- 1 Introduction
- 2 1. The Monstrosity of Female Voices
- 3 2. Multiplication Vis a Vis Amplification
- 4 3. Transmitting Ugly Things
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 Appendix 1
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 Images
- 9 Colophon
- 10 Revisions
Name: Angeliki Diakrousi
Title: Let’s Talk About Unspeakable Things
Student number: 0956090
Thesis, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the final examination for Master of Arts in Fine Art and Design: Experimental Publishing. Piet Zwart Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy.
Adviser: Steve Rushton
Second Reader: Kate Briggs
Word count: 8380
Speaking, listening and making space
This thesis is a series of three essays which relate to female and collective voices, and their mediation. They address the voice as a feminist tool for communication; studying how the female voice creates conditions for forms of listening and making space. Historically, some modes of address have been marginalized and shut out of the public domain. Collective voices are marginalized under the realm of patriarchal individualistic society. Even though voice is a medium for collective practice it is situated in a context that tends towards social binary structures and oppositions that restrict its possibilities. These binaries, which favor the 'civilized white male' subjectivities, have held influence on Western thinking since antiquity. Nevertheless, the nature of voice and its mediation overpass oppositions of gender, nationality, culture, space, technology and power relations. My research seeks to unravel these political capabilities of voices, in order to explore democratic ways of communication that embrace excluded forms of address.
In recent years, my concern has been with the presence of female voices in public. During my previous studies I came to realize how my gendered body had been silenced or marginalized through subtle gestures from male figures or institutional powers. By observing women in their roles as members of my family, teachers, workers and immigrant neighbors of my youth, I discovered different types of marginalization and silencing. Examples such as women who worked at home, taking care of traditional 'domestic duties' while neglecting their own desires and interests; men interrupting them when they articulate arguments in a political or formal dialogue, routinely underestimating their knowledge. Growing up, I also encountered other forms of commonly suppressed feminine-female expressions. The mediation of their voices and the way they became present, active, visible participants in the public sphere became one of my principle interests. My past artistic projects responded to that concern while I worked with voice and sound; which, as forms of art, are underestimated in the context of Western visual culture. As this text will outline, they are forms connected to irrational attitudes. Throughout history, oral cultures, by being based on vocal expression, differ from more recently established literate cultures in that they embrace the collective sharing of knowledge through voice. More specifically they create "personality structures that in certain ways are more communal and externalized, and less introspective than those common among literates" (Ong, 2002, pg. 67). In recent times, feminists have embraced voice in their practices because there is a uniqueness in it, that embodies the speakers and their personal stories, while connecting to present listeners. Together with these concerns, about the exclusion of women’s voices, I also experienced a gender-based differentiation between amateur and expert knowledge, particularly when approaching telecommunication networks and technologies, with the intention of learning to build and use them for my artistic practice. This division of labor goes alongside the more general gender exclusion I discuss in this text.
In one of my projects, Sound Acts in Victoria Square I 'inserted' the recorded sounds of women’s voices into existing conversations at a public square in Athens that was male dominated. Most of the frequenters were immigrants and refugees from different periods of migration to Greece. The gender bias and the way they used the public space differed according to their country of origin. However, it was common that many of the young women visiting the square were just passers-by with shopping bags or kids in tow. The men, on the other hand, were hanging out with their friends, occupying many spots of the square for hours. My intervention was like so; first, I recorded conversations with women I met in the square, as well as archiving and ordering the material I collected. Then I planned and realized the in-situ broadcasting of the collected sound material and directed the new relations and conversations with the public for one day in June 2015. The intervention lasted for some hours and different people participated in conversations that would include the women's voices. In my description of the project, I wrote: "The broadcasted female voices abruptly intervened with the existing conversations in the specific places, giving the impression of an non-invited 'absent' guest" (Diakrousi, 2015). The audio speaker and myself were mediating them in the then-current public space. My general approach involved the practice of listening – to women's concerns and voices, soundscapes of the square – and participation of the people 'inhabiting' Victoria square. In my thesis I will refer also to my current work regarding similar approaches and topics.
1. The Monstrosity of Female Voices
What modes: the annoying noise
Throughout this thesis, I am referring extensively to Anne Carson's text The Gender of Sound, because it indicates the false association of the quality of the voice with the use of it under the aspect of gender and brings many examples of the binaries I am referring to. Here I list, from her text, how, since ancient times, female voices have been described;
In Ancient Greece, there was a superstition that associated high-pitched voices with evil. Humans differ in their nature to other animals, through their ability to articulate with sound and create ‘logos’ (speech). In the primitive stage of consciousness, "the brain was ‘bicameral’, with the right hemisphere producing uncontrollable ‘voices’ attributed to the gods which the left hemisphere processed into speech" (Ong, 2002, pg. 30). It was after the figure of Odysseus appeared that these voices no longer mattered any more and the self-conscious mind was established. The story of Odysseus symbolizes the beginning of a Western society, that privileged rationality. Odysseus, a clever man, can resist any temptation his body falls in by using his brain and speech. This is how he manages to safely reach his destination- a more primitive mind would be allured. It is through 'logos', humans can develop dialogue and democratic processes of communication and decision-making. All the other forms of expression are considered wild and therefore irrational.
Aristotle and his contemporaries believed that vocal sounds were based on the genitals of a person, which is why men speak at a low pitch, because of "the tension placed on a man’s vocal chords by his testicles functioning as loom weights" (Carson, 1996, pg. 119). The high-pitched utterance of women, called 'ololyga', which was a ritual practice dedicated to important events in life – such as like the birth of a child or the death of a person – was considered a 'pollution' for civic space. If expressed in public, they would create chaos and provoke madness. In mythology, when Odysseus awakens on the island of Phaiakia, he is "surrounded by the shrieking of women (...) and goes on to wonder what sort of savages or super-natural beings can be making such a racket". These women were Nausica and her girlfriends, described by Homer as "wild girls who roam the mountains in attendance upon Artemis" (Carson, 1996, pg. 125). Similarly, Alkaios, an ancient poet who had been expelled from the city, where public assemblies took place, was disgusted by the presence of women’s voices talking 'nonsense'. In the ancient world, women were excluded, occupying the margins of society, the dark and formless space where speech, and thus politics, were absent. This disorderly, loud female noise was related to an uncivilized, wild space and sound which was deemed politically incorrect. It seems like these primitive 'uncontrollable voices' became related to some modes of address that provided reminders of the past condition of the human brain, judging it to have a malignant influence.
