A collective interview hosted by Martine Huvenne and EPAS alumni.
Featuring Angus CARLYLE, Kate CARR, Holger SCHULZE and Nicolas BECKER as guests
on ‘Listening as an Art’
Professor Angus Carlyle is a researcher and practitioner in the extended field of sound. As the former co-director of CRiSAP (-2017) and the professor of Sound and Landscape at The University of Arts in London, he has contributed a great variety of ideas to contemporary discourse in sound-art. His rich and multifaceted body of work synthesizes methodologies of artwork and traditional research. It draws on sound in its entire complexity and across a wide range of disciplines, where it reveals listening as a meaningful way of amplifying the dialogue with our surroundings beyond the sole sense of hearing. Observation and immersion are at the heart of many of his projects and inform a poetic approach to new conceptions of landscape, sound and environment in the artistic practice.
Angus Carlyle’s practice-based research articulates through numerous cross-disciplinary collaborations and materializes in experimental writing and research publications, through curatorial and educational interventions, performance, field recording and soundscape- composition. In 2015 he published ‘On Listening’ with Cathy Lane. It is a unique collection of forty multi-disciplinary perspectives on listening drawn from anthropology, bioacoustics, geography, literature, community activism, sociology, religion, philosophy, art history, conflict mediation and the sonic arts including music, ethnomusicology and field recording.
In nowadays the subject of Listening increasingly becomes part of institutional discourse. Angus Carlyle reminds us to stay aware in a state of critical openness : “There are lots of different kinds of listening. I think that the field work practice and experimentation demonstrates that there are multiple listening positions who are negotiable, they are contradictory, they are difficult and include multiple agencies. So for me, thinking about listening in my work must always be kind of bracketed by that listening being multiple, contradictory, difficult and by the documentary kind of work, what I’m interested in is other people’s listening more than mine.”
KATE CARR – On listening
“For me I really think about listening as akin to care, if you care about someone you will give them that time to really listen to them, and for me there is something very beautiful and profound about the sharing of sound, whether it be words or music or sound art, and I think it is the unexpected and unreproducible nature of those unique moments of listening and sharing an intimate space shaped by sound which keeps me interested in making work.”
Kate Carr 2014
“I think about listening as an action, attentiveness, gesture or mode of receptiveness which opens up possibilities. I interviewed George Revill for The Field Recording Show and I liked his idea that listening is a stance which could extend beyond the aural and stand in for a sort of attentiveness to the world. I think it is also important to appreciate that listening itself does not guarantee any particular thing. There might be failures of communication, connection, transmission even with a focus on listening, but this is to be expected in this diverse, multifaceted world we live in. I think a focus on listening as this sort of stance of receptiveness or attentiveness gives us the best chance to connect with or perhaps respectfully disagree, or even appreciate our difference from others, be that people with different priorities, experiences, identities, politics etc, other species or locations.”
Kate Carr 2021
Kate Carr is an artist, curator, academic, musician, teacher, researcher, sound artist, performer and record label producer. To say the least, she has a dynamic and multifaceted art practice centred on sound that branches out into different domains. Kate’s sound practice originates in DJing and a Masters of Arts in Cultural Studies which introduced her to sound artists and labels. Now a current PhD candidate at CRiSAP, a research centre at the University of the Arts London, Kate runs the record label Flaming Pines and has been working on The Field Recording Show, a podcast series that gathers artists and researchers from all over the globe to talk about how they use field recordings in their practice.
Working actively in the arts since 2010, Kate’s sound work includes melodic textures from field recordings and instruments that often explore perception, relationships to place and space, and are mixed into sensitive tracks that condense emotion into listening.
“I am interested in conveying, or using sound to consider the subjective experience of locations. What understandings we bring with us, what sounds we might misconstrue, what sounds are new to us, what are familiar etc. I think at the broadest level I was interested in using sound to think about how we move through the world, and the connections or disconnections we make along the way, including those with locations. So in this sense I was interested in the emotionally evocative aspects of sound, as well as its restlessness and layers.”
