Confessions of Self Discovery
For me, another important aspect of a slightly more formal listening project like this is the chance to achieve a degree of articulation over a process that usually benefits greatly from exactly the opposite of that.
When we listen, the fact that sound can communicate unspoken truths; things that are known deeply and instantly without the problem of rendering them into language first, is a distinct advantage of the sensuous process. Sitting down and bothering to figure out “what you heard” is less visceral and immediate, and is the province of those people skilled and trained in both listening and articulating (whereas, the listening process usually delivers us truths and knowledge without the express need for both).
I feel like while self discovery is important, self articulation might be less so. When sound hits you, you know things; without having to know why, without having to tell anyone what.
BUT if you would like to venture into articulated listening, this project’s process is one of the ways that I have found works for me. Since sound is immediately experienced only in the present, sometimes I personally have a hard time figuring out whether I am experiencing stimulation from my senses OR stimulation from my memory of a sound that isn’t here OR prefiguring a sound (or a change in sound) that I am expecting to come. An unending sound loop allows me to split the difference – rationally, I know that this is the same group of organized sounds reoccurring in a predictable cycle, so it becomes easier for me to separate the experience and group it into multiple types, without having to choose in the moment whether I’m going to focus on frequency analysis, reproduction quality, diagnosis, technique, intent, origin, metaphor, timing, etc. In the act of looping, I have ensured that the sounds are guaranteed to reoccur, so I can be free to explore the act of listening, to mix irrationality in freely.
This process leads inevitably to the discovery of internal boundaries and personal definitions of listening.
When my wife and I lived with a other sonic extremophile friends in a big open space, we would play a little game if there was a record on and that record began to skip. Instead of fixing the record skip, a great game of ‘loop chicken’ would proceed, everyone competing to see how long they could live with the loop repeating endlessly. The looser was the one who walked across the room to undo the skip. This looser was also, of course, the winner, in that they were released from the stagnating inevitability of the loop, but they also won something more subtile – they figured out exactly how long they could stand that particular loop. Since if you leave a skipping record to keep looping, it inevitably wears down that grove in the record, making that skip more and more likely in that particular record, it was possible after a while to discern particular thresholds in the roommates for being able to stand certain loops over others. This is precious and special information, and not easy to articulate. Of course, there are a lot of other factors at play, you might usually love a sound but be having the wrong day to listen to it, but this process is uncommon enough that I always tried to pay very close attention during a game of record loop chicken, and patterns did emerge. It was a rare moment of something usually unarticulated finding the words to describe itself through action; in this case, the moment of desperation shutting a loop off that must happen or else.
And so I myself submitted to listening to loops for extended periods of time and recording my experiences in writing, and through this process I discovered something odd that I thought I did not know, but must have – that of the qualitative aspect of how I tend to listen. If I am articulating hearing into a process of listening (a difference usually associated with focus, attention, and analytical or ecstatic rigor) and then trying to render that into language in a trained process that is as somewhat automatic as listening, then to return and read that language is to discover something akin to the experiences of another person, things that I’m not sure I can experience in the moment it is occurring.
So I have done what I’m now asking friends and colleagues to do, and what I have discovered is this: for some reason, I experience sound as a series of images and small stories. I am now caught in the very real ambiguous place of having somehow always known this, yet it is a massive surprise. I feel a deep lack of control and autonomy when I look back at the poetic extractions from these listening sessions. At times, I do not feel as if I have written them, yet of course I remember sitting there, listening and writing. How could I not have known how I always tend to listen? Looking back at the output of this process is always a bit shocking; tell me, my brain, where in the sound, exactly, are all these images coming from? So here in the Endless Loops project, I will look upon these words and try to zero in on which words and images could be from which sounds, and the ‘unfleeting’ nature of a persistent continuous loop will help to rein in at least a few of the million variables.
This discovery, and process of sitting with the inarticulate ambiguity-truths of the output of my own senses (to know something and simultaneously not know it also and to reconcile these truths) creates an almost feral need to look outside of the self. It is a powerful motivator to ask others how they listen. And so I will do that here.