Today women in public life worry if their voices are too light or high to command respect. Politicians, like Margaret Thatcher, for instance, were trained to learn how to speak in public, to deepen their voice, in order to be taken as seriously as a male speaker would be (Carson, 1996, pg. 120). Anne Carson observes that the female voices in public is related to madness, witchery, bestiality, disorder, death and chaos. And thus has to stay hidden from sight (Carson, 1996, pg. 120).
Mechanisms of marginalization
The mechanisms of marginalization of these modes of address are based on control and filtering. One example is the repetitive action of self-control that comes from the ancient tactic of controlling one's own emotional exposure. Carson (1996, pg. 126) says that patriarchal thinking on emotional and ethical matters is related to ‘sophrosyne’, or self-control of the body. A man is feminized when he lets his emotions come out, and so he has to control himself. "Females blurt out a direct translation of what should be formulated indirectly" (Carson, 1996, pg. 129). It was believed that the masculine deep voice, by default, indicates self-control. So, the doctors of archaic periods would suggest exercises of oration to men to cure the damage inflicted by repeated use of a loud, high-pitched voice. This means that they would practice public speech so to learn to filter their inner emotions when they were externalized. In addition to this, a low-pitched voice signifies authority and would be appropriate to use in public assemblies.
The female version of this practice was perceived more as a way for men to silence women when they were loud or screamed from pain or pleasure. Because they weren't able to control themselves by nature, this inability was related to animal and 'primitive' human behavior. Silencing women, the female ‘sophrosyne’, had been an object of legislative arrangements in the ancient world. Women didn’t have the license to express their ‘noise’ in specific places or events, and there was also a restriction on the duration, the content and the choreography of their rituals in funerals so that they wouldn’t create chaos and delirium (Carson, 1996, pg. 127). Silencing, today, has also to do with the interruption of women's voice when they express an argument in a dialogue. Normally, these unpleasant female tendencies remained hidden from the men’s view because they were deemed annoying, non-human and disorderly. But there was a way to cure the women and city from the chaos. In Dionysian festivals, the task of one selected woman would be to discharge the unspeakable things on behalf of the city, in a practice which was called ‘aischrologia’, that lead to ‘katharsis’, which means the purification of the soul. She was free to express all these weird noises but only then and for the benefit of society. ‘Aischrologia’ seems similar to the therapeutic practice of hypnosis on hysterical women by Freud, who aspired to resurrect this ancient idea. Their emotions, and unspeakable things, were polluting them inside, and employing a ‘talking cure’ or in other words, ‘katharsis’ would help them. Freud's 'talking cure' was concerned with channeling these negative emotions through politically appropriated containers, such as speech(Carson, 1996, pg. 132-133).
Shut out of the public: Opposition of public and private space
Ancient Greek thinkers had set the gender binary and its reflection in space. The very first example of silecing of women indicated in literature, is in Odyssey where the young son of Odysseus, Telemachus, is in the great hall of the palace and describes the difficulties of Greek warriors are having returning home. When Telemachus’ mother, Penelope, asks him to change subject, because it is sad, he tells her that speech is a man's business and that she should return to her private room and do her own business (Beard, 2017). This is how Western society starts with women's voices being excluded from public sphere. According to Kevin Fox Gotham (Kanaveli, 2012), territorial restrictions, identities and meanings are negotiable, as they are defined through social interaction and controversy. Western philosophical thought, based on ancient social structures, supports the division between the private and public domains. In public space everybody should be civilized and resolve conflicts through dialogue, but the interior of private spaces is ruled by a domestic power where violence is sanctioned. This separation has reached a point where men are the main political operators in public space. Representations of gender and space are not immutable, but they consolidate dominant realities by virtue of their repetition. Outside public spaces have historically been the main arena for male-gendered subjects. They reflect gender constructions that privatize men, and female subjects express their needs and desires through them. The social life of the latter is restricted by the 'housewifization' and the private abode of the house.
The idea that women are excluded from public space because of male violence doesn't mean that men directly exclude women. There are complicated power relations that create this exclusion. Freedom of speech relates to political participation, and in theory everyone can have it, but in practice unwritten rules and power relations define what is going to be said, and from whom. These rules construct the public sphere and restrict women, queer people or any other marginalized groups in expressing harmless thoughts. Throughout history, women, for example, can defend themselves publicly and their concerns in extreme circumstances, such as when they have been raped, but cannot speak for men or their community (Beard, 2017). The voices and speeches of these subjectivities in public are directed to 'non-listening ears'.
In the radio program Radio Fresh in Syria – an example I will return in the next chapter – when women started to broadcast and host their own radio programs, an extremist group, Nusra, stopped them from speaking on air. Nusra refused to listen to whatever they want to say, because they were women. The group said that female voices in public is like a form of 'nakedness', that should not be exposed. However, when women transformed their voices technically to a male register – technicians helped them to change electronically the quality of their voice as they speak in the microphone – everybody would listen carefully to their words. For the purpose of making their own radio program, and include their voices in airwaves, they changed the gender of their voice. Their female body accepted a distortion into male. And by extension, the distorted mediation of their voice broke the fixed gender binary regarding their bodies being in public.
The Roots of Collective Voice
According to Walter Ong (2002, pg. 67), "[o]ral communication unites people in groups. Writing and reading [of literate cultures] are solitary activities that throw the psyche back on itself". Orality, or thought and verbal expression which is not based on writing and reading skills, has still a presence in contemporary Western cultures. It has been transformed into a new orality that "has striking resemblances to the old in its participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment (...) But it is essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality" (Ong. pg.13). However, the rational individualistic democracy stands against this collective vocalization that includes the sounds of all the other species and marginalized genders. But mainly it is a reminder of a primitive human mode of address that creates alienation and feelings of fear of looking back.