Kate Carr 2021
Resonating with Hildegard Westerkamp’s description of listening as ‘being in the moment’, Kate is interested in the different emphasis that is placed in both of their formulations. Where Kate thinks about listening as a way of caring, connecting, disconnecting, of translating and finding meaning, Hildegard focuses on “listenings relationship to the capacity to slow down, to focus, to be considered, to be present with the world as it is and as you unfold” (Kate Carr 2021).
For a sound anthropologist, the art of listening is just as much a part of daily life as stimulating conversation and a healthy curiosity about the world around him.
This is the title of a fascinating interview with Holger Schulze, full professor in musicology at the University of Copenhagen and principal investigator at the Sound Studies Lab, co-founder of the sound studies in UDK and vice chair for the European Sound Studies Association.
He is founding editor of the book series Sound Studies, produced radio features for Deutschlandfunk Kultur and was curator in Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin. His publications include The Bloomsbury Handbook of the Anthropology of Sound (2021), Sonic Fiction (2020), The Sonic Persona (2018), Sound as Popular Culture (2016, co-ed.).
Concentrated listening is something immersive, it helps us to shut down. It is also like meditation in everyday life,” explains Schulze. “Part of my job has to do with recreation and enjoyment and that’s great.” The private listener Schulze can hardly be separated from the academic who researches sounds. He is a Sonic Persona.
As a student in comparative literature studies, he came in contact with the Interdisciplinary Center for Historical Anthropology at Freie Universität, Berlin. This brought him into the field of sound that he expanded to sound anthropology.
For Schulze, listening is an all-encompassing kinesthetic and multi-modal process: “We’ll remember the sounds in this place, the taste of the coffee, the pictures on the wall, the mood,” he says, wandering through the restaurant, looking for further sound traces.
So rather than being a sound artist, who produces sound works or installations, Schulze concentrates on the listening itself, on sound walks, on describing his listening and putting in words what is sounding in his environment.
Listening, as Holger Schulze knows, is a holistic experience. Anyone who gets involved in it, enters into intense sensory contact with their environment and always discovers something new.
The body of the listener is not only in space, but also creates space, the body of the listener moves and is. Or in Schulze’s words: Dancing is a way of hearing; singing is a way of dancing: Singing is a way of hearing.”
(Holger Schulze, The Sonic Persona: An Anthropology of Sound, 2018, p. 231)
Sound designer Nicolas Becker gets inside experience of deaf drummer on ‘Sound Of Metal’
The brief, from the director, was to craft a soundtrack that would be felt on a physical level, tapping into the “body sound” that is experienced more acutely as one’s hearing of the outside world recedes. Engaging in an experimental foley process, Becker rigged incredibly sensitive microphones to Ahmed, to collaborator Heikki Kossi, and to himself, to achieve this goal, thereby placing viewers directly inside Ruben’s head.
With this quote we introduce Nicolas Becker, who was a guestprof in EPAS in 2016. Although Becker works in the film industry under the labels of foley artist and (supervising) sound designer he is at the first place a sound artist and a composer. He designed also the sound of several exhibitions of Philippe Pareno.
For Becker the creation of sound starts with bodily engagement: the body in action, the situatedness of the body in space, the bodily experience of sounds. In his sound work he creates imagined but credible worlds, built up through a lived experience.
He is aware of the fact that we are always making choices while listening, and constitutes auditory spaces that enables us, as audience, to enter into the imagined world of the characters in a film
Unconsciously, we filter sounds with relevant information. In this way the auditory perspective is subjective. It is possible that at a certain moment we’re not a spectator listening to a film anymore, but that we become one of the characters in the film. We enter the filmic space rather by feeling the situation than by understanding what is happening.
He focuses on the experiences and sensations of sound, aiming at recreating a kind of subjectivity on the sensory level. According to him, it is possible to convey feelings of joy, anxiety, and so forth through the choices of sounds and the way they are distributed in space. He loves to experiment in order to create new, unknown worlds.
