I BIT INTO A PIANO
Poetic essay on the reception of sound (and silence)
Last night I bit into a piano—I wanted to know what it felt like to bite into the wood of the instrument. Ever since I heard that Thomas Edison did this to hear the subtlety of a melody, to feel the sound vibration travelling through his teeth to his inner ear, I’ve imagined doing the same thing. Of course, I’d need a piano. The love of my life owns one. Sometimes I’d start crying when he played to me. I could picture myself: biting into the piano while sobbing with emotion. So last night I asked him to play for me. I first told him the story about Edison, and then my need to re-enact the scene. The image was so powerful, obsessive. I ended up believing that the only way of getting rid of it was to replay it. But I didn’t manage to get rid of anything; a simple transfer occurred: in exchange for the obsessive image, I incorporated the obsessive sound. Recorded inside my body.
Listening with the jaw muscles is unlike anything else. The sound is swallowed, ingested. Unlike vision, where an after-image floats here and there behind the eye, in hearing what remains of a sound captured by something other than the ear spreads through the entire body. Coming into contact with the auditory canal at the same time as the muscles of the jaw, the sound flows into the flesh, tissues, nerves, organs and blood of the entire body, as in a soft resonance chamber. The reception of sound through the body is an experience that is both auditory and physical. The sound intermingles with the body, the substances connect and intertwine. The body assimilates the acoustic matter, builds something with it.
Listening with the body makes listening a physical experience, mentally constructed. Whether lying on the surface of sounds—as in Kaffe Matthews’ Sonic Bed—or almost entirely inserted into the space of the auditory transmission—as in Klangkapsel, a sound capsule devised by Satoshi Morita—it becomes a matter of receiving the sound like a psycho-physiological procedure connecting the ear to the epidermis and vice-versa: linking the ear with the blood vessels, heart, memory. One listens and in this act of listening, experiences engraved in the memory are summoned, along with memories appearing on their own, in their own repetitive way, each time the same and different, altered by the interferences and lapses in memory. Listening is an event that is filtered by the residue of our memories.
The barely audible also conjures up images, constraining and bending them on their way. It bathes them in acid, filling them with holes. While it would seem that silence can soften the harshness of the things perceived, it instead amplifies the satellite-stalactite sounds hovering all around it. The senses, deprived of reference points, whether auditory, visual or tactile—as in Chris Salter’s Just Noticeable Difference, a veritable antechamber wherein the senses are deprived of all stimuli—will begin to perceive that which is normally imperceptible, like the internal movements and sounds of our bodies. Not only will they be perceived, but they will be amplified—for some, these experiences are at the very limit of what is bearable. The urge is to cry out, and then to hold one’s tongue.
A few minutes in an anechoic chamber, a dead room that neither has nor produces echoes, creates this same type of experience, where shouts are lost—the room is deaf, and lets nothing out. In this singular space, the silence takes on a material quality. It thickens the air. The immobilized sounds quickly die, while the heart madly races. In certain silences, there are infrasounds lodged within us, unbeknown to us, often in the thorax, the torso-chamber thereby containing what lies beyond hearing. Hearts, chambers: captive content-containers. One has to escape, into the living silence. The silence in which there are beings that move and things that deteriorate. Where the walls crumble as we sleep. Where the piano wears itself out in silence, on contact with the air, the night.