Sounding shift: The transitional core in everyday sound objects

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The accompanying sound piece is a meditation sparked by the question ““what is the contemporary sound object?”. It considers the omnipresence of sounds that signal, enact or impede pursuit, passage, access, alteration, or transformation, while inquiring into the nature, both sonic and conceptual, of their ability to invoke transitional situations.
Examples abound, both in private and public spaces. From smartphone ringtones and chat pings to doors opening with wood-on-metal clangs, or sliding aside with a comforting swish after activation by thermal sensors; from a scripted service-minded vocal line such as “may I take your order”, to “hellos” and “goodbyes”, accented or flat, disclosing emotional turmoil or mere matter-of-fact habit; from a thunder crack announcing weather shift and checking behaviour, to the subtle electronic “welcome” or “restricted” sound queues pervasive in our contemporary sound worlds, which manage our paths while crossing territories, navigating airports, train stations, hospitals, etc.
Beyond the response they seek to achieve, and the product sheen and reliability they are supposed to enhance through consumer-oriented design, all these sounds voice transition of one sort or another. In our ever-changing acoustic surroundings, they emerge as instances – as “sonic events”, an expression arguably preferred to that of “sound objects” – of aural ritualization of shift. Their shifting potential, be it openly stated or designed to affect the listener while preserving a veil of unawareness and automatism, lies at the core of their sonorous identity, which, as is argued here, ubiquitously pervades and dominates the sonic meaning-making dynamics of our contemporary everyday.
On one hand, it is near impossible to discuss transition without inquiring into notions of territory. On the other hand, the possibilities and challenges associated with traversing territories are central aspects of the agency of the body. Since sound itself is a manifestation of movement – literally, the experiencing of vibrational processes – and bodies themselves are, according to philosopher Erin Manning, essentially “technologies of movement, of transposition”, we find the aurality of transition naturally conflated with the everyday territoriality of cohabitation.(1)
This discussion, and how it further connects to an expanded notion of skin as membrane, and the relationship between percussiveness and permeability, is presented in the sound piece through a dialogue with words borrowed from Erin Manning, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, and Brandon Labelle, while under the influence of Peter Sloterdijk and Didier Anzieu.(2)
For close to fifteen minutes, the listener is invited to follow a voice that never strays far from monotone while presenting a sequence of lines of thought. Awkward and mine, this voice, unlike the required in the well-established talk-radio/podcast format, is not always clearly distinct from a background. Instead, it is most times emergent, sometimes displaced, other times overwhelmed, by an expansive and multi-layered sound field. As such, the piece is ideally meant to be experienced via over-the-ear headphones, due to its use of subtle interleaved stereo surround spatialization.
Construed as a counterpoint between discourse and soundscape, Sounding Shift (2016), however, is not an audio paper. Closer to a sound performance, it explores the possibility of conceptual excursions being activated by an intermingling with the aural tangibility of specific sound events. In other words, Sounding Shift aims to be an exercise in a kind of intent listening whose meaning ripens through association and resonance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWriting Around Sound : The Contemporary Sound Object
EditorsRichard Keys, Jo Burzynska
Place of PublicationChristchurch, NZ
PublisherAuricle Sonic Arts
Publication date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Writing Around Sound is a print journal that engages with audio culture and sonic art in New Zealand. Audio culture, sound art and their concerns and contexts are employed as both a focus and a point of departure of the journal’s content, which not only includes the textual, but embraces the visual and audible (via an online audio component).

Launched in October 2015 by the CSSA, it has now become a twice-yearly publication edited by Richard Keys and Jo Burzynska and guided by an editorial board of sonic arts academics, artists and writers from all the main centres in New Zealand.

Copies of Writing Around Sound I have sold out while Writing Around Sound II can be purchased for $10 (plus postage) through the Auricle Online Store.

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