Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener
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Sinister Resonance begins with the premise that sound is a haunting, a ghost, a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is transitory. The intangibility of sound is uncanny a phenomenal presence both in the head, at its point of source and all around, and never entirely distinct from auditory hallucinations. The close listener is like a medium who draws out substance from that which is not entirely there.
The history of listening must be constructed from narratives of myth and fiction, silent arts such as painting, the resonance of architecture, auditory artefacts and nature. In such contexts, sound often functions as a metaphor for mystical revelation, instability, forbidden desires, disorder, formlessness, the unknown, unconscious and extra-human, a representation of immaterial worlds. As if reading a map of hitherto unexplored territory, Sinister Resonance deciphers sounds and silences buried within the ghostly horrors of Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, Charles Dickens, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James and Edgar Allen Poe, seventeenth century Dutch genre painting from Rembrandt to Vermeer, artists as diverse as Francis Bacon and Juan Munoz, Ad Reinhardt and Piero Della Francesca, and the writing of many modernist authors, including Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and William Faulkner. Threaded through the book is Marcel Duchamp's curious observation "One can look at seeing but one can't hear hearing" and his concept of the infra-thin, those human experiences so fugitive that they exist only in the imaginative absences of perception.
privacy and public space have congealed into a concoction of profound anxiety, suspicion, paranoia, voyeurism and mass prurience. AERIOS The aerial (or ariel) nature of sound, and by extension — music — always implies some degree of insubstantiality and uncertainty, some potential for illusion or deception, some ambiguity of absence or presence, full or empty, enchantment or transgression. Through sound, the boundaries of the physical world are questioned, even threatened or undone by
because they thought that this enemy could be vanquished only by their silence, or because the look of bliss on the face of Ulysses, who was thinking of nothing but his wax and chains, made them forget their singing.’ Kafka, incidentally, was a dedicated user of Ohropax (or ‘ear peace’) earplugs, the invention in 1908 of Maximilian Negwer, a German pharmacist who was initially inspired by the same episode in the Odyssey. Ohropax was designed to give the wearer ‘ear peace’ in response to the
mocking her.’ Jackson’s subtle mockery of the clichés of supernatural and gothic fiction echoes this laughter, yet she refuses to supply a rational explanation, or confirm the psychological undercurrent. In its scenario of flawed and incompatible individuals forced to share enclosed space, The Haunting of Hill House resembles Jean Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit, whose message was that hell is ourselves. Hill House is, after all, one vowel away from Hell House. Myth enters the story as they move
filling up, speaking quietly or making noise. This movement is reminiscent of the architecture of the body and our sensitivity to sound moving within the body or escaping from the body. The story of Syrinx and her transformation into Pan’s flute reminds us of the body’s potential to become an instrument, and the absorption of music into and through the body. Jankélévitch describes this as an act of trespass: ‘Music acts on human beings, on their nervous systems and their vital processes … By
have been a bark of the dead floating in slowly under the very gate of Erebus.’ In this ritualistic setting, the swimmer returns to the water, leaving only a hat floating on the surface as a visible trace. As he was on first emergence, Leggatt is headless (a precursor of Bataille’s Acéphale, the secret society and its review that declared in 1936, Bataille writing in a little cold house by the sea, hearing dogs barking in the night, Andre Masson singing in the kitchen, putting a recording of the