Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener
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Sinister Resonance begins with the premise that sound is a haunting, a ghost, a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is transitory. The intangibility of sound is uncanny a phenomenal presence both in the head, at its point of source and all around, and never entirely distinct from auditory hallucinations. The close listener is like a medium who draws out substance from that which is not entirely there.
The history of listening must be constructed from narratives of myth and fiction, silent arts such as painting, the resonance of architecture, auditory artefacts and nature. In such contexts, sound often functions as a metaphor for mystical revelation, instability, forbidden desires, disorder, formlessness, the unknown, unconscious and extra-human, a representation of immaterial worlds. As if reading a map of hitherto unexplored territory, Sinister Resonance deciphers sounds and silences buried within the ghostly horrors of Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, Charles Dickens, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James and Edgar Allen Poe, seventeenth century Dutch genre painting from Rembrandt to Vermeer, artists as diverse as Francis Bacon and Juan Munoz, Ad Reinhardt and Piero Della Francesca, and the writing of many modernist authors, including Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and William Faulkner. Threaded through the book is Marcel Duchamp's curious observation "One can look at seeing but one can't hear hearing" and his concept of the infra-thin, those human experiences so fugitive that they exist only in the imaginative absences of perception.
new flourishing of sound studies, but with certain reservations. He argues that the term ‘soundscape’, coined by R. Murray Schafer for educational purposes in the 1960s and now in common usage, is flawed, because it places the listener at an objectified distance from what is in fact immersive and so reinforces the artificial divide commonly erected between mind and matter. Ingold also questions the tendency to compare sound with vision or sight, rather than light. Studies of visual culture have
an imbalance in the socially constructed hierarchy of the senses. In certain circumstances it can heighten feelings of interpersonal distance. Over time, I believe this has sharpened my sonic focus. As James Joyce wrote in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible
details of the children’s voices and their feet on the cobbles, Billy Swansea with the dog’s voice, Jackie with the sniff, and the hitting of Maggie Richards by a boy he guesses to be Billy Swansea because you should never trust a boy who barks, and then the postman knocking at Bay View, identified by the soft sound of the knocker that Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard has muted with a kid glove, and then by counting the postman’s feet heavy on the distant cobbles his ears follow him to Mrs Rose-Cottage, due
ocean. The relationship of person to place is more straightforward, perhaps, in the reading of such material signs: evidence of their history is easier to track through written records, oral history, photographs, film, a shock of sudden disappearance or the lingering sight of decay. Then how can we listen to sounds never before noticed, sounds long vanished, or sounds that are not sounds, exactly, but more like the fluctuations of light, weather and the peculiar feeling that can arise when there
of patience with cards we cannot hear, so much so that we imagine we have not shuffled them, that they are moving of their own accord and, anticipating our desire to play with them, have begun to play with us.’ For Proust, sound is necessary for a full understanding of reality. From the intimate connection of hearing with seeing, we interpret the meaning of events. Sound is a source of regret, and of beauty, and yet the elimination of that beauty reveals another beautiful world hidden behind its