To hum is to create the first turbulence, to deny the throat the first enculturation, to emmmmmmmmote the power of the first sound—the mmmmmmother ur-sound that denies the mmmmmmmmmouth—to perform shifting interior states in the heat of your own juices.
Shit, gas, sound leave. Perhaps they live in latency before being willed to escape. Expelling carbon dioxide and nitric oxide is a relentless participation in the swooping cycle of purification and (in)toxification that results in breath, speech, song.
“In our common sense, we believe the voice is the body, its very breath and interior shapes projected outward into the world as a way others might know us, even know us intimately” (Cusick).
Are we more in our bodies now? More in our minds, in non-verbal activity (“the non-manifest in full actuality”), shielded from the outside world? “The life of the [mmmmm]mind in which I keep myself company may be soundless; it is never silent and it can never be altogether oblivious of itself” (Arendt).
Let’s talk about openings: borderlands rumbling, and then happening. We find access points marked by sensory properties that are unreliable mediators of experience. The chimerical sixth “comm[mmmm]on sense” is experienced even while we can never be certain of its form (Arendt). Common sense is there to accustom us to the world of appearances, but it has witnessed nothing but glistening pools, trapped reflections of possibility. And then there’s the voice, “performing the borders of the body” (Cusick). The voice, performing relationships of interior and exterior.
We breathe different air according to where we are and where we are from, how we are made, and how we make ourselves in time. We make new music and take different steps according to the metrical and metaphysical shifts experienced through pressure, humidity, and heat. We move through the performance of ourselves as we live it. These are the sounds of shuffling, the sighs of frustration, the murmurs of love, the vibrations of slumber. We breathe in the world around us, and exhale our participation in its ways: fleshy and vulnerable tendrils in bloom.
This sound piece is a few minutes long. It will look and sound to anyone beyond 1.5 metres of your body as if you are standing still and silent in thought, when in fact you are privately trekking the borderlands. It may be helpful to imagine many people standing a couple of metres apart, engaged in producing the same thing, together. Stand until your feet grow roots, as if you have just been rained on. Take a deep breath through your nose, and hold the breath for a moment, then release slowly through the nose with your mouth closed: IN 1-2-3-4, OUT 1-2-3-4-5. Another deep breath IN 1-2-3-4, but this time allow the inhaled breath to hover toward the back of your throat as you slowly release it, lowering your soft palate and the space around your uvula as you do, so that you make a barely audible hissing sound (like gas escaping) with the back of your throat as you exhale OUT 1-2-3-4-5. Keep breathing into that zone, and as you do, start to think about the smallest sound you can make with that breath—but try not to make any sound yet. Try to locate the moment that your throat, your uvula, your sinuses, your nose—this entire system of inner chambers—connect to make a sound, and when you find that sound, the smallest sound you can make, try to stay with it. Don’t let it grow louder, just try to eke it out as a consistent, momentary practice of smallness. Meditate on the borderland between the inside and outside of your body as it is delineated by this fragile sound. Consider what it is: Is it the sound of the performance of the body? Is it the sound of the performance of your body in culture? And if so, who’s listening, and what can they hear? Is it the earliest communication? OUT 1-2-3-4-5. Notice the note you find yourself humming. Is it high? Low? Do you know what key it is in? Is it melancholy? Happy? Hopeful? Is the note that naturally leaves your body related to an inside state? Or are you in a call-and-response with an unheard worldly noise, the Big Hum? Are you, in fact, in a polyphony? Feel that your selves are alone with your body now, and that your selves are swimming inside of you, trekking the borderlands with your breath. Find yourself swaying, forget why you’re here. Your mouth is still shut tightly.
Cusick, Suzanne G.. On Musical Performance of Gender and Sex, p.29 in audible traces: gender, identity, and music, Jan 1, 1999
Arendt, Hannah. The Life of the Mind. Harcourt, 1989.
- Published by S.W.I.M. Reader (May 2020)
- The accompanying sound piece for this text was premiered on Something Like #10: The Voice
- The sound piece was also performed for Luzie Meyer’s Situated Feminism in Sound class at Kunsthochschule Weißensee, and for Alex Turgeon’s Poetry as Social Action class at Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.
- Copyright © 2020 Bitsy Knox, all rights reserved.