Friedlind Riedel – Situation-Listening

This paper explores notions of listening as a starting point for an enquiry into the affective ecologies of transformation-rituals in Southern Myanmar. These rituals that are governed by the continuous flow of music, hinge on a particular sonic architecture in the arrangement of loudspeakers and instruments, and centre on the presence and intervention of Nats, mythological figures, guardian spirits. The appearance of these non-human agents as invoked by the distinctive sound of the Hsaing Waing orchestra not only elucidates music’s operative power but fundamentally challenges anthropocentric notions of listening. In what way, we may ask, is the non-human response to sound a listening? What are the relations assumed in such listening or how does this listening engender its relata? What modes of existence unfold in/as listening? And what are the affective ecologies of listening in transformation-rituals? To approach these questions I explore the conceptual resonances of Jean-Luc Nancy’s “listening” (écouter) and Hermann Schmitz’s “situation-listening” (Situationshören). Their philosophies couldn’t be more disparate, however they both strive to challenge the unitary subject of humanism and its fetishized mode of introjection that has almost become tantamount to a notion of listening as an outside-in trajectory. Considering the complex concurrence of music, faces, persons, dance movements, animals, spirits, and voices in transformation-rituals, I propose to shift perspective away from the collective, its constellation and interactions as primary category for analysis to situation and duration. Considering the ritual in terms of a situation ontology may allow us to revisit the listening event outside the horizon of the human subject.

Friedlind Riedel is a doctoral researcher at the KOMA – Competence Centre for Mediality and Anthropology at Bauhaus-University Weimar. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in German studies, Music and Art. In 2013 she graduated from Georg-August-University Göttingen in Cultural Musicology and Social and Cultural Anthropology. Since 2008 she has been conducting extensive fieldwork in China and Myanmar.

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