Ambiguous Traces : Mishearing and Auditory Space
The object of my remarks is to encourage an unusual disciplinary triangulation. I take it that the accelerating destruction of our planet's bio- and cultural diversity involves an immense impoverishment of the acoustic domain. This is felt as a sensory deprivation. It is also registered as an incalculable conceptual loss: a language's disappearance wipes out an intellectual universe. The global character of this destructiveness, and the late capitalistic systems of human and environmental exploitation that drive it, prevents us from considering acoustic ecology apart from the larger multi-sensory and polyvalent life-world within which vocalisation, music-making, hearing and listening occur. A definition of auditory knowledge that insulates it from the occasions of sound making and marking reproduces the shortcomings of the 'visualist' fallacy. A sound knowledge is anti-perspectival, immersive, symbolic but non-imaginal, looped (in the feedback between listening and speaking) and eventful. These qualities are performative. They represent time and space as the doubled history and geography of encounters.
Histories of cross-cultural encounter (usually foretokening colonisation), studies of communicational strategies in contemporary migrant communities, and the theory and practice of performance normally proceed in parallel. It follows, though, from my preceding remarks, that these disciplinary interests focus on similar, if not identical, phenomena. Naturally, this eludes these disciplines so long as they remain deaf to their own materials. The situation of a migrant struggling to make himself understood on a building site in New York or Melbourne is hardly to be compared with the crisis of Columbus' interview with the Taino. The theatre, film or radio, may mimic such moments, but, obeying the conventions of their own history of representation, they are at best a distant reportage. An acoustemological perspective changes this. The much fetishised moment of initial cross-cultural encounter now forms part of a continuum of such events. The multi-channel communication affected by the migrant (mimetic, gestural, macaronic) recapitulates the beginnings of all communication. Instead of representing histories, actors turn out subconsciously to participate in an exact analogue of these places of attempted dialogue.
The value of this auditory triangulation between disciplines is twofold. In the field of comparative historical geography, it lends the about-to-be-colonised agency. Eliciting the self-conscious performativity of their behaviour, it assists in the recovery of their subjectivity. It has the political value of restoring contingency to their situation, then and now. In the broad field of migrant or diasporic studies, it serves to invert the value accorded the reduced lexicon and attenuated grammatical and syntactical resources characteristic of linguistic communication. The occasional, situational evolution of communicational strategies is the locus of creativity; the ambiguity of surface features in and across languages stimulates an ironic self-awareness, a suspicion of essentialisms, that is emancipatory. Consciously participating in the production of meaning, the migrant intuits the constructedness of culture in general. A comparable enlightenment overtakes the actor. The "clash" between "reality and representation" appears in a new light. Detached from a historicist conception of representation, he is no longer condemned to the solipsism of being himself, but relocates his performance environmentally within an occluded history of acoustically-shaped place-making.
These are disciplinary benefits accruing from an attention to the acoustic experience they subtend. A more important benefit is the advocacy of what might be called a participatory knowledge of our world. The visualist paradigm of knowledge elaborates a poetics of representation. By contrast, an acoustic knowledge paradigm, or acoustemology, presupposes a participatory model of making and marking. The ancient Greeks distinguished these productive modes by the names mimesis and methexis. I have argued elsewhere that Husserl's discussion of the repeatability of ideal objects (in his late essay, The Origins of Geometry) represents a modern adoption of the methektic mode. This is pre-eminently an acoustic mode of knowing, as emerges where Husserl describes "what is renewed (recollected)" as involving "an activity of concurrent actual production," whereby "there arises [ ... ] in original 'coincidence', the self-evidence of identity." (Carter, 1, 2001) This is an "echoic" theory of knowledge transmission. It gives substance to the idea that "Every single sound that's ever been made since the world came into being ... is still here ... the whole earth of one language." (Carter, 3, 102) It links this idea to the intentionality of the conscious subject. It follows from this that even our small acts of communication and mis-communication recapitulate grander narratives of place-making and unmaking. How we speak, hear and listen will determine the world left to us.
In order to focus the triangulation I propose, I want to consider the situation of communication from an auditory point of view. Even this formulation foreshadows my argument, as it is the definition of "communication" that an acoustemological perspective forces us to revisit. If any generalisation can be risked about the human sciences, it is that they share, and promote, the view that "culture is communication." (Dahl, 8) In this teleological view of human behaviour social activities are more or less well advanced along the way to signification. Within their different sensory spheres the outcomes of actions have more or less achieved symbolic identity. Communicative life is "a face-off of forces of diversification, centrifugal forces, and forces of unification, centripetal forces." Yet exoteric and esoteric orientations are, it seems, only a matter of scale: "Centripetal forces tend to create coherence by transforming the heterogeneous realities, perceptions, expressions of social life into unities; centrifugal "keep things various, separate, apart, different from each other." (Doe, 202)
Either way, ambiguity represents a communicational vacuum that culture, and its theorists, abhor. Defining ambiguity situationally, though, might produce a different expectation. Ambiguity is unavoidable in even the best regulated systems of communication, where it is defined as a property of undecidability between two or more possible meanings. But ambiguity may emerge along a different axis, poised, not between alternative meanings but in advance of signification itself. That is to say, the cultivation of ambiguity may signify the desire to avoid communication's semiotic reduction. I say "signify" to avoid any assumption that I am proposing a naïve phenomenological presencing. The ambiguity identified here, though, is not noise in a system of translation. It is the condition of a knowledge that cannot be represented, an auditory knowledge that is constitutionally environmental and situational. It corresponds to the participatory, or echoic, production of meaning mentioned before.
