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Sonic Continuum

Text, voice and sound by Urok Shirhan.

SCRIPT

TRANSCRIPT

TRANSLATION

[THE DATE]

21 October 2019. Fourth day of the October Revolution. Beirut, Lebanon.

[THE SOUND]

Protest chants – call and response. Phrases are uttered by a single voice, amplified through powered megaphone and loudspeakers, then repeated loudly by a large group of unamplified voices.

[THE TRANSLATION]

It’s a thief, it’s a thief, the whole Parliament is a thief,

(it’s a thief, it’s a thief, the whole Parliament is a thief)

What a shame, what a shame, my country’s leaders are tradesmen,

(what a shame, what a shame, my country’s leaders are tradesmen)

They traded the lira for the dollar,

(they traded the lira for the dollar)

Down with the rule of the dollar!

(down with the rule of the dollar)

[THE SOUND]

Sheikh Imam – ‘Shayyed Ousourak’ (1984) sounding from the loudspeakers mounted on top of a car, between hundreds of people singing along, moving very slowly from Martyrs’ Square to Riad El Solh in Beirut.

[THE TRANSLATION]

Build your castles on our farmland

from our hard work and labour,

And bars alongside the factories

And a prison in place of the garden.

Release your dogs into the streets,

And lock your jail cells on us,

And reduce our sleep in the beds

for we have slept all we desire,

And be heavy on us with pain

We have hurt, and had enough,

And we have known

Who’s the reason behind our wounds

And known ourselves, and we were found.

Labourers and farmers and students,

Our clock has ticked, and we have started

taking a road with no return

and victory is near our eyes.

Victory has drawn closer to our hands.[1]

***

[THE SCRIPT]

A lot of my thinking in the past years, B.C. (before Covid-19) – has revolved around the idea of synchronisation.

The synchronisation of sound and moving image. Of body, and voice. Sound, and apparent source. Synchronisation in terms of adaptation, of fitting in, fitting in perfectly. Synchronisation as in assimilation. Integration. Assimilating one’s own minor tongue into a major tongue, into a dominant tongue. Synchronising one’s movements, behaviours. Assimilating one’s appearance, into the outside. Blending in, becoming invisible. Synchronisation as in lip-sync, lip syncing.

Pretending to be singing, perfectly. Mastering the art of making it seem like that voice, that external voice, is coming from Your. Own. Mouth. To ventriloquise. To lip sync, in other words, is to play back. To play again. ‘Oh look it’s just a play back!’ A recording. Someone is syncing their lips to a previously recorded voice, that may or may not belong to them. All while they themselves, do not produce any sound.

***

[THE DATE]

September 2011, Zuccoti Park, New York City, U.S.

[THE SOUND]

The Human Mic. A single, unamplified voice speaks loudly. Each sentence is repeated by a first group of people, seemingly close by, followed by another group of people, further away.

[THE TRANSCRIPT]

Mic check

(mic check, mic check)

We amplify each other’s voices

(we amplify each other’s voices, we amplify each other’s voices)

No matter what’s said

(no matter what’s said, no matter what’s said)

So we can hear one another

(so we can hear one another, so we can hear one another)

 

But also

(but also, but also)

We use this human mic

(we use this human mic, we use this human mic)

Because the police won’t let us

(because the police won’t let us, because the police won’t let us) (BREATHE!)

Use any kind of instruments

(use any kind of instruments, use any kind of instruments)

***

[THE TRANSCRIPT]

It is June 2020. I am in the Netherlands, and the national health association’s latest guideline (after a loosening of some initial safety measures) is that any activity that includes shouting or singing in groups is not allowed. Apparently, even if social distancing can be ensured. Whispering and humming are allowed. But no singing or shouting aloud.

 

Anything that gets your heart pumping

Anything that makes your heart beat faster

Anything that raises your heartbeat per minute

Anything that produces excess breath

Anything that produces breathing in excess

Collective breathing in excess

Hearts beating in excess

Decibels sounding in excess

Be quiet,

And be still.

 

In the company of others.

