Listening in the Chthulucene: Sound Practices for Survival

For Someone Who Has Never Performed a Resonance – LEGROOM, Manchester

Calling all sound practitioners! Listening in the Chthulucene is a series of listening sessions dedicated to exploring sonic ways of becoming-with nonhuman others. Through an online Deep Listening Study Group we will create the conditions for new practices to emerge that offer sonic modes of human-nonhuman entanglement.

Deadline for applications: Monday 25 Jan 2021

In order to survive the present and evolving climate and ecological crises, it’s crucial to part with understandings of environments, materials, and nonhuman beings as separate or detached from human ways of life.

We need to develop new strategies for existence that celebrate human entanglement with more-than-human others.

There are already diverse theoretical suggestions for how new strategies for existence might take shape: for example, multispecies anthropologist Anna Tsing speaks of the possibility of ‘acts of noticing’ to identify the complex human and nonhuman relationships that make worlds, and foreground the practices of collaboration that ensure the survival of the actors that comprise them.[1] Andrew Pickering argues for scientific practices to be thought of as ‘dances of agency’ between humans and materials; emphasising states where ‘the non‐human world enters […] into the becoming of the human world and vice versa’.[2] Donna Haraway calls for practices and acts of ‘making kin’, with diverse species, in the thick-present of the Chthulucene.[3]

Whilst these theories hold promise, in order to survive, we must – to use the language of Bruno Latour –  depart from the realm of ideas, return to earth and become ‘Terrestrial’; this an act that requires ‘attaching oneself to the soil on the one hand, [and] becoming attached to the world on the other’.[4]

What capacities might sound and listening offer to return from the realm of ideas and form vibrant practices that produce productive relations with nonhuman others? Sound propagates and entangles; listening requires presence and empathy. Surely these are qualities that offer practical possibilities for making kin and celebrating human-nonhuman entanglement?

Conceived as a process of thinking through doing, Listening in the Chthulucene will assemble a small group of sound practitioners to listen together, testing existing practices and developing new sounding practices. This process will take place within the framework of a Deep Listening Study Circle. The pedagogical approach of Deep Listening is non-hierarchical, inclusive and centered around recursive processes of collective listening and reflection. It places an emphasis on discussion and reflection on practices through journaling and recording. Working with an online platform will allow the group to be connected yet apart: free to engage with – and draw on whatever resources may be found in – their independent sounding environments.

Session dates

Phase 1: Monday 1 February, 18:00-20:00; Monday 8 February, 18:00-20:00; Monday 15 February, 18:00-20:00 Development Phase: Tuesday 16 February – Monday 1 March; Phase 2: Monday 1 March, 18:00-20:00; Monday 8 March, 18:00-20:00; Monday 15 March, 18:00-20:00

Phase 1 sessions will be devoted to listening together through the vehicle of pre-existing sound meditation scores that engage with the more-than-human (Lucier, Auinger, Lockwood and others). Experiences from these situations of listening will be amplified through discussion and journaling. Insights will act as the basis for new practical approaches. In-between the two sets of three sessions, there will be a personal development phase where insight from the discussion and reflections are fed into the development of new practical approaches. This will be followed by a three-week phase of testing and developing work through group performance, discussion and feedback.

These sessions place an emphasis on the development of strategies and methods rather than ‘works’. These might involve approaches to engaging with environments or objects through sounding and listening in a way that affords experiences of entanglement. These strategies may or may not use technology; they might be communicated through instructions or scores or might remain as personal embodied practices that could be documented in a number of ways.

Whilst these sessions are process-driven rather than outcome-driven, there will be opportunities to exhibit work at the AHRC Garden of Forking Paths conference, at a public event, and documented in a collective publication.

This call is open to anyone with an existing creative practice that foregrounds sound and who can commit to all of the sessions. Priority will be given to women, non-binary people and people of colour. It is not necessary to have prior exposure to this area of investigation, but a curiosity for exploring new forms of work through dialogue is essential. While we are not able to financially support artists, our aim is to create the conditions to open up an interactive space for new and innovative forms of practice that respond to present challenges as well as providing a platform for – and documentation of – this work.

How to apply

To register interest for these sessions, please send the following to a.p.delittle@leeds.ac.uk:

  • A short statement outlining what interests you about this call, and what in particular you might be keen to explore in the sessions (max 300 words).
  • Please also include a link to online portfolio / biography if you have one.

Garden of Forking Paths – This call emerges from – and forms a strand of – the AHRC Garden of Forking Paths research project in the School of Music at the University of Leeds. Through the development of detailed understandings of the acoustic materiality of the clarinet – and in particular unstable multiphonics – the project produces compositions that disrupt traditional anthropocentric approaches of composition and performance by staging ‘dances of agency’ between human performers and nonhuman instruments. Listening in the Chthulucene aims to investigate how the techniques of decentered sounding and listening like those used in the Garden of Forking Paths project might reach beyond a musical application and to the lived environment to offer sonic practices which productively decentre anthropocentric modes of being.

Alex De Little is a sonic artist and researcher with bases in Leeds and London, UK. His practice encompasses installation, composition, performance and workshops; it is concerned with the interrogation of listening as a practice of world-making -a way of thinking into and through environments, notions of self, and social relations. Alex’s work and collaborations have been featured at the Royal Academy of Arts, Venice Architecture Biennale, Tate Modern, Somerset House, Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Health Museum (Houston, TX), Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art (Copenhagen), The National Science and Media Museum, London Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Walmer Yard, and the Hepworth Wakefield. Alex completed a practice-based PhD with Scott Mc Laughlin and Martin Iddon at the University of Leeds, and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Universities of Leeds and Nottingham. He is a member of CAVE (Centre for Audio-Visual Experimentation), and an honorary research fellow at Goldsmiths Centre for Sound Practice Research. Alex recently completed his Deep Listening certification with the Centre for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


[1] Tsing, Anna, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Post Capitalist Ruins (Princeton NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2015).   

[2] Andrew Pickering, ‘Material Culture and the Dance of Agency’, in The Oxford Handbook of Material Studies, ed. by Dan Hicks and Mary C. Beaudry(Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.?

[3] Haraway, Donna, Staying with the Trouble (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).

[4] Bruno Latour, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climactic Regime (Cambridge: Polity, 2018), p.92