Roy Wagner evokes these potentialities in his phenomenological anthropology. Meditating on the significance of bats in so-called totemic thought, he posits a "genuine semiotics" in which humans would listen for themselves in conversation, by this echolocation learning about the limits of communication: "It is because sound is not meaning but the meaningfulness of direction that allows the bat to listen to itself as a navigational vector." He continues, " it is in sound's inability to merge with or directly encode the meanings attributed to language that it similarly becomes meaningful for human beings, allows them to listen to themselves as vectors of meaning through a medium that is not meaning. Those who wish to ground meaning in language are disposed to imagine the 'sign' through a magical precision bridging sound and sense, but such a coding, to the degree it were precise and exhaustive, would render impossible the 'play' or ambiguity, the irony of sound and meaning " would nullify sound's echolocative possibilities.'" (Wagner, 137)
Applying the term "echoic mimicry" to situations of cross-cultural colonial encounter, to verbal habits of migrants whose host community's language is not their own, or using it as a dramatic tool in radiophonic and installation productions, my interest has been similar: to indicate an environmental orientation. (Carter, 3, 11-14) As the orientation occurs through a process of doubling, in which the concept of origin ceases to have value, being replaced by a notion of beginnings repeatedly begun, any inward collapse towards semiosis of the spatio-temporal envelope it performs signifies a radical disorientation. It entails the collapse of an entire auditory topography. It causes the ephemeral architecture created by the doubled doubling of speaking and listening (in the idealised circumstance of two mutually-unintelligible human beings facing each other across a gap) to evaporate. The violence of this disappearance results from the elimination of one (acoustemological) paradigm of knowing by another (visualist) one. In terms of orientation, it indicates the substitution of places for placedness. The dialogical definition of self and other, immersive, echolocative, the construct of coincidences, yields to a perspectival account of self and other, of subjectivity and ground.
The situation of communication evoked here is constitutionally ambiguous. It is an orientation towards the other, not, through the other, towards elsewhere. This accounts for the readiness to consign it to history's margins. The purposive drive of our grand, teleological narratives necessarily interprets ambiguous encounters as exceptional, irrational obstacles to progress. They are rationalised in various ways. Noting the ambiguous similarities between the cultural systems of the Europeans and the Nahuas, Lockhart argues that they allowed a workable truce to emerge under the aegis of a "Double Mistaken Identity": "Each side was able to operate for centuries after first contact on an ultimately false but in practice workable assumption that analogous concepts of the other side were essentially identical with its own, thus avoiding close examination of the unfamiliar and maintaining its own principles." (Lockhart, 219) In illustration of the operative value of this misconception in another colonial setting, MacGaffey cites the Portuguese promulgation of the term fetish: "This phantasm originated in the intercultural spaces of the Guinea coast, inhabited symbiotically by Europeans and by Africans alienated from their own societies " As such it persists into modern times, where it has been called 'a dialogue of the deaf'." (MacGaffey, 219) Intercourse. (Here we might note that one expression of the fate that overtook the Australian Aborigines who came into contact with the first settlers was that they could not be mistaken for somebody else. Their silence was a direct consequence of the impossibility of remaining deaf to them.)
If communication is conceived as an act of translation, those who are not deaf to the opaque, the untranslatable, the situational, must be endowed with the gift of tongues, and take part in a transcendental intercourse. In contrast with Lockhart, David Tomas finds from his studies of cross-cultural encounter in the Indian Ocean, "the existence and dynamics of a transient, sometimes humorous, often dangerous, and periodically cruel intercultural space - generated in situations governed by misrepresentation or representational excess." (Tomas, 1) Such "transcultural spaces" are "predicated on chance events, unforeseen and fleeting meetings, or confrontations that randomly direct activity originating from either side of geographic or territorial, natural or artificially perceived divides that separate and distinguish peoples with different constellations of customs manners, and language." Tomas' definition could apply to almost any unlooked-for (and, therefore, generally coercive) meeting. It seems to ignore the fact that they involve the collision and overlap of cultures, which both possess meeting and exchange protocols. It is not a question of individuals fully in possession of their own but not the other's language meeting in a vacuum. Dell Hymes argues, even where two people speak "the same language", they do not speak entirely the same way, or with the same language horizon: "Probably it is best to employ terms such as field and network for the larger spheres within which a person operates communicatively." (Hymes, 32)
Unlike these responses to the phenomenon of communicational ambiguity, one arising from an auditory account gives to the misunderstanding characteristic of inter- and trans- cultural exchange a socially and historically constitutive role. Ephemeral but not fleeting, it produces the environmental orientation but for which interpersonal communication of any kind would be unthinkable. The echolocative environment produced and reproduced in the twinned acts of sounding and listening is not evolutionarily prior to, or superceded by, less ambiguous modes of exchange. It is the production of a common place in the absence of anything to market there. What I have called "the sound in-between" constitutes a realm of discourse elaborated diplomatically with no other function than the prolongation of peacable relations. Our cultural assumption that everything has its price, its exchange rate, makes this logic difficult to grasp. Derrida criticised Mauss for describing every kind of exchange except gift-giving. But Derrida, too, conceives the value of the gift-object as a quality added to it. Neither countenances the idea, apparently conventional in traditional Australian Aboriginal societies, that the gift and the giving were indistinguishable.
