Measuring Tape Methods Towards the Post-Anthropocene
I sit with the contentions of the anthropocene muddled within its murky waters.
I think through the linkages between how one(s) might decenter human perspectives, with an awareness of how the activities of only some humans have accelerated this specific apocalypse which respectively started for the majority of global human and animal populations in 1492.
When staying close to the urgency of the need for direct human action against ecological collapse, there is a personal tendency to embrace an apocalypse which has, despite myriad layers of colonial violence and worlds and worldings ending and beginning, only just reached me: within all systems of waste comes new life.
This process is one of an assemblage of terms, falling under the umbrellas of symbiosis and homeostasis, especially trans-species and inter- and intra-kin symbioses and homeostases: The life system, i.e everything alive, relies on something else for sustenance to some degree. The planetary system, or whatever we might name it, is always in balance. Neither terms fit into anthropocentric moral conundrums of violence and peace, but rather exists as a chaotic balance - a living chaosmos of distinct material forms and fluxes, and as much as the chaotic host planet doesn’t care for my opinion, I am rather optimistic about this. Noted in Lynn Marguilis’ work The Symbiotic Planet, ‘Living beings defy neat definition. They fight, they feed, they dance, they mate, they die. At the base of the creativity of all large familiar forms of life, symbiosis generates novelty. It brings together different life-forms, always for a reason. Often, hunger unites the predator with the prey or the mouth with the photosynthetic bacterium or algal victim.’ (Margulis, 1998: 12). Our place in the world is networked, and it is moveable as we form new inter and intra-kin networks, building and accepting offers of new relationalities. One thing that we have to accept is that the longevity of the symbiotic planet is non-negotiable, and may or may not include us in our current form, but we will have been there for it, settled strangely within the deep time memory of planetary history. The question that draws my curiosity, though, is how do we narrate that time while we still have the chance? Can the human archive, in its traditional form, static and entrenched in fact-based hegemony, fill that space?
In response to the claim in The Symbiotic Planet, that “physical contact is a nonnegotiable requisite for many differing kinds of life” (Margulis, 1998: 8), I suggest a trans species and transmaterial shift in the way we narrate - not to further notions of inclusivity and progress, but to embrace our networks. Donna Haraway positions the objective of a trans species shift from storytelling to storymaking as this: “Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent responses to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.” (Haraway, 2016:1) . In accordance with this need to map the intersection between chaosmos and calm, I believe that there is as much an urgency towards finding a means through which to feel momentarily as though we don’t have everything to lose - or at least, to play with this loss more sustainably. If it matters what matters make matter, I propose long moments of engaging the senses that emphasize slowness in order to create gentle spaces for feeling and being into each other under different terms. Staying with the trouble could benefit from a soft-fall area in which to seek spaces of experimentation - moving towards unarchiving via whimsical fiction laboratories. Moving through and with the murky waters.
MULTISTABLE FICTION AS
AN ODE TO MARK FELL’S
Contentions of the anthropocene and its slow creeping apocalypse need not come from one singular perspective, since it started centuries ago for many and is an event of many ends and beginnings. It is in the attempt to simplify a complex system of experiences; social, political, environmental, emotional, affective, into one singular narrative that the crisis scape flattens abilities to imagine. Despite its plurality, I resist the will to state these processes as ‘apocalypses’. Although pluralising the term is perhaps more adequate as a descriptive tool for discordant experiences of ‘the end’, I am deliberately coming from an agonistic perspective. Therefore I see room for vast distinction and flux to come together under a larger, singular term, and that this distinction in entanglement is absolutely necessary if we are to engage in what I will now suggest: A direct engagement with the term multistability. Imagining a game of world making in which there is no singular perspective, but rather an emphasis on contradictions and shifting spaces as an agonistic and multitudinous soft-fall area which we might crash on with varying degrees of force. To open the term, we can draw from Mark Fell’s Structure and Synthesis: The anatomy of Practice, “Multistability offers no singular, optimum ‘sweet spot’ that we should ideally locate and permanently inhabit; its multiple positions do not stand in parallel, harmonic, or geometric relationships with one another; they break with the idea of a singular gridlike environment within which all possible positions fit. Each position has its own ‘landscape’. (Fell, 2021: 18).
I propose to play with this intersection (between the need for this soft fall area- Staying with the Trouble - and multistability) with a simple exercise: take in a quite literal sense what you see as already there, breathe it, rip it from the source. This text operates from sonic and ethnographic context since these are the knowledge fields that raised me, but this practice can all the same stem from another knowledge infrastructure (from architecture, design, engineering, mathematics, feeling into and other ways of knowing). After selecting your object, give it a slight shift of approach, as an activity of changing the viewing angle. Perform a conscious act of slippage; change an element; rip the object away from the source; shift up the methodologies that both produced and analyzed it. I suggest this intersection can be thought of as a slow game of multistable fiction making.
