While we may have always been talking, practices of listening are undergoing a transformation. For this first issue of, Soapbox, a graduate journal for cultural analysis, we invited students and young researchers – alongside more established scholars – to offer their perspectives on practices, conditions and policies of listening. The resultant articles cover topics from political protest to video art, speech to text software, and audiovisual ‘time crystals’.
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Read the entire issue below, or scroll down to read and download individual articles.
We are also publishing articles written around the theme ‘Practices of Listening’, exclusively on the Soapbox website. Read more here.
This article argues that acousmatic listening may enkindle imaginative modes which gesture towards potentiality: what might be. Departing from Pierre Schaeffer’s conceptualization of acousmatic sound as autonomous sound object or ideal objectivity, it emphasizes the cognitive and epistemological dimensions of this modality of listening. It follows sound scholar Brian Kane’s theory of acousmaticity: the underdetermination of material source and causal event by sonic effect. One audio-visual artwork—Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993) — is analyzed as calling for a practice of acousmatic listening which includes the perception of unseen sounds and the imaginative production of sonic bodies. The article proposes that Blue has many different degrees of acousmaticity. Such richness of acousmaticity allows the piece to invoke a poetics of proximity: an(im) possible touch of incommensurable events, spaces, and temporalities, through and as sound. Blue’s acousmatic sounds, voices, and noises make a suggestion that can go in many different directions, depending on the listener’s imaginative capacities.
Andrea Avidad teaches Film Studies and Communication Studies at The Bronx Community College of The City University of New York.
Through an analysis of the relation between the speech recognition software Dragon NaturallySpeaking and myself, as user, I argue in this paper for an understanding of listening as an active determinant in the relation between listener and speaker, instead of a conception that merely infers the act of receiving and obeying. I observe that although the software is marketed as a technology that would obey by listening to the user’s commands, my experience with the software points to another direction.
As a computer operating subject, I am dependent on Dragon’s recognition of speech. Drawing on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, this paper argues that Dragon is an active participant in the relation between user and technology, rather than a mere tool. Following Karen Barad, I highlight the material-discursiveness of speech. Rather than focusing on meanings, Dragon attunes to—or listens for—the materiality of speech through its recognition of phonetic speech structures. As such, the article moves away from an anthropocentric understanding of listening.
Eeke van der Wal holds a master’s degree in Organisation, Change and Management (UU). Currently, she is completing a research masters Cultural Analysis (UvA). Fascinated by the (e)mergence of material-discursive practices, her recent research revolves primarily around material encounters and the way in which they (re)configure, organise and resist (cultural and individual) understandings of self and other.
Niall Martin mediates on the noisily entangled relations of listening, writing and our perception of culture in the aftermath of nuclear events. Thinking through the material traces, containment and waste of the Chernobyl disaster, Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer (1997) opens up a reconceptualization of the Chernobyl disaster as an event that alters the nature of testimony, challenging the lost sonic source of an event that is simultaneously in the past and yet to come. Chernobyl Prayer’s more than human perspective explores the exclusion zone as a sonic space in which radiation becomes audible through the silence of other species. In this way, sound extends itself to that which is present as well as absent. This reading of Chernobyl Prayer rethinks our understanding of sound as species-specific and in doing so acknowledges the displaced position of the auditor.
In this paper I look at ‘Peace for Triple Piano‘, a video which represents a musical canon both in sound and image. I call this peculiar form, whose structure is endowed with symmetry in both time and space together, an audiovisual canon. Such a structure is what in physics is known as a time crystal. I argue that this time crystal creates a temporal interference because, in this video, objects relate simultaneously to each other beyond the boundaries of what we commonly perceive as presence. Through a reading of Michel Serres, I propose a model to integrate this multiplicity of time based on hearing as opposed to listening. Finally, through Serres’s concept of quasi-object, I argue that this video, by making its audience integrate multiple networks, constructs a quasi-audience.
Emilio Aguilar is a singer specialized in the performance of music from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. He currently combines his professional work with an interdisciplinary project between the University of Amsterdam (Cultural Analysis) and the Conservatory of Amsterdam (Early Music Singing) in which he researches material-discursive practices to bridge the gap between the speaking-thinking and singing-performing body.