Isabel McBryde cites a description of the Lake Eyre Dieri people made in the 1870s: "Their whole life is spent in bartering; they rarely retain any article for long. The articles received by them in exchange one day are bartered away the next, whether at profit or loss." (McBryde ) The condition of this is that the barterers spend all their time making things to barter. The early 20th century writer , J.R.B. Love, commented of the Worara people, "it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the chief occupation of the Worara men is singing and making spear-heads." (McBryde ) The function of this continuous gift production and circulation is to keep people in their places, and places with their people. It is thus an ecological mechanism. Europeans did not grasp this. When they bartered mirrors, scissors and red cloth, they merely went through the motions of communication. Greenblatt comments that " improvisation on the part of either Europeans or natives should not be construed as the equivalent of sympathetic understanding; it is rather what we can call appropriative mimesis, imitation in the interest of acquisition." (Greenblatt, 98) He adds, "A process of mimetic doubling and projection ... does not lead to identification with the other but to a ruthless will to dominate." (Greenblatt, 99) Whether Australian Aborigines, who possessed sophisticated protocols for the provisional incorporation and identification of strangers, conform to this dictum, I doubt. Equally, the assumption that "identification" is an emancipatory goal may also be questioned. The main point, though, stands: the desire to orchestrate social relations environmentally cannot be reconciled with the imperial drive towards territorialisation.
It is not only the auditory environment of ethnographically-documented encounters that a "deaf" hermeneutics tends to drive out. Although harder to document, the ambiguity of the non-English-speaking migrant's situation in a predominantly English-speaking host community (to take the Australian situation) is similarly relegated to the inner (and implicitly silent) realm of individual psychology. Most studies of interpersonal exchange across ethnolinguistic groups make their point of departure an ideal situation of mutual linguistic intelligibility. The auditory situation of exchange, and the specifically sonorous qualities of vocalisation, are bracketed off as of no methodological significance. Documenting the emergence of an "industrial pidgin" in a number of Melbourne's factories, Michael Clyne mentions in passing the auditory environments within which tape-recordings were made. Yet noise levels played a critical role in masking speech. In a factory that actively promoted English as "the language of advancement," Greek, Italian and 'Yugoslav' hands continued to speak in their own languages: "The noise level in the canning department reduces verbal communication to a minimum, while the rotation system ... discourages the establishment of more fixed communication networks. Despite this, older women tend to use [their first language] where possible." (Clyne, 43) Here, another dialogue is concealed, one in which the speakers of dissident (noisy) tongues embed their utterances within noise, preventing their difference from being communicated.
As regards the sonorous identification with foreign surroundings, the testimony of a new arrival at the post-war Australian migrant camp of Bonegilla may be the tip of an auditory iceberg. The writer reports that he spent the day given him "to settle down" going for a walk: "my ears were getting used to the sounds about, and smiled (sic). Cattle mooing, dogs barking, sheep, bees, birds, well THEY were 'talking' as in Europa. It lifted my morale." (Sluga, ) This recalls the exclamation of the white settler who, on hearing a cock crow after days bushed in the Gippsland forest, cried out, "Thank God, an English voice at last!" It finds a remoter historical echo in Columbus's eager identification of the nightingale, as the one Caribbean birdsong familiar from Castile. These hearers suffer from a form of auditory agoraphobia, a loss of environmental resonance. And, as agoraphobia arises historically, a symptom of the mechanisation of communication, so with its auditory counterpart: it grows more pronounced in the shadow of what Murray Schaefer has called the "flat line sound" of the machine age. (Schaefer, 78) The Bonegilla inmate reports that, in the camp, there was the ubiquitous loudspeaker, "that eternal ordeal which has tormented us on our journey out." (Sluga, ) In the early days messages at Bonegilla came over "in imperfect English and still more imperfect German." (Sluga, ) In the camp there were also language lessons using the Berlitz method: "It is a system which is based on the use of verbs mainly. You leave out all the adjectives in the beginning, use as few nouns as possible and concentrate on the use of verbs. You have to teach as many verbs as you can." (Sluga, ) Inside language, as well as outside it, the grammar of relations is impoverished, the sonorous interstices deleted.
In this situation, mere auditory coincidences solace the migrant. The sounds heard on his walk "speak," because they activate subconscious pathways of association. They fulfil this role so long as they suggest an auditory environment, and their geographical significance remains ambiguous. Inside language, phonological ambiguity plays the same role. In the linguistic performances of everyday life, identity resides in the pronunciation of a name. Intonation and accent that identify the migrant's difference, the originality of his speaking position. Any semiotic assimilation destroys their sonority. The migrant whose name is accurately pronounced is not interpellated but finds his echolocation. This hope is essentialist, though, as vain as the goal of identification. One R.A. Baggio complains: "They named me, Rino, pronounced ideally Rino, and locally as Reen-oh; Rhine-oh; Renault; Reo; Reen, by the over sixties; Ringo by the Beatlemaniacs; and sometimes Ringe or Roscig, out of the junkmailers' computers. Our surname, Baggio, is similarly well-suited for invention, improvisation, innovation, and fantastication: Badgee-oh; Baggy-oh; Badge-EE-oh; Bug-Eye-oh; Barge-ee-oh; Buggy-oh; Bar-Joe; and the Danaean, Baggos, favoured by our dairyman on his invoices for thirty years, or so." (Baggio, 15) This passage eloquently illustrates the point that the ambiguity of surface features in and across languages may stimulate an ironic self-awareness. It also conceals a nostalgia for a richer auditory environment, in which these mispronunciations belong to an echoic mimicry in its legitimate role of "invention, improvisation, innovation, and fantastication."
