Sensing and knowing noises

An acoustemology of the chainsaw

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Thorsten Gieser Universität Koblenz‐Landau

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Within sensory anthropology, scholars have for some time now developed ways to think with acoustic phenomena and to interpret the multiple meanings of sounds and soundscapes. Yet actual practices of listening and experiences of listening subjects feature rather less in that field. Drawing on a case study of chainsaw use in tree felling, this article presents listening as a mode of acoustic knowing that is both aesthetic and epistemological. This is achieved by combining a consideration of listening as a skilled practice with a problematisation of the notion of ‘noise’. Whereas noise is commonly conceived of as unwanted, chaotic and meaningless sound, skilled chainsaw use shows how a particular practice re‐evaluates what is defined as noise and even takes it as an entry to acoustic knowing. Through a careful description and analysis of the process of tree felling, this article traces how skilfully mediated listening with the chainsaw develops from a felt, embodied sense of a sound world that is still indeterminate and ambiguous to recognisable ‘objects’ of clearly identifiable sounds. It is argued that through such a broader conceptualisation of listening as a form of sensing, we can more deeply investigate the sonic orders of sociocultural practices.

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