Sound Theory (The Clouds)


Sound is constantly entering into relationships with practices of listening. These practices, informed by collective and material conditions, shape how sound constitutes awareness of one’s environment. In her book “Aurality – Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia” sound studies scholar and musicologist Ana Maria Ochoa exposes how listening is entwined with different cosmologies and modes of being in the world: “before the question how do people perceive the environment in auditory terms comes the question of how the very boundaries between personhood and the environment are.” Thus she develops: “a theory of sound implies a listener, [it] imagines a listener and an idea of reception of sound.” 1

In her analysis of the sounding practices of the Bogas – the rowers that traversed the riverine connection of the caribbean atlantic and the Amazon through the territory later known as Colombia – she recounts how to the ears of the European colonial settlers-explorers, the expression of the bogas was comprehended as a mixture of heard linguistic expressions, musical manifestations and “the imitation of the sound of tigers, whistling of the serpent, the shout of the parrot and howling dogs”.

The point that Ochoa makes is that the role of vocal utterances of the bogas was inaccurately appraised by the colonial explorers, their listening incompatible with the diverse logic which articulated voice and listening in the cosmology of the Bogdas. While for the Europeans the voice was conceived as a locus of subjective expression, identifying their own division of language, music and the imitation of the environment, for the BOgas the practice of vocalization of animal sounds, rather than “representing an entity”, were part of the manifestation of the “locus of a transpersonal self”.

“Voice permits the “sharing of certain attributes” (Sahlins 2013, 31) between beings where relations between entities are conceived as constituting a “mutuality of being” (Sahlins 2013). Voice, rather than a mediation between worlds is “a medium of mutuality” (Sahlins 2013, 54) in the constitution of a notion of a distributed self. […] What the bogas would be doing in envoicing such multiplicity is to invoke the transformational potential of becoming that all envoicement entails. It has been said that the exchange of pronouns between beings or parts of the body is a method to name “a transpersonal existence” (Sahlins 2013). If it is so with pronouns, it is even more so with the sonority of animal voices, as vocalizing them implies giving presence to different parts of that transpersonal being and/or to the mutuality established between beings.” 2

Essentially, Ochoa provides here a fundamental example of how listening is intrinsic to a performative engagement with one’s environment, in which attention unfolds following the form in which the coupling of sensing agent and milieu takes place.

Source: Center for Science and Society / YouTube

Gabriel Paiuk (2021): Sound Theory (The Clouds)

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