I did an exercise, which I think could provide an example of a proto-typical multistable fiction, with children ages 0-110 at a sonic fair in Hastings. It was an intimate space, with only a few attendees and myself as the facilitator. I had prepared the ground work by producing a small installation that allowed participants to play with small objects and their soundings tentatively and gently by way of the very low-fi technology of an ad-hoc contact mic circuit and some charity shop found amps. Since our object was sound, we got to work by thinking about a sound related ‘thing’ that sat somewhere cherished in our individual emotional landscapes. Most participants came up with fairly typical objects one would imagine: a guitar, a drum set, the sound of waves. We began to map out all of the networks of associations that went with this sound ‘thing’, thinking through how in the symbiosis, nothing exists for and in itself but relies on a network of processes and ‘others’ to constitute, maintain or destroy its existence. It is the emphasis on destruction, maintenance and creation here that guides me to the next step. The participants were asked to change just one of the associations in the networks they mapped out, and start to think about what kinds of shifts would then need to be made to all of the other associations in the symbiosis of this sound-object. Drums became no impact objects, players would play the air, air would necessarily be denser, gravity would shift, dancers fly…etc. We circumvented new realities with unconscious transdisciplinarity and trans-materiality. To round off our thinking about sound as a symbiotic material, we searched inside the cable salad installation for our new soundings. We ended up in a fluctuating state of sonic calm, mess, noise, hitting and whacking people and things with soft items, crunching, uncontrolled feedback: a place of play, a room of multistable fiction. A soft-fall area to think and feel through symbiosis with less to lose. This game works at beautiful crossroads: art-science; critique-reform; performance-archive; movement-stasis; apocalypse-hopefulness, death-birth, and quite deliberately does not seek to heal those contentions, but rather sits with it. It collapses age groups and introduces much needed play into crisis-scapes. It exposes symbiosis in a low stakes laboratory.
The reason I have personally been so fascinated with industrial scapes, especially those abandoned, is the presence of vibrations deep underground that influence and intersect with already formed ecologies in the area. Surely this attraction is somewhat linked to my upbringing in an industrial suburban-scape just outside of London, entangled with my heightened auditory sensitivity and fairly flexible imagination. However, I see this interest dominantly entangled with this notion of ‘slow violence’ of noise pollution (Davies, 2022)) and the ways in which it has a very real and material effect on human and non-human ecologies (distinction contentious). This proves to me two aspects that justify a heavy fascination with the sonic: sound is an unseen material and sensual and intuitive ways of knowing need more urgent addressing. Ocular and logocentrism have brought us to an end they simply cannot push us through.
While Thom Davies suggests slow observation as a means of mapping these changes in ecologies and environments, that impact some humans and some creatures more than others (in racialised, gendered, and speciesist terms), in all of these spaces I see cracks and gaps waiting to be filled by non-expert knowers - fiction dreamers. That is why I suggest multistable fiction as both a form of slow observation and slow creation. Go on a listening walk, spend some time in an abandoned quarry, pay attention to vibrations from roads on your feet, and allow space for the soft fall area and play. From this starting point, I often think as ethnographer of human and non-human relations when I begin to perform and ideate on an inclusive multistable fiction. Who would have come here to research? To research what? And why? What were their methods and what does that tell us about ours? Then my object ripped from the source starts to come to life, building new archives and laboratories for new ontologies to come into being.
The text that follows then is built from my encounter with birds on a listening walk to a tunnel where sonic ontologies realigned as a melting soup of non-geometric cyclones that suck you in and push you out, of which you have to be kindly rescued by a friend with a parabolic speaker. It is a weird transcription of an abandoned tunnel system just outside of Athens in the area of Elefsina, where new industrial infrastructures sit brutally on top of what was a part of ancient history vital to the formation of Ancient Greece’s statecraft.
It plays with ethnographic and sonic fiction not as an outcome based process. It is neither competitive, or offers any clear winner. It operates much like Deleuzian notions of desire: it is not the object of desire, but desire itself that keeps one going (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). What is important is not the fiction itself, but rather the will to fiction. This is methodological ideation, a fictitious means to feel into what can be dug out of the landscape. This experimental textual performance of the will to fiction is not rounded off, neither makes a great deal of sense, and potentially is not that interesting in some parts. In my mind, and in the mind of a trusted friend1 who has much been present in my will to fiction, the reader has the opportunity to do multiple things:
1) keep reading, staying open to a schism in textual forms.
2) keep reading, and refer back to the analytical framework as guidance.
3) read the text as separate all together
4) stop reading and read it later
5) stop reading
6) throw the text out of the window
I went to the tunnels on two different occasions: first to hunt a strange film screening run by a collective of artworkers in Athens that produce pop up cinemas in abject and abandoned spaces around the city. And secondly, with the sound artist Fabian Lanzamaier2, to stumble around in the dystopian darkness of the tunnels blindly and record the resonance in the space. Fabian’s work on the wiggly area between the organic and inorganic, making modular milkshakes of synthetic biomimesis and field recordings, was the silent starting point to my listening into the space differently. As my eyes created giant spiders in the background of the darkness up against the directionless scuttling of resonance, and birds in flight flew over generator hums of the road and the industry nearby - what chaosmos might ensue?
