By Samson Young
How does one listen to one’s native language as shapes – that is to say, to consciously mask the meaning of language, so as to hear utterances not as words that convey meaning but as discrete sonic objects? Artistic experiments in the last several decades – including musique concrete works that sought to reconfigure recordings of speech, decades of exploration in sound poems, and extended vocal compositions including Berio’s epic Sequenza for voice – have demonstrated that acousmatic listening is indeed entirely probable. That acknowledged, whenever speech is used in a sound work there are often moments of slippage when I find myself succumbing to the desire to ascribe meanings, even if I’d been signaled not to, and even if it is in a language that I am not familiar with. So the more interesting question for me is always this: what are the sets of conditions that make acousmatic listening easier?
Bjorn Ho began his set at the last edition of Sonic Anchor with a field recording of the Shum Shui Po area. The soundscape, the conversations and the cacophony of irregular rhythm were soon overwhelmed by a rather more regular and melodious groove, consisted mostly of metallic sounds that for me occupied an entirely different sonic space. I found myself first growing impatient with the distance that these materials consistently maintained. As my mind wandered, I occupied myself with eavesdropping on the conversations. But then out of nowhere, a violin track that functioned like a musical quotation is thrown into the mix. For a brief magical moment, the awkward disjointedness was rationalized, aestheticized, and given form. From that point on I found myself listening cinematically, as if to the sound track of a wonderfully non-sensical movie. A minimal electro-dance groove closed out his set, conjuring the image of a chase scene at the Apliu Street that ended abruptly. I didn’t feel like I was always in good hand – but it was most certainly a fun ride.