Listening involves the renunciation of a predominantly moulding activity, a giving up sustained by the expectation of a different kind of relationship. Gemma Corradi Fiumara These lines of Fiumara’s have informed our understanding of listening for a long time. ‘Sustained by the expectation of a different kind of relationship’, acts of listening inflect our encounters with the places and bodies that surround us in unexpected and fruitful ways. Forms of communication emerge that escape normative models, forms that open out onto different kinds of relationships. That means with objects, too. One of the first things that struck us about this kind of listening, when we began thinking about it, was how it involved renegotiating our relationship to objects. Think of Bohman’s performances at a table of carefully-arranged bric-abrac, navigating the countours of springs, combs or lightbulbs with a contact mic. Or Rie Nakajima, sitting ‘with the quiet authority of a proprietor supervising  her market stall’, in front of plastic buckets, tin foil or motorised toys that are busy negotiating their relationship to each other. It is a microcosm of our selves in  the world, and it is also a mode of communicating. Perhaps the line between resonant bodies becomes harder to draw here. Or the line between listening and touching. Sound is a matter of physical contact, after all. Listening is not an activity that allows us to put a clear distance between ourselves and things.
‘Form is not a fixture, but an activity.’ Lyn Heijinian
Ann Quin’s writing was never comfortable on the page but she kept persisting with it, stubbornly publishing until she found the voices that float through the dusty Mediterranean cities and landscapes of Passages.
What we are trying to get at is how listening allows us to make contact with different expressive possibilities, ones that take into account aural, tactile and affective approaches to understanding. How it cracks open these minor modes.
You can hear it in many different places but, at the moment, in my mind’s ear it is in Adam Bohman’s  ‘London (Part 1)’; one of his talking tapes where he records an improvised, spliced narrative of his daily routine. A theatre of the unremarkable that rouses us into an almost tactile encounter with the aural everyday. Conduit of the bottomless mundane. It catches us in the tantalisingly imprecise act of listening which is never entirely successful in its attempts to impose coherence on sounds. Objects take on new life. There’s a discomfiting intimacy about it, often funny, sometimes fretful, ludicrous and utterly sincere. Bohman chats over a recording of Dieter Schnebel; an egg simmers; branded butter rolls off the tongue and out into my life. I try and roll it around my mouth as I cycle to work: Lluurrrrrrpack. There is a music to it. A kind of improvised, not-quitethere musicking that provided the formative environments in which we tried to listen into and out of music to the different spaces that surround and shape it. Slippery. Unpolished, a bit rough around the edges. Sometimes it is hard to pin down where it starts with any kind of precision, but certainly there is a kind of music at the start of it.
 So this is the first side of listening; a kind of renunciation of the self. It opens up a body to the outside, rather than shoring up its personhood. And maybe in that, a different kind of relationship to what is outside oneself could be glimpsed. Can that be described as passivity? It would be sustained by something more like what Mi chael Taussig calls ‘active yielding’. It means becoming involved in a process out of your control. But it is not  tantamount to passivity. This tension between passivity and control runs through the kind of listening we are interested in. It is a question of reciprocity. In acts of listening, you are in turn listened to. You allow yourself to be imposed upon and you in turn impose yourself.
     
This is a theoretical state of reciprocity, of course. In practice our encounters with the world are asymmetrical, difficult. They come laden with expectations, and the sedimented histories of their gestures. What does a conversation look like? It’s easy enough to sketch. The negotiations it requires of us can produce tensions and awkwardness, but there is solidarity to be found in the face our of mutual incapacity to keep it up. Robert Ashley believed that, in all its peculiar vernaculars, conversation can become a form of music. One that can disorientate the ‘boundary-maintaining tendencies’ of conversation. Perhaps there is a briefly-glimpsed opportunity as well as risk in disorienting listening.