How to make sense of this? With a measuring tape.
The sonic dys/utopia presented new borderlands, heat charged meridian lines scattered, agonistically colliding as a thick soup of matter. Generator birds took flight in mechanical sound, resonating with electromagnetic earth lines - it’s not clear if it was a defense system as a way to say ‘our mating patterns will not be disrupted - we will be the disruption’. Or if it were something completely other. It was, nevertheless, a synthetic biomimesis in inversion, all together blowing hot bubbles of sonic borderlands. The only way to measure this cyborg companion materiality in all its geometric chaos? With a measuring tape.
Read aloud, make the sounds with your body or whatever is in reach of you.
Phone conversation with sofia
[spill a coffee]
[Slap your tongue]
listen for 5 seconds
seems now ‘silenter’?
Cars tires crunch
[make sound] meeerrrrrieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp
[listen for 5 seconds]
[make sound] rucluch
Slide in on faux velvet friction
Cars on top of cars
[make small talk for 30 minutes]
Crunching feet on floor, in 3
[stamp feet on floor for 1 minute]
Confused steps out of rhythm
Close to car tires crunching at 80 kmph
Plant whacks friend in face
[find something soft to hit your friend with]
[If you don’t have a friend hit yourself]
Crunch into tunnel
Resonation blurs source
2—THAT SOUND SOUNDS
LIKE [THAT NOISE NOISES
Play with at least two people in a feedback loop. One says “that sound sounds like…” and the other makes the sound, then the speaker tells the other what that sound sounds like, and the cyclone begins. Like all good cyclones get faster and faster and faster.
That sound sounds like birds crunching on the floor
[makes sound] crrhcrrrhcrhhh
That sound sounds like clearing your throat.
[diagram of person moving and person sounding in perpetuum]
VIGNETTE OF OBJECT
RIPPED FROM THE SOURCE
So the hot sonic borderlands, of mechanical cyborg birds in flight, were measured with a measuring tape. And the sounds of their generator frequencies were 85 millimeters long, hitting a meridian line between the tunnel, the road and then circling into itself again. If one were to get too close, it’s possible to end up in a small cyclone that wouldn’t do too much damage other than disorient you in a small lift and a swift change of direction - but you might get caught in the circling - like being shot out of a cannon but going nowhere. That’s why the mechanical cyborg birds seemed to engage in a go around much more than the birds outside of the dys/utopia, even when they were above the hot sonic cyclone - the normal electromagnetic earth lines bounced around too much, stuck in the cyclone too. This is companion materialities as a relational life between the movement of the living and the movement of the non living. Nothing is in any way static, but that gets much clearer when you get closer to a hot sonic borderland.
Sounds and birds and tunnels and sounds and birds and tunnels and sounds and birds and tunnels circling too much at 85 millimeters long. Measure it with a measuring tape.
Get a measuring tape
Find a hot sonic cyclone
Approach it with caution
If you get stuck in the cyclone:
Get a friend with a parabolic speaker to come and rescue you - suuuccckkkkkk
It gets easier to avoid the cyclone, and map the hot sonic borderlands once you know how many millimeters the frequencies are.
Sonic fiction is a way of imagining dystopic hopefulness. As we move through the boundaries of false synergy, what might the space between the real and the fake - the inversion or not of synthetic biomimesis - allow us to experience openings to.
So I see the bird, and I feel the humming of its generator as it moves through the sky, creating boundaries and walls between me and the road and the tunnel before me. And the hot sonic cyclone is an alternative materiality of relational forms in flight, and new perspectives through which borders can be made and remade and shaped as sonic playdough. How might a sonic fiction open up an exploration of dys/utopic realities in order for us to play with alternative ways of being without fear of loss?
It is multiform play to get rid of ourselves in a soft fall of fiction. A play area through which at least two characters say what sounds sound like, and someone rescues another with their parabolic speaker. A play area where everyone has a friend, or a friend of a friend, with a parabolic speaker. To hear through hearings differently.
1 The tirelessly experimental philosopher and performance artist, Kilian Jörg. Whose artistic research and textual contributions are invaluable to discussions on feeling into the symbiotic planet in the context of ecological collapse.
2 Find more work at https://www.fabianlanzmaier.com/.
Davies, T. (2022). Slow violence and toxic geographies: ‘Out of sight’ to whom? Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 40(2), 409–427.[↗]
Deleuze G. & Guattari F. (1987). Capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press. [↗]
Fell M. Mackay R. & Gilmore J. (2021). Structure and synthesis : the anatomy of practice. Urbanomic Media. Retrieved October 4 2022 from Youtube. [↗]
Haraway D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: making kin in the chthulucene. Duke University Press.[↗]
Margulis L. (1998). Symbiotic Planet: a new look at evolution (First). Basic Books a member of the Perseus Books Group.[↗]