Notes from the Tiny Conference

Section I

In the opening session, Thinking with Water – Thoughts on the Theory and Discussion, Katrin Losleben reflected on the project’s genesis and the insufficiencies that became obvious during it. Katrin explained the project’s current understanding of two of its most salient concepts, place and water, and highlighted their embeddedness in queer theory. Focusing on the feminist new materialist theoretical foundation of hydrofeminism as established by Astrida Neimanis, Katrin showed that this framework is insufficient when doing research in the unceded land of Sápmi. As the project’s central aim is to amplify local and Indigenous knowledges, she zoomed in on the specifics of the sea Sámi history – the similarities and differences of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ population, Norwegianization, German occupation, and its scorched Earth policy. The questions of how the research can proceed in collaboration with these local agents, how not to essentialize identities and experiences, and how potentially gained insights can be integrated into policymaking were discussed following the presentation. 

Section II

In the section Soundwalks 2.0, Britta Sweers presented the development of the sound walk and sound sitting methodology, which is the main activity in work package I. Sweers clarified the strategy for gathering conductors and participants, the development and implementation of the preceding Workshops for Conductors, the implementation of eight sound walks and one sound sitting, and the postwalk interviews. The question of how to work with more diverse groups and positionalities parallelled the information of what had been done so far. She also presented the Manual for Conductors and the Journal for Conductors, which the Arctic Auditories team had developed and handed to the conductors in the initial workshops. Those are also available on issuu for public download. In the second part of the session, Britta and Inga Bardsen Tøllefsen, one of the conductors, discussed the experience of developing and guiding a sound walk. Questions of the walking methodology in a Sámi context/place, ableism, intergenerational listening, human-/non-human relations, Nature with capital N, relations of multiple senses, listening as an “ecology of attention,” and, finally, the role of trouble and pleasure in research were topics of the following conversation.

Section III

“In the first section of the afternoon, Notes from the Field, Angus Carlyle opened the presentation on Notes from the Field with the genesis of sound mapping, including both visual and sounding maps that refer to bodies of water. Angus showed how visual sound maps often restrict the depiction of sound to its source but also presented some exemptions (e.g., Athanasius Kircher’s Phonurgia Nova, 1673). From these maps, water bodies are often left out and remain blanks. Examples of ‘sounding’ soundmaps included Sung Tieu’s Cold Print (2020), Andrea Polli’s Sonic Antarctica (2008), and Jananne Al-Ani’s Sounds of War II (2023). Converging on bodies of water, Angus discussed Annea Lockwood’s The River Archive (1964–) and other works, Hildegard Westerkamp’s Inside the Soundscape #5 / Harbour Symphony (1986), and finally, Mere Nailatikau’s and A.M. Kanngieser’s 2024 contribution to the CTM X Intermediale, Oceanic Refraction. With the latter, Angus pointed to the role of feminist theory in the cultural turn and, with this, to sensory and embodied approaches that, in a feminist tradition, disrupt dualisms. Also, he referred to Kanngieser’s publication on “Sonic colonialities” (2023) and its call to refrain from the idea that listening is a benign activity. Angus emphasized one prominent mode of listening that explains the project’s approach and its familiar challenges: Listening to books, artworks, and films, and listening to listeners, all modes of listening to the project’s approach to listen to ‘expert listeners,’ sound artists, listening authors and beings who have worked to listen to those silences that Western scholarship in the Arctic had left unnoticed.

Angus hosted a listening session, deploying recordings made at fieldwork sites as a focus and framed in terms of the kinds of questions that we have seen emerging in the post-soundwalk discussions. In breakout groups the participants discussed their listening experiences and noted them on framapad. You can listen to the recordings here.  

Section IV

In the fourth and final presentation, Arctic Futurisms: Writing Water, Paula R. Mikalsen, who leads WP 3 together with Elizabeth S. Barron, talked about the work being done, including the creation of an Online Writing League (OWL), a literary database of fiction, grey texts and academic works concerned with climate change, futurism, resource management and hope, and finally the creation of an aqueous glossary of local words related to water. The premise of the work package is part creative co-creation and part archival constitution and will consist of written materials from different genres and styles. Paula considered the merits of a diffractive approach inspired by Donna Haraway, Trinh T. Minhha, and Karen Barad, which “maps where the effects of differences appear” (Haraway 1992). Diffractive reading enables the researchers to work with different materials from different disciplines, each with their own canon and jargon, as they will attempt to map some spaces, fictional and perhaps some academic, that envision the future in the Arctic or the North, differently.  

Thanks to

We want to give a big thank you to the many participants from the advisory board, the conductors, colleagues, and friends. You stayed in an online meeting for 7 hours, frequently took the microphone to offer your perspectives in a critical and supportive way. We look forward to the next gathering in October.  

Katrin Losleben and Paula R. Mikalsen with Britta Sweers, Angus Carlyle, Elizabeth S. Barron and Silje Gaupseth

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).


Archival Work in Arctic Auditories

One aspect of our project involves exploring archives, and my colleagues will be looking at historical and meteorological sources to achieve this. Another aspect relates to the languages that address the Arctic and others will be adapting a glossary for this and creating an Online Writers League (OWL) and other collaborators will turn to this work in the near future. What I’ve been doing falls, in a sense, between those two dimensions: I’m listening to circumpolar northern literature – mainly, but not exclusively, European materials – to find how the acoustic atmospheres of the arctic regions are heard in different writings. I’ve been listening to novels, memoirs, artist catalogues, theoretical texts, trying to keep an ear open for recurring themes. I’ve also strayed a little and watched films, gone to exhibitions, and I have a number of soundworks that I’m looking forward to engaging with.

(The idea of hearing literature was something I attempted in an earlier project in Okinawa, where I listened to war diaries by civilians, Japanese and American soldiers to get a sense of the sounds of a conflict which, for all its utter brutality, did not leave many recordings).

As a work in progress, very much an accumulation of first impressions – so don’t @ me with typos – I’ve been keeping a blog of what I’m learning from my literary listening. Next week I’ll share more about what I’ve been reading and will invite you to suggest new works for me to discover but for now if you want to have a browse, my literary listening notebook is here.

A photograph of grey plywood shelves with untidily arranged books, a CD and a vinyl record. A crystal and some sheep wool are also on the shelf.