Since ancient times, the association of the female voices with bestiality and disorder justifies the tactic of patriarchal culture to ‘put a gag’ over the female mouth. Different mechanisms have been developed to exclude specific forms of address from the public which are based on complicated power relations in society. Collective and female vocalizations are perceived as threats to society and thus undergo filtration and 'normalization'– in a way of silencing and imposing self-control. They get regulated and rational, restricting passions and desires. From my perspective the female utterance was embracing the primitive and irrational human nature, but articulating their own form of speech – although it was a tool of the rational contemporary man – and challenging the dichotomy between the past and present.
2. Multiplication Vis a Vis Amplification
Ong mentions that “[a]t the same time, with telephone, radio, television and various kinds of sound tape, electronic technology has brought us into the age of 'secondary orality'” (Ong, 2002, pg. 13). This type of orality includes elements from oral cultures, but also incorporates the high technology of media and exists in the literate cultures. In this new orality, the use of media affects the performance of speech and verbal communication. One of its main characteristics is the telepresence of the speaker. Television, for example, allowed politicians to speak, from one place, to a larger audience spread around the world. The technologies of amplification devices, that convey the embodied and the distant voice, enhance the presence of the person carrying it. They give the ability to be here now and at the same time elsewhere. The mediating role of all kinds of media that detach the voice from its physical proprietor, enables "its circulation in places and contexts in which physical bodies may not have access" (Panopoulos) and enables others to listen to that speaker even if they are not sharing the same space. The medium still creates bonds between them, and channels for sharing knowledge, it always relates us to the absent other through the sense of listening.
The mediation of voice through multiplication
Urban spaces host a variety of political activities such as squatting, demonstrations, displays of the politics of culture and identity which are visible on the street and which are not dependent on mainstream media technologies. Since the beginning of human societies there has been a need for gatherings and sharing knowledge through verbal communication. Today the agonistic dynamics of primitive oral thought, which have effected the development of Western literate culture, have been "institutionalized by the ‘art’ of rhetoric, and by the related dialectic of Socrates and Plato, which furnished agonistic oral verbalization with a scientific base" (Ong, 2002, pg. 45). 'Agonistic pluralism' – a term proposed by Chantal Mouffe – is a type of democracy that acknowledges the multiplicity of voices and values, as well as conflicts of contemporary pluralist societies..
On the other hand, speech act, as outlined by J. L. Austin is distinct from rhetoric and reasoned argument in that it puts in action what has been said(Austin, 1962, pg. 1). It requires appropriate use of language within a given culture or context. Speech act is based on performative utterances, whereby somebody performs, makes things happen and creates a space for action, rather than simply stating a fact. The presence of the body in a speech act provides a layer of trust and safety. In a contemporary context, public speeches happen in both physical and digital spaces with the help of several media like Internet (podcasts and live streaming) and radio (community radios). In the diverse media landscape individuals or groups can easily form and communicate speeches happening in a physical space by themselves without being dependent on a newspaper, publisher, the state or other institutional power. In the Occupy Movement  both known and unknown public speakers would spread their messages to an audience by standing in a public square. This action followed the principles of the Speaker's Corner, which is an area where open-air public speaking and debate are allowed and it was first established in Britain at the end of 19th century. That is an example of the establishment of a speaking space, which is legitimate for public discourse and open for new forms of address. For example, in my project, Sound Acts in Victoria Square, I made a performative action of speech and vocal dialogue, which created a temporary space that revealed excluded forms of address in the square. My actions were conversations with women and broadcasts of their multiple recorded voices back in the square, in a form of speech act but without their presence. This performative action opened a discussion within the square – changing for a while its character – about their exclusion and how voice occupies space. My current project is about the amplification of female voices (and other excluded voices) in public spaces and ways of channeling them. My approach, again, is to create, temporary 'safe' spaces of discussion that occupy public space – I focus in West Rotterdam, an area of immigrants, and Leeszaal, a self-organised library in that area. There, I explore with others the capabilities of public voice, with workshops and meetings, intervening in moments of the library's and street's life.
A space, where is open for dialogue, can facilitate a democracy of agonism. Part of the occupy events would be public speeches in the context of public assemblies, often delivered by philosophers, writers, academics, resistance figures on the site of the occupied space – site specificity is also very characteristic in these cases. The audience would often be very big and therefore an amplifier was needed for the voice of the speaker to be heard by everyone. However, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, amplified sound devices, like microphones and megaphones, were only allowed outside, in public spaces when special permission from the police was given. But "when the technologies above them are removed somehow, the foundational elements remain embedded and embodied in our cyborg bodies and brains" (Moraine, 2011). The participants of #occupy became the 'human microphone', as they called it. This means that all together they would repeat the words of the speaker for the benefit of those located in the rear. "Even given that many of the participants of #occupy are in full possession of smartphones, verbal address to the crowd from a singular source is still important" (Pages, 2011). Saskia Sassen (Sassen, 2012) observes that in cities today a big mix of people coexist. Those who lack power can make themselves present through face-to-face communication. According to Sassen, this condition reveals another type of politics and political actors, based on hybrid contexts of acting, outside of the formal system.
From my point of view, Occupy Movement revealed a lot about the relation of media technology to presence and resistance, as an amplification mechanism, in public. Those people, because of their multilayered relation to technology are able to spread words and make them disperse virally on Internet. As it can be seen from the Youtube videos documenting #occupy, the crowd uses a lot of different media technologies, like their smartphones, to record or stream the words of the public speakers on Livestream platforms. This process was also a way to archive and make public bottom-up initiatives in public spaces within diverse networks. At the same time there is a temporariness in this action as Internet platforms are constantly changing or disappearing. So, events and speeches appear in fragments of videos, transcriptions, and conversations in forums. It is more likely that the users-protesters leave as many traces online as possible; fragments of resistance. The multilayered communication of events is manifested in their urgent and fast multiplication, in different forms and spaces. Together with the public event of a crowd protesting, "there is also a media event that forms across time and space, calling for the demonstrations, so some set of global connections is being articulated" (Butler and Athanasiou, 2013, pg. 197). The use of all these media doesn't require any special skill that an expert would have .