Turning to my third disciplinary domain, the world of performance may be taken as one in which Husserl's dictum rules unchallenged. The actor or performer does not merely recollect a script or score. They renew it through "an act of concurrent actual production." However, again, it remains to ask what is the ideal object renewed in performance? I have suggested that the cross-cultural encounter and the discourses of migrancy are performances designed, not to communicate concepts, but to indicate orientations. The feedback loop between speaking and listening, doubled in the other's similarly constituted attention, is the means of notating a shared auditory environment. Such performances exploit the sonorous qualities of sounding, the meanings of words riding on the back of this dialogical tuning. The persistence of ambiguity is here the guarantee of a beginning that will not finish, of a presencing that will not retreat into the mutual suspicion and growing mistrust associated with efforts at translation.
Nowhere do these conditions operate more explicitly than in the communication undertaken by the actor. The actor is a persona; he embodies the word. The grain of his voice, the ductility and expressiveness of his gestures distinguish his performance from the act of reading a page. The actor's art is not simply a conventional mask. It recapitulates the origins of communication itself, not in the transmission of ideas, but in the desire of communication itself, which eludes being put into so many words. In this respect, the great modern playwrights have not written for actors but about acting. They have recovered the essential ambiguity of communication, in which the one who speaks is already spoken for, his speaking position determined echoically. All the drama then resides in discovering his orientation, in reading between the lines. Samuel Beckett asserts: "The experience of my reader shall be between the phrases, in the silence, communicated by the intervals, not the terms, of the statement." (Beckett, 49) Antonin Artaud, in his fascinated reflection on the Balinese shadow-puppet theatre, also locates the drama in the intervals, which, he discerns, obey a spatio-temporal calculus: "Tout en effet dans ce theatre est calcule avec une adorable et mathematique minutie. Rien n'y est laisse au hasard ou a l'initiative personelle. C'est une sorte de danse superieure, ou les danseurs seraient avant tout acteurs." (Artaud, 88) This calculation endows the actor with "un double corps, de doubles membres," as if he internalises the other in his own movements. (Artaud, 89) This illusion of doubling allows access to drama's primal scene, an undecidability between actions, a constitutional ambiguity of orientation: "Ce jeu perpetuel de miroir qui va d'une couleur a un geste ed d'un cri a un mouvement, nous conduit sans cesse sur des chemins abrupts et durs pour l'esprit, nous plonge dans cet etat d'incertitude et d'angoisse ineffable qui est propre de la poesie." (Artaud, 96)
As I have indicated, these experiences are not peculiar to the theatre. Anne Salmond describes the Wero or Taki, the series of Maori ritual challenges, "once performed wherever strangers met," as being perfectly ambiguous: "No one can possibly tell what this peaceful meeting may end in, so all are ready for action at a second's notice." (Salmond, 15) The Australian writer, Antigone Kefala, ironically evokes the migrant condition in structurally comparable terms. Alexia, one of her characters, learns that, "many many years before, everyone on the Island had been forced to swear an Oath of Silence, and to speak only when absolutely forced, and even then to use the minimum of sounds, and if possible only a few, such as 'mg', or 'ag', which were forever repeated in sorrow, regret, surprise, admiration, entreaty, contempt, mockery." (Kefala, unnumbered ) In those places where, as Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor puts it, "the ambiguous acts of representation and presentation take place, those places where everything is justified by fiction, those sterilised and immunised places," the constitutive ambiguity of communication is, as it were, redoubled. As Kantor implies, one reason for this is that, in conventional theatre, the place of performance, is taken for granted - "it is difficult to call a museum or an auditorium a real place." (Kantor, 96) Deprived of the drama of orientation to an environment, performance necessarily lapses into the representation of another, fictional place.
The cross-disciplinary communicational parallels noted here have been focused for me in my own radiophonic production. My work The Calling to Come (1995) is an adaptation of the language notebooks kept by an officer of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1789-1791. Its premise is the indication between the lines of the notebooks of an ephemeral auditory architecture improvised between William Dawes and his chief native informant, Patyegarang. The object in adapting their fragmentary dialogues was to preserve the intervals, not the terms, of the statements. The physical location, and installation design, of The Calling to Come, at the entrance to the Museum of Sydney, was intended to parasitise a place in danger of becoming a sterile non-place. (Carter, 2, 95-97) The location of this work should not perhaps be fetishised: its production values did not differ profoundly from other works of mine designed for radio. It may be that, as poet and sound theorist Martin Harrison contends, electroacoustic sound by its nature forfeits the sonority of acoustic sound, being, constitutionally as it were, a signifier standing in for a lost auditory presence. (Harrison, 2) I mention my own experience for a different reason: to reflect briefly on the behind-the-scenes scene of rehearsal.
