Attuning Temporality Photo by: Lara C. Geary

Attuning Temporality

May 22, 20208-11 minutes read

Written by:

Lara C. Geary

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Countless days and nights of this so-called lockdown, I choose not to count them accurately, as tomorrow it will change. Intermittently I have written as a shadow; just a fraction behind the event, trying to write without overthinking, to allow as close a recall of what the experience of what I was hearing was.

Heightened awareness extenuates everyday ordinariness, coughs, clinking cups, cutlery, laughs, sirens and the like. I'm thinking and reflecting on what happens when familiar sonic material is no longer there. In seeking encounters with sound beyond the limits of learnt human listening, I'm attempting to be in places where an ocular centric activity is no longer the most extensive input. To explore what makes the sounds we can hear, and consider the reasons why we listen, and how we choose to recall, remember or forget. Engaging ongoing dialogue to challenge what we think we know, to challenge what I think I know.

'Knowing' as a way of relating to feelings or perspectives that can be free, albeit momentarily, of meaning dictated by words or collective agreement. The reach of sound forms a conduit to be with the instance of such moments when access to spoken language is secondary. A 'Knowing' which does not read or speak, it cannot hear, it doesn't smell; it only feels like something in me. Experienced as a beat, a flutter, something like a murmuring, a slip, a sight out of sight, voices heard through walls, fleeting upon fleeting, often fast, sometimes sustained by itself. It ticks to its beat, in and around itself.

Rooftop Antennae

Initially, the impact of staying at home was profound, as the usual or expected rhythm and pace shifts, things became less or were gone. Perhaps the absence of them gives space to others to be heard, space for silence to listen. This experience has strengthened my resolve and clarified my thoughts on how we must shift the dominance of embodied hearing, that which is hierarchical to the body both in physicality and location, to enable listening located towards more nuanced encounters.

The containment of the heard is unseen; it is an act of listening, conscious or otherwise, that position a listener within the choice of paying attention to its origin. What we call things, the names we give them matters. How to process a sound without being able to name it?

The task perhaps is something of attunement; to be with a language of listening, free of the written or spoken word.

Each morning upon awakening, my internal compass calibrates according to my head, orientating my beginning. Unable to bear been controlled this way, I need to recalibrate and resist listening from a central point of hearing. So long-established, it frustrates in its pervasiveness. Silence or the absence of the familiar is redefining my spatial experience with time.

Space is moving through me; this experience heightened as rays of sunshine defy blackout blinds and illuminate my room. A glance at the time, it's 5.03 am; there is nothing ambient, no reason to wake so early. I raise my head a little to be met by striking pain, sharp, so sharp at the back of my skull. Slowly I fall backwards, heavily, my density imprints deep into my soft pillow, unable to offer comfort as still pain persists.

I hear very little, and resulting gaps affect my ability to detect and name sonic material, increasing levels of desire to listen fill me.

Are my links illusionary? Am I holding onto something so unobtainable that obscures the pursuit of or a vision of life?

Even the overwhelming silence is hard to detect this morning. Attempting to follow it, digging deep within my ears, I try to locate something. Following a tiny note, a drop of sound, not knowing where it will take or leave me. Eyes grow tighter beneath my concentration. Increasingly motivated to follow imaginary lines, a sort of mapping like a circulatory system that will lead me somewhere like blood flowing from organ to organ. I try to stay within the lines. Determined focus reminds me of how I used to colour in pictures as a child, meticulous under firm, encouraging instruction to not to go over the edges, that veered into warning territory.

Attentively I sit upright like rooftop antennae, stationary and rigid. I try to quieten and halt my thoughts. My ears feel inverted; I become them; they are everything. A surrealist vision of my being in metamorphosis casts an image of my skin unfolding, reversing as I take the form of an ear resembling a large roving satellite dish. I, like them, sit gently scanning vast spaces seeking waves, traces and other trails.

Sound lines lead me to even smaller ones harder to detect. I think of veins intersecting capillaries. I attempt to follow the trail of sound—the limited sounds I can decipher, travel dynamic, quicker through a less full soundscape. Sharp shrills provided by the local fire station break my journey searching for new dimensions, I'm tired now. Tiny nerves make themselves felt in the numbness, which fills my hands and creeps up my stiff legs, the result of my rigid seating for nearly an hour.

A Sense of Attunement

A new day, awake, even earlier today 3:49 am, I’m thinking about the foxes, no foxes? Often their distinctive barks followed by the wailing death of a wood pigeon disturb my night. Not so recently. I don't think the wood pigeons are the foxes preferred meal, just a lot easier to catch than the faster London pigeons. Nothing to hear, I try to rest.

I cannot rest nor sleep. Such engagement with the night and its silence is not so new territory. However, lockdown nights are so still, so limited is any external activity. For over ten years, almost every night, a droning rhythmic sound dominates my soundscape. Often accompanied by a high pitch resonating tone, it's 1:15 am and so begins its ritual pulsing. Its movements and transitions are precise as they are synchronised, often uniform starkly contrasting my growing chaos of thought.

