Death Cities: Hearing Atmospheric and Spatial Violence
Thursday 23 November
This talk explores atmospheric violence—violence that is pervasive, diffuse, immanent, ‘in the air’—and spatial violence, what Herscher and Siddiqi (2014) have described as ‘the manifold forms of harm mediated through built environments,’ focusing on the role of sound and listening in violence ‘becoming atmospheric’ in cities (Peterson 2021). It references earwitness testimonies, citizen journalism, and clandestine investigations pertaining to the 51-Day War in Gaza in 2014, the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War, and contemporary Beirut in exploring how cities become sites of atmospheric and spatial violence, and how this violence is heard by those who are subjected to it. It suggests that atmospheric and spatial violence require new ways of understanding sounds and sonic experiences that precede or exceed listening as it is typically conceptualized (cochlear, neurocognitive, with sounds subject to technological capture and scientific analysis). How is the listening subject reconfigured when their primary apprehension of the crumbling world around them is through sensing vibrations, including through the coupling of their body with the violent shaking of buildings? How is a death city—a city designed to produce death and be eradicated itself—manifested in and through sound? How do sound and listening participate in the spatial violence that characterizes urbicide? And what strategies have artists and activists developed to make audible forms of atmospheric violence that otherwise go undetected and unnoticed today?
Gascia Ouzounian is a sonic theorist and practitioner whose work explores sound and music in relation to histories of science and technology, space, urbanism, and violence. She is the author of Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts (2021, MIT Press) and numerous essays on a wide range of topics including sonic memories of the Armenian Genocide; 'counterlistening'; vibrational architectures; sound art in radical Black arts traditions; and the acoustic mapping of cities. Ouzounian is associate professor of music at the University of Oxford, where she directs the European Research Council-funded project Sonorous Cities: Toward a Sonic Urbanism
Since 2013 Ouzounian has co-directed the research group Recomposing the City, which brings together sound artists, architects, and urban planners in developing interdisciplinary approaches to urban sound studies and urban sonic practices. She is artistic director of Optophono, a label that publishes interactive music and sound art. Recent projects include Scoring the City (2020), which explores experimental notations for urban design, and Acoustic Cities: London and Beirut (2019), for which ten artists created works that responded to the acoustic conditions of London and Beirut.