Sound Theory (The Clouds)


In her book “Aurality – Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia” Sound Studies scholar and musicologist Ana Maria Ochoa states that “a theory of sound implies a listener, [it] imagines a listener and an idea of reception of sound.” 1

Sound is constantly entering into relationships with practices of listening, that is, collective and material conditions which shape how sound gets transformed into different types of awareness. “In the relation between each of these entities—a listening subject, an object that produces a sound, and a supposed listener of that sound object—what is produced is an ontology of relationships, an idea of how to think the interaction between entities that produce/hear sounds” 2

Ochoa’s research reveals how different modes of understanding the relationship between self and environment in different cosmovisions prompt ways in which listening is performed. Her research exposes how colonial settlers in nineteenth century Colombia imposed upon the indigenous people of the region a criteria for distinguishing between language, music and the sound of the environment which was fundamentally insensitive to the actual relationship that these elements played within the culture and way of living of the people of the region.

In her analysis of the sounding practice of the Bogas – the rowers that traversed the riverine connection of the caribbean atlantic through the territory later known as Colombia – she recounts how to the ears of the european settlers explorers, the expression of the bogas was a mixture of heard linguistic expressions, musical manifestations, “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 the vocal utterances of the bogas need not be conceived from the point of view and tools that the colonial botanists applied, but can be accounted for through a vocality which manifests the “locus of a transpersonal self” rather than “represent an entity”. That is

“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.” 3

Essentially, Ochoa shows through this crucial example how the role of vocality in the bogas was entwiend with another mode of understanding listening, which was itself entwined with a particular 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.”

Source: Center for Science and Society / YouTube

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