Is listening an act of creation?
February 2021, Martine Huvenne
In listening we don’t hear every sound in our environment, we make choices and direct our attention. Some sounds even catch our attention immediately, for example the voice of a loved person.
But what with the sounds surrounding us, not catching our attention? Do we just ignore them in the same way we skip the territory of the maintenance products in the supermarket because we don’t need them?
In most theories about sound and listening, three listening modes are mentioned: an alert listening or a listening to the source, a listening in search of a meaning or a listening to the meaning of the sound and a third listening mode in which we do not direct our attention to something behind the sound. In this mode we are listening to the sound itself.
Is this kind of listening, different from a listening to discover a meaning or a source, just an aesthetic attitude? An enjoying of the sound for the sound’s sake? Can we compare this listening with the listening of a musician who discovers a daily sound as a musical sound?
Is this what sound art is about?
What is happening in the act of listening when we are not directing our attention to a meaning or a source? Do we need to define the sounds in this listening mode in words? Or can we introduce a listening mode that in analogy with a choreography, transports us ‘bodily’, resonating with the sounds as dynamic movements?
Can we state that all listening starts with a bodily resonance with the sound?
Sometimes this resonance invites us to direct our attention to something, but sometimes this resonance stays a bodily resonance that changes our being and our relation with the environment.
Listening then starts in the bodily experience of a sound. It is an attitude asking for an open listening.
Creating a composition of sonorous spaces in listening.
In the introduction of “The Routledge Companion to Sound Studies” (2019), editor Michael Bull quotes Carlo Levi with a description of the Feast of St Johns in the Piazza Navona in Rome in 1950 as an example of the description of the listening to the city.
What strikes me in this description of Rome is its perspective: the perception is written from the perspective of a first person instead of a general description of sound. This first-person perspective situates us in the experience of the auditory spaces involved in the situation:
“From afar, you can sense a sort of throbbing and shrilling in the air, and that alone begins to tug you in a different world. The closer you come to the Piazza Navona, the greater the throbbing becomes… Everyone has their own whistle and everyone is blowing their own, trying to drown out the others… And as my whistle grew louder, stronger and more determined, I realized that the sound issuing from my little instrument was enveloping me like a compact atmosphere and that in this sonorous atmosphere, as if within an invisible suit of armour, I grew more and more to be part of the crowd surrounding me; and yet at the same time, I was increasingly isolated from it…
Perhaps this explains the great popularity of the deafening little engines of the Vespa and the Lambretta that create a transparent but impenetrable wall of sound, transporting us out into the world while isolating us from it. “ (Levi 2004: 29-30)
Levi begins with the resonance in the body of what is in the air. The throbbing and shrilling in the air is the description of the quality of the sensation of the environment, the lived space.
He describes a movement in space, which changes the quality of the sound: the closer, the greater the throbbing becomes. And then he begins to describe particular auditory spaces, combined with each other: the sonorous atmosphere enveloping and isolating me. We could call this a through proper sound shielded sonorous personal space, which he links later with the sound of the deafening sounds of the Vespa and Lambretta. But there are also the sounds of the surrounding crowd: so even if the ‘I’ is in a sonorous bubble of his own whistling, he is surrounded and positioned in a sonorous environment, in which he is not really situated.
The listener is always at the centre of his/her listening, Don Ihde states in his book Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound (2007, 75-77).
This is different from sight. The resonance of the vibrating sounds invites our body as a sense. listening is more than just hearing sounds. Our body is involved. In listening we cannot take a distance. Listening puts us in-the-world and towards-the-world, being a part of this world. The sounds surrounding us influence our being-in and being-towards-the-world.