A conundrum arises when the writer-director invites actors to realise a script that deploys ambiguous phrases echoically, exploiting their potential to multiply tragi-comic misunderstanding. Such phrases are "word sounds," notating the existence of a distinctive auditory environment. (Carter, 3, 11) They stage the primal scene of communication without any desire to resolve its ambiguity. They suspend the question of meaning, or, at least, treat the significations that attach to phrases ironically, suggesting they are occasional, contextual and unreliable. The scene evoked is deeply rooted in historical and social experience, but it is unconscious - the actor who is heir to Stanislavsky (and most voice-trained actors are) draws on the "subconscious work of his inner organic nature." (Stanislavsky, 75) This is no help, though, in interpreting what are, in effect, notes towards the concurrent actual production of the original scene of communication, one defined by the poetics of a mutually amplified ambiguity. My acting notes stress the need for the actors to listen to themselves in conversation, to tune their utterances temporally and tonally to those around them. I cite the street scene brilliantly described in auditory terms by Elias Canetti, who explained that "if you had one, two three or four voices ringing in your ears, the interplay among them produced the most surprising effects. The voices paid no attention to one another; each started off in its own way and proceeded undeviatingly like clockwork, but when you took them altogether, the strangest thing happened; it was as though you had a special key, which opened up an overall effect unknown to the voices themselves." (Canetti, 262) But, naturally, as this is a direction to be unconscious of themselves, actors find it hard to follow.
The role of direction here is to encourage a faculty of echolocation. The conventional order of meaning production, in which the modified voice issues from the vocal tract as a stream of meaningful sounds is reversed. It is as if the actor has to put into practice Mary LeCron Foster's speculation that language originated in a process "by means of which states and movements in space [were] translated into spatiosonant, articulatory counterparts." (Foster, 117) The actor is asked to relocate vowels, consonants and their combinations in the environment they imitate. That environment has a fundamental Fort-Da structure and orientation: whether idealised as a pair of interlocutors, or imagined more probably after Bakhtin as a noisy struggle "populated - overpopulated - with the intentions of others," (Doe, 196) the primal scene of language recapitulated in performance oscillates between a centripetal tendency to gather and a centrifugal dispersal. One produces the other, in a manner which, again, if we can believe another speculative palaeo-linguist, Charles Peters, recapitulates the origins of language. In the open savanna, Peters imagines, early hominids could easily indicate the site of daily meeting. In woodland with its scattered clearings, though, the same indications would have been ambiguous - language, Peters suggests, arose from the need to specify "complex spatial and temporal relations." (Peters, 90)
Be this as it may, there exists a clear analogy between the echoic mimicry characteristic of cross-cultural encounter, the "fantastication" habitual in migrant discourse, and the "overall effect" of certain kinds of vocal performance. The communicational analogy is not linguistic as such. However language is defined, performative conventions govern its use, and these are, presumably, universal. Thus Kelly observes that meaning is not inherent in sounds, symbols or events. Rather, it is "invented," "assigned," and "attached" to events, and this assignment is a culturally determined act that depends on the learned "stock of man-made constructs." (In Dahl, 159) These constructs also evolve. Intra-cultural communication and intercultural communication exist along a continuum. In the latter case, the act of invention is uppermost; in the former case it may be concealed. Hence, a "school of transmission" theory of communication needs to be supplemented by a "school of semiotics" view, in which "Meaning is created (or produced) when the interpreter (or reader) reads the text (the message) with reference to his/her own stance, experience, and context." (Dahl, 10-11) Either way, pragmatics and syntax evolve in parallel. Accommodation finds its counterpart in pidginisation. These events, which conform to the teleological identification of communication with the thrust towards clarification, are embedded, though, in an auditory environment whose meaning is constitutionally ambiguous.
This is not to say that the playground of dialogue may not imitate the goalless ebb-and-flow of the sound in-between. Emanuel Drechsel, discussing the Lower Mississippi Indian pidgin, wonders "whether - with different first languages - speakers of a pidgin really understood each other in conversing in it, especially in its initial and highly variable stage." Could such a linguistic compromise, he asks, "reveal non-utilitarian purposes such as those of a linguistic game?" (Drechsel, 434) Here, what Whalen refers to as "semantic noise" or "indeterminacy" or even "free variation" will not be explained by an expanded linguistic description of communication. (Whalen, 273)The rules of such a game would have to lie outside the realm of determinate signification. They would have to do with sounding, with the tuning of the dialogical space. They would accord an ontological status to what F. Joseph Smith calls "The live word that we speak to one another every day [ ... ] a sound word, a word that speaks in 'musical cadences'." That word communicates sonorously. It embodies a "fundamental echos," which, "as sound, takes in everything from the tumultuous roar of the ocean and the grandeur of a summer cloudburst to the specifically musical tonos of Greek music." (Smith, 168) But these human and non-human sounds are not merely coterminous. They form the medium of a dialogue. Communication occurs against a background of environmental sounds. A sonorous listening, as it were, one emancipated from the auditory agoraphobia which insists on reducing sounds to significations, hears that background instead as an orientation.
