27 de març 2016

how not to be myself

Something that tries to escape, as a continual departure,
to loosen the seams, but also which seeks to find connection, to be heard.
Sound as an unsteady economy of the between. In this way, sound teaches me how not to be myself.
Brandon LaBelle 1

Outdoors, late afternoon. Street vendors, cars up and down, families shopping and kids yelling. Urban life in action on a friday afternoon, apparently random and intimately organized. Let's say that I propose you to stand next to the man who sells jeans and to pick one of the characters in this imaginary scene. Do you have it? Who is it the mother of three or the book seller or the teenager with a bike?
Let's sit in the café round the corner. You'll be staring at the wall and I will ask you to describe for me what this character might be doing. I'm sure your blind guessing will be right. Because you have seen this street thousands of times, you know how to walk in it, where to buy cigarretes by unit and whose eyes you should avoid. This conforms to a rough and ready balance where whoever is in control of the portion of space becomes the rightful arbitre of what weaker others get to hear or see2
I have left you alone sitting in the imaginary café staring at the wall and the guys in the tables around start muttering jokes about how weird you look, two girls pass by the table and comment on your clothes and the waiter asks you about the woman who has just left without warning. You might have thought that you were alone, but you weren't. Out in the street, late in the afternoon you are accompanied by a crowd of others who know who you are not. And have an opinion about who you should be.

Mashroua, morning. Pop-up message in the phone: I'm sorry for the last time, I left you waiting in a fictional café. Do you have any plan this afternoon? Let's meet at the tram station for a walk. You are a bit late but it's fine, arriving a bit late is a way of breathing. I didn't tell you, but we won't be alone.
Close your eyes. Let's walk. Someone will hold your hand and you will walk the sound. At first you will be worried about whose hand are you touching, the texture of the skin, the strenght of the wrist, the touch of the elbow against your arm. Then you will notice the smell of this other someone walking with you. Is it parfume or deodorant? Is it the scent of a he or a she? And then you will stumble on some obstacle at your feet. And the someone will hold your hand a bit harder and you will consider opening your eyes and put and end to this game.
But you hear the clinging sound of a bell, a horse charriot maybe or a juice seller. The body who guides you slows down and you are a bit dizzy because you don't know what's around you and you can't predict what could happen. But the challenge for this exercise is that no matter how slow you are walking, you can always go much slower3.
The air is cold and accelerates as a harsh loud sound passes by your left side. You don't move because a stanger is holding your hand and is not giving you any sign to go forward. After a while the stanger will touch the palm of your hand and you will resume the walk, and some voices will approach you and you will hear them wondering wether you are blind or stoned. You cannot see the stranger but you can tell that he or she is smiling just like you are now. Because you share a secret, you are listening to the shapped air between you and I and the city and these voices are just a detail of its sound. 
Tramway station. Afternoon. A voice whispers in your ear “you can open your eyes now”.
It will not be me that you will find standing next to you. Your intuition was right, someone you don't really know has been finding noises for you. Together you have composed a space built with spare pieces of wind and horns and men's voices and rushed steps and humming leaves and smell of smoke.
Your eyelids feel heavy and your lungs are open, the breathing has found its way to participate in this partition and now it's your turn to pick the sound you want to share, knowing that sound is ungovernable, that is, it is at one and the same moment, yours and not yours4.
I will close my eyes and I will stand in the street. Someone, maybe you, will hold my hand and we will draw the streets again. The feeling is somehow subversive because we are inventing the shape of a space we thought we knew. It is sound itself, as pathetic trigger, that entices us to inhabit this world in listening, and grants us access to what the world might be5.
This afternoon we are out in the street alongside with few strangers walking slowly exposing our vulnerable bodies to the urban rush, daydreaming, soundwalking. Experiencing a way of being related to what is not me and not fully masterable (…) a kind of relationship that belongs to that ambiguous region in which receptivity and responsiveness are not clearly separable from one another 6

In bed. Late night. Your inner voice tries to identify the streets we have been walking in today and you don't know how to link the bell with the horse or the voice with the face or the smoke with the café. And when you are about to fall asleep, your body reaches the weight of the dream and tells you that it is not important, because your ears and the stranger's hands have drawn a map of possibilities in a city where the impossible is narrowing by the day.
Together we have questioned that terrible weight of the official reality that says: there is what there is. And so we could breathe. The macro situation remains the same, but now we see it from another place. It's all horrible, but at the same time we have proven ourselves capable of producing another reality. And that automatically generates joy, a new emotional climate7.
Tomorrow I will pass by the imaginary café. I will be a bit late and you will be sitting alone with a glass of tea. Your eyes will be closed, your head slighly bent, a minor smile in the corner of your lips, your ears wide open. The guys in the tables around will be muttering jokes about how weird you look and two girls will pass by the table and comment on your clothes. They won't know it, but they will be witnessing the disappearing act, your vanishing self in the sounds of Alexandria.
I will sit next to you and whisper: you can open your eyes now.

* Notes based on the workshop “Experiencing a sensitive exploration of the city” with the art collective City sounds concert / Ici-Même, organized by Nassim el-Raqs in Alexandria between the 6 and 15 of november 2015.

** This article was orginally published in arabic in the cultural magazine Tar al Bahr. 

1 LABELLE, Brandon. “Lecture on an acoustics of sharing” in FISCHER, Berit and MUHLEN, Kevin. Hlysan, the notion and politics of listening. Luxembourg. Casino Luxembourg, 2014. p. 22
2 DARWISH, Hany quoted by EL-WARDANY, Haytham and MAAMOUN, Naha: “How to Disappear” in The right to silence conference curated by ABU HAMMDAN, Lawrence. Amsterdam, 20-23 march, 2014.
3 OLIVEROS, Pauline. Deep listening: A composer's sound practice. Lincoln: Deep Listening Publications, 2005. p. 20
4 RAIMONDO, Anna. “Brandon LaBelle, interviewed by Anna Raimondo”in Reflections on process in sound (2). p. 2-12: December 2013.
5 FISCHER, Berit. “On the notion and politics of listening” in FISCHER, Berit and MUHLEN, Kevin. Hlysan, the notion and politics of listening. Luxembourg. Casino Luxembourg, 2014. p. 15
6 BUTLER, Judith. “Rethinking vulnerability and resistance conference in the XV Simposio de la Asociación Internacional de Filósofas. Madrid. Instituto Franklin - Universdad de Alcalá de Henares, June 2014. p. 16
7 FERNÁNDEZ-SAVATER, Amador. “How to organize a climate" in Making worlds: a commons coalition: 9 January 2012