the capitalist structure of the industry, will we take the time to dig out the music we don’t easily come across, those songs which have been digitally silenced by the fact that they are not easily accessed on youtube or spotify? This is not a minor question, especially in otherwise radical spaces.

And each of us, tiny voices on the internet, making our comments, our likes, our blogs. Tiny little platforms with tiny little amplification devices set before us in our small yet profound privilege to connect to the world wide web … what will we amplify and re-mix, re-amplify again.