It is a fact that in listening the experience of a space can change. I remember a moment in spring 2019. I’m sitting on my terrace, babbling with friends. It is one of these unforgettable warm evenings in springtime. A small led-light is enough to break the nightfall. We are talking with each other and listening to the stories in an intimate sphere. Without really attracting our attention, sweet musical sounds fill the darkness, far away enough not to disturb our talks. At a distance women are singing, sculpting long tones intertwined with improvised second and third voices. The voices modulate the space. While we are not really listening to them, they intensify our awareness and experience of our being-together-in-this-space, our ‘co-hearing’. In a silent moment, a pause in our speaking, they attract and direct our attention. But very quickly the atmosphere of the nightfall takes over: we are listening to a night soundscape. Listening to each other within the intimate interpersonal sphere, shifts into an immersed embodied listening. Sitting still, not moving and not speaking, the sound of the female voices become part of the night. Listening becomes a modality of being together in the night, a being in the darkness without need for references in space or meaning. This embodied, resonating listening, creates a broader undefined environment in which our bodies are situated.
Silence here is the beginning of an embodied resonant listening, a state of being in relation to the dark space. Space is no longer described and defined from an external standpoint, an overview, but as something that is constituted through the experience of a person.
Auditory spaces can emerge as a sphere constituted in an embodied resonating and immersed listening, or the sounds can transport the listener into space.
“Our living body is more than a thing extended in visual space.”, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone writes in The Roots of Thinking. She proposes to speak about a tactile-kinesthetic body as a body that is always in touch, always resounding with an intimate and immediate knowledge of the world about it. (Sheets-Johnstone 1990, 16). This brings us to the sound and foley artist, Nicolas Becker, who starts from the lived body to produce sounds. In his work he invites the audience to experience intuitively what is happening rather than playing with sound effects or adding ‘meaningful’ sounds.
The tactile-kinesthetic body has a kinesthetic memory based on kinesthetic experience, hence on the bodily felt dynamics of movement, and on the particular fact any movement creates a distinctive kinetic dynamics in virtue of its spatio-temporal-energic qualities (Sheets-Johnstone 2009, 253).
Is listening an act of creation? A choreography? A composition of dynamic movements with our body at the centre of its listening?
Barthes, Roland. “L’écoute.” L’obvie et L’obtus. Roland Barthes. Paris: Les éditions Seuil, 1976. 217-230.
Bull, Michael. “Introduction.” The Routledge Companion to Sound Studies. Ed. Michael Bull. London/New York: Routledge, 2019.
Ihde, Don. Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany, 2007.
Huvenne, Martine. “Embodied Listening: A Moving Dimension of Imagination”. The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Imagination.Volume 1. Eds. Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard, Mads Walther-Hansen, andMartin Knakkergaard. Oxford: Oxford university Press, 2019. 609-628.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. London/New York: Routledge, 2012.
Schaeffer, Pierre. Traité des objets musicaux: essai interdisciplinaire. Paris: Seuil, 1966.
Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. The Roots of Thinking. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. The corporeal turn: an interdisciplinary reader. Exeter, Charlottesville: Imprint Academic, 2009
Encounter in resonance: about the becoming with sonic relations.
February 2021, Nina M.W. Queissner
No doubt that listening can be very powerful. Is this due to the multifaceted character of sound or perhaps most of all, its relational contingency? The geographer John Revill puts it as follows : ”Sound is at once medium – the sensuous stuff through which the world is experienced; method – processes of resonance and the practices of embodied and reflexive engagement, hearing and listening which engage the world; and modality – the structure or sensory registers through which the world is engaged connecting entities and animating experience in its meaningfulness.” With my own words I would put this as follows : through listening we become part of the sonic spaces we experience and evolve with the vibratory landscapes of multi-species interactions. In listening the body is at stake in its porosity. The energy entailing the sonic movement articulates through infra-sonic vibrations which function as a vector for the intimacy that characterizes the relationships forming along the process. As sounds appear and disappear they draw myriad patterns of activity across the auditory space and link them together. Their polyphony produces a composition that is constantly shifting according to the dialectical tensions that appear in the back and forth of expression and impression. The listener is offered the possibility to move in an endless variety of modalities without auto-defined spatial and temporal boundaries.