You could call Passages a composition for voices: ‘Function of the whole score is to establish the language.’ A language ‘beyond the ossuary of the narrative form’, a collage of forms that crackles and tussles with crime fiction, travel writing, and autobiography. In every voice she could hear two contending voices. It is a language that drifts in the channels between one place and another, the transformations from one form to another: all those reverberations and awkward reciprocities between people and things. Quin stages a desire to be in excess of language and her work has just as much in common with the voice and body-expanding potentialities of sound poets like Henri Chopin as it does B.S. Johnson. The sonic potential of Quin’s words reminds us of the influence of listening on mute forms. Sound is a bodily disturbance, like smell and touch, and nausea and movement and presence. An affective experience that implicates all senses (including vision) through the synaesthetic idea of ‘nonvisual imagery’. Like Quin’s tussling forms these senses crisscross and commingle: ‘You feel redness, you see music’. It is in this coalescence of senses and forms that the passages between texts, images, objects and performances are opened up as ways of thinking about sound. An edition of a journal can be staged as an exhibition. And so our approach to publishing has emerged, starting with a preference for collaboration. It’s a DIY approach to publication that is intimately linked to performance. Conversation becomes a mode of production, within and between and around works and encounters of all kinds. An improvised social re-telling of works, it exists between forms within an amorphous community of listeners who are also talking, listening and talking. It is contingent. It is a process out of our control.I
The platforms are an invitation to perform. They are another form that is an activity, a modular stage that affords different configurations for each performance. It could be sat on; danced around; used as a plinth, a barrier, a hiding place, a safe place, a boundary wall, a monument; it can be a screen, or a soap box, a waiting room, a lookout, a listening post; or used in self-defence, or not at all. We hope it’ll be a meeting point between ourselves and the artists we’ve invited, but an invitation can always be turned down. It might not suit the performers and be left idle. But that is part of the unpredictability of the invitation; that is why we like it. We could always fill it with free Metros and leaflets; dead wasps and flies would collect on it. Scuffs and marks won’t show on the stage because it is painted Urban Obsession grey. * In staging this edition of DANCEHALL as an exhibition, we wanted to scrutinise the editorial role we are still coming to terms with. And we have to admit that we have never written an editorial before. What is an editorial, anyway? An introduction? A guide? For that matter, what is an editor? Clearly we have some unarticulated ideas about these questions, because we have the sense that ‘editor’ doesn’t fit as a description of what we do. Because in fact we think of ourselves not editing but inviting artists to use a space we have opened up, in whatever way they deem fit (that is, with minimal intervention). That has been our general feeling, anyway. And so we have never written an editorial, partly out of a sense that to do so would be an imposition on the openess of the invitation we were extending; partly out a wariness of pre-empting a reader’s encounter with the work inside. And partly because of a sense that the publication is only a starting point. Again, that fragile, under-interrogated idea of ‘openness’. Our ongoing attempts to think about listening have informed our idesa about collaboration, and the kind of collaborators we manage to be. How does the role of editor come into all this? What kind of relationships does it produce? Because of course our role puts us in a particular relationship to each iteration of DANCEHALL. If it is a collaboration, it is an asymmetrical one. In creating a space which we invite others to populate, we establish parameters, criteria; we marshall the whole pragmatics of production. That play of control and letting go, again. But listening and the complex negotiations it opens up between bodies and places, should be (imperfectly, contingently) translated into the complicated and always compromised messiness of production. In this sense, our understanding of listening and conversation is more useful in thinking through the difficulties of co-habitation than in dwelling on some indefinitelydeferred moment of possibility. And so our aim in our first editorial isn’t to offer a guide to the show or the works in it (we still have our misgivings about the editorial form) but to give a context for it, in which the awkward process of cohabitation can happen. And to begin to articulate our own relationship to the other artists involved, to the specific works in this exhibition, and how it all informs and inflects our own relationship to this ongoing DANCEHALL project.
