commentary

59048 cattle market

Mount Ararat

Driving south from Yerevan, just a few hundred meters from the Turkish border, you never lose sight of Ararat. It is the central icon of Armenian identity; an image made all the more poignant for its aloofness, on the other side of a Turkish border that is emphatically closed. A forbidden fruit, a looming presence, it hovers in your peripheral vision even when you are not looking at it. Even with your back turned, Ararat gives a feeling similar to that of a stranger on the bus reading the newspaper from over your shoulder.


I made this recording, as I have so many, in a moment of opportunity. While traveling in Armenia by car, we noticed a gathering of men and beasts next to the road. A cattle market; a scene of much sound and commotion. Many beings and machines coming and going in all directions each with their own distinct voice. Listening to it now, the recording preserves many details that I do not remember being aware of at the time.

With my attention focused on recording (in the moment), sounds that escaped my attention were recorded anyway by the impartial ear of the microphones. With my attention focused on listening (to the recording now), everything submerged in the burbling experience of a moment in time, bobs up to the surface in the recording, full of life and detail.

Recordings, even good ones, tend to destroy the sense that attention is focused by forcing all perceivable sounds out of their normal hierarchy of attention into something where all of the sounds have the same appeal to focus, unless they are very loud (which forces attention anyway) or very soft (where they may escape notice altogether). If the experience of a moment in time with regard to sound is sculptural and fully three-dimensional, then I might suggest here that the recording of it is more of a bas-relief. A flattened perspective, a projection of all the dimensions of life onto a diluted simulacrum of limited fullness and dimensionality.

This part is the art. When we draw, we draw (as in “pull”) something from a real thing, emphasizing chosen contours, distorting the figure in strategic (though often unconscious) ways. That mediation — with the brain in the middle — is also present in all media of expression.

The photographer Gary Winogrand once said (something like): “I make photographs to see what the world looks like in photographs,” emphasizing that a photographic image is a new experience in its own right, separate from its subject. Do I make recordings to hear what the world sounds like over loudspeakers? Even if I do not, I must acknowledge the unclosable separation between the subject and the recording; each is a separate, independent experience.


This recording forms part of The Collective Field, the annual thematic program of the project World Listening Day 2020, honoring the birthday of composer, educator and author R. Murray Schafer.

It has been included as part of a broadcast on Czech Radio for the program Radiocustica.