The participatory attitude distinguishes the echolocative listener from, say, the listener whom Barry Truax recommends. In his communicational model of a well-tuned environment, listening is privileged over hearing; and is itself recognised as involving both attentive and "background" listening. Acoustic information derived from the environment is the information that provides the "environmental context of our awareness, the ongoing and usually highly redundant 'ground' to our consciousness." (Truax, 376) Further, as Westerkamp stresses, "The information we take in as listeners is balanced by our own sound-making activities which, in turn, shape the environment." (In Truax, 377) At the same time the soundscape model is incomplete. It presumes that listening is always listening for something. It forms part of a communicational chain, and even if it is a sophisticated way of monitoring the environment and tuning it, it assumes that its function is to process and transfer information between individual and environment. In an historical sense it presupposes loss and silence: as Truax says of the traditional soundscape, "we are only able to conceptualise that balanced relationship as an ecological one because we have since lost it." (Truax, 375) The ambiguous scene of listening/ speaking is, in contrast, peri-semiotic, if you will (rather than pre-semiotic), in character. It is an environmental event.
Harrison, as I mentioned before, asserts that technologised sound is semiotic in principle - "the timbres of such sounds, their pitch patterns, the ways in which they are sequenced as ordered sonic events, their addressiveness, even the markings of their beginnings and endings ... are all presented as semiotic attributes." (Harrison, 2-3) What is missing from electro-acoustic sound is what Husserl refers to, when he describes "an activity of concurrent actual production," whereby "there arises [ ... ] in original 'coincidence', the self-evidence of identity. Or, as Harrison puts it, more succinctly, "sound as 'sound' does not simply exist, it has to be brought into being." (Harrison, 3) It is not brought into being out of silence. It arises as a wave arises in the surface of the sea. Bachelard correctly remarks, "an utterance (parole, f.) remains attached to the most distant, to the most obscure desires which stir the human psychism in its depths. The subconscious is ceaselessly murmuring, and it is by listening to these murmurs that one hears its truth." (Bachelard, 59) In "the sonorousness of ordinary perception," a sound "does not really stand for anything ... and neither does the listener somehow stand back from his or her listening in order to do a sound-specific, topographically marked-out and temporally bounded 'act' of listening." (Harrison, 35) It is immersion in the auditory environment that defines it as a spatial tuning, or orientation. As Harrison remarks, with regard to a sound, "it is hard not to want to be going somewhere"; and when we do this, "arriving at a completeness within a sonorous occurrence", there arises "as a necessity ... a possible object." (Harrison, 28)
An auditory account of communication foregrounds hearing. Smith remarks, "in communing with rather than in merely communicating with the other it is required that man hear as well as speak. But at the primordial level hearing and speaking may be identical. Hearing belongs to discourse as constitutive, Heidegger writes. Hearing means being open for one's own ontological being and that of the other. Without this existential hearing there can be no 'communication', no sharing of world, no communing with one another." (Smith, 35) This may be so. From an historical point of view, though, it is the activity of listening that counts. Listening is motivated hearing. Listening is the attitude that identifies word sounds, that seeks to set the tone of encounter. Its speaking counterpoint is an echoic mimicry, whose intentional doubling-up of sounds establishes an orientation towards the other, a discourse that is constitutionally ambiguous. Hence, a textual hermeneutics that elicits the auditory environment focuses on these ambiguous indications. Not having the philosopher's access to the primordial level of hearing, it interprets instead the surface signs of misunderstanding. Instead of assuming these misrepresent an ideal object, it takes them to be conscious acts of presencing, designed to keep the spatio-temporal envelope of dialogue open and tuned.
These are generalisations that fall out from the attempt to triangulate between three historically diverse communicational situations. Juxtaposing them in this way, each of them can be seen to possess features which are disregarded in their own field, but which, in one or other of the adjacent disciplines, forms a central topic. Obviously, it is impossible to demonstrate the disciplinary benefits of this triangulation in any great detail in the space available here, but some promising lines of enquiry can at least be indicated. The first involves revisiting that admittedly well-trodden terrain of "first contact," whether as a repeated episode in the history of European imperialism or as the semi-mystical foundation of the linguistic anthropologist's heterology. The second leads to a new historical phenomenology of the migrant condition. The third addresses the under-theorised relationship between the natural or environmental soundscape and its electroacoustic performance, a negotiation that seems to demand that an ethics of listening be developed, one with far-reaching political as well as poetic consequences.
The encounter between Christopher Columbus and the Taino people in 1492 provides perhaps the classic illustration of European imperialism as first and foremost a semiotic enclosure act. The significance Columbus ascribes to certain scars is deservedly well-known: it is this sign of a history that enables Columbus to fit their owners into his history. Less attention has been paid to the aspects of cross-cultural communication that defied semiotic reduction, which were instead symbolic in the sense given above. In particular, what is to be made of the number of homophones or near homophones clustering around the word sound ca: besides Guanahani, canibe, caribe and their variants, we find canoa, Canarias, canna, and many more. (Columbus, 419-421) These became words, naming islands, a people, a sea and a boat, but how did they arise and circulate? To speculate that canona, reported on 22 December, is "an error for canoa (canoe), probably resulting from confusion with canoa, Arawakan for "gold," is to discount entirely the auditory environment and the symbolic dialogue it may have fostered. (Columbus, 263, footnote 1) Maldonado de Guevara is closer to the mark when he speculates on the pathos which the name of the Spaniards' own country ("CAstiya") may have had to Indian ears. (Guevara, ) But that was later,when silence had set in, redoubled in the wake of the cannon's noisy tongue.
