‘Intimate Listening’: paper for Emotional Geographies conference 2015

Katy Bennet from the University of Leicester approached me months ago to speak at the ‘Emotional Geographies’ conference in Edinburgh in June. I went to the first ever Emotional Geographies conference in Lancaster back in 2003, and Katy’s session is about Listening, so I said yes. It was an opportunity to work on some of the material that I’d been thinking about in terms of the body as an instrument, from Serres and Derrida’s idea of the tympan.

Much as I wanted to be there in person, and plenty of my old Geography friends were going, I had no travel budget and therefore had to skype the paper. Here is an extract which also works as an abstract:

The mainstay of recent research on listening has retained a focus on listening outside its more intimate settings (see, for example, Augoyard & Torgue 2005; Blesser & Salter 2007; Clarke 2005; Sacks 2007). Within musicology at least, with its often-troubled relationship with the visual, the interest in listening is directed towards topics such as ‘ubiquitous music’ in the social milieux of the quotidian. In cultural studies for example, writing on the role of sound-communication technologies in everyday states of aural proximity and distance for the listener, Michael Bull describes Sony Walkman listeners’ ubiquitous “accompanied solitude” (2004). Elsewhere Bull (2003) analyses how playing music in cars often serves to sever drivers from the outside world, fostering a private, interior space. While recent work in human geography has attended to sound, this is achieved predominantly through spaces of music and performance and, with the notable exceptions of Anderson (2004) on affects and recorded music, and Simpson (2009) on Jean-Luc Nancy’s listening as ‘being-with’, concentrates on the embodied consumption of sound or the performance of identity within particular spatial contexts rather than practices of listening per se (e.g. Smith 2000, Duffy 2007). So rather than pursue acts of sonic consumption as acts of identity, as fostering semi-private cocooned spaces like Bull, or Didier Anzieu’s psychoanalytic reading of the voice of the mother as a “sonorous envelope” in his Skin Ego (1989), here I consider forms of listening that are ineluctably intimate yet public; private but often shared. Before music and even rhythm are these mixed interiorities and exteriorities of the body, anatomically demarcated and labelled spaces such as ‘chambers’, ‘vestibules’, ‘boxes’, or the snail-form shell of the cochlear. For everyday language, at least in English-speaking regions, suggests that listening, unlike music or rhythmicality, is a sensory event of intimacy rather than ubiquity.

The full paper will be available on academia.edu in due course.


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