Multiplication could be seen as a way of manifesting parallel, multiple presences in diverse private and public places. For example radio and television allowed public speakers, such as politicians, to speak simultaneously to so many people, situated in diverse places, than ever before. There are two ways of multiplication in the above examples. One is through a unified collective voice in public, and the other is messages through a networked web. The first one is about a performative action based on plurality of the 'bodies' involved. It includes the example of the 'human microphone' and 'ololyga', the female collective utterance. Even though the last may not be a direct expression of resistance, it was an alternative temporary and informal mode of address that was suppressed and being acceptable only for specific occasions. The second case, the web, reminds me of the very ancient practice of gossiping. It has a negative connotation especially when connected with women. However, sometimes this is more an attempt to claim and exchange knowledge when there is no platform for those that practice it. In the relay of messages, the Internet and social media have the same 'baton effect' and even though this is misused by mainstream political voices, it also serves the voiceless.
The mediation of voice through amplification
On some occasions, the amplification of voice, as a mode of prohibition and presence, becomes possible both literally and metaphorically. This means that somebody can amplify their voice with the use of a microphone and megaphone so to strengthen the signal on the spot, and at the same time to make themselves loud and present, so as to be heard. For example, anti-fascist microphonic demonstrations in Greece, occupy a public square for a couple of hours using speakers, microphones or megaphones broadcasting music and speech. In fact, it was first the Nazis, who used amplified technology to occupy public space. In 1932, for example, Nazis used vans with loudspeakers attached to the outside, in order to attract attention of the citizens. During the election campaign, they would rent a van and play speeches, songs and party slogans. Lautsprecherwagen, as it was called, “opened up the possibility for penetrating public and private spaces with amplified sounds” (Birdsall, 2012, pg. 39). At the same time, the amplification achieved by the vans intensified an ‘acoustic conflict’, which means that Nazis would dominate the city with mediated acoustic technology, overriding the sounds of political opponents. Hitler would use multiple technologies – such as radio, loudspeakers, lautsprecherwagen – at the same time and constantly. Multiplication and amplification were his principle means for establishing dominance over others and influencing the citizens. The difference between the examples given above and Hitler’s tactics is that he would enforce silence on the citizens, who remained listeners and never broadcasters of their own speeches.
‘Mikrophoniki’ demonstration in Athens
Another example is Suffragettes' speech-making workshops; a way to provide women with tools “with which to take their concerns out into the public domain” (Rose Gibbs, 2016), or in other words to amplify their voices. In 1912, Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes organized such workshops in private spaces, to encourage women to practice speech and feel comfortable with it before they spoke in public. They would read speeches out loud to other women. This emphasis on speech was an extension of a non-violent political philosophy of early feminism. They focused on the voice because there is a uniqueness in it, that embodies the speaker when entering a dialogue. It is an approach that rejects the abstract and bodiless universal identity of one's person that has been developed by Western thought. By such an identity, I mean that one person is represented as a universal entity that shares the same characteristics and problems with all the people. So, this person can be represented by somebody else by proxy, such as a politician or family member, in a conversation concerning her/his own body. But from a feminist perspective, each individual is unique and carries personal and situated problems and principles, so they are the only one that can represent themselves. Even more, the voice through speech – that can take the form of songs passing from one to the other or the collective voice of protesting – links one another and at the same time keeps the individuality of the speaker. In contrast to mainstream political spheres, feminists, like anarchists, look for horizontal ways of communication where no voice dominated over others (Gibbs, 2016). Listening and waiting for everyone to speak, even the most timid, is a basic element of these kind of practices. To be able to listen and include somebody in a conversation requires constant practice. I realized that after starting to work with voice and sound. Listening and patiently keeping notes are one of the most important methods in my approach. I listen sounds and voices of the places I am intervening in and I invite other people, mostly those related to that area, to do the same. Right now, I am using that method in West Rotterdam, with the intention to create dialogues and explore with others. This practice can reveal many unexpected narratives from a place or a person and helps to avoid faulty prejudgements for that person or the area. Then, the ground is ready for a dialogue to begin. The topic of the discussion I want to open and work with is about exclusion and silencing of female voices – that may break gender and social binaries – in public.
Speech Matters: Violence and the Feminist Voice
In the examples of radio art and pirate radio activism, the temporariness and site-specificity of these actions – of prohibition, sharing of knowledge and communicating through voice – were tangled with the materiality and specificity of the medium. Artist Reni Hofmüller, for example, together with others, made pirate radio in 1990s when the frequency bands were not open for everyone, except the state and companies. She describes how quickly they could pack their small self-made radio station and leave from the place of their broadcast, when police would notice them. The small size of the transmitter and their DIY folded antenna would make it easier for them to not be traced (see Appendix 1). Since 1920, radio was criticized as a wasteland of commercials and state propaganda. It was Bertolt Brecht (Kanouse, 2011, pg. 87) who perceived it as a transceiver to experiment with, and questioning its use. Walter Benjamin believed it would fail as long as the separation between practitioners and public persisted. From early on, tight regulations restricted the electromagnetic public sphere. Only pirate radio practitioners, with their low-tech practice and self-broadcasting, could interrogate the public, critical and political aspects of radio, as Brecht and Benjamin had imagined. Sarah Kanouse sees the use of prohibited technologies and the confrontation with these restrictions as a political act, one that can propose an “anti-authoritarian radical democracy” (Kanouse, 2011, pg. 89) through the formation of small groups that learn to broadcast and produce alternative media cultures.
She brings the example of a project, called Talking Homes by John Brumit, which was realized under the residency of the Neighborhood Public Radio (little NPR) arts collective of Detroit. The inhabitants broadcast personal stories through transmitters located in their houses and other buildings, revealing the struggle and the daily routine of these people living in degraded neighborhoods. The interviewers were trained by the artist to use their transmitters. It seemed that the exposition of the private sphere, reflected in the localization of the media and the gossip produced, to the public more clearly re-framed clearer the struggle for the neighborhood than big radio networks had. The public engagement, which was not of the typically privileged audience of art spaces, was deep even though the broadcast may have been illegal. The project embodied the spirit of NPR, characterized by the smallness, site-specificity and listener’s participation. Even though these small transmitters don't have many listeners because of their small range, NRC sees that as a way to link people and thus negates the previously mentioned separation of practitioner and public mentioned before. The little NPR, in contrast to National Public Radio (the big NPR), embraces the instability, diversity, discomforts and the contradictions it produces. Similarly, as a practitioner, I approach neighborhoods and specific places to try actions of listening and participation, as an attempt to eliminate the binary of expert and amateur, artist and audience. Sometimes this approach means that I have to reduce my ambitions of the media used and listen to the choices of the people. In the project I am working right now I build up a set of workshops with others and I gradually introduce more ways of mediation of our voices.
