Guest Curator: Andra McCartney

Watching, listening, writing to the hernoise archive

Watching the video interview with Christina Kubisch on Hernoise, I am reminded again of the importance of this multi-faceted and growing archive for contemporary research in sound, gender and technology. I have read quite a bit about Kubisch in the past, but the video and its informal conversational tone gives access to her thinking and work in a new way, providing more context, letting me see and hear her reactions to questions. She talks about how she came to her method of working with magnetic induction, and her interest in letting audiences construct their own sonic experience using technology that she and her team had developed to make electrical signals audible. I think this aspect of Kubisch’s work is very important. On an electrical walk, the audience really participates in the creation of their sonic experience. I did such a walk in Montreal several years ago. I was not asked to follow a set route or constructed narrative, as I might with a sited audio walk or listening guide. Instead, Kubisch provides her walkers with a technology (special headphones) and a map with points of sonic-electrical interest, facilitating an exploration of the place. Then, as a listener I am left to my own devices, and wander through the city, where the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and electrical signals become audible all around. At the end, I am left with a conscious sense of connections between kinds of power made audible, thinking viscerally about how nodes of financial power (such as banks) and institutional power (like government buildings and libraries) are surrounded by dense walls of invisible (and usually inaudible) electrical power. Questions about the social, political and health effects of these power systems and hotspots persist and are brought to the surface by this work. The Goethe Institut in Montreal retains two sets of electrical walk headphones that continue to be signed out by interested audiences, an unusual persistence of artistically-inspired practice through time.

As an addition to the archive, I would suggest a film. The Gleaners and I, by Agnes Varda, is a powerful documentary about gleaning as a daily activity and also as a metaphor for artistic practice. The film-maker follows gleaners as they take up left-overs and work with them, eat them, make them into new things. She investigates the legalities and ethics of gleaning, and thinks about how she gleans as well. Varda reflects on artistic gleaning in her process of recording, editing, and presenting. Then she generates a second film out of conversations that develop through the effusive and creative audience response to the initial film. Varda opens and reads piles of mail on camera, caresses art objects sent to her, and then sets off to interview the senders, as well as participants from the original film, to hear their perspectives. 

Image credit: Video still The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda

The Her Noise Archive is a thought-provoking source of inspiration reflecting on gender and production with sound technologies. My suggestion for interviews to include in the future would be accounts of listening experiences by members of audiences. My research and creative practices have been affected in profound and surprising ways by encounters with audiences and their ideas about sound. I believe that listening is fundamentally important to sonic experience, and so the experiences of audiences are central to understanding the partial, complex, and surprising ways that sound work is heard, understood, activated and interpreted. Much can be learned as well in conversations among producers and listeners, producers as listeners, listeners as producers.

— Andra McCartney, 2013


Andra McCartney is an Associate Professor teaching Sound in Media for the Communication Studies program at Concordia University in Montreal. She is a soundwalk artist. McCartney directed the In and Out of the Sound Studio research project on gender and sound technologies (2001-2006). Her current research investigates the ways that people listen and engage with soundwalks and artworks made from soundwalks:

For further reading:

McCartney, Andra and Marta McCarthy. “Choral, private and public listener responses to Hildegard Westerkamp’s Ecole Polytechnique.” Music and Arts in Action. Spring 2012, 4 (1) 56-72.

McCartney, Andra. “Reception and Reflexivity in Electroacoustic Creation.”. Musique concrete, 60 ans plus tard. Proceedings of the Electroacoustic Music Studies network EMS 08 conference, Paris, June 2008. Edited by Olivier Baudoin. 2009.

McCartney, Andra. “Gender, genre, and electroacoustic soundmaking practices.” Intersections Canadian Journal of Music 26 (2). Toronto: Canadian University Music Society, 2006: 20-48.

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