I am fortunate to live amongst a lot of bird types: chaffinches, crows, magpies, wood pigeons, pigeons, swifts, starlings and many kinds of tits. I like the little blue ones a lot.

There is much joy at the alleged return and beauty of bird song in the media. It is as if suddenly it exists or is produced for our consumption, a zen moment in the pandemic schedule. Well, they've always been there, it may be a surprise to some that they aren't there for our entertainment. No, they continue living their lives, and right now, they have less interference from us.

These birds and their parents and grandparents before them have long been my neighbours. The birdsong invites a sense of attunement I suggest, the absence of traffic of cars, planes and humans, give way to other sonic material.

New Spaces and Time

Photo: Lara C. Geary
Photo: Lara C. Geary
5:40 am, seems to be a pattern, becoming regular. I am listening, again, to the birds—unease all around and within me. Something different, I have intermittently noticed a change; this day is particularly odd. Incrementally rising is a quietness; disquiet increasing. Something is disturbing, uncanny about the bird song, maybe their increasing volume of engagement, at times it sounds almost combative. I wonder if they are now battling with one another.

Hearing is a complex neurological process whereas listening is a selective learnt process, an ongoing tuning in and out, dynamic; mental and physically demanding.

Six weeks in, I think I am more aware of my body, a sense that I am spending more time in it. Maybe I am more present, the lack of external activity and distraction no doubt a factor. Any disturbance is now coming from myself, a medium, both a generator and consumer of sound. Everything has become so altered, no floating sounds from people gathered perpetually on weekends at local bars or restaurants, no congestion, no nightly bottle disposal chiming.

The change in the space we've been encouraged to occupy alters our perspective. The unfamiliar position within such illusionary spaces relies on the entirety of my skin to deploy senses.

2:07 pm, am I ageing slower or faster now? The change in the pace of my immediate surroundings is dramatically slower. Still–my thinking has not synchronised and increases as rapidly as my irregulated heartbeat.

Anxious blood flows through me, temporary fluctuations of being, transient fluttering beats are disturbed by occasional painful thuds in my heart. The membrane of my mortality, I sense and think I hear it resonating beyond its flesh as physical as the touch of a hand. The traces we leave are in the absence of hearing ourselves in time, ongoing in the presence of the listening of others.

The days are blending into a new way of living time, a temporary temporal state. The morning, this morning 5:03 am; particles cascade, hollow searching, stop. I stop, coldness reaching through my legs creeping through me, shards of the fragments of listening, what is this day?

How fast the days are becoming less defined between each other.

In this distance to others, have I gained new spaces and time?

Temporal Opening

6:35 am a new day. Nauseated from disorientation and restlessness, I am walking down the hallway, the creeping dread synchronised to each step, forms a rhythm with creaking floorboards. The buzz of silence becomes everything when there is nothing else, the sounds of all else dissolve, and the fizzing of silence persists. It is so surprising to me how often I have found the night so damn loud. It's physical, painful; a sound like a drone that can be noisy and intense; it compresses my brain, and this noise I realise has changed. I am often with a dull low rumbling tone, and this has shifted defiantly in recent weeks. I am struck by how strong the dominance of embodied hearing, that which is hierarchical to the body in physicality and location affects my ability to name or define a sound. During this period under instruction to remain home, hearing not seeing becomes the dominant sense, as my sight is limited to the boundaries of my home.

The effort of trying to rest overwhelms and brings confusion to my core. The sensation is a state filled with trepidation—familiar, tinged with dread, ominous overtones. The sort of not so good feeling felt in the part of your stomach that is just at the end of you the bit that can fall out.

The poetics of the sense of the compass is strong this day – body jacking– relocation to my knees, my feet. I tried to walk it out, pounding feet to the ground, listening from outside the axis of horizontal or vertical listening emerging and stretching from my depth.

In momentary glimpses, increasingly, I have felt less distance between myself and the ground, as though I am more rooted or connected to the ground than my frequent disconnects.

Later I read with interest an article discussing the impact of the reduction in human activity on the Earth. A direct causal link to the conditions brought about by lockdown is a drop in the seismic noise of the hum of the planet. It appears less human-associated activity equates to fewer vibrations in the planet's crust. Seismometers monitored by scientists tracking this rare phenomenon welcome the opportunity to trace and listen to more of the frequencies emitted by the Earth.

Such a temporal opening in space brings about new potentialities. I fear they will be equally fleeting. For now, the sound of silence continues to rise and illuminate possibilities of listening, pursuing positions for the unknown of being to be heard.

Main photo by: Lara C. Geary
*This article is part of the project Music & Conversations in the Attic, co-financed by AFCN.
About the Author

Lara C. Geary

Artist based in London. Their practice strives to engage with spaces and places that are neither physical nor psychological but are liminal-in-between and at the edge of language. They explore physical expressions of their thinking process, with sound, drawing, installation and writing.

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