Ways of Hearing  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Ways of Hearing is the title of a lecture David Toop gave in the course of 2007. The result of the research was published as Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (2010).

In this lecture, Toop researches the position of hearing in the realm of the senses inspired by his meeting with a deaf-mute girl (and her disagreement with some of the statements in John Cage’s ‘Silence’), the mistake in John Berger’s influential book Ways of Seeing (“Seeing comes before words. The child sees and recognizes before it can speak”), the pressure he was under to include visual elements in his exhibition ‘Sonic Boom’, Marcel Duchamp’s idea (the 1914 Box) that “one can look at seeing; one can’t hear hearing”, and, last but not least, the eavesdropper paintings by 17th century Dutch painter Nicolaes Maes.


Seeing comes before words. The child sees and recognizes before it can speak.” These are the first two sentences of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. Berger defines sight as the primary human sense and introduces the idea that we find our place in the world through seeing. What this premise ignores is the fact that sound comes before seeing, and the child listens before it looks. In this lecture David Toop will investigate the position of sound in the realm of the senses, the relationship between hearing and seeing, between silence and not seeing. What did Marcel Duchamp mean when he proclaimed “one can look at seeing; one can’t hear hearing”? Are we living in a visual age, as the cliché goes, or rather in an aural world? What can words and images tell us about sonic absences and hauntings? What are the challenges sound artists, who work in the domain of visual arts, are confronted with?” –argosarts.org[1]


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