excerpts from the book
One would expect that a book titled Auscultation would have a preface with several revealing and profound anecdotes on how the author was fascinated by rumbling stomachs and heartbeats, this is not the case.
The term auscultation first occurred to me as I was watching a film by Stan Brakhage “The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes.” It’s one of Brakhage’s early films that he made in a hospital filming medical autopsies, it was the content and the way of filming, a close examination of an examination, that made me wonder what an auditory equivalent could be, at least in linguistic terms. The word autopsy describes a medical process, an examination, and as his title reveals its original meaning, the act of seeing oneself, with one’s own eyes. Brakhage’s filming in this piece is microscopic, seeing what one would normally pass over, avert one’s eyes from, this was exactly what I was ‘looking’ for in a term that had to do with a focused listening.
A listening that implies a movement towards the thing listened to, a microscopy with one’s own ears, an act, a gesture.
That through auscultation, this focused listening, I could hear what and how you listened. That I could hear listening and eventually listen to your listening. Not only see you looking but look at your looking.
Since 2005 I’ve been carrying this word around not wanting to fix it in any particular way, it was first an idea then a lecture series around listening and performing, and has since become two audio works and now finally a text. The text is an opening onto the term rather than a closed package ready to deliver the mysteries of auditory phenomenon. I consider it an invitation to the reader and listener and add to that an ellipsis...
“To give proper consideration to something one should begin not with one idea but with five.”
John Cage quoting Marshall McLuhan in X Writings
Auscultation is the act of listening to the internal organs, it is a close listening, a microscopic listening.
Originally, it is a word that describes a medical gesture, a practice, the one of hearing a patient’s pulse, of hearing the patient’s breathing from different points of the body. Of listening to and listening for rhythms and pulses, regularities and irregularities.
The pulse is our internal clock, an immediate beat that is present even if it is hardly heard and rarely listened to, it is the zero degree of latitude that gives our bearings regardless of where we are and regardless of how fast or slow it beats.
There is a mediate auscultation that uses an instrument such as the stethoscope to amplify the natural hearing and then there is an immediate auscultation without an instrument, with one’s ears alone. In both cases the auscultation denotes a choice, an area that one listens to, it is a form of examination of this area, to listen to details and by doing so systematically, gathering an adequate and encompassing record of a whole. It’s listening to corners, it’s listening to the grass grow first, rather than hearing the field.
Tuning is a specialized and active form of listening, an immediate auscultation, the act of listening to the strings and relationships between notes in an instrument.
For example, in tuning a piano one begins with a note, in most cases the A, which in general corresponds to 440hz. Although this is not always the case, the A can be several hertz above or below 440. There is the standard and then there are variations. It would be quite impossible to get an adequately or well-tuned piano if one were simply to tune the individual keys to the hertz that they correspond to, this would result in an uneven and unbalanced sound.
The way pianos are tuned is through a system of tuning one key to another in set relationships such as thirds, fifths, octaves, and then to check the tuning by playing other notes to set off other relationships. An intense listening as well as repetitive strikes of the keys enables adequate tuning. A repetition that reveals the vibrations between the notes, these vibrations are then listened to and modified in accordance to the other notes. Another term for these vibrations are beats to listen and adapt the number of beats between two notes.
On average a piano has 88 keys, and seven octaves, the tuning goes from one octave to the next. In one tuning there is a multitude of primary relationships, subsets and the overall outcome to be considered. Each tuning for each group is interdependent. One key has the ability to set off the remaining 87 keys.
3. Silence and Pauses
Another form of auscultation is to examine the pauses, the rests, and the silence. Since John Cage, silence has been one that signals a space, a context, a discourse.
One recalls one of his famous statements: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it !” I read this is as speaking a silence, or letting a silence speak. Not to impose a particular discourse but to allow for multiple discourses to appear.
Silence speaks volumes, even when the dynamics are quiet! It is when the dynamics are quiet that it is necessary to place one’s attention to detail, that close listening in this context reveals the music, reveals the sounds. It is within this silence that the pause allows, it is an invitation to create the piece.
The pause and rests are written as in a score to denote a silence and may be re-written with different notations. They impose, they may be composed. Since we are constantly hearing from all direc- tions at once, since hearing never stops, since our ears do not have earlids, the auditory information that we receive calls for a filtering. This filtering accentuates certain information, fine-tunes it, it can be a mechanical process using technology or a subjective one, the choices may be random, or surprising. Filtering can be arbitrary and unconscious but when used consciously it reveals the microscopic details that are inherent in sound.
4. Sound1,2,3,4... and Sound verb
Sound is not static, it is first and foremost vibrations, and second- ly it is friction that causes sound to be heard. Friction between one element and another; one object and another producing sound. In looking at a definition of sound one comes across the pertinent parallel between the sonic and thinking, sound as a verb examines, sound as a noun is impressions, ideas. Perhaps when one says sonic thinking one is looking at a tautology. If we say that the idea of sonic thinking is tautological then perhaps we can also say that one way that sound examines is through repetition, repeating a note, a thought, at a different moment, a form of tuning.
Sonic thinking might be a form of thought in the sense that the sonorous within the thinking allows ideas to take shape. This is paradoxical
￼since sound has no physical or fixed shape, this linguistic contradiction should be used as a template.
If thinking is to be sonic it must be a process of thinking that allows not only contradictions but also non-fixity. Versatile and vibrating thoughts that do not rest in order to stay put, but rest to allow for a pause, for the occurrence and inclusion of other thoughts, other minds, and other perspectives.
This thinking is not a branch of musicology.
Musicology relies, in part, on a listening that is activated by the performance and creation of music. An active listening ends when what is listened to goes beyond the realm of music.
One form of investigation could use sonic metaphors, meaning metaphors that have a direct derivation from sound such as the following: echo, resonance, vibrato, reverberation, etc.
To listen is to be signalled by and then to follow the resonance or echo in the subject that has been chosen. It is almost a tautological strategy; one follows the sound and then produces a work or piece that resembles and then reassembles it, a repetition that is in the end a variation.
A second possible form of investigation is to listen to the definitions, if sound is at the same time an idea, an examination, an auditory phenomena. etc.
5. Tone Testing
An example of what I would call tautological strategy, one used for commercial purposes was Edison’s tone testing. Tone tests were elaborate advertisements; an audience would be invited to listen to a live performer, a singer in most cases, and then a recording of the same singer. They would then be asked which one was the live performer. These tests were used to demonstrate the quality of the discs that Edison was producing at the time, that the “real thing” and the record were indistinguishable. Interestingly enough, the performers used in the tone tests all confess to training their voices to sound like their recorded selves! They would, in other words, tune their voices to their recordings.
The repetition, the tautology here is not used to reveal discrepancies but to render the technological reproduction seamless, invisible, inaudible. This inaudibility was aided and enhanced by the fact that these performances were carried out either in the dark or behind a curtain. Quite the opposite to Pythagoras and his followers, the acousmatics, that listened behind a curtain to his teachings, being in the dark to focus more on what was being said rather than who was saying it. One curtain was used for disguising the other for assimilation.
Coda – Aposiopesis
Aposiopesis is a term used to indicate a sudden and often deliberate break in a sentence, it is a silence that silences the moment, creating a tension. This draws one into attention, to the particular break, the fissure, the pause.
It is a rhetorical device, it is often used to conceal, but can also be the invitation to the other to continue the train of thought. It is the moment of becoming silent, it is only at this moment were one can truly listen, hark, and understand. It is perhaps only at this moment where an examination of an examination can take place.
Published by Argobooks 2009 | © 2009 Tisha Mukarji & argobooks