Listening as an act of radical ecological care
In-depth and active listening to sonic narratives, artistic sound productions and sensorial experiences outside the ubiquity of vision, uncovering other insights into empathy, respect and understanding for nature and the species inhabiting planet Earth. The intensity of O Afeto da Escuta: um festival para as ecologias sonoras e enredos sónicos, curated by the Institute for Postnatural Studies, resonated with different perspectives on ecologies, ritualistic processes and concepts of community, bringing together international and national composers, artists and sound researchers at Passos Manuel, Galeria da Biodiversidade and Planetário do Porto.
Among the most significant American composers in developing electronic music, Pauline Oliveros (1936-2016), in Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (2005), reflects: «When we are listening, sound particles choose to be heard. Listening affects that which sounds. This is a symbiotic relationship. When we are listening, the environment around us is vivified. That is the effect of listening» . Following the author’s premise, after coining the term and devising a deep listening methodology, the festival kicked off at Passos Manuel with a concert by KMRU. Just like nature, the Kenyan artist and producer, between electromagnetic sounds and field recordings from Nairobi, pointed out noises made by wireless technology, electronic waste and the ceaseless connectivity of everyday life, launching into deep listening. This includes carefully hearing our inner and surrounding sounds, relating deeply to ourselves and the environment around us, awakening other forms of empathy and a new understanding of intra- and inter-species kinship.
Speaking of which, the concept of the Phonocene, developed by American philosopher and feminist Donna Haraway, was another inspiration for the Festival, offering a potential sound era as an alternative to the Anthropocene, during which we connect with the Earth’s sounds in relation to its manifold times, spaces and rhythms. Vinciane Despret, philosopher of science and author of Living as a Bird (2019), then questioned how we can inhabit the recent sound era, listening to the planet’s voices and hoping to establish a more symbiotic and conscious connection with nature, with deep listening as one of the ways of awakening to the new Phonocene reality.
From this perspective, O Afeto da Escuta symbolised listening as dialogue. Saturday morning we woke up to deep listening with the American musician Laraaji. His laughter meditation workshop and concert engaged those at Galeria da Biodiversidade in a kind of liturgical ritual, encouraging laughter and inner contemplation through the sounds of sitar, gongs, vocal and electronic elements. Later on, the artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg discussed her research into her most recent production Augúrios Maquínicos: Toledo (2023). This site-specific installation features a simulation of the natural bird chirping at dawn, gradually replaced by the chirping of artificial birds. The artist promotes new birdsong interactions, whilst also creating a unique biodiversity archive for each location, highlighting the fact that many of these beings are either on the verge of extinction or are adapting their songs due to human noise. Composer Antoine Bertin then supported the importance of listening to other beings, pointing out that, if we want to overcome the biodiversity crisis, we need interspecies collaboration, drawing an analogy between colour, sound and the history of technology. We must also mention Laia Estruch’s Vozes de Baleia performance, in which the Spanish artist took us by storm with a sound journey, bringing her voice into line with whale calls, using her body to extend the sounds she made. In the evening, trans-male artist Panamby and indigenous composer Wirawasu discussed their artistic processes with Gaspar Cohen, tackling the wounds of colonialism, gender and minority issues, as well as indigeneity, paying special attention to listening as a potentially healing form of dialogue that fosters encounters and connections between the past and the future. These reflections were further emphasised by the subsequent concerts. On the one hand, Wirawasu presented us with Memórias de um Cachorro, a clash of sound fragments from a richly biodiverse environment, where we felt the anger, shock and impact of conflicting sounds. With Abissal, Panamby struck us by producing water-based electronic sounds as a purification and transition ritual for the experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and mourning. The conclusion of the first day was the event’s most danceable moment, featuring a performance by Rezmorah and DJ sets by Lechuga Zafiro and Debit at Passos Manuel, organised by the Porto label and producer Lovers & Lollypops.
The Festival’s final day, resonating with the premises, musings and reflections of the previous days, opened at Planetário do Porto, with concerts by the independent artistic research collective Interspecifics and Italian sound artist Marta Zapparoli. Under the 360º planetarium dome, we witnessed Interspecifics’ Comunicações Especulativas, through ambient soundscapes of bacterial ecosystems and moving images of single-celled microbe mutations, together with algorithms running at high speed, leading to a spiralling deep listening. This was countered by Marta Zapparoli’s performance Espaço Gerado Interdimensional (2022), imbuing the space with sounds and moving images of aurora borealis electromagnetic fields, where we felt the atmospheric radiation energy. It was followed by a conversation moderated by Gustavo Costa from the experimental music platform Sonoscopia, analysing how technology is helping us to expand our consciousness, deep listening as a spiritual relationship and connecting with other species via different communication scales.
The second part of the day happened at Galeria da Biodiversidade, with Sintonização Vegetal, a sound installation by Inês Tartaruga Água, filling the room with plants, making use of air data to translate a musical composition, thereby providing a space for understanding the reality, rhythm and times of plant life, where humans and non-humans alike could interact with the soundscape by breathing. Then there was Andrea Zarza Canova’s lecture-performance Plantar a semente para colher a canção, where we listened to a selection of vinyls with work songs and traditional Portuguese music recorded after the Carnation Revolution at Fonoteca Municipal do Porto, understanding that those who sing these songs recount their place in the world and their relationship with the environment, animals and the elements. This was followed by the workshop Ecologias de tradução: Sobre sons e pedras by Eloisa Travaglini and Sam Simon from the Infrasónica platform, reflecting on creative ways of translating the sound of a stone into words, decentralising humanity and concluding that it is not the stone that fails to communicate, but we ourselves who fail to speak to it. The Festival ended with the performances Krill and Body Snatch by the artist and composer Ute Wassermann, taking us on a fruitful deep listening experience, vibrating her voice with bird whistles and mundane objects, and using field recordings and hydrophones to transform natural sounds into sonic landscapes, combining juxtapositions, junctions and harmonious sound oppositions.
Put together by the Department of Contemporary Art of the municipal company Ágora – Cultura e Desporto do Porto, O Afeto da Escuta, held from November 10 to 12, 2023, through its intensity, freshness, reflections, meditations and deep listening as an act of radical ecological care, following last year’s The Shape of a Circle in the Dream of a Fish, only leads us to yearn for a second edition, or another festival with a similar approach and programme.
 Quote taken from the brochure for O Afeto da Escuta. In https://www.galeriamunicipaldoporto.pt/pt/programas/o-afeto-da-escuta/