Greed & the Sonic Apothecary
A conversation with The Sousrealists
The Sousrealists are a New York City-based creative research collective on a quest to unpack what lies underneath, unquestioned. Your Mating Call is Important to Us is featured in Monsters & Ghosts along with five other artistic works considering the entanglements of sound and a collapsing world.
Earlid: Some of your protagonists are driven by the benefits they might reap. What’s your take on greed in relationship to our current climate crisis?
The Sousrealists: Arguably ‘greed,’ as it both underpins and manifests in our dominant global systems, practices and ideals, is inherently pollution-generating.
What we are seeking to emphasize in Your Mating Call is Important to Us is not so much greed as it is the complexity of conflicting responses to crisis. The Resounders believe urban landscapes can be healed through sonic prescriptions; The Shushers advocate for the sanctity of silence; and The Loudfellas are invested in maintaining the status quo. Although we may make our own judgments about which of these groups are ‘right’ based on our own values, each group is defining for themselves an altruistic purpose.
While greed may not be an overt motivation for these groups, each one’s approach will impact the environment in which they are situated and its non-human inhabitants. In trying to heal the landscape, are The Resounders inadvertently creating more animal distress? Are The Shushers refusing to hear others’ voices? Are The Loudfellas harming those they seek to protect?
Solidified in their views, each group pursues their individual agendas, drowning out the voices of their fellow lifeforms in the process and ultimately leading to the Great Cacophony. Even with the best of intentions to respond to ecological crisis, further harm is perpetuated.
Earlid: How does offering these fictional entities illuminate any of these themes?
The Sousrealists: In Your Mating Call is Important to Us, we seek to call attention to the tendency to staunchly hold onto the idea of a singular ‘silver bullet’ solution when addressing pressing issues like climate collapse. Through the fictionalized groups we draw parallels to the competing rhetorics of activist groups, government agencies, scientists, designers and international organizations who claim a monopoly on altruistic intent and understanding of the ‘right’ way forward.
While overt greed may not be a factor in many responses to our global climate crisis, in what ways can unexamined, unchecked and self-serving assumptions of altruism exacerbate siloed solutionism? How might these ‘bottled’ solutions emulate and perpetuate the very pollution-generating ideals, practices and systems we are seeking to counteract?
We wonder, is it possible that human altruism has the potential to also be pollution-generating?
Earlid: If humans are taking more than their fair share of the soundscape of the non-human-based world, can we ever heal the soundscape?
The Sousrealists: To those keyed into sonic and environmental issues, it is no secret that human activity dominates the world’s soundscape, encroaching on and detrimentally impacting non-human environments and activity. Within the context of the pandemic, there has been an increased awareness of the impacts of sound on us as individuals or communities. However, we are often blissfully oblivious to the ways other lifeforms respond and adjust to our sonic behaviors; what is inaudible to us may be deafening to others.
Clashing amidst a sonic environmental crisis, the groups in Your Mating Call is Important to Us are engaged with how human activity impacts the soundscape. In the piece, we demonstrate the ways in which each group has differing levels of understanding and care of the impacts on non-human lifeforms.
The Resounders are deeply concerned about their non-human fellow denizens and attempt to center them through their sonic apothecary. The Shushers believe all creatures are harmed by even the slightest sound and need silence. The Loudfellas struggle to maintain the status quo as the dominant species— across the soundscape and otherwise. In each group’s approach to the crisis, we see different notions of what a ‘fair’ share of the soundscape is for humans and how they should go about ‘healing’ that soundscape to avoid sonic collapse for the natural world.
What we explore in the piece is the shared false dichotomy that acts as the basis for the groups’ responses—that they are separate from the natural world and its soundscape. In perpetuating this false dichotomy, each group fails to hear the other, both humans and non-humans alike. Positioning themselves as omniscient saviors, The Resounders, The Shushers and The Loudfellas each forge ahead with harmful conceptions of a fair and healed soundscape. In the end, they cause far more harm than good.
Fictionalized narratives aside, is healing the soundscape possible if we reframe our activity as being innately part of the natural world, and situate ourselves within the problem? When we shift from humans as saviors, can we begin to recognize that what is harming the ‘natural world’ is also harming us? Rather than an activity or change being for a certain group or species can it be with, in the messiness of being attuned to the ‘other’?
Earlid: That resonates with the theme of entanglements—of humans and non-humans alike —that haunt and scare us, but may also be channeled into action.
The Sousrealists: The four of us have spent a lot of time thinking about these questions and the idea of alterity and attunement, or together, ‘alterity-attunement’. Alterity is the state of being other or different, while attunement is to make aware or responsive. We believe that alterity-attunement can move towards an alien politics, one of tension and complexity, in which the goal isn’t to simplify and smooth out difference, but to weave deeper entanglements.
In Your Mating Call is Important to Us and our broader work as The Sousrealists, we suggest a way forward in response to crisis by shifting our ways of understanding the world and our relationships with the ‘other.’
So perhaps the question isn’t whether we can heal the soundscape, but how. Specifically, how can we shift our understanding of fairness and healing in ways that support and represent all of us that make up the natural world and its soundscape?