Tag Archives: silence

Why Listen to Museums?

This is the text of a talk I gave during the Soundscapes Late event at the National Gallery in London on 4 September, 2015. You can also download and listen to a recording of the talk on my SoundCloud page. Continue reading

Silence in the Conservatory

This week I participated in the Music & Silence workshop convened by the Science Museum and Nottingham University at the Royal College of Music. As part of the workshop, I was asked to respond to the previous events of the day. During my response, I played a recording I had made that morning of 4’33” of the sound inside the anechoic chamber that we visited at London South Bank University; I also composed the following poem in response to a live reading performance by Salomé Voegelin and Daniela Cascella. They read a series of text fragments from various sources they had strewn on the ground before them. My poem is made up of quotations of their improvised reading selections, in the reverse order of which they were heard during the reading. Fragments of fragments – an echoing. Continue reading

Towards a Poetics of Museum Sound

i. Collections

An urge,
an unheard whisper in the ear,
a yearning for that
complete set,
that rarity that only we –
the privileged, the possessors –
can call our own
and control who sees it or hears it.

ii. Objects

This multitude of things
material or intangible
mute or loquacious
produced by culture
assumed authentic
obtained through
– excavation
– plunder
– exchange
selected by a few
desired by many
seen or unseen
with aural auras
untouchable
yet somehow accessible
if deemed worthy.


iii. Galleries

The display of our wares
our triumphs
our tragedies
icons of history
or forgotten pasts
within discursive configurations
spaces resonating with
meaning
history
passion
mortality
time –
the nexus of echoes
past and present:
the active sounds of history.

iv. Memory

What is it about that
sound
that makes me think of childhood?
Why does this image
transport me back to that thing I read
back when I was a student?
Which story about
my family
deserves to be recorded?
When did they decide
these are the things
that we should remember?

v. Contemplation

This silence
that is not silent
these echoes
these objects
installed and instilled with
their own preciousness
encourage one’s mind to ponder
and wander
across time: backwards and forwards
waves of sound, waves of history
upon which our thoughts might float.

vi. Engagement

We visit these places
not just to learn,
but to teach
not just to see,
but to be seen
not just to listen,
but to be heard.


Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

loose connections

“[In 16th century Europe, the time of the first curiosity cabinets,] . . . alchemy and magic were seen to be right at the cutting edge of a scientific method . . . Natural magic, the pursuit of the prisca theologica, the first knowledge revealed to Adam and handed down in a hermetic tradition to Moses, Orpheus, Pythagoras and later magi, assumed that the key to the understanding of the world lay in deciphering the alphabet in which the universe was written at its creation.” 

– Philipp Blom, To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting, p. 44 (2002)

* * *

“Ptah: The local god of Memphis [in ancient Egypt] . . . created by means of his heart and tongue, thus fashioning the world by the power of his word. The god’s creative power was then manifest in every heart-beat and in every sound.”

– Manfred Lurker, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt, p. 96-97 (1991)

* * *

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, p. 89 (Routledge 2001)

Untitled 6

How many events took place
in order
to bring us to this collision, this
overlap
this shared silence
this moment, frozen

How many other possibilities
beyond this one
like guests in Hilbert’s hotel
oblivious to this chance meeting
drift past, waiting
shifting from option to “could have” to regret

They might all exist somewhen
but for now, we two will never know
another outcome.


Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Untitled 5

The murmuring crowd swirls, ebbs, parts
factions flocking from gallery to doorway
finally leaving me alone with
the interred (installed) body of the old woman: wife, mother, and grandmother
now dry with natron, wrapped in linen,
arms extended, palms on thighs,
eyelids painted with false eyes, always staring but never seeing.

Overhead, a dying light fixture
buzzing, flickering, humming
as I stare into the once-new vitrine that acts as
a surrogate coffin, yet another “final” resting place
waiting to be replaced.

How many others have stood
beneath this same electric light (it was brighter and steadier then)
gazing at this same dessicated face
within the dusty glass sarcophagus, and also wondered at their ability to touch
a capsule filled with mute history? Who else has thought those ancient lips 
look like torn strips of parchment
containing stories forever untold? 


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Untitled 2

In the grey clearing under a canopy of pine, oak, and maple
we walked on brown needles
until crispy leaves, now forgotten by their branches, began to fall around us and
I stopped.

I had to listen.

The silent flutterings, invisible impacts melting into the undergrowth
were lost upon the bird and the lonely car off in the distance
both deaf to this momentary theater of slow motion gravity.

You kept walking, but I wasn’t alone.

Our isolation
was a ligature
connecting no-sight and no-sound:
a fragile ball of sibilating yarn unwound
within the labyrinth grooves
(dusty, sedimentary)
stretched between the things
that you never heard
and I never saw.


Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.