The Listening Project

Words move, music moves only in time.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton (1936), in Four Quartets, Faber and Faber; London, 2009

In modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To go to work or come home, one takes a "methaphor" – a bus or a train. Stories could also take this noble name: every day, they traverse and organise places: they select and link them together; they make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories.
Michel de Certeau, Spatial Stories, in The Practice of Everyday Life; University of California Press; Berkeley, 1984

To work with sound does not only mean to work with site. It also has to do with time: the time that each one spends listening. Ten years ago, in 1999, Brandon LaBelle and Steve Roden introduced the anthology Site Of Sound. Of Architecture & The Ear (Errant Bodies Press, 1999) stating: "Through Site Of Sound it is our intention to explore how sound leads us to an understanding of our very location. And how listening as a practice, and as a perceptual state, determines the parameters of this understanding".
Not only does the second season of Sound Threshold aim at continuing such line of research, and at encouraging listening as a practice. It also underlines the aspect of time, and it develops a discourse about site-specificity as challenged by time-based media, the mobilization of site. The site that Sound Threshold wishes to re-visit, is that ever-changeable site between the work and the listener, defined by and through time.
Site as travelogue, a collection, a constellation. How does this process take place? How does sound affect the perception of a site, and defines it according to the time each one of us spends listening?

In observing how the academia, museums and art galleries are increasingly interested in presenting sonic art projects, we have realised that what is lacking today is not so much an occasion for displaying sound works, but rather a discourse before and after the event, which would disrupt the display mode. As David Toop said, "sound is squatting at the moment" (Audio Forensics Symposium, Image-Music-Text Gallery; London, 30 November, 2008); not only because of its misplacement in conventional art displays, but also for lack of critical context.

The Listening Project aims at developing a space for listening behind and beside the scenes. A listening space which intersects narratives and places, real and imaginary landscapes, conjuring up "a space of metaphorical significance" (Robert Smithson, A provisional theory of non-sites (1968), in Robert Smithson: The collected Writings, ed. by Jack Flam, University of California Press; Berkeley, 1996) with the language of poetry.

To engage with sound, and stories around sound in which the aesthetic and physical dimension – appealing or estranging, alluring or displacing – is as relevant to the ongoing discourse as the conceptual and the theoretical.

Listeners and Partecipants

The player, the investigator, the experimentalist, working with made things and making things whose significance was not their objecthood, but their capacity to incite meaning and activate thought.
Griselda Pollock, Un/framing the modern: Critical Space/Public Possibility, in Museum after Modernism, Blackwell Publishing; London, 2007

My sound work has always been about the creation of a listening space and to present sound in a context where listening becomes active. [...] A sound installation, for me, is simply a listening situation. The viewer/listener must come to their own conclusions based on their own experience within the artwork. [...] It is my hope that this space is conducive to wondering and wandering.
Steve Roden, Ear(th), exhibition catalogue, Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design; Pasadena, 2004

In the second Season of Sound Threshold our attention will shift to a mode of production and presentation that makes the public more familiar with the multifaceted trajectories and history in sound experimentation. Situated somewhere between a travelling workshop and a mobile "ear room" (Steven Connor at the Audio Forensics Symposium, Image-Music-Text Gallery; London, 30 November 2008) the aim of the Listening Project is to create a "context where listening becomes active" (Steve Roden, Ear(th), 2004) and a space where reflection and analysis will be able to produce in-depth research.
Listeners and participants will meet on the basis of their experience and practice in listening.

Furthermore, the encounter and the dialogue between artists, cultural practitioners, poets, researchers, musicians and the public will be facilitated through a discursive programme including open workshops, seminars, interviews.

We are interested in a range of perceptual ways of relating with sound, and text is our key to access such ways. Sound will be investigated in its close connection to poetry, and in its ability to re-awaken hidden, silent trajectories.

By prompting discussions starting from collections of texts and essays, Sound Threshold will finally return to text, collecting seminal writings as well as newly commissioned works in an editorial project.

Editorial Projects (Documentation as Production)

I mapped this site in terms of aesthetic boundaries, rather than political or economic boundaries. [...] To understand this language of sites is to appreciate the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complex of ideas, letting the former function as a three dimensional picture which doesn't look like a picture. [...] Between the actual site and The Non-Site itself exists a space of metaphorical significance. It could be that 'travel' in this space is a vast metaphor.
Robert Smithson. A provisional theory of non-sites (1968), in Robert Smithson: The collected Writings, ed. by Jack Flam, University of California Press; Berkeley, 1996

As curators of site-specific exhibitions and events, we often confronted ourselves with the riddle of documentation. This issue became crucial in Sound Threshold I, not only because we opted for a performative approach, but also because we found ourselves directly involved in the process of making work by means of close collaboration with the artists working on site. The main issues we confronted were:
How to document a project which emphasis is on process rather than on end product?
How to document, for instance, Cima Verde, a project conceived not simply as a CD release but as a complex set of operations between sites, such listening, recording, photographing, researching and walking?

As Boris Groys highlighted in his essay Art in the Age of Biopolitics. From Artworks towards Art Documentation (in Art Power, The MIT Press; London, 2008), the shift from artworks towards art documentation that has occurred in recent decades in art spaces poses again the issues of the copy and the original, the living and the dead, the real and the artificial. He stated: "The practice of art documentation and of installation in particular reveal another path for biopolitics: rather then fighting off modernity, they develop strategies of resisting and of inscription based on situation and context, which make it possible to transform the artificial into something living and the repetitive into something unique".

The Listening Project finally attempts at re-thinking the practice of art documentation by exploring documentation as a form of artistic and collaborative production in itself.

In investigating the social and spatial production of sound, we have chosen to ground our research – as well as our documentation – on the most private form of communication: text.

Text as a space in between, or a threshold; as sound removed from its original context or deterritorialised. Text as a form of recollection through memory, and as the site of becoming.


To listen... is an expression that evokes a singular mobility... It is an intensification and a concern, a curiosity or an anxiety... a tension, an intention, and an attention...
Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening, Fordham University Press; New York, 2007

The Listening Project is structured around different places, practises and topics that situate specific strand of research in sound experimentation within a wider critical context.
Each venue has been chosen for its "metaphorical significance", as "a place of resonance" (Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening, 2007), or simply as a receptacle of a specific cultural/scientific field.
Each episode proposes a listening device and develops a specific format (e.g. podcast, sound walk, sound installation, interview, text-based performance, reading groups).
Each workshop is prompted by a literary fragment, a question, a text.
Conversely each site, presentation, discussion will be defined as a space for research and analysis.
Audio, video and written documentation will be integral parts of the project by means of a new production in itself (e.g. publication, story board, film production, broadcast).
The time frame set for each episode will be the time required for listening and play back.


Daniela Cascella and Lucia Farinati, May 2009