Out and Loud

When engaging with the written word, reading out loud is not the norm. Most reading happens in silence, external at least. The inner sound-world might be set ablaze by the inflow gathered by the scrolling eye, but the lips, more often than not, remain tightly sealed. 

True, exceptions abound, some more fortunate than others. A political proclamation, any kind of speech anchored on a written text preparation, a roll call or a checklist relying on immediate response and acknowledgment, a story told, a letter passed on to the ears of the blind or illiterate, and many others.

I have become fascinated by the practice of reading out loud for crowds or groups of people engaged in a task. Like the tradition, stemming from the mid 1800s, of reading to the workers in Cuban cigar factories during their work shifts. I remember vividly the example given of the book being read as being Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But anything went, from Jane Eyre to Paris Match, from the Quran to Das Kapital. Everywhere where the busy, repetitive bodies were deemed opportunities for the literary colonization of the headspace. Happening again and again, in industrial, religious, or pedagogic settings. I might actually have dreamt once that Ballard’s Crash was being read to an operating team during a hip reconstruction surgery.

At the current phase of the Living Anthologies project, I am constantly balancing between reading silently or out loud. Through the constant doubtful path of text selection, trying out resonances is both a priority and a willy strategy. The ear is, after all, quicker than the eye*.

Reading out loud activates listening in context. In the context of the acoustics of the reader’s immediate surroundings, but also in a deeper sense. Rooted in the situation of loaning a voice to borrowed thoughts, one is invited to embrace a mixture of fusion and resistance through an intense co-created exchange. And as I have written before, books are mostly dead things crafted by dead people – so reading, and particularly reading out loud in a very literal sharing of living time, is a task of thaumaturgic, even necromantic, overtones. Books take from the body in time so they can add to the soul – as medieval thinkers might have framed it.

For this to happen authors do not need to be dead, though some indeed are. Every written text carries dead time, a carefully wrapped package of irretrievability, miraculous donated onto every reader. And unpacking is always a practice of archeology. Indiana Jones in every bookworm, “the pen is mightier than the sword” and other cinephile jokes aside – this is very true, I swear. And by swear I mean “I curse”. Loud and proud.

Eduardo Abrantes, Roskilde, October 9, 2019

*According to research (quoting for example Horowitz’s 2013 The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind), an average brain takes at least 0.25 seconds to process visual recognition. But sound? One can recognize a sound in 0.05 seconds.

Inflection

Inflection is a process of word formation. It essentially means that a given word will be modified in order to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, mood, etc. Some languages are highly inflected, especially those closer to the Proto-Indo-European, such as Latin, Greek, Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, and other modern Romance languages, such as my own native one: European Portuguese. Others, like modern English and contemporary Scandinavian languages (Icelandic excluded), are markedly less so.


An example. In English you can start with “cat”. You need “cats” to convey plural. “Catty” to mark someone out as being prone to sly and spiteful remarks. “Categorical” to point out something or someone as an absolute, a sphynx-like mystery, standing in the deep silence of staring cats. “Concatenation” to single out a group that behaves not like a unity, but like an intensely telepathically linked hivemind, covertly scheming to rule your house from the catnip hangout. Oh, “catnip”, here we go…


In earnest or less so, one speaks of the inflection of a given voice. Some languages, like Maasai (spoken in Kenya and Tanzania), Tlatepuzco Chinantec (Southern Mexico) and Mandarin, are even prone to inflect using tone change alone, producing distinct meanings merely by the sonic variations of pronunciation of the same word. But when one speaks of the inflection of a given voice, one is bound in a specific conversation, meaning pouring from every corner of the acoustics of the room, or forest, or beach, or tunnel, or bunker, or airport lounge, or shopping mall, or school yard, or favourite waffle café.


Audio-books are all about inflection and situation. To have a text, in its literal complexity and unabbreviated glory, read out loud into your ears. Pages and pages and pages, every single one full of sentences and words and words, each of them inflected by a human being. An actor in a recording booth, a minor god of literature. A gift of meaningful sound.
And the situation? That is all yours. Washing dishes, jogging, sitting in a couch, sharing an earbud with a significant other, playing it out loud so the cat can hear. (If at this stage you are, however understandingly, assuming I am a cat person you are severely skewed in your assumption.)


Books are dead things mostly built by now dead people. Or are they? Yes, they really are. Except… When they are being choreographed in someone’s mind and body, by a voice, be it inner, outer, or unqualifiedly all of the above. The browsing eye, skimming the contrasting surface of immovable tiny black bodies on white shores, the fingertips chasing bump after bump, ridge after ridge, or just fucking shutting up and paying attention, for as long as we can muster, creatures of distraction that we are.


There is an artistic project behind these gangly words, and it is about bring text into sound. It is called “Lived Anthologies”. It departs from NSU’s body of publications, produced between 2000 and 2018. I am reading all the texts, some closer than others. Out of the mess, and my own criteria, and a few opinions I will seek, a selection will come about. Around seven to ten pieces. And then we will go into compositional cacophony, and use every dirty trick and every available tool to turn these into sonic compositions, unabbreviated, messy enough, hopefully drinking deep enough of the original meaning to create other, unsuspected layers of relation between reader/listener and the words put down. Listening forward to it.

Introducing: Project 2

Researcher and sound artist Eduardo Abrantes brings a host of recent NSU publications to life as sound compositions of landscapes, narration, ambiance, and sounds from historical archival material. 

Eduardo’s approach is to gather and compose anthology-specific sound-worlds which, together with the plurality of voices in the texts, create new models of knowledge-sharing. Follow to discover more about Eduardo’s process, and to hear the compositions as they emerge through his podcast in 2020.