Arctic Auditories Tiny Conference

We’re entering the new year with intention and reflection, and on Feb 1-2, we are gathering all our participants, guides, friends, and colleagues to join us for our Tiny Conference. 

Each project member will give a short presentation on their contribution to Arctic Auditories in their respective fields and disciplines, and share some works in progress.

While this full-day event is for our consortium (all the folks from the community involved in the project) only, this blog is dedicated to documenting and informing the public of our activities. So, for those who can’t attend: among our acticities, we’ll delve into methodological discussions on the evolution of soundwalks with one of our guides, we’ll take a look at some field notes, pictures and of course, some audio-materials.  

The first day will conclude with a talk from artist Margrethe Pettersen on her ongoing “Remembering with Rivers” project. The event is open to the public, free and streams on Zoom. Tickets available here.

Water, my companion

By Elizabeth Barron, Arctic Auditories research team member.

By May 2023, we were well into Arctic Auditories. Spending all this time with colleagues focused on sound (something I have never worked on within my own scholarship) was starting to influence affect me. I was co-leading a field course in the United States for a mixed class of Norwegian and American students. The class was on conservation, sustainability, and environmental citizenship with a focus on national parks. After four months of mostly classroom-based learning, we took the students on a three-week trip to Yellowstone National Park, with stops at Teddy Roosevelt National Park and Grand Tetons National Park.  

The students were well-bonded by the time we were in the field, and talked a lot! They were also a generally healthy, fit group of fast hikers. Some kind of combination of youthful energy and peer pressure to not fall behind meant I, being neither youthful nor willing to push myself way outside my comfort zone to keep up, was often hiking alone.  

Was I alone in these mountains? Or was I [alone] along rivers, [alone] surrounded by volcanos, [alone] with microbes (Figure 1)? 

Figure 1: Beehive Geyser at Yellowstone National Park. The geysers at Yellowstone are an amazingly diverse community of algae, fungi, and bacteria that live happily in the extreme heat and toxic-to-humans landscape of the active volcano that makes up the heart of Yellowstone National Park. It erupted just a few minutes after this photo was taken (May 20, 2023).

I wanted the students to slow down, to listen to their surroundings rather than each other for even a few minutes. In the classroom, I had taught them about different ways to engage in fieldwork, and other sensory geographies such as smellscapes and soundscapes. So, when we were in the Grand Tetons, after making it to the top and re-joining the group (who were all done with their lunch and exploring by the time I met them (Figure 2)), I asked everyone to spend at least 10 minutes of their return hike in silence, ideally hiking alone, listening.  

Figure 2: Student peering over the cliff edge at wildlife below, Grand Tetons National Park with Jenny Lake in the background (May 21, 2023).

I set back down the trail at 2 pm. It was sunny, 22°C, and now I chose to walk alone. Thinking about my Arctic Auditories crew back in Norway, I chose to focus on watery sounds as I walked the Jenny Lake Wilderness Trail. This is what I heard – although actually, this is me deciding what words in my native language of English can come anywhere near trying to describe what I heard, which of course you can never read.  

This exploration and play with language is something we will soon start focusing more on in Arctic Auditories, as we begin to build a multi-lingual glossary of sound words, sonic writing practices, and how we write ourselves into sound and place.  

Sounds of water on the trail  

  • The slap splash of my boots in a puddle on the trail 
  • The dull roar of the big waterfalls, and slightly gentler, higher sound of rushing rapids 
  • The gurgle plop of the lake edge, like an unassuming toddler talking in her sleep, loses out to the deafening motor roar of a passing speedboat, which when gone has left me the loud crashing waves on a built-up rock wall at the lake’s edge 
  • The gurgle on the rock wall at the lake’s edge, of water breaking on rocks, is different than the little bubbles that pop up like friends when the waves hit submerged wood 
  • The shush-shush of slush alternates with the slap-slap of walking across trails damp with melting snow and puddles 
  • A gurgling brook emerging out from under a boulder and draining into the lake reminds me spring is well underway, but here in the mountains of Wyoming, USA the snow is still melting, feeding the lake for the summer to come 

Like a TV cooking show host tasting their final dish and telling you how delicious it is: the smells and textures that you only hope to experience…I can only tell you my experience of water and hope that you will know something more. Perhaps you will think about the paradoxical nature of our watery words – that water on the mountain is powerful and strong – it crashes, rushes, and roars. Water on the trail is more of a nuisance – it slaps, slushes, and plops. All this water reminds me that water is change, it is almost constantly moving, and its instantiations are ephemeral. It is like sound in this way. How can we, with writing and language, convey the fluidity of the watery sounds around us? We hope you will help us think through this in the coming months. 

