Originally published in Viso Come Territorio/ Face as Territory, 2012

A Quieter Path

Angus Carlyle’s piece Face as Territory, recordings of different locations in San Cipriano Picentino, in Salerno, southern Italy, treads a quieter path through a European Landscape than what is currently broadcast on political and economic channels.  The sounds of goat bells, playtime, work and leisure are a humbling reminder of Europe and Italy beyond its political intrigue and financial troubles, of a place where people live, quiet lives that are not heard in the hubbub of political wrangling but that have their very own sonic particularity and local intensity.

The work consists of a map of the region plotted with little blue dots that grant me access to small sonic narratives recorded by Carlyle wandering through the area; up and down hills, into farmyards, playgrounds, cafés, saw mills and olive groves. It is a rather shy exploration. He keeps himself in the background, and only reluctantly as for instance in “Mama Mia” do we hear his voice: drawn into conversation by a little girl, he apologizes for his inability to speak Italian. His is an apologetic presence, aware of his outsiderness, unable to communicate he documents. Having heard him once though we know he is there, I can see him in the corner of my auditory imagination. Through such glimpses of his mute transparency we are there, shyly exploring too: moving from dot to dot we produce our own personal walk through a territory generated by sound.

The map and satellite images pretend a cartographic clarity and rationality that the work does not have. Staring at the map on the computer screen while listening to the sonic narratives, it soon goes out of focus, and what I am left with are my own images conjured up in my listening to blue dots; making new shapes and formless forms out of blurred lines on a map. In my short-sighted gaze the work produces an affective geography, a geography that maps the place as a product of emotional bonds between people, between people and animals, between people and things, and between people and the landscape, created and lived through all these relationships made appreciable in sound.

These sonic narratives do not share in the generality of the visual map nor in the image we might have of Salerno or Italy. Instead they produce another visualisation from the delicate particularity of its sound that is a reminder of place as home, as lived in by some, in comfortable familiarity, and utterly foreign to everybody else; an unpretentious homely home that no street view on a google map can represent but sound can communicate the exclusivity and particularity of. This sonic experience of home, of lived native territory, produces neither the analytical clarity of spatial theory nor that of discourses on belonging and identity. Instead it provides an opaque and sensorial sense of a place that remains invisible and foreign, but in its sonic vicinity reminds as of what belonging is. - Images spell out the limits of the portrayed, sound constructs inexhaustibly the experience of the encounter.

And so what seems foreign and remote as an image or a name becomes close up and personal in sound. No more so than when listening to Buffalo Breath on headphones, letting the animal lick our lobes and breathe right into our ears.

Playtime too happens in my ears not on the satellite map. My own experience of growing up in a village, the church bells, children playing, expands the soundscape, at once narrating the foreign and offering a path to my own familiarity. The image remains in the present, fixed, awkwardly frozen and flat, while the sound vibrates in my ears producing an other world, a magical world of life lived now, foreign but imaginable through the affective memory I have of my own, triggered by the sounds at this particular blue dot creating the extensity of my present listening.

I am not following the map but mapping my own while listening. The lines of my territory are not those between the dots, between locations on-line, on the virtual map as a portrait of the real place; my lines are fragile threads mapping from my body a delicate net of connections that build a possible map, a possible terrain, a space built of my coincidence with the sounds on-line, which I temporarily inhabit but which also remind me that I am neither there nor have I come from there.

This understanding is reached only when we tread quietly, like Carlyle, unheard but open to all that sounds. When we remain in the shadow of the microphone and listen rather than recognise, in order to hear the particularity of this place in the acknowledgment of the otherness and difference of our own: an estrangement that paradoxically brings us closer to our own familiarity, and that opens a new space in which we try to find a momentary coincidence with theirs rather than assume a given association.