Text and image—understood separately—are the bread and butter of graphic design. However, typography, when well executed, can also turn text to image. Rejecting this distinction, therefore, paves the way to forms of listening without sound. With this in mind, for this first issue of Soapbox, we have prepared a collection of images with borrowed captions, the combination inspired by closed captioning (CC): the transcription of non-speech sounds in television for hearing impaired people. In our opinion, this phenomenon is interesting not only because of the image and text relation, but also because of how it transforms sound to text.
Sissel Vejby Møller (1994) and Stepan Lipatov (1989) are both graduating students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. As graphic designers they experiment with the language between text and image.
This essay de-listens to the dominant voice of a politician addressing 2000 protesters through a comparison of depictions by two media channels. It positions the image of the politician’s power in the loudness of his voice, so easily broadcasted on TV screens across the nation, as it upstages and speaks over the main subject of the story: the protesters’ precarious position. By translating their voices—expressions of their precarity—into visible objects, the essay works to balance out the power play of the protest, equalizing the voices in the space and showing how they made themselves heard on a visual scale. It uses the concept of the frame to dive into the vulnerabilities of the singular politician and the plural alliance in the space of protest, playing with their depictions to restore power and voice to those whose voice the image corrupted.
Erica Moukarzel (1993) is a Lebanese writer and researcher based in Amsterdam. Her work centers on the intersection of cultural memory and urban space, aiming to weave gaps left by past spatial divisions using long forgotten memories and stories. She recently obtained a Research Master’s in Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam and currently works as Curatorial Assistant at the Oude Kerk.
How do practices of decolonial listening help us move towards a more ethical relation to the world and to others? In his work and teaching, Rolando Vázquez has been developing practices of decolonial thinking and listening that seek to form relational worlds beyond the hegemonic framework of Western modernity. In this interview —what better way of talking about practices of listening—we talk about the required humbling of modernity, about the (im)possiblities of listening to those who have been silenced and about the necessity of thinking in dialogue with others.
Rolando Vázquez is associate professor of Sociology at University College Roosevelt and Utrecht University. Together with Walter Mignolo, he has coordinated the Decolonial Summer School at UCR since 2010. Vázquez belongs to the movement of Decolonial Thought and Aesthesis and, in 2016, wrote with Gloria Wekker et. al. the report of the Diversity Commission of the University of Amsterdam.
This paper investigates practices seen and heard during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, highlighting how an assembly constituted itself through the sonification of opposition. As an alternative to representationalist accounts of the poetics of these protests, this analysis models a practice of earwitnessing: attuning to the demonstrations’ sonics and noise to hear the voice of the people. Consequently, it is argued that an assembly was formed performatively—one that exceeded the creative class milieu that has been the focus of much recent writing. Unlike analyses that focus on the visual, this earwitnessing approaches the memory of activism to articulate an under-theorized form of critical listening. Attentive to the cultural memory in activism, earwitnessing means listening to betweenness—that relational space where bodies enact interdependency.
Duygu Erbil is completing her RMA in Comparative Literary Studies at Utrecht University. Her research interests primarily focus on critical posthumanisms and new materialism. She is currently working on an analysis of autobiography in the context of prison activism and experience in the United States.
Reflecting back on the articulation of the methodological framework for the practice of cultural analysis and the founding of ASCA over twenty years ago, Mieke Bal explores a practice of listening through her own installation Nothing is Missing. The videos presented in the installation featured mothers of migrants being interviewed by a person close to them. This resulted in confronting dialogues that have the potential to offer the attentive viewer — and listener — new perspectives on familial relationships, migration and interculturalism. Ultimately, through her analysis, Bal demonstrates the enduring pertinence of the notion that ‘the object speaks back’.
Mieke Bal is a cultural theorist, critic, video artist and occasional curator. She works in cultural analysis, focusing on gender, migratory culture, psychoanalysis and the critique of capitalism. Her books include a trilogy on political art. Her video Madame B, with Michelle Williams Gamaker, is widely exhibited. Her most recent film is Reasonable Doubt, on René Descartes and Queen Kristina (2016).
Laura van den Bergh Noura Borggreven Zoë Dankert Calvin Duggan Callum McLean Isobel Miller Laura Pannekoek Mick Vierbergen
With thanks to
David Bennewith Aster Hoving Céline Hürzeler Erica Moukarzel