Across this connected-ness that listening can provide emerge new relationships. They can give birth to this particular condition in which individuality can be impermeated by what is other, invisible, ignored or yet unheard. Listening creates a space which forms on the grounds of openness, provided by the listener. Instead of existing independently from the surrounding entities and events, the listener engages in a processual becoming ‘with’ his environment towards a collectively producing system that Donna Haraway would perhaps agree to describe as deeply sympoietic. In listening to our sonic environment we sway with movements that abolish the dualism between the mind and the body and agree to synchronicity with that which we do not control. This providing of an internal space for what is other than ourselves, precisely the willful becoming of a resonant subject, seems to me like one important criteria for poiesis (poetry, art) to occur. Brandon Labelle says in his Book Sonic Agency : “I focus on sound then less as a question of specific objects or case studies, and more as a set of support structures by which one garners capacities for acting in and amongst the world.” Given the fact that we agree on the plasticity and the materiality of experience we can from here proceed further to inquire for the artistry in listening itself.
What is embodied listening? How is embodied listening situated in the everyday experience? How can it brought into creative practices?
March 2021, Melissa Ryke
For me, embodied listening is listening and recording as a sensorial experience; using all the senses. As a methodology it places my own body as the first testing ground in my practice. Embodied listening is already to start making something. It is an act in which I actively observe and feel out the world around me. As the project opens up, the work is shared with other sensing bodies, and the final installations are intended to engage with the body of the audience.
Embodied listening is a type of listening that opens a way for being in the world. It is similar to Pauline Oliveros’ deep listening practice, which she describes as “exploring the relationships among any and all sounds whether natural or technological, intended or unintended, real, remembered or imaginary … expanding the boundaries of perception.” The expansion of perception to explore the relationships between different sounds is what I consider a non-hierarchical listening strategy; where there is no emphasis of meaning placed on sound from different sources. For me, embodied listening builds on Oliveros’ definition of deep listening but places more importance on the tangible feeling of sound – the experience of the listening, one’s relationship to the environment, and how that can awaken the senses to create a corporeal sensorial haptic experience.
Embodied listening is a way of framing the creative process. As a practice it is an empathetic dialogue with the world around me and so always lends itself in relation to the world around oneself. In particular, it is active listening and implies a series of translations and to have awareness of one another. When practiced, this listening requires openness and engagement, tolerance and equality.
A listening experience
In 2018 I had a most overwhelming aural experience at a MotoGP race in Mugello Italy. I was sitting in a large crowd on a grassy hill facing the speedway. It was very crowded, we were sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers. There were a few people about 10 metres behind me who had made these kinds of contraptions from lawn mower engines and exhaust pipes that would amplify the sound of the motor. They would start their contraptions up in a big wave as their favourite rider went past. This was coupled with the already loud motors on the track – bouncing around in the concave stadium, a helicopter filming the race circling the track and frequent smokey yellow coloured flares being set off.
The sound was so loud, abrasive and deafening. But there was so much excitement in how their self-made sound connected them to the machines flying past. And a total pride in their capacity to participate in the race actively through sound. However, I found this experience overwhelming because I couldn’t find a moment where I existed between the noise of others. My aural making and listening autonomies were swept up in the sound making of others.
Friday 9th of April from 6 to 8 p.m. Brussels time.
This ‘interview’ will take place on zoom. If you would like to be with us to be able to put a question during the open Q&A at the end of the event, you can inscribe via eventbrite
If you just want to listen, this event will be streamed: https://www.facebook.com/epasound.org
Kindly supported by KIOSK
 Nicolas Becker in conversation with Martine Huvenne: The Engagement of the Body in the Creation and Perception of Sound, December 10, 2015.
 Bull Michael 2019, XXV.
 Revill, George (2016): How is space made in sound? Spatial mediation, critical phenomenology and the political agency of sound. Progress in Human Geography, 40(2) pp. 240–256.
 Haraway, Donna J.: Staying with the trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene, London 2016
 LaBelle, Brandon: Sonic Agency. Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance, London 2018