world listening day

Started by the excellent World Listening Project, the 18th July is a day to celebrate the aesthetics of listening – music, art practice and probably theatre works which encourage the act of listening.

Commemorating the birthday of R. Murray Schafer, a composer and writer who is crucial to the study of acoustic ecology, who coined the term ‘soundscape’, and is influential to contemporary artistic output of music and sound cultures. WLD has been slowly building over the last few years through autonomous actions around the world.

Last year I spent it doing one of my listening session artworks: 4 hours at Berlin Olympic Stadium. Specifically as the site of the Summer Olympics of the XI Olympiad: a complex sporting event in modern history.

On 1 August 1936, The grand aesthetics of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich were displayed in glorious spectacle – proof of its power and might – in the opening ceremony, and guided through the impressive film work of Danny Boyle Leni Riefenstahl.

Despite it being a conduit for Nationalist-Socialist Party propaganda, Jesse Owens – a fine, fit black man from the United States won the most medals, killing it on the athletics field, with the hyped ‘snub’ from the Chancellor on his victory in the 100m sprint.*

Reading the Wikipedia entry on the games and the efforts to ‘clean up’ Berlin including signs saying: “Jews Not Wanted” sent a chill through my spine. Especially in light of this going around town at the moment:

I digress.

World Listening Day.

So, on 18 July 2012, Berlin Olympic Stadium was the site of a few school tours, incessant rain and the miserable sound of a super-sopper on the blue track going around and around in circles. No birds, no traffic even and a smattering of sociality as teenagers flirted with each other in bleechers. It was the most depressing list/listening project I’ve done to date.

I didn’t realise that the sound such emptiness could exist on the site of such grand spectacle. It’s almost like the more image-focused a site is, the less connected it is to a sound of humanity.

Perhaps this year I should have listened at Queen Elizabeth Stadium as a comparison.

This year, World Listening Day 2013, however, I was unable to make a work for it.

But I have compiled a small list of recent listening-based shows to see:

Sounding the Body Electric
Experiments in art and music in eastern europe 1957 – 1984
Calvert 22

I hadn’t heard of any of these artists before – unsurprising because my understanding of experimental music (especially that which crosses over into art) is self-taught and mostly through the experience of seeing shows like this.

Highlights included the great reading section, which I wanted to just lounge around all day in, the proto-Marclay records and music by Milan Knižak (pictured), which made me want to spit rhymes all over it, and the graphic scores by Katalin Ladik and Milan Grygar.

Musically, I noticed my complacency, feeling like I’d heard a lot of the works on film soundtracks already, yet fascinated by the link between post-war Socialism/Iron Curtain and electronic music, obviously sanctioned by the State’s ideology through the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio.

Huw Hallam has written a great thesis on the link between post-totalitarianism and electronic music, and the works herein expanded my understanding of rejecting propaganda and a need for music that is without dramatic reference.

Calvert 22 is such a great gallery, especially for small theme-based shows and this one was no different.

At the moment of being heard
South London Gallery


I had heard about this show almost 6 weeks before it opened. as soon as any of the promo came out about it, I had tweets, FB posts and emails from everyone emailing me about it and I was looking forward to seeing it on my return from Australia.

Especially given that it featured some artists who I have admired for a while and some that I was looking forward to learning more about.

I enjoyed the exhibition – there were some typically subtle and gentle works that combined softness and tension – Rolf Julius’s pigment-filled speaker cones (pictured) and crys cole‘s salt speaker combination were beautiful. I really loved the photographic work of Reiner Ruthenbeck for the documentation of those daily sounds, without a sound.

Having said that, I thought it was going to be a little more about the act of listening – a more philosophical or even theatrical look at that moment of being heard – not just changing what is heard, but on a deeper level of how.

Granted, it’s not easy to make work about listening, (I know, as an artist I suck at it), but I was hoping for some guidance, from people who’d been doing it for years. It was a bittersweet show.


In the upstairs gallery Variations of Silence by Boudouin Oosterlynck was more about the action of listening, of the collection and pursuit of silence using the variety of ways one listens – a detailed dossier of quiet sites, on paper.

Aesthetically, I found it difficult to really enter into, possibly a language barrier, or a resistance to a particular aesthetic, but I still spent time hanging out with his journey.

Tom White’s Public Address is also a work that intrigured me, but because I went on a Thursday, wasn’t able to see it in the flesh – it’s installed in the housing estate that the gallery backs onto and only accessible on Saturdays.

The public programme for the exhibition is pretty exciting. I wish that I was a 12+ teenager, so that I could do Barby Asante‘s workshop at the end of August (I couldn’t get to do her DIY one as an adult either, so I just have to press my nose to the window for a while) and the Ambarchi and Umeda gigs, of course, look great.

Reading and Being list

Both of these exhibitions had supporting reading lists and publications, which I really appreciated. And I have some more to add – bits’n’pieces which relate to listening that I think are great:

The Hush at The Shed National Theatre
According to the blurb on the The Shed site, The Hush asks audiences to listen in a way they never have before. Performers interact with live foley and immersive sound design to recreate the past, imagine the future and give voice to The Shed itself.”

Again, I’m looking forward to seeing this work, to see how others create work about the action of listening. Sadly, I can’t make the Thursday Q& A (which looks great), but I’m going to see the show soon.

A Listening Mind: Sound Learning in a Literature Classroom by Nicole Furlonge on Sounding Out
When I read this post, I wanted to be Nicole. Her understanding and interesting in pushing pedagogy and teaching and experience of the world outside a dominant visual paradigm (yes, i just used that phrase) is inspiring, and exactly the kind of thing I’m into.

The way she speaks about it is amazing and a deeper undestanding of listening and why World Listening Day needs to keep existing.

The Sounding Out blog consistently posts stuff that I love reading about. They posted about the Afrika Bambaata record collection being catalogued at Gavin Brown Gallery and I almost wet myself. And through that I found out about..

Hip Hop Aesthetics Summer Course by Shante Paradigm
As if this wouldn’t be a RAD way to spend the summer…

I’ve been following the progress along of each day’s topics (including, unsurprisingly, the verdict on the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. What’s Hip Hop without Hoodies…).
They’ve covered some ace stuff like Big Freedia’s Azz Everywhere, Lil Mama’s Lip Gloss, Black Aesthetics, Feminist Aesthetics and Opposition Discourse, Total Chaos and Ian Maxwell‘s thesis about Hip Hop Aesthetics and the Will to Culture –  which I loved reading about, not just for the generic content, but because I knew some of the peeps mentioned in it; a bit of home-town pride and nostalgia for my time with Quiz and the writers and MCs of inner city of Sydney in the 90s.

Other links to cool listening works

Surfacenoise’s Peter Lenaerts
Dan Scott
Sam Underwood
Stan’s Cafe’s The Commentators and their Cult Listening
The Soundscape
Hearing Cultures
Audio Culture (which i’m ASHAMED to say I’ve not read nor do i own)
Resonance by Susie MacMurray at Fabrica, Brighton
This year’s Primavera featuring Kusum Normoyle

*Who needs that to be a ‘thing’, really, to highlight the gross racist antics of the regime – they only ‘allowed’ black and jewish competitors after a bunch of people pressured them into it, for goodness sake. Is Jesse Owens really that heartbroken over not having his hand shaken by that pariah? Surely not.

image credits:
Migrant Rights UK and Home Office YouTube
Milan Knižak, Destroyed Music, Calvert 22 website
Rolf Julius, Singing, 2000/2013, South London Gallery website

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