it seems like only last week or so that i left cepo’ to return to boston for the autumn semester. now the skeletal trees and chill in the air tell me that the semester is ending
this winter break will be different than most. during the week before christmas, i will be conducting a three day workshop at donghwa university on ethnographic sound art practice. the workshops have given me a chance to think a bit more clearly about the values that inform my work as an ethnographer and sound artist, the creative precedents of the work, and what kinds of questions we might pose together as we think about and intervene in soundscapes
one of the values that seems most pressing to communicate in the workshops at donghwa is the tension in experimental soundscape work between documentation and what we might call enchantment. soundscape work can create uncanny juxtapositions and unnerving senses of time, jolting listeners out of habits of listening, the better to reflect on cultural conditions. however, this kind of enchantment risks rendering the source recordings unrecognizable, further denuding them of context (and hence meaning). soundscape work, particularly that involving interviews and recordings of language, can call attention to threatened sonic practices and sounding beings. yet this sort of documentation apart from careful questioning can lack critical energy. discovering in this tension a pathway through which one can maintain a self-reflexive stance might be one way to approach this question. it’s a mode most evident in some of hildegard westercamp’s work, particularly her classic (1989) “kitt’s beach soundwalk”
another way productively to maintain this tension is through work that confronts listeners with disparate cultural schema through which the sources may have meaning. sometimes these schema are not shared by listeners; they may be unfamiliar languages awaiting translation. the documentary impulse suggests to provide translation, but are there other ways to provide clues and cues to listeners? as someone attempting to employ sound work in a space between anthropology and art, finding these alternate routes has been one of my challenges. it’s not easy to keep at the point of tension between documentation and enchantment, but much of the value of sound work is located there
i’m thinking about how to give a sense of that tension to participants in the workshop without being too pedagogical. most of what i hope to do with the participants is to listen and play, hopefully producing a few ideas for future work. so i’m looking forward to the workshop and hope that there will be much to report here when it’s completed.