Adam Bohman, Music & Words 2, Paradigm Discs, 2014
Amelia Baggs hums, moves. Sie scrapes, shakes and strokes surfaces, objects, hir own body. A coil of wire is brushed against the wall and rattled around a door handle. Sie flicks the water running from a tap. Sie explains to a neurotypical audience that ‘my language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every object of my environment. Reacting physically to all parts of my surroundings.’ Amelia Baggs, ‘In My Language’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnylM1hI2jc
As we were writing, I came across this: ‘We must close our eyes and renounce our mouths, remain mute, blind, dazzled: Vibrating space, as it reaches us demands from our being only the ear.’ Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘Gong’
Michael Taussig, Mimesis & Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (1993)
‘To be subject is to be able to take leave of your subjectivity, to be able to set out on the line between subject and object’. Steven Connor, ‘Feeling Things’ (2012) stevenconnor.com/feelingthings.htm
On ‘bodily horizons as “sedimented histories” ... history as bodily sedimentation’ see Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (2006)
8 + 12
‘We must also see that a conversation has a life of its own and makes demands on its own behalf. It is a little social system with its own boundary-maintaining tendencies; it is a little patch of commitment with its own heroes and its own villains.’ Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual (1967)
‘What we can do is practice the skill of awkward improvisation, of identifying those situations most fruitful for intervention, of feeling out the shape and rhythm of consciously-chosen redoubled awkwardness […] an awkwardness so awkward it becomes a kind of grace – it is the peculiar kind of grace that allows us to break down and admit that we are finally nothing more or less than human being who will always be stuck with each other and, more importantly, to admit that we are glad of it.’
10 In his 1968 opera, ‘That Morning Thing’, Ashley imagines a future language drawn out of a chance encounter with a recording of tree frogs. A rival non-verbal form of communication that could make the American language obsolete. The rhythms of verbal speech yield to the tactile grain of a different kind of musicality The ground it stakes out is something like the terrain of Amelia Bagg’s language. A speech that is exceeds the parameters of the human body to include objects and animals, too. Image: ‘That Morning Thing’, Fast Forward production performed at The Kitchen, NYC, 2011. 11 In Sara Ahmed’s ‘queer phenomenology’, moments of disorientation queer our relationship to normative roles and can in doing so opens up new horizons. It can be hard to experience and we should acknowledge that, but it might be liberating, too. 13 Ann Quin, Passages (1969). Image : Oswald Jones, ‘Ann Quin’ (early ‘60s) 14 Alice Butler, ‘Ann Quin's Night Time Ink: A Postscript.’ (2013) alicebutler.org.uk/2013/06/18/ann-quins-night-time-ink-a-postscript-2/ 15 Half-remembered line from Bakhtin writing about Dostoevsky. 16 Image: Henri Chopin, Aux hommes (1969) 17 Quin’s work has long been overshadowed by that of her contemporary B.S. Johnson. We agree with Stuart Home: ‘despite ongoing rumours of a B.S. Johnson revival, I feel our attention could be more usefully directed towards Ann Quin’. 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess (2002). 18 ‘A first step here is to insist on breaking away from the tyranny of the visual notion of image. [To acknowledge] nonvisual imagery conveyed by nausea, sound, smell, and the changing cadence of chanting, not to mention less tangible qualities of presence, atmosphere, and movement. Furthermore, the senses cross over and translate into each other. You feel redness. You see music. Thus nonvisual imagery may evoke visual means.’ Michael Taussig, Mimesis & Alterity (1993)
Adam Kotsko, Awkwardness (2010) 16 1 Produced from conversations between Psykick Dancehall about DANCEHALL 11, a Launch Pad exhibition at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, 1222 November 2015. With Rosalie Schweiker, David Morris, Louise Hobson, Tom White, Giuseppe Mistretta, Katherine MacBride, Amelia Bywater and Rebecca Wilcox, and performances from Stuart Arnot and Otto Wilberg. With special thanks to Jon Collin, the install volunteers and performance participants and all at Castlefield Gallery. www.psykickdancehallrecordings.com
DANCEHALL 11 Editorial
DANCEHALL is a publication, shaped by collaboration and an interest in the exploration of sound across different disciplines, such as live m...
Published on Nov 12, 2015
DANCEHALL is a publication, shaped by collaboration and an interest in the exploration of sound across different disciplines, such as live m...