Water hits the sides of my water bottle like irregular drumbeats, reminding me I am on the move. I am alive in this landscape with salty water running down my face, proving that I can move, I do move, and my body takes care of me as I take care of it, at my own pace. 

Figure 3: The author (me!) after just arriving at the destination for our Jenny Lake Wilderness Trail Hike – a nice lake overlook you can see in Figure 2. Students relax in the background. 😉

@ Elisabeth Barron

New Project means New Notebook.

New Project means New Notebook.

Whenever I’m working on a project, I have a dedicated notebook on the go. I’m not precious about these as artefacts – at the end of each year, I type up and photograph any relevant pages before recycling. The images accompanying this post by @anguscarlyle are all from my 2023 Arctic Auditories notebook.

My notebooks have all kinds of functions. At their most pretentious, there are affinities with what Michael Taussig has to say about the notebook in “I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own” in a quote I’ve used often in class: “the fieldwork diary is built upon a sense of failure—a foreboding sense that the writing is always inadequate to the experience it records. Nevertheless, on rereading by its author, the diary has the potential to bring forth a shadow text that can simulate the experience that gave birth to the diary entry, not only for what is said, but more likely for what is omitted yet exists in gestures between the words. This is what Barthes called the ‘role of the Phantom, of the Shadow’”.

Though Taussig talks of the notebook’s resemblance to “a magical object in a fairytale” and suggests “the point is that a fieldworker’s diary is about experience in a field of strangeness,” I try and keep journals that are more ordinary, their details stretching (with the field itself) to include what happens here, where I live in the UK, as well as what goes on in Tromsø / Romssa and, in parallel, to extend the timeframe from the period away to hours spent preparing and reflecting. Some texts and drawing were made there, away (the two grey mountains were rendered with boot polish in the rain after a hike up a valley, the colours added later in my cabin, the written place names after I’d returned to the UK). Some texts and drawings only appeared here and later (the light blue writing on the page with the leaf include doodles made during a Teams meeting). Going through my photos and deciding which of these to print out and add to the journal can help recirculate memories (though, what was not photographed might struggle to raise a shadow).

-Angus

Different Silences

I am still far from the end of the shelf of contextual reading that I’ve been slowly assembling at ersfjordbotn.wordpress.com but some emerging themes are promising (perhaps that means they reinforce my own prejudices?!).

I’ve noticed several writers describing a condition of ‘silence,’ but a silence that is not resolved as a simple, stable shape nor easily parsed as a positive synonym for tranquillity.

Ann-Helén Laestadius (“Stolen”), Kenneth Steven (“In Search of the Sami”) and Eileen Myles (“Hell: A Libretto”) frame the quiet in high northern latitudes as characteristic and modulated by the weather:

“He heard dogs barking as he passed a few of the houses. Otherwise the quiet was deafening; it was that particular silence that descended when snow blanketed the villages.”

“There wasn’t a sound: it was that snow and ice silence which almost seems bigger than silence itself … A sky so brim-full of starts it was like the smoke of breath, and the stars crackling diamond sharp.”

“You think it is always terribly dark where we are / No it is female, it is young, it is rich / It is old. / We are not frozen, we are not murmuring / Silence, we are guy geyser, we are volcanic / We are old like planet itself; and yes you are right / we are cold, / cold, / cold.”

Silence can also be translated as audible absence. Marla Cone hears the quiet as a reflection of environmental damage “Where are the sea lions, fat and happy, napping on the rocks and barking at their pups? Where are the furry sea otters crunching on urchins?” And Eva Saulitis seems to ratchet their interpretation of quiet as ‘unnatural: “A dream of emptiness, silence … I knew nothing of silence in nature, nothing of the sea, nothing of wilderness, of predators besides raptors and owls.”

Silence can be ominous in its representation – the “it grew deathly quiet” of Vigdis Hiorth or the terrifying “silents” that punctuate the violence in the home depicted in Tanya Tagaq’s astonishing “Split Tooth”. And it can be ominous as a deliberate strategy, with Liisa-Rávná Finbog citing Sámi scholar Rauna Kuokkanen conceptualizing the continued “silencing” of indigenous perspectives as an “epistemic ignorance”.