My listenings in place intensify my noticing of »background« ambience, the repetitive, rhythmic sounds; familiar, in the composition of place, this is the percussive rhythm to which my everyday is entrained. I sometimes treat place as »nature« which, when viewed as a »substance« might appear »comfortingly present, endless, normal, straight.« I reach for audio-gathering equipment. I return to familiar places, and wait, and hope for a repeat performance, sometimes revealing an extractive white colonialist instinct that is »possessive and protective about asset accumulation and ownership.« Place eludes my desire for capture and control, and I leave with an empty memory card.
The recording device displays its void:
Zero-zero. In linear temporal media these zeroes signal a beginning, the null-duration of audio-visuals not-yet-experienced. On a digital clock: midnight, the »middle« of the night, ending one day and beginning the next. On a recording device: data accumulation not-yet begun. On a digital media playhead: a paused start. A frontier zero time punctuation in the ideology of the roll-out of linear time.
Cyclical, rhythmic place »has nothing to do with good old reliable constancy« and does not conform to linear expectations. »Nature« is not a »stable background« to human life, a confused misconception reinforced by Western cultural concepts of an abstract clock like UTC which – despite ecological crises – »problematically projects an unending future no matter the context.« Places in »Australia« are not static locations or settings. Rather, »these are places that are best understood as endless events … fluid or airy or ethereal and constantly altering.« In white settler-colonial imaginings, »authentic Australian identity« is »set against the great silence of the bush«, but »just as the land was not ›empty‹ nor ›belonging to no-one‹, neither was the soundscape silent.«
The English colonization of Australia was premised on »uninhabited,« »empty land« deemed »Terra Nullius«: land without signs of ownership, occupation and government visible to the colonizers. It developed into an effort to permanently extinguish indigenous people: their bodies, identities, cultures, languages; their knowledges. Genocide.
My generational connections to this continent are rooted in English and Irish convict-settler ancestry based on theft and possession that has been »jealously guarded by white Australians« while »the white body was the norm and measure for identifying who could belong.« My white, colonizing body should not be the measurement scale of this place. Reflecting on the extractivism inherent in settler-colonial formations of land, Dan Tout reminds us that settler-colonies are premised on »the foundational projection of permanent territorial sovereignty;« settlers arrive uninvited and then outstay their welcome, if they were ever welcomed at all. Home is not permanent, and a claim made on place doesn’t grant ongoing access. Movement is vital to place-knowledge: »Country calls for activity; it needs rousing engagement more than it needs settlement.«
I do my best to enact »rousing engagement« through acts of care and active participation in place – led by listening. I try to reject and resist extractive and accumulative impulses. A library of field recordings will always be incomplete, I cannot fully represent or capture place, and I cannot grasp for an »ending« where the timeline of place-listening is complete.
Listening to and with place, I notice more-than-human temporalities that elude measurement, prediction, expectation, control. A frustrating escalation of pigeon coos that vibrate from all sides. Worms »squelch and schlurp« when I’m turning the compost. Rustling wetland reeds. A thrilling portamento of a faraway currawong. A drone of traffic and machine diggers. The crack of a seed pod and the scatter of its insides. My hesitating breaths. I take up Anna Tsing’s assemblage thinking:
Patterns of unintentional coordination develop in assemblages. To notice such patterns means watching the interplay of temporal rhythms and scales in the divergent lifeways that gather.
Imagining futures outside capitalism’s monodirectional and cumulative »progress stories,« Tsing turns instead toward »temporal polyphony« of third nature: »open-ended assemblages of entangled ways of life, as these coalesce in coordination across many kinds of temporal rhythms.« I continue assembling temporal rhythms between body-listening, place-listening and digital-listening. I sow seeds. I feel elongated evenings as seasons shift toward blooming flowers. I watch a waxing moon. I dig with worms. I gather seeds. These listenings cannot be felt in the web browser. But my use of web coding informs my understandings of place, and vice-versa. Moon phases can be measured in fractions. Sunset time can be checked as a percentage difference from the 24-hour hundred percent. These clock time measures are outside my body’s measures, but they facilitate me putting shapes around my listenings. I try to coalesce varied and sometimes contradictory, sometimes complementary senses of time, allowing for forms of knowledge beyond measurement but within embodied comprehension.