strange strangers

commissioned for R{A}DIO{CUSTICA}, Czech Radio
30.10.2019, 22:00 (premiere), PremEdition Radioateliér
Czech Radio Vltava – CRo 3 (Český rozhlas)
curated by Ladislav Zelený

37 min 28 sec, for headphone listening
available on streaming

STRANGE STRANGERS is a composition based on environmental sound recordings created over several weeks of fieldwork across different locations within Amanã and Mamirauá, two large territories in the central Amazon region, during the dry season of 2015. The original recordings highlight unusual listening perspectives and encounters during “canoe-walks” along river tributaries, canals, lakes, riverbanks, and flooded forests. The sound materials feature the entangled manifestations of a myriad of species (birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, fishes, plants), abiotic matter, water, and geophysical processes and formations, sensed through specialised and unconventional devices. The listening strategies explored in the field include open-air recordings with a parabolic microphone, underwater listening, and the investigation of the ultrasonic range beyond human hearing.

“The ecological thought imagines interconnectedness, which I call the mesh. Who or what is interconnected with what or with whom? The mesh of interconnected things is vast, perhaps immeasurably so. Each entity in the mesh looks strange. Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully “itself.” […] Our encounter with other beings becomes profound. They are strange, even intrinsically strange. Getting to know them makes them stranger. When we talk about life forms, we’re talking about strange strangers. The ecological thought imagines a multitude of entangled strange strangers. […] Our encounter with other beings – and with our being as other – is strange strangeness.” [1] [2]

“Strange strangers” is a notion by Timothy Morton for speaking about non-human creatures, conceived as ambiguous entities, as beings unable to be completely comprehended and labelled. This idea prompts us to examine the paradoxes and fissures of identity within “human” and “non-human”, and within “self” and “other”. Furthermore, recognising agencies and vitality beyond the human makes it also possible to think sounds and works of art as phenomenological beings that in some powerful sense display “something like agency and something like affect.” [3]

STRANGE STRANGERS invites us to listen to (within) a singular world of vitality and non-human otherness which incites (un)familiar feelings and curiosity. Clear borders between life, non-life, things, and perceptions are confused. This work cultivates sensorial, ambiguous, and intimate modes of listening and durational attention. These forms of eco-aesthetic listening challenge us to consider sounds as entities (“creatures of time” [4]) holding the same ontological status as the beings, materials, and processes which originate them. The experience encourages us also to acknowledge the creative nature of perception, expanding the role of the listener.

Ecological thinking beyond the conventional understanding of so-called “nature” and “the environment” as detached and “exterior” to the human, asks us to move away from a purely anthropocentric understanding of the world. Likewise, this refreshed thinking suggests alternatives to canonical assumptions and representations of creative practice engaged with environmental sound and forms of so-called “environmentally-concerned” and “ecological” art. The kind of listening practice put forward questions representational, narrative, utilitarian, and visual-centric paradigms, moving beyond dominant tendencies in contemporary societies.

Acknowledgements:

– Instituto Mamirauá, Tefé, Amazonas, Brazil
– Laboratorio de Acústica e Artes Sonoras (LASom), UNICAMP, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
– Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), QUB, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
– Visby International Centre for Composers (VICC), Gotland, Sweden
– Elektronmusikstudion EMS, Stockholm, Sweden
– Santander UK Foundation
– Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) and the Spanish Embassy in Sweden
– T37 Studios, Madrid, Spain

Special thanks to Maria Cecília Gomes, Silvia Jánošková, and the field specialists, researchers, staff, and inhabitants who helped in Tefé and the riverine communities of Baré, Boa Esperança, Jarauá, and Horizonte within Amanã and Mamirauá, and to Timothy Morton, Eduardo N’gongo, and Ladislav Zelený.

References:

[1] Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought. 2010
[2] Timothy Morton. Thinking Ecology: The Mesh, the Strange Stranger, and the Beautiful Soul. 2010
[3] Timothy Morton. Earworms. 2017
[4] Casey O’Callaghan. Sounds: A Philosophical Theory. 2007