The second project, that Kanouse relates to, is The Public Broadcast Cart made by Ricardo Miranda Zuñiga. This is a portable home-made radio, broadcasting the voice of someone driving a cart in several places. The voice of the participant becomes public on site through speakers and extends to radio frequencies and the Internet. Based on an open-source, pirate radio spirit, this offering of access to the technology refuses the specialization and the prohibition of the airwaves. The parallel expanses of the voice and the uncensored speech in three different public spaces occupies at the same time the physical, on-line and electromagnetic realm.
During the conflict in Syria, a group of people that wanted to broadcast their own news for the safety of the citizens and the avoidance of more killings, set up a radio station. Its programs would include urgent announcements of battles, strikes, and skirmishes, tutorials for medical care, music and other topical issues. The station, which was called Radio Fresh, ceased to exist in 2016 because of a sudden intervention from Nusra, an extremist Islamist group. While it was on the air the male initiators invited women, who were mainly hidden in their houses, to produce their own programs. Some groups of women decided to first learn vocal techniques. They then broadcasted their own music and speech, but after a while Nusra threatened to close the station if women didn't leave. "Nusra considered their voices shameful, a form of nakedness" (Ballout, 2019) – it sounds similar to the political nakedness that Anne Carson refers to in her text. When Alkaios, an archaic poet, was exiled in the outskirts of the city, he is surrounded by the cries of women – "[n]o proper civic space would contain it unregulated" (Carson, 1996, pg. 125). A man would not make a sound like that and for Alkaios to be exposed to it is a condition of political nakedness. Pythagoras had a similar opinion about his wife's voice; he believed that her speech like her body should not exposed to public, "and she should as modestly guard against exposing her voice to outsiders as she would guard against stripping off her clothes" (Carson, 1996, pg. 129). This appears to be a shameful act, even today, given the example I mentioned before. But, then, doesn't this assumption establish that the female voices lack political connotation? This kind of male extremist group seeks to prevent women from political expression. After these threats, these women were helped to electronically re-modulate their voices from female to male. They felt weird with this transformation, but everybody was taking their words seriously and after a while they got used to it. It became part of themselves, " it just became normal, and it literally got to the point where I could tell you which girl was which voice" (Ballout, 2019).
'The Broadcast Cart' of Miranda Zúñiga transmitting
The mediation of marginalized forms of voicing is happening in conditions that escape the traditional ways of mainstream public platforms, which are dominated by individual expert males. The collective, or individual concerns of those that lack power is spread through different ways of mediation of their voice that bypass these mainstream, dominant modes. In this essay I have separated the examples of amplification and multiplication, but in conclusion these two terms are mixed together. All of them have in common the localization, the small scale, the refusal of prohibition and specialization, the plurality, the participation and presence of people and the temporariness. But they also have in common the spirit of oral cultures in the form of a 'secondary orality', that are based on presence and vocal expression, though they exist in a contemporary Western context that differs from them.
3. Transmitting Ugly Things
What ugly things, and the medium
Marginalized people vocalize things that are unacceptable for the society, unspeakable, politically incorrect, emotionally overwhelming, disorderly. In The Gender of Sound, Anne Carson explains how the direct mode of address of women's voices has been an annoyance for patriarchal society since the time of Ancient Greece. A woman would expose her inside truths that were supposed to be kept private. "By projections and leakages of all kinds- somatic, vocal, emotional, sexual- females expose or expend what should be kept in" (Carson, 1996, pg. 129); this reveals society's fear of death, blood, darkness, birth and therefore the female body. This direct continuity and linkage between the inside and outside has been a threat for human nature and society as it is not filtered through the rational tool of human communication, 'speech'. It has been established that our inner desires and needs have to be expressed indirectly through speech, and in the case of women, through their men’s speech or as Eliana Kanaveli says, "the interests of women are represented by men" (Kanaveli, 2012). Through speech and language people can construct their identities and claim their own presence and voice in public. There is a connection of sound and voice with externalizing our inside subjectivities, that remain hidden. One of the principal characteristics of sound is its unique relationship to interiority. According to Walter Ong (2002, pg. 69) "[t]his relationship is important because of the interiority of human consciousness and of human communication itself". Human consciousness is internalized and inaccessible to outside people. Hearing a sound or voice can expose inside structures of something or somebody without violating it. Sound, in contrast to vision, comes from any direction to the human ear and in primary oral culture was affecting deeply the way humans perceived their own existence and presence. Thus, the voice mediated trough the body transfers the inside resonance, that is connected to consciousness and physical elements, to the outside, contributing to human communication.
One perceived 'ugly' form of address in Ancient Greece was an utterance, a high-pitched cry, the ‘ololyga’, which I have mentioned before, and which was a female ritual practice. The ‘ololyga is still practiced in Greece and the Middle East, and it is related to mourning. In their rituals women would also say offensive things in the context of 'aischrologia'; a process whereby woman, acting as proxy, would freely discharge unspeakable things on behalf of the city. A more recent form of monstrous articulation is 'hysteria', as theorized by Freud, which connects the psychical events within a woman's body directly to the outside, her exterior behavior. Freud, differing with other psychologists, theorized it as a way the interior – unconscious – conflict would manifest in the outside world into physical symptoms, so hysterical actions were mediations. It seems that the feminine consciousness through these processes was accused as something evil and its communication to the outside was happening through abnormal, exaggerating physical symptoms. Females are often associated with sins and evil within the collective memory. For example, gossip is a form of address that reveals secrets that should remain hidden. But even in Ancient Greece this form was undesirable; Plutarch (Carson, 1996, pg. 130) tells a story of how a secret is spread fast by women creating chaos and ruin, in contrast to men who refrain from revealing it. In contrast to this, the rational expression of speech is about restriction and self-control.
