Over the last couple of weeks, the outbreak of COVID-19 has forced people in the Netherlands and elsewhere, on varying terms, to stay inside and maintain ‘social distance.’ Daily life as we know it has been interrupted: simultaneously various questions arise both on a personal and political level about what the consequences of COVID-19 might be for the world we live in. Does the virus expose inherent flaws or is it even symptomatic of the neoliberal society we exist in? What does this economic and healthcare crisis mean for labour and unwaged domestic work? How can activism be practised online, now that coming together physically is not an option? How to care for one another at a safe distance?
One way of traversing the distances we are forced to maintain is through sound, the theme of this issue of Simulacrum. Think of having a conversation with a colleague speaking from your computer screen, unintentionally feeling sounds leaking from your bedroom wall while tuning into a live online discussion: connecting to different communities online. But shrinking of daily used space also sets the stage for attending to, slowing down, and listening attentively whilst creating new ‘sound spaces’ inside our homes – reverberating Pauline Oliveros’ pioneering work on deep listening.
We originally chose this theme as a way to shift our focus away from the visual arts, and look closely at the origins and current manifestations of sound art and practices. This resulted in contributions by writers and artists ranging from practices of listening, explorations of its bodily and social qualities, to sound as institutional critique, unheard or repressed voices and sending sounds to outer space.
These days, new territories are unfolding. Taking a walk through the neighbourhood is a good break from home isolation. Ida Blom traces the activity of walking through the city back to the traditionally male concept of the flâneur. Her text follows female sound-artists Janet Cardiff and Christina Kubisch through the city, whose soundwalks expose listening as an embodied experience. ‘We listen with our bones, with our muscles,’ Ida Blom writes.
Blom’s feminist approach seems to resonate with the practice of Tina Reden, an artist who tries to carry out a practice of listening that is both active and plural. Aldo Kempen discusses with her the ways in which she allows for chaos, ‘distractions,’ and multiple perspectives in her works, aiming to create a space where decolonial, feminist, and mindful melodies can coexist and be heard.
Whilst writing this from our homes, we are exposed to sounds from our neighbours. After reading Frederiek Simons’ text, we can now reflect upon those sounds as ways to initiate intimate connections with the lives of those other, often invisible people. Other than sight, sound is able to penetrate the walls, floors, and ceilings that frame our private space. The relationality of sound and architecture is apparent in the experimental sound-architectural installations of sound artist Roland Kuit. In 2016, one of his compositions even went into space as part of NASA’s OSIRUS-REx mission. Anne-Rieke van Schaik and Otto Duistermaat interviewed him and asked about his practice and his work going into space.
Arnon Ben-Dror notes that sound art is ‘mainly concerned with the material or aesthetic qualities of sound.’ Instead of treating sound as an object, he looks at participatory art projects inside the gallery space that serve the purposes of institutional critique. By taking the project Songbook ES13 (2013) by Ari Benjamin Meyers at the Esther Schipper gallery in Berlin as an example, Ben-Dror touches upon the larger problems inherent to institutions, demonstrating that the durationality of music reflects the existing power structures in society.
On the other hand, Niek de Brabander notes that audiovisual installations are often inadequately discussed within texts and institutes, because of a lack of proper idioms and critical language. Instead of visually analysing a work by the artist Ryoji Ikeda, he turns to musicology to find the means to explain what he heard and experienced during an exhibition.
The artist Judith Westerveld visually translated a work in progress of her current research in South Africa, an answer to a spoken message from a man named Mukalap, recorded around 1936. The words are moving as Judith speaks, responding to his call to recognise the, now extinct, Khoe language !ora through colonial violence and send a message in return.
While through text and image Westerveld translated her response to an archival sound with analogue technology, the artists Cilia Erens, Eloïse Dieutegard, Max van der Wal, and the duo Simina Oprescu and Somnoroase Păsărele virtually take space for their polyphony of sounds so we can listen in..
The ontological turn in sound studies allows us to look beyond the dominant paradigms of twentieth-century thought, making room for theoretical movements such as object-oriented ontology, new materialism, and speculative realism. Nicholas Burman addresses this new materialist turn by using Esther Peeren’s conception of the ghost in society to analyse Nicolás Jaar’s immersive installation Incomprehensible Sun (2019).
Former resident of 4DSOUND Sydney Schelvis sets out to analyse how spatialized sound offers music materiality, underpinning how listening is a full-body process that maps one’s aural ecology. Through reconsidering techno’s ontology he plots to regain its explorative nature through advancement in spatialisation.
There are many approaches to the sonorous, in this issue we aimed to highlight different perspectives by bringing together different angles through articles, images, and sounds. Because we cannot launch this issue physically, we will host a digital launch with a sound performance by the experimental art and music performance collective DNK-Amsterdam along with a conversation between writer Nicholas Burman with three of the members of the collective, Koen Nutters, Seamus Cater and Martijn Tellinga on improvisation, situations, and audience. Tune in, put your volume up, stay sane.