In all probability, this cluster of word sounds arose dialogically, mimetically, from Taino attempts to say back to Columbus the words most prominently on his lips: Can Grande or (pidginised) Cane Grane. In such a situation, where no writerly script existed to preempt listening, phonic variability was inevitable. If the proliferation of voices was an essential feature of symbolic exchanges, a conscious effort may have been made to return the sounds with interest, subtly modified, accented, intoned. Columbus himself recognises the ease with which n might be rendered as m, on 30 October 1492 remarking, "Can Grande whom the Indians call Cami ... " (Columbus, 125) Cami may have been the result of the Taino's a sampling Columbus' words, reducing it to its core proto-phonemic oppositions. On 1 November, the "same" word is rendered Cavila, a spelling again presumably bearing witness not simply to an idiolectal eccentricity but to the polyphonic fertility of a word sound as it circulated in the temporary opening created where two cultures converged. In dog-Latin, as it were, Can Grande was translated as "Great Dog," and it is not by seeking to reduce these puns to order, but by baroquely elaborating them, that Columbus proceeds in his echoic discussions with the Taino. The latter, Columbus notes, "have extreme fear of the men of Caniba or Canima," further observing, "they say that they have but one eye and the face of a dog." (Columbus,177) Far from finding this puzzling, the Journal remarks, "the Admiral thought they were lying and felt that those who captured them must have been under the rule of the Grand Khan." (Columbus, 177)
Instances of symbolic communication, and its misunderstanding, occurring along the littoral of European expansionism can no doubt be multiplied. Their counterpart in the disciplinary concomitant of imperialism, linguistic anthropology, is the phenomenon of discourses that appear to have as their central motivation the reproduction and maintenance of a stable dialogical space. Donald Levine cites many cultures that cultivate obscurity, polysemy and ambiguity. He suggests that our own Western culture has only recently (beginning in the 17th century's mathematicisation of language and philosophy) taken flight from this tradition. Ambiguity's tactical value of ambiguity is, he says, obvious: "Ambiguous expressions have the contrary property of enabling their users to conceal, more or less deeply, what is really on their minds. Such concealment may be in the passive vein of withholding information for the sake of privacy or secrecy, or in the more active mode of seeking to deceive others for the sake of tact or some defensive strategy." (Levine, 32-33) But this is to ignore the possibility that ambiguity represents a reluctance to submit to the Western concept of communication as a technique for accelerating endings (decisions) and moving on. The "winding words" of Malagasy discourse are not simply devious: they are footsteps in a situational choreography. (Dahl, 167) And, pace Harrison, the Saramaccan people of Surinam have, apparently, found a way to mark that situation, even where their voices are recorded. Noting that "All Saramaka speech is characterised by stylised contrapuntal patterns," Richard Price reports that, even when men living on the coast send tape-recorded messages back to their villages, "pauses are left after each phrase, and the 'conversation' assumes its proper two-party form once it is played." (Price, 30, note 29)
The ambiguity of the echolocative dialogue is not confined to the phenomenological scene of speaking and hearing. It may contribute to a sense of cultural identity. Current initiatives to revive the Kaurna language in Adelaide, South Australia, invoke Haugen's ecological model of language as " the study of interactions between any given language and its environment." (In Amery, 36-37) This action oriented view of language focuses attention on the individual speech act and its speaker. Coulmas notes that "every language is the result of human language-work ... every individual word in every language traces back to an individual act of coining." (In Amery, 40) How can this inventive propensity help when the sound of the language is gone? Anecdotal evidence indicates that Kaurna elders believe they can source a phonologically-grounded semantics in the natural environment. In this they would be inventing symbolic language in a way found among the Pitjantjatjara and Andagarinja people of northern South Australia, among whom there exists an "extensive vocabulary of onomatopoeic words which suggest that much of the classification of [the] surrounding environment is done on the basis of sounds produced by the thing named." (Ellis, 78) Possession of echoically-derived lexical items of this kind would communicate a sense of belonging, of locally attuned cultural identity, that resists translation. But, oddly, orienting themselves to the auditory environment in this way, they might also find common cause with the migrant: listening to the sub-vocal gestures of speakers of Australian English, Kefala's character, Alexia, "imagined that there must be a great and subtle complexity in these sounds and that her ear was not attuned to them, so she kept listening, listening, as one would to the cry of birds, hoping to discover the key to their language." (Kefala, unnumbered).
If migrant autobiographies share a theme, apart from the journey, its before and after, it is the experience of misunderstanding, arising from attempts to communicate across languages: " 'Australians so funny', she said. They say Yes deo this, no deo that. You know what deo is, yes? 'Yes. Dios.' [God] She made the sign of the cross on her shoulders. 'Australians do much this' ... she frowned. I knew what she meant." (Alma, 4) This little story might stand in for a thousand. When the illusion of a dialogue based on echoic mimicry fails, communication breaks down. Unambiguous signs (words) replace ambiguous symbols (word sounds). Henceforth, instead of listening to what is said, the disoriented migrant finds herself in the position of Beckett's reader, obliged to study what is left out, or exists in the silence between the lines. Orientation consists in giving those interrogative and imperative pauses the dignity of a meaningful interval. But the migrant's attempts to measure the interval, whether relying on physical gesture, Kefala's minimal sounds, or their combination, suppose a shared dialogical space. The interlocutor who refuses to hear the homophone formed when "do" is diphthongised in Australian English, represses that space. Its constitutional ambiguity and irony, the double of the dialogical imagination, threaten his authority. No-one jokes about God.