Other ugly things are the private and hidden events of family violence. For feminists in the early 20th century, public speech, in a group of other women sharing the same problem, was a way to externalize the personal violence and suppression of women, without using violence in response. Protesters, respectively, speak in plural voices against the abuses of power by their government either by demonstrating or occupying public spaces, such as the recent Occupy Movement and Arab Spring. All these examples do not follow the rationalist approach of the context they are part of. They mobilize passion, despair, vulnerabilities and unfulfilled desires with their voices and presence. The recent public expressions of outrage in Europe have been criticized by elite figures as immature, too emotional and non-political, while they should be rational and technocratic actions. The idea that democracy is a civilized way of making decisions that doesn't accept any form of over-emotion or overflow of expression, is nothing more than an illusion that actually threatens the existence of democracy by creating exclusion and disregarding the importance of passions and desires in politics. Thus, democratic processes should take into consideration any irrational fantasies and desires that the public express. Their suppression may lead to repressed pain, fanaticism and totalitarianism, if there is no space for them to exist. The rationalist mind is connected to the contemporary literate and civilized individual, who has rejected the wild primitive subjectivity, as it belongs to the past. But, this Darwinian ideology of linear evolution rejects present abnormal – that cannot adjust in the current regime – behaviors, which may express minorities and propose new democratic practices. A strong critical relation with the past is needed, and even more, to embrace elements from previous and other more 'primitive' cultures in a non-linear way.
Streaming media in relation to female continuity
In ancient medical and anatomical theory women had two mouths, the upper and the lower, connected through the neck. The lips of both these mouths guarded a 'hollow cavity' and they had to remain closed. Having two mouths that speak simultaneously is confusing and embarrassing, and this creates ‘kakophony’. Females were expressing something directly when it should have been said indirectly. Traditionally, this direct continuity between the inside and the outside is repulsive to the male nature, which aspires for self-control, interrupting this continuity and dissociating the inside from the outside (Carson, 1996, pg. 131). Women 'transmit' unfiltered information. At this point I would like to draw a fantastic parallel with streaming media, which has been used as a tool of direct and urgent communication by protesters, as in the case of the Occupy Movement. Similarly with the continuity I described before, streaming protocols and processes deliver unedited live messages that sometimes disagree with the mainstream. At Occupy Wall Street, for example, streaming media, like Livestream, Ustream and Youtube, was a way for protesters to be immediately heard in public and to broadcast their own news online. Thus, experts or official media platforms were unable to filter their speech or alter messages before they were spread online. Similarly, radio streaming has been a way for activists, protesters and citizens to share their own news and program. In times of war, citizens set up their own radio stations, that proposes alternative source of news and can't be censored by the government- radio technology can escape mainstream platforms, such as Internet, and thus avoid part of surveillance from top. Here I will refer again to the example of the self-organised Radio Fresh in Syria, through which activists besides other things, were announcing strikes and battles for the safety of citizens (Ballout, 2019). This unaltered and direct speech of (radio/streaming) broadcasting has similarities with the uncontrolled direct expression of the female bodies in public (like 'hysteria', 'aischrologia', 'ololyga'). There is a fear of continuity related to the message that comes out, unedited, from the inside of the human 'container' and its channels. This continuity seems to me to be like an 'embodied streaming' that relates the medium with the human body, based on the need for a message to be articulated and distributed to others. Live streaming provides the opportunity for a body to be present somewhere else, with a slight delay, through the voice or a video representation.
For an agonistic streaming
This uninterrupted continuity shows that what is important is not the message, but what is happening right now, at present. It also proposes practices of democracy. Allowing the message to be transferred unfiltered, suppressed needs and desires emerge. Thus, more people, with different needs, can be heard. This is akin to Chantal Mouffe's 'agonistic' model of democracy, in which there is not an external power that filters the message and no time for thinking about future utopias and realities, but only what is happening now (Mouffe, 2000a). It embraces a plural public space, allowing conflicts to happen naturally and diverse forms of articulation to exist. The democracy of agonism accepts all ideas, thoughts and concerns to be placed on the table. Streaming media, at the same time, reflects a sense of liveness and presence. As McLuhan says, media, like radio, are 'hot' because they are "bound to the present moment of the radio event on a continuous time axis" (Ernst, 2016, pg. 103). This means, that they create a feeling of immediate presence of the voice being broadcast. There is no time to reflect or edit the message. The audience receives it directly from the proprietor and can see clearly who is broadcasting, what is the source, what it looks like. I propose to call that 'agonistic streaming', a mediated democracy which is based on liveness and unfiltered communication.
Marginalized modes of address share concerns that seem uninteresting for Western, formal, civilized society, which supports a democracy rooted in the politics of Ancient Greece. Because of these disparities, these marginalized modes of address are suppressed and regarded as ‘ugly’ forms. They are accused as such, because they express fear and they don't resemble to civilized ways of communication. They rather seem like 'primitive' forms of behavior which belong to the past and skip the rational sphere of speech. Thus, they are routinely filtered and censored before finding their expression in public. From my perspective, the medium used by these modes reflects their character. They are based on instant and urgent communication, liveness and a guerilla approach. Today, streaming media is used constantly by protesters or citizens to autonomously broadcast news and avoid government censorship. Streaming media is characterized by the distribution of unfiltered data, the sense of liveness and the continuity – direct distribution – of the message. In my opinion, this character may not lead to the establishment of dominant voices and totalitarian political systems, because it gives space to more concerns to come to public and do not pay attention in canonizing behaviors and systems. In this essay I wanted to highlight how the use of streaming media and the concept of streaming in general can be related to these 'ugly' forms of mediation, which have been an unrecognized part of political discourse since antiquity. This kind of media transmit 'ugly' things, according to a rational society, and marginalized people need this to communicate and find space for their own desires. I think that the acceptance of continuity and direct mediation can facilitate more democratic processes. As "the prime task of democratic politics is not to eliminate passions or to relegate them to the private sphere in order to establish a rational consensus in the public sphere. Rather, it is to 'tame' those passions by mobilizing them towards democratic designs" (Mouffe, 2000b, pg. 149). Focusing more on the media that facilitate this process to happen can open possibilities and alternatives of democratic processes. 'Embodied and agonistic streaming' suggests resistance, with our unfiltered mediated present bodies based on the principles of agonism.