Be very quiet,

Be very still,

in proximity to others

***

We are living in the Now Times, where there is a ban on singing, and only whispers are allowed. Or loudspeakers. Or pre-recorded chants and voices. With soccer matches, the audience sounds are pre-recorded. There is no live audience present. And, the sound is only played back to the real (?) audience watching at home, even when the soccer match is actually live, there is no live audience in the stadium. The players don’t hear the sounds. They don’t hear the cheers, only we do. Apparently, we need that sound. As uncanny as it is to some (me). In the future of mass gatherings, at soccer matches and concerts, apparently, we will be allowed to whisper:

‘HOORAY!’

***

[THE DATE]

September 2011, Zuccoti Park, New York City, U.S.

[THE SOUND]

The Human Mic. A single, unamplified voice speaks loudly. Each sentence is repeated by a first group of people, seemingly close by, followed by another group of people, further away.

[THE TRANSCRIPT]

We use this human mic

(we use this human mic, we use this human mic)

Because the police won’t let us

(because the police won’t let us, because the police won’t let us) (BREATHE)

Use any kind of instruments

(use any kind of instruments, use any kind of instruments)

[THE SCRIPT]

I keep coming back to this moment.

Nine years later and I keep coming back to this moment.

The Human Mic was brought into existence because of restrictions on amplification.

Because of restrictions on artificial amplification, on electronic amplification.

***

Currently, we are in the opposite situation. The Human Mic is no longer allowed, and we’re actually not allowed to amplify one another. We thereby also lose something crucial, which is: anonymity. And the liberty to rehearse, collectively, out loud. To rehearse something you might not say by yourself.

Or rather, as yourself.

There is a kind of ventriloquism at play, I believe, in collective chants and songs. A powerful and empowering kind of ventriloquism.

SO.

Is speaking about being heard, or about being seen? Is it about being heard speaking or being seen speaking? Is it about being heard, or about being seen speaking the words that are heard?

What does this specific acousmatic situation do in terms of ‘commoning’ speech, commoning sound, commoning listening?

How does it liberate our speech and where does it confine it?

When our speech is heard, but not necessarily heard as our speech, as belonging to us: does our speech become stronger, weaker, more or less resonant? If it could have come from anywhere, and belong to anyone, to any appearance, or non-appearance…

What we seem to have lost is this kind of anonymity, wherein your voice doesn’t stand out, and you’re not going to be liable for something you have just said. Because your voice cannot be singled out from the collective voice.

In the current situation, the impositions and restrictions on gatherings and loudness seem to be about isolating the voices. Keeping voices separate, singular. Distant from one another. Solo. When was the last time you heard a group voicing or singing, at the same time, in public, out loud?

How can we speak of a collective body? Now?

How can we speak of a collective voice? Now?

What does a collective voice sound like? Now?

And if the answer is simply, ‘it sounds muffled, because the sound is coming from behind a mask!’ – well then, how does the disappearance of the mouth, and the onset of asynchronous sound (or acousmatic sound) affect the ways in which we may use our voices – or not use them?

If we cannot be seen speaking,

if we cannot be seen shouting,

if we cannot be seen singing?

If there is. No. More. Synchronisation.

We are back to solos, and loudspeakers. Microphones, and loudspeakers. To each their own microphone, we can’t even share the mic because… hygiene. Perhaps the dissidence, and the dissonance, is about denying what has been denied to you. Which isn’t the same as complying or conforming – or even assimilating.

I don’t believe we are being silenced.

I believe it’s a trap to think that the answer to silence is loudness.

I refuse what is being refused.

 ***

(Collective Whispers)

or or or or or – is that a decoy

Oh, yeah

A voice need not sound plural to be plural

What if every single voice is actually plural?

Actually –

Every single voice is plural!

Because, who speaks when we speak?

What speaks when we speak?

What histories speak when I speak?

What do I speak if not precisely plural voices, plural histories?

What liberation, if my voice is not mine.

What liberations, if my voice is not just mine!

 

Nobody knows where voices come from.

I mean, literally – where in the body does a voice reside?

The voice is not an organ. It’s an effect, perhaps.

Are your thoughts yours?

Your words? Are they yours? Did you invent them?

Your language? Is your language yours alone?

Well. Neither is your voice.

 

Our voices do not belong to us.

Just like our languages don’t belong to us.

Our histories do not belong to us, alone.

 

So.

What will you say, in someone else’s voice?