An auditory account of the scene of communication might find that experiences embedded in the oral and written history of contemporary migrant communities are existentially akin to those of the about-to-be colonised subject. It can deduce from the evidence of an attention to the sonority of utterance, found in the performative exploitation of ambiguity, the fundamentally ecological function of communication. From the perspective of acoustic ecology, there is, after all, no first contact, no breaking off, merely the greater or lesser attention of the hearer to his surroundings. In this regard most psychoacoustic studies of auditory cognition are flawed. Bracketing off the ambient sound environment and presenting isolated sounds to listeners, they prevent in advance what Bregman calls auditory grouping. A parallel methodological flaw characterises most studies of human speech. The auditory environment within speech is deleted, when "Verbal behaviour seems to be [ ... ] a process without any very abrupt stops or starts or holes in it ... a kind of stream of behaviour - part of the normal activity of the body." (Sarles, 221) This much can be said. The difficulty remains, though, to adduce empirical evidence for the participatory process I described earlier. As empirical data must consist of reproducible signs, and the activity of concurrent actual production of the auditory environment is not amenable to this kind of representation, how can it remain anything more than a hunch?
In another form, this is also the question that an acoustemology must address to electro-acoustic sound recordings of the environmental soundscape. Post-Schaferian soundscape studies solve the Husserlian dilemma by resort to a kind of acoustic Cartesianism. Environmental soundscapes are seen to be located out there. The investigator of their acoustic character is a passive auditor, a living microphone. Hence, the problematic interface between the soundscape and its electro-acoustic trace is rendered inaudible. Writing of Shafer's proposal to locate microphones in remote wilderness zones, and to transmit their sounds "without editing into the hearts of the cities," Virginia Madsen observes, "The paradox is [ ... ] that Schafer, through this 'radical radio' where no editing occurs (no cuts, no wounds), is present in nature as never before. The microphone does not open a window of transparency onto nature. Rather, the microphone and the whole machine attached to it, amplifies and heightens the sounds of nature (as well as those cultural intrusions), creating a hyperspace." (Madsen, 32) Tomas makes a related point about Steven Feld's CD, Voices of the Rainforest. Leaving aside, the exploitation of digital sound recording and mixing techniques to simulate the auditory world of the Kaluli, Tomas feels that the very presence of Feld's technology tends to make disappear what it would preserve. It semiotic inscription "is the product of the movement of Western technology through a foreign space." The Kaluli "can sing to us (to me) from track number 6 ... [but] I can never reply." (Tomas, 120) In the end, Tomas thinks, writing in his Montreal apartment, "the sounds of the Kaluli resurrect a history of colonial relations rooted in this as opposed to that space, because the compact disk has promoted a strange intermingling between a Kaluli world and a Canadian world in which the latter world serves as defining context for the former world." (Tomas, 121)
These criticisms do not negate acoustic ecology's political agenda. They underline, though, their under-theorised status. In particular, they point to the absence of an auditory poetics analogous to the distinctively echolocative attributes of the auditory environment. Such a poetics would clarify the relationship between that natural participation in the tuning of the environment inherent in the acts of speaking and listening and the performative repetition of it, whereby "there arises [ ... ] in original 'coincidence', the self-evidence of identity." The practicability of this project is rooted in the fact that, from the beginning, an acoustic mode of knowing involves an orientation, a self-conscious attitude or hearkening. Characteristic of this inclination (a listing in a double sense) is a double attention to the echoic location of the subject and the sonorousness of the sound world. With reference to the Kaluli's hearing the departed in what Feld explains as the "inside reflection" of "turned over words," Wagner reflects, "We die, literally, out of our moments and experiences and into a resonance that makes sense of them, a sense that joins itself not to the reality that made it happen but to another, like vibrato still continuing from beforehand." Taking "the social (conversational, dialogic) implication of this over the individual and psychological, one joins to an infractional column of air that is well-nigh immortal, that has been moving with the sense of things since well before 'sentience' happened to the race." (Wagner, 168)
Wagner recommends the cultivation of a listening practice, but this begs the question of the survival of sounding spaces in which this "relatively ageless toning of human sense and emotion" can continue to produce "sound thinking." (Wagner, 155) Here artists and anthropologists will need to embark on a new and urgent dialogue. They will need to confront the destructiveness of our immortalising sound technologies, when they substituted displaced hearing for echolocation. The politics of the passive listener have to be exposed. His connivance in the ever-louder production of silence needs to be discussed. An ethics of listening means participating in the production of the auditory environment, it requires the orientation of the actor. As for the actor, "One says, 'To play a part.' 'Playing," however, means neither reproduction nor reality itself. It means something 'inbetween' illusion and reality." Kantor continues, "It suggests commitment, coincidence, and the 'unknown'." It is true that "the notion of a 'spectator' keeps emerging." However, "A spectator is not an audience member but a potential player. Why then an actor and not a 'player'?" Kantor, 100-101) In anticipation of the opportunity for dialogue presented by the symposium 'Hearing Culture, these remarks are similarly addressed to "potential players."
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