Considering the question of what female and collective speech acts reveal and suggest for our societies, I have mapped different approaches of dialogue based on pluralism. Marginalized voices find ways to inhabit public space and take into consideration their embodiment and their specificity. They give a great emphasis on participation and listening, as opposed to an exclusive emphasis on delivery of a message that dominant forms of articulation do. This embodied and situated action is performative, in that it produces a public space from which to speak. This space differs from the established institutional forums on which democracy is based.
Looking back in time, ancient thinking about female voices – as an 'ugly' form of articulation – has affected the way women could speak in public up to the present day. As the first essay points out, associating female voices with bestiality and disorder provided an excuse for patriarchal society to silence women publicly and to restrict them in the private space of their homes. The female voice is associated with direct emotional vocalization, which resembles the vocal expressions of primitive oral cultures. The continuity of their speech, which connects their inside truths directly to the outside of their body, is confusing for men. Their mode of address is not the only one that is submitted to filtration and control. Collective vocalization, and any other form that deviates from the rational sphere of human nature, threatens Western society, which excludes these forms, despite its democratic profile. Their messages contain 'irrational' passions and desires, and their mediation happens outside of the main public platform, and with technologies that facilitate an expression characterized by urgency and directness. Overall, the first essay explores the binaries between the terms male/female, public/private and ordered/wild regarding the voice.
Practices of those who are marginalized embrace the multiplication and amplification of their voices in public, either using their bodies or low-tech apparatus. The urgency of these forms of address to become public reveals that voice is always potentially mediated. With these two ways they occupy the public domain and resist remaining in the borders of social dichotomies regarding free speech. The second essay concludes that the mediation of these voices is based on participation, small scale, temporariness, site-specificity and most of all breaks with the opposition between amateur and expert.
One of my main thoughts in this research, has been around the idea of continuity of speech, that has been related to the two-mouthed female body – with 'upper' and 'lower' mouths. The relation between ways of prohibition of normative modes of address, and the mediation of a direct, unfiltered speech, suggests an 'embodied and agonistic streaming'; a personal and horizontal way to express concerns in public uncontrolled by governments and representatives, by encouraging the use of technology and presence of the speaker. The third essay points out how this mediated, 'streamed' voice can break the dichotomy of the concepts of 'inside' and 'outside' of the body, rational and irrational speech, embodied and disembodied voice.
All these approaches and practices are suggesting open and active spaces of democratic processes. Through this lens, voice can break social binaries, by being at the same time on both sides. Our society has entered a 'secondary orality', which refers to ways of vocal expression from oral cultures under the context of high technology. This orality is rooted in primitive and collective forms of communication, in the same way as female utterances. We must take advantage of its agonistic dynamics, and speak the unspeakable.
Sample of my interview with Reni Hofmüller
Interview via Jitsi
Speakers: Reni Hofmüller, Angeliki Diakrousi
(...) R: What I also like so much about radio, it really triggers fantasy. Or everything that is sound based. You don't see what is producing the sound. It includes the fantasies and imaginations of other people, who hear it. And that is something that is not that strong, of how I am, if I see a movie. The visual is also there. I can also dive into any cinema situation or TV or see something in a monitor, I don't mind. But I think this trigger of being more active is really the sound. That's why I keep loving doing radio. And its also much easier in the sense you need much less equipment and it is simply cheaper on all the levels, because there is so many things you dont need, so many things you need for visual.
A: Also radio is connected with the physical space, you have to set it up. I wanted to ask you about that. How it was when you set up pirate radio. How was this experience?
R: I mean one thing was, there has been I think at least three waves of pirate radio in Austria. We weren't the first one who tried that. But of course we did in a time.. we started doing it in the 1990s that the machinery was already quite small. It was simply easier to hide the transmitter, when it has the size of a cigarette pack. Cause the transmitter they used before it was much bigger and it needed more electricity. So, we had this small transmitter, which had five watch power, so it was really weak. It just reach parts of the city of Graz and then additionally we had a tape walkman to that. You have to think it's the beginning of the 1990s, so there is no mobile computers, accessible to us. There is no Internet, in the sense how we use it now. So everything is trouble, we use the imagination. We have this small cigarette pack size transmitter more or less. And we have this also very small walkman. Both can function with batteries, because it is also not very long time that we broadcast. And the antenna, it is a Yagi antenna, but it is not the fixed one. We used the ?clash? from a tent. So its foldable and then with aluminum stripes we glue the antenna on this clash. And we would hang the clash on a tree. We would go to one of the hills outside the city, surrounding the city. And we knew those who control the frequency band. You know you have the official administration for defining who is actually aloud to broadcast and then you have different bodies of administration that actually control what is happening in the frequency band and we knew where they are and we knew that they are constantly scanning what is happening in the band. The moment you switch on an additional transmitter they immediately see the pick and in a very short time- and I've seen them once doing it live- it takes them seconds to find out where you are. It is frustrating because 'chuck' (fingers sound) they have you. But then of course to actually catch you they have to physically go where you are. And we knew the time.. we always broadcast on Sunday noon, 1 pm, so we knew this is when people have this Sunday late breakfast/brunch think and they can listen to us and we knew that it would take the controlling body about 20 minutes to get from the place they are, a tower in the center of town, to go from there to the hill we were. So we had 18 minutes of broadcasting time and then we had to pack and disappear. That's what we did. So we did 18 to 20 minutes broadcast. And then you know, you just pack it in a little backpack, because it is so small, you can fold the antenna the two things are really small and then, you know. you are taking a stroll in a Sunday afternoon. (...)
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Diakrousi, 3 April 2019, List of words and phrases, from Anne Carson's text The Gender of Sound, describing how female voices sound like, collage, personal archive.
