Listening Beyond


Over the course of thinking, interviewing, and writing this edition of Ear Wave Event, my own thinking about listening has transformed and deepened.

This process began as a way to think through the differences between Indigenous listening practices and Deep Listening™. Previous discussions about listening in dreams and listening to dreams with family members and people, like artist Scott Benesiinaabandan, have pressed on the edges of the word listening itself, listening beyond the body, through the body, the body as a tool for listening to the Other World.

In a following discussion, Anishinaabekwe poet, scholar, and musician Leanne Simpson told me, “They’re [elders are] listening to sounds as a way of relating, as a way of communicating with plants, with animals, with spirits. They’re listening to sounds in conversation with their ancestors and with those that are yet to be born.” What is inaudible? What is unlistenable? Who is trying to speak to us on a different frequency on the radio dial (Leroy Little Bear)? And how can we begin to listen without perpetuating a colonizing and ‘New Age’ harm towards other beings?

Like most sound artists, I have spent years recording conversations and sounds in my environment, but I have had the honor of learning about academic and Indigenous protocols for consent and reciprocity during the past five years. In their discussion, writers and scholars Zoe Todd and AM Kanngeiser call for a deeper level of sonic and listening protocol. Todd says, “I don’t assume that a place is for me, even the place that my family is from.” Art, sound art, and new music often fall into the same postmodernist tendencies that anthropologists do: the decision that ethics singularly emanate from Western European philosophy and culture. Are our methods of listening to the world acts of patient reciprocity or a sonic capture towards further colonization?

I often turn towards interviews with my late grandfather, Mahpiya Nazin (Bill Stover), who spoke at length about how listening must occur in the spirit and not the mind. The depth of Indigenous relationships with nonhuman beings, seen and unseen, are tied to covenants with nonhuman Nations over millennia, hyperlocated in both the physical land, but also in the unseen, unknowable cosmologyscape. Music and sound art part of this cosmologyscape and listening with nonhumans and through nonhumans can generate ethics. In the following discussion, Raven Chacon says, “it goes back to just assuming that one can just go into these places and listen, and gain the information without knowing any context, no history, not knowing what the stories are of that place, the songs that have been sung in that place.” Context is required for ethics, where simply listening and recording the world is not only shallow, but harmful.

What could you hear in your dreams last night?