A Row of Trees
The Journal of The Sonic Art Research Unit
I often imagine sound and its possibilities of uncertainty. I think of listening as a form of mathematical mythopoesis, an idea of something without end, a trickster holding secret knowledge, a fool. In this way, I am curious about the speculative zone of the hidden and the sounds that emanate there. I conceptualized the fifth ear as framework to explore this notion, and more specifically as a way to confront distance without proximity and the imaginative worlds we develop through sound in the absence of organic bodies. Can the possibility of a non-local ear tell us something about desire, entanglement, and our subjective, private, and possibly shared inner worlds?
The fifth ear is a permanently hidden space where the speculative fiction of listening unfolds. It is a shared, acousmatic space in-between all human and nonhuman bodies. It aims at putting out of order the more pathological approaches to listening in an effort to highlight entangled points of intersection between the listener and listened-to, where sounds conjure, contort, enrapture, and penetrate to reveal shared and private imaginings.[i]
Imagine two people separated by an ocean. And instead of the waves lessening in strength, the particles become more energetic as bodies perform for one another at distance. The frequency of utterance becomes a network of tangled and pulsing lines, which derive existence from the electric effluvium of language. Interconnected perceptions across time develop into a rapidly rotating mass taking the form of a limitless, cosmic energy akin to a kinetic depiction seen in the painting Reflejo Lunar by Remedios Varo.
This magical resonance is a fifth ear. It is a conglomeration of phenomenal realities emanant from a concrescence of unlocated sonic obscurity. And, although the fifth ear relies upon the affective capacities of bodies, the secret fascination of this imaginative zone of knowledge production and interconnective unity is the eroticism explored here.[ii]
I only seek to broaden our fictitious ear.
2 \\ 1 = 3: Of Sound, Of Flesh
I’ve thought so much on radical unfolding and unified geometry that I feel I’ve become pure atmosphere, gently held by a planetary body. I never stop thinking about geometry’s erotics: touched by transparency, lines joining multiple points, diagrams sliding over one another. I want you caught in the angle of my inner thigh, listening to my voice as if it were oneiric semen.
Sound is an orgasm in a hall of mirrors, protoplasmic extensions passing information stimulating skin by way of vibration. We’ve never met. Yet, I’ve been asleep inside of you since you were born. I feel your voice inside my mouth when you speak.
In his speculation on the fourth dimension, Charles H. Hinton begins by imagining geometric shapes as cognitive creatures capable of reason. Yet, they are limited in space. It is precisely the limits of space that Hinton seeks to explore. His creatures develop directional and spatial awareness. Their introspection allows them to question and expand upon the limits of 2D space from the perspective of a straight line.
It is hard to imagine a straight line when neither history nor time are linear. Let’s bend the line. Hinton posits that we might bridge distance through elasticity, that bending the surface of a plane can position us side-by-side regardless of great distance.
I envision the bending vibrations of your voice as multiplicitous points of proximity at distance. Every variation of the angle of the bond caused by a vibration places us side-by-side over and over again without ever physically arriving. If we bend far enough, we’ll merge and warp the mythic discourse of linearity.
Listen: Hearing is vibration escaping drowning. The fifth ear is a wet continuum.
2 // 1 // 1 = 4: Entangled Disentanglement
There’s something sensual about nonlocality as entanglement, behaving as a single entity. I imagine years of vibration tightly bound in space, as if the resonance can become something resembling a labyrinthian mass, a nervous system responsible for our physiological phantoms. Some even hypothesize on the concept of nonlocality in relation to the possibility of teleportation. We’ve met thousands of times.
“It is somewhat curious that we can thus conceive of an existence relative to which that which we enjoy must exist as a mere abstraction.”[iii] Just as you speak each word into a different node of my spine we achieve a superposition. Once a sound lasts after the stimulus has ceased, memory remains, critical to our imagination. Critical to our transformation. Critical to our existence.
Let’s go between our bodies.
2 // 1 \\ 2 = 5: The Presence of My Body is the Presence of You
I recently read a book on quantum gravity, a purposeful pursuit of uncertainties, an exploration of the multiform of our universe and the disappearance of space and time. I mention this because quantum mechanics articulates a theory: “The world of existent things is reduced to a realm of possible interactions.” [iv] Without you, I am not we.
If we imagine ourselves infused with and transformed by the vibrational memories to which we have become exposed over years, and the mysterious sonic image the fifth ear holds between articulation and absence, we’re confronted with a difficult concept: your voice is my imagination.
In this greatly expanded field rift with a panorama of real and imagined knowledge, listening encourages creative interplay and new styles of contact with human and nonhuman bodies at distance. Within the fifth ear exists an entire universe for exploration developed by entangled vibrations. It is a meeting place and a knowing with others. To no longer hear but to become.
Simply, the presence of my body is the presence of you.
[i] Although I don’t seek to qualify this statement here, I acknowledge the possible need for clarification around what I mean by pathological. In this instance, I am referring to the pathologizing of the ear as the sole vessel for articulating sound and/or listening, and the sometimes reductive, pervasive, and singular perspective such an approach leads to. I also want to acknowledge this particular proclivity is not shared by everyone invested in an exploration of sound and how it is perceived. There are many both past and present writing histories of aurality that extend beyond more conventional approaches to listening and sound. The fifth ear is an attempt to transcend physicalist theories. In fact, the fifth ear is anomalous and originates beyond the organ of the ear. It is only slightly dependent on the physical ear but certainly does not originate or emerge there. This goes beyond the scope of this particular essay, however. I admit the purposeful ambiguity of the fifth ear. I cannot in good faith assume a hierarchy of knowledge in which physicalist theories, argumentative statements, and truth claims (logic) play a role in how we might interpret the fifth ear. It is reductive and limiting. Rather, I prefer prioritizing a willingness to hypothesize and explore the fifth ear as an imaginative concept that is constantly in flux and thus opens the possibilities to that which is unseen and not yet heard in the spaces in-between human and nonhuman bodies. More specifically, how does the presence of sound in the physical absence of another body influence our physiology and thus our imagination and our ability to develop narratives and myths associated with the human and nonhuman bodies we encounter at distance.
[ii] Paul Marshall. The Shape of the Soul: What Mystical Experience Tells Us about Ourselves and Reality. Rowman & Littlefield. 2019. Marshall defines interconnective unity as “things observed to be linked by visible or invisible bonds or common nature.”
[iii] Charles H. Hinton. Speculations on the Fourth Dimension: Selected Writing of Charles H. Hinton. Dover Publications, Inc. 1980.
[iv] Carlo Rovelli. Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity. Riverhead Books. 2017.