Vocal performance of Katalin Ladik in the film 'Berberian Sound Studio', 2012. Her performance intended to create atmospheres of demonic voices through a woman's body, screenshot, https://www.youtube.com/watch?vTY96Ma6YdtQ, personal archive.
Cartoon from Riana Dunkan for Punch magazine, image, Vázquez, J. F. (2018) ‘There are None so Deaf’, in Eckhardt, J., Grounds for Possible Music: On Gender, Voice, Language, and Identity. Errant Bodies Press, pp. 18–24.
Cartoon from Gonzalo Rocha, image, viewed 24 March 2019, https://punch.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Riana-Duncan-Cartoons/G0000Bx1FqQLTU1M/I0000eHEXGJ_wImQ.
Piece 'Mach 20', album 'United States Live', from Laurie Anderson for 'The New Show' Season 1 (only season) Episode 8, March 16, 1984. She performs a male figure and her voice is electronically transformed in male, screenshot, viewed 24 March 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?vSirOxIeuNDE.
Diakrousi, 2 February 2019, Speeches Angela Davis and Judith Butler in Occupy Wall Street, collage, viewed 4 March 2019, personal archive.
'Mikrophoniki' demonstration in Athens, image, viewed 4 March 2019, .
Gibbs, Speech Matters: Violence and the Feminist Voice, image, viewed 4 March 2019, .
Miranda Zúñiga, The Broadcast Cart transmitting, image, viewed 4 March 2019, .
A sculpture of Baubo, Greek goddess of sacred and sexual humor, image, viewed 4 March 2019, https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-60fe5061a107c045467540251797ad86.
Live streaming from Occupy Wall Street, image, viewed 4 March 2019, .
This work has been produced in the context of the graduation research of Angeliki Diakrousi from the Experimental Publishing (XPUB) Master course at the Piet Zwart Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.
XPUB is a two year Master of Arts in Fine Art and Design that focuses on the intents, means and consequences of making things public and creating publics in the age of post-digital networks.
This publication is based on the graduation thesis Let’s Talk About Unspeakable Things, written under the supervision of Steve Rushton.
Special thanks to Steve Rushton, Kate Briggs, XPUB comrades and all my friends with whom I had interesting discussions that pushed my research further.
- I quickly found that I was not alone in this regard. The volunteers of an activist collective, Prometheus, expressed similar concerns in the construction of a radio station; "The radio activists presented the work of soldering a transmitter, tuning an antenna, and producing a news program or governing a radio station to be accessible to all. Nevertheless, they were conscious of patterned gaps in their organization and volunteer base: men were more likely than women to know how to build electronics, to be excited by tinkering, and to have the know-how to teach neophytes.This troubled the activists"(Dunbar-Hester, pg. 53-54).
- 'Agonistic pluralism' is based on 'agonism', instead of competitive antagonism, which means that people can see each other as adversaries who disagree, rather than enemies. Mouffe says that "a pluralist democracy cannot be to reach a rational consensus in the public sphere" (Mouffe, 2000a, pg. 104), because such a consensus cannot exist as it always implies a form of exclusion. 'Agonism' can be achieved by providing channels through which all collective passions can be expressed and mobilized towards democratic approaches between adversaries – rather than a process of rational persuasion that refuses the existence of such passions.
- Speech act is when a sentence performs an action, like when a priest pronounces a couple 'husband and wife'. It is about sentences that express commands, wishes, questions and so on.
- Occupy Movement is an international movement since 2011 for social and economic justice and new forms of democracy based on public assemblies
- It "symbolizes the kind of forum for debate sought for today’s post-industrial, highly mediated cities, encouraging face-to-face interaction and real-life conversation, albeit arranged by people texting each other, recorded by shooting and uploading video on YouTube, reported on twitter or documented on face book" (Speakers Corner Trust, no date).
- Kanaveli (Kanaveli, 2012) maintains that something that is visible and can be heard is reality and can create and give power.
- "With cellphones, iPads and video cameras affixed to laptops, Occupy participants showed that almost anyone could broadcast live news online. In addition, they could help build an audience for their video by inviting people to talk about what they were seeing" (Preston, 2011).
- The Nazi party had the economic capability to use advanced technology for propaganda. Later on, these technologies became more accessible and used by protesters, anarchists and leftist groups to declare presence and being heard in private and public spaces of the city, resisting the dominant voice of the state.
- Like Suffragettes, women, even today, struggle with lack of confidence, when appearing in public. Back then, feminist Margaret Wynne Nevinson, "once wrote she felt a 'dizzy sickness of terror' the first time she stood up to speak publicly" (Cochrane, 2013). Some of them would feel anxious because of male eyes looking at them intensively.
- The word of this disease connects to the inside of the female body as it "derives from 'hystera', Greek for uterus, and ancient doctors attributed a number of female maladies to a starved or misplaced womb"(Kinetz, 2006). The illness was based on sexual deprivation, because feminine sexual pleasure was considered taboo.
- Gossip is an alternative form of communication which operates in the private domain and has been created in response to the exclusion of speech in public. Gossip "provides subordinated classes with a mode of communication beyond an official public culture from which they are excluded" (The Gossip, 2017, p.61).
- In Odussey authoritative public speech is "not the kind of chatting, prattling or gossip that anyone – women included, or especially women – could do" (Beard, 2017).
- Passion – associated with irrational sentimental femininity, uncivilized primitiveness, and an inarticulate working class – is being politically devaluated on the base of normalizing the shift from political to juridical reason (Butler and Athanasiou, 2013, pg. 177).
- As Mouffe writes, "[i]f there is anything that endangers democracy nowadays, it is precisely the rationalist approach, because it is blind to the nature of the political and denies the central role that passions play in the field of politics" (Mouffe, 2000b, pg. 146).
- The companies providing online streaming didn't agree with the actions and messages of #occupy and thus they would publicly disassociate themselves from them. "Both Livestream and Ustream officials say they simply operate platforms and are not supporting the movements(...)[they] removed advertising from the Occupy channels after some brands complained that they did not want their ads appearing next to streaming video of protesters"(Preston, 2011).
- Guerilla action stands for temporary, short actions that intervene into an established regime for a while and then they disappear.
- 1st draft/18 October
- 2nd draft/ 1 November
- 3d draft/ 9 November